Sunday, December 27, 2009

Still Auld Lang Syne?

A friend of mine has a band that is playing on New Year's Eve. He's not excited about it. Another of my band-y friends refuses to play this date citing "Amateur Night", both by the drunks and the other bands that perform at every VFW and beer hall across America. But, friend #1 didn't really have a choice. The band manager took the gig, so here he goes.

The big dilemma is what to play at midnight? They really don't want to do the traditional hymn of Auld Lang Syne. It is not very upbeat, old, slow, and not fitting their band's style. The crowd does not know the words. So, has no one written a good new New Year's Eve song in over 100 years? Dan Fogelburg wrote a song that is played during the Christmas season by the same name. But it ends quoting the same melody, played on a saxophone. Can it be that I will need to rectify this situation in the next year?

Old Long Still, (more easily heard as "long long ago", or "Once upon a Time" is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788. Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo is often credited with popularizing the use of the song at New Year’s celebrations in America, through his annual broadcasts on radio and television, beginning in 1929. The song became his trademark. In addition to his live broadcasts, Lombardo recorded the song more than once.

The new tune will have a hint of melancholy, perhaps, with a general upbeat, "let's start over, let's try that again" lyric. For me, it should be about new beginnings. I don't want to write a rap, kthxbai. It will need to be repetitive and on the simple side for the limited talent groups out there. Should it have a moment for the sounding of the paper horns? What about a moment for the tinging of glasses, or a kiss? Should it rock, or be sentimental? Should it tip its hat to the former lyrics with a reference like "take a cup of kindness", which I really like? Your input into the next millennium's hit would be greatly appreciated.

Here's a translation from Wikipedia for your reading pleasure. Reading these words makes me realize how sad and back-looking the song is. We are ready for a new one, I think. What elements of a New Year's song would you like to hear?

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Less Hallmark, more Real, please

You know it didn't snow in the Bethlehem region, right? They didn't really have little glowing halos around their heads. The lovely couple most likely didn't wear the blue of royalty, and "no crying he makes?" Get real.

It wasn't a silent night, either. Tons of people, overcrowded homes all over the town of Bethlehem, the chaos of a young woman giving birth, the rumor of the situation, stinky, dirty shepherds knocking on the door in the wee hours, animals-it was not what we try so hard to make Christmas into. Let's make these people different than us, more holy, if you will. I try to keep Christmas at a distance. I have tried over and over in ways big and small, to wrap up this story, neat and tidy and put it in a lovely gift wrapped box. I don't want to let God out of the box, because I am in control right now and I happen to like it this way. Well, I'm not really, but at least I know, or I think I know what's going on...

Every year, love spills out of the box for me and I succumb. I start to think that my crazy busy times are somewhat like what Mary and Joseph's lives were like. I pack, make food, travel, sleep in different bedrooms than my own, I inconvenience people, deal with relatives, all with little ones in tow. I have traveled pregnant. May I just say-Yuk. I worry about what I bought, what I'll wear, and I argue with the kids to dress up, I said too much, I got fed up with so-and-so. Dang, I hate being human.

And here comes a newborn. More sleepless nights, more poo, another person in a small space. Try to contain a baby-I dare you! You change your lifestyle, and that precious little one slips into every part of your life-every one. Most of all, it slips right into your heart, little by little.

My husband says some like to believe it was perfect. Just like reading a book, or watching a movie, we all like to escape. If you need that, please, go right ahead. I think it's an impossible standard that we have bought into-that somehow if we were just more____________ or less_________________, we'd be loved, appreciated, successful, or_______________. Oh bother.

My merry and most sincere wish for you is that you see yourself, in all the joy, fear, happiness, sadness, stress and wonder of the season that you celebrate, and feel the love. May something overflow out of the box for you too. I can't contain miracles. May this beautiful story, Hallmark or not, burst in, like the shepherds unannounced, and shake me from my "dreamless sleep". Happy miracles to you, and God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Festival of Light

I spent a little time in synagogues in Connecticut. I loved it and learned so much. So many wise teachings for life, wow.

There is a great Hasidic tradition that you should have in your pockets two sayings. One is "from dust I have come, to dust I will return", which is this idea of humility — that we are nothing, absolutely nothing.

In the other pocket is that the world was created on my account — the sense that you not only are something, but you are really something.

You have to live in between the two pockets.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Being a Manger

I thought I would share a few thoughtful items here leading up to Christmas as I prepare lots of music, and have little time to write. Here's one from my inbox this evening.

At our annual Christmas Quiet service last Tuesday-

On How to Be a Manger by Barbara Germiat

Be Empty
Be Sturdy
Be Soft Inside
Be Still
Be Ready

May each of you experience the coming of Christ in simple ways.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Middle School Band Holiday Show

Situated a mere 15 minutes from my studio is the Mall of America. This shopping mecca pulls out the stops for the holiday with larger than life trees, wreaths, and no fewer than 7 stages upon which they hold group after group of musicians and other seasonal acts. The violin and harp in the photos are almost 5 feet each, hanging as ornaments on trees that are 4 stories tall. I have taken my students to this stage, until 9/11. After this date, the mall had many forms, and photo i.d.s and signed underage permission hoops to jump through. It got too hard to get it all together at an already busy time. Many a Christmas letter of my families made mention of a certain youngster performing at the "main stage" at the biggest mall in America. ("That would be the same stage as Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Mariah Carey, and Taylor Swift, to name a few", said one proud parent.)

Today the middle school band went to the Mall and spent the better part of the morning shopping and eating at the food courts. The buses were loaded with their instruments, which were then stored in the bowels of the building until their performance. Students were excited and wore their hats and antlers. Red and green shirts and shoes abounded amid their shining braces-filled smiles. The 7th grade and the 8th grade each played separate shows, approximately 25 minutes each.

To say that playing in that big open space is difficult is an understatement. The sounds reverberate, the people are loud and for the most part, disinterested. They pause for 8 measures of a piece and walk away, talking on their cell phones or to their friends. Children cry. The rides from the theme park located in the middle of the mall echo with screams and the clatter of roller coasters.

I gave up performing there for a wide variety of reasons, but sounding bad was definitely among them. But the pleasure of playing in this space is not lost on the young. It gave them another way to listen to each other and follow the director at all costs. It was quite the show.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Keebler Elf

Driving to the party yesterday, there was a Keebler cookie truck ahead of me. At the stoplight, I noticed his little gnome-y face peeking right between the bumper and the truck perfectly. I'm sure that the truck driver is worried that the car behind him whipped out a camera and took a picture of his license plate and driver information that is posted on the back. But I was giggling that "The Elf Himself" was on the mud flaps.
Here's the Saturday picture for you. I'm going to wrap the first batch of homemade caramels and have friends over for dinner and cards today. I've practiced my accompaniment for tomorrow's violinist arrangement of "Away in the Manger". I'm hoping she'll jump in and play along on some of our other Christmas hymns. We'll see!

NOTE-No cookies were harmed in the making of this post. (yet)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Music Teacher Christmas Brunch

What do music lovers do when they get together at the holidays? They play for each other! Here are some glimpses into our gathering this morning for brunch at the lovely D.D.'s house. Many brought their instruments and D.D. has two, yes two (!) grand pianos. It was a great few hours spent with good food, conversation and so many lovely pieces and people.
The Apple Valley Music Teachers Association is a group of over 60 music teachers in this area. Although the group started in Apple Valley, there are teachers from all over that attend. One even drives almost an hour because of the group's welcoming nature, although there is a local group in her area. Some local associations are only piano teachers, the St. Paul Piano Teachers Association is a great example. I used to below to three local groups because they were so very different in personality and what they offered me as a teacher. The dues and my heart changed. I didn't use many of the programs in the other groups, and often skipped the meetings.
Now, I belong to this group alone. It represents performers and teachers across instruments and neighborhoods. Flutes, guitar, strings, woodwinds, voice, orchestra, and piano meet once per month to listen to speakers, discuss studio policies, have music festivals, and play at nursing homes and malls in the metro area. This is a well organized, conscientious, warm group which is open to any who teach music privately. Some groups prefer to set a standard of teaching or performing excellence. I think that I can't stop anyone from putting out a sign and teaching music. Therefore, I like the open invitation-all come, and grow as both teachers and musicians. There was a short business meeting because in January, February and March we are having student festivals, with over 800 entrants. A few items needed to be decided.
The music today was from a wide range of ability and across all genres, not simply holiday music. We heard a lovely jazz guitar arrangement, accompanied violins, a piano solo piece by Chaminade, a piano duet, a trio of voice, flute and piano, and got a short lecture recital on a bassoon! I had no idea the range of that instrument!
Some of us chose not to play today. I have played at this many times and didn't feel I had anything ready to perform this year. It's not all holiday music; some are getting ready for other performances; I play every Sunday, and it is so much fun for me to hear my colleagues. We made rather merry.

Last night at a lesson, a student had played through his whole Christmas book and come across a tune he didn't know. We had a great discussion on the following piece-it is one of my favorites to play on piano. Maybe someday I'll actually figure out how to do YouTube!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theme Thursday - SNOW

The timing of Theme Thursday could not have been better as my midwest area got pounded by snow over Tuesday and Wednesday. School was even canceled here yesterday. I do not teach if the schools are closed, so I got a snow day too, and used it to plan Christmas Eve worship. It will be a lovely event with lots of layers. There will be a nativity for the children to ask questions, lots of carols and some special music. We hope to have a sign language component and puppets. We meet in an elementary school gym, so it is already a non-traditional setting for this holiday. It should be meaningful.
Here is one of my favorite carols, done by an outstanding Norwegian voice, with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It came to my mind immediately because of the line, "snow on snow". Listen more than watch, the video cuts in and out. Enjoy your weather, whatever it is.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First Fire of the Winter Season

The snow of Minne-snow-ta is on its way. It is a very good reason for lighting the fireplace in the studio. I await and announce this day every year. I speak loudly to the sprites in the chimney that I'm going to light a fire! It doesn't matter whether there are other humans in the house or not, I announce it. I gather the wood from outside, the kindling and the newspaper. I use real wood matches because I like to hold it in my hand a moment. I like the sulfur smell just a little. Perhaps I'm a wee bit of a pyro? I poke it with a stick and keep it roasty toasty.

I love to see and smell the fire and hear the music, and taste a steaming cup of java, tea, or hot cocoa. I guess it's sensory overload, but wow, it's good.

Some days when I've lit it every day for many days, and tendered its coals overnight, I begin to feel the presence of my ancestors, who kept their houses warm with their fires. It is cool in my studio without it, since I teach in my lower level. I get a little tired of hauling the wood, and then I laugh at myself. The women chopped it and stacked it, and I do it for the atmosphere. HA!

My studio parents love it too. They come in and visibly relax into the sofa. Aaaah, they remark on its warmth. But I think it's more than that. So many of them rush rush rush from one place to the next. Sometimes there is such a peace in the fireplace room that they fall asleep, worn and warm. It is a rich moment when the student and I notice their grownup asleep and we agree to serenade them in their dreams. We talk softly and play our music with extra depth.

Oh yes, I lit the fire today. It is officially the first day of winter.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

About this Christmas Music Station

I am all for following the traditions of the seasons, I really am. But I'm already aurally exhausted by the "Sounds of Christmas" stations that greet me everywhere. I usually get farther through the month before this happens. My family is hooked on the station that is playing the Rudolph variety music 24 hours a day! I'm now looking at ways to slip in a few other choices-the CDs we have are wonderful, but I don't have a way to play them in the kitchen and upstairs. Hmmmm, it may be time to invest in an inexpensive CD player for the dining room!

I think it may have something to do with the fact that I have heard them many years, they played a very limited selection on the radio, my students are all working on holiday music, and I play it at church. Any suggestions for my sanity would be greatly appreciated. Off to work on Christmas cards for the studio. I'm going to put a picture of their child in each card. They look so good! I've seen some of these pictures at the grand end up on senior posterboards. Sometimes a parent has exclaimed that they never thought to take a picture of their prodigy at the piano.
Who doesn't like to see their kiddo smiling at a keyboard? Ho ho ho.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


I took a six year old student this fall that had been training at the Yamaha Music school. She's all the six year old you could ever want: toothless smile, boundless energy, not much piano experience. Together we are exploring the magic of music.
Before Thanksgiving, I gave her a very easy Faber level 1 Christmas book to help with her reading. This book keeps her little hands close to around 5 notes in each hand and has all the six year old favorites.
She came back from her Thanksgiving break eager to play her Christmas book for me. Hopping on the bench, she turned to the page, and belted out, "Let's all sing together now!" I jumped right in, expecting lyrics "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer", but quickly realized I was the only one singing those words!
She was singing "Do re do la fa re do...!" I have not sung or taught Solfege since my college days. Boy was I rusty! I didn't learn the "do re mi" of music in piano, but rather in choir in middle and high school, and in my major at college. It was slowly coming back when we moved on to the rest of her lesson.
Do any music teachers out there teach young ones solfege in private lessons?
The world has come to know it by the Sound of Music. I think it IS a very good place to start. Have a great weekend. I'm going to begin the holiday preparations for the studio.

Who's been to Visit?