Da Mihn Mean was born Da Mihn in 1981 in Beijing, China. At the tender age of three, her mother had her start piano lessons -by the age of six, she was forced to practice nine hours a day, and if she repeated any one mistake too often, she was beat with a bamboo stick to remind her that she must always strive for perfection. This made Da incredibly unhealthy in her expectations of others. If she was perfect… why couldn’t others be as well? Da completed her studies at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London and the Manhattan School of Music in New York for postgraduate studies in music theory. It was imperative that Da be successful in everything she did. Every day, she wore a Chanel logo necklace, Louis Vuitton logo shoes, a Dior logo sweater, and alternated between Armani, Gucci, and Prada clothing which may or may not have had the logo printed all over the fabric. To her, this raw display of fashion elitism made her the poster child for success. She was a musical genius with the body of a model, and she made sure everyone knew it.
My first few weeks in Da’s class went just like any other. I worked hard and tried to get Da’s opinions on her favorite composers and received recommendations for a few upcoming concerts. Da was very receptive, and when I took her advice and saw a Janacek concert she suggested at Carnegie Hall, it seemed that we had even become friends to a degree. Every Monday and Friday, Da had one person give a ten minute lecture on a piece of music they liked and explain why. When my turn came, I chose the Salve Regina from Poulenc’s Les Dialogues Des Carmelites. I played a cd and explained that although the voices of the 16 nuns diminish one at a time throughout the piece as each are executed, the music only becomes more intense as it softly dies out to leave Sister Constance singing alone. When she is joined by Blanche from the mob, there are no voices left singing and they look into each other’s eyes without saying anything. Constance then continues her prayer and walks toward the guillotine with new confidence. Blanche then starts singing “Deo patri sit gloria” (all praise be thine, O risen Lord) on her way to the guillotine and is executed. The opera then finishes with a ghostly chorus of the Carmelite nuns singing together in heaven. The reception by the class was amazing, and Da seemed elated at my choice.
As the semester went on however, we found ourselves increasingly stressed at Da’s behavior in class. She started giving us last minute assignments that were not noted on the syllabis, and informed us that we had only two days to finish each packet. Almost every time this occurred, the material in the packets was something that we were not due to discuss in our class or lecture for weeks. In fact, several of the packets contained material that we would never even discuss. She also began to run the class like a giant oral quiz on speed. She would write chords on the board that needed to be rearranged and would have us solve them one by one. If we were wrong, she would say “really? That was a stupid answer” in a condescending tone and go until somebody got it right… there was seldom explaination of how to correct one’s self when they made a mistake. When our midterms were handed back, she went to my Korean friend Grace and told her “I know you can do better, this is unacceptable for you.” When she handed me my exam she said “Good job.” When I asked Grace what she got on her exam, Grace replied “I got an A… she thinks I should aim for a perfect score.” When Grace asked what I received, I answered “B+.”
Things only got more stressful when Da friend-requested the entire class on Facebook. She started commenting on our statuses, and for a while, I viewed this as a good sign. My statuses are usually positive and frequently have something to do with music. One day however, she stopped me in the hall and told me “I saw your pictures Jacob… really, you are out of control and you need to stop.”
“What do you mean?” I asked puzzled.
“You obviously only care about partying and that is unacceptable for someone as intelligent as you” she replied and then marched her Coach heels down the hall and out of the building. I then went to the library for a study session, but couldn’t concentrate. I left the group early and decided to meet my friend Emilia DiCola in her room to work on homework with her instead.
“Da told me that I was out of control” I told Emilia.
“Well that’s silly, why did she say that?”
“She told me that I only cared about partying and that it was unacceptable for me” I replied.
“What? That’s ridiculous” replied Emilia “You are far from out of control and you can’t help it if you go out once a week and five different people bring cameras along.”
“Exactly!” I exclaimed “and besides, on an average night out I can go to as many as 6 places, and it isn’t like I drink at every bar.”
“Right” said Emilia “and besides, you’re here doing homework the rest of the week, and aren’t the people in those pictures with you are all in the grad level courses she teaches?”
“Yeah… they are.” I replied.
I tried to shake it off, and when Halloween came, Da told me that she saw my pictures and thought that my spin on the Mad Hatter was one of the best costumes she had ever seen. Again, I took this as a good sign and tried to forget that we had ever had a confrontation… then she found me again the next day in the hall.“Really Jacob” said Da “you are out of control! You need to take yourself seriously and ask yourself why you’re here!”
“I really don’t understand what you mean” I said.
“I suggest you find some different friends” said Da as she walked toward the fourth floor stairwell.
I immediately went to the library to check my Facebook to see what she meant. Sure enough, there ten “new” photos of me from a night out I had the previous summer in Santa Fe. I was beginning to become a little paranoid and decided to talk to someone about my situation.
It was around this time that I had begun spending more time with Emilia; I found her candid commentary about life to be refreshing. She possesed a unique type of humor that I thrived off of and figured that she would have some good suggestions.
“Well I want to switch classes!” said Emilia.
“What! Why do you want to switch now?” I asked.
“Because she is really rude and does not explain anything” replied Emila “seriously, we are paying $50,000 a year to be here, and what do we get? A premenstrual doctoral student who is trying to prove herself by belittling us! It isn’t right!” Emilia became so angry that she threw an apple across the room which exploded into several messy little pieces all over the wall and floor. “Shit!”
“I agree with you” I said grabbing a paper towel “something has to be done about this… you know” I continued “she does have to have a minimum amount of students in her class so that she can get credit.”
“Then she should try being nicer” said Emilia.
“I know” I replied “I would just feel bad if she got in trouble.” Emilia agreed and we decided to just put up with our situation and try to do well.
About a week and a half before finals, Rachel Perez, Molly Spooner and I were invited to a dress rehearsal of Thais at the Metropolitan Opera. Rachel was also in Da’s class, and though finals were the next Friday, we decided that this was a rare opportunity and we decided to ditch theory and go. “It shouldn’t be that big of a deal” said Rachel “besides, we’ve covered everything, and she told us that we would spend Monday and Wednesday reviewing.”
“You’re right” I said “I don’t know why I’m worrying so much.”
“Just try to enjoy yourself” said Rachel “Thais is never done, and on top of that, its Renee Fleming!”
“Ok, I’ll go!”
When Rachel Perez and I went to class on Monday, Da passed out a sheet that read “final.”
“Is this the review?” I asked looking at the sheet “I haven’t seen most of this stuff.”
“Well maybe you should have come on Friday –we discussed all of this then” said Da in stern voice “I decided to move the final to today. Good luck.”
I couldn’t believe it –Da was punishing me and Rachel for taking advantage of seeing a closed rehearsal of a historic and sold out performance that we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. I looked down at my paper and began to shake. I suffered from an anxiety disorder, and occasionally had to take medication before big tests so I could calm down and relax, but this was far from relaxing. I decided to slow breath for about a minute and was able to calm my heart rate down enough to where I could concentrate on the parts that I understood. When Wednesday’s class came, we reviewed for the departmental final under tense stress. When Friday arrived, we were handed another sheet that said “final.”
“Umm… what’s this?” I asked in an accusative tone.
“Part two of your final” said Da “I want you all to write an essay on the history of music theory and site all of the terms I have given.”
Da had spent the semester going over the history of what we were doing in hopes to help us further understand the actual theory portion of our curriculum. She had never once told us that we would actually be tested on it, after all, we had music history with Dr. Noon, and it was nothing like this. The class began to panic collectively as we all read the random historic terms, dates and places. The students in the back row whispered to one another while everyone in the front row just looked at Da. One girl even started to cry …when I began to laugh uncontrollably. “What’s so funny?” asked Da shocked at my behavior.I began to laugh so hard that I was screaming, wheezing and crying.
“You’re just so full of… SURPISES!” I yelled, now unable to breath.
The rest of the class erupted in hysterical laughter as they agreed. The uproar had caused Da to excuse herself to the ladies room. When she returned, we were all finishing our essays, with the occasional hiccup of laughter bursting out every few seconds.