The Curse of Region 8

Last year (really this year, since it was in the February of 2014, though it now feels so distant) I made history: I became the first person from A&M Consolidated HS to make the 5A All-State Band as an underclassman. Moreover, no one from my region had made State in five years. At my audition at the TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association) convention, I ranked second-highest among underclassman trombonists from across the state, as well as eleventh overall, earning me third chair in the top band, which was conducted by one of the most renowned composers in modern-day music, Frank Ticheli. During the week I spent there in San Antonio, I worked harder than I ever had musically, because not only did I have something to prove, but also I couldn’t afford to make a mistake during the upcoming concert! The work paid off, and I delivered an unforgettable performance with the most talented musicians/friends I have ever met. Upon my return to Consol, everything had changed, however: no longer could I be complacent; no longer could I be imperfect; no longer could I be a high-school musician.

From a few hours after I received the news – news that I refused to believe at first, I might add –, I recognized the burden that was bestowed upon me: I have repeat my success two more times. Addressing this, I have worked even harder than I did last year, putting in countless hours at home and in private lessons. Last year I practiced from the afternoon the music came out in August up until the night before the Day That Changed All Days (slight overstatement). Yet, I still dealt with doubters. A few days after my initial All-State audition, one of my closer friends, in conversation, said to me, “If you made State then the bands there must not be as great at [another student who is now pursuing a jazz degree at a major music school] said it is.” I was upset, justifiably, but I came to realize that this – now – is when I need to prove myself; making State was not enough.

Even before that fateful day, I had a tense relationship with my band directors at times. I resisted efforts for them to mold me into their star student: I quit the jazz band before they made me the featured player, and I never took part in the pep band or the musical orchestra. Instead, I focused on my own (non-musical) interests, which upset them. Looking back, I think these decisions were motivated by my desire to break out of the predicament they put me in: one of the band directors, after my return from TMEA, declared to the band that “since [I] made All-State, [I] can do no wrong”. How could that possibly backfire? No pressure at all! I still struggle with this (though the directors’ image of me as an angel has surely faded, haha), and it simply compounds on top of the stress I already have from the process itself! I made it once – and I learned that my achievement was no fluke – but I still must reproduce it at the cost of my reputation, but more importantly, my mental well-being. A few weeks ago I wrote about my perfectionism and how I am extremely hard on myself; this manifests so often in my musical life that sometimes I avoid listening to my cherished recordings of my TMEA performance. Needless to say, though I have enjoyed the spoils of my victory, it has proven itself to be a double-edged sword.

I did not end the curse of Region 8: I inherited it.


Almost Worse Than Judas

Edward Shippen III, born July 9, 1703 in Boston, Massachusetts, is the oldest relative I know of. However, I only encountered him by searching someone I actually had heard of on Wikipedia: Margaret Shippen. Called Peggy Arnold by her friends, she was the wife of Benedict Arnold, the man colloquially known as the greatest traitor in the history of the Revolutionary War. Benedict, an acquaintance of George Washington and other revolutionary leaders, ran the fort at West Point as a general after leading troops into battle at Fort Ticonderoga and suffering a debilitating leg injury (this sacrifice contributed greatly to his respect among the revolutionary leaders). He sold the plans of the fort, the locations of armaments, and other war secrets to the British. When the Americans caught wind of Arnold’s plot, Peggy and Benedict were long gone.

Peggy was paid 350 pound for her contributions, which included “through her unceasing perseverance, ultimately [bringing] the general [Benedict] into an arrangement to surrender West Point.” Peggy herself was “disgusted with the American cause” and felt at home in London, where the two lived the remainder of their lives. (Randall, Willard Sterne (1990). Benedict Arnold: Patriot and Traitor. William Morrow and Inc.)

A ranking from ranks Benedict Arnold third among the top ten most notorious traitors of all time — two spots behind Cassius and Brutus and one behind Judas Iscariot. Yeah, that Judas. Arnold’s life is well documented, and his ranking is supported by biographical information from Creighton University and a few prominent biographers, including Aaron Burr, who later went on to become the third Vice President of the US. All these sources attribute Margaret Shippen with convincing Benedict to betray the US.

I have met no one in my family who feels disgraced to be related to Margaret Shippen; my grandmother argues that Benedict felt that Britain would have provided a better life for the colonists, and that’s why he switched sides. As a matter of fact, my aunt, Peggy Shippen, uses the story behind her name as an ice breaker — a really freakin’ good one. Fortunately, the Shippen name is not totally besmirched, as there is a town in Pennsylvania named Shippensburg, and many honorable judges and lawyers also bore the name in the following centuries. Though I only use Shippen as my middle name, I am a proud member of the Shippen family — for better or for worse.

“Wings” – Written by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

I was seven years old, when I got my first pair
And I stepped outside
And I was like, momma, this air bubble right here, it’s gonna make me fly
I hit that court, and when I jumped, I jumped, I swear I got so high
I touched the net, momma I touched the net, this is the best day of my life
Air Max’s were next,
That air bubble, that mesh
The box, the smell, the stuffin’, the tread, in school
I was so cool
I knew that I couldn’t crease ’em
My friends couldn’t afford ’em
Four stripes on their Adidas
On the court I wasn’t the best, but my kicks were like the pros
Yo, I stick out my tongue so everyone could see that logo
Nike Air Flight, but bad was so dope
And then my friend Carlos’ brother got murdered for his Fours*, whoa

See he just wanted a jump shot, but they wanted his Starter coat, though
Didn’t wanna get caught, from Genesee Park to Othello
You could clown for those Pro Wings, with the Velcro
Those were not tight
I was trying to fly without leaving the ground,
Cause I wanted to be like Mike, right
Wanted to be him, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to touch the rim
I wanted to be cool, and I wanted to fit in,
I wanted what he had, America, it begins

I want to fly
Can you take me far away
Give me a star to reach for
Tell me what it takes
And I’ll go so high
I’ll go so high
My feet won’t touch the ground
I stitch my wings
And pull the strings
I bought these dreams
That all fall down

We want what we can’t have, commodity makes us want it
So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it
Got to show ’em, so exclusive, this that new s***
A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in
Look at me, look at me, I’m a cool kid
I’m an individual, yeah, but I’m part of a movement
My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
Look at what that swoosh did
See it consumed my thoughts
Are you stupid, don’t crease ’em, just leave ’em in that box
Strangled by these laces, laces I can barely talk
That’s my air bubble and I’m lost, if it pops
We are what we wear, we wear what we are
But see I look inside the mirror and think Phil Knight tricked us all
Will I stand for change, or stay in my box
These Nikes help me define me, but I’m trying to take mine, off

I want to fly
Can you take me far away
Give me a star to reach for
Tell me what it takes
And I’ll go so high
I’ll go so high
My feet won’t touch the ground
I stitch my wings
And pull the strings
I bought these dreams
That all fall down

It started out, with what I wear to school
That first day, like these are what make you cool
And this pair, this would be my parachute
So much more than just a pair of shoes
Nah, this is what I am
What I wore, this is the source of my youth
This dream that they sold to you
For a hundred dollars and some change
Consumption is in the veins
And now I see it’s just another pair of shoes

[* Air Jordan IV]

Rap gets a bad rap. [Excuse me while I laugh to myself.] Though hip-hop is often written off as trashy, unoriginal, crude, violent, and tasteless , one will occasionally stumble upon a morsel of modern philosophy. Perhaps my favorite hip-hop song in a long time, “Wings” features a poetic delivery and deep lyrics, and exemplifies the beauty and potential this genre contains.

Identity and consumerism are dense topics to approach in song format, yet Macklemore manages to tie it all together into a radio-friendly track. Since the song opens with a long reflection about his love obsession with sneakers as a kid, the listener is caught off guard when Macklemore explains that his friend’s brother was murdered over his shoes. Now that he has the listener’s attention, Macklemore begins to explain the infatuation with labels and brands that pervades today’s youth culture and their harmfulness. Companies teach kids that they can achieve happiness and success (becoming like Michael Jordan, for instance) if they simply buy their product. Ultimately, Macklemore asserts, this happiness is fleeting, and exposes the pursuer to more harm than positivity.

Beyond the message, I just love the last verse of the song. Ryan Lewis (Macklemore’s producer) cleverly inserts a long violin(?) break after the third verse, isolating the last repetition of the chorus and the final verse from the rest of the track. The last verse, to me, serves as a poetic summary of the entire song: the last words, “just another pair of shoes”, roll off his tongue as if he were performing slam poetry; each word stands alone on its own line. So, to the h8rz, yes, hip-hop can be poetic.

I hope more rap artists take after Macklemore. After all, the genre has evolved so much from its roots in poetry clubs in big cities, so who’s to say we cannot expect to see a return to the poetic tradition? For the time being, at least, “Wings” stands alone as a testament to the beauty and power of this genre.

Decisions, decisions.

Oh, boy. Here we go.

It seems like the parents of Texas can’t stand what their kids are learning these days. The theory of evolution by natural selection? False. Human-caused global climate change? Debatable. Abiogenesis? Inconclusive.

Since we, the closed-minded parents (of increasingly open-minded teens), reject these concepts, we will reject them for our children, too.

Who could imagine that knowledge obtained from novels discussing controversial subjects could possibly be useful in one’s life? Since topics like abortion, rape, addiction and racism are unessential to understand in the real world, we might as well pretend like they don’t exist.

A few miles south of Highland Park, a suburb of Dallas, Texas, is Southern Methodist University, and prominently placed on campus is the George W. Bush Presidential Library. While I will not launch into a political tirade, I will say this: history is stripped of its significance when it is dumbed down to fit within the narrow ideological scope of a Presidential Library. It would seem fitting that the ignorance of such an institution would seep into the surrounding community, clogging up channels of discussion.

Parents are given the right to make countless decisions for their children. However, limiting the exposure of their children to controversial topics, in my opinion, should not be one of them. Though staunch social conservatives some parents feel uncomfortable discussing sex, race, drugs, etc. with their kids, not all parents sympathize; it is a violation of the academic freedom of the teacher, as well as the guarantee of a comprehensive education to the student, to ban such learning.

Highland Park is a very red school district, and it is logical to assume that many community members are strongly pro-life. However, a general consensus does not equal an end of discussion. If anything, abortion should be discussed in schools, as students are taught to form their own opinions. 

The adults that attended the school board meeting discussing the banning of the seven books from the school’s curriculum raised many concerns, reading aloud “excerpts of sex scenes, references to homosexuality, a description of a girl’s abduction and a passage that criticized capitalism.” They worried that “students should not be exposed to some of the hardships and controversies of adulthood.”

It is evident that the parents of Highland Park (that were in attendance, at least) do not wish for their children to question the world they live in. A high school diploma, to them, is not a symbol of worldly knowledge, but rather a stepping stone to a six-figure salary. Sex, gender, race, economics, and religion are facts of life that every human in today’s world encounters, and pretending that they are not is a disservice to the adults of tomorrow. Parents may choose what they discuss within their home with their children, but they should not be able to determine the education of others’ because of their personal beliefs.


Here’s a few bits of feedback I gave to my fellow AP III students:

I hope you enjoy my writing. Let me know what you do and don’t like!