Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Emergency Entry. . .

Okay.  I've never gone this long without an entry.

The short list is. . . five day 28 hour teacher practicum in California with Caroline Fraser.  (Separate entry later)

Major construction in the backyard.  (Spoiled me)

Contractors working in the basement everyday.  (One word: drywall dust) Okay that's two words.

Girls trip to Iowa where my sister and I  threw my mom a surprise birthday party with 117 guests.  (Separate entry later)

This week:  MacPhail Suzuki Institute.  Yeah!!! The week is going great.  I'm teaching and the kids are attending. Can I just put it out there that it worked out okay that I'm not teaching Calvin and Mary in my group lessons.  If you know me and you know them you will get that.  It's one thing to teach your own kids, it's another thing to teach them in public.  It's a little like yanking your soul out and putting it up on a pedestal.  I'm going to die on that hill another day. . .

Highlights of the week so far? Mary dropped a pencil into the depths of the nine foot Steinway in Antonello Hall today.  Mary, it's no big deal. . . no harm done. . . but. . . now you don't get to go to college. . . just kidding.  Those pianos are worth more than most people's houses.  Yikes!  And no, you don't get your pencil back.

Today Calvin played on a noontime recital.  I was happy for him!  Here is a link to his Bach:

Please keep coming back. . . I promise to write more (or less) soon!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Things We're Handed Down

Today is Calvin's twelfth birthday!  Happy birthday Calvin.  He looks the spitting image of pictures of Bill at the same age. Blond hair. Blue eyes. Not yet grown into his teeth. Spindles for arms and legs.

Next week is my mom's birthday. We celebrated last week by going to Santa Fe. My mother, my sister and I were there for five days including travel. We had a lovely time. Everywhere we went people seemed to know that we were related. . . I wonder why they thought that?  My mom is turning 60 and my sister is 35 and I'm 30. . . well. . . at least that's how we feel.  

Our genes are very strong.  No matter what we do we pretty much are the shape and size, color and texture of who we come from.

That can be good and bad. In August I'm slated to start glaucoma medication. My MD thinks I have early onset of this disease. Of course when she told me this I started making a list of things I could still do without my vision and tried to ward off the mental image of my dad's dad with his coke bottle glasses feeling my face to "see" which grandchild I was. . .

But. . . a kind eye doctor from church took the time to explain to me that things are different now. . . it's not so dramatic. Many ultra nearsighted folks are on this medicine indefinitely and they are not yet wielding those rubber ended canes to cross the street. . .

The things we're handed down. I wonder if I'll be able to afford a personal assistant to drive me to the grocery store. Just kidding. . . . but vision was not one of the Stephens' perks.

I'll make an herb garden that I can smell. . .

See, it's very difficult to control one's negative thoughts. . .

My maternal grandmother lived to be 91. That is what antiquing and collecting native American folk art and jewelry and primitive grey enamel will get you.  Personally I'm not tempted by the Mexican rugs and turquoise but I have other vices, that's for sure.

One of the awesome things I've been handed down is creativity. My mom is the most creative person I know. So, I'm not ashamed to say that I carry a little of that gene. That almost makes up for the whole nearsightedness thing.

In the creativity book I've been quoting lately Twyla Tharp asks us what our first creative memory is.

I asked my mom and my sister. My mom's first memory was painting some figurines bright colors. Susan's? Making "worksheets" for little Sara Jo to complete. Then correcting them. Mine?  Planning the Christmas Eve family music program with my sister.

My mom is the artist of her home and garden. My sister is a first class school teacher. Me? Well, I can put together a piano recital program like nobody's business.

I think we are in the right places. We can't escape our genes. We can only be the best version of ourselves. And pray that they keep updating spellcheck.

I'm off to do my piano practicum with Caroline Fraser tomorrow. I screened about 30 hours of my own teaching videos, which was a learning process in and of itself. Now the ones I chose will get critiqued. Last week the Four Kachinas Bed & Breakfast, this week, the Holy Names University dorms. Yeah.  All play and no work make--well I don't know know what they make--but I'm ready to get to work. California here I come.

Happy birthday Mother and thank you for an awesome trip!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

The Suzuki Method is called the mother tongue approach, because we learn music as a language, in the same manor that we learned our own language, by imitation. The baby hears her mommy and daddy talking in the language of her country and as she develops she starts with little syllables and then strings together words and eventually sentences. Of course when she has developed her vocabulary the child is no longer limited to copying the sentences of her parents and picture books: she has her own voice.

In my studio, around when the student is in book three, the level of Clementi sonatinas and Schumann's children's pieces, we start to listen to other artists besides the international Suzuki recordings. When the child starts to play Mozart and Beethoven the listening should branch out exponentially. Each teacher will have his favorite artists to recommend to the students. Now we listen more discerningly. To the phrase structure, the articulation, the nuances and overall spirit of the composition.

This is how we learn.

This is what I missed in my own development. I didn't have itunes. I didn't have classical radio. I didn't have youtube. I had the Columbia record club and they weren't offering a lot of Alicia de Larrocha Mozart to teenagers at that time. At least not in the rural Iowa zip code. Ten albums for a penny, some of you will remember this. I chose Led Zeppelin and Styx and John Denver, and burned two of the three when I got home from church camp. Later to re-buy. . .

When I arrived at Northern Illinois University as a French Horn major my fellow horn student (the roommate of my future husband) had been taking lessons from a member of the Chicago Symphony. His family had subscriptions to the CSO from the time he was in diapers. He knew every orchestral excerpt by heart. He had Beethoven and Mahler printed on his DNA. Fifteen years later Bill and I can't find him, even in this google age. We believe he may now be a Russian spy. . . it's probably a good thing I didn't stay a horn major.

My jazz piano teacher at UT did a couple experiments. He had two concerto performances during the time I was studying with him. Once he told me--he would try it the Suzuki way (I was already studying the method and talking about it with him). He got recordings of his concerto and listened non-stop. He was only going to listen--he told me, and not actually practice, until virtually the last minute. (Slight departure from "the Suzuki way". . . ) It wasn't my place to ever ask him how that performance went. Another time he told me he didn't want to listen to ANYONE play that piece because he wanted to only have his own ideas about it. He didn't want the artistic influence of anyone infringing on his own voice. Again, I don't know the results. Jazzers do have a funny way of being able to pull things off with very little preparation. . .

That's a joke. . . but it isn't completely true. Jazzers do their prep years ahead, listening to every historical genre and learning the language. What looks like improvising--winging it--is simply using the vocabulary they have internalized, just as I am typing words right now. How they string the words is their own business. (By the way, I'm writing this while my husband is sleeping. In fifty minutes he has a rehearsal for a jazz performance at church tomorrow and yes. . . he's still sleeping.)

I'm still learning my musical language. I'll be learning it the rest of my life. It's a joy and I'm okay with the journey. There is a the teaching journey and the performing journey. Bill and I watched a documentary on the pop icon Katy Perry the other night.  It seems like these artists always have some defining moment when they decide they are "going for it." Katy quit high school and took the GRE so she would have more time to write songs. The record company struggled to help her find her voice. They couldn't decide if she should sound like the next Madonna or Kelly Clarkson or whoever. She finally said, I don't want to be the next so and so. . . I want to be the first Katy Perry. Whether you like her or not, I think she found her voice.

Isn't that what we all struggle for. All the teachers I admire and imitate but yet. . . I can't be the next Doris Harrel, I have to be the first Sara Kotrba.

Still there is that vocabulary.

I'll close with a quote from Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, I'm about half way through. This from page 66:

When I started out as a dancer in New York, I became obsessed with studying every great dancer who was working at the time and patterning myself after him or her. I would literally stand behind them in class, in copying mode, and fall right into their footsteps. Their technique, style, and timing imprinted themselves on my muscles.
That's one of the ways I learned to dance. I'm not sure how much impact it had on my choreography, because I didn't end up creating dances like anyone else. But, like a writer who writes more vividly because he has a huge vocabulary, or a painter who excels because of exquisite draftsmanship, I needed to hone my dancing skills in order to create. . . a path toward genuine creation through simple re-creation.
If there's a lesson here it's: get busy copying. That's not a popular notion today, not when we are all instructed to find our own way, admonished to be original and find our own voice at all costs! But it's sound advice. Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else's footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill.

I guess what I'm adding is. . . as soon as I can play the Moonlight Sonata with the tone and nuances and power of Richard Goode or Alfred Brendel or Wilhelm Kempff  I'll check back with you about finding my own voice. . . until then, I'm content to imitate.  I'll leave the originality to the next generation.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Golden Weekend

50th Anniversary spread!

The big occasion!

Janel (Grandmommy) and Calvin take a tender walk

Mary leaves a note!

Diane and Bill, my Bill's folks

Uncle Dave?  Uncle Dave?  I have a question. . . oh, were you going to tee-off? 

Bill, Diane, Rick, Jim and Sheila

Grandpa and Calvin on the paddle boat

Photo op. . . 

After the photo op. . . 
We had a lovely weekend celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of Bill's parents, Bill and Diane aka Grandma and Grandpa or Mom and Dad K. Bill and I and the kids, my mom, Bill's sister Ann and her husband and his parents, and Bill's two uncles and one aunt joined together at the Grand View Lodge in Northern Minnesota. Cue the loon call. . .

We ate too much food. Really good food.

We had a lovely party-punctuated by a program with Calvin and Mary singing and playing the piano.  My Bill put together a memorable slide show with pictures and videos he gathered with his sister.  I have to add that Calvin had to teach him how to put it all together on the computer. It gave them something to do while I got food together and packed for the four of us.  Note very small hint of loving sarcasm. . . but of course it was so worth it when we got to see the video footage from their wedding and photos of all the babies and graduations and lifetime landmarks. Again, Taylor Swift had me in tears with "I had the best day with you. . . today."   It's true we've had a lot of "the best days," and that's only the ones I remember and I haven't even been a Kotrba all that long in the grand scheme of things.

After eating some more. . . we had a Kotrba family picture taken. I thought about the Modern Family scene where they wrap the white shirted little boy in saran wrap until the moment of the photo. . .

Fifty years is pretty special. I don't even truly know what that means. God willing Bill and I will be eighty years old when we reach that golden day. My parents missed it by a year.

Some folks take a cruise, or throw a ball, but I think the Kotrbas did it right with this trip. It was a slam dunk. The three brothers hadn't been together since g'grandma Melva passed away and it was in my opinion, a very special reunion with a lot of hugs and smiles and remembrances. No one else has the same memories as your brothers and sisters and you. That's pretty sacred I think. I'm so glad almost everyone was there.

So congratulations Mom and Dad K.  I love you. You are one awesome example of a Christian marriage. When Bill and I were dating and learning about each other I asked about his parents and what their marriage was like.  He said many positive things but one struck me. He said his parents were always polite to each other. They never snapped and still said please and thank you year after year. They kept common courtesies long after the honeymoon was over. That takes discipline. And love. And patience. And kindness.

I've said a few things lately that I regret, I've let my tongue slide. We all snap now and then. Of course a marriage is so much more than niceties. . . we need forgiveness too. . .but just being pleasant sure does go a long way toward making the "best days with you. . . "

The Lodge at the Grand View Resort has a plaque with the motto of the original owner:  God first, others second, self last. I thought that was neat and I thought that that is very much how a good marriage is supposed to work too. God first, spouse second. . . self last.

Mom and Dad K, blessings on your anniversary and the next milestones. I had the best day . . with you. . . today.