There are a lot of things I could say about why I’m moving back to San Francisco and choosing to pick up the work that Richard Nickol so brilliantly established. But in this case, I think it is the personal journey I’d like to share.
Richard knew me perhaps better than anyone else has known me thus far in my life. The hours that I spent at the piano with him were richer than I could have dreamed. We worked together for more than a decade before I moved to New York, and over those years he trained me not only as a performer but as a teacher who would carry on his work. The first time that he referred to me as a colleague instead of a student I was overwhelmed, and probably even teared up a bit. We talked of revamping the class materials together, and of creating new curriculums that deliberately integrated all the spiritual work that we’d ventured into together with the incredible structures he’d already developed himself. None of this, of course, ended up coming to fruition. I had a career to chase, and he had a studio to rebuild. I am inexpressibly grateful to those of you who helped him, loved him and cared for him as he did just that.
One of the other things that Richard always told me was that he wanted to leave me his studio. I never really knew what he meant by that. Did he want me to have the books? The piano? To teach his students?? The first time he told me this I was so shocked by contemplating his death that, though I was incredibly moved by his generosity, I put it from my mind. Knowing Richard, he wouldn’t leave a will, but the mere mention of such a gesture showed the depth of his belief in me, and I cherished that. I still do.
And so off to New York I went, leaving Richard with a box of Godiva chocolates and a red rose and all my love. And he cheered me on! And what I’ve learned in New York is this: Being at the top of an industry is not what is important to me. Being on Broadway sounds like a lot of fun, but it’s not my dearest dream or my highest calling. There are many for whom it is, and I salute them, for it is an arduous and incredible path which is absolutely worth following. The times in my life when I have been happiest are those when I was performing AND teaching. Not one or the other. I truly need to be doing both. My calling in life is to be a midwife to joy, healing, catharsis and learning. And I need loving community.
Two months ago I was awake at 2am and couldn’t sleep because vocal technique was flooding crystalline into my mind. So I poured it out onto paper, and what it turned out to be was a 12 week curriculum that was a distillation of everything Richard had ever taught me. And so I took and I ran with it. I packaged it, got ready to pitch it and declared to life “I’m ready!! I’m ready to take on the place the Richard laid out for me as the next in the lineage!”. Mind you, at this time, Richard was still around, and I didn’t want to compete with him, so I was targeting New York and New Jersey. The last step was to call Richard and get his blessing. So I went to bed the night that Richard was found in his apartment saying to myself “the first thing I’m going to do when I get to work tomorrow is call Richard and tell him what I’m up to and get his blessing.” Instead I woke up to find out that he’d left his body and us behind. I don’t believe for a minute that the timing of this was an accident. Richard and I were so deeply connected that I could hear him thinking at me while I was performing – “lean longer sing later, stretch that anchor, butt to belly, INTENTION! Streeeeeeettttchhh.” as though I were his marionette onstage. I’d think something, and he’d hear it as though I’d said it out loud. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced this. His thoughts were louder than a fog horn at dawn. The fact that this curriculum and this readiness to step up to the plate came when they did surely is part of some divine timing.
And so it seemed that just as I had reached my precipice, just as I had claimed the place he had named for me, he was gone.
I will not go into my personal grieving process here. This is not the time or place.
I came home. I came home to grieve, to see his family, and to help them sort through his belongings and clean up the house. What I wasn’t expecting was the incredible outpouring of love from the community that he had created. Everywhere I turned people were grieving with me, and asking me to teach them and be with them. And so I suggested skype. I hadn’t even considered coming back. I had work to do in NY after all, didn’t I? Work that felt like a chore, or more accurately, a suffocating obligation to all the work I had done and all those who believed in me.
It wasn’t until my dear friend JoAna Gray stared reflecting back to me my own behavior that I realized I needed to come home. I kept saying things, almost sheepishly, like “if I came back to San Francisco… do you think… anybody would study with me?” or “If I came back to San Francisco… I could teach vocal intensives and performance seminars and – even create a weekly open mic again!!! Do you think people would be into that?” And by the time I would finish the sentence I would nearly be jumping out of my seat, and all my limbs would be wiggling around with the excess energy of my joy spouting out my finger tips and toes. And then? I would starting talking about New York. I would start to slouch, my voice would go limp, and I would just start to shut. down. I needed to be in NY, didn’t I? It was what I was supposed to do, wasn’t it? But I didn’t want to. What I really wanted to do was to carry on Richard’s legacy and sing and dance and teach all day.
And so JoAna watched me go through this cycle about three times, politely keeping her mouth shut until I said “and if I don’t do it now, the whole studio will dissipate.” at which point she lovingly and bluntly laid out for me exactly what I’d been doing for the last two hours. Needless to say by the end of dinner I was moving back to San Francisco and JoAna and Monica (another dear friend) were cheering me on, offering their help and we were raising our glasses to the man who had brought us here in the first place.
The last step was convincing the man of my dreams to come with me. That turned out to be very easy. He’d been asking me all week “So, are we moving to California?” All I had to do was say ‘Yes’.
So here I am, sitting in San Francisco, my first day of teaching behind me, and it was such a joy! I’m home. Not just physically. In every sense of the word I am home. I can feel it in my heart, in my stomach and in my bones. And Richard is more present than ever. I feel him every day as I sing to him, laugh with him, as I sit at his piano, singing Dot from his score of Sunday In The Park With George.
And this is how Mindy Lym Studios has come to be. And my intention – yes my intention, not just for today, but my long term goal for this entire next chapter of my life – is to carry on all that he taught me, to dive more deeply into it, to expand upon it, and to pass it on to this generation and the next. And anyone who would like to join me in this journey is welcome. We are all carrying his legacy in our unique ways. And I sincerely hope that you will join me!