Sunday, March 29, 2009

Good Life

A sign as I drive
to work, to school, to my peaceful place
The Good Life For Sale
Arrived, Status , Success and
Happiness await.

Hard work. Be a good boy.
Pride of Ownership
Good, earned
Life, purchased

The chasing beyond the gate continues.
A shattered reality sets in
The good life is not here!
My pool, his manicured lawn, our overtime
Where is Life? Where is Good?

For Sale, says a sign. Can I buy?
A State of Mind, A
Forgiven Breath of Grace,
this Good Life?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Lovely Judging Day in St. Peter

Our family roadtrip over, I turned quickly back to my piano teacher chapeau. I was asked to be a critical listener (judge) for 21 ninth graders in St. Peter today. What a musical morning! I know the ninth grade mind; many of my students are in this 14-16 year old pubescent gene pool, and hormones make the waters murky!

St. Peter is a lovely town in Southwestern Minnesota, which was at one time considered for the state capitol. (St. Paul was eventually chosen, being more centrally located and on the Mississippi River). The roads are very wide, the buildings charming. If I were a photographer, I could have stayed a week capturing the verdant Minnesota river valley, the ancient trees, and mid-nineteenth century building facades. The Gustavus Adolphus campus is perched atop a hill that overlooks the town. On March 29, 1998, a tornado devastated St. Peter, but the loss of life was small due to the college being on spring break at the time. This is a view from the hill toward the town's catholic church.

An interesting side note-Around 5:00 p.m. that awful night, the storm passed over the south metro area. We had a Twister game wrap around our grill leg, and we had mail in our yard addressed to someone in St. Peter. Of all the games....

I love to greet the students who play for me. I think they forget that I'm just another human being; I especially want them to remember that I'm on THEIR side. I smile, look them in the eye, and say Good Morning. They drop their shoulders, turn to look at me, and are disarmed when I'm smiling and talking. TO THEM. Imagine their faces that I care about what they're about to do, and know the peril they are feeling! I also love to clap with the audience after they are finished. Again they look astonished. I make sure to get eye contact and smile again. They did it! Oh sweet victory!

The judging today was in two elements. Each student performed two pieces for a small audience of family, friends, and me. They received a written critique of highlights of their performance, and a rating of each of their pieces. Much of the playing today was of a superior caliber. The rest was excellent, no one achieved a mere satisfactory rating. The twist to this festival was that at the end of the day, I also selected a first, second, and two honorable mentions. They received a cash award and the opportunity to play in the grand concert tomorrow. This is the part that posed the most thought for me.

One young man played the Maple Leaf Rag with such enthusiasm and joy that the whole room was tapping and smiling with him. He nailed it-and he knew it. His grin and energy were infectious. It was so much fun. Another young lady performed flawlessly and made 2nd place easier.

There is a large range of ability in a ninth grade pianist. Some began a few years ago and play around a level 3. Some others are learning early college level repertoire! It's fun to hear the wide range when you don't have to compare them against each other.

The Maple Leaf Rag below is actual Scott Joplin, recorded onto a piano roll during his lifetime, and remastered for our listening pleasure. Aaah, the wonders of technology.

A special request to visit this local meat market in Nicollet, Minnesota, 20 minutes west of St. Peter, turned out to be a hidden treasure trove of amazing summer sausage. I think the locals are keeping it a secret because it was really busy. Their website is: I highly recommend the garlic summer sausage! Look at this authentic this German exterior!

Friday, March 27, 2009

O-k-l-a-h-o-m-a and Missouri

We have to return to the land of snow and cold. We stayed in Tulsa and last night in Kearney Missouri, the birthplace of Jesse James, on our way back to the flurries of Minnesota.
One of the biggest large cat rescue operations in the United States is just off the highway in Oklahoma. GW Exotic Animal Park is a non-profit organization. We saw lions, tigers and grizzly bears that people had purchased as pets before they realized that, gasp, these animals get big! And huge is more like it. I had never been less than 2 feet from most of these wild animals until now, and it was frightening. The lion marked his territory, luckily we didn't get sprayed with any of his "perfume". The bear got up on his hind legs and slapped the cage so hard I thought it would fall down! Truly humbling to be so close to these amazing animals.
We make it a habit to play mini-golf somewhere on vacation and we made it to two courses this time. Tulsa Incredible Pizza had a 9 hole indoor course with a Route 66 theme. Lee's Summit, Missouri had a 18 hole outdoor course which we played without jackets! I imagine that this course is very pretty when everything has blossomed. No one got a hole in one on any of these holes-a rare thing for us!

I just have to say that my kids are amazing and we've had such a great time together. They chose to leave their phones off, they chose not to text either, they told their friends they were on vacation and they'd call them when they got home. They are great car riders and play and read and laugh. We've played in the pools, we've played cards at dinner tables, and had some conversations that were special in their ordinary-ness. I'm so glad we went.

(Note the cats with their teddy bears, how truly big these animals are)

Thursday, March 26, 2009


We have outrun more weather on our quest for the sun. We didn't stop in for these delicious sounding fried pies, but we asked a waitress when we did stop what they were. Imagine the best southern accent saying the following.

"Fried pies? Ya'll ain't never tried a fried pie? Land sakes, darlin', ya'll gotta go back! It's pie dough with a filling, folded over like a half moon. Then they dunk it in a fryer for a few minutes, and drizzle a little glaze on the top. My favorite is the chocolate ones."

We made it to Texas! So far we've stayed in 3 different states, and had a continental breakfast option at each hotel. Leave it to Texas to have their waffle iron in the shape of their great state! We were in a La Quinta which was also the most lovely of the hotels to date. But dining in this spacious breakfast nook, we were grazing right next to the longhorns out the window!

After a waffle that couldn't be beat, we went to this great boot and hat shop that decorated it's entire outside with used cowboy boots. This was not the only establishment that seemed to use the design theme. We bought the son a real cowboy hat, and some wrangler jeans for the daughter. Yee-haw! It's partly sunny and 65, almost shorts weather, but we opted for long pants.

During our stay in Texas, we listened to a Mexican radio station and a classic country station that played the best "oldies"! I can't tell you the last time I heard, Battle of 1814, Jolene, and Running Bear sequentially! Ya'll stop back tomorrow now, as we make our way back home.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Signs of spring started arriving. We slept in Kansas, and are still headed south. Daughter says she needs to touch her foot in Texas. Fine with me! The gas price has stayed steadily under $2.00 ($1.87 last fill), and we outran a thunderstorm that promised "nickel-sized hail and possible tornadoes". Everyone was talkin' 'bout the Kansas winds today. And we got into Sooner country with a tailwind.

For long stretches of highway there was nothing. No houses or farms, just electrical, the highway and the occasional small herd of cows. We saw hawks but not a lot of roadkill even. Things weren't as flat as we expected them to be.

We ate a Mexican lunch after our Museum of World Treasures tour in Wichita, and we have no idea why they decided it was hubby's birthday! But they came with fried ice cream and sombrero and sang really loud. We laughed so hard-he's so shy-it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy!

(PIX=The Museum was fantastic in Wichita, these yellow bushes are blooming from Kansas City south, the T-Rex's name was Ivan, Sooner Corner's bathroom was disgusting)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Where is Spring?

We left Saturday afternoon and headed south. I just wanted out-out of Minnesota, out of grief, out of life with work and burden, out of reach. Where is Spring? We slept in Des Moines, Iowa, a rugged, rather dirty town. We used the pool, but the hot tub jets were broken.

Here are pictures from today of the Iowa state capital building and complex, "Buffalo Bill", spring is not here yet, a nameless field in Kansas. We're on our way!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Zooming In

I'm on my way to play at my friend's funeral. Many people are zooming in to "pay their last respects". Family from across the country, work mates, her friends, his friends, the children's friends, come together. We will celebrate her life, we will grieve her loss, we will whisper about the future for them. People talk in hushed tones, it's a day where we wear black, dark colors. Everything tries to be muted.

Spring is outside the door of this holy place; it will also be zooming in as people sent flowers and they adorn the tables, the aisles and perhaps a coffin. The creator is everywhere too. The spirit has also zoomed in to meet us all in this hour, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Guthrie Experience

We went to "The Two Gentlemen of Verona", (Shakespeare) at the Guthrie theater last night. It was outstanding. They set it on a '50s live television set, complete with commercials from the time period during the intermission. There were black and white TV sets in the corners "broadcasting" the play. Brilliant acting overall, so much laughter, and I loved the music! They added a fifty's crooner and back-up singers as the plot developed. Terrific!
The new Guthrie theater stands on the banks of St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis. They have a dramatic building and many scenic vantage points. My favorite is the "Endless Bridge", which propels you right to the water's edge. Here are some vistas at twilight last night. The Gold Medal Flour mill is now a great historical museum.

The studio will be closed next week for Spring Break. Wolfgang will not be teaching, but wearing one of the other hats in her life-tour guide. ROADTRIP! We are jumping in the mini-van and taking 35 South. We hope to touch the Texas soil. No agenda, no plans, just see what we see. A veritable goldmine of opportunities for family bonding and car fights! I may be able to send periodic posts, depending on the hotels, but it will be less musical, more personal. Stay tuned, or drop back in late next week when official Piano Posts resume. Peace.

(Sista, Halle-lujah, C.W., and Lana Banana)

Missed it by That Much!

Oops, here's the post from Theme Thursday! I went to the Guthrie with friends last night and got home much too late for a blog. The Theme this Thursday was vegetable. I couldn't help myself but make something musical out of it.

Some of you will say, "Wolfy, beans are a legume." Yes I know, some are. Bean are also high in starch, protein and dietary fiber and is an excellent source of iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid.

Some kids might say, "Beans, beans, the magical fruit..."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Well, What, and Now What

Well? (“Tell me about the experience”)
What? (“What was one really great moment in it? What did you nail?”)
Now What? (“What will you do differently next time?”)
were the three questions I used in the last few days as we again wait for the U.S. Postal Service to deliver our results. These are the same key questions I ask myself about almost everything I do, from performance, Sunday’s worship music, my seminars, salsa making to pottery class. I wrote them on the whiteboard so they could think about them.

I think the post mortem of any event is worth the time. What were my expectations going into the event? Were they realistic? So many situations in my life are grand experiments in some way. I love the idea of begin able to discard a bad idea, make a good idea better. And, what if I come up with a BEST ever idea? OOoooh.

I record each student for the next few months as they get their end of the year pieces polished. Until last month, I used cassette tapes and microphones hanging from the ceiling. It worked, don't laugh. I love the sound of my Steinway. I have been thinking about that experience. A great moment is capturing that singular moment in time, a capsule of who they were. Another great moment is giving a student their cassette tape at their graduation party. It holds all of their best work from each year, from the time they started with me through their senior recital repertoire. The Moms usually cry and play it at the party. Some didn't know that I had been recording them since they were five. It can be so emotional to hear their very first single note little piece and know that they just performed a concerto last week.

The downsides of the current mode of operation are that the technology is antiquated, the sound quality is poor, and there are a lot of families out there that don't have cassette players anymore! I have a keyboard that can record. It will not include a cough, a doorbell, the dog next door, or a telephone interruption that made my recordings unique. It will not have the static "CHSSSSSSS" of air over the mikes or the click of the record button. Alas, it will also not have an opportunity to hear the student's young voices introducing their pieces. Or telling the dumb joke. Some of the students actually love the microphone part the most; they pose, sing, and want to hold it.

So, why have I waited so long to move forward? My fear of technology is a large reason. I'm rather technology challenged. It means learning a new way, making some mistakes. It takes time that I could be practicing.

I think it is time to do things differently. I'm going to take the plunge and record to a computer this year. I think I may still only make a CD of their best work as a gift to them at graduation, which means storing it differently. But I'm really starting to look forward to giving a CD for a gift - a token of the hard work they've done through the years, that will sound terrific long in the future.

(The red knuckles of rhubarb peeking through dirt today)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Wee Bit of the Blarney

At the local schools today, leprechauns were afoot with mischief. Some students told of their chairs being tipped upside down, or put on top of their desks. A middle school math teacher did the entire lecture with a bad Irish accent. One teacher gave out gold chocolate coins from the end of the rainbow. I heard that many students were eager to pinch those who forgot to wear green!

Little people here learned how to make their left hand sound like a bagpipe out of a grace note and an open fifth. We counted to 6, so they could play a jig. Even if they're not ready to read 6/8 time we can have a good time with a reel or even Amazing Grace. C position never sounded so green.

Some students were full of stories about the contest experience at the University of Minnesota. Many told of great judges and "pretty good pianos, at least better than preliminaries". Not wanting to jinx themselves however, they did not want to predict whether they won or not. They focused a lot on things that could have gone better.

One student in particular told a dire tale of being late, forgetting his registration slip, a mean judge, a rotten piano, and horrendous performance. I didn't really buy it though, and it turned out that they had made that blarney up in the car on the way to my house. "Hey", I replied, "this isn't April Fool's Day, you know!"

He came back, "Yeah, just wait for THAT story!"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is It the Weather?

My students were full of it today. Here's a sample of their shenanigans.

Student #1: My feet are cold-I suppose I should wear socks and shoes, but I didn’t. Don't tell my mom. Can I erase your whiteboard? I know this piece is called “I am the King’, but I changed it to “I am the Queen”-I’ll sing it for you. It sounds better if I put my nose in the air though, ok?

Student #2: My LH has decided to go on spring break early. And he’s not coming back. Can I erase the flowers?

Student #4: I asked, "What would you like to play next?" "A game of chess would be nice."

Student #5: Do you have a time warp in this room? How can there be only 7 minutes left? I just got here. Can I erase the flowers?

Student #6: I DID do my theory homework-it’s in invisible ink.

(Picture of gnomes on my mantle. Purchased on St. Patty's Day two years ago while out with a friend-aren't they so whimsical? The flowers are on the whiteboard- Spring Fever post from March 7)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Same Questions

We ask the same questions our ancestors did. What is beauty, love, truth? Why is there pain and suffering? Where do we go when we die? Why is the sky blue, my love untrue? What's the meaning of life? Who am I? Here's a great video for your Sunday afternoon. I love the faces in the tree. Peace.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


This post honors my friend, LuAnn, who died late last night after 3 bouts of leukemia. She and I met with our preschoolers in tow, spent some play dates and summer afternoons together. We did 3 summers of bible studies; we didn't always see eye to eye, but learned from each other. The pull of boys in different sports and life led us apart. We saw each other at the library occasionally or out at the park. We always said we should find more time to see each other. Isn't that always the way it goes?

Our neighbor's daughter graduated. I heard out about her first foray into chemo in the sunny garage decorated with congratulations banners. There were wrapped mints on the table which she fingered with her beautiful long nails. I watched her sons a few times that summer, and got some groceries. I didn't know what else to do. She beat it into submission by what I believe was sheer will to be there for those boys. The next time I saw her, she was vibrant and her hair was back; she laughed that she was back to her old self-yelling when the toilet seat was left up, and that it felt great.

The second announcement came as a surprise. Already? Back? This time was harder, longer, and she almost died. From the 4th of July until November 14th she fought, cursed, cried, begged to go home, suffered and healed. She lost two fingers, lots of weight, her hair again, and precious time with her family. Her husband shouldered the hospital trips, doctor visits, two in school, juggled the laundry, loneliness, and the dishes. I visited her at the hospital only once. She was embarrassed that her hair was gone and she had to pee in a pan. We talked about what the school lunchroom where she worked was doing without her. We cried and I put a "beloved child of God" cross on her forehead. She said it was hard to believe it. Again, she got to come home.

She had been trach-ed, and tube fed for so long, but set a goal to eat steak on her birthday. January 25 came and her hubby made sirloin on the grill outside, even though it was minus 10. She enjoyed it immensely. January 29th I got an email that "it" was back, would I play at her funeral?

She felt she now had 2 very important, single minded jobs to do: make memories for the boys and prepare all three for the life ahead without her. She got their bedrooms painted, she cleaned out, cleaned up, and made out her last wishes. She had hoped to pull them out of school and go overnight to a waterpark, but it didn't happen. The last time I saw her she had a low dose chemo pack on. She said it felt like she was pregnant again. She was painting the second coat of bright blue in Son One's room. Tired but focused. Then in this last week's time, she went from ok, to hospitalized, to home, to gone.

Today I stared at her sheets of instructions for her "Life Celebration". Sometimes the life of a musician includes comfort in sorrow, peace, solace, and strength for the day. It's a privileged burden. But my heart hurts.

She told her sons that God takes some people home earlier than others. She told me that there were times in October when she heard the angels. I told her I could play and cry at the same time. And next Saturday, I will.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

Good luck to the students around Minnesota who are competing this weekend in the finals of the Minnesota Music Teachers Association competition. Bring your music, play musically, breathe deeply, and don't blame the piano!

What I said to my own studio this week was that they already play their pieces really well. I encouraged them to love how they play it. If the judge agrees with us, then great. But what if she doesn't? What if he likes it faster, slower, stronger, weaker, or just plain different? Does that diminish your performance in your eyes? Please say no.

We are learning, learning, learning about ourselves and our music and life. Here's is what you will offer when you compete-a moment of your life shared with someone through your music.

Now, THAT's a mystery for any Friday the 13th lover. Connecting souls through sound. Amazing, mysterious, and awesome. But sort of scary, no?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Theology on Tap

You can talk about anything over a pint in a pub, can't you? I love the idea of people getting together to share their ideas and life stories with each other. Center that around a brew and a theology question and you have the potential for hours of discussion. It is always fabulous, sometimes tense, and I've learned a lot. At least twice I've spoken too much and should have been more respectful. Dang, I hate it when I do that. It's my passionate nature, but it's still wrong. I come away from this once a month event thinking about things from a different perspective. It's wonderful what you can learn from others.

Our moderator lays the ground rules that we will not interrupt each other, we will respect differing opinions, state things softly (in my opinion speak), and keep it safe for all, i.e., no name calling. These are great times we live in; 20 people came to listen and question and reflect together. They were from various walks of life, in many stages of it. We were in a bar and pizza pub. The pizza was excellent, the company appealing.

Our question last evening revolved around the Bible. How literally should we read it? We thought of it on a scale of one to ten, ten being absolutely literally. We talked about whether it was ok to question the bible. Later, someone asked on a scale of one to ten, how well read do you feel you are biblically? Fascinating how people came with so many paths that they had traveled, having steeped themselves in the book, or having never opened the cover, and a wide range in between.

We discussed the stories of the Bible, like Noah's ark. Did it really happen? What about creation-6 days or not? We discussed old testament versus new testament. Someone noted that it is not one work, but rather a library of 66 books. We spoke of which translations were "most accurate", the different writing styles of the books, and about chronology of the text. One of my favorite questions of the evening was "Does the Bible still speak to us today?"

We had a side discussion on abortion and homosexuality, and why we thought those were being brought forward as hot button topics. Our moderator is brilliant, and encourages everyone to share. "If you don't, we all lose". We didn't come to any conclusions; we were there to share each other's stories, not to crusade or convert.

And the conversations flowed like the beverages. The spirit is alive, and well, and busy.
(This picture is not me-I'm a dark ale drinker, and this looks like a King James edition)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chicken or Egg

I read about more students that earned perfect scores on their ACTs. 'John Smith' is an intelligent young man, on the chess and robotics team, hopes to study this and this in college, has played cello for six year. Or 'Jane Downy', a star student in physics, Spanish and Latin, has played piano for more than ten years and the French horn for six years.

There is much to congratulate here, but I can't resist the opportunity to note the musical involvement. I love the idea that kids who play an instrument are smarter. You can't prove it however. So are "smart" kids drawn to music, or does music stimulate the child's brain?

I am convinced that children who participate in music are more likely to reach their full potential, academically and in life. Studies prove the "Mozart Effect" and music teachers love to hand out copies of these results to prospective students. No matter what, music can boost self confidence, self esteem and be the stress relief from a busy world. It can help turn an average kid like I was into a person who wants to aspire to bigger and better things.

Colleges look for a full description of extracurricular activities in the application process. I like to believe music is a very defined way that students can be set apart from the rest because of the diligence, dedication, and determination to set goals, practice and put yourself in front of people in performance.

I want to keep this in mind as we consider how much we're willing to spend on public education. I agonize over the students who are not tasting the sweet waters of music, due to budget restraints. Perhaps you have influence and a voice in your area of the world to keep music a part of the curriculum. It will ultimately benefit us all.

(It's an early post today-I'm going out to a Theology on Tap event tonight. I'll write about that tomorrow...)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's Like Got To Do With It?

A student today began her piece at measure 5 and played quite well to the end. I asked her why she didn't play the first 4 introductory measures. I thought that because they were quite a bit different than the rest of the piece that perhaps she couldn't play them, but she surprised me by jumping right in and playing them just as well as the rest!

"So, why didn’t you play the first 4 measures?"

"I don’t like them. Just because I don’t like them, doesn’t mean I can’t play them. I just don’t like them."

Well. You got me there! I am often struck by the students who judge a piece by its cover. If the young ones dislike the artwork, it can be an uphill battle. I often play a piece to introduce it to a student. Some of them have come right out and said that they liked it better than what it looked like on the outside!

I once had an adult student and she got rather accomplished. I eventually gave her a piece that was in a very plain blue Henle urtext (original text) edition. She smiled so broadly and said, "I feel like I've arrived! I have been waiting years to be good enough for 'the blue books'!"

Some of my colleagues allow students to play almost exclusively popular music. Others do nothing but the standard classical repertoire. There seems to be some judgment from one group about the other. The eyebrow raising goes both ways.

I guess I have a unique perspective on this. I was classically trained at my lessons. I was blessed with very diversely musical parents who took me to a wide range of concerts and listened to a very eclectic mix at home. They also showered me with sheet music which I didn't take to lessons, but played for fun. I played for the choirs at church and at school. My uncles and extended family all played instruments when there were family gatherings, and it was expected that I be able to improv along with them.

I remember playing a Scarlatti sonata at an anniversary party, and being quite proud of my performance. A great uncle came up to me a little while later and asked me if I played anything HE knew. SLAM! He later played with the band and was amazing.

Now that I can choose the music I perform, I play what I like. That is a wide range of styles and time periods, classical and contemporary. I expect students however, to try everything. Is this rather like having children try all their different food choices: eat their veggies, try ethnic varieties of food? How will they someday know what they like? How do you know what YOU like?

(Picture from the San Diego Zoo, brother polar bears at play, March 2008)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Metronome

(She sang to the tune of London Bridge at 8:00 p.m. tonight), "I.. hate the metronome, he hates me, he hates me. I.. hate the metronome! Turn it Off!" Our love/hate relationship with the ticker, Mr. Metronome or as some affectionately refer to it, Dr. Beat, begins early. First we think it might be fun to play with the rascal, only to find out that it doesn't play with us, we are supposed to play with IT! What kind of friend is that? Tonight I called it the bossy friend, who always has to have it his way. The singer referenced above was not interested in having another friend like that.

Shown in the picture are the two I have at the studio right now. The brown pyramid is a traditional mechanical metronome in which the metal pendulum swings left and right, making a tick on each pass. My students start with this ticker. I think it's important to see that there is time between each tick. This is a very visual way to explore time. Metronomes like this adjust from 40 to 208 BPM, Beats Per Minute.

On the left is the black electronic version of the metronome. This is a 9-volt, red light visual and aural display, that can change pitch and loudness. You can no longer "see" the metronome swinging back and forth unless you have a cool one with moving lights. My keyboard has a metronome built in that can change tempo one BPM at a time, but most metronomes increase 2, 3, or 4 ticks at a time. In my opinion, it has a very tinny sound rather than the nice tick of the mechanical metronome.

Now you can also use your computer; there are many metronomes available free. For example, Certainly the least expensive option.

If you didn't have a metronome handy, you could use your old fashioned watch-it's 60 BPM. You'd have a baseline. One choir director I worked with once took great pride in using his watch to set the beat for the choir.

My students use the metronome for scales and pieces. I've also used it to have them feel the beats within each beat. I set the metronome on 80 for example and they might say, "grape, grape grape" on each tick, then "cherry, cherry, cherry" feeling eighth notes, "strawberry" feeling triplets, or "watermelon", feeling sixteenth notes. By the way, all these flavors happen to be found in Jolly Rancher candy, but I'm not saying we'd ever eat treats while we learn...

I won't tell the young lady above that Bach didn't have a metronome because they weren't invented until the 19th Century. I will continue to have her use whichever one strikes her fancy here. And I will keep giggling and correcting the mispronunciation 'metrodome'. That's the building in Minneapolis where the Vikings lose, I say.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Eyes have it

I went to my optometrist Friday. I desperately needed new glasses. My current pair looks like John Lennon's. The prescription was from the early 70's too.

On a whim, I looked for Sarah Palin glasses. I'm not a fan, but I had heard that this was very popular at the moment. Did you know she started a trend last year? Her "look" set off a buyers frenzy. Her frames were available at my doctor's office. $700! Really? Maybe next time.

and by the way, where are those expensive outfits that she said would be going to charity? I would have a hard time giving those up if I were her. I can picture them in a black garbage bag, waiting to go to Goodwill.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spring Fever

My students felt it in the air this week. They just know, don't they? It seems to be our animal instinct, still intact. Monday, a young lady drew a flower on the whiteboard. She just "had to". By the end of the week, several had joined her artwork, written spring in multi-colored letters, and added sports, shamrocks and grass.

One of the thrills of a common, shared whiteboard is the ease with which they finish or augment each other's work. The red flower was colored in by a second student, the pot was added by a third.

The young man who drew the baseball dislikes the squish of the grass under his feet this time of year. I adore the fact that the children are taking notice of the miracles of a new season on the horizon. The board will not get erased until after everyone comes another week to see the beauty of their work together. What a village.

The flowers were out at the landscape market too. My mom and I played in the soil today-planting what will be gorgeous hanging baskets. The feel of the potting soil in our hands was joyous. It was fun and perhaps a little sneaky of me to have her prepare and plant what will turn out to be her Mother's Day gift.

Look at those flowers on the whiteboard and in the pots. Not one of them is alike. Today is another day to celebrate our uniqueness! Bring on the sunshine!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Alternate Plans

We are nearing the end of the competition season. The final state contest is next weekend and the pressure is mounting. Even though you may play every note and rhythm, every dynamic and phrase “correctly” (whatever that means in a subjective art), you need one more thing. You need to be a performer, you need to be memorable. How can I teach that? As Simon Cowell says on American Idol, (insert British accent here) “although it was a solid performance, it was forgettable. I won’t remember you tomorrow.”

Here is such a dilemma. Few students will be remembered at the end of a long day of judging. There will be some amazing playing and those will be fun to hear. There will be some performances that leave you wondering how they got this far. But what about that middle group? As judges we’re looking for the spark. Do they have something to say? Was it musical?

There are winners and non-winners at the contest. The ultimate quandary of the competition is being called an “alternate”. In each room there are alternates chosen. This is the ultimate bridesmaid-never-a-bride spot for the student and the teacher. Winners won. Non winners lost and they will get over it. Alternates must wait. If a winner is unable to take the “win”, the alternates are called, in some mysterious order known only at HQ. You don't even find out which alternate you are. Are you first alternate or seventh? It’s piano purgatory. Well, you didn’t win and you didn’t lose either. Some played better than you, but yours may be good enough if they’re busy.

I told my students this year that I don’t want any alternates. Last year I had 6. It was horrible for them and me. Win or lose this year, "leave it all on the field", for some of the sports kids. For one young man it was a Yoda Star Wars voice, "Do or do not, there is no try." I know it is not up to them entirely, but this is the first year I gave the speech anyway.

How do you stir a student’s soul? How do you ask them to show themselves? Some of them are merely eight or nine years old. Do they even know themselves enough to perform true to self?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Preaching to myself, Part 2

I had read all the Reader's Digest, self help books, and magazine lists of reducing stress. I knew the yoga, deep breathing, eat well, drink water, slow down, sleep, laughter is good medicine, get away suggestions ad nausium. The real issue for me was that part of my job had become BORING!

I am not just in it for the money. I was surprised actually to read that near 30 percent of people have said that they are looking for something that gives them the chance to make a difference. Also, a lack of growth opportunities was not a good fit for me either. I felt trapped in a position with little room for newness.

As I gave this presentation on burnout yesterday, so many people were nodding in agreement. I felt the weight of "same old same oldness" around many of the necks. I also felt a tremendous amount of fear in the unknown. "What if'" abounded.

How could I suggest in this economy that perhaps they look for a different job? I passionately implored them that there no better time to pursue your happiness and LIFE than right now. We shared a few specific items that pertain to teacher frustrations. I gave them a lot of questions to think about.

In my own position, taxes and cleaning were two frustrations. I decided that as a professional that I needed to hire professionals. This has been very liberating for me. I take one more student per month than I used to and it pays for the housecleaner. And part of it is tax deductible.

At the end of the session, I asked them what they had expected when they came. One woman said that she had hoped to get the answers. Do this and this and you won't have burnout. I only gave her more questions. This seems to be a hot topic right now. Another teacher in the state is delivering a similar seminar in April in St. Paul. At our state convention in June, Dr. Maurice Hinson will give a seminar for 2 hours on the same topic. I look forward to hearing them.

"Art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely point the way, something which is overlooked no only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end, it defeat itself." Henry Miller, American Novelist

Preaching to myself, part 1

President Obama met today with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK. They discussed the global financial crisis, the April economic summit in London and a comprehensive strategy in Afghanistan. I gave a presentation on teacher burn-out. This serves to put my seminar into perspective.

A few years ago, I noticed my bad attitude (BA) was at a crescendo. This BA had a lot to do with a lot of things. But I wasn't going to just let myself fizzle out or settle down. I took a fair amount of time ruminating that summer. I made a list of the things in my job that give me real meaning. I wrote down what attracted me to my profession in the first place. What did I find satisfying now? What inspired or excited me? These were the parts of my job life that I was going to keep as my focus. As a musician, there were many facets to analyze-composing, performing, teaching, volunteering, judging, my church position, my CD and inventions.

I was really good at writing down the frustrations: the personalities, the lack of recognition, the bureaucracy, the status quo, the fear of the unknown. Many of these frustrations were in my church position or in my state teaching association. These things were threats to the parts of my job that I loved. So, I asked for these things to begin to change and ultimately when they didn't, I gave up a job that I really liked and stepped back from some of my volunteering roles.

Some of it ended badly. I have regrets. Who wouldn't. It rippled, it ripped. And, ultimately I am now in an amazing mission church with incredible musicians that could have never happened without the self analysis and reflection. It was hard, frightening, frustrating, and the best lesson I have had to date about myself.

Part of the burnout lies with your situation. The other part comes from within. You are most vulnerable to burnout when the stress you experience impacts negatively on the things that you find most satisfying in your job. So, if you're in the mood to question your job, ask yourself the above questions, and make your lists. Then ask yourself why you got into your job in the first place. Are you really doing what you want to do?

More on my presentation tomorrow.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sent to Jail, Directly to Jail

When my students have a spot that they just can't play without a mistake, I sometimes get to the end of my rope and draw pencil "bars" around the bars. Two students in a row ended up in jail, go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.00.

First we do Left Hand 3 times IN A ROW correctly. Then we do Right Hand 3 times IN A Row correctly. I keep count on my fingers and call out the number correctly that they have done. If they make a mistake, I make the game show buzzer sound, dun dun DUHN, and they have to try it again. This works even better when you can really laugh it up. "Oh NOOOOOOO, you whiffed the third one!" Start again at zero.

When we finally get each hand alone, "we" have to get it hands together. This took a whole lesson for a young lady. 30 minutes - four measures. We had 4 other books I was hoping to get through. Heavy sigh.

But this wasn't about those 4 measures really, was it? This is about perseverance, diligence, and learning how to practice something. The details are what matters. Perhaps sometime she will transfer this grueling task to something else in her life, until she gets it just right.

"What? The lesson is over already?" she said. I said, "Yes, and you are now in jail every time you play this piece this week. You must start in jail, right here at measure 12-16, and play it three times IN A ROW correctly before you start at the beginning, just like we did here."

*Groan* "I want a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card," she said.

Don't we all, sweetie, don't we all?

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