One of my hobbies is composing music. I haven’t had the time to record in a while, but here are many of the songs I composed over the years:
Below is an essay I wrote about music and it’s relation to speech and debate. I dedicate it in memory of Mike Meros.
Four feet in front of an off-white table, my hands gestured above the podium while my skinny knees wobbled below. The judges smiled, and I did too. At my middle school Student Congress Competitions, I seized the opportunity to hone my speaking ability. Yet no one knew, that all along, I was trapped. For months ahead of each competition I would construct both my refuge and my prison. My prepared remarks offered me the comfort I needed, while eroding my passion and true voice. I even attempted to script answers for every conceivable question I might be asked. Unable to deviate from each syllable dictated by the page, I had become a slave to my own creation.
The same was true for piano. From a very young age, I performed reading every measure as accurately as possible. Any digression from the printed notes meant a mistake, requiring a redo. Memorized songs were no different, as the omnipotent sheet music remained in my head.
Unexpectedly, my stringent piano teacher announced her plans to move away, adding in a final goodbye that she had found the “perfect” replacement. He was a professional musician who just retired from a 22-year career touring with the Beach Boys.
Mike Meros opened the door several weeks later with a brown leather briefcase bulging at the seams with sheet music. The first question my new teacher asked was, “What do you want to play?” I replied, “The James Bond theme, of course!” After a quick demonstration of the only piece I knew written after the 19th Century, I indicated with a shrug that I had no inclination whatsoever to revisit the classics. An authoritative silence followed. Mike sensed the constraints I felt and placed each of my fingers on the keys of the Dorian Jazz scale. “Play any of these,” he said, “and you’ll be fine.” A riff of chords erupted from the lower end of the piano as Mike set a steady beat. I lightly tapped the unfamiliar scale, expecting to be reprimanded. There would be no punishment because there was no wrong answer. A reassuring glance from Mike begged me to continue. With each successive press on the keys I demolished the invisible wall that kept me back. Mike never needed to open his briefcase.
From that lesson on, “practice” gave way to “playing” and my impression of music shifted from rigid bars I obeyed to endless lines I commanded. On Tuesday nights, Mike guided my evolution from solely playing jazz to composing scores of all genres for my friend’s films. Mike still taught formal chord and song structures, but above all else, he made me improvise each week whether I liked it or not. Ensuring that I built my improvisational foundation, he stretched the limit of what I could convey with music.
Under Mike’s instruction, I would soon move on to recording entire orchestrations. I delighted in my newfound freedom to paint anything I desired with the keys. The culmination of many weeks of work was a dramatic piece that I planned to submit to the PTSA Reflections Competition. The week before the deadline during my Tuesday night lesson, we played for over an hour and a half churning out hundreds of lines of MIDI data as I improvised on the keyboard. Time ran out to show Mike my finished song, but I did not mind because I knew there would be next Tuesday. It never came. A few days later, Mike died of a heart attack at the age of 57.
In four years, Mike Meros unlocked more than my ability to compose music. He guided me on the path that gave me the confidence to improvise and the power to trust my instincts when taking a risk. Mike defeated my worries that every venture into the unknown needed to “sound good” to be worthwhile. My desire to explore, invent and transcend boundaries of all kinds is a result of the musical obstacle he helped me surmount.
With speech and debate, I struggled to overcome the similar internal forces that constricted my musical expression. In high school, I attended my first Junior State of America convention. During a debate, the moderator announced, “Are there any subsequent proponent speakers?” I looked around, and unconsciously thrust my hand in the air. “You!” There was no turning back as the metal stage creaked under my approach to the podium. The microphone echoed my voice and my passion, not a speech of pre-fabricated rhetoric. During the final applause, I wondered what could have made me recklessly volunteer to speak. Then I remembered my first experiment on the piano: it had to be Mike, the teacher who instilled in me the confidence to express myself, never fear failure, and welcome risks as an opportunity to give new music to life.