Monday, November 30, 2009

Registering and Planning Ahead

Every job comes with an aspect that is, at best, dissatisfying. And between the lovely music of my life comes and joy of working with brilliant students, comes the paperwork. The tasks of a piano teacher also include filling out forms, an overabundance of forms, a plethora of paperwork, and a big deadline is tomorrow, December 1st. I love my job, really I do, but the tedium of filling out paperwork every year for the same event for the same student is a drag.

Sometimes I remember to fill in some of the standard information BEFORE I photocopy the forms. This saves repeated name, address and phone number writing. But this year I forgot. I'm not sure where my brain is some days, but it was absent in front of the copier. Last time I forgot, I used my home address labels, but I still had to fill in the phone and email address on each one.

These forms require more than triplicate. They are repeated because they will go to different people who do different volunteer aspects of the job. There is an office person who will take the forms and the money. There is a scheduler who will place the student on the requested day and time. There is a data entry person who then sends out the exact information to the teacher, who then passes it on to the student. If you are willing to do this, there is now an online registration process, which I haven't tried yet. But you still have to fill out some forms, because the student will bring an "official" form to the registration desk at the competition.

Two of the questions that might be among the more frustrating for me this year are "Age of student on September 1st" and "Theory level passed as of December 1st, include year passed". These are not items I know off the top of my head for each child. I dig through a file folder for one of the data points, and look it up on the computer for the other. I have tried other options, including asking the student. They sometimes get how old they were in September wrong, no kidding. And although they know they passed theory level 2, for example, they don't remember what year.

In my dreams, I envision a master database of this information so that it might save me the trouble. But the truth is that it would be a nightmare to keep those sort of records on a revolving basis. Maybe someday, someone, not me, will be able to coordinate a wonderful tool for this purpose. But we're talking about 10,000 students. Sigh.

Another issue through the process is that I live in a metropolitan area of the state where there are two possible sites, on Saturday or Sunday. The parents may also choose morning or afternoon. Getting their day and time of choice from them today for an event that takes place on the last days of January is nearly impossible, and once they have chosen, it can not be changed. Once you've chosen Saturday, you are competing on Saturday.

Until the advent of students registering themselves, I'm scrambling to ask the right questions, fill out the right forms, and get good answers.

And next week the Festival paperwork begins. Yay.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Whistling is an Amazing Gift

A post by my fellow blogger, A Cuban in London, prompted this memory. Although my children know this story, and smile at each other with the "here it comes again look", I will share it with you today.

My Grandpa was quite a whistler. As a child, I was quite smitten with him anyway, as an only granddaughter adores the princes in her life, but when he whistled, wow. I would hold my breath so I wouldn't miss a note. He said he couldn't sing, but he truly sang.

Many times he said he didn't know what song he was whistling; I think he made up melodies. He did many old fashioned German melodies, Oh Danny Boy, and hymns. I remember distinctly How Great Thou Art. This hymn has been at so many funerals in my family that I can't hear it anymore. But I still must perform it occasionally.

The last time I played it, I am sure I heard Grandpa whistling along. It was as clear as if he were sitting in the back of the room, with a lean-against-the-wall, style. It was crystal clear, and took my breath away. I wanted to stop and listen to him, but I was performing in public, and no one else seemed to hear anything out of the ordinary. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck raised.

It was almost as if we were doing a duet, and it made me cry. Right in the middle of the performance. Tears were rolling down my face and I couldn't stop. I'm sure people thought I was nuts. But there I sat, playin' and cryin'.

It was heavenly to hear that sound again, even if it was in my own head. Grandpa died in 1976, at that time, Roger Whittaker was also known for his whistling. Here is a sample of some of his beautiful whistling.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Theme Thursday - TELEPHONE

Technology is a good thing. This must be stated up front and I want to be perfectly clear that I own digital keyboards, a digital camera, a laptop and a cell phone. But I also find myself tormented by all sorts of technology in regard to teaching classical piano.

Long ago, I took the TELEPHONE and the computer out of my office. I was limiting the noises so that we could really listen. Any call that came in was not as important as the student with me. Computers have a fan noise that is annoying to me. (My latest annoyance has to do with a halogen hum by trying to go more environmentally friendly, but that's another post.)

But now students are bringing distractions into the lesson with them. Blackberries, iPhones, cell phones-the list is long. Cell phones ring during lessons, recitals, or competitions. I have made a relatively new change that they leave them on the coffee table in the fireplace room. If I remind them, it's working.

I am starting to believe preliminary data pointing to reduced attention spans from not only television but video games. But again, this is another post idea.

Perhaps as soon as I mention a "simpler" time, of land lines, and acoustic concerts, I am labeling and distancing myself from my students, or you. But as you listen to Jim Croce, and see that he doesn't have a backup band, psychedelic uTube presentation, or hype, it gives you a chance to really listen. I think really listening is such a gift.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

The small town feeling washed over me today as I drove into Rosemount, Minnesota. On every lamp was a flag waving wildly. How did your town celebrate? Some have parades, some have vigils.

A student sent me this video clip. I hadn't seen it yet; maybe you haven't either.

Music Theory is not for Wimps

A piano student went to visit her sisters at college. She returned this week with stars in her eyes and stories to share. Because the sisters are both considering music degrees, they are in college music classes. So, my 15 year old sat in classes with them and even took the music theory quiz.
They were studying dominant seventh chords and their inversions. A majority of class time was analyzing which inversion of the chord was in use, and how to write that inversion correctly on paper.
Bonzai! My kiddo got 100% on the quiz! Some of the students received 2 or 3/10. The teacher pulled her aside after class.
"You're 15", he said. "How did you know this information or learn it so quickly?"
"Well, I already have had it in my piano lessons!"
"Where do you live?"
"In Minnesota."
"Oh, well, that's why. They have a great music program up there. Can you and your sister stay after class and tutor the singers who only understand one note at a time?"

Way to go, Minnesota! For more information on our great programs, visit

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm sick, sick, sick

I have missed so many Monday lessons with my own family issues and students' illnesses. Now, it's my turn to have an influenza like illness. 102, deep cough, and I have slept for 36 hours straight. I hate to cancel lessons, but I must. I feel horrible. And I don't feel right now like making the lessons up. But we're getting behind on all our preparations for our winter events. Sigh, I'm going to take more Advil, make some phone calls to the Monday parents and go back to bed.

But on a good note, it's a sunny day! Maybe I'll nap in the sunshine chair in the living room. Aah nice and warm when I'm so cold...cup of tea, drifting off...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Finding Adjudicators

I'm working with a committee, assigning judges for our Minnesota Music teachers annual contest. There are many attributes of a great judge, but as we assign people to positions, there are a lot of other not-so-obvious qualities that we met recently to discuss. These are the intangibles that make or break a great year for those of us running it. These should be a given, but for some reason, it never is.

Do they work well with the younger children? Do they smile? Ever? Do they appear warm and welcoming? Do some of the people with Doctorates have attitudes that prohibit them from the lower levels? Are we diminishing their degree by having them write critiques for a 12 year old? Can we read the handwriting? Do they stay on time? Do they arrive on time? Are they just plain high maintenance?

Now the latest trait we are examining is whether they have email. Due to budget constraints, we are only using the internet this year to communicate with our adjudicators. I have mixed feelings about this attempt to save money. Some of my favorites judges in years past do not have email accounts. Some colleagues never check them but have one. But what do we do about an esteemed pianist who does not have contact with what is now a very time-tested approved method of communication?

As we prepare to send out a LOT of emails in the next few days, and deal with returned/undeliverables, and some speedy replies, I will probably form a better opinion of our new policy. Of course, we are training our membership at this point too, to expect communication from us in a new way. Welcome to the new way, same as the old way, just like yesterday?

Wow, can Pete ever play, but would he be a good adjudicator?

Who's been to Visit?