Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Navigating Fear

I decided today not to visit Facebook until after the election. It was, I believe, both a hasty decision, and one that was a long time coming. This morning, seeing the overwhelming voices, opinions, and scathing remarks of friends who believe their side "won" the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I was so sad. These are my friends. These are the voices of my friends. These tolerant, passionate, artistic, compassionate, hard working, faithful, beautifully original people I hold in such high regard were arguing, hating, spewing vitriolic statements of fact versus lies, why you should vote one way or it will be your fault when this country goes to hell. I'm not innocent. I have posted links too. But I am no longer shocked. And that statement is the saddest of them all.

What I read between the lines of the candidates supporters, and yes, I have more than four represented on my wall, was fear. These fears range from I won't get my share, I will lose what I've worked so hard for, my life will change for the worse, my religion is in danger, my savings will be ravaged, my house and home will not be safe, my neighborhood will not be safe, my life will not be safe. If he/she gets elected. So many troubles that our president is held responsible for. Who wants that poor, despised position anyway? It comes with hope and dreams for an American people that are as different as we are. And yet we're all the same. Isn't it a great and terrible wonder? Bang your gong louder. Struggle to be heard. "I'm afraid," they try not to say in words. This is not my fault. Don't blame me. And here I am, disheartened. Here I sit, wondering when this all went so terribly wrong. It's not new, but it felt like more than enough. I do not want to read what my very own friends are posting. No longer shocked, and no longer listening. How mortifying. This is not me.

I have decided to come back here for awhile. I will post of the piano children and their amazing hope and vitality. I will post of silly and serious things. I will be faithful to the stories I'm told. I will speak for my own self expression, and struggle to be heard. Actually I don't really need to be heard in this way, isn't that a curious thing? I'd much rather write music than words. Perhaps I'll do some more of that as well.

My first student today sat down meekly at the bench and I could tell something was horribly wrong. I looked her in her deeply soulful brown eyes and asked. She said a student from high school had killed themselves yesterday. No one understood why because he was so popular and well liked. There were only 5 people in her English class because the rest were seeing counselors. At band, the teacher told her there would be a gathering tomorrow in the gym. Would she play the Hallelujah she plays sometimes before band? Just her. On the piano. A song she learned by ear this summer. We worked on it in her lesson. It's going to be beautiful. And hard. And sad. And scary. We talked about putting her and the piano in a big bubble so that she could do this performance, and then, when she was ready, to come back out of the mental bubble and be able to grieve with her friends. I told her that my mental bubble makes it sound like I'm under water and that the outside world is far away. I put myself and my piano in there when I have to play emotional events, and it helps me.

My brave brave students face fear every day. They come to their piano lessons every week. Will I have practiced enough, will it be hard, what if it is too hard, I don't understand this theory, I didn't have time to do my homework, what if I don't figure this out? What if I'm no good at this?

There's a bully that rides my bus, I'm having trouble in math, my parents are fighting a lot, I think I'm getting a cold, we were gone a lot this weekend, I'm so tired all the time, my grandma just got cancer, my friend committed suicide. I have no idea what many of them fear, and they don't need to tell me, because we all have the same fear in reality. Big kids and little kids. Old people and young people.

Do I matter? I want to matter. Do you see me?

Yes. Yes you do matter. Yes, I see you. And if you need to hear it from me, I will call you up and tell you so. I'll tell you every day. But I will speak it in a quiet voice, because you'll hear me better that way.

Monday, January 5, 2015


The first week back to school brought something to my attention. Several of my students came in, sat down, and shamefully suggested that they haven't practiced as much as they should have over the summer. They gave me a sideways, pained glance. This happened enough times Monday and Tuesday, that Wednesday I decided to be proactive. After each returning student got seated at the bench, I stated that although there were some suggestions written for August in their notebooks, that I had no expectations for their lesson today. We were going to start fresh.

I plan to be forgiving again this week, even though there should be a lot of work accomplished and there are big music deadlines ahead. Much of their lives are out of their control. They have been at Grandma's, had company, gone places or been ill. They have had siblings home, parents home, the schedule has been interrupted over and over. Many of my students have been driven places, taken places, and forced to be places that prohibit them from piano. I know this because it's how my life was.

I did not practice over Christmas. I had so many other obligations. I am wildly lesson planning over the weekend, setting my recital details, and doing paperwork. It's just how it is.

A student in high school might have a pop quiz today, but it is a rare day when I've heard that elementary or middle school expect them to hit the ground running. When they come to school, they are hopefully ready for a new year, maybe some new teachers, and new ideas and are refreshed. I want them enthusiastic and anticipating music, learning, and a freshness that coming back to the same room, the same studio and the same teacher might not otherwise afford.

We have a very busy schedule upcoming and they'll be reminded this week. They'll have one piece to play for the recital this weekend, or they won't, and I will try hard to meet them where they are. I'd want the same.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Gentle Reminder-- Influenza

This is the email I sent this afternoon.
Welcome back everyone!
With the CDC reporting Influenza A at epidemic levels, and wanting to protect everyone as we share a piano at the studio, I would ask that you please wait the prescribed 5-7 days before returning to the studio if you have been diagnosed with the flu.
This may include missing the recital that is next Sunday afternoon.
That is OK! We will have several opportunities to share our music between now and May. Please stay well, and I'll see you soon.
Chris Wolf

It's a busy month for me!
Jan. 9 - Presiding/presenting at a state level piano teacher meeting
Jan. 10 - I'm judging in Rochester
Jan. 11 - I'm subbing at Gethsemane Lutheran- north Minneapolis
Jan. 11 - Recital at 2:00 p.m. at church across the street
Jan. 19-20 - I take my own kids back to college
Jan. 24 - Festival (some students)
Jan. 31 - I judge at Gustavus, in St. Peter
Jan. 31/Feb. 1 - MMTA Contest, (some students)
Feb. 1 - I judge at Bethel

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Sunset on Jan. 1

For New Year's Eve, I watched 6 episodes of the Amazon Prime new show, "Mozart in the Jungle". During one of the episodes, Rodrigo says to a young girl that she has talent and blood for music. Is she prepared to give up everything for music, for a music life, something like that. She was young and was called away before answering. I am resonating with the series so far, the characters are people I know, the situations are pretty real from my memory, and the real world problems they are dealing with are in my head today.

I took a long walk and currently have pop radio on. But I keep pondering the thought that the musician in me answered the maestro's question with "no".

Thursday, August 8, 2013

State of AVMTA Address-in 2 minutes or less

I was asked to give a 2 minute "State of the Club" address at the MFMC Convention. All of the local club presidents will be there. Here is the text. I have not attended this convention before. I'm looking forward to making a new music friend or two.

AVMTA Address at All State Meeting, 8/7/13

The APPLE VALLEY Music Teachers Association is MORE than our name implies. A diverse and unique club of over 50 members and 900 students,we have teachers from Burnsville to Bloomington, Shakopee to New Market, both Minneapolis and St. Paul, for a total of 14 cities, including Apple Valley.
New this year to our club will be an additional FOURTH Festival. It will be for piano and voice. This November date will round out our January, February, and March offerings.
We are also working toward a goal of having our students be musically noticed within the south metro community. We have been in contact recently with the Chamber of Commerce for more ways to bring music to the Apple Valley area. They are happy to be working with us and it has led to meetings with Think Bank, Enjoy restaurant, the new banquet facility at the golf course, the public library, and Ecumen Seasons, a retirement complex.
We will have nursing home and joint teacher recital offerings at new locations, plus our current sites. We recently added a Facebook page to increase awareness for students, parents, and other teachers looking for a fun and active club. A small commercial here - Go ahead and “Like” us today.
We are hosting a Festival Read Through event, scheduled for October 12th, a Saturday morning, from 9-12. Details about location will be made available soon, but this special event will read through the new Festival book. At this time, plans include piano, string, and voice rooms, led by our members. This will be open to all teachers; expect a flyer coming soon.
This summer, the new president is personally calling each and every member to answer 3 easy questions. The aim of these questions is to be the kind of group that our membership wants and needs it to be. Play to our strengths. For those that are interested, the 3 questions are:
1. What the most valuable part of your membership?
2. Name an area we could help you grow as a teacher?
3. What is a talent you could share with the group?

The Apple Valley MUSIC Teachers Association IS what our name implies. We are a MUSIC club. We represent teachers from piano to accordion, brass instruments to piccolo, composition to orchestra, digital recording to woodwinds, flute, guitar, voice and a host of others. We are changing as our membership needs are changing, and looking forward to a engaging year, all working together.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Canoe Tipped Over, On Purpose

When I went to my first summer camp, it was at a northern Minnesota lake. There were hundreds of other new campers. But we all talked about the same thing that first night around the campfire. Canoe lessons.

You see, over one hundred timid city kids in the lake that day swamped their canoes as lesson number one. Yes, we all got wet. Yes, we were mostly a screaming, splashing confused bunch of 11-13 year olds. But it was so smart of the counselors to get that "mistake" out of the way. Because you know it's going to happen eventually. You are going to need to know how to be in control, flip it, right it, and somehow, get back in the canoe.

I haven't taken skiing lessons but I've heard the first thing you learn is how to fall. Because you will. This might be an interesting philosophy with piano.

The transfer student seemed so afraid. There were so much water, i.e., lots of notes, fingerings, dynamics, slurs, phrasing. Where do I even start, she wondered. Start by making some mistakes, and make them big.

In composition, we could teach the same thing. Try a bunch of ridiculous ideas. Mix it up and dump it out, all over. Do more. Do less. Combine styles, focus on one style completely.

The new student comes in and wants to be a good student. They are shy or intimidated by the bigness of the instrument. You can't hold a piano in your hands like a flute or a violin.

I'm not expecting students to know how to play piano before they've been taught how. Jump in. Splash and scream. Get wet. I promise you won't drown. I'm right here. And it's so much fun. Happy Summer all.

Who's been to Visit?