Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Obituary

Dad. My dad. My only dad. I am smiling for his sake. I weep for mine.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Poem

After an inspirational tour at the Minneapolis Institute of Art in May, I wrote a poem and sent it to my friend who had led the tour. It just made their docent newsletter! I think I'm going to start encouraging my students to make trips to wonderful places this year. I always get more out of these field trips than I ever anticipate.

Here is the poem:

The Inner Spirit
Chris Wolf
A prince and an eagle, soon Zeus’ cupbearer
12 years, artist’s labor
Portray an ideal-smooth skin, and preened feathers
Yet devoid of inner emotion, we search their faces in vain.

Her covered face, her arched back
A sense of flight, fleeing, agony, yearning
Will she fall to her bed in tears
Or be raptured by the unseen?

Oh blue stone, we want to swaddle you
Tucked in, fetal and vulnerable
Yet with your birth we embrace
All the future you represent.

Battle scarred and seated
We sense your power, defiance and valor
Still strong, you raise your shield
Bloodied, beaten, but not retreating.

Red glow of molten earth and sunset sky
Embodying the creatures of water and air
We are drawn to your chakra glow
Petroglyphs still inspire.

Our mothers above us, our mother below us
We kings are sandwiched between
Sitting in the visitor veranda
We face forward, and we ride.

Fierce, truthful abalone eyes
Center post of the house and
Lifeforce link to ancestors
Our home is safe under your gaze
and on your shoulders.

It is as natural as breathing to plant the land
His face content, he will feed his people
As many have before,
children will sow after him,
He has high hopes.

And here is an exerpt of what the mentor, Mary Grau, wrote: "...Last May I participated in Linda's... (class of ’09) final check-out tour. The theme of Linda’s Mostly Modern: 19th and 20th Century Art tour was Seeking the Inner Meaning in Human Sculpture. At each object Linda asked us to write down – on paper that she gave us, with pencils that she provided, on clipboards that she had made for the occasion – the single word that we felt best described the inner meaning of the sculpture that we were viewing. Then we all shared our choices with each other. The tour was wonderful; Linda’s creative use of interactive touring techniques, her thoughtful selection of objects and her own keen insights into them resulted in a delightful touring experience.

What those of us on the tour, including Linda, didn’t know was that one of the participants, Chris Wolf, was keeping track of all our responses. After
the tour Chris went home and turned our words into the poem you just read. Each stanza of the poem corresponds to one of the objects we discussed."

Here are the pieces that were on the tour.
1. Ganymede and the Eagle, Thorvaldsen
2. Torso of Adele, Rodin
3. The New One, John Flannagan
4. Warrior with Shield, Moore
5. Untitled,Whiteman
6. Ancestral Post, Agbonbiofe
7. Post Figure, unknown Maori
8. Farmer Sowing Grain, unknown, Japan.

Each of these pieces is still at MIA, I believe. I was able to obtain a photo of the #1 above (for the first stanza) from a "free photo of everything" website. I don't want to break on any copyrights of pieces, so please google them for a peek!
I think each of these stanzas could be a song, don't you? Thank you for appreciating my poem, Mary and Linda, it was such a moving tour.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Maybe Piano Teachers are Gullible

This was an email I received today. I have received several emails just like the one described below. Consider this a public service announcement today.

Dear music teacher:
Here's a timely reminder about internet scams directed at music teachers.

As many of you are likely aware, there has been a marked increase in the efforts of individuals performing acts of fraud via the Internet. Until recently these acts were not specifically targeted to independent music teacher; however, over the past few weeks many music teachers have received e-mails inquiring about having international students study with them. The person sending the e-mail poses as a parent interested in having their child or children study with them. The music teacher is offered prepayment for a certain amount of lessons, and once a cashier's check is sent and in the bank the teacher is asked to refund a large portion of the check because of some emergency or to pay for the fees the "parent" incurred in transferring the money and obtaining the check or for their children's travel. The cashier's check is an elaborate counterfeit and it takes the bank longer than usual to discover the fake.

If you receive an e-mail similar to one of those above do not respond to them. Due to the high number of these scams, it is impossible to investigate each e-mail. If you or someone you know have lost funds because of this type of fraud, please contact your local field office of the Secret Service. A list of field offices is available at

For more information about common types of Internet fraud, visit the FBI website at

Monday, September 26, 2011

You need to B Sharp!

A student needed to work on a few measures, isolated. I wrote in her notebook, #12-16, hands alone 2 days, then together like a turtle. She cocked her head, and said, "12-16 pounds?" Can you just see her trying to figure out how she was going to lift that much hands alone then together? She's 8! Oops!

It took us both a minute to stop laughing. Then we made the long list of all the things a # might stand for! We got the following list:

Number sign
Pound Sign
Measure Number
a Hashtag for Twitter (currently)
and her favorite: tic-tac-toe

It's even on your telephone, "after entering your pin, please press Pound (#)" for example. It doesn't say press "sharp", or "measure number". No wonder why she was confused!

Sometimes, it is all a matter of perspective. And sometimes, I still need to state the obvious because it may not be as obvious as I thought it was.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Welcome Address

I thought this was worth reading. Should I post this on my blog or on my Facebook "Wolf Piano" page? This time, I'll try both!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

IMT Meetings

I have been to a lot of teacher meetings in the last two weeks. My local, two classes, and a state level meeting have jarred me back to the life I used to live. I used to float among my peers and jabber with them, without any second thoughts. I took a 4 year sabbatical of sorts from many of these meetings while I was at my church job, and now I'm back, I think.

In those years of teaching before my hiatus, I became numb to the comments of the independent music teacher. I guess I trusted them and knew their personalities and could shrug my shoulders to much of it. I liken it to watching and getting desensitized to horror movies? Sort of?

I have recently found myself speechless when I usually had a quick retort to the various things that music teachers say. Don't get me wrong. I put myself in this select group of people. It's not our fault you know. We teach in a cave. We are isolated from our peer group and routine office banter. We are critically listening to students for hours on end. We even critically listen to the radio. We are encouraged to share our critiques with our students, and we begin to edge toward a teacher-student relationship with everyone, even people with whom we should be friends. I am one of the younger teachers in this arena, and I think I am sometimes regarded as needing daughterly advice. This is merely a guess.

So what happened to me? Why do these fairly innocuous conversations have me perplexed and wondering, what, exactly, did I used to talk about? Did I speak to others this way? I am so sorry when I did.

I will share a few examples with you for which I was dumbfounded. Perhaps you can help me think of something witty that I could have said. Maybe your humor will help me put aside my shock at these obviously common occurrences. May I be quick with an apology when I find myself becoming more like that. And I probably will because I will spend more time with them.

Piano teacher #1 approached me as I was seated in the classroom. She has known me over 20 years, but I was already coloring my hair back then! She was already graying then and has a beautiful, coiffed silver style today. She checked my roots (because I was seated!) and asked whether I color my hair. She commented on the pretty highlighting in the back and wondered how I had done that. I said only that I had been in the sun a lot this summer in my garden. Then I didn't answer her question. I just looked at her.

Piano teacher #2 at the break of the same class commented on my purple jacket and wondered whether it was real leather. When I said I didn't really know, she asked what I had paid for it, because that was one way to tell. I told her I had bought it at Macy's and she said that answered her question, turned around and left me standing there.

Piano teacher #3 skipped pleasantries other than a smile and a hello, and asked me what I was charging now. Her sister-in-law is teaching in my neighborhood and although her s-i-l only played through high school, she likes to charge $1.00 less than I do and was hoping I had raised my rates.

It seems a strange way to be welcomed back, but I'm back, I I I guess. Or I could just stay in my cave.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Carnegie Hall and The Achievement Program (TAP)

I think every pianist dreams a little dream to play at Carnegie Hall. I know that I did. There is something about it, about the very sound of 'Carnegie Hall'. There is an old joke that asks how to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. What "it" really stands for is probably different to each person. So many people have now performed there and do not go on to international fame, or have remained faceless in the sea of amazingly great pianists. Perhaps the grandeur of Carnegie is lost? NAH! Never! But we are in a different time and place than our pianist forefathers.

The Royal Conservatory (think Canada and England principally) already had in place a standard of assessment for musicians. They have now teamed together with Carnegie Hall to bring a national standard of measurement, as I understand it, to the United States. I am going to find out a LOT more information about it, and hope to share it with you over the next weeks and months. They have decided to call it TAP, The Achievement Program. Click on the New York Times article here if you want to read about the unveiling.

I have a LOT of questions before I read anything on their website or from the packet I received. Can students progress through levels at their pace? What areas does it cover? How strident are the exams? How would I implement it into the studio? Can we jump in in the middle? Where are the exams taken? What kind of volunteer work does it mean to me? What are the fees? Would it take the place of anything I'm using now or would it be an additional system to master and choose from? Would I get any willing studio families that might prefer a national exam to the Minnesota state exam? Are they comparable to Guild?

There is something compelling about a national standard to me. Wolf Piano currently uses the National Guild, which is malleable to each student. Teachers choose the elements of the exam that best showcase the students' attributes.

I have noticed that an intermediate student, or a level 5 student means nothing across the country, however. There is a part of me that would like to believe that a level 4 student knows x, y, and z. But it is rarely true. I know that there are gaps in some of my teaching for each student. Sometimes it is about the lack of time in a 30 minute lesson to get everything covered. Sometimes it is a matter of me; sometimes it is a matter of the student or the parent not wanting history, composer information, not too much theory, or technique. There is so much to bring to life about music!

What about the composition elements I teach and the other programs I already use? Would we do it all? What about the jazz and popular styles that many students learn here at my studio? Is it strictly "classical" (lower case "c")? Is this a good studio fit? Will it meet students where they are or try to bend them to the program?

I am a little reluctant to learn another new program. But I AM curious. Even my curiosity is curious. I am settled into a really good routine here. Why should I want to bother? Other progress programs are out there, tepidly. I already have favorite activities for each type of student. I am trying really hard to teach each student rather than use a standard method book or system for the whole studio. When I go to adjudicate at Guild, I notice some teachers that use the same pieces with every child. Suzuki teachers use the same pieces too. I just can't do that.

I have heard rumors that TAP may prepare students and earn college credit, similar to the AP (Advanced Placement) exams. Because it would be a national standard, it is a very interesting scenario when I, as a private teacher, could help contribute to a student's college admission in a tangible, real way!

A new program would change some of my teaching-it always does. It adds new deadlines, new mastery and new challenges for me AND the student. But would it change it for the better? I'm going to find out more.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Avast there Mateys!

After I took a week off this summer, which turned into 3 months, I have returned and it's Talk Like a Pirate Day! I will probably try to inject some "arrggg" into my lessons today, will you? I am excited to get back to writing this fall and have quite a few plans to investigate some new programs. I hope you'll stop by and 'weigh in' with your comments, and perhaps even 'blabber about it to yer mateys'. This is Shipmate Wolf, looking forward to sailing the musical seas with ya this year - avast! Keep yer spyglass 'pon this site for more messages in a bottle soon!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wedding Music - On CD?

I attended a wedding over the weekend; it was exactly what I was expecting it to be, even to the choice of pieces for Processional, Bride's Entrance, and Postlude. There does not seem to be a lot of variation in this category for young ladies anymore.

Sure there are the music majors that will jump happily out of the Pachelbel box, but for the most part there are trumpet voluntary and Bach renditions most accompanists can play in their sleep.

The surprise to me was that this wedding used a small keyboard with some synthesized string sounds and an electronic piano sound and the pianist was not prepared. He (nameless) hacked away at the staples of this genre, often skipping the B section completely because he didn't seem to know how to play it.

More important, I wonder whether the congregation even recognized the poor quality of the music. The bride was lovely, the message was great, but perhaps they should have used a CD.

That being said, I don't like canned music, especially for big events. This was the song the soloist sang while they lit the Unity Candle. My family was not happy that they chose "Train". The accompaniment for this piece could have been played with 3 fingers, as demonstrated in this open guitar part. And Nameless couldn't keep a pulse, so it was weird.

Enjoy your Monday!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Destruction-And so it Begins, Again

Help is on the way for the studio waiting room. Last year, we tackled my office proper. This year, we are moving outward to the waiting area of my teaching side of the house.

The first picture is my current teaching space, warm and inviting. One sweet student said I needed a sign for my office during the construction time, so she made one for the french door. I believe it's the best name plate I've ever had!

One of these pictures is a "before" of the studio waiting area with lots of framed inspirational autographs on the wall, and the keyboard. Although the keyboard will be back in that space, the bookshelves will not. Also, I plan to make a coffee table book of the autographs, rather than clutter the wall.

Our first event today was to get a trailer and take junk to the landfill.

Pictures will be posted occasionally, we are hoping that it will be fewer 'surprises' than the last room!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Making a Summer Schedule the Old Fashioned Way

If post-it notes could talk! I sent out a summer lesson form via email in May. Most families sent back their preferences in email or paper format. I planned to teach Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays this summer, in July and August (7 weeks).

There was an outcry of 4 students who "can't wait until July for lessons!" So I opened up the studio for Thursdays in June, and I'm full with an amazing 6 hours of studio time! This is a very pleasant financial surprise. Given that the church job is over, every lesson will be significant.

I asked around at convention yesterday and most of us are still doing the same scheduling paperwork, on paper. One brilliant, technology-savvy woman opened a Google calendar and had everyone put on their own dates. Since I'm almost done with the summer, I won't do that this time, but I'm going to remember that! There are always good tidbits and information at conventions! It would require that everyone get a Google account, but they are free. According to my teenage children, everyone has one anyway. According to my husband, everyone with an Android cell phone uses Google to gain access to the app market.

I am planning to use June as the Remodeling Month. We have already begun to tear apart the waiting area,to lighten, brighten and update. It's going to be a great improvement. I still really like my studio. So, students and parents will be in the midst of a construction zone on Thursdays.

But let's look beyond the initial, "um, ok let's see what I can do" reaction I had to teaching in June. I've sat back and thought about this. They wanted to continue lessons. That says so much about these students. I gave them the chance to do something else. And they love to play. Piano. In the summer. So do I. As I left my church job, that was one of the things I kept saying about the great loss I feel. I LOVE to play. I'm not the best, I'm not like the amazing classical pianists at the convention, but I love to play piano. I love to see how music moves people to smile, to cry, to dance, to pray, to connect, to remember, to love. It touches all ages. I love to be a part of connecting them to that deeper place. One day, that was even my Facebook status, because it is so true for me. And it is not true of all my colleagues.

I think I have stumbled upon something. So that's me. Still learning about my strengths. Hi, I'm Chris, and I love to play piano. I'm going to put it on a Post-it Note and think about it awhile.

Friday, June 3, 2011


In addition to my writing here, I've started a Facebook page entitled Wolf Piano. It will be an eclectic mix of daily video and/or music related items collected from the web. Much of the writing will not be mine there, it will be good stuff! "Like" today!

And thank you for reading some personal items as of late. I will be back to my teaching glimpses soon.

I'm still working on a foray into YouTube by the way. I'm also excited to start planning a studio excursion to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to combine an art and music "something" with my friend Linda. I'm composing a few things and breathing deeply.

I'm looking forward to the Minnesota state music teacher's convention next week. Check in here for highlights and lots of photos!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Schedule-Ends and Beginnings

I am between sessions at the moment. We ended the year with a spring recital and awards ceremony. The May month ended with two weeks of lessons to go over the guild report cards and get fun summer music, and then, poof, they were out the door to soccer, baseball, band concerts and final exams.

I did four great days of judging at MacPhail Center for the Arts. The students were well prepared and musical. The building is new, and state of the art! It has a main lobby with big screens announcing upcoming events. The office I was allowed to use had two grand pianos in good tune, and there are several group classrooms and concert areas, on 6 floors. It is near the stone arch bridge, the Guthrie, and some fine dining.

I ended my 3 1/2 year position with my beloved church on May 15. They ran out of money to pay me. I understand this, and their desire to not ask me to do the job for free. They are hoping to find volunteers to step forward. I am struggling most with the request of the pastor and the council to step away from the church for a period of time, called the whole summer. I agreed to this request, I was technically part of the decision making process, but it is so difficult to know that all my friends are making music and I'm not with them. Twice per week, the group is hanging out, having music therapy, and making a new way. I'm proud of the work I did to get them up and running, but I'm still grieving.

My father has become a permanent resident of the nursing home. He has declined significantly over the past two months, and the final diagnosis is residual radiation. Most people are fine with the dose he was given, but Dad was not, and it's still sitting in his head, gradually cooking other connections. He can no longer use his legs and they are using a machine to put him on the commode, in his wheelchair or in bed. His speech is impaired when he speaks at all, and he says his head is "foggy". He calls it chemo-head. Mom feeds him his food-she is there 12-14 hours/day, even though the nursing staff would be happy to give her a break. On Monday, the Mayo Clinic physician staff gently told Mom that their overseeing of his case was completed. She and I both realize that's their way of saying there's nothing more they can do.

Dad seems comfortable, he listens and is present for our conversations. He still likes his meals, however he has lost about 15 pounds. I have learned more about wheelchairs, coumadin, Medicare and Nursing Care. I am walking along side of incredible compassion, love, loss, and grief. We are striving to celebrate the better days.

And in the meantime, music is sustaining me. I'm writing, I'm listening. I've been asked to work with a staff member at the Minneapolis Institute of Art to design a tour combining art and music. Ideas abound. Your suggestions can be added to the mix on Facebook at Wolf Piano.

More soon, as the summer students begin to arrive with their stories!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Season of Melancholy

Quite significant events are happening in my life right now, and for the last month I decided I could not write about them. Too depressing, too much information, just too much. My thought was "who wants to read this?" But a few loving girlfriends have said that they did. Things are starting to clear and musically they need to come forth. Like new branches from a limb thought dead, I see signs of life, glimmers of truth that hope springs forward, and hope that I can see past the sadness to the promises.
The weather in Minnesota has not helped my mood either; we are still in the Forties, with four inches of snow last week and more predicted. Perhaps the weather will also soon turn to spring and improve my melancholy.
I really like that word, melancholy. Abe Lincoln often said he suffered with deep bouts of melancholy his whole life. I don't care much for the season of melancholy, but I think the word transports me to a very deep place.
As I work through the events on paper, please see through the words to the place in my heart that is still grounded in love. I am hopeful, in spite of what you may hear.
The pictures are earlier April, as I begged for winter to release its grasp of my yard.

Monday, March 14, 2011


The images of Japan are overwhelming me. I have finished composing one piece, and am moving on to another, but they are from a dark place of deep longing to relieve pain. I had a drink of cool water this morning, in my climate controlled home, put on clean clothes, and knew where my friends and relatives were. This is profoundly significant to me. This is what matters.

But dwelling on the hurt in Japan very long is no help to anyone.

On a different "note", here is a video using the number pi turned into song. It would have been even better if the video had been 3.14 minutes long, after he made such an effort to use the number everywhere else!

I can't seem to find focus today. I find my brain trying to make sense of the devastation. The sheer math of it all, the number of bodies, the miles of tsunami damage, the trillions into the economy, the potential nuclear disaster numbers of particles of radiation in the air, the one volcano rumbling, make me come back to the place of "one". How can we overcome this? One person at a time, one family reunited, one meal provided, one maker over all. That, that I can do, that I can rest in. One prayer I send, one donation I make will make a difference. One moment to stop thinking of myself. We get to carry each other.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Difference is in the Details

We are always doing some sort of warm-up before the pieces for the week. This week the preparations begin for the end of the year piano "report cards", through the National Guild of Piano Teachers.

The NGPT has established fine charts and levels of scales, chords, arpeggios, sight playing, ear training, transposition and improvisation for each level of piano study. There are 6 elementary, 6 intermediate and 4 preparatory young artist levels of each category.

I like to photocopy the sheet from the book so that the student can highlight his progress as he makes his way across the chart at his level. When performing 10 pieces for memory, up to 3 of these musicianship elements can be counted as the same level of difficulty as memorizing a piece. Often there are parts of this list at which a student excels, so we cross those off first.

Now is the time when the copies get taped into their "hardest" book cover, and we make plans to learn as many of the seven elements as diligently as possible. Because the motivation of learning a "few scales" can seem easier than a whole piece, we really learn some good technique. I am always encouraged by the way students are diving in to these challenges right now. It's almost as if spring studies get ramped up now. I think they feel the details of the change in the seasons coming too.

According to a nature preserve I visited over the weekend, the month of March includes details that the monarchs have left Mexico, the robins will soon be gathered in our yards in groups of 20 or more, and the average high is above freezing almost every day. My camera broke recently and I did not take the pictures you see above. But I hope to have a new camera as there is soon going to be a lot to photograph. Although we still had a snowfall on Sunday that was snowblower worthy, I am also sensing the sun that is higher in the sky. The awakening from a long winter is so invigorating.

I wonder whether the monarchs do any warm-ups before they fly every day. Caterpillar Calisthenics? What an amazing trip they make to and from Mexico. What kind of preparations do they make?

This weekend, there are several students of the studio "Going to State" in piano, through the Minnesota Music Teachers Association. It will be held over two days at the University of Minnesota, Ferguson Hall. We are having the tough last lessons, reminding them that they are competing against all the other winners, and that details matter. Strong musicianship will serve them well. What an amazing trip some of these students make, from all over the corners of this state and western Wisconsin. Thousands started the journey last fall with music, many of them participated in the preliminaries and now, some have survived to make the finals. It is also a long arduous journey.

Monday, March 7, 2011

March Month of Composing

This year at the studio we will be composing under the umbrella of Destinations. The first week, students will merely dream about a place to visit and describe it. It can be real or imaginary. These descriptions will help us to write a piece that is like our vacation spot. I've already heard some very good ideas! Where would you like to visit? I'm still hoping for a sunny locale.

So, choose a place, and then set some describing words in your mind or on a little notecard. Why do you want to go there? Have you been there before? Is it a warm or cool place, is the pace fast or slow? Is it noisy or quiet? Sights, smells, and language all play a part in writing descriptively. Have a good time with this, it should not be laborious.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Day's Work for a Day's Pay

What is a "normal" amount to receive for a day's pay? Is a day 8 hours long? Do you break it into an hourly wage? Do you add your benefits package pro-rated for one day? As a self-employed person, I set my wage, I pay for my own benefits. This is a difficult assignment. What can the market bear; what are others charging in my neighborhood? Should that matter? What are their degrees? What are parents willing to pay for piano lessons for their child? What is reasonable and true?

According to, the average daily wage today is $15.00/hour, but it also states that a day's wage is $70. The figures don't match. This means a person was not working 8 hours but closer to 5 hours, or that the hourly wage is really closer to $10. If I take 8 hours times the $15 rate, I get $120.

According to Wikipedia, the median income of the US was $49,777 in 2010. This covers ALL jobs across all levels of education and experience. It also doesn't match the other figures mentioned. $15/hour is $31,200 per year, or $49,777 is almost $24.00 per hour. And I have no idea whether benefits are part of these figures.

I was asked my salary again today. The person didn't ask it directly. They first casually asked how many students I'm teaching. Then, later in the conversation, they asked how much I'm charging these days. All innocent questions. I have always side-stepped these with "I teach full-time, I teach part-time, or my studio is full enough for me", and "oh, are you interested in lessons; I have a few openings." I think it would be a shocker if I asked what their salary was, although men around me are much more likely to discuss their salaries, as a general rule.

My husband says I'm overly sensitive to these questions and it is part of my business to share what the cost of lessons are to potential students. I agree. I am inclined to believe that this was not a potential studio family asking, however.

And so the next question I have to ask myself is what is a good day's wages? I have an advanced degree and tons of experience. When I'm asked to judge for a day, what should I expect for a day's work? Some expect that I am being given a stipend and that some of my judging is to encourage the next wave of musicians, a "pay-it-forward" mentality.

Judging is and is not hard work. You must be a critical listener, fast on your feet, so-to-speak, You want to be amiable, courteous, and able to discern a child's nerves. I am asked to understand without asking the student whether they have put their best effort into their performance or whether it was slung together on a whim a week before the event. I am being asked to write my thoughts coherently, with good penmanship, in 5 minutes or less, and move to the next student.

On the flip side, it is not physical labor. It is not as dirty or difficult as waitressing, nursing, or being an auto mechanic. It's not like the Dirty Jobs on television by any means.

A professional in law works for $250/hour, a director of sales is pulling in over $120/hour, a waitress friend of mine at a really nice restaurant makes tips in excess of $300/for a Friday night shift and is often working about 5 hours. A friend at Kohls department store makes $10/hour. The girl at the Kwik Trip is making minimum wage and has to clean the restroom.

I received a possible judging assignment in the mail today. I have to decide whether or not I wish to sign on for this position. It is four days for $700.00. They are 8 hour days. Is this a fair wage? 32 hours is about $22/hour. This is $2/hour lower than the median income rate. It seems decent, but not glamorous. The organization needs capable judges, but has to charge a manageable fee to the students who will take the exam that I will adjudicate.

I've decided to stop comparing. I will now try to refuse to compare my salary, my hourly rate, my life, my house, or anything else the world would like me to covet with anyone else. That's when my trouble starts, ya know? Try to measure up? I lose. Try to rank my playing, my children, my grocery bill, my job against anyone else's? Not going there. I just can't do it any more. I just don't want to measure myself anymore.

In some ways I think it's crazy that I'm debating with myself over getting this kind of money to do what I love; I get to sit with kids and talk about music and then listen to theirs. It's $700 for goodness sake! I'm going to say yes, in the current economic situation. What an insult, some will say, and roundly put it down, with a snort. I know others that would love to make so much.

Where do you stand, not that I'm asking what you make....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


I know I am not alone in wishing for SPRING, emphatically! It was a killer winter in the Midwest, and the snow is as high as an elephant's eye. (gosh, I used past tense, I hope that's a sign) These are my neighbors' mailboxes. We need a serious meltdown? And also one that is gentle on the floodplains.

I have no doubt that some of you have seen this story before. But, I will put it out there because it was new to me. A friend of mine sent it in an email this morning. How did she know that I needed it? May you find what you need in the story as well.

"It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO. I have decided to choose one of you," said the retiring, successful businessman.

The young executives were shocked as the boss continued. "I am going to give each one of you a seed today - one very special seed. I want you to plant it, care for it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO."

Jim went home excitedly with his seed, and told his wife the story. Together, they got a pot, soil and compost and planted the seed. He tended it with great care. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow.

Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing grew. Three weeks, four weeks, months went by, nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn't have a plant and he felt like a failure. He just knew he had killed
his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim
didn't say anything to his colleagues, however, he just kept watering and
fertilizing the soil - He so wanted the seed to grow.

One year later, the young execs brought their plants to the CEO for inspection. Jim felt sick to his stomach, it was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew he had to be honest. He took his empty pot to the board room. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful, in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor in the corner, and many of his colleagues laughed, a few felt sorry for him. "Ho ho, Jim, way to grow 'em," they chided.

When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives. Jim just tried to hide in the back. "My, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown," said the CEO. "Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!"

All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim in the shadows with his empty pot. He ordered the Financial Director to bring him to the front. Jim was terrified. He thought, "The CEO knows I'm a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!"

"What happened here, Jim?" Jim shrugged and told his story.
The CEO asked everyone to sit down and then announced to all, "Behold your next Chief Executive Officer! One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead - it was not possible for them to grow.

All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When
you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the
one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring
me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new
Chief Executive Officer!"

I'm so judgmental. I am a teacher who is a critical listener. I also am a judge who gets paid to differentiate between good and better performances. I can instantly have an opinion on almost anything. I hate it and love that about myself. It's almost impossible to turn it off. But that doesn't make it right.
May I keep striving to be planting good seeds, seeds of love and acceptance. Dang it, dang it, when I mess up without walking in anothers' shoes.

What are you planting?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Musical Hats

My many hats collided this weekend to make for a fun, yet exhausting, jam-packed 48 hours. Musicians as a general rule get the privilege of forging out a career by working a lot of different jobs, rather than one. I am not unique in this difficult yet rewarding balancing act.

Why do you think I do this to myself? I have a hard time saying no. I admit it. I loved each of the single events I attended, but when you add them all up, it was sort of crazy. Add to the mix that I want to be a good daughter to aging parents, a responsible parent to teens, a wife, don't forget wife!, friend, and the music events were over-the-top important.

I found some time to practice over the weekend with my daughter, who performed a clarinet piece in the high school solo and ensemble festival today. It's so much fun to play with her, and there's only one more year to do this together. I wasn't going to miss this fast-disappearing opportunity.

There was a concert on Friday night which brought together 10 bands of Lutheran song writers. They each showcased 2-3 of their songs. It was a long night, over three hours, but one band in particular made it all worthwhile. I have been playing their music over a decade and this was the first time I met them. I even got the lead songwriter's autograph for a friend! They were terrific. The whole event was humbling really. The room was so full of talented musicians. Many levels of performance leadership to observe, as well as soundboard and acoustics, and what the audience enjoyed. I am so glad I went.

Saturday, I got to do some judging. Now usually the day is 8-3, or 9-3:30 with a nice bunch of breaks, and about 45-50 students at 10 minute intervals. It's not rushed or lengthy, but this year it was 8-5, and 60 students. My hand was so tired, each critique is 3/4 of a page to write. My ears got tired too, if you know what I mean. I felt bad that the last of the students was not getting the same critical listener that the first half of the day received. I let the chair know that I couldn't do that size day again. I hope they ask me again; I like to hear the students, and I believe I have something to say to them. I agreed to do this judging over a year ago, no way to get out of it.

But I believe that the biggest "event" of the weekend was the special music at worship on Sunday. It was only a two minute piece, but I sweated it the most! I play keys and lead the band at a mission church. We were studying Matthew 6. During the planning, I sent an email link of the Bob Marley song, "Three Little Birds" to the pastor and said, "What about this for the Special music during the Offering. Just kidding (sort of, it even talks about the 3 little birds!)" Well, poof, we learned it, reggae and all, although we're a bunch of white kids!

It was made all the more difficult when the drummer didn't come to practice. I have this huge problem that I want everything I'm involved in to go really well. It's chronic. It's a burden, and I can't help it. But how do you say "hey - where were you to practice this?" when it's church? All are welcome, all gifts accepted. There is such tension in this for me. I'm living in it, I'm workin' it out, no worries, but woah, it's so hard some days.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Type A" stands for Anxious, not Admirable

• Breathe deeply - Have you ever noticed your breathing when you're feeling stressed or moving at warp speed? It' s probably shallow and tight. Borrow a tip from professional athletes, and take a few slow, deep breaths to relax and collect yourself.
• Take a walk - "Take a hike" can be good advice. Not only does it help burn off nervous energy, but you can get some exercise and enjoy the scenery, which can help you think more clearly than you might if you' re always tethered to your desk or buzzing about mindlessly.
• Eat well - Busy people can be chronic meal-skippers, or too frequently eat junk food on the run. Heavy foods, too many or too few calories, and inadequate nutrition can make you feel like you're short on fuel. Go for the veggies, fruits, grains and lean proteins - a nutritionist can provide advice and a list of nutritious, high-energy foods.
• Drink water - Most people don't drink enough water, and end up feeling dehydrated, tired, cranky and achy. Next time you feel dry or in need of a liquid "pick me up," go for the water bottle instead of coffee or soda. In fact, experts say that once you feel thirsty, you' re already dehydrated, so drink up. An added bonus? Water helps flush toxins away.
• Slow down - "Type A" stands for anxious, not admirable. Don't worry; you don't have to plod along or come to a stand-still. By making sure your mind is actually where your body is, you' ll feel (and appear) less scattered, think more clearly, and be more effective. Good time-management and delegation strategies can help avoid confused priorities and schedule-melt-downs.
• Team up - If you're a burned-out business owner, chances are good that there' s at least one thing you' re not very good at: letting other people help you get things done. Whether via delegating to employees, partnering with other firms or vendors, or simply networking for support and advice, sharing the load with other people can help avoid burnout.
• Sleep well - A good night's sleep isn't a luxury; it's a necessity for clear-thinking and mindful responsiveness (versus mindless reactivity). Aim to get a good night's rest by watching what you eat before you go to bed, turning off the television and computer, taking a few minutes to slow down and transition from "busy day" to "restful night," sipping some herbal tea and listening to soothing music.
• Loosen up - Tight muscles and narrow, critical thinking exacerbate stress and propel you toward burnout. One solution? Find ways to stretch both body and mind. Yoga or other gentle stretching loosens tight muscles, while similar "mind exercises" help lessen chronic perfectionism, judgmentalism and criticism.
• Have fun - Laughter is great medicine, so provide yourself with a basket of toys at the office, watch your favorite funny movies, play with your kids or animals, choose to be around people who make you laugh, or just laugh at yourself when you get overly serious or cranky. It' s nearly impossible to wallow in your stress when you' re enjoying a good belly laugh.
• Get away - Whether for an hour, a day, two weeks or a month, unleash yourself from your business and concentrate 100 percent on someone or something else. Don' t eat lunch at your desk, don' t call in or do work while on vacation or out for a "vision day," and don' t spend your allotted rejuvenation time busying yourself with chores. Remember the old saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy." Clean kennels at the pound, get a facial at the spa, see a movie in the middle of a workday afternoon, read a book, listen to music, take a hike in nature, or take a nap. Just recharge your battery.

I copied these from somewhere, but now I can't find the resource. I give total credit to someone else; I didn't write them.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Working out, Burning Out

Here's a little exercise I found very helpful. I left List 1 on the refrigerator for weeks, and hung the Top 5 list inside a cupboard door for a long time.

list the things that give real meaning to what you do.
Write down what attracted you to your current job or profession in the first place. List the things about it that you find fulfilling now. Include the value of the profession to humanity and what excites you about it. Think about what you want to achieve within it, and what you think is important to doing the job well.

There are 3 major factors for stress. Job stress, relationship stress, and money stress. Is the job really the problem? You may be blaming the job for a relationship or financial stress.

This will give you a long list of things that are good about what you do.

From List 1, identify the five things that give the greatest meaning to your work. These should be the things about the job that most inspire you. Write these down in order with the most important item at the top of the list. This list shows you the things that you should protect as much as you can.

Finally, write down the things that frustrate you most about your work. This may involve things like inadequacy of resource, lack of recognition, or bureaucracy. As well as this, list the factors that are causing you difficulty and which are likely to cause stress in the future.

Now work through the list of things that give you meaning item-by-item. For each item, look at the list of frustrations. Where these threaten the things that are most important to you, note these down: These are particular pressure points that you need to monitor.

Think these through carefully, and plan in advance how you will handle build-ups of stress in these areas.

You are most vulnerable to burnout when the stresses you experience impact negatively on the things that you find most fulfilling in your job. Not only do you experience the unpleasantness of stress, you lose the job satisfaction that counter-balances this.

As well as this, by understanding what gives meaning to your work, you know how to steer the development of your job to give yourself the greatest job satisfaction.

Friday, February 18, 2011

36 Little Ways to De-stress

I'm only preaching to myself, here's a list I'm working on. This was also part of the Avoiding Burnout session I presented to the lovely Rochester Keyboard Club last week.

I am so tired of the clouds, the snow, and the fog. Perhaps these will help me focus on something else?

1. Clean out your desk. Do you really need to hang on to those dried-out markers?
2. Join or engage in your professional organization. Read professional literature. You will learn many things that will make your job easier. Attend a convention; seek out other teachers to commiserate, I mean collaborate, on ideas.
3. Continue to play and practice. You joined the music community for a good reason.
4. Stay ahead in photocopying and planning.
5. Use a syllabus to help your students stay organized. A syllabus will let your students and their parents or guardians see that you are a serious teacher who has a serious purpose.
6. Have enough supplies. It is annoying to have to hunt for the last paper clip or marking pen.
7. Leave your desk and piano clean at the end of the day so that you can start the new one off fresh.
9. Have an established routine at the start of the lesson so that your students can discipline themselves. Perhaps it is warm-up scales or a theory page or computer time. This gives you a chance to breathe between students.
10. Planning lessons for each student is part of our job. Have a short and long term goal for each student and for your studio.
11. Have a system for students to use to check out shared supplies.
12. Be accurate in the way you keep attendance and billing records.
13. Don’t work through lunch/dinner. You need a break.
14. Have each student complete an information sheet so that you have all of the information you need to contact a parent or guardian.
15. Be reasonable in the amount of homework you assign. Help students see that it is an important part of their learning process. They can see through busy work. You don’t need more to correct.
16. Delegate some work to your students and parents. One of them would LOVE to be the next recital hostess. One of them might have a terrific time decorating for the theme, or coming up with a theme.
17. Share recitals, be a part of a larger group to share the work load. Many hands…
18. If you can, use your most productive time of day to do your hardest tasks.
19. The universal teacher lunch of a soft drink and anything from a vending machine will not give you the energy you need to get through the afternoon.
20. Wisely use those small blocks of time you have between appointments. If a student misses a lesson, how do you spend that time?
21. Plan interesting lessons with lots of varied activities to hold your students’ attention.. It is just as important to hold your own attention. If you did a masters in Chopin, walk students into that pool of knowledge.
22. Have a place during lessons to safely store your keys and other personal belongings so you don’t have to worry about them.
23. Arrive a little early and stay a little late, but more than 10 minutes may be a waste.
24. Jot quick notes on your lesson plans about what worked and what you need to improve before you teach the same unit of material again or a specific student had trouble in what area so you can focus on it again.
25. Dress professionally even on casual days. You don’t want to attend an impromptu parent conference dressed in ragged jeans and old sneakers.
26. Set up a folder for each student so that you can store the paperwork that crosses your desk.
27. Share a laugh with your students and with your colleagues. Nothing chases stress away faster.
28. Plan your lessons by the year, the semester, the week, and the day.
29. Keep a book of inspirational sayings handy for you and your students to read on tough days. Show them their old guild or recital programs. Sometimes they need to see their progress too. Play through a favorite piece from an old book. It invigorates everyone!
30. Be flexible. Much of what you do just can’t be done perfectly. Adjust your expectations for perfection if necessary.
31. Be friendly, most of all to yourself.
32. Add a green plant or flowers to your room.
33. Decorate your classroom with students’ work if possible.
34. When the task seems impossible, remind yourself that teachers made a difference in your life when you were younger. You can do the same for your students.
35. Make a list of the reasons why you chose education as your profession. Tuck it away in a safe place, but carry it in your heart. Keep a happy file for yourself-remember those little successes and how far you’ve come.
36. Search out beauty. Poetry, art, music, people, take photographs, write, cook, engage the senses.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Playing to our Strengths

I re-read my Strength Finders book last week.

I'm encouraging everyone to not only read, but put it into practice in their teaching. Let's chat after you've found out your strengths!

It's at the public library, however, I'm not sure you can use the codes. It is changing how I work with students. It is asking me to look for their strengths, rather that continuously try to shore up their weaknesses.

It's pretty terrific, again.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Chili Cook-Off to Tackle Hunger

Last Sunday, as many prepared appetizers and Super Bowl food, our church's youth organized a chili cook-off. Congregation members generously donated crockpots of their favorite recipes and homemade cornbread. Others brought crackers, sour cream, chopped onions, and cheese. Can you imagine the wonderful smell? Hamburger and secret ingredients filled the gym with the spicy aroma of caring for the hungry.

The Souper Bowl of Caring is a youth-led national movement that last year raised over 10 million dollars, which were given to local charities of the group's choice. According to their website,, one in six people (one in four children) in America live in food insecure households. Our youth decided to donate any money gifted to the Farmington Food Shelf.

Two empty soup kettles represented the opposing teams. Suggested donations were $5.00 per bowl, and you voted by placing any amount of money in your favorite team's kettle. People had access to unlimited chili, cornbread and beverages. You were also given a poker chip which you used to vote on your favorite chili.

During the course of the morning, someone started a bowl to donate to the commercials and halftime as the reason to watch. This bowl got $30 in gifts!

Our mission church served over seventy people, and raised $445 dollars to fight hunger in our county. The Packers won the game and raised the most money that morning. It was so much fun; people were relaxed and generous, and are already discussing next year's event. We are considering adding soup as well as chili next year, and making sure the rest of the community knows they are invited!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Firetrucks and Pillows

I spent a generous amount of time explaining dynamics to a young lad on Thursday. This involved a brief overview of Italian terms forte and piano, their meaning being strong and quiet. I was engaging, took questions, we tried some warm-ups in both. And when I was finished, he replied simply, "that's not what my teacher at school said."

"Well, how did she describe dynamics?" I asked.

"She said that F stands for Firetruck, you know, really loud, like a siren, and that P stands for Pillow, soft."

"I'm glad that your remember that. Can we try them in your piece?"

But I confess. All the while he was playing Firetruck and Pillow I was wondering why in the world would you give different names to the symbols "F" and "P" like this? They're pretty standard, after all. Perhaps in a classroom setting, you're teaching to the lowest common denominator? Perhaps it was a success because he could tell me about it at a different lesson. I have always liked the fact that our instrument was named a Quiet. It didn't much fill much more than a 10x10 room when it began its life so long ago.

There's a phrase on a bumper sticker that says, "Piano is my Forte". Forte. Strong suit, my strength. I can't go around explaining that Piano is my Firetruck, nor do I wish to ever play it with the sound of a siren.

The other item that often tweaks me, while we're at it, is that piano is not soft, but quiet. It is a term of volume, not of touch, in my opinion. I often correct even the method books who use the term "soft" in their piano descriptions. Perhaps I'm in a persnickety mood as I cross out their word and write in "quiet".

Volume on a piano is a matter of the speed in which the key is depressed. The faster that the hammer hits the string the more forte it will be. Yes, then. If you depress the key softly, as in gently, it will be most likely also quiet. It may also be wimpy. I am constantly striving to play my instrument the most well-voiced quiet I can get. I have heard some pianists master their piano, in both senses of the word. So, I want my students to play quietly, and avoid wimpy.

Thanks for listening to my rant today. I feel better. But ranting is not usually my forte. And now I'll be piano.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Judging the MMTA Contest - 2011

I had the privilege of being a critical listener to fifty-four 7-8 year olds over a 6 hour span of time on Saturday. The event took place at a local northern metro (Minnesota) college. The Minnesota Music Teachers Association (MMTA) uses the lobby as a registration hub, and many, many rooms in the Fine Arts and Community Center areas for judging over both Saturday and Sunday. Thursday, a local piano store rolled in over a dozen pianos, Friday they were all tuned and tweaked. There is a judge coffee and waiting area, several of the normal campus hangout areas were today occupied by families and piano students.

MMTA does a contest for many different instruments and young artists of every caliber are encouraged to participate. The event this weekend is their piano division preliminary contest. Winners of this event will go to the Final Contest in mid-March. I have judged intermediate and early advanced levels the past few years, so it was very fun to see the young students again. The halls are bustling with students and doorkeepers, all making sure that they make it to the correct room at the correct time, with the correct piece. The preliminary contest this year takes place at many locations around the state, but over 3800 students will participate. It's a big deal.

This was my room; it's really more like a closet or a walk-in refrigerator sized hole. The door shuts if you move the bench back toward the piano, and there is room for one chair. I am left-handed, but the desk chair is rarely a lefty. It's a cozy little area, isn't it? The students and I spend 6 quality minutes together in here.

This is often a child's first experience at a judged event. I try extra hard to be kind and smile broadly. Many of them have spent months learning their 16 measure pieces. They came in their holiday dresses-ruffles, sparkles, bows and ribbons, the young boys in their clip-on ties and button down shirts. Their dress pants were belted, and their hair was combed. Nerves run high. You can feel it in the halls. Parents made a special effort to get here, from far away sometimes. Perhaps they have high expectations for their child musically. Some of them remember participating in an event like this as a child. Most of them are as nervous as the student.

My daughter walked up to this building last spring and still remembered those nervous feelings, years later. She said it felt like she was there to play even though she wasn't, and she didn't like it. Here are a few of the completely cute things that I experienced.

Not knowing that she was supposed to be anonymous, she walked up to the door and said, "HI! My name is Emily!" "Well, hi there, my name is Chris! Would you like to play for me today?"

Another student walked in the room, looked at me and said, "WOW! We're wearing the same colors! I have blue and black on too-see my pretty black flower right here? My shoes are a little tight."

Another said, "Oooh, I really like your earrings. I'm gonna get my ears pierced for my birthday."

About 6 students in a row came in with no front teeth.

After I heard a darling student in a bright orange dress with fushia trim perform, I opened the door to return her music. There were two of them there! "I'm Emma, SHE's Emily. It's her music not mine. Did you know we're twins?"

One student stopped dead in the middle of his piece, turned to me with huge eyes and said, "I'm reaaaalllly nervous!"
"Would you like a do-over? You can have one free start over today. This first one won't count, if you like."
"Really? OK. Free do-overs are great."

And finally, a young lady played her piece really well. It was musical, polished, and confident. She got to the last two measures and there were only two "C"s left. And she completely blanked on C number one. She tried a G, she tried a B, she backed up and started four measures prior, and nailed it. And then she looked like she was going to cry. I quickly raised my finger ala Maria in the Sound of Music. (Remember Maria at the market when the little one dropped the tomato?) "You played well", I smiled, and made eye contact, and smiled some more. All better.

Phew. The students came prepared, and hopefully had a good experience. I can't wait to hear how my own students did.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Year Older

It was my birthday yesterday. I share the day with Lewis Carroll, Jerome Kern, and Wolfgang Mozart, among others. A friend sends me the Writers Almanac by Garrison Keillor on my birthday every year. I am always humbled that she remembers my day, "bless her pea-pickin' heart" (a phrase the man in the picture used 'a ton').

Today I told all my students that it was my birthday. The cute 5 year old looked at me, "You have birthdays? How old are you?" So, I told him it was January 27 and that I was 27. He thought that was old. Good thing I didn't tell him the truth, huh? And yes, I have birthdays. His mom was sure laughing when we were finished with the lesson. But I'm not sure whether she was laughing at the questions he posed, or the answer I gave!

A friend of mine asked me, "What did you get for your birthday?" I said, "Another year older and deeper in debt." Hey, that was an old Tennessee Ernie Ford song. My kids said, "Who's Tennessee Ernie Ford?" He's a singer from the 50s was all I knew.

Ernie Ford got his start as a radio announcer, was a pilot over Japan in WWII, and after the war, was again announcing for a country station in Pasadena, when he developed the character of Tennessee Ernie. He really became well known when he portray the country bumpkin on three episodes of "I Love Lucy", had a hit with the Davy Crockett song, then landed a signature piece with "Sixteen Tons".

Tell me you don't snap your fingers along with this!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's a Workbook, not a Library book

A student was having a lot of trouble with a piece in 5 flats. Out came my pencil for her to write in the usual left hand suspects. I had her write them in as she practiced hands separately.

When we finished, she looked at me dejectedly. "I feel like I just corrected my math homework and got 22 wrong out of 25."

Oh, I felt so badly.

It's hard not to feel like I should be able to play any piece correctly the first time. I know my more advanced students feel similarly. We've achieved a certain level, done due diligence, paid the "dues", so to speak. And yet I find myself needing to practice. Every day. Shouldn't there just come a time when I can sightplay anything and have it be perfect?

One of the statements I made that day to her, was that this was a workbook, not a library book. We can write all over it, and then erase it when we have muscle memory to help us remember. We also worked on the scales and chords that are in Db major.

The big message I need to remind myself is that I'm not expected to be tested on the material until I've studied it and learned it first. When I really know something, I won't need the reminders anymore. And this will be true for her too.

Here's Yuja Wang, discussing her recent CD. She still practices. She came to the Schubert Club and gave an outstanding concert. I got this CD for my bithday in the mail today! Wow, right? I am inspired.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Could Get Used to This!

Due to a combination of snow, cold, and illness, I had the pleasure of seeing a student Wednesday, Friday, and again on Monday last week. At the Monday lesson, when she realized we had made a great deal of progress on her pieces, she exclaimed, "I could get used to this!"

Well, so could I! I noticed immediately that mistakes were not ground in after a week on her own. She practices every day and knew exactly what I was expecting TOMORROW to be accomplished. There was no time for sedentary behavior on her or my part. In fact, I would love to schedule all of my studio this way, all the time.

Oh, if I could get direct feedback from an instructor on my pottery class three times per week, or to have a directed approach to fitness or a goal I wanted to achieve. I wonder how feasible it is to question the once per week lesson approach.

My father is going to have some physical therapy, which will meet three times per week at first. A friend of mine lost a lot of weight, weighed in every other day. It kept her accountable, she said.

I wonder in what area of my life I could use this strategy? It certainly would be worthwhile if it was a goal worth achieving.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Potter Puppet Theory-Success!

I gave that theory assignment last week, and every single student did it! I was shocked that they could clap, repeat and sing all the puppet parts, in duet, with me on another part. Ok, maybe shocked is too strong. But all of them had gone home and really listened to the rhythm of the voices. Not all of them could write the rhythm on paper, but many of them had the right idea.

One student exclaimed that he'd do theory every week if it could be fun. One of them wanted to go through every part, "and you be the other one, ok? Now you do Hermione!"
This has me thinking. Why did they like it? I believe it was because it was relevant. It was visual and multi-media. And like the young man, I'd like to do that sort of thing every week, and keep it fun!

I think it's time to dip my studio into the land of You Tube. I will need to keep the students anonymous. I will want it to be educational. It needs to be fun! And maybe it needs to be like candy, something you want to partake of, just because it's yummy. And bright colored. And kid friendly. And easy. And imaginative. Oh boy!

I love this challenge. You'll know about it soon. Let's see what these kids and I come up with!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Puddle Jumping-A Memory Metaphor

We are really close to ready for the upcoming festival and preliminary contest in the studio. Many students have just a small memory slip here and there, but sound quite musical. With 2 weeks before the competition, we are in relatively good shape and spirits.

Without thinking about what we were saying today, a student and I decided that those dang ole memory spots were like puddles. She kept wanting to back up in the piece and try to go through the muddy spot by going backward first. I suggested that she jump over the puddle and keep on going.

My concern with memory issues is the vicious cycle of getting stuck in the same spot and never getting out of the endless loop. I have been known to be on the musical highway from here to there, and taken the wrong exit, so to speak, and wound up in Poughkeepsie, rather than Atlanta. If I hadn't tried to go around the road block and make up my own offramp, I would have been on the right highway.

My friend, Miriam likes to embarrass me about the time in Pedagogy class when I was asked to play my Beethoven Sonata, Op. 2 movement I was working on.

I was not mentally prepared to play this one. I had been working really hard all week on my Debussy Reflections on the Water. So, somehow, in the middle of the Beethoven I took an off ramp, and got to the the middle of the Debussy anyway, without missing a beat, she claims.

I think I must have had some stumbling around; they're centuries apart, and not anything close to the style of each other. I don't really recall many of my pedagogy performances. What I do recall was what everyone else was performing. I still think of some of my colleagues in terms of what they were preparing musically.

I think if I had been a puddle jumper rather than an off-road 4-wheeling warrior, it would have served my better, but we'll never know. For now, I'll teach to hop over, and not try to go around the mud. And hopefully, ultimately, fix the puddle!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"When it Rains, It Pours"?

I'm having an incredibly trying, tantrum evoking, kick off to 2011. When I have exasperatedly and dramatically expounded on my many disasters over the course of a few days, several people (read 7 and counting!) have chosen the phrase, "when it rains, it pours!"

What a funny, curious thing to say. I wonder where it came from? I found a website that had the above cute graphic and said, "it hasn't happened in a long time, and then it happens all at once." It then sighted some examples of how to use the idiom correctly. But what I was really hoping for with my blathering on and on was a more philosophical discussion of why. Why now? The age of the furnace and the refrigerator are not the same or are they old. Are the car and the electrical box on some sort of electro-magnetic wavelength with each other so that they both decide to fail within 20 minutes of each other?

Some have suggested that the latest lunar eclipse was going to bring some cataclysmic appetizers as our world comes to an end. It arrived on the Winter Solstice. This hasn't happened since 1638. I mean, Bach wasn't even born until 1685; it's a long time inbetween events! We were still in the Renaissance period. I can see how it might be worrysome, given how rare it is.

One person thought that the origin of the phrase "when it rains, it pours" was from the Morton Salt company, who used it with their girl and umbrella very successfully. I could not find out whether they invented it or simply used it.

I think that there is not a reason for everything, and that sometimes things just happen. And yes, it had been awhile since things around here broke down, but I'm starting to feel a bit picked on. Any explanations of the "When it rains, it pours" would be greatly appreciated.

This matches my current out of control mood.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rhythm Month

I am taking a month to reinforce rhythm at the studio. I have found a strange pattern of weakness in my students. If they are band students, they have great rhythm as a general rule, but are not strong interval readers. If they are in choir, they can sight sing really well, but are not sure of rhythm patterns. To begin the week, we will start with this silly video, which will be uploaded onto the computer in the waiting room. Note that the "ticking noise" could be the metronome equal of eighth notes. We may write down the rhythms of each character, or at least clap some of them for the younger ones. Fun huh? Did you know that this silly little video has over 94 million hits? I thought you should.

Who's been to Visit?