Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: episode 36, part 1

Nathalie Alcime

My guest for episode 36 is Nathalie Alcime, class of 2007, and will be delivered in two parts. Part one highlights how my connection with Nathalie led to the creation of a performance opportunity that examines the slow awakening to the discourse of social justice. Sometimes, terrible events actually can give birth to beautiful things.

Life does not always provide a clear and direct pathway for us to follow. Instead, most people must do some self-exploration in order to determine which direction they should go next. Most importantly, we must be in touch with the things we love and to stay focused on them as we navigate the twists and turns in our lives.

Nathalie Alcime knew early on that performing arts would become an important part of her life. In high school, she immersed herself in my dance classes and activities like marching band color guard, concert and jazz bands, the spirit week step team and the Rapping Poetic club. She understood that music and movement were powerful, motivating forces and that somehow, she would need to stay tied to them as and adult.

After graduating from the honors program at Rockland Community College, where she was a founding member of their dance company, she moved on to earn a BA in Music: Vocal Performance from Nyack College. While Spring Valley may have been where she grew up, she felt compelled to explore her passions for education, singing classical music, and faith elsewhere.

She nearly completed her a Masters degree in Vocal Performance at Lee University in Tennessee, but ran into some snafus towards the end and redirected her attention to an internship at Grace Church in Ohio, where she learned to be a worship leader, which went a long way to boosting her confidence. She also took an elementary position as a reading and math specialist for struggling learners, a music director for a church in Michigan, and most recently a substitute teacher in a Christian school where she is working while she completes her Master of Arts in Teaching degree this coming spring.

While your adult path is not always clear when you graduate high school (or even college), your best guide to follow is your heart, your gut and sometimes your faith, and trust that you will make the wisest decisions that will take you where you need to go.

Being open to change

Most people have a hard time when life doesn’t always go according to plan. There’s a reason for the adage “We plan, and God laughs.” When her journey to her Masters degree came to an abrupt halt, she had a lot of emotions to work through. Everything she had spent her time, energy and focus on was suddenly in flux. What did it all mean for her? What would she do with her life? There were many more questions than answers.

We think that we have to have all the answers immediately after we are done with high school or college. For some who might have been blessed to have that idea of what they really wanted to be since they were little and are in it now, kudos to them. Everybody’s journey is different. As time changes, technology advances and we’re given a lot more options and that has expanded our perspective on what careers should look like. It’s no longer that traditional sense of “this is what my parents want me to be or this is what I want to be since I was two.” It gives us the freedom to explore and to figure out what that looks like for us.

Nathalie had to live in the discomfort of an uncertain future and work to figure out what she really wanted to do next.

Lessons from the pandemic

The pandemic provided the ultimate reality-check challenge to the entire world. That extended time outside our sense of “normal” forced everyone to take a different look at life as we know it in every facet of our experience. In no uncertain terms, it taught us to be more resilient, adaptable and accepting of a situation of which we were most unsure. It was, perhaps, an instruction manual in dealing with chaos and uncertainty.

Managing uncertainty

Uncertain paths, uncomfortable as they are, always lead us somewhere. If we can spend our time being flexible and open to the changes that will invariably occur, we might be able to take advantage of the benefits those changes can offer.

Case in point: this podcast. Without the pandemic, Changed for the Better would never exist. I had to learn about virtual platforms. I took a podcasting CTLE class. I had the time to write more about a variety of topics. Because of all that, I started to see different possibilities that my life prior to the pandemic didn’t offer. So did Nathalie:

In some ways, [the pandemic] gave us permission to think outside the box. It provided us the time and space to actually do that. When you’re so caught up in your every day routine, you have bills to pay, you have so many jobs that you’re doing that you have no time to even figure out who you are. We get so caught up with the busy-ness that we haven’t really realized how it hasn’t given us time to think about “What do I actually want? What do I actually really want to do? Am I really happy working here or am I trying to push through because I have bills to pay?”

The feeling of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is what we, as creatures of comfort and habit, tend to lean into. It makes sense, but it also limits us to what we already know. Despite the travesty that was the pandemic, for myself and for many people I know, that period of time shoved us out of our comfort zone and exist in an uncertain present. We were forced to absorb the changes that we didn’t like facing, which in turn provided avenues for much-needed growth.

With growth comes opportunity

My connection with Nathalie ebbed and flowed after she graduated high school. We would go long stretches with no contact, then we’d message once in a while. In 2014, and had a wonderful lunch date to talk about her pursuit of a music major. She sent me a few recipes for delicious soup Joumou, which I happen to love and always wanted to make (and never had the courage to try). Nathalie was one of those lovely souls who I loved hearing from every so often.

It was during the pandemic that a deeper connection was forged between us.

Right after the murder of George Floyd, I had taken to Facebook to see how people were responding to the insanity. I had seen all sorts of emotional responses and in wanting to “do something,” I was inspired to collect them and write a play called How Do We Feel Right Now?. I wanted to create something that would help to reflect the sorrow, frustration and hope that the people I knew and loved felt regarding the hot topic of racial inequities in our society. For all of the raw, angry responses, Nathalie’s had a more hopeful tone, filled with gratitude for the allies in the world. I reached out to see if she would allow me to include the piece, which she graciously did, and our paths had crossed once again in a very meaningful way.

The show included a song called “Now?” that I wrote in collaboration with Hernz Laguerre, Jr (episode 6) that resonated deeply with her. Months after the show’s Thespian virtual debut on YouTube, she asked to perform the song in her September music recital which was part of an effort to raise money for her mission trip to Ecuador. Of course, I was honored and excited to hear someone interpret the piece, and gave her the go ahead. The result was a beautiful, rich performance that gave me chills; it was such a full circle experience to see her perform that song.

Watch Nathalie’s perfomance here!
Taking action

In 2020, Nathalie had been in the middle of managing significant personal challenges. When her Masters degree plan ended in 2018, she had to figure out what her future would look like.

I had felt like I was in a very dry season, not performing as I would like. Prior to the pandemic, I had these little ideas: I didn’t finish grad school but I was like, “just because I don’t have that Masters degree doesn’t mean that I’m not a musician.” Education can come in different ways; it’s just a matter of people putting work and effort to become a better version of themselves.

Music majors give regular performance recitals as a matter of course. The pandemic gave her the opportunity to work on songs that she had in her repertoire and improve her technique and performance of them. Her friends, inside and outside the music community, encouraged her to put together her own recital of songs; after a long hiatus, she was determined to sing in the fall 2022 as a fundraiser for her mission trip to Ecuador, which had also been put on hold because of the pandemic. This was one of many mission trips she’d made over the years. Click here to see her full virtual recital series.

While the world was rumbling through the challenges, Nathalie had already been having her own conversations about the racial tensions and frustration that had been increasing for years.

What do you do with that? Do you stay frustrated and talk about all the things that aren’t happening and all the things that are happening that are devastating? Or, [do you] take that pain and make art out of it? We can make use of it; when we look at history, the way that music was birthed was through social issues and devastation and hardships.

I just didn’t know what to do. And so when I heard that you were putting out a play, that was very moving for me. It ignited something in me that was very different—in a good way.

That question of “what can I do” was exactly the catalyst for most of my creative choices at the time, and it seems so for many others. Talking about racial injustice is fine, but those conversations can be surface and often unproductive in fostering any sort of change. Creating and performing are personal, healing processes that help the artist to navigate the realities that we have a hard time understanding and accepting. It also puts those realities of the human experience into the spotlight through the lens of a focused story that others can take in without having to respond to immediately. They can feel what they feel with no pressure. That is the connection that makes art so powerful a catalyst for growth and change.

Taking Hernz’s words and putting them to music just felt like the right move. The opening lyrics are thus:

Did you see?
Did you hear?
Did you listen?
Why’d you take so long?

Excerpt from “Now?” ~ lyrics by Hernz Laguerre, Jr.
Make new connections

For Nathalie, the connection was instant and personal. She wanted to put action and intent in front of her thoughts. She wanted to promote social justice through music.

I feel like society, in so many ways, has disappointed me as a person of color, or as a Haitian-American person. Feeling silenced and like nobody’s hearing me, nobody’s listening, and then taking that frustration and saying “let me sing this.” Everything that was written expressed how I felt and I was able to sing it in a way that was true to my soul and that was able to bring light and awareness to the situation, but then also to bring a call for change.

That’s when Nathalie reached out to me, asking if she could perform the song for her recital. Of course, the answer was an enthusiastic, resounding, yes!! We share a fascination with having a vision, and from those brain waves, figuring out how to make nothing into something that is moving and lasting.

Nathalie and I had so much more to talk about, which is why I wanted to make this episode a two-parter. Enjoy part one of our conversation below, and keep an eye out for part two!!

One thought on “Changed for the Better: episode 36, part 1

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