Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fall Planning Includes Meal Planning

I froze corn today. This will help in the middle of the winter when I ask everyone to pitch in on meals. The blessing of all this work now is that it tastes so good later and it's organic.

I never considered all the prep work of running a business when I went to college. It's so much more than paperwork and practice time!

The local market's corn is at its peak these next few days. I bought three dozen.

My mom has never liked dealing with a hot cob so she and I cut the corn off before we cook it. We also think this decreases a "cobby" flavor.

The recipe adds 6 teaspoons of sugar, two cups of water, and 6 teaspoons of kosher salt to nine cups of cut off corn.

Does this look like 32 cups of sweet corn to you? The larger is a six quart kettle!

I like to put it in freezer bags.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mr. Picky and Mr. Pleased

I'm cutting out paper dolls over the next few days. There is a great pattern for this activity at Students will get to choose female and male dolls to color and put on sticks. One will go on each end of the music stand as they practice this fall. I'm going to avoid using real faces because of the roles that the dolls will play. I have crayons, markers and clothes for them; I'm sure you'll see the results of their work posted here as the season continues.

Many students can only hear one side of their playing. Many are pleased to have "gotten all the notes right" and are ready to move on to another piece. Some are extremely self punishing, and can only hear their mistakes. I hope to encourage them to hear both voices.

So imagine them playing their piece with their stick friends listening. I will have made a pair of paper dolls for the studio too, so they will not need to bring their "people" back for their lesson.

The children will "ask" Mr. Picky what could be improved, and then hopefully be able to answer their own question. The students will also ask Mr. Pleased what aspect of their piece improved.

Last year, one of the students actually brought Mr. Pleased along to a recital and laid him on the bench. I was thrilled of course and asked her about it afterward. She replied that he always likes how she plays, and that she left Mr. Picky at home on purpose. An excellent idea!
I'll let you know how it works out this year.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I am in the scheduling phase of Fall Planning. Each August, families send me their fall time preferences and I lay out the requests and fit them into a Monday through Friday schedule. Many of my colleagues keep a student on the same day and time every year. When I was growing up, I had my lesson Wednesday at 5:30, and some of my students also have always been on the same day and time. It's "their" spot. One of the benefits of taking summer lessons is that you are first in line for your choice. This has served me well when two students may want the same time.

The layout of the schedule is a fun puzzle. How will it look this year? Which day will be my busiest? One year after I had taken on some Wed. night music rehearsals, this day was by far the longest day of the week. Last year, Mondays, I taught from 2:30-10 p.m. and this was too long! So this year, I'm trying to get a mix of new and returning students each day, with no one day being exhausting. I may teach one or two students Friday after school so that I can breathe on Mondays. This year, my two senior students can also come during the day! This will be immensely helpful! Many of my colleagues do not take time off in the summer and run the same schedule year-round. Right now, that way of organizing is enviable. But I really appreciate my studio's philosophy of flexibility so I continue to do it this way. When I have presentations or recording sessions, I have had to call and reschedule at the last minute. I'm glad they are understanding to me in return.

In this day and age of spectacular sporting practices and schedules, many families can not bear that consistency in my neighborhood. Sometimes they have asked to change their lesson schedule mid-year to accommodate a new sport. I work them in the best I can.

As I walked the hospital the last two weeks, I noticed that they are a model of efficiency and scheduling, despite all the emergencies they get. I looked in amazement at the signs here that have check-ins for surgery at 5:30, 5:45 and 6:00 a.m. These lines were smooth, orderly and by the time 5:45 came, the 5:30 line was empty. The admissions desk ran like a well-oiled machine, had wheelchairs and assistants for those who needed them, and lots of sitting areas for patients and families. I will share a few more pictures of this experience in the next few days too.

Perhaps it was the patience of the first nuns who ran St. Mary's Hospital who established a calm DNA in the very air of this building. The nuns are still here, but they do not wear their habits anymore that I saw. When my children saw the oils, they were surprised at first. They went up close to look them over because they looked so lifelike, yet they weren't photographs. After walking by them several days, I began to realize that these beautiful souls are part of the legacy of this hospital and appreciated the way the painters let them continue to oversee the admission process.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Theme Thursday - SHADOW

When Don Knotts came to my college, I was the lucky one chosen to accompany him on his Baseball skit during his show! He was charming, gracious and sweet. He did the following skit, while I played "Take me out to the Ball Game" on the grand piano, offstage. I was in the SHADOWs of backstage. Later people had one of two reactions. Either they wondered why I wasn't on stage to be seen. Or they wondered why I didn't take a bow by the curtain.
I didn't need that kind of attention and was just tickled to do it! What would your reaction been?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fruits of No Labor

I did very little, ok, nothing, to this pear tree and yet it will yield about 6 beautiful pears this year. If you'd like to see the infant version, there's a post with a picture from July 9th. This projects a little trouble into my view that 'you get out of the piano what you put into it'. I have students that practice a lot, work hard and are fine musicians. I have students that don't practice much, but yet have sounded really good!

What I wonder is what they would sound like if they worked hard too? I have gently asked them similar questions. In the book, "Strength Finders", Tom Rath provides interesting insight that in America, we are constantly shoring up our weak spots. Yet in other countries, they determine what the child's strengths are and play to them from an early age. They have schools devoted to helping a student excel in an area in which they have already shown promise. This was curious to me.

As I thought about my studio, the American way is precisely how I handle many of the students. Not a good note reader? We'll drill flashcards. Not a good sightplayer, let's do a little of that at every lesson. Not good with memory? Let's strive to memorize one every term. Why do I do that? I'm still asking myself. Why do I expect them to be good at everything? I'm not. I've heard marvelous pianists who can't play by ear. I've heard marvelous sight players that don't really listen.

Perhaps I can be more like the pear tree and allow them to shine in the areas in which they already possess great aptitude. I don't ask the pear tree to produce apples or plums. It's worth considering as I get ready for another teaching year!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Keynote Address-part 2

An interesting side topic I brought to Alexandria was from Elizabeth Gilbert's presentation on I discussed the mythology of daemons and genius, in a similar fashion to hers. As a composer, I am looking for the distance she is searching for too. It is at 6'20" until 8'25" or so into the presentation below, but her entire speech is worth watching if you have the time! Enjoy!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lawnmowers in Harmony

Once upon a time in a neighborhood right next to yours, a man got ill. He was not a well known man, he was not particularly successful or saintly; he was a neighbor. Over the fence he told of doctors and appointments. "They aren't sure what's wrong," he said, while biting his lower lip. And while Dwayne sat in white rooms, the green grass grew.

The next door neighbor was a man. He was also not a well known man, not particularly successful or saintly, but he was a neighbor. When the full sun shown, he mowed his grass, and just kept mowing. He mowed right across the dotted line that separates neighbors' grasses. He walked back and forth, back and forth. And an elderly neighbor on the other side noticed him.

"What are you doing?", asked the elderly man. He was a retired man, and he was a neighbor. "I'm mowing Dwayne's lawn. He needs some help right now".

Without any more questions, the elderly man nodded and came out from his garage with his riding lawnmower. "It'll go faster together", he said. And two helped one.

Again the next weekend, without a word, the neighbors mowed across the grasses, boundaries gone, in tandem, in unity.

This to me is a picture of the kingdom. It's here, it's now, and it's a beautiful day.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Music in the Hospital

I was thinking more about the hospital today. There was no music. There were TV channels in general, a CNN channel, local news, and the hospital had a live feed of the chapel on a channel. But no music.

I think it could be tremendously soothing and healing to have a way to get music to patients. "Their" kind of music-a few channels of the TV with different choices, soft, classical, classic rock, lite. OK, even if it was for the visitors, it would be nice to fill in the spaces of silence.

One of my piano moms works in the neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. She said they play music in there periodically and the babies all settle down, the monitors go off less, and some of the nurses sing quietly, which soothes the babies even more, she thought.

When I was in the hospital in 1996, we brought along a CD player/radio. It was wonderful. I'm thinking of packing one for next week when I sit with Mom. My list also includes a book, chapstick, and bottled water so far. Any other 'necessities?'

Did/Does your hospital have music?

Friday, August 14, 2009


Isn't is amazing how life can plod along so much the same that we take it for granted? We have our family, our jobs, our responsibilities, and our errands. And then something happens.
My presentation Wednesday went well, I think. I smiled. Another time, I may share it here, perhaps, later. I used my cue-cards because I couldn't get the power point to work. I was glad I made them. I had never stayed in such a lovely bed in a hotel. It was the first time I ever used the iron in a hotel at 1 a.m. There was a lovely breakfast for those who could eat it. I was not really there though. My body was in Alexandria, but my heart and head were in Rochester. I am not really sure what I said. It's a big blur. I think I was coherent.
My father had a seizure on Monday. Mom called Monday night. They thought it was a stroke. He had been admitted. I went right away Tuesday. They did a bagillion tests. Each test lead us away from the path of stroke to something else, something darker. It is a brain tumor, the neuro-team announced seriously, and he will have surgery at St. Mary's in Rochester on Tuesday. They haven't said the word 'cancer'. They don't know until it has been biopsied. I'm saying words that I've never said before, 'tumor, biopsy, oncologist, cancer'. They taste funny, steely, awkward, on my tongue. My mother said it feels like a bad dream.
To look at Dad is to see the man I always see-funny, quick-witted, and kind. He answered a man's lawn mower questions from the hospital bed on his cell phone without blinking an eye. He was checking on details for a treadmill that he was fixing at the Family Y, wondering when the circuit board would be in. He walks unassisted and scoffed at taking the mandatory wheelchair to the lobby when he was released.
In a rare and beautiful gift, Dad's surgery couldn't be scheduled until Tuesday. They saw no reason to keep him admitted so he is at home, drug free, normal. We get four amazing days to play-Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday to get his ideas on paper, see his children and grandchildren, cancel plans, postpone trips. My brother drove twelve hours and is here for two of the days. He does not see this time the same way I do. I wonder why I see it as a deep blessing. I perceive the spiritual movement and sense things I can't explain. I think I grasp it, but it is out of reach too. I can't explain how precious this time is to me, but I think I'm the only one who is seeing it this way. I get the feeling of preparations being made for him, of deep comfort, of things getting aligned somehow. How lucky, I keep thinking, 'he's so lucky'. What a bizarre thing to think, I tell myself.
Dad wants to go fishing, play cards, have a cocktail (no), mow the grass, check on his tomatoes at the garden. I hope we get to do all of that and more. I yield to everything else; I am so lucky!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Saturday Funny

It's the weekend, and you're here; enjoy it. Say hello to the check out clerk, smile at the driver next to you at the red light. If you get the opportunity to work today, be thankful. If you get to do laundry and practice piano, find the "lucky me" in it. Can you find the moment of beauty?

I agree with G. This is funny. What the sign really means is free compressed air for tires. What G. thought it might mean is that there must be someplace somewhere that charges you for each breath you take. Even at a penny, I'd be broke. So, enjoy your free air today, while it's still free.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Theme Thursday - KISS

Two shoe salesmen were sent to sub-Sahara Africa in the early 1900s. One sent back a telegram that said, "Miserable-stop-no one wears shoes-stop." The other sent back a telegram that said, "Wonderful-stop-no one has shoes yet!-stop."

3% is the internet stat I found for the number of people who say they are subscribers to seasons at the orchestra, have their radios dialed in to classical music, and prefer that style to other music. 3%. You can look at this statistic in two ways like the salesmen above. Classical music is dying on the vine; its audiences are shrinking and its miserable; it's been given the KISS of death. Or there are so many to reach! I believe this music transcends time; I know that my children's children will hum many of these glorious melodies.

With the advent of shows like American Idol or bands like KISS, who were showmen first, musicians far second, I've had to do a lot of talking about performing versus entertaining. I believe they are different, and that as pianists we musically need to have both skills. In the land of classical concerts, people sit quietly, reverently, and showmanship is pushed aside to a point for the integrity of the music.

The truly wonderful musicians may not necessarily be strong performers. In the classical realm, one is expected to be musically strong, but if you perform too much, you are often a "ham" or distracting listeners from the music. I've seen conductors try to be warm and engaging, teaching somewhat from the "pulpit" of their stand in the front. This has been met with both enthusiasm and mistrust.

The larger audience is looking for a visual as well as aural experience. Look at strong pianist performances of the last few decades; they are/were wonderful entertainers. Average music lovers know Liberace, Billy Joel, or Elton John's name sooner than they could name three classical ones, (even Cliburn, Kissin, Lang Lang), maybe. Today's listeners want to be entertained, in general, as well as moved musically.

So, we stand at a potentially wonderful crossroads. Which salesman will we be?
Here's our friend Lang Lang, in a practice room at the Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. He apparently learned this technique from Daniel Barenboim, a famous conductor and pianist. This "orange technique" helps relax the wrist and the hands too! Have you seen Lang Lang? Somehow, he's cool!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


D. told me he thought he knew what I was thinking. "Yup," he said, "you're probably thinking, 'gee, I hope D. doesn't pass any more songs today, I'm running out of stickers!'"

I told him that was one thing that a music teacher would never say. "I dare you to run me out of stickers with all your great music next week", I said.

He said he thinks he's going to try to learn the whole rest of the book this week, 30 pages! Then he can play along with the duets in the book with me, and use up all my stickers.

I'm going to go get more tonight, just in case!

Monday, August 3, 2009


Not a very nice word, quitting. It sounds in my ears as if I am giving up. "Quitters never win and winners never quit" is an old adage that comes to mind. But what about the other situations that arise when you need to stop doing something? Does that mean you quit? You can quit smoking; that would be a "win" with reference to the above quote. You can quit making excuses; that sounds good too.

I'm visiting and revising my policies as I get ready to send them out with the fall registration form and letter. My studio lesson policy avoids the quit word and uses the terms "Lesson Termination", when it's time. Here's the exact policy wording.

LESSON TERMINATION - A one month notice is required in the event of lesson termination by the student. Lessons will be terminated by the teacher in the event of irregular attendance, repeated failure to prepare assigned material or disruptive behavior. A one month probation period with parent notification will precede lesson termination. Missing recitals or competitions without a phone call is grounds for immediate termination.

When I pull this section out, it seems cold and harsh. I don't think there's a better way to address the three issues emphasized though. I have four parents in the studio that have lost their jobs this year. They are not employed yet that I know of, so the one month termination of lessons works well if they are not going to be able to continue lessons this Fall. I do need to know pretty soon whether they are returning. I am beginning to get phone call inquiries about fall lessons, and I'm not sure how many openings I have, if any. I would like to be nosy, call and ask specifically whether they plan to take lessons this year. Some of them will postpone talking to me about it, because it's painful and because it's a tough decision. Most of all, they are hopeful that a job is just over the horizon. They won't have to quit at all if the breadwinner is gainfully employed soon.

Many of my blog friends seem to be in a period of waiting. I am feeling the same tug of indecision and stalling in my life right now. And as my mother reminded me on the phone last night, "This too shall pass". Yet, I feel that if I do stuff, I can make it pass more quickly, which isn't true and becomes frustrating.

Any wording suggestions would be greatly appreciated on the policy of how to cancel lessons. (It's a double rainbow!)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sunday Picking

So glorious is the warmth of summer, tasted in a berry from your own backyard.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

fancy fancy

My parents treated us to a meal at a casino buffet last evening. There was so much food! One magnificently prepared entree after another, the cream of chicken wild rice soup was worth the trip on its own! I marveled at the fish and paella, made in quantities that would frighten me out of the kitchen.

Around the bend of the enormous carving station, there was gourmet macaroni and cheese, and, of all things, "tater-tot hotdish"! I was very surprised at how much of both of these were being consumed, when there was chef-created food at every other turn. My parents and I make a hotdish two or three times a month. I guess not everyone turns their pound of hamburg into something mixed together with a creamed soup and can of veggies.

G. got the biggest kick out of the presentation of the food. Here, splendidly enshrined on crushed ice, with a rose made out of a strawberry is what tickled his funny bone the most. A beautifully handled ladle can present you with the finest... ketchup! Yes, the condiment has been knighted.

There's hope for me yet.

Who's been to Visit?