Carnegie Hall, again

Carnegie Hall, again

By: John Hunt and Ida Mahmoudi, Del '12

Ida is a whirlwind. Her first appearance at Carnegie Hall was in 2012, the result of winning an individual Maestro Award (given to 3 of 900) at the Boston Heritage Music Festival, which she attended with the Del Honors Band.  She was chosen because of talented dedication to join an elite group from the U.S and Canada to perform at the Famous Hall, the renowned venue that marks the pinnacle of musical achievement. The event is the “Young Adult Honors Performance Series.”

Ida is a flutist and she plays and teaches piano as well- her more prominent instrument. So, six years later when she received a second request for auditions at Carnegie, she contacted Mr. Larry Shields, her Del music teacher, rented her flute and began practicing everyday at Goodman’s LLP, a Bay Street law firm.  Over the summer she practiced daily to become familiar with her craft again. While entering her third and final year of law school at U. of Ottawa she spent most of September preparing for her audition.  Then the news came - with great rejoicing – she was accepted into the program again.  As you will read, she managed a successful blend of exuberance, anxiety and achievement. Wonderfully, she triumphed twice where most of humanity could not attempt once.

Meanwhile, a McGill graduate, she balanced her passion for music with political and academic concerns in student government at the highest levels.  She served at McGill as the school’s Ambassador to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the school’s ambassador to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada at her Ottawa law school. She won awards for excellence in student leadership, among them the “The McGill Women in Leadership” commendation.  At Ottawa she led many initiatives (a long list) such as the “Association for Women and the Law”.   She also works as a teaching assistant to Dean Adam Dodek and research assistant to Dr. Ian Kerr, the Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology. 

Her own summary of her odyssey is an accurate account of a student’s journey through the maze of university life and professional schools. We see all the fibers of a life being woven into a tapestry. Her tale has the doubts, hesitations, tentative decisions and decisions that we all have to make to navigate the turbulent choices that early adulthood may present, the existential choices that determine the rest of our lives.  Ida’s alternatives are ours: necessity against preferences, opportunities against hesitations, fear against hope, success against failure.  Her account of her alternatives and successes is an excellent dramatic rendering of a young thinkers search for meaning and direction.  It reads like a short drama while at the same time is an excellent essay, so well executed that it will be given to our senior students as a model to emulate not only of beautiful writing but also of a sample of the trials that they will likely meet.  Believe me, a great essay is not easy to find in these times of mass social media, confused standards and the blizzard of grade-inflated scribbling.

Her sentences are forceful yet delicate. The sentence variety, refreshing.  She gives life to Carnegie Hall by animating the building and its glittering history, observing uniquely that you play with Carnegie Hall, not merely at it. That is rare creative thinking. Not everyone could create that novel expression.  The essay has the required classical structure: a closed circle.  It ends where it begins and begins where it ends – the topic is surrounded.  So, we have splendor – drama, exceptional writing, creativity and insight.  But enough commentary. Read and enjoy Ida’s own very creative account.

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I look back on my six years at De La Salle with a special kind of fondness, a fondness enriched by the lifelong reminders and relationships I luckily maintained long after I graduated. During my first few days at DEL, Father Testa would consistently repeat a word that, after six years, continues to define my approach to life: asceticism.

I distinctly remember the long days we’d all spend as hyper-involved and eager students hoping to better ourselves and our communities. It’s also quite impossible to forget the long nights spent revising our essays to make it into Mr. Hunt’s famous essay collection, which featured his hand-picked favourites. It’s even more impossible to forget our early morning and late evening practices, for our soccer matches, volleyball semi-finals, and basketball games, while doing so. Everyone was busy with something.

For every student’s diverse commitments, you would know at least one of your teachers was rooting for you, championing you, and guiding you to exceed your expectations. I will never forget the note and package I had received from Ms. Burlon after I was grappling with significant personal struggles during my last year. I would constantly seek new avenues to channel my self-doubt and insecurity. Before her mentorship, I largely equated my worth to the volume of opportunities I could accept and pursue.

She always offered refreshing perspectives that challenged the mechanical and dissociative approach I took to complete my work.

On the last few lines she wrote, “Chaque réveil du soleil offer une nouvelle opportunité; chaque coucher de solei lune occasion d’en profiter d’un travail bien fait.” I still keep the note on my desk every day as a persistent reminder to pause, to think about the value of the things we choose to do, the people we choose to associate with, and kind of life we choose to live.

Mr. Larry Shields was - and continues to be - family. I was the principal flutist in Mr. Shield’s bands since entering high school. After our performance at the Boston Heritage Music Festival, where I was fortunate enough to receive one of three Maestro awards, I received an automatic nomination to audition for a performance at Carnegie Hall. I received the nomination at a critical period in my life: I was deciding which disciplines to pursue when applying to universities. Should I apply to the social sciences and go to law school, or fully commit to the arts?

He proved that my passions were never mutually exclusive; the decision to pursue one interest would not condemn the other. I remember our endless conversations around everyone’s innate ability to accommodate their passions, and those conversations have informed my quite bizarre and broad career path, my refusal to specialize into one discipline.

But, after my first Carnegie Hall performance, I began feeling more and more distant from my musical passions, and was ashamed of myself for not making enough time for them. I would visit Mr. Shields at the Music Hall whenever I was home. He would always ask how music was doing, and I would not have much to contribute.

During my time at McGill, I shifted my focus to composition instead of performance in order to make time for student advocacy. I spent most of my time improving student institutions, specifically with the political science department. I was genuinely interested in improving student life and happiness. But, somehow, Carnegie Hall continued to define and pave the way for new experiences. By some stroke of luck, Professor Kryzstof Pelc, who I had interviewed as part of a Professor of the Month Series had looked me up and noticed I had performance experience. I remember during our interview, we discussed his fascination with Turkish rugs and culture. One week later, he had cryptically asked to Skype about “something”. I initially thought I’d made a mistake during our interview. I accepted the call, noticing Turkish rugs peppered in the background. Surprisingly, he began by asking if I was a performer, signalling that he had noted my Carnegie Hall experience. I said yes. He then asked “So you’re comfortable performing in front of a large crowd?” I chucked nervously, and said yes. Then, he said, “So you’ll have no problem thanking the UN Secretary General after his keynote speech at the university next week.” I froze. Within a week, I had to develop the closing remarks following His Excellency UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s keynote speech at McGill University. I immediately met with Susan Aberman, Principal Fortier’s Chief of Staff, to discuss the expectations for the event. Then, Professor Pelc and I went over the speech. On keynote day, I waited anxiously in the Leacock Building for our esteemed guest to arrive. I distinctly remember shaking former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s hand, meeting his wife, and greeting the Principal and the UN Special Envoys. Then, I noticed I was seated right next to Principal Fortier, sitting right across from His Excellency and his wife, during a meeting to improve youth participation in student activism and academic institutions. My heart was thumping the entire time, during the meeting, during the speech, and long after my closing remarks. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and somehow Carnegie Hall helped me get there. I decided that after completing my undergraduate degree, I would reengage with the arts.

And then I applied to law school.

Law school brings its own challenges. Traditionally, first year is usually defined by amassing as many interesting opportunities as possible and accentuating your interests through your resume, in anticipation for the infamous recruiting season. My first year was defined by an unexpected turn of events. Within a few months, in response to the unfortunate political climate, churches and mosques in the greater Ottawa region were being vandalized and anti-LGBTQ propaganda was being disseminated to different neighbourhoods. One of our professors noted that the Faculty – students, professors, and staff – was unsettled, and some felt rightfully unsafe. So, a formidable group of women from different equity-seeking groups organized our Faculty’s now-annual Diversity Night. This event began as a political response to these threats to self-determination; we hoped to promote the safety and awareness of our culturally and intellectually diverse students.  We were delighted that the event brought our Faculty together in solidarity and was widely attended. A few of our professors also musically performed, followed by speeches from our equity-seeking groups. 

A few months later, I was asked by the Greenberg Chair of Women and the Legal Profession and Professor (now Dean) Adam Dodek to offer the closing remarks for the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. She was providing the keynote remarks for the Constitutional 150 Conference, and the organizers requested a student to represent the Faculty of Law. Meeting the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould, a devoted and formidable force in our current political climate was exceptionally grounding. We are lucky enough to know and watch a legislative representative who, in person, is the kindest, most sincere human being, one who cares deeply about the people, the Canadians, she fights for on a daily basis. After offering my remarks, I noticed the Minister was crying … so I could have very well offered an embarrassingly awful speech, or a speech that brought her to happy tears. Her staff had asked me to send the remarks, we hugged, and I walked away with the same feeling of stupefied excitement as the year before.

Ironically, in second year, most of my firm interviews focused on my one performance at Carnegie Hall and those two speeches, the lessons I applied to my relationships, both professional and personal, and how my musical training would offer creative solutions to legal problems. So, every interview, I would relive these performances and explored the void that permeated the years following that one day in February, 2012.

After the interviewing process, I luckily secured a position at my top choice. I found an amazing firm that respects both of those passions. My mentors – associates, professional development, partners – all encouraged me to integrate both instead of stifling one over the other. To this day I am incredibly grateful that they were so accommodating.

A few days into working at Goodmans LLP, by some stroke of luck, I received an email from the Series I performed with in 2012. They were reaching out to alumni of the High School Honors Performance Series because hey had kickstarted a new ensemble for young adults, and encouraged me to audition. I panicked: I hadn’t picked up my flute in six years. Immediately, I contacted Mr. Shields, picked up a flute, and began practicing during the busiest few months of my life. I would participate in firm engagements and complete my work by day, and practice every evening with the hopes that my tone and sound would come back. Mr. Shields was there every step of the way.

Luckily, at least to the Series, it did. I submitted my audition a few weeks into my third year of law school, and received my acceptance letter on Halloween. I was elated. I would be performing at Carnegie Hall for a second time, and some force of nature had offered me a new opportunity to reinvest myself into music. What I didn’t realize was how intensive this new opportunity would be. Among the three pieces in our repertoire, we were tasked with mastering Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 Finale. For someone warming back up after six years, while balancing my law school commitments, I was exhausted by the sheer prospect of it all.

But I was also excited. I practiced after every class and every meeting at law school, reviewing arduous and annoying scales, maturing my sound, and preparing for my 2019 performance as a principal second flutist. One of my closest friends from the 2012 Series was my second chair, and encouraged me whenever I fell into a state of self-doubt, underlying an annoying perfectionism. During my January term, one month before the performance, I was selected to complete a research assistantship at UC Berkeley. My supervisor, Professor Deirdre Mulligan, was overwhelmingly supportive and helped me find ways to practice in California. Then it was time to travel to New York.

Walking onto the Perelman Stage is an experience that can only be characterized by a typhoon of emotion. There are no words to describe it … only wide, teary eyes and mouths hanging wide open. Waking onto the Stage, for the second time, after six years, could only be described by immense feelings of nostalgia, happiness, and most importantly, accountability. Performing an iconic piece from Tchaikovsky, who once conducted on that very stage, was an enormous responsibility, one that transcended any obligation I’ve had before. Any wave of emotion had to be channelled into controlled and tempered sounds, which resonated, vibrated, and echoed around the one Hall that actually augments the performers’ music. You’re not playing at Carnegie Hall; you’re playing with Carnegie Hall.

All of these experiences blossomed from one day in the De La Salle Music Hall, with one of my favourite musical performers and educators. It’s safe to say I will never forget the debt I owe to De La Salle for instilling not only a deep commitment to community, but also my appreciation for the hilariously unexpected opportunities flowing from that one word repeated to us during my first few days: asceticism.           

 

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