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.

Who's been to Visit?