Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Dew Days Parade

Sunday was the highly anticipated Dew Days Parade! Look at all these people! The equipment all worked together splendidly, we sounded pretty good too. And here is a special view from the bench-check out the tractor entry behind us! Oh so fun!

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Neighborhood with Class

I was driving and saw a funny for our Monday.

Someone has turned the crosswalk into
A Walkin', Man. Now some of you may
call this vandalism, some of you may get uptight
but I think it's FUNNY!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mid-Summer Pond

It was a beautiful evening for a walk. In the grass are at least 5 families of ducklings, eight or more in each brood. The grass parts, a tiny duckling waddles through the "tall" green, but I can't see it. I see the moving blades, making a way to water, and hear a plop. Aah, paddling success. Mothers watch me warily; ready to peck me or herd them away as the situation requires. It's the thin moon of June. (a nod to blogging friend, Robert Frost and his banjo). Peace outside starts with peace within.

Coffee Stains - a Sunday Funny

Good morning! My daughter and I went to a coffee shop one morning not too long ago, and enjoyed our favorite beverages, chatting away. I went back to refill my decaf and she asked me the funniest question when I returned.

"Who do you suppose is that clutzy that they can spill coffee all the way up to the ceiling? At school when I see those coffee stains, some of them are darker. I think the dark ones are Cokes. Someone probably took a bottle of soda and shook it up, and it got up there. But wouldn't you notice someone doing that here? That's quite a slip to get coffee all the way up there!"

Trying to contain myself, I told her that it was a water stain from a wet, rusty pipe, most likely, and that no one had spilled any beverages that high. I will never look at those stains the same way again.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Musical-Group Photo

Here's our smilin' crew. It went pretty well on Friday. Details are now being worked out regarding the sound system in conjunction with our Sunday morning sound board, but all is well. Good times abound when you get music and dance involved.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Musical -Wednesday and Thursday

Some funny ha ha and funny unusual incidents always take place when you get a group together. One child came Monday only to call in with chicken pox on Tuesday. Yes, I thought as you did that the United States had a hold on that potentially harmful disease with mandatory vaccinations. This child had been vaccinated, and it is a mild case. We had the task of informing our students that they had been exposed. Our parish nurse composed a great two-page letter with detailed descriptions of what to look for and what to do if you suspect a case. We are also meeting in an elementary school, so we sent word to their office to let the entire summer school body, staff and students know that chicken pox had entered the building.

On Wednesday, a seven year old boy came running to a grown-up during game time and looked so scared. "I swallowed a Lifesaver and it's stuck in my throat. I can feel it! And I don't want to die!" Calmly a middle school boy put his arm around the younger one, and said, "you'll be ok, Connor, you're talking and breathing, and it's a Life Saver." It was so cute. It eventually melted on its own.

We have really progressed from Monday. The students are singing out and smiling more. They know most of the dance moves really well; some of the little ones are struggling, but in that aaawww, cute way. We still help them, but everyone will smile and wave when they grapevine right while the rest grapevine left. We made some bracelets for the younger ones. "Bracelet arms (left) first!" It may or may not help.

When the oldest students ham it up during rehearsal, the young ones gab about it for the rest of the day. "And then Drew said this and he did this and it was SO funny, Mom". I am amazed at the way our oldest students care for and model great behavior for the little people. And we didn't really ever say that we wanted them to, it seems to be in their nature! There is great hope in watching the next generation care for each other.

One young man in particular is revered as the "cool" kid, and he is also one of the leads in the play. Yet I've seen him stoop down and tie someone's shoe, hold a door, share the basketball, and spend time with them over the week. He talks to them. Not all "cool" kids do that.

Tomorrow is the dress rehearsal. This includes costumes, photo shoots, and a few parents who want a sneak peek or can't attend on Sunday. There will be an overabundance of nerves, some lost lines and missteps. There will be a let down that the week is over, and the pleasure of a great show in front of family, plus the chance to do it one more time on Sunday. But for me the greatest treat is re-enforcing the message that everyone was given gifts to share with the world. Whether it's serving ice cream sandwiches, dancing, teaching a new game, singing, or helping a friend who's down, I hope you let your gift shine today. The world thanks you in advance for your kindness.

Theme Thursday - SUMMER

Summer! Can any word conjure up more visions of outdoor music opportunities? There are many happening in your edge of the planet this weekend. May I encourage you to go, listen, smile, and maybe even participate by singing along or clapping and moving your feet?

We ate first at a new Mediterranean restaurant with belly dancers. It was all amazing. The food- hummous, lamb, saffron rice, pistachio baklava. The music-a fantastic blend of many cultures around the Mediterranean Sea. The dancers-beautiful women who loved their bodies, could move parts of their abdomen I can't even see, and balance swords on their heads. Delicious in every way.

We then strolled over to the annual International Festival in the plaza, where there were Irish dancers in equally gorgeous costumes. Look at how the music moves the children-they want to dance. Pictures of the international festival, Burnsville Heart of the City, last weekend.

What was most fascinating for me was the bodhran drum of this trio. The man was seated (behind the dancers), and the way he played this unique drum, how many different tones he got and the way he moved the back hand, shadowed in this video, was intriguing. See here for a slight sample. Get out there this SUMMER! There's music afoot! Live music is better.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Musical -Tuesday

The precious kiddos must have sung and practiced for hours since Monday. Everything is already starting to come into place! Although quite bumpy in some spots, went through the entire musical today, and learned the rest of the dance moves to the last 3 songs. The director from last year told me that we're much further along than they were a year ago. Tomorrow we ask that they have their lines memorized and can sing all the songs. This is a big request as there are seven songs and lots of lines for some of the cast.

Today's snack was popcorn and a juice box. The children had all wanted to go outside yesterday, but we said no because it was high humidity and hot. The weather didn't change today, but since there was popcorn, I sent them out for snack time. I'm so glad I did-we really fed the birds. Five minutes later, all the kids wanted back inside; it was such a nasty heat today.

They played some great games, including the one pictured at the top. Each team has to crawl through the legs of their teammates, from back to front. The whole team gets a turn, as quickly as possible.

But the music is my favorite part. I know you're surprised. Angel voices lifted up in chorus, it is a mighty sound. When do we sing together anymore? We sometimes sing "Happy Birthday" or at a worship service if you attend one. We may go to a sing along of the Messiah annually. Karaoke doesn't count because we don't sing together; one person or a few grab a microphone.

Up here in Lutheran land, Garrison Keillor talks about the Lake Wobegon choir that breaks into four part harmony after the first breath of their favorite hymn. And then it slows down because everyone is enjoying the amazingness of it. I witnessed this myself just one month ago at a large evangelical gathering. All of the above is true. To stand in the midst of the adult voices blending and listening, and today to hear the children blending and listening too, well, sigh, to quote Genesis, "it was good."

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Musical -Monday

Today was the beginning of our church musical. From 8:30-noon daily this week, 35 children will descend upon an elementary school. They will sing, learn lines and choreography, and in a mere 5 days put on a musical for parents and friends. They will be learning that they were each given unique gifts-isn't that something we all could hear again!

The kick-off today went ok but there are always hitches. Our sound is going to be mic'ed by condenser mics above the children. But we could not really hear each individual clearly. Part of the issue is that on Monday the lines are shaky and they're staring at their feet.

We had to dance around students that attend a summer school program in the same space. They eat breakfast around our stage. They come back for lunch and we need to move again.

But what lovely people came forward today-their teams ready to go with props, games, snacks, and pre-school activities. We got some risers from the music room and made some head-way on Here are pictures on their colored "flip form" risers. I'll let you know tomorrow if they remembered which color they were on!

Tomorrow - choreography!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dew Days Parade

I'm a keyboard player and music and worship director at a mission church right now that is going to be in the Dew Days Parade next Sunday. Farmington, Minnesota, at one time celebrated the fact that they drank the most Mountain Dew in the country, hence the name. For a few years, Mountain Dew pulled their sponsorship so it was changed to the "Ramblin' River Days". It is a week full of festivities, bingo, street dances, sales in city shops, and a fundraiser for the city includes kissing a pig! As you can tell, the sponsorship by the bottling company is back too; they recognized a good thing!

Our mission church is located in an elementary school in Farmington and is full of younger families who like to have fun. Our music team is high energy live music, with lots of harmony and many different musical instruments on any given Sunday. So we're going to emphasize that aspect down the road next week.

Last year we used a trailer from one of our members; this year we were hoping to find one a little bigger. I asked a nearby church about their trailer, and it had two flat tires and was in bad shape, but sent me to Farmer Pat, who has a farm in the country thirty minutes from here. His T-shirt says, "Come over to my Farm! Red barn, white house, can't miss it!" Great guy!

Here is the brand new trailer he is going to lend us! How will we decorate it? We plan to put 10-13 musicians and their gear on it so it won't have much on top but people and stuff. Several members of the church plan to walk along beside it with squirt guns, candy, and wagons for the little ones. We'll all wear t-shirts with our logo. It should be lots of fun.

This same farmer had several ball hitches for us to choose from depending on what the man's truck has for a hitch set-up. (first learning experience) He also made sure I noticed that there aren't any sides to the trailer, so he hopes we don't fall off! The women of the group will sit on the edge and swing their feet I'm sure! (potential learning experience!)

Remember now, I'm a classical pianist. The next goal is to get our sound working. Yeah, right. Good thing I'm not afraid to ask for help! My dad is going to bring a deep-cycle marine battery up with him tomorrow,(second learning experience) and we are purchasing an inverter to change from AC to DC, (or is it from DC to AC?, third learning experience) We plan to have an extended rehearsal outdoors in my backyard this week to test the equipment. (fourth learning experience) Well, anyway!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Theme Thursday - ROOF

This is considered the Beatles last live concert, January 1969. The Beatles' celebrated rooftop show. An idea conceived during a meeting on 26 January, it was the first of two consecutive Beatles/Billy Preston performances which concluded the Get Back project, for on 31 January they ran through numbers inside the basement studio.

This day's work has passed into history as the Beatles' last live performance, even if it couldn't be classified as a concert. The 42-minute show (about half of which comprises the sensational close to the Let It Be film) was a lunchtime blast into the cold wind - imagine a high London rooftop in January - that brought part of the capital to a standstill, until the police, in turn, brought the show to an enforced conclusion. (Info copied from YouTube video...)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Musician's Curse

There's been a song running in my head most of the day today. In the biz, we call that the "Musician's Curse". I thought it was gone, then poof, it would come back. Somedays the song will be an original melody. If I like it and it hangs around, I will write it down and revisit it on a less busy day.

But today's song is a classic. In fact, if you hear it, it may stick in your head the rest of the day too, so proceed at your own risk.

The name of the song is, wait for it, it's "More Than a Feeling" by Boston. Can you believe it? The main music for the title is 2 notes! Ugh. I don't get to choose the songs that run in my head, though, do I. I guess it could be worse, but it certainly could have been better-something lovely and classical, something profound. But no. It's a slick '70s tune from a large mustachio-ed boy band.

Well, here you go, the music I've been hearing all day. Enjoy. Oy!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Minnesota Music Teachers Convention

I love to catch up with teaching friends at our annual teachers convention. Rather than knowing our colleagues because we are in the same building, or because we work together and talk often, we independent music teachers only see each other at committee meetings, local group meetings, or at the annual convention. I did not attend last year’s convention, so I felt like it had really been a long time since I had seen some of these great people. Here we are taking copious notes. The piano on stage was wonderful; the tone, colors and sound of it were gorgeous.

The opening session was proceeded by a welcome from our president. MMTA is very close to 1000 members, and around 300 came to the convention this year. She greeted us and introduced our guest clinician for this year, Dr. Maurice Hinson. After some initial sound issues, the hotel produced a cordless lavalier microphone which worked better. Dr. Vanessa is concerning herself with getting it on just right!
Dr. Hinson is an amazing pedagogue. His love of details and editorial expertise has put him on the top of many people’s lists of great contributors to our profession. He did several sessions over the course of our two days, on the details behind the notes on the page, humor in music, and a master class, teaching young students in front of us.
There were also sessions about classical pedal technique, teaching “teeny weenies” (three to six year olds), how to become a new judge for our programs, behind the scenes of the making of an opera and many more. The range of classes was wide and varied. There was an exhibit hall that had music for our shopping pleasure, a booth or two representing colleges and universities our students might want information about, and a non-profit booth which had teacher-donated used music. We could take what we would use, and make a donation to the Foundation. The Foundation uses monies to award both students and teachers in their music endeavors.
The facility this year was distinctive. The price of the convention was higher than it has ever been but we got what we paid for! The food was fresh and continuous, the restrooms were clean and the meeting rooms well groomed. We have had some less than stellar facilities in the past. But this year I didn’t hear any complaints. This is quite remarkable considering that the three hundred of us are programmed to critique things.
These are our current president, middle, next president, left, and president elect, right. Yes, we did have a little fun in all that work, didn't we? Oh yeah.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Theme Thursday - SWING

This is a style one of my students wants to learn over the summer. The best part is that they are very motivated because it's lots of practice, lots of listening, and repetition.

"It don' mean a thang if it ain't got that swang!"

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sunsets in Wisconsin, Memorial Weekend

Here are some more lovely moments in the beauty of the Midwest.

Breathe deeply.

Carpe diem

Churches on Hills

Many refer to this part of Wisconsin as the "Holy Land". On every little hill sits the most lovely church, most of them Catholic. In this first picture you can see the church in the very middle, yet miles away. In the next photo, we've arrived up at its door.
There is almost always a building very near it; it is the priest/pastor's home. The church provides it for him in many cases; he is then available 24/7 so to speak.

The homes are modest, the churches are gorgeous. Walnut pews and long aisles, stained glass depictions of saints or the stations of the cross. Making high ground holy ground is compelling as well; the farmer could always see his God from his field.

These churches now often share a priest who does one service at 8, drives and does another at 10, then drives for a noon mass in yet a third church. Or they have worked out every other week schedules because there are not enough parishioners to afford a full time person.

You can not see the cemetery of this country church from this vantage point, but it is just over the ridge. We were there for Memorial weekend and it was full of flowers, real and artificial. Most headstones in a modern cemetery are now flat on the ground so that caretakers can mow the lawn, but in this case, the headstones are proud and tall. Many use granite from the area near Montello in a burgundy tone, exactly like the granite used for Grant's tomb. There are always a few headstones that carry dates before Wisconsin became a state in 1848.

There are often babies buried and their headstones read, Baby Daughter, Lived 3 Days, for example. They didn't name her. This makes me dwell on how hard it must have been to live 150 or more years ago. And in your sorrow, you take the baby up the hill, and bury hear near the church. Then as you look from your farm, you will see her too?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wind in Wisconsin

The music teaching business is almost completed for the school calendar year. I have filing to finish, bills to send out for summer lessons, and a two-day convention next week. I always look forward to our state conventions. (They understand me there.) Around 350 teachers of voice, piano, guitar and other instruments come together with music, guest speakers, teaching ideas, business strategies, an exhibit hall full of goodies and some convention food. We try to move it around the Twin Cities metro area so that every one is inconvenienced at some point; it only seems fair. Last year it was at the Mystic Lake Hotel and Casino, but the complaints about the smoke drove us to look for another venue.

I will be doing a presentation at the convention which I will share with you and I promise to take lots of pictures.

Until then, please let me show you more of the Midwest and our trip to Wisconsin. Since our last trip there, many more wind turbines dot the landscape near Fond Du Lac. From a distance they seem peaceful, and quite lovely. I am a big proponent of natural and renewable energy. But as we got closer, we could tell that not everyone was pleased with their presence. Billboards and signs in yards proclaimed, "Neighbors don't let neighbors put up 400 foot wind turbines". There is a heated debate that the flicker from the blades and the noise is unbearable and that the homes were here before the wind farm.

I have so many feelings about this and ultimately I don't live there, so I'm going to refrain from any statement. I will say that when I have seen wind farms in the past, they have been in more deserted rather than inhabited country areas like North Dakota, and the plains of Iowa, out of earshot. The light that flickers in this video would drive me nuts, I know. Oh yeah.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Honors Concert Regalia, Part Secondo

With all the pitfalls of 4000 people separated from their 660 children, sprinkle in nerves, an old building with very few bathrooms, and the mandatory dress code, you would think that more incidents and accidents would happen. Thankfully each year there are only minor glitches, except that one time with the tornado. Oh wait, that's another story.
Here are some of my students in their gowns, I didn't get a picture of the guys. Our lady in ice blue is backstage ready to go. They set up three rows of chairs behind the scenes and "on deck" to keep the program running smoothly. The group performs and while they are bowing the next group is already coming on stage and finding their instrument. It's a well-oiled machine.
Last year one young man came over to an usher quite pale in the face. "I need a bathroom!" She escorted him to one and become worried when he didn't come out and didn't come out. She eventually had to get a male security guard to go in and check on him. He had vomited all over himself and the bathroom! He smelled terrible, was upset and a mess. Poor fellow.
This year nerves sent a young lady in a beautiful gown over the edge and she went potty on the bench. She also went a little more when she took a bow, so there were two puddles in terrible places. Worse, the next student was already at the bench, looked down and didn't know what to do, so she panicked. She sat in it too. She cried through her piece. When she came off stage, she pointed and sobbed, and the stage crew got it all cleaned up discreetly. Most people didn't even know what happened.
Can you imagine? Your pretty dress, your big debut, your shining moment and the bench is wet? Oh yeah, the stories of concerts from behind the scenes. Do you have an embarrassing moment?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Honors Concert Regalia, Part Primo

Last Saturday Minnesota piano students performed at Northrop Auditorium on the University of Minnesota campus. I love the look and feel of this auditorium, not only because it holds so many memories of my performances there, but it just feels like a musical auditorium should. Tall ceilings, detailed chandelier and wall reliefs, the seats are covered in crushed burgundy velvet. I always think that the following information should be in our recital program; alas I've been told there's no room.

Northrop Memorial Auditorium, completed in 1929, was built to hold the entire student body of the 1920's. Since then, this 4800 seat auditorium continues to fulfill its original purpose as a center for the arts and student life. From music and theatre performances to graduation ceremonies, Northrop has played a vital role in the history of the University. The inscription on the facade of Northrop was written by former Graduate School dean and University of Minnesota president Guy Stanton Ford. Capturing the mission of the University, the inscription reads: "Founded in faith that men are ennobled by understanding, Dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth, Devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the state."
Could there be a better worded statement at the beginning of our annual event? I don't think so. We're still striving for just these lofty and virtuous goals.

If it were up to me, I would also include a blurb about the incredible organ housed here. One student per year wins the Young Artist in Organ and performs on it in the middle of the concert. As the organ rises from the floor of the orchestra pit, there is always a collective OOOH.

The Northrop Organ
Built in 1932-1935, the Northrop Auditorium Organ, Aeolian-Skinner Op. 892, is located above the auditorium's stage and behind the proscenium, and is played from a four-manual console located in the orchestra pit. Containing 80 independent stops and 108 ranks of pipes, the Northrop Organ is one of the finest extant examples of a late-romantic concert organ by the premier manufacturer of its era.
In 1999, the Northrop Organ received a Special Citation from the Organ Historical society. The Society's citations program has been likened to the National Register of Historic Places. The citation of the organ reflects the increased awareness of the importance of orggans of this vintage that have remained intact and tonally and technologically unaltered.

Organizing an event like this, (660 students age 7-18, separated from their parents, and they are nervous) takes a tremendous amount of patience and skill. The auditorium is divided into pink and green signs, students wear pink and green bracelets, and rows of seats are labeled by pink and green labels with each duet listed. Each child is assigned an exact seat. The rule sheets are very specific to keep track of the most minute details. There are 20 grand pianos on stage. Lifting the lids always lifts my energy level!

Here is also a picture of some of our volunteers in the green room. The gala event is staffed with teacher volunteers from around the state. This in itself is a testament to the care and importance we teachers see in this honored concert.

If you'd like pictures of this amazing building, I recommend here and here. My favorite is this one, the view from the stage! I also took a few "special" photos where only performers get to go-enjoy!

Part Secondo - a personal look, coming soon...

Planting Flowers

I'm outside for the first of what I hope to be several days in the sun. The flowers are purchased, the weeding has begun, the garden is tilled. One of the best parts of this labor for me is the chance to think deep thoughts or no thoughts at all. I come up with my best ideas in the sun and the dirt.
It's time for a new thing!

Who's been to Visit?