Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Friends I Love To Feature!! Mary Casiello!!

Hello friends!  I'm so excited to share with you an amazing woman.  I went to school with Mary and I know first-hand how talented she is.   I asked Mary to do a post for Then We Started Living.  I really believe that Mary is incredably inspiring.  I hope that her post gives you some hope, some inspiration, some belief that you can fulfill your dreams.  I don't want to spoil her post, so I will stop there, but please make sure to visit her websites, listen to some of her music, and let her know how awesome she is!  (All photos were taken from Mary's sites.  I do not take any credit for them whatsoever!)

I suppose my first point about how I got where I am is that I am not sure I "am" anywhere most days, hahaha.  And I guess that's really the way I've been approaching my career as a musician, because the notion of getting somewhere suggests that success is a certain destination.  I'm becoming more and more convinced that success, both as a working musician and in life in general, is really a self-determined journey.

I was first introduced to the piano at age four and started lessons at 7.  Playing piano was something that I could do with my body, and do well, which was not true in the rest of my life as I was an obese child with a thorough lack of coordination.  Lessons would be on one year and off the next, depending on what my parents could afford in time and money.  I didn't have a lot of extracurricular activities, much as I might have liked to have them, but I did get to have piano.

I wrote my first song when I was nine years old, and it was naturally really terrible.  I continued to write as I got older, especially as the span of time between piano lessons grew more expansive.  But music didn't start becoming the center of my life till I was 11 or 12.  Something changed in me at that point in my life, and I decided I didn't want to be so reserved.  I wanted to make bold choices, and I found myself drawn to performing arts, including acting and singing.  I asked someone close to me when I was 10 if I could sing, and she very gently told me no.  I taped myself, and she was quite right, but I was determined to change all that.  I spent copious amounts of time over the next several years trying to perfectly mimic Mariah Carey riffs and to train my ear to know where middle C was when I heard it.  The latter I did by sitting at the piano for hours listening to interval differences between notes, and I actually did reach a point where my memory for a pitch was quite solid.  I started taking voice lessons when I was 15, and from then on, it was a straight shot in the direction of music, music, and more music!  I wrote songs like a fiend, primarily about a boy I loved from afar.  Sometimes I'd even be writing lyrics during Spanish class or at my locker, and always on whatever scrap of paper happened to be handy.  In fact, that's still how I do it.  (I've definitely given my band copies of messy lyrics and chords written on the back of one of my paystubs!)

Around the same time I started taking voice lessons, I was growing restless with life and with my circumstances.  I felt certain I could do great things if I could only "get out of Dodge", but I knew I had to stick it out a couple more years.  Chronic anxiety and depression became a huge issue, but one that wouldn't get diagnosed right away, and one that was an uphill battle getting treatment for given my family's stigma surrounding mental illness.  Music and writing became a place of solace for me, and a lot of great material came out of that rough time.  It seems to be a trend with songwriters that we all find it harder to write when we're happy with life! :) 

Things came to a head for me about halfway through my senior year of high school.  One night, I simply couldn't stop crying, and finally decided to tell my mom, who eventually ended up driving me to the ER.  I spent a month in an outpatient program, getting medications straightened out and focusing on airing out issues of abuse in my past that I hadn't wanted to face.  Many good friends didn't reach out to me during this time because they had no idea what to say or how to act, and for a long time I felt very, very alone.  I had many days where I strongly considered swallowing too many of those crazy new pills I was getting for anxiety, but what kept me going was a knowledge buried under all that doubt that I had a purpose past age 18.

Only a couple of months after this really dark time, I was accepted into the Berklee College of Music in Boston.  I remember the sense of peace I had when I knew that was where I was headed, despite the fights with parents about the cost and the distance.  Eventually my stubborn determination won out, and in September of 2003, I moved to a rough neighborhood of Boston living with potheads and a former cocaine dealer who looked out for the little sheltered white girl from northern Michigan.  I was so happy to be where I belonged that most days I hardly noticed what a terrible neighborhood it was!  Only a couple of months later, I met the man who would become my husband --- which is in itself an epic story, but I'll save that for another day. :)

Attending Berklee was an incredible experience.  It is a very unique school, one geared at the study of contemporary music (jazz and newer) rather than classical, so students from around the globe come to this tiny little place to have the amazing educational experience it offers.  It was not uncommon to be walking down one hallway and hear five or six different languages being spoken at once.  There was always someone singing, or playing, or talking at length about music theory with another student or teacher.  For me, it was heaven.

Over the last several years, I have played extensively in the greater Boston area as well as in New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and of course, back home in Michigan.  Last September, I released my debut album, Lovely Life, an accomplishment of which I am incredibly proud.  However, I had an experience in November that changed the direction of my career.

Back in November, after weeks of doing far too much, I started displaying stroke symptoms and was taken to the ER.  Though it was not a stroke, the moment the medical staff saw I was taking Zoloft, the entire approach changed.  Suddenly, nobody was asking, "So you're here because you were having trouble speaking?"  It was, "So you're here because you're feeling down?"  Naturally, I was upset given I had just ridden in an ambulance, but I had to constantly correct people as to the causality of my friends calling 911.  When I asked if my friend could ride with me in the ambulance, they said, "I don't think you want that.  I think you want this to be private."  It was as though, because they were sure I was depressed, I was incapable of deciding what I wanted or needed!  While waiting in the ER to be seen, I was huddled in a corner, with little to no attention paid to me, and felt scared and upset.  This was one of the best hospitals in the country, and yet they still seemed to be deeply uncomfortable with "a mental patient".  Perhaps it was time I used my music to do something about this.  Hence, the birth of The Sticky Note Project.
The Sticky Note Project is an organization seeking to eliminate stigmas surrounding mental illness and promote mental wellness in the general population.  SNP creates arts-based opportunities, either live or online, for open discussion on mental health issues.  The concept stems from the art on my album.  The album art pictures me underneath an umbrella where it appears to be raining blue sticky notes.  The notes all name struggles and thoughts that “rain” down on me regularly: societal pressures, parental expectations, and negative internal dialogues.  It was a quirky and cathartic way for me to express what my music is about, and I decided to extend the opportunity to others to submit their own sticky notes, stories, art work, etc., to bring voice to an issue that often gets put on the back burner.

Phew!  And here we are!  That's the journey in a nutshell.  I hope you've enjoyed it almost as much as me!


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