Friday, December 31, 2010

The Star Polisher

One of my students gave me a poem for Christmas, with a package of Starburst candy attached as an ornament. I thought it was worth sharing with all my fellow Star Polishers on this New Year's Eve. Peace to you, fellowship and good music making in 2011.

The Star Polisher
by Leah Becks

I have a great job in the universe of occupations.
What do I do? I'm a "star polisher".

It's a very important job.
If you want to know how important,
just go out at night and
look at the stars
twinkling and sparkling.

You see, I'm a teacher.
The stars are the children in my class.
My job is to take them in, in whatever shape they come
and shine and buff them and send them
out to take their places as
bright beacons
in the sky.

They come to my room in all shapes, sizes.
Sometimes they're bent, tarnished, dirty, crinkly and broken.
Some stars are cuddly, soft and sweet.
Some stars are prickly and thorny.

I buff, polish, train and teach.
I tell them that the world cannot do without them.
I tell them they can do anything they set their mind to do.
I tell them they can be bright shining stars and the
world will be a better place because of them.

Each night as I look at the sky,
I'm reminded of my very important job,
my awesome responsibility.
I go, and get my softest buffing cloth
and bottle of polish in preparation for tomorrow
and my class of little stars.

To this I will only add that it's important for me to remember that the gifts are already contained in these precious creations, and that I must be oh so gentle, as to not do any harm. All stars are fragile and beautiful.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Ocean Fries

Just before Christmas, my five year old student was having a very hard time concentrating at his lesson. I presumed it was the upcoming holiday, Santa and all.
I asked him what was on his mind.

"Last summer, we went to Santabel Island and I went swimming in the ocean."

At this point, I was wondering if I should have asked the question.

"When I was swimming in the ocean, I got water in my mouth. It was DIS-GUST-ING!"

"I've tasted ocean water too. You're right, it's not very tasty." Why is he thinking about this right now?

"My mom and dad want to go to Wendy's after my lesson."

"Shall we get back to Silly Clown?"

"One more minute. I don' want to go to Wendy's, Mrs. Wolf. That restaurant started putting sea salt on their french fries! WHY would they DO that? I don't want to go to Wendy's for supper. I am not even going to try ocean fries. No way, no way."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes | Video on

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes | Video on

This is a talk from mostly focusing on public education, but I believe there is a lot of good information here for the private studio teacher as well. YouTube, iTunes, the internet, and even Facebook SHOULD change the way we teach. The knowledge is not merely a click away.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Composer Photos

Two weeks ago, a student opened her book of music only to comment again, "Ew, that composer's picture always gives me the creeps!" I thought it was really funny that she turned to the inside cover every day, even though her piece is on page 10. I put a tape flag on her page and suggested she simply use the flag and not open the book from the beginning.
This week, she had to show me what her sister had done to her book. She turned open the cover, and there was her sister's picture, completely covering the composer. Smiling broadly, the sibling made both of us laugh out loud. Now, I feel compelled to open this cover every week just to see the cute smiling face of a sister who stepped up to the rescue.
Many composers' photos are embossed on covers of their music. I have often wondered why. If the piece is good, do you want to see who wrote it? Is it important that if the composer is arguably plain looking that you avoid picturing them? Why is a photo even included with a composition? Sometimes the publishers use oil paintings to put a face on a famous composer pre-Polaroid. They are often formal and serious paintings. I don't know if I looked at them much as a student. OK, I might have drawn a mustache on a few, and I definitely remember a pair of glasses on Edvard Grieg. Good grief, right? (I couldn't help it. Feel free to print this and draw to your heart's content...)
Current pictures of current composers could give a sense of connection between the student and the composer, I guess. Seeing that the piece was written by a real human being, man or woman, may add to their enjoyment of the music, but I'm not sure that my students actually acknowledge this person. I have pointed out that the internet is a great way to actually talk to the composer of some of their pieces. The reaction is usually incredulous looks and instant shyness when I suggest that they contact the composer of their favorite music.
What do you think? What do current composer photographs in the music do for students?
(Pictures above are Beethoven, Handel, Mozart, and Grieg, not particularly in that order.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Neighborhood Cookie Exchange

One day, several neighbors got together to share stories and a cup of coffee. The snow from the night before had buried their street in 8 inches of marshmallow-like coating. We are not all the same kind of neighbors on our street. Some homes are upscale, some are modest. We are very different people in these homes; age, religious affiliations, and political ideas should separate us. For some reason, those viewpoints do not.

Each neighbor brought a homemade treat, in bags or on plates, for their friends. I took 9 bags of caramels, I received 9 plates of treats in exchange.

We caught up on children and grandchildren, life and love, deaths and illnesses, and planned a spring garage sale. The woman that had had heart trouble was there. We talked of pacemakers, upcoming graduation parties, and college plans. We talked of weather. When one mentioned that she was snowbound without flour for baking, 2 neighbors offered theirs. Another, a hunter widow, was wondering how to get her driveway cleared. When she pointed out the window at which one was her home, a neighbor man was already out with his snow blower, blazing a trail down her sidewalk. Problems solved over poppyseed quick bread and hot tea. It felt like communion to me.

Three hours flew by and I arrived back home with stories and goodies. I realize not all our neighbors joined us for a morning. I realize not all the neighbors wanted to join us. Not all our neighbors care that I think this neighborhood is pretty terrific. and tasty. But most of all, I realize that what separates us is not as strong as what joins us.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

iNversions ala tomato

All the students are working on inversions this month. Even the youngest of the studio are practicing "tipping chords over". Older students do the circle of 5ths, we are also learning minors, dominant and diminished 7ths, solid and broken. It's a good time to do this before we learn Christmas carols by ear and need the chords.

I explained that to make an inversion is like doing a cartwheel. As you tip over, your hands touch the ground. But you stay you, and a chord, as we tip it over, stays the same notes too. So a chord with the notes C-E-G tips over to be an E-G-C, and a G-C-E, but it is still a C Major chord. My blocks invention is also very helpful spelling chords and manipulating the notes. you can watch the inversion happen, while tangibly touching the wooden blocks.

Last week we had a few students still wanted to change C-E-G, to E-G-B (!) as they tipped it over, so I ran upstairs and got my ketchup bottle. "As I tip my ketchup over to pour it out," I demonstrated, "it does not become mustard. It is still ketchup, even on its side." The notes are the same, and the chord is the same, no matter what note is on the left or the right.

One clever fellow reminded me that his ketchup bottle stands on its head; it's already upside down, so he doesn't need to learn inversions, he'll just always buy the ketchup with the cap at the bottom. At the local grocery store, they still sell both styles of bottles, pictured here, cap at the top, and cap on the bottom.

I said I was going to come to his house and tip his ketchup over in the refrigerator.
You are a product of the 70s if you know why I chose this song.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


My student last night sat the metronome in the corner of the room, in the "time-out corner. It was not using its indoor voice!"
She even faced it to the wall.
She was having a hard time keeping a pulse; it was bound to happen.
Not many have ever told me, "oh boy, I love playing with the metronome."
Actually, I'm still waiting for the first student to tell me that.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Minor scales were so October

Hey-I forgot to tell you all about the warm ups my studio did in October! We spent the month learning about those spooky harmonic minors. The younger ones learned the major then the minor and how to lower the 3 and the 6. The older you got, the more octaves and complex we went.
We learned a lot, explored some new keys, and played around with that harmonic note, writing a few scary licks and songs around it.

I have been using more YouTube videos for both great and awful performances. After I sent a student home to watch his current Scarlatti piece and tell me what he thought, (, he sent me this reply.

"I see your vid, and raise you one"

This video was interesting to me, a little long,(jump to 3 minutes in if you want to hear her play), but students could gain some motivation from this. She plays her scales in 10th, an octave plus a third apart. They sound better that way, don't they? My student laughed about her "slower" tempo. I also need to add that chromatic scale to my list of student technical abilities. What do you think? Should I send this to all my studio in January?

November here is all about inversions, more on this soon. I also decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, so posts may be sporadic for awhile this month. Not like they haven't been already.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chopin Mazurkas

I'm doing a little work about mazurkas this week. A student will be playing her first Mazurka this year. She has played other romantic works, and one or two other Chopin pieces. I decided I better look into the new research and changing viewpoints of Chopin's Mazurka writing.
So, to Wikipedia first...
"The folk origins of the mazurek are two other Polish musical forms—the slow kujawiak, and the fast oberek. In the 19th century, the dance became popular in many ballrooms in different parts of Europe. The Polish national anthem has a mazurek rhythm but is too slow to be considered a mazurek. There are many Polish versions of the mazurek but the most notable one is the mazurka.

In Polish, this musical form is called "mazurek"—a word derived from "mazur," which up to the nineteenth century denoted an inhabitant of Poland's Mazovia region, and which also became the root for "Masuria". In Polish, "mazurka" is actually the genitive and accusative cases of "mazurek."

Several classical composers have written mazurkas, with the best known being the 58 composed by Frédéric Chopin for solo piano. Chopin first started composing mazurkas in 1825, but his composing did not become serious until 1830, the year of the November Uprising, a Polish rebellion against the Russian government.

The stylistic and musical characteristics of Chopin's mazurkas differ from the traditional variety because Chopin in effect created a completely separate and new genre of mazurka all his own. For example, he used classical techniques in his mazurkas, including counterpoint and fugue. By including more chromaticism and harmony in the mazurkas, he made them more technically interesting than the traditional dances. Chopin also tried to compose his mazurkas in such a way that they could not be used for dancing [citation needed], so as to distance them from the original form.

However, while Chopin changed some aspects of the original mazurka, he maintained others. His mazurkas, like the traditional dances, contain a great deal of repetition: repetition of certain measures or groups of measures; of entire sections; and of an initial theme. The rhythm of his mazurkas also remains very similar to that of earlier mazurkas. However, Chopin also incorporated the rhythmic elements of the two other Polish forms mentioned above, the kujawiak and oberek; his mazurkas usually feature rhythms from more than one of these three forms (mazurek, kujawiak, and oberek). This use of rhythm suggests that Chopin tried to create a genre that had ties to the original form, but was still something new and different."

Interesting, huh? I love that fact that he started with a known style, but created something new. I told her that this was a more traditional common folk dance, and that it was meant to be danced to, so I will have to amend that statement when I see her again. Here are 2 clips of both the Mazurka and "Polka Mazurka" dance, how graceful in these clothes. I have danced the polka mazurka, which is the dance I decribed to her with the kick of the foot.

Here's the piece I've given her, a less familiar Mazurka, but still charming, I think.

I seem to be in a Chopin binge this month. Tomorrow I will be taking a trip to a college to see their music department and Saturday is the big multi-state Youth In Music band tournament. For more information on this event, And I'll try to take pictures of both trips and bring them back here!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Policies Retooled, Part 2

Having created a more true to self policy, I offer it for you to review now. I crafted my sheet and sent it with this month's statement. Here's a copy. This is a lot different than many legal versions. I wonder whether this is "fluffy" or going to be problematic; I guess I'll find out soon enough. It certainly is not what I used to believe was the essence of a well girded and guarded studio policy.

TUITION –Regular Lessons run Sept.-May, fees are monthly, 30, 45, or 60 minutes.

PAYMENT OF FEES – Payable for the month in advance of lessons, make checks payable to Wolf Piano Studio. Statements are sent at the end of the month to show activity on your account. A $20.00 overdue fee per family will be charged to accounts not paid in full by the 15th of each month, because that's what my bank charges me. Please tell me if financial needs arise. I have barter options.

ABSENCES - We will be fair to each other and be professional. If I am going to miss your lesson, I will credit your account or find a make-up time. I do not give credit or make up lessons when you are absent as a general rule. Of course, emergencies happen. Please do me the courtesy of a telephone call or email; I will worry if you’re not here.

STUDIO – Be respectful of my home and the neighborhood. Some ideas while you wait might include: check your homework, read a music magazine, or listen to a variety of CDs. I highly encourage you to use the computer center, games, and the Clavinova (keyboard with over 600 sounds).

LESSON TERMINATION – We will come to an agreement that is amenable and caring. Most times, people have courteously given at least a one month paid notice.

PRACTICE –This is the key to improvement. Practice on the days you eat. There’s no better way to say it. A set schedule that includes practice at the same time every day, perhaps after dinner, or before school is best. Some weeks there will be more to practice, other weeks will be less. When you come to lessons, you have entered “NO EXCUSE” land. Do not apologize for less than adequate practice. We will work together on the things that did get better.

VISITS - Parents are always welcome to sit in on lessons.

RECITALS – Sharing our music is a joy when we are ready and comfortable. At least 2 performance opportunities inhouse will be available to each student per school year. Contests, theory, festivals, and end of year Guild auditions are also available. Performances at nursing homes, malls, etc. are encouraged.

TEACHER RESPONSIBILITY - * Nurture a positive atmosphere for learning. * Provide varied performance opportunities. * Set short and long-term goals for each student. * A dedication to your piano development.
* Maintain quality instruments at the studio * Further her teaching skills by belonging to professional organizations, attending workshops and educational programs, reading professional publications, and engaging in other activities leading to her continued growth.

So, am I growing in maturity or "getting soft"?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Policies Retooled, Part 1

"There is no more important document describing 'the professional you' than your studio policy," said The Piano Education Page. I have read more than 400 policy statements over the last weeks. According to Google, I have 134,000 more to go and I have grown a certain distaste for them. The books I have read assure me that spending a lot of time on this document results in clear communication and prompt payment. It starts to sound like if I word my policy just clearly enough that there will never be a misunderstanding or conflict. This is not my knowledge of the world to date.

I was rereading my own studio policy last month and I decided I wasn't really the teacher it sounded like. It read more like a ten commandments decree than a covenant between two parties interested in sharing a long commitment of music together. So I changed it. But then, I was curious about what other teacher colleagues used and opened a real dilemma for myself.

Many of the policies I have read online sound so harsh. In one case, if you muddied her carpet, she'd charge you for its cleaning. In another, he threatened to dismiss you from the studio if your nails had dirt under them. Ever. No excuses.

In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, piano teachers can access a piano lesson guideline online. Here is some information from their site.

Most piano teachers use a “studio policy” to communicate the specifics about the logistics of piano lessons. This is, in effect, a legally binding contract between the piano teacher and the piano student (or parents).

Below you will find some items that might be found in a piano teacher’s studio policies.

FEES – the manner in which you must pay for your piano lessons should be clearly communicated.

TUITION: Piano teachers require their students to pay for their piano lessons in many different ways such as: once a month, once a quarter, or at each piano lesson. Some piano teachers charge an “hourly rate” while others charge a “monthly rate” (in which you pay the same amount each month for your piano lessons even if there are Holidays in that month).

REGISTRATION FEES: New piano students may be required to pay a one-time (or annually reoccurring) registration fee.

LATE PAYMENT FEES: The deadline for payment of fees should be clearly explained. If you fail to meet that deadline, there may be a penalty for late payment.

BOUNCED CHECK FEES: If you write a check to your piano teacher for your piano lessons, and if that check gets returned to your piano teacher due to insufficient funds, you may be required to reimburse your piano teacher for more than a simple late payment fee.

MATERIALS: Some piano teachers will provide their piano students with all of their piano music for a fee. Other piano teachers will ask that you pay for each item as needed.

FESTIVALS, COMPETITIONS, AND OTHER EVENTS. If your piano teacher has you participate in other activities in addition to your private piano lessons, there may be an extra fee for that (which may or may not be paid directly to your piano teacher).

PIANO LESSONS CALENDAR. The times when your piano lessons are to be held should be clearly communicated.

PIANO LESSONS EVERY WEEK. Most piano teachers require their piano students to enroll in piano lessons on a continuing basis from week to week.

SUMMER PIANO LESSONS. Many piano teachers do teach during this summer months. This is usually due to two main reasons. First long breaks from piano lessons can really set back progress. Second, their piano teaching is most likely their main source of income, and they probably need that income to continue in the summer. If you decide to not take piano lessons in the summer, some piano teachers will require you to drop out of their piano studio and re-enroll in the fall.

HOLIDAYS AND VACATION. Most piano teachers will include which days are considered “Holidays” and Vacation days. You may or may not pay a different amount when your piano lessons happen to fall on one of these days.

MISSED PIANO LESSONS. If you miss a piano lesson for some reason, the studio policy will often communicate the consequences of your absence. Some piano teachers are generous about offering makeup piano lessons as long as you contact them before the scheduled piano lesson (often at least 24 hours in advance), but other piano teachers will not offer private makeup piano lessons. This too is understandable since your piano teacher has reserved a spot in their schedule for you, and if you choose to not attend that meeting for any reason, that time is still reserved even if you are not at your piano lesson.

RESCHEDULING PIANO LESSONS. Some piano teachers give you the option to reschedule one of your piano lessons if you know in advance that you will be unable to attend your piano lesson at the normally scheduled time. Most piano teachers will not reschedule piano lessons on a regular basis. This is usually done infrequently.

TERMINATING PIANO LESSONS. All piano teacher policies should contain instructions regarding how to end your piano lessons if such a need arises. Most piano teachers require a minimum two-week notice. This usually means that once you provide notice (usually required in writing), then you are responsible for paying for your piano lessons two weeks after that notice has been given even if you do not attend those piano lessons.

PRACTICING. Some piano teachers put specific practicing requirements in their piano teacher policies.

LEGALITY. The policy may or may not be signed by the parent, teacher, and/or student that they understand what the rules are and that practice will happen.

So, I did have all my bases covered. For those of you curious about my former policy, I'll leave it on my website, for a few more days. Tomorrow I'll share my new one with you here.

Some of my colleagues have a multi-page document for the rules and regulations of their studios, often because they teach in their home, and sometimes because of some people who have taken advantage of them. I certainly understand multi-teacher studios with hundreds of families having strict and legal policies regarding payment.

Yet, some teachers have policies for worries that are perceived but have never really happened to them. I believe that most people who are studying here for lessons have good intentions and honest souls. They don't want to be bilked for lessons not received or gouged by big fees either.

So, is a policy document legally binding, looked over by an attorney, and a necessity? Is it am implied agreement between two parties regardless of paperwork? The legality of our teaching does not depend on a triplicate document, with a notary public does it?

More tomorrow...


I started teaching the five finger position to a five year old this week. He has been playing black keys so when we moved to the white keys it was a big deal. Tiny little pinky did not want to play his note so I demonstrated. Here is the conversation that followed. Imagine that very cute five year old boy lisp as I try to relay it in text to you.

"Woah, Mrs. Woff, yo hands arw BIG!"
"Well, yes, they are bigger than yours, but someday you will have man hands, and then they will be big too."
"NO! My hands wiw be even biggor dan yours! Have you seen my Dad? His hands arw HUGE!"

OK, Dad obviously heard that one. So, I opened the door, and we had a big, bigger, biggest moment. It was so adorable to me that my little guy knew he was going to follow in his father's footsteps. I hope it's true musically too. Dad used to really play piano, according to Grandma. Back as a repeat video, is "Rachmaninoff Had Big Hands", just because my conversation reminded me of this funny clip!

Hope you are enjoying the change of the seasons, wherever you are. It's been gorgeous in Minnesota. Here is the view from the board meeting room last Friday.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Do I Play Organ Anymore?

I used to play quite a bit of organ; I played and took lessons growing up, and many of the church positions of pianist come with organist attached as a matter of course. There's a huge difference between playing a wind instrument like an organ and the percussion instrument of a piano. Because they both have keyboards, many people believe they are similar. Weddings also inspire the question "Do you play organ?"
Every organ is very different and often for a wedding there is little to no time to familiarize yourself with the stops and registration. Most organs I have had to use also have the "shades of disrepair" ghost looming over the cobweb-filled pipes. It is very embarrassing to find out during the processional, as the bride enters the sanctuary, that a stop you've chosen rattles and clunks like the chains of old Marley himself! But that's another story.
Earlier this week a church called and was wondering whether I would be interested in coming back to fill a "one-service per Sunday" position. There would be no extra rehearsals, they'd give me the list of hymns ahead, just show up and play. The secretary was new, and my name was in their files as a back-up organist. This was news to me. I haven't played for them since 1999, and then it was full-time.
After the call, which I turned down by the way, I began to wonder when exactly WAS the last time I had played an organ? I think is was at that church a decade ago. There have been occasional wedding gigs since then, but nothing seriously organ. Would I consider myself an organist anymore? I would need so much practice on not just my pedal technique, but the keyboard as well! I came to the conclusion that the answer is no.
There are many articles and editorials that point to the slow death of organs in America and likewise organists. Many churches have not built space for a pipe organ, and have leaned toward more contemporary praise bands. One large church in my city began an organ fund five years ago. They have positioned themselves to eventually build a very big pipe organ and be a concert venue for the entire south metro area, in addition to their worship needs.
I have a friend from my grad school days that knows where every "decent" pipe organ is, he hopes to play them all before he dies. The list is shrinking as they need repair and are not fixed. He teaches organ too, but very few students want to learn this instrument.
In my area, there is a public radio program called "Pipedreams" which shares concerts in beautiful churches on these grand instruments. For more information on this program, to see some pictures of these gorgeous and sometimes flashy organs, or to hear some of the sounds click here.

The organ pictured is the 2006 Holtkamp organ in the Boe chapel of St. Olaf College, in Northfield, Minnesota. And finally, this is the organ piece I loved to play in high school, and frankly I never improved from here. This organist is outstanding, it's clear, not too fast, and the cathedral, well, wowoza.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teaching in my studio at last!

Sunday night (read LATE Sunday night), we moved the piano into the studio, and uncovered it. I awoke it from its slumber with Chopin and Brahms. It's out of tune, it was dusty, and it is heaven. I am so inspired by this space. I find myself now at a crossroad because what should go back in the room doesn't feel right anymore. I used to have an upright piano and oodles of books in there.
We drove the upright piano in there Sunday, but I had them take it back out. It just seemed so crowded. Right now, it's like a mini-concert hall; gorgeous, live and full of life.
All the many, many, too many books and music shelves are covered in sheet rock dust. It's making me rethink whether they "deserve" a place in this lovely space. Should I really take that old sheet music into this room, if I am not sure I plan to teach it? What about my older accompaniment books? Perhaps they should be donated to the MMTA Foundation or sold on Ebay? I just don't know.
Right now they are cluttering up my waiting area in the fireplace room, staring at me. Well? Are you going to get busy? Clean up this mess!
One of my students played a piano solo version of the "In the Hall of the Mountain King" yesterday, one of the first polished student pieces on the piano in the new room, and his pianissimo was stellar.
Anyone unsure of whether John Williams was influenced by Edvard Grieg, close your eyes and think of the castle in this video as Hogwarts! Right? Wow, movie music if I ever heard it.
I'm so excited to invite you all to come and play in my new room-stop by and see it soon!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Dance, Willow, Dance!

Minnesota is in the midst of a deluge of storms. Our pond is flooding the bike paths and walking trails.
Willow is dancing; her long hair is almost horizontal as she sways. The dissonance of the thundersong whips the cattails and reeds into joining the chaotic frenzy. All the trees are exhausted, even the ground is tired, but the wind continues. Dance, he bellows! DANCE! You must keep dancing! MUST KEEP DANCING

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Fairy Tale You Can Believe In

Once upon a time, on a bright and sunshine-y day, a lady had a car accident. There was a lot of broken glass, but no broken bones. The crash made a loud, metal twisting, screeching, scary noise. This noise must have been heard around the country, because people started coming to the lady's house. For weeks, friends and acquaintances, strangers and neighbors brought food to her and her family. Every day, meals arrived at the door. Beautifully prepared and ready to eat, healthy and delicious food came in cars to her front step. Cards and emails, phone calls and letters poured in to her home. One friend canned all her tomatoes. People visited, played games with her children, did her grocery shopping, and helped clean her house. They laughed and cried with her. They listened to her stories. They made time to be with her.

What is this, the lady wondered, that I should have all this love poured out on me? What does this mean?

One day, the lady was feeling so much better that she didn't need this much help anymore. People were not at the door, but the lady still wondered. What brought them to her in the first place? It is certainly not about who she is, so it must be about what kind of people THEY are.

The lady has repeated the amazing story of these people many times. Some do not believe her tale. They say, "People don't do that anymore." "People are too busy." The lady thinks there is a deeper question. "People wouldn't come to help me, would they?"

There IS a happily ever after. May we all be part of it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chapel Wall

I decided on the paint color "Chapel Wall" because I have so many ideas on what to place on them and it needed to be neutral! (Or maybe because I'll pray before every lesson.) We spent the weekend preparing, then priming and painting the studio. Today the lights were placed in their sleeves, tape was removed, and outlet covers were attached. Next on the list is door and window trim, floor trim, then carpeting. The final task is putting everything back so I can find it.
Students are finding their groove about their practice time. Many are bumping along through sports, homework and the reality of school. Making schedules and rising to expectations is stabilizing. I don't sense any dread yet, it's too early. However, a few students realized this week that piano lessons can not be accomplished on Sunday night. Many of my colleagues are challenging students to press ahead on devoted practice time. I'm giving out really great literature and hoping that the music will be the motivator. This week will be telling!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Crimson Creator

One bough, brought to crimson
though still late summer.
One arm of red, reaching for angels
to awaken, nudge, bedazzle.
"Look around, fair one, behold!
Whether you sleep or stir, the seasons move.
A swirling creation, set in motion in a word,
spoken into being in a breath.
It was good, it is good, but you,
you are
very good.
See me? I'm in red today.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Enrique, Lionel, and melodic lifting

It has long been recognized as a nod of compliment to a composer if you reference their work in your own composition. In the classical world, many composers not only saluted their contemporary colleagues, but sometimes roasted them as well. A famous example of this occurs in Debussy's "Golliwog's Cakewalk". In the middle of B section, Debussy musically quotes a Richard Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" melody, tongue in cheek. He really pokes fun at the very long opera for 12 measures or so.

The other day the radio was on the popular contemporary station here at the house. I am not familiar with many of these songs. But I was startled to hear a lick I had heard in my wilder days in the middle of one of Enrique Iglesias' new tune. Yes, he's a son of Julio who has become very popular both in Latin and American markets.

I was startled in this video by the scantily clad women, by the way. I am terribly bashful and outdated about the club scene. I had no idea really. So, if you are offended, so was I, in a Midwestern mid-40s, had two babies sort of way. But did you hear it? Smack dab in the middle of this 2010 piece is Lionel Ritchie's "All Night Long". So, I had to show my own children the musical reference, via YouTube as well. Imagine my shock to see the following video right after the above. I thought that the dancing was so great and the styles were so great and the music was so great back then. It looks so comical and simplistic now, doesn't it?

I want to believe that Enrique was being complimentary in his salute to this song. The dance scene, the party, the women, the way he moves through the crowd similarly to what Lionel was doing seems a sincere form of flattery. I hope so. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fallow Lands are being tilled

Some of my students came back this week, sheepishly telling me that they took August off. They were full of guilt, and shuffled their feet or looked to the ground as they told me this.

My response? Fantastic! That's what the studio break was for! I relayed to them that farmers who want great crops will sometimes leave a field fallow for a time. They do this to refresh the field, to bring the nutrients back to the soil naturally. Leaving the field unplanted for a time gives the next crop energy. You were being fallow, I told them. This is now good soil in your mind and spirit to plant some new seed and watch it grow! And boy is it going to be a good crop this year.

They are coming back to me, older, with stories of cabins and vacation. They return with bumps and bruises from skateboards and soccer games. They are ready with a quick smile and giggles at the music set before them and the plans we make together about their upcoming year here.

I really appreciate the rhythm of the seasons and am thankful for soil to till.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Light....and it was good

The parts arrived and our friend came over. The box is now wired up to code and we just had to try out the new switch with dimmer! Boldly lighting up the studio with just 3 bulbs, we are in business electrically! Yeehaw!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What I Learned about Sheet Rock

1. It's messy.
2. It's hard to work with; bringing it in the house required careful planning and measuring.
3. It's surprisingly fragile.
4. Mudding sucks.
5. Sanding is your friend.
6. Make sure to have a good cordless screwdriver and sheet rock bit so the screw goes into the sheet rock just the right depth.
7. Mark the studs on the ceiling and the floor so you can find them again!
8 Remember to make a storyboard of your lights and outlets and switches so you can find THEM again.
9. Regarding the #8, a Roto-Zip is your friend too. It's a little tool that has a special bit with a cutting blade that cuts in any direction, with beautiful form-fitting holes.
10. Don't even try to get a professionally smooth finish unless this is your day job.
11. Tracking mud into the carpeting is not cool.

Here are the latest pictures of the studio. Progress is slow and steady, just like my healing from the car crash and surgery. We steadily climb, the studio and me, to a whole place, a better place, a lit and warm space. Peace!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Insecurity Alert!

A really weird thing happened to me the other day. As I was playing piano in front of people, I noticed a woman who was holding a paper over her mouth and talking to her neighbor, and staring at me. I had been smiling and singing, enjoying the music and the crowd of people that were smiling back, but when we made eye contact, she dropped her gaze, finished her statement, then fluffed her hair, looking away. She didn't look at me the rest of the set.

The strange part of this moment was that I was transported immediately back to elementary school. Being a musician means you're putting yourself out there, being vulnerable in a way, to the slings and arrows of criticism. I found myself thinking about my outfit, my hair, my singing tone, my pitch, even the volume of the piano. I went to a very "wounded child" place, where I suddenly felt not-that-great about myself or my art. Wow, can you say second grade?

I have no idea what she was discussing. She was not yawning. Perhaps she was covering her mouth so that she wouldn't be disruptive. Do you like my "benefit of a doubt banter? Why did I feel so fearful and inadequate and why was it so palpably painful?

I have given this situation a lot of thought, unfortunately. My students may deal with this and I used to, but thought I'd gotten over it. Guess not. I guess deep down inside there is still an introverted child who pushes herself to perform.

The grownup in me gave myself about 5 seconds of those feelings and then said, "enough!" The adult person in this body knows that she is capable and sharing something unique. I will not dwell in the fearful place. I will not be judged by a stranger. I am not perfect, I am me. That is enough, that's all I can be. I am flawed and cracked; but I will not hide.

Men don't deal with this in the same way. They are compared, yes, but my husband says that rather than build concensus like women do, men are direct or dismissive. Women like to gather like-minded women to the group making them feel empowered, men make an assessment and conquer it single-handedly, sort of. Why do we DO that? Ugh, it seems ridiculous to me now.

It sure was a blow to me that I could be transported to an ugly place in the blink of an eye, while trying to concentrate on playing and singing well, leading others, and don't forget, to "keep on smiling".


I wrote a new piece for church. The group and I like it. We rehearsed it last Wednesday and then out of the blue, we decided it had a vibe we had felt before. We broke into song. You guessed it, "Downtown", by Petula Clark, and now I can't stop singing this song. So for your Monday earworm delight, here is a funny Seinfeld clip, and a BBC presentation of the song.
I just have to comment that these dancer men are really swinging, aren't they? Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sunday Sabbath

Progress on the studio remodeling is going to take another small hiatus. It had a long one when we went on vacation, but even over the Labor Day weekend, it's important to take a Sabbath. We hope to do something wonderful outside, maybe mini golf?

Here is what I learned about remodeling lately. Switch boxes in homes come in many varieties, and ours is outdated and now a special order. (4-5 days). Carpeting that was available can be discontinued at the drop of a hat. New carpet that will be similar to what we wanted has been ordered from the warehouse and will be in late this week. Our carpet installer is working nights right now and can perhaps install new carpeting on Monday the 13th.

The new lights in the ceiling are commonly referred to as "cans". There will be 8 of them in my office now, including two that will be able to be focused, they will be "eyes", and can move a directional beam onto my music!

We have no idea who finished our basement the first time, but he did a lousy job. We've decided to name him Uncle Fred. There was no insulation in much of this room, poor 1/4" styrofoam "insulation" against the (cold) concrete blocks, and the duct work for the furnace wasn't installed correctly. The outlets were wired backward. We now have new outlets, two per wall, and this room will have its own switch for lights, on a dimmer. And we may need to purchase a new table saw, which died during this process. So, I will have better lighting and heating. I am going to decide paint color early this week.

I will roll the upright piano into our other basement room and teach from there for a week while things are finished. It will not be ideal, but it will be manageable.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Making progress

Here is another studio remodeling picture and water photos from my up north vacation, as we take a diversion today. Did you know that professional sites exist to rank blogs? The top 20 Classical Music Blogs were announced the other day. I read only a few of them. Many of them appear to be sponsored by newspapers or written on the side by full-time devoted writers. Some of them are quite historical and one of them political in nature. I seem to bounce around between so many topics. Perhaps I should focus my efforts as many of them did and pursue advertisers and sponsors, get increased readership and make a concerted effort to announce my writing to the world?
Why does this not appeal to me at all anymore? There was a time when, if I was going to do an official blog, I would have been swept up in the numbers game. What is changing or has changed about me? Some may leap to conclusions of age, maturity or laziness. I seem to have stepped off the bus, and watched and maybe even waved as it drove away without me. Some days, I wonder about where the bus might have gone, most days I don't miss it. That realization is even a revelation to me. Huh.
One of my student's who is now a freshman at Notre Dame is in an Impressionism class and is writing a paper about Reflets dan leau, Reflections on the Water, by Claude Debussy. I remember immersing myself in these sounds in colors when I learned this piece. I spent weeks of time exploring it. Every nuance was gauged, painted, and then I'd try it on a different piano. What? Me, like a french piece? Me, who always wanted to play fast and splashy? What a great moment to be introspective. And the ending, aah, how I relished seeing how quietly and sublimely I could sink. Look at Claudio here, celebrating 80 years of life, passion, and music.
For those who would like to hear an interpretation, please click below. Or find a nice pond, lake or river, and listen to your own Reflections this afternoon. The air has cooled and the sun will dance on the water for you.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stripe and Floral mix anyone?

When we pulled down the ceiling tiles and stripped away the barn board, we found the most lovely, ahem, wallpaper from the previous and original owners. Apparently, in the early 1970's, metallic gold and brown stripes went with large green and gold flowers in a psychedelic, hip and groovy way. We also discovered evidence on the concrete floor that there had once been a wet bar in my disco dream office. Right on!

I turned a whiter shade of pale as the guys kept killing huge,disgusting millipedes as they got closer down to bare concrete. So in keeping with the theme here, I give you a great keyboard song from this era. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" was released in 1967 by the British band Procol Harum. The organist is Matthew Fisher, who won the co-composer rights to this song because it was unanimously ruled the keyboard was an integral part of the piece. In tribute to the wet bar and haze of my retro, trippy space, I chose a mind blowing blast from the past. Peace, man, make love not war.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Onward and Upward

The studio is getting a facelift! I have been teaching almost 20 years in a space we carved out of our basement. Here is the before picture. I was very tired of the black barn board, it was almost always chilly, and the lighting was bad.

This picture is taken at the frame of the french doors, and the black chair is near a desk that will not be returning. Along that wall instead will be a Baldwin studio upright. The desk had become merely a catch all for paperclips and piles of music.

So, with the help of a dear friend, my hubby and he are ripping this area apart and updating it with all the "modern" conveniences. Stay tuned for pictures of the adventure!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Time Away

The beauty of a flowering plant is in its full-blown energy devoted to blooming. Sometimes I know I feel the effort it is making to shine. Other times, it seems effortless; it is what it must do, it will do, what it was born to do.
Today I am one step closer to what I will do next Tuesday, to give up a holy chalice that bore two, to move forward into the mystery, it has been both an effort and effortless to decide. Although I was presented with three options, I have tried two of them before and they were not really acceptable.
I may continue to be out of the blogging loop momentarily, but I really want to come back stronger. Peace, be well, and be good to each other.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Truth be told, I drink one Tab brand soda every afternoon at 4:00 p.m. It's a little idiosyncrasy of mine: a hearken back to college. I don't see it as an addiction as much as I love the flavor of that woodsy goodness, and a little caffeine helps me be a step ahead of my students until 10:00 p.m. I usually teach that late during the school year. Some of my students and friends notice this bright pink can; frankly it's hard to miss the retro label and distinct color. It became a running joke with a student who won a trivia contest. Which Coca Cola product is the only one ever produced in a bright pink can? BOOM, he rang the buzzer. Later, when asked why in the world he would know the answer to the question, he replied because my piano teacher drinks it during my lesson!

I have this elixir at 4 o'clock, not usually much earlier or later. Lately, there has been a rash of mysterious 4 p.m. ding dong ditches happening at my house. There, sitting on my doorstep is a can of Tab and a new glass, usually some funky patterned retro look, (one was a tiki glass!) with ice. What a treat! And what a love gesture! Someone knows me so well! And it makes me laugh, and my family laughs at the suspense of how it will appear.

Today, the mystery friends came and stayed at the door, but they were in disguise. So was the soda. Aha! It is a recent senior graduate, who was a prize student. We had the nicest conversation. At the very end as they turned to leave, he slipped me a note. I can't even bring myself to read this thank you. I know I'm going to cry. So, I'll drink my Tab and smile, and maybe I'll read it at bedtime.

My heart is full even as it breaks. How do you explain to college music and education majors just what a treasure a career in education is? How do you articulate lives changed, most of the time, my own? I have been asked to speak to my alma mater's music class this fall about the truth of making a career in music teaching. Can it be done successfully, they wonder. They will have very real questions about financial realities, pedagogical ideas, . I have not accepted this opportunity yet because I'm not sure I can put a Groucho Marx soda into words. Does this mustache make my nose look big?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Clean Outlook

There is nothing like cleaning all the windows inside and out, and scrubbing all the deck furniture to improve my outlook. I am Puritan and/or Amish at heart, I must be. I feel better when I can see out clearly. Rumor has it that oil lamps leave a nasty mess on walls and windows and before guests come, Amish women still wash all the windows AND THE WALLS down. I didn't get that excited. But I do know that 18 windows inside and out is a day job for me. I am obsessive about streaks and spots so I go in and out often looking at them from both sides until I'm satisfied. I have a really neat special squeegie on a stick for the second story outside windows. And I have a special recipe cleaner with ammonia in it. I splurge and use dollar store paper towels rather than newspaper; I only clean my windows spring and fall, but notice my spring cleaning is in July this year. oops.
The other half of the job is vacuuming the screens. Leaving only the screens on the windows I actually open helps brighten and lighten in here too.
The deck furniture was disgusting. Years of grime on the legs and under the table are now washed away, with the help of a scrub brush and a boy with a hose. (We didn't get too wet.) I can't wait to sit out there and have a cool glass of something!
Tonight I have the privilege of seeing one of the great living pianists play one of my favorite concerti: Beethoven's Emperor! I'm so excited to go. It's up at a small college concert hall, and all the seats there are great, but it's general admission, so I want to get there early. Maybe I'll beg and wait around and get his autograph to add to my collection for students. Or maybe he doesn't do that sort of thing-every artist is different. I'll show it to you if I get an autograph.
Here is another amazing pianist, Claudio Arrau, playing the same concerto, from YouTube. Enjoy your weekend; take in some live music if you can. CDs just can not capture the energy of a real person!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Beginnings

I have the most charming five year old student beginning piano this summer. His older sister has been here two years, and he's been waiting patiently for his turn to start "pinano".
Our first lesson last week was full of squeals of delight that we were finally beginning, and with every note moving up the keyboard in our music ABC's, he alternated standing up and sitting back down. Here was our work on the board for our time together for the last two lessons. The first week we found the patterns of 2 or 3 black keys, and last week we talked about finger numbers; we discovered that he's left-handed! And he could already write some of his numbers and his name, but 3's were difficult and the number 4 was almost impossible. Many of the students after him decided to put their hands on the board too.
This time of piqued curiosity fuels me for the rest of the day. One little look or note from these kids and I want to do my absolute best for them; and they're not even mine!
On the flip side of things, I went to the music store and bought lots (read $200) of music and it was (gasp) all popular titles. This will get billed to families via their monthly statement, but it was an outlay of money in the thin air of summer lessons. But true to form, students are so excited to play.
I knew one of them had a favorite song, "Fireflies" by Owl City, one adores Michael Buble, I have some aspiring Princesses, and teen crushes on anything "Twilight". So Bella's Theme will probably be learned in one week. Lots of James Bond, Harry Potter, and Disney music went through the studio doors in July so far.
One young lady had been to an antique store and purchased music for $1.00 each. The titles were from the 20's and 30's, and she got some real gems. They will be a stretch for her hands, as many contain octaves or bigger. I plan to teach the theory behind some of those chords, but she doesn't know it yet. And the cover art? It was GORGEOUS. Frame-able, I would say!
One of the unexpected not-so-little things that happened was that as I played through many of the pieces, I lost 4 hours of my day! That hasn't happened to me in a long time. I used to disappear into my music often. Lately, I've been restless, frustrated almost, by my lack of practice, and even more so about my lackadaisical nature about said unmotivated self. I am working on a new invention (!), and still getting past the copyright issue of spring. But to dig in deeply and be compelled to the instrument by Top 40? I was caught off guard and I loved it.
Here's to popular summer tunes! What would you learn to play for fun?

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I loved this sign last Friday.

There's also no shame in admitting that my body is not working correctly anymore. And so I go. I used to be afraid of this decision, to be honest. But I'm so tired, that I'm past the fear, and just ready to move on. I can't be in this much discomfort 75% of my life. I noticed the other day that I've gone back to squirreling feminine products everywhere. They are under the seat of the car, in the glove box of the van, multitudes in every bathroom, in my purse of course, and I know where all the clean gas stations are on every route I travel. This must stop. It feels like a disorder of the weird-trying to hide it from the world. I carry on, smile and don't bend wrong, excuse myself often, discreetly. Besides the physical tiredness of making that much waste, I'm exhausted from the carrying on as if I'm fine, really I am. I haven't been writing much, I have begun several posts, but they sound random, distant.

I'm waiting for a doctor appointment this week, in my mind, that will end the waiting. I'll share more after he and I meet, but I hate wait. I've been scattered in my thinking, doing a little of this, not really finishing any started project. I've started a few more, what am I thinking? I think it's like a menstrual fever of sorts; I can't imagine living the rest of a week, a month, gasp, forever, this way. I love to play piano, but I haven't. I want to finish my wooden blocks project, but I haven't. I planned to paint my office, but I haven't. I have piles everywhere of
filing, of good ideas, I wonder ifs.
I wonder if I'm alone in the wandering mind syndrome. Probably not, but I'm realizing there's no shame in this either. Freeing, really.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The 50th Success

We had such a lovely day on the 15th of May. It was the only nice Saturday of the month, (the Farmer's Almanac was right again.) Dad felt well, Mom looked lovely, and the people came en masse. From 1-4, the line was a block long or more to wish them well. We lost count when the 300 napkins ran out before the four o'clock bell rang. Here are some of my favorite pictures and answers to some silly trivia questions you may have!

What did you do about the powerpoint/pictures issue? Mom and Dad did not want a fuss, as you know. Mom brought a framed picture of both of their one room schoolhouse photos, black and white, and full of memories for the older crowd that had attended multi-grade classrooms. She also brought their wedding picture and the rest of the table had some balloons and a flower bouquet. We didn't have posters or a slideshow, and it didn't feel empty.

What was the best food? Hands down, the bacon wrapped teriyaki chestnuts won the day. The chef warned me that they were "putzy" and expensive, but we ate them by the plate full, and there were only 3 left. Between you and me, they were worth every extra penny. Mom and Dad have been part of a New Year's Eve group of neighbors that get together every year since 1961. (I know, right?) And the chestnuts were mainstays of the bounty of food that sustained them through nights of cards, 500 Rummy, and laughs. The neighbors have long moved from the original neighborhood, even to Arizona, but they still get together. Through marriages, children, long dresses, divorces, different political views and hangovers, they gathered, put their penny antes in the pot, and ate breakfast with bloody Mary and eventually decaf in hand.

My mom counts things - she got 421 cards and sent over 50 thank you notes, despite saying "no gifts, please". Dad was feeling well, and they are now both so glad for the day. Relatives I haven't seen in over 25 years are now Facebook friends, and I treasure learning about their lives. Here are a few pictures that say more than my words could ever convey. I'm so glad it all worked out for the best.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lebanon Cemetery, Apple Valley, Minnesota

My blog friend Roy is faithful in his treks to the local cemetery. He has beautiful posts about family names, stories about the possible people buried there, and such artistic ivy. These pictures are for you, Roy, as I attempt to do one of our local cemeteries justice.

The Lebanon Cemetery is located at the corner of two now busy roads, but it was not always so. The original cemetery was 2 acres of wooded hill amid the farmer fields and established during the civil war. The earliest recorded burial was May 25, 1861, and the stones of these first burials stand at the northwest most corner of the lot.
In May of 1997, Apple Valley voters approved acquisition of the cemetery and a bond referendum to obtain an additional eight acres of land. Transfer of the original two acres of the cemetery was made to the City in December 1998, and the additional land was purchased, and in 1998 went through some extensive remodeling.
Apple Valley was not always the name of our fair city. We were a township called Lebanon first, but the mayor in 1970's decided he liked the fair city in California with the same name very much. Apple trees grew on the west side of town, and many street names then and now have apple references.

Almost unheard of, this cemetery is owned and maintained by the city. The memorial is a very new addition to our only non-church cemetery. It is a public place to be buried, no questions asked. I really like that idea, that we can all become one, across denominations or no affiliation.
The pictures began as I was trying to capture the beauty of the lilac bushes across the road, and stumbled across the firefighter. There are more by another photographer here

Pictures coming soon, but it's been raining for over one week. Because the ground is holy to me, I can not push myself to trod its mossy mounds in the wet.

Who's been to Visit?