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.

Who's been to Visit?