Saturday, January 31, 2009

...yet she sleeps

So many worried hearts. A mom called, lost on the way to the competition, a student wonders how she played, if the memory slip is devastating, we can't pay you for lessons this month, and yet the angel sleeps.

So many worried, heavy hearts. My friend's cancer is back, a husband is abusive, parents are getting old, and yet the angel sleeps.

So many worried, heavy, sad hearts. His retirement is no longer sure, their dad loses his job at the end of March, will her son commit suicide, and yet the angel sleeps.

So many worried, heavy, sad, broken hearts. Will her husband stop drinking so much, how long will the dad with Alzheimers recognize his daughter, will the son lose his home, and yet the angel sleeps.

Is God asleep? Did she decide it's too much trouble, is it his coffee break? Or is the spirit at the intersection of these hurting hearts-healing, holding, loving?

Perhaps she sleeps because she's being healed, held, loved...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Quilted Northern" Deck

I have noticed myself singing everywhere lately-I used to do this as a child, along with the radio, in the car, on the swingset. I have to believe it was annoying to other family members, so there was a rule about no singing at the dinner table. I find myself singing again. I'll let you know what it means when I figure out why. As I taught today, I noticed myself humming, singing, or worse yet, making my students sing with me! There's nothing quite as wonderful to me as teaching a phrase by breathing in and singing through it. It incorporates deep breathing and listening at the same time. Sort of yoga Brahms? Tai chi Bach?

We tend to breathe shallowly or even hold our hold our breath when we are feeling anxious. Sometimes we are not even aware of it. Shallow breathing limits oxygen intake and adds further stress to the body. No wonder our music rehearsals are often referred to as weekly therapy. We're singing loud and breathing well.

About 9:30 this morning, I looked out at my deck and it had such a 3-d effect, snow and shadow, that I just had to snap a picture. I am NO photographer. I wish I was. Maybe a photo art class someday? It was bright and sunny inside and out today.
fa la la da doo doo doot....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

here's looking at you

The state contest is this weekend. We have worked hard and she played deeply and artistically. She breathed each Chopin phrase with such care. I am certain that a great critique is in her future at the competition. I also know that it may depend on the judge's constitution. I mentioned to this sensitive 14 year old that not everyone plays this piece the same way. That is why there are so many different recordings of classical repertoire. We will take the judge's assessment, listen to the comments, try them, and then ultimately decide what works for us, for her, and learn from the experience. Rubato, the "robbing of time" is a personal taste like cayenne pepper in chili. Everyone has a taste for a different amount.

In precious middle school wisdom, she innocently asked a fantastic question. "Do you think you can tell what kind of a judge it is by looking at them when you walk in?" WOW, I know exactly what (and WHO) she means! The tight collar, the brooch, or the hair in a bun all send a message. Do you really want to judge a person by what they look like, I asked? Has anyone ever judged you before they knew you? There were slaves, I mentioned, because they were judged by the color of their skin. People are judged by impossible standards every day. Their lifestyle, their clothes, the language they speak. So although she looks metronomic, be poetic. She is a pianist, after all, or she would not be adjudicating you.

The underlying question here I believe was "should I change my playing to the audience?" And again I say please don't. You play for you. You play the way we worked on it. Pearls or a lemon puckered expression do not reveal a woman's soul.

I'm going to spend a little time in the mirror tonight. What do students see when they walk in MY room?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

Hey - it's Mozart's birthday today! So far I have received glazed donuts, lunch with friends, a friendly discussion on my strengths as a leader, and how I can best use them, many birthday cards, a check from my mom and dad, and a wonderful email note from a former student who had no idea he was going to make my day.

It doesn't happen that often, you know. You teach them for years, see them through braces, first dates, drivers licenses and prom. You watch them mature musically and then they race headlong toward the sun. Most do not recall our hard work. I don't contact my former teachers other than the once a year Christmas greeting. But I received a note that said,
"I tried college a couple of times but couldn't stand the atmosphere, too much bureaucracy.  I've worked a staggering variety of dead-end service jobs...a couple of months ago I decided that I would learn how to tune pianos, which would be more fun than making pizzas and there's more money in it too.  It's mostly a matter of
practice. It will take 4 or 5 years to get really good at it, but I'm excited, I think this will work out well. One thing I need to do now is re-learn some of those classical pieces so I have something to play when I'm finished tuning an instrument. So I wanted to say thanks, you were a great teacher and without those lessons it's very unlikely that this great opportunity in front of me now would ever have materialized."

I could not have asked for a better birthday gift. I think when I'm done teaching tonight, I'm going to go out and make a little night music and celebrate.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Who, Why and Why not?

I told a few colleagues at the festival that I had started a blog. Immediately one of them gasped, "WHY?" I've been wondering the same thing ever since. I'm not sure. Who writes blogs? As you can see by the non-entries, it's been a very thought consuming question!

My friend Dawn said people write blogs who believe that they may have a unique viewpoint that others would appreciate. A little Google digging said over half are under 30, only 2% are spiritual in nature, most are political or use the blog as a platform for their writing or artwork. Hmmm. Although I am none of the above, I have come to the conclusion that when I have something that struck me in an interesting way, I will jot it down. What harm of it? When I'm 80, I'll perhaps remember the situations and people involved in the memories.

The best part of the blog was the reaction a friend. Remembering her own music lessons brought back some fond memories. That's a lot better reason than I could have ever had on my own.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Is a coach responsible for team success? Should teachers assess themselves or their studios relevant to the scores their students receive at events like this? I always feel great when the students performed as well as I had hoped and the whole studio surpassed my vision for them. Wolf Piano Studio had a superior festival today, whether you look at performances, scores or smiles. I have read the comments from the judges and the kids have made such musical strides since last year. They are finding their way. They are growing, listening, feeling. How beautiful. I can't wait to show them their critiques.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Who Exactly is in Control here?

The Festival is tomorrow. There is a certain tension that seems to reside just under my tongue until tomorrow night at 6:00 p.m. The teaching is over for now-advice good, bad, or untaken. I have hovered, pressured, shrugged and laughed them to their best potential at this location. We have erased extra marks, made some editorial ones, numbered our measures and tried the pieces on all the pianos we could find. To top it all off, I made (not purchased) the 3 dozen cookies each teach brings to the snack table.

Tomorrow I will sit at the registration table, smiling broadly and welcoming, pointing to the coat room, directing them to their rooms, excited when they come back believing they played well, commiserating when they forgot something, offering them a cookie and juice to offset the adrenaline crash that inevitably comes in the car on the way home. I can feed judges Subway sandwiches and diet Cokes, watch my fellow teachers interact with their students and feel the same faster breathing. It's a small event for some, life challenging for others. "Am I any good? In comparison to what, to whom?

The parts I can't control are usually the most rewarding. The Minnesota weather has promised another twenty below and windchill obstacle. Pianos were tuned, chairs were set. The students promised get sleep, fix the last few memory or other spots, bring their music. They will wear appropriate apparel, whatever that means to them and their families. They vowed to play musically, be a good listener, be courteous to the adjudicator and take a bow when they were finished. Their parents will be on time, not compare them to their siblings, not relive their own musical terrors or highlights. They will allow them to bloom on their terms. Grandparents increase the pleasure and the pressure.

And so goes the Festival. Some stumble, some decide this was their last, or their best, a student heard something beautiful in the middle, or controlled something that has eluded them. It's going to be a day that prepares them for bigger events. Someday they will give a presentation, make a speech, take a vow. And when they're finished? They may have a nagging desire for a cookie and some juice.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No Excuse Land

I think teaching your own children piano is hard on everyone. There are books that have been written and myriad discussions among the teachers about whether or not to even try. Of course, many success stories abound, but I am not considering today one of them.
It's not really his fault, you know. I teach all the time so the piano is unavailable, I don't sit beside him when he practices as many good parents do, I reschedule his lesson far too often. I will let him someday blog about his excuses for not practicing often or well, or with intent. His karate instructor repeats the phrase "You perform what you practice" ad nausium, but it's different here.
So, perhaps it's time to allow him to become what he was made to be. He'll do pretty well at the Festival. I know his potential to be fantastic and that's where the rub is. I care more about it than he does. Teachers and parents hope their child to be, I don't know, better than they are/were. More ________ (fill in the blank). It's when their love is not your love that I have to stop and listen harder.
I believe there is a lesson in this for both of us. Today I will take with it the reminder that my dreams are not my children's dreams. And there's no excuse for my pushing so hard. I'm sorry, little buddy, tell me what lights your imagination? and "I don't know" is ok for today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Waltzing Whatever

Quotables moments abound on a Presidential Inauguration evening! I'm glad now that I taught, though my first wish was to absorb every image on TV. As the president danced the night away at gala deca-balls, one of my students was struggling with a 3/4 time waltz beat. She eventually groaned, shut the book, looked at me and said, "who cares about waltzes anymore anyway! Only Bad Country music is in 3 anyway! And you know I'm right!" Well, actually, she is. When was the last waltz you heard on popular radio? And waltzes used to be held with such high regard! Vienna, 1830's- that's all they'd publish!
So, we learned to dance the waltz last night, she and I. Big step ONE, little little, now the other foot leads, ONE, touch touch. What color is your gown, I asked her? Rhinestones or pearls, I teased. She left laughing, and said she'd try that piece one more week.

I have a charming exchange student from Slovakia who learned our Pledge of Alligiance in the car on the way to her lesson. I asked her what Slovakia's pledge was like. The American pledge sounds wonderful with any accent. Slovakia is 5 nations, but she couldn't say "for which Slovakia stands". I am glad to be reminded on a night like tonight of what America is regaining standing for-'liberty and justice for all'.

After her friend's lesson, she was lying on the couch in the waiting room and I asked her some random question. "Whatever", she answered! Such an American saying! We all laughed so hard. Whadever. Who taught you that? My American sister. She said in her country there is no word. So she'll teach her friends the American word when she returns home.

Perhaps "whatever" defined the last 8 years or so. I love teaching students to waltz, with liberty and justice for all.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Weakly Lessons

I had an email request for more information on the studio today. The person was looking for a new teacher for her 14 yr. old daughter who presently has "weakly lessons" with someone who makes her cry. I've had enough young lady students to know that you can look at them and make them cry on any given day for no reason at all, but this sounds different.

I hate the idea of receiving a weak-ly lesson; a verbal 30 minute berating-a calling out of all the things that were wrong THIS time. Come on, dear daughter, it's time to drive to your weekly demoralization. I'd be weak too if I was afraid of making a mistake, known or subjectively unknown. The teacher waits for the errors, giddy on the edge of the seat. Mistakes are almost all we make when we're learning to bare our souls. Hmmm, perhaps true of life learning too-I sure have made a lot of mistakes along the way. No wonder many more of us don't want to share our feelings.

I guess the best I can offer is the promise that not all we teachers teach like that. I can offer the patience to wait the months or years it will take to get over an experience like that, and the hope that she can. I'll get more information when I call them next week, but I may make room for a new student.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Getting Ready

You know the festival is next weekend, right? These days leading up to the "big event" are almost as difficult for me as for the piano student readying himself in the memory, metronome, and dynamics department. I can memorize it over the long weekend, he said. I hate the metrodome, she said. The festibal judge will be able to hear my quiet even if you didn't, she smiled.

Do you think the president elect is getting ready too? Is he memorizing his speech? Is he working on tempo and inflection? Is she decided on her outfit? Does she have a back-up plan for the girls? How do you prepare for an event like that? Maybe it will be like a piano recital; not everything will be perfect, you'll make mistakes and you think you could have probably done it better, but most everyone in the audience is proud that you did it, and didn't really notice. Lucky for most of us it's not televised.

Who's been to Visit?