In 2003, I graduated from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts where I majored in music. I play a few musical instruments but not cool ones like the guitar or piano. Think more along the lines of the oboe.
You might recognize this video from Week Six of my game-a-week project. I don't play much anymore but I pull my oboe out every now and then to make sure my chops don't completely deteriorate. During high school and college though, I played a lot. Here are some groups I played with during that time and the years I played principal:
My oboe career probably peaked in 2002 when I was in a gazillion orchestras and competing fairly regularly. That year, I won first prize at the Southern California Junior Bach Festival (competition recording):
I also won grand prize at the MTAC Mozart Festival (post-competition award ceremony recording):
I cannot overstate the lasting influence that my high school oboe teacher, Francisco Castillo, has had on my life. His lessons were structured around the Tabuteau method and its numerical phrasing system. This method reduced abstract musical expression to unambiguous technical notation that I could understand and replicate, even as an immature teenager.
Once after a concert, I was approached by a man who waited for two hours just to shake my hand, telling me that he was moved to tears by my solo in the second movement of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony. I thought this was crazy since I was just a kid following numbers on a page. Through my lessons with Francisco, I gained a profound appreciation for the depth of emotion and experience that could be encoded with numbers: a notion that has had a tremendous influence on my work today.
Francisco also stressed the importance of basic fundamentals like long tones, scales and etudes. Like a typical teenager, I disliked practicing basics and when I came to lessons unprepared, we might spend the entire hour working on scales and long tones and never get to actual pieces. Even though I came unprepared somewhat often, Francisco's perpetually cheerful demeanor never once wavered.
Today, I can pick up my oboe even after not playing for a while and bring myself back to a reasonable level in a fairly short period of time. I'm humbled and grateful to Francisco for leading me down the fruitful path of fundamental skills mastery. It has left such an indelible impression on my life that I've made it my mission to raise the standards of math fundamentals in our education system through games.
I joined the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra as a college freshman under maestro David Milnes and stayed with the group for five years, which included an extra year after graduation while I was working down the street. David was also conductor of the Berkeley Contemporary Chamber Players so we played a lot of crazy music by composers like György Ligeti and Witold Lutosławski that stretched the limits of my musical comfort zone.
My craziest performance experience was with the University Symphony during a performance of Debussy's La Mer. I had just submitted a computer science project and was coming off 40 consecutive hours of coding where I hadn't slept and only eaten a bag of pretzels and five Red Bulls. A few minutes into the piece, under the hot stage lights and wearing a constricting bow tie, I was struck by a dizzy spell and my vision went black. The concert didn't stop so I leaned back in my seat, took some deep breaths with my oboe held to my lips and tried not to faint. After a few long seconds my vision returned and the rest of the concert proceeded without incident. I don't think anyone even noticed.
By the time I joined the Stanford Graduate School of Education for my Master's degree in 2009, I was ready for a musical change of pace. So instead of auditioning for the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, I tried out for the Japanese drumming ensemble, Stanford Taiko.
This was an amazing experience! I really enjoyed being a beginning taiko student while deeply immersed in educational theory coursework. It allowed me to metacognitively assess various learning techniques to improve as both an educator and a student simultaneously. Stanford Taiko was a very time-intensive group and between it, my graduate work, building Equatia and a part-time game design internship with PlayFirst in San Francisco, I didn't have much time for luxuries like sleep.
There are a few videos of me performing with Stanford Taiko floating around the internet but this is my favorite because Obon is the best venue for playing taiko and also because I totally nail the behind-the-back stick toss during my drum solo at 2:38 (I'm on the far right in the purple).
I played with a couple of other groups after grad school, including Jiten Daiko, a group of post-collegiate taiko players in San Francisco. It was with Jiten that I discovered my first ever internet fan in the comments of this photo from a random Flikr user.
The highlight of my taiko career has to be performing with the incredible fusion drumming group, On Ensemble, which I was fortunate enough to do twice. Here's a shot of me performing i31d03d!jns+vw (yes, that's the name of the piece) with Kris Bergstrom and Masato Baba at the ShastaYama festival in 2011.