Nothing quite like an earthquake to literally shock you into remembering your own mortality.
I was in bed watching a movie when it happened at 3am. The initial jostle surprised me. Then it immediately dawned on me what was going on as the entire building shook. The truth is, I just sat there frozen in fear–in fear of dying. In fear of the quake getting stronger, in fear of the building collapsing, in fear of the landfill beneath me crumbling into the ocean.
It’s not so often in life that you experience a raw, in the moment, fear of dying. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to live in a city where air raiders are bombing throughout the night. At the end of it all, we’re just among the lucky ones.
This experience has definitely motivated me to prepare an earthquake kit. Before, you kind of just joke around with friends. You either think it won’t happen to you, or you casually push away the idea because subconsciously, confronting your own death is inconceivable and absolutely terrifying. I hope this situation has motivated other people, too.
During my summer vacations when I was ten years old, my best friend Lulu and I would go on long bike rides around her neighborhood, Flagg St. in Bridgewater. Exhausted from the smoldering humid heat of the afternoon, we would come back, sometimes passing out on the front steps of her porch. Other times, we’d crash on her couch and watch episodes of Sailor Moon on VHS that we rented from Blockbusters, while savoring the flavors of Luigi’s lemon ice.
There was one episode we were not prepared for. It was a pivotal moment in season one, when Sailor Moon remembers her past identity as the Moon Princess and the identity of her love, Darien, from a thousand years ago, as he lay dying in her arms. The song, My Only Love, played in the background of the scene as Lulu and I cried and cried. From that moment on, Sailor Moon was forever cemented as our favorite anime.
That memory evokes in me the strongest nostalgia for childhood. And the song, My Only Love, has since been a favorite, even fifteen years later. I often play all my music on shuffle, and the moment I hear the drum opening to My Only Love, I can’t stop the wave of emotions that wash over me.
Back in late February, it occurred to me that the song would sound gorgeous on the piano. It would bring to life how forlorn and hopeful the original song was, but with a different feel that only the piano could achieve. I searched Youtube, and I was utterly crushed when I couldn’t find anything of good quality. I ached for a sound I could almost hear, but one that obviously did not exist. So I went back to my roots, digging up an old MIDI file I used to listen to when I was twelve for inspiration, and took to composing my first piano arrangement.
Within a week, I had a song that reached past its first chorus. I was riding a motivation and creativity high, believing I could reuse what I had with a few tweaks and call it a job well done. I eagerly sent the first crudely recorded version to Lulu, confidently believing I could wrap up the piece in another week.
But that was silly of me. The more I listened to what I wrote, the more it sounded bland and not good enough. Sometimes, I completely lost sight of what even sounded awkward. So I questioned the syncopation, each sixteenth note, and every arpeggiated chord. Did it make sense? Did it sound sad enough? I honestly brute forced as many variations as I could think of, often not being able to decide which one I liked better. To test out one chord or arpeggio progression, I would often have to replay from the beginning just so I could feel whether it flowed or not. On bad days, I would sit at the piano for two hours at a time, only to crank out one or two measures. Very quickly, I realized how much effort it would take to complete the song.
I had 80% of it done by mid March, and then I couldn’t bare to listen to it anymore. I fell into a pit of insecurity, where I felt my entire effort was crap. I’ve played the piano since I was eight, but I disregarded any music theory that my teacher tried to instruct to me. To this day, the sad truth is I barely know any music theory. I felt certain that what I created was something incredibly and embarrassingly rudimentary, something that a music theory pro could create in a few hours. Thus I tucked the piece away and didn’t think about it until early May. I only picked it up again because I was so close to finishing it. I wanted the satisfaction of saying that I completed it, so I pushed forward. I somehow turned off my inner critic and labored through the remaining song.
I finally finished the piece in mid May. I recorded a rough audio of the song and decided to put it on hold. I needed another breath of fresh air in the middle because it would afford me the much needed perspective to analyze my work. It wasn’t until the end of June with some tweaking here and there that I became satisfied enough to call the piece complete.
Recording a final video and audio was a whole other beast. I originally wanted to capture my entire torso and up, but I lacked presence in my performance. It wasn’t a skill I believed I could learn and polish up in the next few days, so I settled on just capturing my hands. I think it worked out. It helps convey that the action is in my hands when they take up the majority of the video. I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me rationalizing. In total, I think I did over 30 takes over the course of a few days. I just kept messing up. It’s so difficult to play something absolutely perfectly.
My biggest challenge was composing the “left hand accompaniment.” It’s a misnomer because it’s more than just what the left hand plays. At first, I thought of it as filler notes. I needed stuff to happen, something to take up the “whitespaces” (or pauses) in between the phrases of the melody. Otherwise, it would be really boring. Where the voice can hold a note for a full measure and even crescendo, the moment I strike a note on the piano, it can only diminuendo. The accompaniment therefore had to be interesting somehow. But I wanted it to be more than fluff, such that when isolated, it would be strong enough to be considered a sub-melody. I ultimately thought of the accompaniment as its own entity. By giving the accompaniment a voice, it became an equal participant in the conversation with the melody. I then extended the conversation analogy to connect and relate adjacent measures to each other.
At the end of it all, I’m pretty happy with my work. Now that I have distance from the composing process, I can sit back and enjoy rather than pick it apart. It helps that the video has reached over 500 views at this time of writing. No lie, I had to do some promoting. I reached out to webmasters of Sailor Moon fan sites and posted on forums including reddit. It was worth it though. I have a feeling the likes and favorites on my video are mostly from Sailor Moon fans.
Other Sailor Moon work
Before I started writing my own arrangement, I searched extensively for “Sailor Moon My Only Love piano sheet music”. I even image searched, and one result immediately caught my eye:
Image search result: “Sailor Moon My Only Love piano sheet music.”
It was a crop of a wallpaper I made when I was fifteen years old. I used to make wallpapers for fun in Photoshop. I still have the .psd file for it, but here is the original that I shared on the web so many years ago:
Original wallpaper I made in January 2005.
Anyway, the image search led me to a Youtube video. A musician (obviously a Sailor Moon fan) had created a medley, and used my wallpaper as the video footage.
Wow. I never would have imagined that the little corner of the internet I inhabited 10 years ago would reach people in this way. It really touched me.
And then, after releasing my own video, I searched Youtube for “Sailor Moon My Only Love” to see where my video ranked. I immediately recognized my wallpaper again. A Youtube user created an entire Sailor Moon playlist of videos using my wallpaper.
Just wow. I can’t believe how things on the internet sort of just live forever. No one has requested the sheet music to my piece yet, but I’m thinking of putting it out there. Just like my wallpaper, I wonder if it’ll be useful to someone at some point later.
My sheet music scribbles that I need to digitize.
Well that was humiliating.
I just attended a writing practice meetup where everyone spends the first few minutes generating prompts. Then we randomly pick one and respond to it within ten minutes. We go around the table and read off what we each wrote, but we don’t discuss. We just listen.
Writing is not my forte. I can barely figure out what I want to write about in those ten minutes, much less produce something of readable quality. To my ears, everyone scribbled off pages of lyrical prose imbued with hard-hitting insight or wondrous humor while I choked out clunky sentences that barely strung into a single paragraph.
Why would I willingly sign myself up for such torture? Well, I think it’s important to put myself through uncomfortable situations. I definitely wanted to cringe and hide every time I had to read aloud my work, but it’s so worth it after the fact. I enjoyed listening to everyone else’s pieces. Their work was inspiring. And most of all, I met some very interesting people. I now have mentors for writing and photography.