Interview with Anne Ku

Anne Ku on Maui

Anne Ku on Maui

You’ve described life as “a big playground to learn and have fun.” Can you tell us a little more? Have you always had this philosophy or is it something you realized as you got older?

One of my favorite songs is Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”  — I have to remember that when I’m not enjoying myself. If it’s no longer fun, then it’s time to move on. We’re here to learn. As long as we’re learning, we’re growing. And life is the playground where we can play, experiment, make mistakes, learn and grow. This is something I’ve realized as I got older. When I was younger, I thought of life as full of new experiences to be had, but work was a big component of that. Work — defined as activity where you get compensated. Life can be defined by experiences and lessons learned. Dalai Lama’s observation of the way we separate work and play made me want to equate work with play. When I became a musician, turning my hobby into my profession, I no longer separated the two. And so, life = work = play.  Right now, in an academic environment, I’m learning as I teach.

Tell us a little bit about your life’s journey so far.

When asked “what do you want to be when you grow up,” I answered “a fairy.”  Now that may sound corny, but I think I actually fulfilled my wish. A fairy can change if she wants to. I’ve changed jobs and self-definition as many times as I’ve relocated. I have an insatiable appetite for what is new and different. I thrive on diversity. I’m very curious. I love to investigate. There was never a grand plan. Each relocation had a legitimate reason. I’ve often wondered if my life has been one of falsification. That is, to do something long enough to stop when I realize I either don’t like it or don’t want to do it. This could be due to boredom or feeling incompetent. If I can’t be the best in that field, then it’s time to move on. On the other hand, if I do become the best, then I get bored and want to move on anyway. I don’t know the answer, only that life is full of offerings — like a candy store for a child. I can’t help wanting to try. I suppose, that’s what keeps me going.

With all of your traveling and moving you seem to live the life of a vagabond. Do you have a place you call home?

Home is where the heart is, and everywhere I’ve called home, I’ve left a bit of my heart. Right now I feel very at home on Maui, but I do feel most at home in London.

You wear many hats – pianist, composer, economist, mathematician, engineer, entrepreneur and teacher. How do you prioritize? If you had to choose one thing to do for the rest of your life, what would you choose? Okay, maybe two things…

I think we all wear different hats, whether to do with what we do or what we are. Right now I’m a teacher, researcher, and grant writer. When I was living in Utrecht, I was a pianist, composer, and writer. I prioritize by what’s needed to survive and what I’m most interested in — there’s an overlap to the next thing I’m going to be doing. If there’s one thing I’d do for the rest of my life that would be to do what I haven’t done before. I daresay, the sort of books I’m reading and the path I’m on now, I want to learn to just BE and not DO.

Are you pursuing any creative activity where you are a total beginner? How do you approach learning a new activity? Do you mess around with it or do you go methodically step-by-step through the learning process?

I suppose grant writing is a creative activity. I’ve just finished my third grant on Maui (and my fourth one, if you include my duo’s trip to Spain). I identify who the experts are and ask them questions. I do a lot of research on my own. I attend seminars and read a lot.

Are you an early riser or do you burn the midnight oil?

I wish I could be an early riser. I seem to take awhile to get into the momentum. Before I know it, the day is gone but I’m not ready to stop.

I see that you practice yoga. Do you also meditate? Was it difficult for you to put on the brakes and slow down? What differences do you notice in your life now that you’ve started these practices?

I’ve been doing yoga for many years now but I still can’t “truly” meditate. I say this because my mind is very busy. When I’m trying new or difficult poses, I do focus but I wouldn’t say it is meditation. I swim daily. It frees and calms my mind. That is a form of meditation in three dimension. I hope to one day “truly” meditate.

What’s next for you, Anne?

I would love to become a published author and churn out new bestsellers. I grew up reading Barbara Cartland and Harlequin Romance Novels. Maybe one day when I can’t be as physically active or energetic as I am now, I will finally settle down and write.

Sweet sixteen in a sundress I made in Okinawa (I loved to design and make my own 100% cotton dresses!)

Sweet sixteen in a sundress I made in Okinawa (I loved to design and make my own 100% cotton dresses!)

Follow Anne’s travels, adventures and reinventions by checking in on her website. And as always, if you know someone who has a 9 to 5 job or family obligations… but still finds time to incorporate creative play into their life, please email me at catherine (at) gmail (dot) com.

Back in the Saddle

Eighteen months ago I finished the last recording of my 2012 Go Play Project where I recorded one piano piece every Sunday night for a year. Since then I’ve downsized considerably, sold two houses, moved, and started a new job.

However there was one unexpected consequence from my year at the piano. I began to wonder if my whole piano playing intensive was a bad idea – a project better left for someone else. After all I had finished out the year with the music of Medtner and Scriabin, beautiful works that I had only recently been introduced to.

But something had happened that I was reluctant to blog about.  Hard to believe, but I had actually developed an aversion to the sound of the piano. Yes. It’s true. After blogging about piano playing, performance, accompanying, teaching, and more teaching, and then practicing every week for a year….I craved silence.

I boxed up all my music. Gave my “teaching” music to a new teacher in town.

And then I sold my piano.

This was major.

I started piano at age 8 and played almost every day until my late twenties. Even after that, I couldn’t imagine not living with a piano. Not being able to sit down whenever I wanted to and read through Chopin and Beethoven. Sometimes practicing was more intense. Other times an evening of sight-reading would be enough.

Now there was nothing.

But wait. There was life after piano. I started remembering the things that I loved to do when I didn’t “have to” practice. The idea of “reinvention” became very appealing. I didn’t have to be Cathy, the piano teacher, any more. I toyed with the idea of going into real estate. I took a class in medical terminology. I began to feel like a regular person.

And I wrote. I completed two screenplays during the past two years. One is in very competent Hollywood hands right now. The other is waiting for a re-write.

I’ve also been itching to pick up a pencil and draw again. For some reason drawing was always saved for a special occasion when I was growing up. It was a treat to pull out paper and crayons.

And so that brings me to today. Inspired by my friend, Judy Leeson Polstra, who’s started her own “Go Play Project” on the piano, I’ve decided to jump back on the horse (please check out Devon Combs’s Beyond The Arena site as she kindly let me use her image for this post). I’m going to try my hand at another “GPP.” This time I’m going to sketch a little illustration every day for the month of August. It’s not much and, to any artist, it’s a joke. But to someone like me who’s not even a doodler, this will be a challenge.

Follow along as I post each day. And jump in any time with your own “Go Play Project.” I’d love to hear about it. As Judy said to me, “Less Fear. More Fun. That’s what this should be all about.