Thursday, August 30, 2012

Angelic Thoughts

Early congratulations to Dave and Jonelle who are getting married this weekend.  I'm so happy for you and I know you will be blessed!

My mom is here and brings her basket of books and notes.  I read a couple trashy novels in the last two weeks so I was drawn to something a little more wholesome. I picked up her copy of, To Heaven and Back by Mary. C. Neal, MD.  This from pages 98-99:

Have you ever shown up somewhere at "just the right time"? When you think back on your life, can you remember a person who briefly entered your life, saying something or doing something that impacted your life out of proportion to what they actually said or did? What were the circumstances that brought you together with your spouse or the detailed circumstances of other such notable events in your life? Have you ever been randomly thinking of someone who then unexpectedly shows up or contacts you? Has something ever happened that left you thinking "That's weird'? Consider whether these are sets of "coincidences" or whether they might be orchestrated events; evidence of God's hand in our lives.  Although we are rarely aware of angels or their intervention in our world, I believe there are angels all around us every day of our lives. Angels are spirit beings who are mentioned more than 250 times in both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the Bible.  They appear as creatures, events, and humans, offering praise and worship to God.  They care for, protect, and guide God's people, frequently intervening or bringing messages to people from God. They are the ones orchestrating the "coincidences" that occur so commonly in our lives. 

I believe in angels.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Zen and the Art of Furniture Restoration

Twice this summer I have done some THING. . . to completely befuddle my sweet husband. In June it was the bunny. Now? The antique hoosier cabinet from the hole-in-the-wall antiques shop in Crosby, MN.  He didn't like the piece from the get go. The drawers don't run smoothly and it smells musty and the sliding pull out enamel is splintered and chipped. The shelves aren't plumb and heaven knows how many layers of lead paint lay under that god-aweful contact paper on the inside?

But those windows. . . those etched glass windows. . . . and the lay-out was perfect. I had to hide my ecstasy. I didn't even have my checkbook and had to borrow from my mother-in-law to secure the purchase. They don't take Visa at the hole-in-the-wall.

I listened patiently to the litany of all the things that were wrong with it.

Then he helped me load the top part into the car.

In all fairness, he married me. There was full disclosure. He had been to my garage apartment in Austin, TX and knew that I had patched together all my furniture with varnish and that my paintings were all hanging by by little finishing nails and yarn.  He knew about the small fuzzy animal weakness and he knew about the grand piano thing.

So we worked together on the hoosier all weekend and he won't admit it, but I saw the look of love in his eye as he painstakingly rubbed steel wool over the doors with the beautiful etched glass and applied the fresh varnish with a steady hand, so as not to drip.

Me?  I did a much better job sanding and sanding and scraping and scraping the inside, than I ever would have done on my own in Austin.  Partially because I didn't want paint flakes falling into my chocolate chip cookies, but mostly because I wanted to show him how beautiful it was going to be.  Twenty sheets of sandpaper, one coat of the world's best primer and two coats of Martha Stewart's "Heavy Cream" and it's looking very very good.

We still have to go back and get the bottom part.  I will listen some more about how ill-made it is and how it's held together with duct tape, and then we will load it in the car.

I am feeling very loved. . .

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Big Day

I'm back in the atmosphere and ready to write!

I've read that everyone who deals in artistic endeavors--and I would add anyone who teaches or is in leadership--at some point harbors the worry that their complete inadequacy will be uncovered. There might come a day when everyone will find out that we're really not that great of a musician, parent or teacher.

But at other times, forces conspire to take what little we have, with brute strength, awkwardness, and a heck-of-a-lot of organization and channel it into something really special. Something memorable and remarkable. Something where the sum is truly greater than the parts.

Such was the case for our concerto event. Seven kids each played a movement of a Bach keyboard concerto with a twelve piece string orchestra and a conductor.  From the moment Bill Henry tuned up the strings and Cassy played the downbeat of the F minor third movement I had tears in my eyes. It sounded so good. She sounded so good. They all sounded so good. I thought to myself--how could these kids possibly play this good? Each kid got about 30 minutes with the orchestra, who had never played together, and that was it. We had lunch and breaks and snacks and put on the show at 2:30.  Like always, there were some moments during the rehearsal that were more magical than the public performance, but everybody made it through and played musically and from their hearts.

This event was my dream--for the past 20 months.  It was symbolic to me.  It was symbolic of me giving these post book seven kids and the other advanced students--the best opportunity they could have.  For my own heart, I needed to give them something they couldn't get anywhere else. They deserve it and every pianist rose to the challenge.  I couldn't be prouder.

Thank you!!!!!
Bill Henry-our conductor--for knowing those scores--for making each kid feel special and for making such great music and being so positive

Diane Houser, Ginny Bement, Laura Handler, Stella Anderson, Beatrice, Sam, Christina, Miriam, Victoria, Audra, Amanda and Dominic--our ensemble

Diane Houser again--our principal violin--for countless little pieces of advice to make it run smoothly, including her genius set-up

Mary Fox--selling tickets and running the reception afterwards

Aidan--for turning pages for your friends

Easter Lutheran--we joined for the music and the message--and the music and the message continues--thanks Pastor Kevin for pouring punch--that really was above and beyond

Jonelle--paying for the lunch for everyone and cookies and cookies 

Mary Kotrba--my being my personal assistant. . . and arranging the bananas so nicely

Linda--cookies cookies and more cookies--plus drinks and chips

Reiko Imrie--for the masterclasses in July--you gave us some great ideas and insights

Calvin Kotrba--for learning that really long piece and having faith in me that I wouldn't give you something too hard. . . and for all the computer tech support--I truly couldn't have done all the paperwork without you!  

Younger studio kids--for helping out by buying raffle tickets and tickets and practice coupons

SPTG teachers--thanks for coming and for all your advice along the way!!!!!

Heart of Texas Suzuki Music Teachers--for the idea that this could be done

Bill's mom and everyone else who brought cookies

Whoever put the church all back together afterwards?  I just went in and it was done.  Thanks.  

MacPhail--thanks for loaning us the scores for the F minor and D minor--you can borrow my A major if you ever need it. . 

My husband--for jump starting the car at 9:00 Saturday morning, running audio, video and still photos all day and compiling the CD and DVD afterwards (they are almost done. . . ) and for making me feel like a princess in a fairy tale in general

Mommy--for teaching me that ANYTHING is possible--you just make a list on a white card and start checking things off. . . 

Daddy--I wish you were there--you would see that the kids played with great dynamics and from the heart--just like you taught me. . .  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Recital at the Lake 2012

Well.  I don't know exactly what to write.  We've been reliving this perfect day for thirteen years and it's coming to a close.  Steve and Linda have been hosting us--buying gas for the boat and jet ski, renting tables and chairs, buying pop, water, hot dogs, hamburgers, and all the picnic fixin's. . tuning the Steinway and cleaning brownies out of rugs for an entire generation of piano kids.  Not to mention the sand in the house. . . Jonelle has been bringing the great bean salad and I've been slicing jalapeno peppers and cilantro on that Saturday morning for the fresh salsa for a very long time.  You know I'm a sucker for tradition.  Pass the tissues. . .

Cassy and the gang will be seniors this year and next August they will be off to college.  The end of an era.  All these kids have worked so hard.  That's why I'm doing this concerto thing next weekend--to celebrate 14 years of working with this particular group.  (August 18, 2:30 at Easter Lutheran Church 4200 Pilot Knob Road, Eagan, MN in case I haven't mentioned it, tickets are $10 at the door. . . )   Maybe I mentioned it. . .

Back to the lake--I got pretty choked up during the recital portion. To be honest, it really wasn't the quality of performance--everyone's playing was pretty relaxed.  It was just that I never really dreamed that these kids would go this far together.  Now we know each other well and I know there have been some serious ups and downs, but in my heart I know that these times, these years together were something really special. These kids will look back and know that they share some of the same stories.  It started with music but the ripple has gone so much farther than an annual recital on Prior Lake.

Linda--you did it with that first invitation--to groups A,B and C in 1999.  You planted the seed that I now understand is so important--that music has to be fun and it has to be in a community.  I've learned so much from you. These kids love music and you are part of the reason why. The other part may very well be your post recital cookies, but that is another blog entry. . . Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I have some serious thinking to do about how to serve the next generation. Socially that is. Recruiting another three-year-old on Prior Lake probably isn't a realistic option. But, there will be new traditions and new friendships. I'm sure of that. You can see in the first photo above that Sami has her hand on Elizabeth's shoulder.  That kinda says it all. The big kids are passing the torch.  There isn't a good way to close my thoughts here. . . they are wandering far away and I'm getting tender.  So, I'll just say again, I'm so thankful for this group of children and families (we missed three families on Saturday as well) and I'm just so blessed and privileged to teach each and every one of you. And please, one more thank you to Steve and Linda--thank you so much.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Best Birthday Party Ever

Happy Birthday to our friend Annika.  Congratulations to her on her maturity and generosity.  This week she had her birthday party at Feed My Starving Children in Eagan.

We all know the typical birthday party routine.  Parents fork over for a big party at the jumping house or gymnastics place or pizza for 100.  The child gets 25 made in China gifts that all have to find a place in the closet.  Everyone gets an overdose of sugar and drives home in tears.  Happy happy joy joy.

Now, we had already risen above that to a certain extent.  The kids in our circle mostly have parties at home with home made cupcakes and reasonable gifts and a simple but nice time.  Annika took it even further by completely giving up the stuff.  Instead she asked the kids in our church group and her cousins to bring their quarters and make a donation to FMSC instead of buying a gift for her.  Instead of kids spending $10-20 or more on a gift--they gave the money to a great cause.  You can do the math as to the awesome amount of money that got donated!

It wasn't easy for me to respect the no gift thing.  I'm really programed.  I really wanted to buy her a little skirt or some cute earrings.  Even a little candy treat to go with the card.  But I didn't.  Of course there is always Christmas. . .

I'm not suggesting that everyone do this. I love birthday parties too. There are lessons to be learned about manners and giving and receiving gifts.  Doing something different now and then is just a nice thought and for an 11 year old it was the perfect timing.

Congratulations and happy birthday Annika.  Think of how many children, near and far, that you blessed!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summertime Highs Concerto Lows

It seems to me that Calvin is having a pretty good summer.  Perhaps I should lay off giving him the business about spending too much time on the computer.  He's been working hard and playing hard.
After a week of taking trains through Switzerland and two Suzuki institutes a little train of thought is probably okay at this point.

Bill introduced him to the Blues Brothers movie Saturday night.  They laughed themselves silly. Mostly about the car wreck pile-ups. Only the Blues Brothers can swear in rhythm and make it seem innocent and funny.  It's true there was a heckuva lot of foul language in there.  As was there--in the Adele live video we all watched Friday night.  I looked at Calvin and he already knew what I was going to say--if I hear those words coming out of your mouth it's not gonna be nearly as funny as it was in the movie. . .

So I countered with two whole days of Alicia de Larrocha playing Mozart piano sonatas over and over on itunes.  That should cleanse the palate.  I'm also trying to put them on while Calvin is playing video games.  There are no studies of what happens when you play Minecraft to Mozart.  Hmmmm. Too late for a master's thesis.

Calvin's practicing his concerto.  Against his will.  He's so sick of it.  We have 13 more days.  I offered to pay him for perfect repetitions of sections but I think we're beyond even that.  I totally get it.  We have all had our moments of being totally ready to ditch a piece of music.  Flush the handle on the way out of the concert hall.  So we just keep going--slow repetitions, little snippets, hands alone. . . with funny rhythms, with staccatos, with our eyes crossed. . . .well not that far.  I'm operating on faith.  Faith that when those 12 string players play the downbeat it's all going to be worth it.  I hope so.  For him and for all the kids who are playing.  The goal with the concerto event is to give these kids an experience that most pianists never get to have--to play their concerto with a small orchestra without having won a contest.  That was my goal. We are almost there. It's not going to be Carnegie Hall.  It's just supposed to be a good experience.  If I have to beat him senseless to make it a good experience it's not going to BE a good experience.

I wonder if those olympic gymnasts were sick of their routines by last week?  I just would love to be a fly on the wall with those kids and coaches and parents.  Truly.

Stay the course.  There are all kinds of situations in life where you have to keep going a little farther even after you have had enough. As my dear friend always said--they could be working in the farm fields all day in the sun and heat.  It's Bach not manual labor.  It's only an hour a day. Call child protective services if you need to.

In the end I guess that's why you have to really love it.  The gymnast who won had a smile on her face during the fiercest of competition.  Her love was honest and genuine. The girl who lost pouted off and snipped at her coach.

I'm writing way too much.  But as I write, I'm resolved to making the next two weeks exciting and fun, for Calvin and for all seven of the concerto kids.  I want to see those smiles more than I want perfection.  The concert will only take 35 minutes for all of them, but they will be playing piano all their lives.