Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I've come to the last of my senior tributes. Grace is planning to go to the University of St. Thomas in the fall. She plans to study marketing, business and fine art. What? More on that later.

Grace has her senior recital this Sunday. Best wishes Grace. Like the prom, remember, it's only one moment in time. The important thing is that you have this ability at the piano. We all know you play with a beautiful sound and from your heart.

I say this because I know Grace will be a little nervous. How do I know this? I know Grace pretty well. I've known her since she was five years old. I also know her pretty well because we are alike in many, many ways. I get nervous too. Really nervous. Palms sweating foot shaking heart-racing sick to my stomach nervous. So I've had a lot of thoughts to share about that. Perhaps in some ways our weaknesses make us better teachers. I survive performing. Grace survives too. We both have an older sister who is both lovely and talented. That's not always easy, even when you are the best of friends. You have to prove yourself a little differently. We both have had a parent with cancer--I'm so thankful that Tammy is a survivor. Lastly, we are both torn between many many things we love to do. Heaven is a place where there is enough time to pursue everything that we want to pursue. . .

Hence the double major between business and the fine arts. While you play on the college soccer team. And sing in the chorus. And help your mom take care of a temporary foster child. And do church. And paint and draw--putting your work in art shows. National Honor Society. AP classes. More soccer. What am I forgetting? Oh, yeah, your love of history.

Chuck. . . just between you and me. . . you might want to be looking at a five year college plan . . .

And somehow all these years Grace managed to squeeze in playing the piano really, really, well. I know many nights this has meant playing piano after a long soccer practice and homework and all her other commitments.

I told you we were a lot alike. Minus the soccer thing.

I asked Grace what piano has meant to her.

She told me she goes to the piano when she has a bad day. She uses piano to calm herself down when she feels anxious. I too walked in the door after everyday of high school and sat at the piano and jammed just to let off steam. "You know it's you babe, whenever I get weary and I've had enough. . . " And. . . "Like a bridge over trou-a-bled waters. . . I will lay me down."

I'm showing my age.

She told me playing piano has taught her how to set goals and follow through. She set some pretty high goals this year at the piano and achieved them all. I'm proud of Grace. Setting goals is a significant life skill. That is for sure.

She told me that through playing the piano and studio activities she's built friendships that will last a lifetime. Who else knows you since you were little? Not that many people. You better hang on to those.

Grace is a good friend to her peers. A typical response from Grace after someone plays at group is "that was really awesome--it reminds me of this one movie. . . "  Grace can always put a picture with music. And Grace always has a smile for you. And she's a great baby-sitter!

I love you Grace. I love your Mom and your sister too, but this one is about you. I'm really going to miss you.

You are a beautiful young lady inside and out. I wish you the best on the soccer field and in the choir and in the business world and with your art and your faith.  Most of all, I hope you always sit down at the piano when your heart calls you.

I'm going to really date myself. . . but here's the last song I used to jam to after school.  It's Dan Fogelberg's "Only the Heart May Know."  Click here for gratuitously sad song about friendship and the passage of time.. . .

Friends we knew--follow us through
All of the days of our lives
Love we shared--waits for us there
Where our wishes forever reside

Monday, May 27, 2013

American Entertainment

Memorial Day weekend started with the senior recital and graduation party of a three-year-old girl I know. Well, I guess part of me still sees her as three years old.  I was doing fine thinking about all the years and the passage of time and all of that and listening to the piano music and hearing a few things we could still work on during the remaining two lessons. . . then during the reception I wandered into the room with the slide show of the little girl doing little girl things and the song came on the little sound track. . . Taylor Swift singing "Never Grow Up. . . "  Don't you ever grow up. And that was when I lost it. Okay I'm a sucker for passage of time songs. I recovered with little eye make-up left and ate a few more gummy bears from the candy bar decked out in Gator colors.

Fast forward to the Memorial Day service on PBS Sunday night--broadcast from Washington DC.  The fancy tenor came on singing "Bring Him Home" from Les Mis and though I haven't the courage to see that movie yet, the man's mouth looked just the way my dad's mouth looked when he sang a sad song and here we go again. . .but this time no candy bar available. . .

I'm thinking of investing in waterproof mascara and a secret stash of gummy bears.

I was thinking about the elephant in the American room that we spend our entertainment on NFL football and Nascar and other worthy things like Twin games, cop shows on TV and even "Lost" but when push comes to shove. . .

. . . when we mourn our dead. . . when we pay tribute to great courage and sacrifice and honor. . . even when we are joyful and can't keep from singing and dancing. . .we turn to. . .

. . . music.  We need music.  Our souls need music.

For heights and depths no words can reach. . . music is the soul's own speech. . . 

Thank you Lord, for the gift of music. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Fruit of the Spirit

My mom came Wednesday with Josie the puppy and it started a chain of events.  I think I taught seven hours on Wednesday and Thursday and Friday night was groups. As the last high school kid left after his last group lesson of fifteen years of group. . . he turned and lingered on the front porch and said awkwardly but sincerely. . . well. . . thanks for all the groups. . . I said you are welcome.  And went inside and it felt like someone squeezed my heart.

Goodbyes, even when they are the natural course of events and faced with pride and gratitude and joy and hope for the future--are still goodbyes. I've known this since the sixth grade when my best friend moved. I felt it again when my sister left for college. Sometimes things just aren't going to ever be the same. There's that squeeze again.

Mary's Book Two Graduation went off without a hitch on Saturday.  Thanks to all the special people in Mary's life who came!  I don't know if she understands how special it is that you all took the time to come, because she just knows you love her and that is what we do when we love people, we show up. She is too innocent to know that you had twenty other things to do and you came to our house anyway.  So, thank you. Mary played beautifully. Not flawlessly, but in control and from the heart and when push comes to shove that's all I've ever wanted. It's not about remembering all the repeats.

It is a little bit about getting your ears pierced. . .which we did at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday. As promised.

Sunday morning was our spring church choir choral service. The message was "The Fruit of the Spirit." Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self control. That was a blessing, because the whole week while I was stressed out about getting all the work done for these events and picking arguments with my husband and snapping at my kids I was practicing the anthem, "Lord, make me an instrument of the thy peace." And the whole time I was wigging out about getting everyone's clothes and uniforms for the choral service and the recital afterward I was practicing another anthem, "Beloved, God's chosen, put on as a garment, compassion, forgiveness, and goodness of heart. . above all, before all, let love be your raiment. . . "  That's great, but the sleeves of last year's compassion are still a little too short.

It's good to have a sense of humor about one's spirituality.

The services were lovely, the choir sounded good. Mary sang with the choristers. Bill played clarinet and tenor sax with the orchestra. There weren't really any humdinger accompaniments. It might have been fun to prove to my mom and my in laws how difficult my church job is. . . but I might have blown a gasket if that were the case.  I do have mental limits. Lucky for me the pieces were mostly just pretty with one jazzy fun one--hence the tenor sax and one big brass mixed meter selection--hence the tuba and clarinet.

Move the alter. . . push the piano front and center. Change out of the black and pentecost red. What is our raiment? Bill, could you get the gosh darn raiment out of the car?

Cassy and Aidan showed up an hour early to warm up and get used to the piano.
They didn't have their proms last night. . . Hey--I know that sleep is sometimes the best practice. I held back my last minute suggestions.  Slower. . . slower. . . slower. . . they are almost eighteen after all.  It's hard to let go.

At least I can still boss Calvin around. . . so I took it out on him. . . slower. . .slower. . . slower.
He played K. 330, the S.A.M. graduation piece. I was very pleased. Why shouldn't he play it well?  He listened to it in the womb for nine months while I prepped for my book six teacher training. But again, it's all about being there in the music and not somewhere else in your brain and that's what I was the most proud of. He was incredulous that I accepted it as his Book Six graduation recording.  He made a few mistakes after all. I didn't tell him that all over the country Suzuki piano teachers are working their butts off on that piece trying to make a perfect video for their own teacher training. . . I think his will be just fine for the S.A.M. graduation.

All 21 kids played so nicely. I couldn't be more proud. Our four seniors shined--I think they each had the perfect piece--we nailed the repertoire this time!

Linda's cookies. Heavy sigh.

We all watched the DVD of some photos of each of the seniors. Thank you so much Linda and Tammy for the ten-months-pregnant-over-alls pictures of me. . . just one more of the times we shared.

I don't know what to write. The past 15 years have held breast cancer survival, divorce and healing, friends moving, parents dying, job layoffs, births of children, mystery illnesses, losing friends and healing, marriages, and a lot of parties at the lake!  The fabric of our lives is woven together.

It's woven with music and love, joy, peace, patience, kindness. . . . gentleness. . . faithfulness. . .self control.  And just look what the fruit of the spirit--the fruit of our labor--has produced! Every one of these piano kids has a light that shines from them--the stars and the ones who aren't the stars! They all shine.

I'm so proud of each kid. The Debussy and the Twinklers and all the Bach in between.
Congratulations and this is just the start--you graduates have your whole life in front of you, and the rest of you--we have three more weeks of lessons and then I'll see you in the Fall! And the next chapter starts.

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Bunny's Book Two

I've wanted to make this photo for a long time.  Last night we finally had a chance.  Mary wants to use it for the cover of her Book Two Graduation CD.

Not much time to blog. . . but I want to invite you to Mary's Book Two Graduation and Celebration:

Saturday May 18
3:00 p.m.
at. . . our house

Cake and ice cream will be served and perhaps a carrot or two for Flopsy, he has big ears, that's for sure, but he has yet to show any musical intuition.

Hope to see you here!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bravo! Aidan, Bravo!

This weekend our family went to the Eastview High School "Bravo" production. We like to go to these high school musicals, but mostly we went to see my student Aidan play the drum set behind the jazz ensemble. These shows are amazing. You can't believe it is high school musicians up there and the production is incredible.

Aidan did a great job. He's a great set player. Like everything he does his love of music just shines through. I got a little choked up on the last tune "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" because he was up there playing with the band and also just singing along in full voice. All I could think was that there's just so much music in this kid you can't get it all out.

But, I digress because most of my experience with Aidan is one on one at the piano. Fifteen years worth.

Someday, if Aidan becomes a piano professor at some highfaluting college I'm going to have to publish the video of his Book One graduation, well. . . dissertation. His first lecture recital. Four years old. To an audience of his parents, myself and a few family friends he played the eighteen Book One selections. Except, unplanned and unbeknownst to his mother and I, he verbally introduced each piece, giving us his ideas about each of the folk songs. I can't remember specifically, but it went something like this, "This is Go Tell Aunt Whody. I weally like this one. This is the fewst song that uses the subdominant cwode in the weft hand.  I hope you wike it."   Big smile.  Big Aidan smile. He proceeded to swing the eighth notes of the chordal accompaniment-- watching the movement of the hammers through the strings in the Baldwin grand.

It has been a privilege to teach this kid. I use the word teach lightly, because I'm not so sure I ever taught him anything. It was more like reminding him of musical insights and details that he already knew. I'm not self deprecating--I've watched him in masterclasses with master teachers from all over the country and it was exactly the same. Whatever they said, he got it, almost before the words were out. What is there to teach? He understands music.

That's not to say he understands how to practice slowly. . . I have had my role here and there.

Aidan is above all a modest guy. Only interested in the music and never for his own ego. I had to find out third hand that he got the coveted instrumental musician of the year award from his high school. If you know Eastview High, then you know that is some serious award.  Aidan won every audition we ever tried for. Twice playing at the national Suzuki convention. Once selected for the Colorado Suzuki Institute Honors recital. If he had been the contestant type, I'm sure we could have taken it all the way. But that wasn't his deal. He was only ever about the music.

What about his mother? She and I share a bond. The bond of two mothers with first born sons born on July 18 who came out of the womb crying to the pitch of the hum of the florescent lights in the hospital room. She has paved the way for me in so many ways. I've learned so much from her. So, Jonelle, I say thank you. Thank you for trusting me. With your baby. With your teenager. I pray that we were the right combination at the right time. I wouldn't have missed a day.

What are Aidan's plans?  He's going to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.  Is he going to study music? He doesn't know. He hasn't specifically declared a major. There are a lot of things, like computer science, that he is interested in.  But. . . he has auditioned for the piano professor and plans to take a lesson. And he wants to play in the jazz ensemble and maybe a couple other ensembles. Maybe take some college theory and aural skills. And some music history. And piano literature would be really cool. Of course he wants to accompany some singers and instrumentalists.  And there's jazz arranging to consider.

Are you getting my point?

After the Bravo show Saturday night it all became very clear to me. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if he declares a music major or basket weaving. The train has left the station. This kid loves music. Music is gonna be in his life one way or another.

Bravo, Aidan!  I'm looking forward to your last performances with the studio. We're gonna miss your music! We're gonna miss that big smile when you bow. I'm gonna miss hashing out the minutia of Beethoven's phrasing with you. Every time I teach one of the many, many sonatas we worked on together--a piece of you will be in the next kid's music. Beethoven will never be the same. I will never be the same. I'm a better teacher having had the privilege of knowing you.

Bravo, Aidan.  Good luck. Oh. . . heavy sigh. . . it's so much more than good luck--you're taking the love of your family, this studio, and me with you wherever you go. We'll be listening for you. You'll be back. And you can teach masterclasses in my studio and I'll take notes for all the kids in colored pencil in my Beethoven Sonata book, and we will all keep learning and loving music.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

Big Blue Eyes and a Heart of Gold

I think about you. . . 
Eight years old
Big blue eyes and a heart of gold
When I look at this world
I think about you. . . 

The words of this top 40 country song are echoing through my head.
I'm so frustrated.
Mary has her Suzuki Piano Book Two Graduation Recital in two weeks.
We can't get through the pieces.
She's had each of them ready for a recital. We have done 100 perfects of Melody and it's just not there.  The cats can play it. . . they've heard it so many times. We have listened to Book Two until the notes are stuck in the ventilation system of the house.
Terrible words pop into my head while we are practicing. I don't say them.
I think what a loser I must be, that I can't get my own child to keep up with the review and play the pieces lovely. I worry what the studio will think when she plays her songs with a hand position I'm embarrassed of. It won't help to postpone. It will just keep going this way. . . playing the pieces everyday and having something else go wrong. The eggs are falling out of the basket.

Dr. Suzuki asks us always to reflect. It's never the child. It's always the teacher and the parent. Double trouble for me. How to set aside my ego and my control. My pride. How to figure what is best for Mary.  Mary.  Mary.

She loves to play. She loves to learn new songs.  She's got music in her bones.  Just not in her fingers at the moment.  I was talking to parents in the studio and saying how she's been playing some of these songs for 18 months or more.  The dad commented that she's probably bored.  Yes.  But I want her to rise above and polish them anyway.  He said something wise. . . she just might not be able to.

I'm thinking about what I was interested in when I was eight.  I wasn't too focused about anything in particular.  I took piano and practiced my 30 minutes a day after school. I took dance and gymnastics, showing up once a week. I played soft ball and basketball, very poorly. My face and knees were dirty most of the time.

There are students who come along whom I don't expect to play a big graduation recital.  I can see from a distance that this is not what is best for that child. For her progress. For his love of music.  For her relationship with her mother. . .

Why shouldn't I see that we may have come to that point, and you didn't hear this from me. . . where the review is no longer a positive thing.  We are not making progress here.  The focus is gone.  It's time to move on.

So, what now?  Cancel the recital? No. She is old enough to have that damage her spirit.  And. . . she's really looking forward to it. The cake. The dress. The going to get her ears pierced afterwards.

After a little more reflection, I know what I'm going to do.  I talked to her last night.  We are going to make a CD of her 10 pieces.  Then I will know when I press record, whether we are talking about focus or ability.  I believe we can get a good recording of each piece, one at a time.  She wants to put Flopsy's picture on the cover. She can give a copy to her guests at the recital.  My tender ego will be assuaged.  There it is. . . she can play it.  It's in print.  But. . day of. . . she can wear the dress SHE wants to wear and I'll buy the cake SHE wants to eat and I will live out the words I say at every graduation recital:  this is not a test. . .this is not an examination. . . this is a celebration of the progress of the child.  And we will celebrate!  Extra notes and all.

First for the love of the child. . . second for the love of music.  I don't see for the perfectionism of the mother anywhere on the list.

I love you Mary.