Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday and All is Well

What a week! When I last wrote, I was in the middle of a terrific birthday. It turned into a terrific birth week! The evening of my birthday, we went to dinner with friends who are marvelous conversationalists. One friend brought me fun gifts every day for five days! She would sneak over and drop them off while I was teaching.

I received an atomic clock for my birthday from my children. It also has the phases of the moon and outdoor/indoor temperature. The other gift I received was unexpected time with my family-a true blessing.

On Saturday I didn't get called to judge. I was on a list of call-me-if a judge doesn't show up or is ill. When no one called by 10 a.m., we decided I had the day free, so we finished up the laundry, ate out at Bruegger's Bagels, went to the local Mall, shopped a little, played mini-golf, and then went to the matinee of The Blind Side, with popcorn-yum. We don't always get corn, it is so expensive. I probably enjoyed the movie more than the rest; I have always been invigorated by women who follow their heart to do the right thing, especially when it's the hard thing. I highly recommend it, and Sandra, well done, girlfriend, well done.

It was a great family outing, made better by the fact that the kids actually seemed to like being out with us. We didn't even know that the mall had turned the lower level into a game area, with black light mini-golf.

I hope my students played well and had a good state competition experience. More on the results and stories here soon. Here's a picture of the flowers from the hubby-so happy, huh? So am I.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Happy Birthday, Herr Mozart!

Ever wonder what Wolfgang did on his birthday?
This is my birthday too, and I just want to say how glorious it has been so far. I slept in, renewed my driver's license where there was no line, and she said I didn't look my age and wished me a happy birthday. The sun is shining brilliantly in my studio and living room. I had cake for breakfast with delicious gourmet coffee, got tons of greetings on Facebook, taught both my senior students today and an amazing young lady that had gotten a perfect score on the state Theory exam, level 3, more phone calls.

Wolfy and I grabbed a bite of lunch at Arby's and when she heard it was my birthday, the manager bought my lunch. There were greeting cards in the post, and a package on my doorstep when I returned, plus two lovely email greetings in my inbox. One of the emails announced that my duet, "I Wanna Be a Spy" was chosen to be included in the 2011-2013 national Federation Bulletin in the Duet category. I can't wait to tell FJH.

Now Wolfy just brought home fresh flowers in the happiest colors, vibrant purple, oranges, and yellows. And this is all before 3 p.m.!

I get to teach my youngest students this afternoon, and have music rehearsal tonight. Lots of talent will be sitting in my living room singing and playing with me. Lastly, we're going out to a late supper with friends - I feel so blessed, so amazingly warm.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chris-isms #1

This is the first in the rare and occasional series of things I tell students that make them listen.
Hold it right there, mister. This is a Fermata.
It rhymes with Hakuna Matata.
It means to hold extra,
but a week is too long.

Monday, January 25, 2010


We made it through another Festival; students performed as I expected or a little better. After the emails from last week we had good results. Everyone rose to the challenge. Both of the students with whom I had spoken to parents received superior scores. (5/5)

It is interesting to me that one parent decided to have a hands off approach and one parent decided to be intricately involved and the result was the same. They knew their children, yes, they did! I know that I waffle all the time on what will be the best way to handle my own children. Each situation feels different and new. I have responded with both a heavy hand or a letting go, depending on the day and the child.

As a teacher, I wish I could see more of the whole story of the child, their life and living. I think sometimes "NO!" I don't want to know more about their successes and failures because it is already so hard. But I have no idea about some of their struggles and what makes them say and do what they do at lessons and in performance. I only see the sides they choose to show me.

As a judge, it's even harder. You may get an idea that the student has natural ability, or worked his behind off to get as much as he did. You may also not know that the A. parent is dying of cancer, just got a divorce, is so proud that they're still studying piano, brings their own hopes and dreams to the bench with the child, etc. B. child struggles with ADD, addiction, social anxiety, or is not working to his potential because it comes easily to him, etc., C. only needs one point toward a trophy and it here to get it over with, may end up being a music major, or a scientist, or none of the above. D. comments that you give could change a lot or nothing.

What are they getting out of their music study here? Some have come back and told me that they remember things I don't even remember doing! Or that they played a piece that still haunts them. It's funny, isn't it, what we choose to see.

On another note, we made snowflakes for the recital last week, which the students and I have put up on the french doors between the waiting room and the studio. Here are some pictures of the creations. They are as beautiful and distinct as each creator.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beautiful Responses

I have already reaped more benefits from the email I sent than I ever thought possible! My last post was fraught with emotion and nerves as I initiated conversations with two families regarding their children and the upcoming events. I was concerned that the families might be defensive or angry that we had not gotten the work done. Instead, I have had the most amazing conversations with the parents, in return emails and in phone calls.

The end decisions for the children are all as different as the students-how cool is that!

The same late evening that the email was received, I got a return email with this response.
"I appreciate your insight. You can count on an inordinate time at the piano bench between now and Saturday! I know your sincerity. You are an amazing teacher; challenging, demanding yet sincere and kind. I can't think of anything more I would look for in a teacher. We'll be in touch in a few days to hopefully report much progress. If I don't hear it, I'll call you. When is the latest date to withdraw?
Thank you very much for your honesty and candor. I'm sure this wasn't an email that you like to write. I'm sorry that things are in this state of repair."

This parent is going to place some heat under this student's seat, yowza! And I think I'll copy her words as a 'testimonial' for my website. Wow.

The next morning I had a phone call from the other parent who also responded kindly and was rather surprised that I would let them know the situation. She explained that they are consistently bailing out the child, and as a sophomore in high school, they were going to wince, turn away from the carnage, and let her flop this time. They are tired of the drama and tension around getting her to be responsible for things in her life and are letting her reap some of her consequences. I can understand this response too.

I am so glad that the email was well received. I won't use emails most of the time though-they are not the communicators that a live voice can be.

Set up for the festival is today, Friday. Piano tuners are coming, tables and supplies for judges are being arranged, chairs for audiences; there is a long list of To Be Done. Picture credit - Krista Kulas, 1/22/09, Iowa, Ice on Snowfence

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Curve Ahead-Difficult Emails

Last night's teaching was an effort in patience. I met with two busy, teenage students who are preparing: for disaster. They could not play through their pieces for memory and the competition is next weekend. If it were just up to me, I would withdraw them from the event. It simply won't be ready in time. These are budding adults. It should also be partly their decision. They are last minute preparers; this is well documented in their past. They fully believe that they will perform this artfully and memorized for me at the next lesson. I don't, but this isn't about me. This is about learning-your music, art, about yourself.

I do not subscribe to the theory that a teacher's reputation is based on how their students perform. This is a dangerous way of thinking to me. If your students fail to perform well, you could easily succumb to a low self teaching image or worse, punitive responses at your studio. I have blogged before about the student who was verbally abused at every lesson; no one wins in that scenario. I have had to look at the judge who is a colleague of mine and say, "Yep, that one was mine. What a train wreck, huh?" There is an uncomfortable 10 seconds, and then a shared smile. We know that the student just learned a lot in their poor performance, more than their critique can ever say.

I do not take only wunderkind. I enjoy my students' musical training at their level, no matter what that is. I currently have a blind retired person, a mentally challenged person, a few with ADD, and a goth. I teach the young, the adult, the talented, the busy, future performers, composers, the adventuresome and the timid. I teach music, I don't teach to win. My reputation is not damaged by a student who doesn't play well. Some teachers have the luxury of hand picking top playing students from the cream of the crop. Of course they will play well. I choose students who want to explore the vast realm of music, in all its intrinsic wonder. Some of them do play really well. Some of them are gifted and some of them work their asses off. All of them develop a heart for expression, in sound. This is much harder to give a score in a traditional sense.

Late in the evening, I painstakingly crafted an email to the parents. Hopefully, it will be met with understanding. Here's what it said.

Hi (insert parent's name here),
I just wanted to let you know that [student] had a hard lesson today. I was persuaded by her not to take her out of the festival this Saturday. But my first choice, for her sake, would have been to withdraw her. A bad performance experience can taint the next performances as they remember it and bring it with them. Some adults carry that burden even longer. Remembering that we as people learn a lot more when things sometimes don't go well is not much comfort when it happens.
I'd like her to have the opportunities of good experiences, although I know that I cannot shelter her.
The purpose of this email is to let you know that I respect your decisions at home, AND I am hoping for your guidance to the bench for the rest of the week. I'm afraid there will be tears and frustration but ultimately she has asked to move forward and do this. She has a lot of work to do. Please call me with any questions; email is hard and I'd like for you to hear the sincerity in my voice as we move forward on what's best for [student]. Peace, me...

There are no form letters in my teacher handbook for situations like this.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ooops-no pictures

The recital yesterday went as I expected on Sunday. But I forgot to take pictures! I was busy, I guess, as the recitals usually go: Children and families, visiting former students, and a new baby or two. I try to meet and greet grandparents, shake a hand, meet a student's boyfriend. I catch up on the families, other events in their lives, and maintain a recital atmosphere.

My whole being in the last 24 hours or so has been tempered by the Haiti earthquake and my soul is mourning. I feel death and loss. I can't explain it. At church, the music was uplifting and meaningful, yet, I took a slightly more somber tempo, and held a serious pose. We learned of Martin Luther King Jr.,'s social justice. We held each other in prayer, and we prayed for Haiti.

I am undeniably affected by Pat Robertson's "pact with the devil" comments. I shudder as I think that someone, somewhere, has heard his words and thinks that I agree with him. After all, I am an American and a Christian. But he does not speak for me. Neither does Rush Limbaugh. Neither of these men represent anything more than themselves, yet they stand and proclaim that they speak for us, for America, for me.

I've sent money to Haiti. I plan to help pack food stuffs with Feed My Starving Children, who is doing an extra push of supplies to Haiti. And I pray. I pray for the woman who raised her arms above her head and screamed to the heavens, "We are all alone!" Help us!" I pray for the people crying in the street. The dead, the babies, the brokenness. I can't watch any more live video; I can no longer look on the anguished faces of the lost and brokenhearted.

I know no one personally that lives in Haiti. I know no one who is from Haiti. I didn't know anyone personally in New Orleans after Katrina. I knew of people who knew of people in the towers after 9/11. Yet, here I am; praying, hoping.

Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, and into
Your brother's face, your country,
And say simply
Very simply
With hope --
Good morning.
Dr. Maya Angelou

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Recital Supply List

The state of Minnesota has football fever! Every radio station, the news and the newspaper have massive amounts of coverage about tomorrow's "game of the decade". What to wear and how to prepare was a whole section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "Football TV Etiquette" was the topic of 20 minutes of programming yesterday on the contemporary adult pop radio station.

According to an article by the Wall Street Journal yesterday, out of 174 minutes of a typical football broadcast, only 11 minutes include shots of the ball in play. Commercials take up about an hour. That's almost a third of the broadcast.

The rest, up to 60 percent of the total air time is spent on shots of players walking on the sideline, drinking energy drinks or huddling between snaps, according to the Journal, not to mention replays, crowd shots and other filler. Football cheerleaders typically get about 3 seconds of air time.

I have a studio recital tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. This seemed like a perfectly acceptable day and time to have a recital when I scheduled it in August. The facility was available and it's the appropriate timing before the state piano competition in two weeks. However, the Vikings are playing the Dallas Cowboys tomorrow at noon and the football games usually last about 3 hours. I have only had one student ask whether I was going to move the recital later one hour. I wonder how many piano Dads were hoping I would change the time or cancel it. But I haven't. I won't. I can't. I have a diatribe prepared to give you if you ask. I imagine that many of you know what it entails.

My winter recital is a themed recital. This year's theme is "Winter Wonderland" and the students have been cutting paper snowflakes this week as decorations for the church. We have also been working and memorizing the music since long before Christmas. Some of it will go very well. Some students have opted not to play because they are not ready. I allow this because I consider recitals opportunities rather than mandatory events. They are expected to attend the recital and cheer on the rest.

After the program, we're having an ice cream sundae bar. I'm bringing the ice cream and they are all bringing a topping. I've heard some wonderful ideas like crushed Andes mints, M&Ms, chocolate, butterscotch and caramel sauces, marshmallows, whipped cream and cherries. I'll try to remember to take some pictures for you. Two parents have offered to be ice cream scooper hostesses, one mom wanted to bring napkins and cups. It should be great fun, in addition to good music.

And there won't be one TV in the church! But there will probably be a few iPhones that checked for the helping that, I guess.

Here's my checklist for the recital. It changes slightly with every recital, but you get the idea. Enjoy whatever you do tomorrow; may it be musical in some way, and I hope that it's more than just the halftime show!

Ice cream
Donation Box for Haiti Relief Fund
Coffee urn
Key to building (!)
CD player
Mood music CD
Scotch Tape
Speaking notes
Schedule for Festival times

Friday, January 15, 2010

ABC's of a first timer Recital participant

I have several new students going to play at the recital this Sunday. I have decided to resurrect the ABC of recital 'what to do'.
A. Adjust the bench. Correct height and distance from the keys is necessary for your comfort and best playing.
B. Breathe. Everyone needs oxygen and we play best when we've taken a moment to get our brain in gear.
C. Concentrate on your music now. The baby fidgeting or mom's camera may be distracting, but your job is in front of you.

After you are finished playing you may go back to B. Breathe and bow. I think many of us would be successful at our jobs, lives and life in general if we took time to adjust, breathe and concentrate, huh?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Students' Favorite Christmas Presents

Parents sometimes wonder whether their presents were a hit or not. The five second question on the week returning to lessons was, "Favorite present?" I loved the answers. They were as varied as my students. Here is the list, in no particular order. If you shop for a birthday present in the near future, perhaps this list will help?

Personally, my children were (again) hard to shop for. They didn't want anything. Seriously, we tried! So, we took them to an amazing indoor waterpark and amusement park for 2 days. It was incredibly fun to play laser tag and zip down waterslides with them. We even went bowling! These two days were an incredibly special gift to me. Right up there though was hugging my dad on Christmas day.

Here is the student list: 2 iTouches, a trip to a hotel with a pool, multi-colored pens, an air hockey table, alarm clock for my iPod, 2 Wii Resort Sport, Wii Build a Bear, Glee soundtrack, a PS2, an iPod Adaptor, Belgian truffles, matching bed sheets, a digital camera, rain boots, a Swarkovsky crystal heart necklace, a ski trip to Colorado, a trip to Washington, DC to see my uncle, a Barbie dreamhouse, Sponge Bob Monopoly, drumsticks, a pogo stick, a watch, Zoo Zoo pets, money, and a blue ray player for the playroom.

I love to hear where my students are on the scale of materialistic items. Answers are revealing, for sure. Remember that these answers were their FAVORITE gifts. What was yours?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

THEME Thursday - Polka Dot

I'm going to lean heavily on the polka half of the polka-dot Theme today. When I was young, my parents, my aunts and uncles, and sometimes some cousins would go to the Play-mor Ballroom on a Saturday night. The bar did set-ups. Do you know what that means? Do bars still have set-ups? You brought the alcohol, and the "bar" poured the mix: seven-up, sours, ice, or what you needed for bitters or fruit. And every Saturday night, that place was packed for the live dance band.

Five year old me would learn the dances, schotisch, waltzes, flying dutchman, polka, and eventually I would fall asleep while the dancers would spin and twirl the night away. The following was one of my favorite songs. Now my daughter plays the clarinet. Hmmmm, any correlation? I do hope she'll play it sometime, but surprisingly, it has not been part of her lesson repertoire to date. Perhaps I should get it for her.

Boy, these guys can play!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Twelfth Day of Christmas

Most of you will know how to sing this Christmas tune...

On the first day of Christmas I said to my true love, "A box of chocolates-oh and they're for me!"
On the second day of Christmas I said to my true love, "It looks like a tornado."
On the third day of Christmas I said to my true love, "Yet another party?"
On the fourth day of Christmas I said to my true love, "Time to see the in-laws?"
On the fifth day of Christmas I said to my true love, "Is my (your) Mom insane?"
(and change the first day to, "A Box of chocolates, oh my belt is tight.)
On the sixth day of Christmas I said to my true love, "The new game just broke."
On the seventh day of Christmas I said to my true love, "Is it really -20?"
On the eighth day of Christmas I said to my true love, "When is this break over?"
On the ninth day of Christmas I said to my true love, "get this Christmas tree outta here!"
On the tenth day of Christmas I said to my true love, "How can there still be football?"
On the eleventh day of Christmas I said to my true love, "why are thank you's my job?"
On the twelfth day of Christmas I said to my true love, "We made it through another holiday!"
(and change the first day to "if I see another chocolate I shall barf.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Back in the Saddle

Happy New Year!
I was away from my piano for 4 days, and it was weird to practice today. I rehearsed with a singer for Sunday worship, and transposed from D Major to Bb on the fly. Not too bad considering my absence. I hope that my skills don't deteriorate further as I'm not planning to play for my students' upcoming recitals.
My personal new year's resolution is to have more fun and enjoy the people and things that are right in front it me.
My professional resolution is to "work as hard as my students". This will allow me to ebb and flow with the ones who are busting their backsides to do their best work, and relax on the students who are not. Thank you, Ingrid Clarfield, for the relief I find in your quote to me.

2010-the year I work as hard as my students. Yeah, I like the ring of that.

Who's been to Visit?