Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Mama, I'm Feeling Stressed. . . "

These words from my son this morning.  Mark this day. . .
For the first time in his 9 and three quarters years he said he felt stressed.  Stressed about homework and his upcoming piano graduation recital, and also his perpetually runny nose.
Like Mary's end of kindergarten times, I felt a little sad when Calvin said those words.  Welcome to the world.  The first thing I said was that I was not stressed about piano.  That--he is well prepared--but that it is my job as teacher and mother to keep working until the end.

What I didn't say was that I have had that exact emotion, the same stressful feeling about three times in the last three days.   How am I gonna get all this stuff done?

I told him how over the weekend I decided to surprise him and Mary by making them their own small vegetable garden.  I laid the rocks in a pretty design to outline the garden, bought little yellow forms for the vines to grow on, and all nature of little seeds and plants.  Then I put my shovel into 12 solid inches of clay.  Blah.  So, I started shoveling.  The garden is about 5' x 7'.   Clay is heavy. I can only carry three scoop shovels of clay in a rubber-made bin without killing myself.  About 50 rubber-made clay dumps later I looked down in discouragement.  I was sore and tired and only had about an hour left before I had to shower and get ready to make the trip up North to meet him, Mary and Bill at Grandma and Grandpa's cabin.  I took a deep breath and kept on shoveling and hauling.  I finished the garden.  As soon as the ground thaws here Calvin and Mary can plant the seeds.  (That is a Minnesota May 31 joke. . . )

My mom always taught me, set the timer and see how much you can get done in 20 minutes.  So often we can't see the end so we don't even start.  Almost without fail, the task is done before the timer goes off.

My mom also asked Mary how in the world she could learn such a complex song as Minuet One, her new Bach piece and how she could play it so nicely.  Do you know what Mary turned to her and said?

"Phrase by phrase."  Those were her exact words.  Out of the mouths of babes.  Babes who can't even write the ABC's in upper and lower case.

How can a girl with a ten minute attention span learn Bach?  Phrase by phrase.

Shovel by shovel.  Homework assignment by homework assignment.  This is how we finish what we start.

How do we help our children not get stressed?  Moment by moment.  We teach by example.  Last night as I started to feel stressed, I made five different lists on five pieces of white card stock.   Twenty minutes later the next month didn't look so overwhelming.  Come to think of it, my mom taught me the white card stock list thing too. . .I guess I had a good example.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Best and Worst Parts. . .

When we are at my folk's house in Iowa, we have a tradition of going around the table at dinner-time and everyone sharing the best and worst parts of his day.

This Spring has had many best and worst parts for me.  Here are some of the best parts. . .

I really love writing this blog.  It has had over 2100 hits since I started writing.  I am quite sure my mother hasn't checked it that many times, and the counter doesn't count when I check it, so there must be some folks out there reading and coming back.  Y'all must becoming back in spite of my occasional bouts of self-pity, insecurity, too much religion, or just plane boredom.

Another good part of this Spring was filling in as accompanist for our church's senior choir.  It felt really good to be part of an ensemble and perform every week.  It didn't seem like too much of a burden on my family and I felt like I was contributing to worship.

Another good part of this week was that our plans for the S.A.M./Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild Fall workshop are coming together.  We are having several speakers/clinicians including Mary Sheedy Kurcinka  to talk about challenging kids and Reiko Imrie to give masterclasses to our advanced students.  I am 100% on board and will feel very positive about inviting parents and students to participate.

Another good part is that this week I got invited to teach at a really cool summer institute.  I don't know if the details will work out because of the last minute nature of the offer, but it really made me feel warm inside that I got the offer.

The coolest part of my week is that Bill left with the kids to go to his folk's cabin at 4:00 this afternoon.  I am alone, as in--all by myself in my own house.  I am going to join them Sunday evening, but between now and then it is just me, 12 cubic yards of western red cedar mulch, a rubber-made bucket, a pitchfork, a bag of popcorn and a bottle of wine.   Never mind that it rained during the first four hours of my "work weekend."  I'm cold, wet and exhausted but ready to sleep until noon and start it up again tomorrow.

The worst part of my Spring is that one of my treasured Suzuki families is leaving the studio to study with someone else.

It has been 18 years since a student has left me for a better teacher, so I kinda forgot how to react.  Eighteen years ago in Austin I started a student, Eric.   After three years of study he was six years old and his mom wanted him to participate in a contest put on by the Austin District Music Teachers Association.  So I signed him up and low and behold he won the six-year-old division (playing the Moderato movement of the Beethoven Sonatina in G) which was very competitive.   Not that I remember every detail. . . Congratulations. . . the next week he was solicited by a contest winning teacher in town and in an effort to give the best to their child his parents switched him to the other teacher.   My--in-the-know--piano technician informs me that this is called poaching.  I am so naive I thought he was talking about making eggs. . . .  None the less, as my mother-in-law would say, "no good deed goes unpunished."  I ran into Eric's mother three years later in the grocery store.  With tears in her eyes, she told me that he was still winning contests and practicing hard, but that it had never quite been the same. Incidentally, the teacher was not a Suzuki teacher.  I have never ever heard one single story about a Suzuki Piano teacher who deceptively took another teacher's student.  We are all on the same team.   Note to self: avoid competitions outside the Suzuki community. . .

So when the Minnesota family decided to go to another teacher, at first my ego was pretty badly bruised.   Many people have told me, "it's not about you."  That is probably true, but to me, it is about me.  I think every teacher out there would say that they feel a personal sense of failure when someone leaves the studio, regardless of the situation.  I am slowly getting over the ego thing. . .

But, the broken heart is going to take a little longer.  It just is what it is.  When you love someone you are sad when they go.  My friend Carla reminds me, we don't know why God allows people to come and go from our lives, we just do the best we can with them with the time we are given.

It is easy to get wrapped up in the ego thing and the broken heart thing and forget that what is really important is the students.  I have nothing but love for these students and their dear dear precious mother.  I truly wish them nothing but the best.  I hope they find everything they are dreaming of.

I am still just here.  My husband tells me to just keep on doing what I do.  That is, loving children, and loving music.  In that order.

Farewell Anna, Christina, and Oliver.  Bon Voyage.  Sandi, I love ya.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bait One Hook

In his book Helping Parents Practice Edmond Sprunger makes a great analogy: if we shoot more than one arrow at a time we probably won't hit anything.  In other words, he's describing the core Suzuki principle that we should focus on one thing.

Calvin is working on review for his graduation recital.  He has 13 pieces ready to go.  Today we focused on remembering the form to the pieces.  Some of the pieces have tricky repeats or partial sections that come back and this can be an area where concentration is necessary.  So we worked on the forms today.  While we were working on making sure the form was correct and talking through it, I thought of about 37 million other things I should mention, about the tempo, his fingers, dynamics, etc.

We have to make a conscious effort not to spew all our knowledge upon the poor child.  As soon as I started thinking about all the other things to fix I knew I was off track.  He got annoyed with me.  Shoot one arrow.  Here is a great quote from Dorothy Delay in Teaching Genius, "Most of the time, I am just sitting there thinking of things to say and then stopping myself from saying them."  Amazing advice.

Most of us, especially myself, probably talk way too much.  We can't teach it all in one lesson, and when we try anyway,  the student shuts down.

It is fishing season here in Minnesota, I'm visualizing a fisherman with 10 rods and reels set up and starting to get bites on all of them at one time, running like crazy to pull in fish while some of the rigs get pulled into the lake. . .

Then I see a fisherman patiently attending his favorite fishing pole, waiting for the big one.  Focused on one thing, he gets the trophy fish.  He might have to wait a while, and maybe try a few different lures, but if he puts the time in he will get the umpteen pound walleye.

How much more important are our children than fish. . .
One thing at a time.

Not. . . the big one

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pizza Party

Friday night we had our studio pizza party.  It was at my house, all the kids played one piece.  I played a duet with kids in Books 1-4, and the others played some duets and solos.  Then we had pizza, lemonade, and leftover cookies from the recital.  I think everyone had a nice time in spite of the rain.

On Friday afternoon, as storm clouds rolled in and I thought about 20 kids and their parents having pizza in my kitchen and living room without being able to go outside, I had a moment of wondering why I was hosting an end of year pizza party.

Then after I played duets with so many kids and that was fun, and saw how the kids act differently when it's a pizza party than a formal recital, I started to remember why I do this.  There were a couple important reminders.  Not to be dramatic, but I thought about Michelle Kwan in the Olympics the year that everyone assumed she would win the gold medal.  If my memory serves me, she fell.  She didn't get the gold medal. Then at the demonstration, after all the pressure was off, she skated flawlessly to a standing ovation.  It was beautiful. I remember she had tears running down her face as she skated.  We play for many different reasons.  She skated differently for competition than for pleasure and sharing.  Not that our recitals are that stressful.  But "fun" performances are important.

After the recital when everyone was gathered on the screen porch and the parents were all chit chatting and the kids were finishing their pizza and getting out a couple games and going into little corners in little groups I remembered the other important reason I have pizza parties.  Piano is a lonely business.  We don't go on trips together.  We don't rehearse together.  We are alone in practice rooms for hours and hours.  Social events give us positive peer pressure.  I haven't kept formal statistics, but my counting on one hand analysis tells me that kids that have friends who play the piano don't quit when the going gets tough.  There is a direct correlation  between the social involvement of the student in the studio and the student following through with lessons until graduation.  We build friendships through group lessons and special events.    For the at risk students, friendships can help them make it through.  For the completely committed student, friendships are still important.  They have someone to share the journey with.   I have some students who have been friends for 13 years now.  It's gonna be one heck of a graduation party in a couple years.  That is pretty special.  The next generation is building bonds as well, little Elizabeth hasn't even started lessons yet and every week when she comes to lesson with her brother she tells me, "Say hi to Mary for me. . . "  Mary held hands with our newest student Isabella as they sat on Cassy's lap during the recital. I hope they will keep their connections for a long time.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Habit of Cheerfulnes

Confession:  I'm a pouter.  Always have been.  The pouting starts out with some legitimate reason, but occasionally continues way past the point of reasonableness.

Several loving people in my life have kindly or not so kindly pointed this out to me.  The first was my piano teacher in sixth grade.  I developed a habit of showing up for my piano lesson in a grouchy mood.  My lesson was at 6:30 on Thursday, right after Mr. Patterson's dinner hour.  He would come into the studio with his coffee and sit down in his chair ready to go.  I pouted.  One evening he finally said, "Sara, I'm sick of it.  I come down here every Thursday, happy to see you and you are in a bad mood. You need to change that or I am going to have to talk to your parents about continuing your lessons."  Whoa.  Because I knew he loved me, I realized that he was right.  I needed to get over it.  I don't even remember why I pouted.  I made an honest effort to be my cheerful self again.

The second person who enlightened me in this regard was my own father.  At 16 I was pouting because I had to mow the lawn instead of spending the afternoon with my friends.  I really pouted.  His exact words to me, and I remember them clearly were, "Sara, don't bitch. It doesn't become you."  My shock at his uncharacteristic use of profanity, coupled with the comparison of my mood to my beauty (which at 16 I was very self conscious about) had another profound effect on me.  I turned it around.  If being "bitchy" was ugly, I better not be that. . .

When Calvin was 13 months old and STILL not taking an afternoon nap, I was getting pretty strung out. A child simply can't wake up at 5:00 a.m. every morning and not be ready for a nap.  He was strung out and tired too but wouldn't give it up.  He would cry in his crib and never go to sleep.  After the non-nap was over I would get him and he would be a basket case the rest of the day.  I wanted the day to be over.  Start again tomorrow.  This went on for a long time.  One afternoon I broke down crying, just as our babysitter was arriving.  Sixty year old Maggie, who raised six children--one as a single working mother--took me aside. I thought she would hug me and tell me she understood how difficult parenting can be.  Nope.  She said, "You better get it together.  You are the parent here.  Come on now."  Yeah.  Okay. I can do that.

I guess there are always going to be big things and little things that make us full of self pity.  Sometimes we need compassion.  Sometimes we need a kick in the butt.

I've been pretty grouchy toward God the last two years, on account of Him allowing my Dad to get sick and die.  I've received a lot of compassion on this account. I needed that.  But it might be time for the kick in the butt.  It came in two forms this week.

The first was a speaker we had for Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild.  She gave a presentation of "The Art of Creative Visualization."  The main point was that we have to visualize ourselves succeeding.  At the piano, at a sport, at life.  I visualized myself going through my day patient and tolerant toward my children and husband.  Getting my work done with a happy heart.  Etc. etc. etc.  Circumstances are given. Mood is chosen.  I know this to be true because my circumstances are very blessed and yet at times I'm still dark.  Mood is chosen.

The second reminder to me was a devotion from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers.  This is not a warm fuzzy feel good devotion book.  This is a kick you in the butt devotion book.  May 16th reads:
If we give way to self-pity and indulge in the luxury of misery, we banish God's riches from our own lives and hinder others from entering into His provision. No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it obliterates God and puts self-interest upon the throne. It opens our mouths to spit out murmurings and our lives become craving spiritual sponges, there is nothing lovely or generous about them.
That's pretty stern language.  Today it works for me.  The final quote of the page is, "Be stamped with God's nature, and His blessing will come through you all the time."  We talk about happy hearts all the time.  Being cheerful is a habit.  Habits take time to develop but this one it worth it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Comparisons are Odious

We all know this.  Odious means hateful. Occasionally it rears it's ugly head anyway.  Our children compare themselves to other children.  We compare ourselves to other parents.  Musicians compare themselves to other musicians.  We compare one of our children to the other child.  We are human.  It happens even when we know better.  Don't kid yourself that I don't know exactly what song my son was on at what month of his life compared to my daughter.  I don't want to know.  But I know.  I realize that it is about the same and then I'm ashamed that I went there. . . not kind or necessary to either child.

Nothing good can come of this.  There will always be someone better.  There will always be someone worse.  If we hypothesize that we are better-more experienced-wiser-or tougher than our neighbor, we end up filled with feelings of pride and self righteousness.  It might be fun for a few minutes, but it really isn't healthy and it definitely won't last.  If we surmise that we are less talented-beautiful-or smart than our neighbor, we end up feeling pretty lousy as well.  Feeling not as good is not a healthy feeling.

Last week I was encouraging a student to just be aware of others, without ranking yourself or passing judgement on the other person.  Why do we feel this need?

I personally grew up in an extended family that needed to be best.  Grandpa's farms field were the best in the county.  His farm was the neatest.  Mama's rice pudding was the best.  So and so made the best cherry pie. On and on and on, things were constantly ranked.  There was a premium on being the best.

So often we put someone else down simply to lift ourselves up.  If we can just be aware, without judgement, we lift everyone up.  My students give each other very positive comments after performances at group lesson.  So and so played with a nice sound.  So and so played with a good tempo.  State the facts.  Honestly observe. Work on getting rid of the mentality of having to know exactly where you fit in in life.

Music is an art that does not require ranking.  We can all just love and play music.  As Madeleine L'Engle said somewhere in some book, we are all feeding the river of art.  Some of us are little streams and some of us are larger tributaries.  We all flow to the ocean.

Off to practice what I preach.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Congratulations to all the students!  I truly enjoyed the recital.   Each of you played so beautifully.  What a privilege for me to teach you all.   A highlight for me was Cassy's Reverie by Debussy.  It was musical and flawless from the first note until the last note.  You really captured it Cassy!  I was holding my breath.

Thanks for everyone who brought treats.  A highlight of the treats was cut out cookies from Isabella's Mother.  This was her first recital and she set the bar high by bringing the loveliest arrangement of cookies in a tier with little colorful dollies!  Left over cookies have been frozen for the pizza party, with the exception of Jonelle's thumbprints which I have hidden for myself.  They don't seem to be lasting long even in their secret location.

This was our 10th annual spring studio recital.  I don't know where the time went.  All I know is that teaching these kids is a huge blessing to me, each and everyone on his or her own journey.  I know their strengths and weaknesses, their fears and idiosyncrasies. I love them all anyway.

It occurs to me that that must be how God looks down upon us all.  A friend recently reminded me that He takes us where we are and gently leads us to the next level,  with unconditional love but great expectations.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Gardener's Anonymous

This is my front yard yesterday afternoon.  You have to love bulldozing in the rain.  This is a huge mess.  It will probably get worse before it gets better.  We are putting steps to the backyard, and having some retaining and drainage work done.  Then the driveway will get fixed.  Mary wishes we could paint it Robin's egg blue or Viking's purple again, like two years ago (long boring story about the driveway debacle).  It is just gonna be asphalt, like it should have been all along.   Mostly the project is all a big excuse for me to buy some more flowers.

Some of you may have read in the Household Post that I was in charge of the Deerwood Elementary Plant Sale Fundraiser this year.  This is true. Delivery day was yesterday.  We sold over $10,000 of hanging baskets, geranium tubs, annual flats, perennials, and countless other flower, veggies and fruits.  My preliminary estimate is that the school made around $3500.  Cool.

You may be wondering if this was putting the mouse in charge of the cheese.   Perhaps.  I did my share to make it a successful fundraiser. . .in more ways than one.     I am sore today.  I am poor today.

It is this time of year when I find myself driving out of my way to stop by the Linder's parking lot flower mart.  I'll only stay a minute.  I've been hoarding my cash all year.  No one else will know.  I can shred the receipts.  Just one more pack of lobelia.  Then I'm gonna be SET.  Never mind that the studio recital is Sunday and I have myriad things to do to get ready and get my own kids ready.  I will just work outside for 20 minutes.  Never mind the rain.  Yes.  I can limit myself.  My next student won't mind if I have dirt under my nails for her lesson.

Researchers say addictive behavior is hereditary. I doubt it. My Grandfather was a farmer.  Just because he planted some 10,000 trees and had four gardens doesn't mean he had a problem.  My mom and I go green house hopping.  Just because she occasionally buys more than she can handle doesn't mean she has a problem.   She could stop anytime.  I could shop--I mean--stop anytime.  I mean--if I needed to.  If I thought there was a problem.   It's just a couple little flowers.   Really.  After this little driveway project, Bill--we're gonna be set.  I promise. . . no more lobelia.  No more Saturday nights at Gerten's Greenhouse. Please don't leave me. . .

Monday, May 9, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

I was thinking about all the women I know.  So many different kinds of women.  All strong.  I can't think of a woman I know who isn't strong.  Each in her own way.  

I was sort of organizing the women into vague categories: women who are stay at home moms, women who wanted children but couldn't have them, women who chose not to have children, and the last category--working moms.  Of the working moms--there are even sub-categories: women who have to work because their family truly can't survive on one income, single moms, and many in between whose families probably could survive on one income but the woman feels called to a career that she believes is fulfilling to herself and a valuable contribution to society.

I deeply respect every one of these groups of ladies. I fall into the last group. If the Kotrbas wanted to we could definitely cut back and survive on one income. Heaven knows I was dirt poor all through college and learned how to get by on very little money. My single years after college were just as frugal.

The bottom line is that I'm teaching because I really love to teach. I really love my students. I really love music. I really love my family too. I love that my family can be involved--the kids would be making piano a priority even if I wasn't teaching. A perfect combination.

I wonder about all these other women, and I wonder how many are content.  How many wish they didn't have to work?  How many wish they could work?  How many wish they had children or more children?  How many wish they didn't have children? Honestly. I read somewhere that some certain very high percent of people reported that if they had to do it all again, they wouldn't have children.  Maybe they were mostly men, I don't know.

I love my children desperately. I would give my life for them. If I had to do it all again I would still have them. I'm going to do my very very best to try to bring out the best in them and help them be happy and meet their potential.  However, about 100 times a day I find myself feeling frustrated hearing about which Zhu Zhu pets are on the current wish list and Mama when can we start this sewing project and Mama my bike needs a tune up and why can't we go to the park instead of working in the yard all day. About 100 times a day I feel a selfish wave come over me. In those moments I wish I was practicing piano instead of picking up scraps of paper from everywhere. I wish I was exercising instead of picking crayons up from the table.  I wish I was gardening instead of putting the cap back on glue and the markers. Again. You get the point. Perhaps I'm more selfish than the other women I know.

I always come back to longing to be wanting to be doing what you are doing while you are doing it.  Being happy in the moment.  That's all I have ever really wanted.  I'm sure it is the secret to happiness.  I have many glorious moments of this everyday.  I never wish I was somewhere else when I am practicing with Calvin and Mary, or when I'm teaching.  When I am on a date with my husband.  When I am shopping with my mom, Bill's mom or a friend. When I am reading with my kids or playing a board game.  When I am watching their swim lessons or gymnastics. Putting them to bed. I love all these times.

I think it is the times in between that get me. When I'm trying to get stuff done or actually have a train of thought or a phone call and someone else is in my brain. For almost 10 years now I have had someone else, for 6 years now two little verbose people, sharing my brain space. Sometimes it is really hard to sit back and remember that these interruptions are moments too.  They will only be wanting my attention like this for a few more years. Yesterday I opened umpteen little handmade cards:
I love you Mama.  Mama is the light of my life and always will be. I really love Mama and I will keep on loving her until the end of the Universe. My Mama taces (takes) care of me.
Little flowers and trees and birds and smiley faces drawn all over the place on the cards.  Cards made from little scraps of paper. Crayons. Glue.  Supplies that I complained about putting away.

So the prayer for the day--Lord, help me remain in the moment with my family, help me balance their needs with my wishes.  Balance their wishes with my needs too.  Help balance me, my kids and all the other mothers and kids too.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Death, Taxes, and Laundry

These are the so called things we can't avoid.  I added the laundry part.  Laundry may not be as bad as death and taxes but it is right up there.  Every Monday I set out to climb "Mount Laundry."  Armed with Tide, Clorox, and a toothbrush, like others before me, I journey forth.  If I am am lucky by the afternoon I've at least gotten to base camp.  If it takes till Tuesday the oxygen starts getting a little thin. Wednesday brings altitude sickness for sure. . where oh where is my Sherpa?   A certain percentage of climbers never return.

The four of us Kotrbas are even pretty frugal about our clothes pile.  We use the same towels over and over.  Kids wear the same play clothes.  Bill swims so he doesn't have a bunch of sweaty workout clothes.  I don't exactly get filthy dirty teaching piano, so I can wear things more than once. We still have our own little Everest by the end of the weekend.

I saved a little money and I thought, maybe for a treat, just for a couple weeks I should hire someone to do the laundry.  Problem.  I'm too psycho.  A control freak. What if someone else doesn't get the chocolate pudding out of Mary's new skirt.  What if. . .  as if I'm the only person who knows the deep dark secret stains of my family.  Seriously, the only person on this earth I would truly trust to do the laundry is my dear sister Susan.  She alone understands.  I laughed aloud when she warned me to avoid tendinitis while spotting the clothes with Tide and the toothbrush.  I think she understands because we have the same mother.  At least once a year I get the tearful phone call from my mom.  She spilled bleach on her favorite new jeans.  She accidentally got the red napkin in the load of whites.  (Actually that was my college boyfriend, who worked at a restaurant with red napkins, he inevitably washed a newly dyed red napkin in every white load, turning all his socks and underwear pink. Not that I know this--about the underwear--first hand.) The point is that my mother flails at laundry.

In all fairness, she is a rebel from her own mother.  These things skip a generation. "Mama (my grandma) washy better" was honestly one of my first sentences.  Out of the mouths of babes.  Mama was psycho too.  She would only wash one "good" top in a load.  Not green. Grandpa's farm clothes had a whole separate washing machine.  She stood by the drier to make sure nothing got scorched.  My socks were white when I stayed there.  Underwear were washed in the linen delicate fabric wash from Dayton's. What is it called? I can smell it in my mind.  I'm sure we distributed several cases when we cleaned out her house.

When my mom was here helping us after each of my babies was born, she did the laundry.  Post-partum hormones mixed with someone else folding shirts into the wrong size and stuffing them into the drawer was a bad combination for me.  After all these years we have come to a pretty comfortable arrangement. I truly appreciate everything my mother does for me, except the laundry.

Perhaps my being psycho about the laundry, how things are folded, which things are hung, what doesn't get dried. . . is really my way of trying to make something sacred out of something profane.  Enjoy the ritual of taking care of your clothes.  (The Beautiful Life, page 23. . . paste pictures of the beach above your washing machine to dream about while you carefully tri-fold your undies. . . see January blog)

Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  That is what my dad would say.  Then again he never did the laundry.  My mom did. Maybe that is why she just "gets it done."  Occasional casualties aside she does get it done.

Probably there is some elusive balance that I am missing.  That's okay because I have many more weeks to get it right.  I'm procrastinating folding while writing this.  Actually I guess I'll pitch my tent for tonight, acclimate to the altitude, have some freeze-dried ice-cream and prepare to resume the climb tomorrow.  Mount Laundry will always be there. Tonight I'm gonna practice some piano.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Masterclass Weekend

Catherine McMichael was here all weekend giving masterclass lessons to my students.  I hope she enjoyed her stay and didn't find family life with the Kotrbas too chaotic.  Bill is usually the wind beneath my wings on these weekends, but this time he was sick Friday and Saturday and left on a work trip Sunday morning.  We left a lot of dishes in the sink and some unsupervised kids but as Maggie would say, we coped.

These experiences are always highlights of the year for me.  The students pay for the lessons.  The guest teacher gets paid.  I seemingly give up my weekend without pay but that it not completely true.  I get paid in the fresh insight of a watching a new teacher working with my kids.  I learn a lot.

When we work with a student long enough we know his strengths and weaknesses pretty well.  As a teacher we have our own strengths and weaknesses.  We get locked into patterns. A guest teacher throws all that out the window. They don't know the presumed limitations of the kid or the teacher.  She keeps us all on on toes.

Catherine made the comment that when her own students play in a recital, it is like a report card for her.  I always feel that way too.  When we see our students perform, or in this case have a lesson with someone else, it is like a final exam of our teaching.  I can see patterns in my students' performance habits that show me where I can be a stronger teacher.  At times I can also see what is going really well.

I plan to keep doing these masterclasses and to even add more for the advanced kids in my studio.  There is more than one way to think about music and we all grow when we stretch our ideas about music, technique, pedaling and even finger numbers.  The kids get to work with challenging faculty but still return home to the safety and community of a home studio.  Catherine called a group of my kids that have been with me 8-10 years "litter mates."  I liked that metaphor.

So, Catherine if you are out there reading, thanks for taking your weekend to work with us.  Thanks for being so well prepared and giving us a fresh insight!   Thanks for making French toast for the kids on Sunday.  Calvin and Mary will see you this summer in DC at the piano institute, and I hope you will come back to Eagan again soon.