J'ai deux amours : I have two loves : Mon pays et Paris. My country and Paris Par eux toujours By them always Mon cœur est ravi. Is my heart ravished.
I am still processing all of the emotions that I am feeling since deciding to move back to my hometown of Dallas, Texas after spending three beautiful years in Paris, France. My time there was so life-changing, that I felt inspired to write about it. This is my love letter to Paris and to everyone I met there. I hope that those of you who make it to the end of this post will appreciate the time and care that went into each and every word.
I. A Personal Summary
II. Professional Highlights
III. A Thank You to My Friends
IV. What's Next
At the top of this post, I quoted a song I just discovered by Joséphine Baker (1906-1975), a French-American entertainer, civil rights leader, World War II spy, among other amazing things. I'm getting ready to perform an arrangement for wind instruments of her song, "J'ai Deux Amours," so naturally I searched a video of her singing the original version for inspiration. I discovered the song at the exact same time that I was moving from Paris to Dallas, and I could relate to the lyrics of her song, essentially a love letter to Paris. Hence came the idea for the title of this blog post.
To everyone that I met in Paris and to those who aspire to visit one day, it really is an enchanted place. I hope that everyone gets to visit and experience this city for themselves one day. I consider myself genuinely and incredibly LUCKY that I was able to call it my home for a short period of time. It really was my home. I made so many new friends and confronted so many new challenges (lingual, cultural, personal, musical, psychological, among others...).
Fortunately, I knew one person when I first arrived to Paris. My friend Dhyani (an American violinist who coincidentally was also moving there at the same time that I was). During the first two weeks, I also met the other two Harriet Hale Woolley Scholars. We soon called each other the Woolley Boy$ and discovered the city together starting with some of the more touristic monuments.
But after the first few weeks, I hardly returned to those places. Most of my time was filled with rehearsals, private lessons, and concerts. I was an Artist-in-Residence at La Fondation des États-Unis, and I was studying weekly with Patrick Messina, prinicipal/solo clarinetist of the National Orchestra of France. That was the principal reason that I was there, and I tried to record every lesson and follow every critique. I was living my dream.
Here are a few more personal highlights from the past 3 years in the city of lights.
I survived 3 confinements of varying severity (Parisians know what I'm talking about) and a 6am-6pm; later 7pm daily curfew. I even self-confined in my small room with only a sink, various times after being a contact case.
I played the Mozart Clarinet Concerto from my 5th floor window (in support of and in solidarity with healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic) which was live streamed and shared by the United States Embassy in Paris.
A link to the livestream: https://fb.watch/5PECe_0URh/
I was there during the fire of the St. Michel Notre Dame Cathedral, and I even appeared on "France 3" television (Île-de-France) for making Texas-style brisket for my friends and fellow expats confining in Paris for Christmas dinner.
I lived through the Gilet Jaunes (Yellow Vests) transportation strikes.
I helped organize a virtual concert with my fellow expat American musicians featuring the work of African-American composers, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement happening across many cities.
If you had asked me where I saw myself a few years ago, I would have never told you that I saw myself playing solo recitals and chamber music concerts in and around Paris. In my mind, it would have only been in a dream, or maybe in another life! But I was able to make my dreams a reality after learning about the Harriet Hale Woolley Scholarship, an award which supports young, American musicians with a monetary grant and an artist residency at La Fondation des États-Unis, otherwise known as the United States Foundation in Paris. We at "La Fondation" liked to called it The American House. It's a building with 5 floors, located on the campus of La Cité Universitaire de Paris in the 14th arrondissement of the French capital.
"La Cité" is home to approximately 12,000 students, artists, and researches from 140 different countries across the globe. It was founded in 1925 as a means to encourage cultural exchange.
The famous "5th floor" of The American House is where all of the visual artists and musicians are housed, a mix of American expats like myself and residents from other nations whose projects are either linked to American culture or residents who applied to live in the American house to interact in English with other students. It's where I was lucky enough to call my "home away from home."
And now, I would like to share some of my professional highlights from my 3 years in residency.
I spent the last three years building a network and expanding my capabilities as a performing artist and music interpreter under Patrick Messina, solo clarinetist of the National Orchestra of France, and 6 months with Jean-Marc Volta, former bass clarinetist of the same orchestra.
Before the pandemic, I had a concert season of about 30 solo and chamber music performances at various cultural events, including: the bi-monthly concert series « Rendez-Vous Musical », the annual "Ciné-Concert" (improvising to silent films), the Krump dance festival (improvising to contemporary dance), a 4th of July concert, and various other commemorative events including a concert after the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire and the Black Lives Matter manifestations. I also performed and live-streamed a complete 80-minute program, titled « Elias and friends » that I curated and carried out with musician friends that I met during my first year in Paris.
I collaborated with other high caliber musicians and visual artists also in residence, including concerts as a soloist with the professional Ensemble Calliopée, comprised of faculty from the « Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique » also known as the Paris Conservatory, and other recognised music institutions in and around Paris.
I received a personal invitation to perform at two events by the United States Embassy in Paris, including opening and closing the ceremony of an event commemorating the one year anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh. I performed solo Jewish klezmer for the Ambassador of Israel and the Ambassador of United States in France, and the U.S. Embassy live-streamed my Mozart Concerto during "Fête de Balcons," a concert from my 5th floor window after the French president Emmanuel Macron announced a nationwide confinement.
I performed 5 concerts of the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets at the historic Fontainebleau American School of the Arts, also known as the site where many renowned composers (Gershwin, Bernstein, Stravinsky, Ravel) gathered each summer to study under Nadia Boulanger.
I was one of 8 semi-finalists in the 2020 international search for a bass clarinetist in the Montpellier Opera Orchestra.
I received a first prize in chamber music by unanimous vote from the École Normale Supérieur de Musique de Paris (my school) after playing the first Brahms 1st Clarinet Sonata in f minor. I also received a top score in my sight-reading exam the same year.
I acquired my third language, which allowed me to eventually recruit clarinet students and get a job as a waiter at a 4-star Parisian hotel (it was Mercure Palais Garnier, in case you were wondering).
I participated in a short film (coming out this summer) around the music of Claude Debussy, a collaboration between the Fondation des États-Unis and Ensemble Calliopée.
I received a scholarship to participate in the Saline Royale Academy at Arc-et-Senans, France, where over 5 days, I spent about 25 hours listening, learning, and playing in masterclasses under Sharon Kam, one of the greatest clarinetists of all time.
A Thank You Letter to Everyone I Met in Paris:
Now I would like to specifically thank the special people in my life who have made my stay in Paris go smoothly and worth every single moment. Thank you for helping me, talking to me, supporting me, challenging me, teaching me, or simply bringing joy to my soul.
Firstly, to the administration of the Fondation des États-Unis, without whom I would have never arrived to Paris in the first place. Thank you for your endless help, guidance, and friendship.
Anne, Sophie, Noëmi, and Razika!
The receptionists during my time at La Fondation, especially to Katarzyna, Sacré, Fabrizzio, and Gina - for answering all of my questions, sharing little anecdotes with me from time to time, and allowing me to use the music studios in the basement at late hours into the night.
To the maintenance staff, especially to Jean and Délivrance for your smiles, conversation, and willingness to help when we needed it.
To my companions of the 5th floor past and present, my Christmas and Thanksgiving crew, and eventual hunker-down, pandemic confinement group. For every laugh, hug, tear, meal, concert, deep and even the not-so-deep conversations we ever shared in the kitchens and in our artist studios:
Emilio, Mallory Mae, Madi, Sergio, Andrew, Thomaz, Ximena, Will, Alex, Taylor, Daniel, Rebecca, Ennica, Neeti, Suejin, Hope, Olivia, Solange, Timothée, Liberal, Maximilien, Laura, Marius, Rose, Arthur, Michael, Marcel, Stephan, Sarah Grace, Mosa, Alexa, and Edo, Tennyson, Yigit, Rebekah.
To the former and current Woolley Scholars, including the Woolley Boy$, for your guidance, music, and friendship.
Jenny Clarinet, Jossalyn Jensen, Sarah Ghandour, Will Cravy.
To the best PUBG team there ever was (RIP):
-PowerSurge, Emmanuella, MakeYaKnees, and XslayerX
To the most fuego composer in all of Paris, and Spongebob connaisseur the world has ever known
-Mr. world wide 305, Sergio.
To the best partner for quick Lidl runs, German lessons, picnics at the park, Lime scooting through the city, train rides to Fontainebleau, quick matches for chicken dinners, and the most original rendition of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro I've ever played. Thanks for your wisdom, strength, and inspiring music. You know who you are, TTP!
To my first friend in Paris, getting settled was so much easier because I knew we could count on each other for help. I knew since we met at Vermon Mozart Fesitval that we would become very good friends! I'm so glad we finally got to perform together. May there be many more opportunities in our future, Dhyani!
To my French conversation coffee pals. My Southern gnomy homie, the best peanut butter cookie baker I ever did meet, and to the best Spot It! player, running buddy, and most committed, cell phone photographer I ever did meet. Miss Hundo P. herself. You know who you are.
To friends from other floors at the FEU:
Lucie, Tomas, Barney, Jeff
To my friends in the other houses at La Cité,
My best French friend in Paris: the polyglot, bike magician, piano wizard, and my flirtatious duo partner, Clément Huber.
Caio, for your friendship, shared love of Disney, and introducing me to feijoada :)
Luis Gerardo, por tu amistad y los conciertos chidos que hicimos con clarinete bajo y acordeón.
To the team of Ensemble Calliopée, for sharing your knowledge, guidance, mediation, making me feel welcome and showing me how chamber music is played in France.
To my mentor and clarinet teacher, Patrick Messina. I express an endless appreciation for the time you devoted to me, in and out of the "classroom." Your conversations, music, and life lessons I will treasure with me for the rest of my career. I promise to make you proud.
To Monsieur Jean-Marc Volta, for your immense knowledge, inspiration to play the bass clarinet more seriously, and for your guidance as I prepared for orchestral auditions.
To my clarinet colleagues past and present from École Normale, for sharing your journey alongside me:
Yoko, Utako, Valeria, Lucas, Tomas, Daniele, Yoshiko, Mayuko, Yeosong, Kanon, Inés, Paolo
To the friends whom I never had the chance to get as close to as I wanted to, may our paths cross another time!
Sato, Gustavo, Timmy, Ariel, Mark B. Lucie, and Tomas.
To one of the best violinists that I know personally. Thanks for being an inspiration, my friend, and for hosting the best (pre-covid) aperos that Paris has ever known. Where else can you share homemade arepas while listening to Daddy Yankee, pet Panusch (sp?), look at the Eiffel tower, and talk about classical music? Nicole, thank you for your friendship and your advice.
To the team at 56 Rue Lepic Vandoren,
For seeing me every other week and allowing me try essentially all of your mouthpieces.
To the Palestinian barbers on Boulevard Jourdan, for giving me the best fade of my life. Just say "comme d'habitude" and they'll have you looking like you're ready to accept a grammy.
To the crêpe guys in front of Cité U. They really were one of the best crêpe spots in Paris. You saved me endless times when I was out of food or too tired to make something to eat.
To Cyrille Mercadier Clarinet Shop for their friendly conversation, guidance, and excellent clarinet repair!
To my partner, Emlio. Where do I begin? For everything.
To Emilio's friends, Anaïs, Amelie, Diane, Mathieu, Bertrand. Thank you for accepting me in your home and sharing delicious picnics and apéros!
To anyone else whom I may have missed! :)