Monday, October 31, 2011

Doorways to Autonomy

Congratulations to the students who played in masterclasses with Reiko Imrie Saturday at the Suzuki Association of Minnesota Fall Workshop. From my studio Calvin, Aidan, and Alec played Chopin, and Cassy and Sami played Mozart.  We had a lovely time.

Much of what Reiko chose to focus on tied into my ongoing mental chatter of how to encourage intermediate and advanced students to become increasingly autonomous.  Webster defines autonomous as "self governing."  In musical context, I translate it to:  you own the music.  The student is making choices about his own music and is motivated to implement them because of his love for the music.

She asked each student to describe, with words, what was going on in each section of her music.  What kind of music is this?  If the student was stumped, Reiko waited patiently for her response.  Something more than--sad.  Or slow.  Descriptive words.  The students came up with amazing words, given time. Once the words were verbally articulated, then she said, "make it happen."  I see that you feel it, now make it happen.  Be accountable to your ideas. And just enough why?  Why does it make us feel that way?  Perhaps because of the bass or because of the texture.  Maybe something else?  These are questions we have heard before.  Doris Harrel asks these questions over and over.  Why do we love it?

Asking questions is the first step toward autonomy.  The art of this kind of teaching is to take the student's response and mold it into something musically appropriate. Not just appropriate--wonderful.   Help them trust their instincts.  Very soon they will be asking their own questions.  Yes I agree Reiko said over and over.  Now show me.

The best teaching somehow leads the student to discover the answer for herself or himself.  To find her own passion for the music.  To find his own path.

Thanks for a great weekend, Reiko.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Universe is God's

Neolithic Nick came home in the backpack.  This is one of the reasons a host of Christian parents have chosen to home school their children.  Fifth grade science at Deerwood tackles evolution.  Some tears of confusion were shed.  "That's not what I learned." That's not what it says in my Bible.

Deerwood is a very diverse school.  This might be hard for you to believe, being that we are in suburban Minnesota, but it is true. Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Christian kids are sitting next to each other at lunch.  Growing up in rural Iowa we had diversity too.  There were LCA Lutherans and Missouri Synod Lutherans.   And a few Catholics.  There were also some Baptists but they were out on the edge of town. . .

Regarding religious diversity at the school, I wouldn't expect the teacher to engage the classroom in a Christian discussion.  She did the kind and appropriate thing, suggesting to Calvin that he talk to his parents and his pastor about his beliefs.

So, we talked.  Funny how long these discussions can last right before bed.

I told Calvin what I believe.  That conflicts in science and religion do not bother me.  At all.  I'm okay with the mystery.  God's time is not our time.  I'm still gonna ask the questions, but I'm okay if I don't get all the answers.

I love it when I find someone smarter and more articulate to back up what I have felt instinctually.  Madeleine L'Engle is the author of A Wrinkle in Time.  In her devotion book,  Glimpses of Grace, on pages 282-283 she writes:

. . . I was asked about creationism vs. evolution. I laughed and said I couldn't get very excited about it.  The only question worth asking is whether or not the universe is God's.  If the answer is YES! then why get so excited about how?  The important thing is what we are God's, created in love.  And what about those seven days? In whose time are they?  Eastern Standard Time?  . . . Solar time?. . . What about God's time? What matter if the first day took a few billennia in our time, and the second day a few billennia more? . . . some form of evolution seems consistent with our present knowledge. . . but if I should find out tomorrow that God's method of creation was something quite different from either creationism or evolution, that would in no way shake my faith, because that is not where my faith is centered.  Thank God.  If my faith were based on anything so fragile, how would I have lived through my husband's dying and death?  How would I continue to live a full and loving life?  My faith is based on the wonder that everything is contained in the mind of God, all that we can see, all that we cannot see, all that is visible and all that is invisible.  All the laughter, all the pain, all the birthing and living and dying and glory, all our stories, without exception, are given dignity by God's awareness and concern. 

Thanks Madeleine.  Calvin, I hope that helps.   Now, it is way past your bedtime!  Lights off.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cultivating Deep Listening. . . part three

In this third segment on listening, I'm thinking about how beginning Suzuki students learn using the Mother Tongue Approach.  We approach the study of an instrument in the same way that all children learn their languages: by listening.  Students in Book One are listening to the recording to internalize the melodies and accompaniments.  This is different than learning by rote.  Babies don't memorize vocabulary, they internalize it word by word.  Mama, Daddy, blanket, ball--the first words are never separated from their meaning.  When the melodies from Book One are internalized, the child is humming them and singing along naturally.  Finding the notes on the piano should be easy.  If this is not easy, the pieces are not internalized yet and the parents should make sure they are putting the listening on for the child to hear.  Sorry, but it is true.  I see it in my own family.

This should be low hanging fruit.  It is easy to turn on music.  I too am guilty of neglecting the listening--I go in spells where I just plum forget to put it on, and my child stalls out on her progress.  Jeanne Luedke suggests six hours a day of listening to the recording.  See her parent education site:  

I actually had a family do this once.  I'm serious.  The mom took me very literally and they listened for six hours a day.  They weren't even home schooled, she had it on for an hour in the morning and five hours after school.  All their waking hours. The girl learned the entire 18 songs with both hands in three months.  I couldn't keep up with her.  I'm totally not recommending that pace, but it was an example worth reflection.

If you are not listening, it is not the Suzuki Method.  You are not being fair to your child.  It is like expecting them to learn a foreign language by magic.

Especially if your child is in Book 1 or 2, please do more listening.  Dust off the CD.  Fix itunes.  Fork over the $30 for a jam-box in the kid's room.  After you own a copy--make more copies of the CD and put them in the car.  In both cars.  Turn on the listening softly when you sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Make playlists of the songs they are working on over and over.  This is even more important than practicing.  In Books 3 and above our listening changes, but that is a new topic.

If you feel like your child is struggling, have hope, piano doesn't always come easily to my daughter either, I'm going to recommit to making sure I am putting the listening on every day, as much as I can.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dolphin Tricks

This weekend we saw the children's movie Dolphin Tale.  It reminded me of my summer playing in the band at Sea World of San Antonio.  Seven days a week with daily temps of 105 degrees, polyester marching band uniforms, and black vinyl arch-less shoes aside--what I remember the most was the dolphins.

After the midnight show the band would walk to our cars along the back employee sidewalk behind the night-time dolphin tanks.  Every night the dolphins would be playing--doing the same tricks and routines they did all day in their shows--but with no audience, no trainer, and no little fish treat as reward.  They did tandem leaps, jumps and flips in perfect harmony all for the joy of it.

I've thought about that a lot.  My friend's children go to a private school that is supposed to facilitate a lifetime love of learning.  One of the ways the school does this is to postpone the grading and testing system.  I've thought about that a lot too.  I thought about some of the tests I studied so hard for and then flushed it all down the cranial toilet on the way out the final exam door.  Texas Government 101 comes to mind.  Graduation requirement.

I'm still reading Drive, by Daniel Pink.  He suggests that there are three elements to motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  He suggests that carrot and stick type rewards might be appropriate for repetitive menial tasks (read: m&m's for laundry and toilet cleaning. . . ) but anyone who ever did anything of true value did it for the joy of it (read: midnight dolphin tricks).

Steve Jobs comes to mind. Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose.

Ba hum bug to Texas Government 101. . . it is the only class I ever got a C in.
(Sorry Casey, I know it was an easy A for your pre-law gang. . . )

I'm going to put more thought into Pink's three elements and come up with some concrete ideas to apply to piano, or gymnastics, or math or whatever my kids happen to get into. Please Lord, let it not be the ukulele and silly bandz.  Stayed tuned-and please comment if you have suggestions.   You can also email me at

Bible Stories

Our church is doing a year-long series, going through the Bible chronologically, highlighting the big stories. This is so cool for those of us who, when we are actually being disciplined about Bible reading, only go to the Psalms and Epistles.  I never open my Bible up to Exodus.

This week was God's people wandering in the wilderness.  Pastor Paul Harris gave the sermon at the hill. Taking an ancient story and relating it to our daily life makes it poignant.  I took a few mental notes. What I took from his message was, God leads us to the promised land, but he will never force us to enter.  Those Israelites would rather return to slavery than forge ahead and trust God's plan.

Back in my twenties, how many times did I go back to Steve?  Being in a bad relationship was a known evil.  Being alone?  Scarier.

My friend's dad would rather return to alcoholism and mental illness than stay in the promised land of a loving family.  Not a thing she can do.  God doesn't force us into his grace.  Falling into our same habits and mental states is so comfortable compared to conjuring up the courage to make changes.  We're all choosing heaven or hell every minute we are here on Earth.  Some see a future of milk and honey, some see slavery as the better option.

Another point I took was the reminder of how quickly God's people forgot his miracles.  Real miracles.  I would like to think that if I saw the parting of the Red Sea I might not forget it so soon.  But, I have the same story.  I have this totally blessed life: I grew up in a loving family, got a great education, have a loving spouse, two healthy children, a career I love, and a beautiful home.   Suburban blessings.  Suburban miracles. Yet, how quickly I can throw that all out the window because my dad wasn't healed.  I didn't get the miracle I wanted.  That is some pretty stubborn pouting. It is its own wilderness.  A slavery of self-pity.

How easy it is to trust God's plan right up to when it includes losing someone we love.  How quickly we forget the miracles.  That is why those Israelites were always building monuments and stacking rocks--to remember the good times.  To remember the miracles.

I don't have any stacks of rocks or temples here in Eagan, but at least for today, I am gonna try to choose to remember the miracles in my life.  I'm gonna try to choose the promised land.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mama Bear

I'm feeling a little better now about the whole gymnastics thing.  I probably overreacted. When someone is critical of, or labels one of my kids or even one of my students for that matter, it brings out the mama bear in me.

Perhaps I think my precious angels can do no wrong.  Not.  My kids are intense.  Like all kids, they have their ups and downs and they can be sweet and angry and innocent and manipulative all in one day.  They are children.

Perhaps I don't take criticism well.  True.

But I think it is more than that. I think what gets me riled up is when teachers bring forth criticism without simultaneously offering up a solution.  A plan.

When I started 50 little kids at the piano at MacPhail in 1998, some of them fell through the cracks.  I wasn't able motivate them all. One little boy was struggling. He hated piano, looked out the window the whole time.  He was naughty.  Really naughty.  Bit me.  The dad yelled at me--ISN'T IT YOUR JOB TO MAKE HIM LOVE IT?  They quit.  I failed.  I didn't have a plan.  I judged that kid.  I judged others along the way as well, right up until I had my own kids.

I realized then, that parents just want teachers to love their kids.  Even when they are naughty. Even when they don't focus.  To take them where they are and bring them to the next level.  We are all on the same team.  We need a plan.

I'm still gonna find a new gymnastics coach.  Saying "no" to giving Mary extra help was the fatal blow for her old coach.

No is not a plan.

No does not teach.

No does not develop of love of learning.

No does not love my child.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Suzuki Gymnastics?

It is after midnight.

I can't sleep.

I'm surfing the web to find a new gym for Mary.

Tomorrow I am going to pull her from the gym our family has been going to for almost ten years.
She's been on the gymnastics pre-team for 18 months now.  Younger girls are getting pulled up to the team.  Mary is asking me, "what do I need to do to get on the team?"  I keep telling her--just always do what the coach says.  Always look her in the eyes.

Monday her best friend--same skill level--got pulled up to the team.  Can you imagine the sobs?

The coach says Mary is not focused.

So, she's not focused.

I had a conference with the coach Monday night.  Coach just kept saying these words--I can't make her focus.  I can't make her focus.  I can't create desire.

Those were the wrong words to say to me.

Them there's fighting words.

You see, the coach doesn't know that I have spent the last 25 years learning how to make very young children focus at a very high level.  She doesn't know that I BELIEVE that every child can.  She doesn't know that I believe creating desire is the job of the teacher and the parent.  She doesn't know that it is always the the teacher and parent that need to reflect, never the child.

If I have said it once, I have said it fifteen billion times, YOU CAN'T TELL A CHILD TO FOCUS.  You have to draw them in.  Primal scream. . . .

I asked her for extra help for Mary--a private lesson or two.  She said no.  Mary needs to be able to focus in a group setting.  A group of 12.  At her bedtime.  After a long day at school.  While she has to go pee.

She said some children are meant for gymnastics and some are meant for piano.

She said the wrong words to me.  That is not my mindset.

Even after my defenses wear back down, I still think I have to find a new gym.  This coach's mindset is a fundamental road block for me.  This is the coach she would have for the next few years.

I don't believe in sink or swim philosophies.  Not at age seven for sure.  I believe in teachers that communicate and lift up every child.   I believe in a triangle between student, teacher and parent.

Don't misunderstand my main point --I don't care if Mary ever gets on a team or stays recreational her whole life.  I just want her to have a sport that she loves--where she can do what she's doing well.  Quality.  Ability development. As Thomas the Tank Engine sings, whatever we do we do it well . . . . this little girl happens to be very athletic. It's taken all my strength to invite in the idea that she might have to make a big commitment to a sport as well as music.

It might take some time, but I'm gonna have to find a new coach that says, "that was good Mary, but I think you can do it even better."  A coach that asks her, how were your toes on that one?  A coach that sees what is working and does it again.  A coach that teaches awareness. A coach that knows that success leads to success.  A coach that learns with love.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Suzuki Chain Saw Day

I have long since thought that Suzuki principles should be applied to other disciplines.

After college, while I was doing my Suzuki training, I was also improvising for classes at a ballet school in Austin.  The wood floor, the beat up point shoes, the snagged tights and leotards--it all looked so romantic.  The dancing was beautiful and the ladies made it look easy.   I thought to myself, I would like to learn to dance.  I arranged a trade out with the school--for an extra hour of banging away on the upright piano for the company--I could take an hour of beginning ballet for adults.  It didn't go so great.  When I got my toes pointed my arms drooped and when I fixed my arms my head was turned funny.  I could never get all the motions together at the same time.  I wished for Suzuki ballet.  If I could just have a semester to get my arms right, and then move on the the feet, if I could just do one thing at a time, like I try to do with my students--then I could learn ballet.  The teacher was not into that.  Life goes on.

This weekend was a work weekend at the Kotrba house.  Bill and I agreed that some maintenance needed to be done down at the lake.  Maintenance that required a chain saw and trees.  In my mind's eye I saw us headed down the hill at 8:00 a.m. Saturday morning, coffee in thermos, chain saw and loppers in hand, with frost in the air and leather work gloves on our hands.  I was wearing my Grandpa's denim barn coat, ready to go!

Then I thought about previous chain saw work days.  I decided to try the Suzuki principle that I talked about last week, recommended to me by an anonymous blog commenter:  I lowered my expectations.

Bill tries to channel the spirit of his father-in-law, my dad.  My dad had several chain saws of differing sizes and torques.  He kept them in hard cases like precious violins.  They were well-oiled with extra chains, sharpened and ready to go, hanging on the shop wall.

Bill got his first and only chain saw for Christmas several years ago.  A couple years later when it would no longer run he decided to take it down to the hardware store for some help.  He asked me for something to carry it in that wouldn't get wrecked with gas or oil.

When he showed up at Ace hardware with the small saw in the pink rubber-made bin, the guys were not impressed.  To his credit--Bill is actually quite comfortable rebuilding all sorts of small motors, but this was a new creature.  We learned along the way.  It needs a new spark plug.  You can't let the gas freeze over winter.  You have to sharpen the blade every time you use it.  It needs a special oil.  It has a personality.

So, I was on the right track, to lower my expectations Saturday morning.

When he went to fill it with gas the plastic gas cap busted off.  He looked at me with apologetic eyes.  It was gonna require a trip to the hardware store.  I didn't flinch.  I smiled and said, I'm so glad we have a Steel dealer here in Eagan. . .  I headed down the hill at 12:30 p.m. by myself, with my loppers and he returned 45 minutes later with the vroom vroom of a functioning chain saw.  As we worked--I assumed that every task would be the last--before the little saw kicked the dust again.  On the last stump it ran out of gas.  I thought--it's okay if that stump is here, sticking out, on the sledding hill all winter.  He poured the last drips of gas from the can and made it through the stump.  We cleaned up and went to dinner, marriage intact, forest maintenance done for the year.  The saw is back in it's happy pink house.

All because I lowered my expectations.

Perhaps this works in other areas of life?  I should have lowered my expectations when my babies were born.  I assumed I could still be the highly productive perfectionist of childless days.  Not.

All four of my grandparents lived to be ninety--or very close to it.  I never dreamed that my dad wouldn't live to be seventy.  Friends I know lost their parents much earlier and would view the time my children had with my dad as a gift.

I guess when you lower your expectations, everything is a gift.  Time is a gift.  Productivity is a gift. Progress at the piano is a gift.

A pleasant surprise.

A delight.

Maybe along the way something else happens as well--we become a little more content where we are.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cultivating Deep Listening. . . part two

The Practice Path with Leaves-photo from Bill's Dad
One of the greatest compliments musicians give to one another is to say--he has "big ears."  She has big ears.  This implies that they are listening very deeply to the music they are creating.

So often the music we are hearing in our inner ears is not exactly the same as what is coming out the instrument.  It takes a certain focus and determination to make those two one in the same.

Some students are making videos to send in for the convention.  I took some advice, and zeroed out my expectations for Mary's video session.  She is only seven.  If we get a good recording, fine.  If not fine.  The time I set aside to tape was last night after school.  On the way in the house I stopped to pick up the mail.  Here was a birthday party invitation addressed to Mary for Pump it Up--the jumping toy warehouse party factory---from her best school friend.  For the weekend we are out of town.  Sobs.  More sobs.  Additional sobbing.

Red swollen face.  Time is passing by.  The time that I have allotted to make the video.  Put her in the dress, her favorite dress from Lena.  That helped considerably.  Cold rag on the face.  Fresh wave of grief.  Mama you don't know what it is like to miss the birthday party of your best friend.  My expectations for making a lovely video are even lower at this time.  Very low. Zero.

We finally make it into the piano room.  I put the music desk down and set up the camera.  We took about 25 takes.  I'm not going to send in the one where she makes it to the last note and clams and puts her hands in her lap and pouts into the camera.  I have been there Mary.  Not sending the nose-picking one.  Not sending the one where she dramatically flings her hair.  Most of the takes were very happy hearted.  She is happy to put on a show.  I introduce her before I turn on the camera--the famous and lovely princess Mary will perform her specialty--the Cradle Song.

The reason I'm boring you with this, is because in the process of making the video, something clicked.  She started listening.  Deeply.  You can tell because she fixes the balance and tone as she goes.  Princesses can do what ordinary little girls can't do.  The right hand is beautifully singing out. She plays the right tempo.  She shapes her phrases.  After about the tenth take, I started getting really excited.  Not because I give a hoot whether she makes it to the convention or not, but because she was playing really well.  Listening deeply.

My teacher growing up used to walk to the back of the studio and listen when I was getting ready for a performance.  Louder here, he would say.  Softer now.  And I obeyed because I was a good little girl.  But I wasn't really listening.

I'm still learning to listen.  To get beyond the notes and the piano machine and my fingers and listen to the sound.

How to cultivate this?  Making recordings is a great way.  Listening back we can hear the difference between what we thought we did and how it actually sounded.  With practice they can become closer to the same.

For little kids--my number one listening game is "who played it."  The parent looks away and I play the snippet and the child plays the snippet and the parent has to guess who played first.  Then we switch turns. This cuts to the chase of what kind of sound is coming out the instrument.   Even a puppet can be the judge.  The student is so delighted when her sound fools her mother.  Why shouldn't a young person have the exact tone as the teacher.  It is only a physics problem.  Gravity is gravity--within reason of course.  The young students can get a very lovely projecting tone.  Shape a phrase.  Balance the hands.

As teachers we get so wound up in getting through all the material in the lesson, the note reading, the scale, the review, the theory, the finger numbers on the new piece. . . . sometimes we forget that without deep listening, we miss out on so much.  So, I'm gonna try to remember to make deeper listening a part of each and every lesson.  At every age and every level.

Students who listen deeply, love the music deeply.  That is my goal.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanks to Dr. Lovell and the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire

A big thank you goes out to Dr. Owen Lovell and the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire for coming into our community to give us a weekend of masterclasses.  Lovell's fees were covered by the U, SPTG just had to pay expenses.  Wow!

Owen worked with eighteen students playing everything from Clementi to Liszt.  A highlight was Nancy Daley's student Katherine playing the Hungarian Rhapsody #2.  Katherine was already playing it amazingly beautiful, but Dr. Lovell still had some profound insights for her. Congratulations Katherine and Nancy!

A couple good ideas and reminders included things as simple as remembering to always play the scales and cadences in the keys that your pieces are in.  This seems obvious--but often our study of theory doesn't always correlate to the interpretation of the piece we are actually playing.  It should.  My students cycle through their scales each year, but it makes more sense to focus on the keys we are using the most in our repertoire.

Calvin played Solfeggietto for him.  Dr. Owen suggested to Calvin, that he continue to play with the metronome, but gradually switch to greater units of subdivisions.  In other words, start out ticking eighth notes at 120 bpm, then play the same passage at quarter note equals 60 bpm, and then finally play it at half note equals 30 bpm.  All three are the same tempo, but longer ticks makes the student more accountable to the subdivisions.  A great reminder.  Oh, one more thing--after all this time and training, you think I would have thought to remind Calvin to keep his hand rounded.  (Note sarcasm. . .directed at the vague and distant look my son got on his face when Lovell asked if Calvin knew what shape his hand should be in.) I'll get right on that.

I'm joking a bit, but Calvin did respond well and has already been working very hard on his technique.  It takes a village.  I'm proud of Calvin.

Lovell had some nice ideas about memory work, including ghosting the piece--to remove the memory from only motor muscle, and put it in the ear and intellect.  He asked the student to go in and out of ghosting (that is playing the notes with no sound) as he clapped and clapped again.  This is the same principle Caroline Fraser uses in her early reading classes--to grow the kids inner ear.  Fun, and valuable.

Lastly, Owen spoke to several students about the idea of rubato--and keeping the flow balanced--suggesting that the more a player pushes through a phrase, the more time he will have to take at the end to keep it balanced.  They related to that.

Oh--one more thing--a total coincidence--Owen studied with my very own undergraduate and graduate piano teacher, Dr. Betty Mallard from UT Austin.  We decided that made us piano cousins--or something like that.  Betty was an amazing teacher, but that is another story.

Thanks again, Owen, and all the folks at the University of Wisconsin.  We had a great weekend.

The Ripple Effect

Let me see if I can tie this all together.

Yesterday I transplanted hosta plants.  Bill's mom, Diane gave me seven of them five years ago.  They have outgrown their spot, so I split and divided as gardeners do, and came up with fifteen more to put in the new shady landscape spot.  The same thing happened with the stella d'oro daylilies I got from Barb a couple years ago, suddenly seven plants becomes twenty-seven and you have a whole garden of them.  Gardening is like that.  A ripple effect.

A stranger came to my door last Fall.  A peculiar looking woman.  She politely told me that I needed to put some wood ashes on my peonies or they would suffer from the mildew that was on them.  Okay.  Thanks.  Then she asked if she could have some pine cones from the yard.  Sure.  I figured out she lives down the street.  The kids call it the old house.  The very old house, that has not been maintained for many, many years--with the broken down car in the driveway because it looks like the garage is too far gone.  She has a garden.  It's years and years outgrown, but I have always admired the old-fashioned and rare plants that come up between the weeds.  Noreen.  So Noreen walks up yesterday as I am digging holes and thanks me for the pine cones.  She made them all into angels and wreaths and gave them away at some shelter.  She asks if I want a peony.  She has it half dug.  Sure, I say, and then it dawns on me, no one digs something half way unless they aren't able to finish it.  I offer to help her dig it out Tuesday morning and we have a garden date.  Talk to the dogs as you come up, she says, and they won't bother you.  She lives alone.  She takes free stuff and makes it into something special for someone else.  She shares her antique peonies. Another ripple effect.

Saturday we celebrated the retirement of Pastor Jim, founder and senior pastor of Easter for the past 38 years.  Kris Henry and the church commissioned a new choral work for the occasion, titled Be Still.  The text is Sarah Clark's poetic contemporary paraphrase of Psalm 46.  The music composed by Daniel Kallman.  Kallman uses the technique of text painting, where the harmony and texture of the music match the words at each moment.  "Rocky shores" is a jagged counterpoint, "be still and know" is a calm tonal melody, and "the spirit of God" part is full of majestic piano chords.  We worked hard and I think we gave it a good first run.  The choir and I got most of the notes, and all of the meaning, I hope.  Churches and university choirs can use the piece for years and years to come.  Another ripple effect.

Back to Pastor Jim, what can I say that hasn't been said?  If you had to pick a second dad, he would be right up there on the list.  One man starts a church and people all over the world get blessed.  The ultimate ripple effect.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Cultivating Deep Listening. . . part one

Today Mark Humphrey is upstairs tuning the pianos.  I can't listen. . . . In this photo David Brown is playing a cluster of notes on the piano and asking students to identify how many and what notes he is playing. . . I made a recording of the piece the choir and I are working on and listened to it last night.  When I listened back,  it gave me some ideas of what I need to work on. . . A friend shared that her mother is struggling with a new crop of annoying health issues.  I tried to listen with my heart--while the kids hollered at each other in the back seat of the car. . .

There are so many different ways to listen.  I'm gonna start with the kind of listening I think is the most important: listening to each other.

Mrs. Sipe, Calvin's fourth grade teacher struck a chord with me one day after school.  I was asking her about him.  She said, as always, he has a lot to say in class.  Too much to say.  You might even call it motor mouthing. Then she added, but he deserves to be listened to .  We all deserve to be listened to.  I try.  I tell Calvin, it is all in the timing--right now I have grocery lists and bell choir and gymnastics schedules mixing in my head, I don't have the space to listen about the history of PC and Mac operating systems. . . but if I want to stay connected to this kid, I will come back later and listen, intently.

My grandma Hope was the best listener I have ever known.  She listened on the phone, sitting at the kitchen table, with a note pad to actually take notes on what you were saying.  (Heaven help you if you gossiped--it was there in print forever.)  Still, she listened deeply.   I'll never forget when I called to tell her my dad had cancer.  There was the longest pause on the phone where neither of us could speak, and then she finally said, it's been a hard week hasn't it.  She took the time to sit and listen. Over the years she listened to my mom and my sister and me, and all the family ups and downs, and she never shared a word of it--except to the note pad. . . God bless her.  I miss her.

I read an interview between Oprah and Thich Nhat Hanh in her magazine a while ago.  He suggested that the greatest gift we can give each other is the gift of listening deeply.  He says, "Darling, I'm here for you." Over and over and over.  

Most of the time I am so busy thinking about what I'm going to say next, that I'm not getting the full message.  It takes practice to just listen.  To listen deeply.  What a great thing to practice. What a great gift to give the people we love.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October Kudos

I'm so excited about our studio events this Fall.
We have three projects going on in October.  The first is a weekend of masterclasses that is a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, The Twin Cites Suzuki Piano Teachers' Guild, and Maria Grant's studio.  Dr. Owen Lovell will give masterclasses in my studio this Friday and Saturday.  I'm excited to report that according to his bio, he earned his DMA from the University of Texas at Austin.  Go Longhorns!  Can't wait to gossip about piano faculty. . . The following students from my studio will have masterclasses:

Aidan--Chopin Nocturne in C# minor
Cassy--2nd movement Mozart Sonata K. 332
Grace--Mendelssohn Venetian Gondola Song
Lena--Chopin Waltz in A minor
Samantha--Mendelssohn Venetian Gondola Song
Calvin--C.P.E. Bach Solfeggietto

The second big event is a weekend workshop sponsored by the Suzuki Association of Minnesota.  Parents, teachers, and students are invited to attend the many presentations, including a parent lecture by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Raising Your Spirited Child.  Please see the S.A.M. website for registration and details.  We are also offering masterclasses with Reiko Imrie, from MacPhail, to our advanced piano students.  Aidan, Cassy, Alec, Samantha, and Calvin from my studio will get to work with Imrie.

Thirdly, six students are preparing DVD auditions for the national convention.  The competition will be very steep--nothing ventured nothing gained.   It is always a growth experience to polish a piece and get a high quality video recording.  (It will be a growth experience for my husband to help me figure out how to format and upload the videos. . . )  Selected students from around the country will get to perform in masterclasses at the national convention here in Minneapolis.  Isabella is sending a Twinkle, Mary will play Cradle Song, Calvin will send in the Chopin A Minor Waltz. Alec recorded the Granados Spanish dance from Book 6, Cassy recorded Debussy's Reverie, and Aidan will record a Prokofiev Prelude!

Kudos to all of you who are working so hard!
This is exactly what I wanted--opportunities for these advanced students to work with collegiate faculty! They will gain insight and ideas--and experience.  I will gain insight and ideas and experience.
I look forward to hearing each of you play, and I'm proud to send in your recordings to the Suzuki Association of the Americas!

Best wishes!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Where is My Professor of Parenting?

College was so nice.  I really liked college.  Granted I might have been a better student if I had already been married.  Nevertheless.

In college presumably the professor of your class is the leader in her field.  She is a guru of musical analytical techniques, or whatever the class is that she is teaching.

She has office hours, you can make an appointment and ask her questions.  You trust her answers.  She is the professor.  She has a PHD and you address her as doctor.

She gives a mid-term exam.  After that you pretty much know where you stand.  You might need to step it up a little, or maybe you are doing okay and can focus more on your other classes.  At the end of the semester you get a grade.  Maybe an A, maybe a B minus--maybe it was fair, maybe not--but you know how you did and it goes on your permanent record.


Where is that guru that I completely trust to give me the right answers to my difficult questions?  The one who knows the subject matter better than me? She can tell me if I'm doing okay, or if I need to step it up a notch. . .

Bill and I stare in disbelief when our two children get into a meaningless spat at breakfast this morning.  This is the way this Fall has been going.  Our hitherto constant playmates seem to be at each other's throats.  Then the older brother mouths off to dad and gets himself into thicker trouble.  Younger sister sits like gloating angel across the table causing further angst.


I am so tired of the excuses. But she said. . . but he wouldn't. . . .

All we want is a yes mom, yes dad.  The older brother won't let it go.  Now he's in even bigger trouble.

Primal scream.

The best book I ever read on parenting was 1-2-3 Magic, ( by Dr. Thomas Phelan.  I do like that doctor label.  My favorite point of the book is that we have to remove our own emotions from our discipline.

Correct the behavior.
Correct the behavior.
Correct the behavior.

Don't get sucked into the emotions.  Don't let it escalate.
Easier said than done.  For me anyway.

I asked a friend about her boy and girl.  She said, oh yes, they got to an age when they needed space and couldn't play together anymore.  I'm not accepting that.

I'm also not accepting this angry young teenager thing.  Especially not from a ten year old.

Gentle justice--that phrase from a hymn by Marty Haugen--the brother of our Deerwood principle.

That is my never ending goal.  Gentle justice.  Correct the behavior.  Love the child.

Office hours?  The professor is not available. We only have our faith,  our spouse, our own parents, and books and friends along the way.

We cram for the midterm--and everyday is a test.  Only this degree takes a lifetime to finish and the final grade is the most important one we will ever earn.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mary's Lovely Weekend

The Birthday Recital Girl
Guests of Honor

My Favorite Part
Happy birthday Mary!   I'm not going to tell the story of how seven years ago we waited for Maggie to show up to babysit Calvin--how Bill told her firmly that we needed to go--while she tried to give me advice on labor and delivery--how he drove 90 miles an hour in the bumpy Ford Explorer to the hospital--how they logged us into the ER at 5:52 a.m. and the tech took one look at me and said get her out of here and made Bill run ahead to push the elevator button (it sometimes takes up to 38 seconds for the elevator to come) while he got the gurney.  Apparently the tech was not keen on delivering a baby in the hallway.  She was born at 5:56 into the loving and capable hands of the OB nurse and Bill.   That is--Bill was loving and the nurse was capable.  From the video of the first moments of Mary's life,  you can tell that the whole experience was much harder on Bill than it was on me or Mary--he is hyperventilating into the camera mic. . . poor Bill.  Too bad he didn't have the Challenger back then, we might have made better time. 

All is well that ends well.  

This weekend, all ended well.  Very well.  Mary had her friends' party Friday afternoon.  She woke up crying with a tummy ache at 11:30 Thursday night.  She made herself all the worse crying that she didn't want to miss Run 4 Deerwood and her birthday party on Friday.  Some of you have heard Mary cry. She knows how to cry. I sat on the floor in the bathroom with her and the throw up bucket and prayed.  The poor girl didn't deserve to be sick on this day.  Eventually she fell asleep (without throwing up).  I just kept thinking--no temp--no throw up--she could still participate. . . and she woke up feeling okay.  Calvin commented it was a good thing she didn't throw up, because he needed that bucket for the scavenger hunt at the party.  Among other reasons. . . .  

Run 4 Deerwood is very cool.  The kids collect money for a jog-a-thon and all the money goes to the school.  The fire department and police were there and a big jamming stereo pumping tunes for the kids to run to.  (Another way in which music adds to our life) Much excitement and hoopla.  Congrats Deerwood!   I hope you met your goal!

Mary's recital on Saturday was lovely.  Amazing.  She played so many echos and had gentle endings and had awesome balance on the Ecossaise, Short Story and The Happy Farmer.  It was like she remembered everything I ever taught her.  Mysterious almost.  Peculiar.  Next life for me: child psychologist.   Maybe it was because Mary was wearing Lena's dress. They share in the sisterhood of girls with older brothers with perfect pitch to whom things come easily.  I'm joking about the dress.  She played so beautifully because deep down she was well-prepared.  I don't know how to account for the last few days, except that perhaps there is a conspiracy against parents, by their children to freak them out, by really playing poorly in the days leading up to a recital.  

Seriously, this quandary comes under the heading of review management, that tricky science of keeping kids engaged in adding the details after they have been playing the piece for a while.  A core principle of the Suzuki Method and Ability Development is that we use review for growth.  We review to add beauty and polish and skills.  I'm think I'm pretty good at this, but obviously not perfect.  Each child is so unique. There is an art to planning these graduations.  It is extremely unlikely for the student to be able to have peak performance of each piece on one given day.  Yet, I maintain that these graduations are valuable and a tremendous growth experience.   Like my anonymous commenter from the last blog entry pointed out--patience comes in managing our expectations.  

When it is all done, you don't know whether to hug the kid or kick them in the caboose.  Of course I chose the hug.  

Thank you to Mary's Aunt Susan and Savannah, to Auntie Ann and Uncle Dave, Grandma and Grandpa and Grandmommy, Mary Lynn and Maggie,  for coming to Mary's recital and family party.  She loves you all!