Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Roll Call

Mary helps with the January Purge
It is a new semester at the Kotrba Piano Studio.  I'm making new lesson plan cards and it is a great time to mention those students who had perfect attendance these last 16 weeks!

William (actually missed one for the chicken pox. . .I'll call that excused)

Wow!  That means a lot to me.  That means you are keeping piano near the top of your list--or your parent is very creative and switches with other students when you have a conflict.  I missed one Wednesday when Mary was sick. I'll credit that for summer.  I'm not sure how to count if Mary and Calvin had perfect attendance--probably they did--they have a lesson every day--have mercy on them. . .

Hey!  We also had very near perfect attendance at groups!  Only one person missed last month!  Must be my most excellent treats. . . .

Here's some advice to aspiring teachers--charging for missed lessons is a great way to ensure faithful attendance. . . but seriously. . . attending lessons is the most critical piece of the puzzle.  I can't teach you if you are not here.  Parents can contact other families and ask them to switch--they are not obligated of course. Also, generally if I know a week or two in advance I'll try my best to tweak the schedule--I want you to come to your lesson.  Same day cancels and no shows are not fixable--Mary Lynn is a great nanny but I sure don't want to pay her twice for your lesson and she has a family too--I can't throw stuff (well not too much) at her at the last minute.   I have to guard the time with my family too--short of that I'll try to make it work.

The best thing about great attendance is that the students make good progress!  Congrats to all of you who made it to all your lessons--it shows!  I appreciate your commitment.

Monday, January 30, 2012

SPTG Advancing Recitals--Congrats!

Congratulations to all the students who performed in the Twin Cities Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild's Recitals for Advancing Students.  Cassy, Alec, Aidan, Lena, Kathryn, Grace and Calvin played in these recitals on Saturday.  Sami--I'm sorry you hurt your finger and could not play--I'm so happy that you came to the recitals anyway to support your friends.  It really meant a lot to me.

I'm very proud of everybody that played on Saturday.  Cassy--you really hit the ball out of the park with your Chopin Waltz--it is fun when it goes so flawlessly.   I enjoyed Calvin's Für Elise, knowing that he made many of the musical decisions in the piece on his own. Everyone played musically and from the heart.  I'm truly glad that you all took the time to share your music!

I was thinking about my notes from last year and what about the recitals improved and what still needs attention.  I thought the piano was very tricky--kids were obviously struggling with the pedal.  I saw the foot going up and down but still heard the blur on many pieces.  It cuts to the chase of who is actually listening to the music coming out the instrument and who just practiced putting their foot up and down.  Some kids coped fine and for others it was pretty blurry.  I'm talking about all the participants--not just my kids.  As a teacher I thought about two things I need to keep working on with students:

  • Recital prep--what goes into recital prep?  Having the piece memorized a month ahead, working on perfect repetitions and performing a tryout in front of peers.  When I let down on these standards, it shows in performance confidence and results. Don't get me wrong!  I'm not suggesting that mistakes ruin a performance or that everything has to be 100% perfect to be lovely.  It sure is fun when we are super prepared and can show off instead of being a little worried.  It's not about perfection it is about the message in the music.  It is harder to express the message when we memorize at the last minute or haven't prepared thoroughly.  Everyone has a little slip now and then but it shouldn't be the rule or be distracting to the audience.  Recommit!
  • Listening skills--those students who listen carefully to the sound coming out of the piano adjusted well to the room and the instrument. Until you are rich and famous you will have to play on pianos that are tricky--there are very few instruments especially in Minnesota in the winter that will be perfectly in tune and adjusted and voiced.  We have to smile, be thankful for the folks that allowed us to use their space and listen, listen, listen.  
I believe these recitals are valuable!  Sharing advanced music inspires younger students and gives older students ideas for repertoire.  As leader of the SPTG I'm going to lobby for more students to play next year so we get to hear even more advanced music.  These are our advanced students!  This is the fruit of our labor and our method--we have to show these kids off and help them learn to prepare so they can show the world that the mother tongue approach is the best way to learn--with the goal to be comfortable, to listen well and to express the music beautifully!  I believe in this method and I believe in these kids.  

Congratulations to all the students and teachers who participated! 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Meditation for a Day at Home with the Kids

No school today.

Bill has been gone since Sunday night.  It is 4:00 p.m. Friday.  His flight gets in at 5:00 p.m.  The darkest hour is just before dawn.

Actually, this whole week we did really good without him.  We were in a good groove.  I got Calvin to band in the morning and Mary to family math night.  Mary Lynn got them to gymnastics and bell choir while I taught. We had good piano practices. I enjoyed teaching and the piano kids worked hard.  House is pretty clean.  I have lots to do but I'm checking things off the list in good order. Four recitals this weekend but everyone is in good shape. Programs are printed and S.A.M. recordings are all set.

I woke up early today as usual and practiced with Calvin. We had a great practice. Fur Elise is sounding very beautiful. He really worked hard and listened to my ideas and I listened to his.  

I was thinking about being in the moment and enjoying a day at home with my kids. They had little cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  Mary's friend came over for awhile and there was a doll luncheon. We made chocolate chip cookies. I was the perfect mother. Patient. So loving and why not, with my perfect little children?  A light snow was falling. This is how life should always be. See, I can be mindful.

Then the crayon machine came out.
"Mama, it's leaking. . . "  The melted wax is leaking. And crayon scrapings were all on a paper towel that somehow missed the garbage can and went into everything else under the sink.   But, oh the joy of creating your own beautiful brown crayons. That is what really happens when you mix all those great colors together.  Recycle crayons?  Like we need to do that?  We have bins and bins of crayons.

That set me back. The crayon machine. Why is there no school today?  Why?  What are they doing over there that they can't have the kids there?  Don't we pay enough taxes to have more days of school?  I yelled about the wax. Tears were shed.

Then someone, I won't mention who but it was my more OCD child. . . decided to organize the bins of crayons.  Mama, there are 15 Orchids!  There are 10 Target Reds! Only 7 Tickle Me Pinks. . . Wow.  They are all laid out all over the piano room floor by color.  Just like when he, I mean the un-named child, was 18 month olds. . .when we knew he was not a completely normal toddler.  

Buddha where are you now?
This is why we need Jesus.  And a husband.  Not necessarily in that order.
I can't do it on my own.

I tried some deep breaths.  Oommm.  But then the music started.  From the piano room: (the Baldwin with the rich bass. . . ) Star Wars- dum dum dum-Star Wars---dum dum dum Star Wars-dum dum dum dum. . . . .it modulates into Vivaldi's Spring at quarter note equals 180--then comes to a climax with a boogie-woogie chorus.  I'm not kidding. You can't make this stuff up. And it's very loud.

The frenetic energy has reached a peak in a rousing chorus of  "Fearless" complete with song and dance by the other child.

There is no meditation for this.  Resistance is futile.  I light a fire in the fireplace and stare at the minutes ticking by on the clock.  It's too soon to get in the car to pick Bill up at the airport.  We would only drive around in circles for 45 minutes.

I'm gonna head down and join the song and dance--now being hammered out on the marimba in the basement. . .  Ode to Joy morphs back into Fearless. . . break for another round of wrestling. . .then. . . you guessed it: snare drum practice.

I don't know how it gets better than this
You take my hand and drag me headfirst fearless. . . 

I guess this is the meditation for a day at home with the kids.  Enjoy it. I don't know how it gets better than this. I know that I will look back on today--just like early childhood--and smile.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Robe

January in Minnesota is a dangerous time.  They call it SAD.  Seasonal affective disorder.  It has been dark and cold now for awhile and we have to guard our mental health.  One way I do this is the January purge.  The whole house list I call it.  We go through stuff and set aside things we no longer need or use for the goodwill pile.  Another way we cope with SAD is by consuming chocolate.  I've actually been pretty good about that--since I've been on this new fad diet--called eating three meals a day with one snack.  Crazy I know, but that is another blog.

So I'm doing the whole house list--little by little--you read about the CD rack.  I'm just being honest when I tell you that I actually have a spread sheet I use to check off the areas in the house.  I haven't used it lately, but it does exist somewhere in the bowels of the computer.  Just being honest.  Am I the only person who wonders if every space in the house were organized, including that never never land called the basement, would I truly find peace?  Deep inner peace?

I doubt it but hope springs eternal.  It's cheaper than medication and spring will come.

I bought a new robe with my birthday money.  It is really soft and fluffy and just like the blanket Mary got for her baptism--in a soft blush pink.  The old robe?  It is about ten years old.  There have been moments when I thought maybe this old robe saved my marriage.  It keeps me warm here in Minnesota, when I was perfectly happy without a warm fuzzy robe in warm Austin, TX.  Well maybe not perfectly happy, but the robe makes cold dark Minnesota January mornings face-able. It once was white and fluffy. Now, it has more coffee spilled on it than I care to admit.  This is the routine, you see:  I wake up at 6:00, brush my teeth, put on the warm robe, go downstairs and get my coffee, and head back up to the piano room to practice with Calvin.

This is a long way of saying that having a new robe for my birthday and having a very old stained holey completely shot robe lead me to put the old "white" robe in the goodwill pile.  I decided I better wash it.  Still not quite white.  More of a cappuccino color.  As I took it out of the dryer to put in the goodwill bag I balked.

Couldn't do it.

Got choked up and started sobbing.  Might be SAD but I think there is some authentic emotion here.  I put the robe against my face. I thought about the literally hundreds--no thousands--of hours I've spent practicing with that kid in that robe.  Half asleep with an IV drip of coffee, but still there. I thought about that kid resting his head on my lap to cuddle and take a break.  It also occurred to me that even a very poor person probably might not want my holey cappuccino colored robe but I moved through that emotion pretty quickly.

I stashed the robe back in a drawer.  Maybe next year I'll be ready.

Then I thought about all the children's books on my shelves.  Why did I buy so many children's books?  Did I think my children would be little forever?  I think I really did.  We need this investment in picture books for the future of the Kotrba household. . .  not.  I thought early childhood would last forever. I sorted through but there wasn't one in ten that I could put on the pile.

What is it with me????

It's not the robe and it's not the books, it's the child. The time we invested with the child.  The hours and days and weeks and years with the child. Like the precious Velveteen Rabbit--the books and the robe have become real. They are not holey, they are holy.

So excuse my language--but screw the whole house list.   I'm keeping my robe.  Even if it sits taking up space in a drawer for the next ten years before it finally moves on to where robes nobody needs go.  It's real.  If I look out the window I might see it hopping around in the yard, cappuccino colored and full of holes, but real.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Daddy's Home

Oh, the stories piano teachers could tell of parents who sabotaged their kids in the name of trying to save them from their spouse's opinion of what was best for them. Did you get that?  In other words, the parents weren't on the same team and the children suffered.  I'm talking mostly about piano.

The variations on this theme are endless.  Use your imagination and you can visualize the damage inflicted on the student and the end result more often than not is that the student quits. Worst case scenario I had a dad who paid his daughter to quit because he had had it with the mom and daughter fighting about piano.  Yikes. This is not okay. I didn't find out until much later or I could have tried to help them.

Now, I have some dads in my studio who are the practicing parent.  Solid citizens. Suzuki parents extraordinaire. They take notes and drive and they sat with their kids at the piano for years.  So, this isn't gender specific, but stereotypically it is the mom who is the practicing parent.  When there is trouble in paradise usually it is initiated by the non-practicing parent.

I require both parents to be at my parent orientation class at least for some of the four sessions I hold.  This is so that I can make sure that everybody is on board and that there are no surprises regarding the commitment level later on.  Both parents need to know that learning an instrument is an enormous financial, emotional and time commitment.

The reason I am thinking about this is for the positive extreme--my kids' Dad.  Bill had a long practice session with Calvin and Mary on Saturday and I couldn't help but listen to a little of what was going on through the open door.  Bill is a ex-professional musician so he hears things. Different things than I do, in a good way.  He works on different tasks with them.  And he plays different games. I hear them screaming and laughing in between songs as they suffer a tickle attack. Practice puppy has a different voice--he's gruff and talks in opposites.  Bill is stricter about some things and doesn't notice others that would catch my attention.

I am totally blessed that we are completely on the same team.  He never second guesses me and he is always positive with the kids. He likes hearing them play and helping them. I never take that for granted.  And by the way, I didn't really take the Challenger out, it was a joke.  It makes me car-sick.

Practicing with Dad gives me a break, but more than that it adds dimension to their learning, especially since I am their teacher and their parent. Bill and I are a unified front. There is no getting around us.

I realize having two professional musicians as parents is not the Suzuki family norm.  Some families have one musical parent and some have none.  There are blessings and pitfalls to each scenario.  The important part is the unified front.

Here is a small but nice list of ways the non-practicing parent can be supportive--some may seem obvious--but you would be surprised:

  • Come to the lesson sometimes--without phone or computer
  • Come to recitals and performances
  • Help save money for an adequate instrument
  • Ask to hear your child play on the weekends
  • Ask how practice is going in front of the other parent--support the practicing parent
  • NEVER complain about anything regarding their music study-not listening to the recording, not listening to them practice, not money, not time. . . NOTHING
  • NEVER criticize the child's performance no matter what happens--you liked it
  • Demand that your child is respectful to the practicing parent 
  • Let your child teach you his latest song (works through Book 1 or 2. . . )
  • Don't second guess the practicing parent--instead ask questions and learn
  • Give the practicing parent back rubs. . . lots of back rubs. . . everyday. . . they deserve it!

If all else fails: do no harm. But, with a little effort the non-practicing parent can be the wind beneath the Suzuki triangle's wings.  Cliché but true.  You don't have to know everything about music.  You just have to keep showing up.

Is it worth it?  One dad asked last weekend at the parent talk.  Yes, and here's why:  for the love of the child and for the love of music.  In that order.  We want our children to have beautiful hearts and to love music, again, in that order.  But, when we all work together and succeed we get it all-- a beautiful hearted child who sees the value of music to express herself in a beautiful world.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Cheerful Crossing Guard and Bill's Challenger

Welcome to winter.  We knew it would come.

God bless the cheerful crossing guard at Deerwood Elementary.  I don't know her name, but I know her nonetheless, from waving to her each day for the last six years.  She is always, always smiling.  Yesterday twelve below zero: smiling.  Today blowing snow: smiling.  God bless Mr. Highum--fifth grade teacher--getting the kids out of their cars: smiling.  Cars are backed up and parents are late for work and cutting in line gesticulating.  He's smiling.  It's a brand new day!  So--I'm smiling too.

I was reminiscing about when I was 14 in Iowa and learning to drive on my grandparent's farm.  I drove the pickup right through the back of the machine shed when I hit the gas instead of the breaks.  I met my grandpa walking half way back to the house with tears in my eyes.  He was laughing a big old belly laugh. It took him three days to fix the shed but he didn't have anything better to do anyway. As for the new truck--what are bumpers for anyway--to keep people safe.  He was always so cheerful.

Speaking of cheerful--I haven't had a chance to talk to Bill much this week, but I know he reads my blog so I thought I would write him a little note--you don't have to read it if you are busy.

Dear Bill,
Before you get back from New York tonight at midnight I just want to give you a little update.  Yesterday it got really cold.  As often happens when it gets that cold the tire pressure in my Pacifica car tires went dangerously low.  So I stopped at a gas station to fill them up but I had no change for the air machine.  Lucky for me, this cute guy was just coming out of the gym next door.  He was obviously exhausted from his upper body workout but he was kind enough to stop and loan me the change for the machine.  Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.

But, after he left, I couldn't get the cap off the tire tube things.  At twelve below they are really tricky and even with freezing cold bare fingers I couldn't budge them.  So I drove slowly home.

Now, I know you wouldn't want me driving the kids around with dangerously low tire pressure, so I went ahead and took them to school today in your Challenger.  I know you have the insurance turned off for the winter months but I was really careful.  In fact, I drove right behind the salt truck just to make sure it was okay. That mixture of sand and salt that those trucks spray way up into the air is very effective.  Oh don't worry, I could still see clearly, it comes off the windshield when you run the wipers.  By the way. . . your wipers work.  You probably never tested them. 

The Deerwood circle drop off was a little slick with the blowing snow we're having.  I know that practicing a high horsepower car clutch in traffic on ice is probably not the best but all's well that ends well.  I mean, pretty well. I didn't hit any KIDS. By the way. . .the antilock breaks work too. . . you probably didn't know that either. Since I was already out I needed to stop at Target.  Eight-thirty is a great time to shop because the only folks in the parking lot are moms with little kids.  Too bad everybody in Eagan doesn't brainwash their kids to be careful of door dings like our family does.

It didn't take me long and I was loading the groceries into the trunk.  I can't believe they aren't more careful these days to make sure the lids are on tight on their gallons of milk.  I'm sorry about that.  Milk will smell next summer, but at least it won't leave a stain like red wine would have.   

A kid in a monster truck was spinning circles in the parking lot on the ice and made a "challenging" gesture for me join him.  One little spin out won't hurt--I thought. But then I had to get home and clean up the milk--what I couldn't get with toilet paper-before it froze. I've read a mixture of baking soda and ammonia works well--but that smells a little like cat urine to me. Well.

Since we had the driveway fixed last summer there isn't that little bump to let you know when you are pulling into the garage, and I just brushed the front bumper corner against the utility sink.  I've seen those sinks at Home Depot and they are not expensive.  I'm not too worried.

Well, have a safe flight.  Oh--don't worry, I can still pick up the kids from school--the Challenger still runs. Mary is bringing home all her big glittery art projects today--she's excited. . . . tomorrow you can put air in the Pacifica tires and I'll go back to driving my own car.  

Love you,

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Sound of Silence

These are the kittens my mom got.  I'm so jealous.  They are cousins of my cats Rosie and Garfield.  Bill assures me that if I were to get another cat he would buy some old clunker Cadillac to fix up. Enough said. I have another allergic friend who would certainly disown me as well.  So I'm adopting vicariously through my mother.  I take full credit for suggesting to her that these were possibly the two cutest cats I have ever seen in my life.  Plus--when you lose your husband and your mother in 15 months--like my mom did--you get a free pass to adopt as many pets as you need.  Especially fuzzy ones.

Back to the blog.  Well--almost--the top one is a girl and did you see those blue eyes???  The bottom orange one is a boy.  Jeepers his eyes are blue too. I'm in love.  I'm thinking "Dolly" and "Sunshine." Any better names floating out there?

Truly back to the blog. . . .

We've have a heck of a ride on the Polar Express.  We are just now exiting back into January and normal life.  This weekend we have nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing.

Bill is gone this week and next week and come to think of it he was gone last week and the week before.  We knew this would be a crazy month.


He took me out for my birthday Monday night and gave me the sweetest gift.  Cash.  That is because he knows me.  He knows that in January I am in purge mode.  I don't want anything. I want to rent a dumpster and throw heaps of household stuff into it.  I need space.  Wide open space.  He also knows that come April those little pansy faces will be calling my name and I can greenhouse hop with very little guilt--using my birthday cash.  Thanks Bill.

Wide open spaces.  Silence.  Solitude.  You can't find any of these on the Polar Express--the proverbial Christmas train that we've been on since pre-advent.

Bill and I cleaned off the CD shelf this weekend.  Hasn't been done since I was pregnant with Calvin when we moved in.  He's ten.  It will be our 14 year wedding anniversary in March and I guess the marriage is going to work out and we can safely purge all the duplicate CDs from when we were single. One James Taylor greatest hits is enough.  All one hit wonders? Transferred to itunes.  I'm okay with working toward cyber music but musicians throwing piles of CDs into the garbage is still a tough pill to swallow. We were dirt poor when we bought those little gems. But, we did it.  We cleared space.  One small step toward mental health.  Next step: VHS tapes.

Space.  Silence.  Solitude.

We fill our lives and our shelves with music and conversation.  Sometimes we need to purge.

This week, when I have been in the car alone--after dropping the kids here and there and driving to meetings--I've kept the radio off. Feels funny. No "Holiday Traditions," no Christian contemporary, no Mahler Symphony, no talk radio. Silence.

How much I needed this--I didn't even know until I heard it.  All by myself in the car. Silence.

How quickly my mind turned to prayer.  And breathing.  The muscles in my neck and jaw relaxed--those ones that flair up when I let them.


To everything there is a season.  Here's to beautiful music.  Here's to conversation. Here's to the sound of silence.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Warm and Fuzzy Down in Austin

Thank you to the Heart of Texas Suzuki Organization for inviting me to teach at their weekend workshop again this year.  I got to teach 20 Book One and Two students masterclasses each day and give two parent lectures.

Lecturing feels so strange to me, because there are more than a few moments each day when I could use my own parent guru and there I stand the babbling idiot in front of fifty parents seeking insight. Getting it on the table from the get go--that I'm still looking for the answers myself, and that more than once I hauled my child off to his room screaming and kicking during practice (not lately--he's too heavy) and we have survived--is very liberating. We haven't just survived--we've come out of the room whole.  You can take a break but you always come back. We are in this for the long haul and we're going to have to learn from each other how to make it work.  I guess that is an important message.  You can screw up and still be in love with your kid and have him love you back. Perhaps that is why the parents at the parent lecture still took notes in spite of all my confessions.  Either that or it was free babysitting for an hour.

Teaching Book One and Book Two masterclasses is both easy and hard.  The goals are easy--get set up correctly at the instrument, have a little fun, and find the message in the music.  Implementing them in 15 minute snippets is hard. I've said it before--it feels like the final exams of teaching: here's the kid--show us what you can do. But thankfully it isn't an exam, it isn't about me, it is only about the child. Perhaps if we lessen our expectations from trying to give them some life altering information, to just trying to share a new game or idea, we will feel more successful.  Sometimes all you can do is plant a seed.

Can I just say, that coming back to Austin is such a blessing to me.  It feels a little like a This Is Your Life episode.  Virtually every college teacher I had is teaching at this workshop as well as my own Suzuki trainer Doris Harrel.  Again and again (mostly while watching the faculty recital) I have asked myself what the heck I'm doing here.  Why do they want me to teach next to these gods of collegiate teaching?  I don't feel worthy to make small talk at lunch.

Suddenly (again during the faculty recital) my value, my function, my role became clear to me in a little phrase of vocabulary:  perhaps I am their translator.  Perhaps I can take their musical message and translate it into pictures and words a child can understand and express.  I had these teachers under the pressure of full faculty juries--I know what their message is.  Young children deserve to hear that message and they can totally get it.  It just needs a little translating.  I can do that.

Back to the this is your life--my Austin student Kristen was there too.  Except she is all grown up and graduated and teaching Suzuki piano. She has fifty students and is hoping to get her own place soon. Congratulations Kristen!

She was my very first Suzuki student.  She and her brother Brian (who also showed up very tall at the dinner and is studying architecture at Texas A&M--to my feigned chagrin) were five and three when I started them in my apartment in Austin.  Whatever mistakes I made and I'm sure I made millions, she ended up loving it enough to make a life of it.  I consider that a success.  Love covers a multitude of mistakes and we don't have to be perfect to be of great value.

Thank you Mary, Janie, and the gang from HOTSO, I'm so thankful for y'all and your friendship.  Thank you Doris, Betty, David and my other teaching heros. Kristen, good luck and don't get a roommate if you can possibly afford it and don't teach piano in an upstairs apartment.  Brian, I'm fine with the architecture thing--but did you have to be an aggie?

I love you all.  Without you I would still be a girl with a boyfriend--playing in a rock and roll band.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Calvin Feeds a Child for a Year

We are wrapping up Christmas around here which includes finalizing Calvin's CD project.  We made and distributed around 60 CDs.  Some were gifts and some he sold for $5.  He collected $90 which he is donating to Feed My Starving Children.  According to their literature that will feed one child in Africa for twelve months.  Probably not Stonefield Farms organic yogurt, cantaloup and Pepperidge Farm's cinnamon bread--Calvin's foods of choice--but nonetheless.

Congrats Calvin!  Bill is going to take him over there (to the Eagan FMSC warehouse--not Africa) this weekend to hand over the cash in person.  Well done.

Fine print: In 2012  employees of Calvin's media are seeking union representation as their work rights around the holidays were infringed upon.  Future union negotiations will include a deadline of November 1 for the music to be recorded and December 10 for all production to be completed for distribution. If this deadline is not met the CEO of Calvin's Media hereafter referred to as John Calvin Kotrba will have to cut, fold, burn and laser copy his own CDs.  Signed: Mama and Daddy, chief operating officers of Calvin's Media.  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

I am not tempted to commit adultery or murder or steal.  I am periodically tempted to compare myself, my children and my family to others.  Close friends are not immune to this.  There is always going to be someone working harder, in a better program, at a better school or on a more exclusive team.  Deal with it. After visiting with someone and learning how great their kids are at this and that and how advanced they are at blah blah blah, my knee jerk reaction is to come home and kick my own kids into shape.  So and so is doing such and such--you better work harder!

Lead us not into temptation.  I know better than to think this way.  I still have to stop and reflect.

We are born with only one obligation--to be completely who we are.  Yet how much of our time is spent comparing ourselves to others. . . This is encouraged as necessary in the pursuit of excellence.  Yet a flower in its excellence does not yearn to be a fish, and a fish in its unmanaged elegance does not long to be a tiger.  Yet when we compare ourselves to others, we see neither ourselves nor those we look up to.  Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening, pages 11-12.  

Left unchecked, the next step is to make ourselves feel better and the quickest and easiest way to do that is to diminish the object of our comparison.  Really--their program isn't that great--look how those kids are turning out--there must be something we can find wrong with them . . . see. . . they have pimples! 

I remind myself that I am the perfect parent for my children.  Our family experience is completely unique from any other family's experience.  As it should be.  As every family's life is. Yes, we can reflect and tweak our values from time to time, but the big picture is under control.

So, when we reflect, let us take motivation from the best of those around us, but lead us not into the temptation to compare our children.  A flower may not go to Harvard and a fish may not be a concert pianist and a tiger may not be a college athlete but let them be the very best flower and fish and tiger as they were created to be.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Claim Your Idiosyncrasies

Paster Sarah used this phrase at the end of her sermon on John the Baptist yesterday:  Claim your idiosyncrasies and use them for God.

I was really moved by those words.

A couple months ago I was visiting with someone about some random thing and off the cuff she said--Sara you know you're really weird.  She was totally joking, but still somewhere down deep it kinda stung.

Okay, so I'm really psycho about Mozart and incandescent lights and my house and the laundry. That is the short list. . . dig deeper and you might find that I want a simple life but I keep adding all these beautiful activities and houseplants and cats which complicate things.

How much effort do we and our children expend trying to cover up our idiosyncrasies and blend in.

Claim your idiosyncrasies.  Embrace your weirdnesses.  All the unique little things about us are actually what makes us not just beautiful, but useful.  Not in the same way as our neighbor, our friend, our relatives or our mother.  In our very own way.

What a great reminder.  Be yourself.  Be your very best self.  Claim your idiosyncrasies.  Help our young people claim theirs--and use them!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Getting from Here to There. . .

. . . with grace.

Big or small, there is always something we have to go through.

Sometimes getting from here to there can seem impossible.

The little Mozart doll in my studio is not pleased with the first week of lessons.  How are we going to get from this Mozart to something that is at least a little more like Mitsuko Uchida.  A little more grace.  It is not one student's performance I'm talking about. . . it is a whole crop of high school students who all described their Christmas break as "relaxing."  Obviously.  They relaxed. . .

So how to get them ready for an "honors" quality performance in three weeks.  Little steps and a whole lotta faith and obviously--some hours at the piano, please.  Slow practice.  Extra listening--the Uchida recordings I lent you would be a great place to start--but the key word--is to start!

You have no choice.  You are signed up. The money is paid. Put one foot in front of the other.

To put things in perspective, my friend had her daughter in the emergency room with pneumonia twice this week. When you are the mom and the child is sick, there is no choice. You have to go through it.  You have to get from here to there. Put one foot in front of the other.

And, my first reaction to learning about my dad's terminal cancer diagnosis was--okay--here we go. We don't have a choice. We can't run far away. We have to put one foot in front of the other.  Ditto on the funeral weekend.

So. It's only Mozart. Or in my case this week--loads of laundry, the ghost of Christmas chaos in the house and a stack of deadlines looming for chamber music, SPTG, and SAM.

Here is a radical idea:  perhaps we could do even better than just putting one foot in front of the other.  In her book Simple Abundance Sarah Ban Breathnach lists six principles to help us start the new year with more grace:


Hmmm. . . let's see:  I'm so thankful that we have Mozart sonatas to work on. . . it takes a lot of work to make them sound simple. Order, harmony, beauty, and joy?  Those make it worth it to get from here to there.

It's only Mozart, but it is a little bit the same as life.  There are times when you have to get through it--but when you look back--you mostly want to see how grace filled it was--not just a stack of notes, tasks and days to get through.

After writing this, I'm ready to tackle my deadlines and my house now. I've put Mitsuko on my stereo.  I'm thankful I have deadlines and a house.  I'm working toward the other five--hopefully with just a little more grace.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Journey to Fearless

"Mama, what is my thing?"  I want to be really good at something.  How can I be really good at piano when we always have these breaks?

These words out of the mouths of babes.  

Bill got Mary a DVD for Christmas, Taylor Swift's The Journey to Fearless.  It has live performances, but also interviews and footage of a little girl Taylor playing guitar and singing.  It says things like "she couldn't put the guitar down" and after she sang the national anthem at a big sports event the kids all made fun of her at school the next day.  It tells how she didn't have any friends because she was too busy practicing guitar.  

Then it flips to footage of her in the middle of the enormous arena singing in her sparkly dress with her sparkly guitar.  You get the point.  

You could just see the wheels turning in Mary's head.  A light went on.  Whatever it is that I want to be good at, I'm going to have to work very hard.  "Mama, I want a guitar."  We have a children's guitar upstairs, Mary, and you can pick it up whenever you want.  Mama I want to practice piano everyday.  Mama I want to see that concert live.  What she meant was:  Mama I want to be that good. . .. 

Nothing comes easy.  Not for Taylor Swift.  Not for Mary Ray.  Not for Sara Kotrba.  Everybody has to find what they love and work at it.  It is easy to be discouraged.  Bill took this short video of Mary trying to play guitar a few weeks ago.  Notice that she is having a great time, right up until the moment she has to change chords and she doesn't know the next chord.  Then she gives up.  Also notice that she had the right chord and she gave up anyway.  

The journey to fearless happens in very small steps.  Baby steps.  Learning one more chord.  Committing to practicing everyday for a month.  Making the steps doable and easy.  

Don't worry Mary, we're not giving up.  We'll will teach you the G7 chord so you can make it through Jingle Bells next time.   And I will do better at not taking breaks with piano, so that you can be your very best piano player too.  Starting today.

youtube link:  Mary's Guitar Medley

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Another Year Has Gone By

I can barely believe that I have been blogging here for a year.  I have made 171 posts, and had 6500 visitors.  Writing here was one of the best parts of 2011 for me.  I thought I would write about scales and group lesson ideas and tips for having a great hand position at the piano, and while I do enjoy writing about those things, what I have loved the most is writing about my family, my faith (or lack thereof at any given moment) and the ups and downs of life.

New Year's Day in Texas was always a blue day for me.  The holidays were over and I missed my family and more often than not there was some disappointing Texas Dance Hall New Year's Eve gig hanging over my head.  The general routine was for me to be alone on stage at midnight playing Auld Lang Syne while the guys in the band all went out and danced with and smooched their sweeties.  Then --pack up, get in the car and get the heck out of there before the drunks figured out it was time to go home. For the six years I lived by myself in Austin--New Year's Day was a lonely day.

Fast forward thirteen years and now New Year's Eve is spent with treasured friends--talking, eating too much and watching our kids play.  Smooching my own hubby at midnight.

New Year's Day 2012?  Could I have a moment alone. . . . please???  Ten minutes alone?  What I wouldn't give to shower without interruption in my lonely Austin apartment. . . the grass is always greener.

Not really.  Family life is infinitely greener than living alone.  I'm thankful for the interruptions.  Oh the blessed interruptions. . . I'm thankful for my family and friends near and far, and I'm thankful for my husband, even when he interrupts me when I am trying to write. . . . ahem ahem. . .

For I have learned in whatever state I'm in to be content.  That might be Texas, or Iowa, or Minnesota.  It might be alone or it might be during the 20th interruption while I try to dry my hair.  But, today, New Year's Day, I'm thankful I'm not alone.  Here's to you Bill. . .

So many 25th's of December
Just as many 4th of July's
And we're still holding it together
It only comes down to you and I

I know that you can still remember
Things we said right from the start
When we said that this could be special
I'm keeping those words deep down in my heart

Another year has gone by
And I'm still the one by your side
After everything that's gone by 
There's still no one saying goodbye
Though another year has gone by

Recorded by Celine Dion--written by Bryan Adams and Eliot Kennedy. . I notice it came out in 1998--it was a very good year. . . here's a youtube link:
Another Year Has Gone By