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Three weeks ago, I would’ve adamantly told you that I dislike performances, practicing the violin, or even simply applying the small bursts of energy that I exist through. And yet, some way or another, here I am, three weeks deep into classical music, two exhausting but equally invigorating weeks of teaching, and one surprisingly enjoyable debacle of a performance for an auditorium of musicians, both young and old.

During the first week, among other things, Hsiao-Mei (our program instructor) and Melody (our site coordinator) provided their own experiences with music and teaching. Admittedly, I required additional weeks to begin to comprehend their advice. A resounding theme has been to simply try. It is a mantra that I used to tell myself, a phrase that would echo in my head with shame as I caved to fear. However, through my time spent here, I have learned that trying is not a thought but an action. I am not brave, but I have no need to be brave. I simply must be fearless.

I am unafraid to squeak and screech wildly out of tune on a violin, to dance with a fellow camper in front of dozens or to smile and wave no matter how exhausted or unfamiliar. Every day has humbled me to this position. The mornings have been a battle in and of itself. I’ll seldom get up on time out of exhaustion, greeting the waiting team members in the hallway in my pjs before sprinting to get ready within a minute. From there, it’s a blur of greeting people at the front of the Lyon community center, having an hour to prepare the day’s curriculum, and then off attempting to teach three classes within the chaos of 9–11-year-olds and 6–7-year-olds. In this short time that I have spent at Kidznotes, I have developed a deep respect for the people there.

I have been in awe of the creative energy and drive of the beginner violinists, the diversity of their experiences and personalities but the consistently obvious brightness in their eyes. The pride they show in their music, the immediate interest they showed in the arts, and even just the respect they manage to show others has reciprocated an equal level of respect and interest—two tenets that have resonated greatly during this time.

DukeEngage Durham Arts students performing a song

Every day after lunch at Kidznotes, we had “sharings,” a time for instructors and students to share any skill or musical piece that they have been practicing. Both talent and mistakes were met with resounding applause and appreciation. This attitude was made possible by the staff members, who chose to focus on the fun and joy of participating, two experiences only made possible through respect and interest, a devotion of energy that I cannot take for granted.

Yesterday was the final program for the summer at Kidznotes. It was a blur of preparation, making origami to give to students to remember the camp by, and goodbyes that felt too brief. Admittedly, I felt hollow afterwards. I sat for hours wondering why I felt like someone had gouged out a piece of my heart. So, I began the unthinkable, the improbable, I began to write. Although I have yet to fully express everything that has occurred in these 21 days and I have undoubtedly been redundant and unstructured, I find that I cannot apologize for my decision to post this reflection.

This time has been crucial in understanding why I feel the way I do. This hollowness is perhaps a product of love for my time at Kidznotes, for the people I have been given the chance to interact with—the children, the staff, the DukeEngage team. Although this hollowness remains unsettling, I feel contentment in that this is a product of action and commitment and not one of regret. I hope that my farewells at Kidznotes were simply a “see you later.” I hope that the kids will look back someday and feel the same joy and impact they’ve had on me. Out of all of this, I even feel hope for myself. That in such a moment of my life, when everything felt wrong, I could suddenly be surrounded by the most genuine, fascinating people that draw out energy and excitement that I never knew I had. I write this now in hopes that I will not forget to remain grateful.