Friday, April 25, 2014

Hitting the Reset Button, Again.

Best and worst parts of the week? Easter Sunday. We did the Beethoven four times and it was really actually fun. Then, a great relaxed afternoon with family and good food. Other best parts? Having a long coffee with Annette monday morning. Talking about teaching training dreams.

Worst parts of the week? Garfield peeing on the piano room leather sofa. If profanity offends you, stop reading here. Personally I think there were many times Jesus would have picked a really appropriate one to get his point across. So I spent the better part of Wednesday and Thursday trying various enzymatic cleaners and solutions. Last night I finally resorted to Tide. Jury is out. If it still smells on monday morning I'll be forced to burn the house down and start over.

It's so hard to be the perfect zen piano teacher with the beautiful children bowing sweetly and making beautiful music when the sofa smells like cat urine.

The beginning of love it to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them. Thomas Merton: No Man is an Island

I'm not talking about the cat.

We want each student to show up and be so clean. So prepared. So polite. So calm. So focused. But life is messy. Teaching is messy. Sometimes week after week parents pay a high fee to have you practice with their child for 45 minutes. Sometimes they don't pay. Sometimes the kids are just plum naughty.

We get sucked into wanting them to be a certain way. Our way. And sometimes they just aren't.

We can't squash them into conformity. We have a phrase around our house when things go ugly. "Can we hit the reset button?" It gives us all a chance to start over. Start the conversation over. Start the behavior over. Start the lesson over.

We are training the heart. Love the kid. Fix the behavior. And when you can't fix the behavior, keep loving the kid. Note to self. . . when my kids are naughtiest--that's when they need the most love. . . oh yeah. . . I forgot. Fix the behavior. Don't get sucked into the drama.

Give the parents the faith that it's all going to be okay. Your child is perfect and will play the piano very well along the way.

Love the kid.
Fix the behavior.

Love the cat. . .
Hmmmmm.  How to fix the cat?

I'm better with kids.
I would never throw an entire load of laundry at a child.

How to let those we influence be perfectly themselves, but perfectly their best selves. Therein lies the skill. To see God's light in each person we come in contact with. And have a little faith that if we keep behaving properly and setting an example, everything will be okay. And they will play piano very well along the way.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What I'm Not Going To Write About Good Friday

I've got Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony and chorus on repeat on my iTunes. Hallelujah. I've got my little Beethoven doll sitting on the piano. Easter Sunday is bearing down.

But first we have to get through Good Friday.

I don't have time to write today. So there are going to be a lot of typos. I was not going to write about my dad and the seven last words of Christ and I was not going to write about how these words and the music that often goes with them are the battleground of my faith.

Then I started to unpack the trunkload of groceries and Easter hoopla and I looked out the window and Tom Turkey was giving me a full show. Full feather layout.

In case you didn't know, turkeys are one of God's messengers to me. Really.

So I'm gonna write fast.

Five years ago, Palm Sunday, my dad conducted the Tiptonites in the Seven Last Words of Christ. He sang the solo, God, My Father, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me. That holy week, we got his full diagnosis. Terminal cancer. He died five months later. That cantata solo was the last thing I ever heard him sing. Well almost the last. The last public.

If Jesus said all those things on the cross.
And felt all those things.
Those terrible, terrible things.
--then so can we.

And we too, shall be raised.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Cold Never Bothered Me Anyway

It's April 17 and it's 30 degrees and it's snowing.

Let the storm rage on. . . 
the cold never bothered me anyway. 

If you are one of the thirteen people who haven't seen the Disney movie Frozen, you will not get that joke.  It's from the lyrics to the obsessively popular soundtrack.  Here's a link just in case you want to be in on the joke. . . (link to Frozen song)

I caught my husband singing it last weekend.

A four year old student's mom came in humming yesterday.  I looked at her and asked. . . are you singing Let it Go?

Stop. Put the Suzuki CD back in the player.


Calvin did a little gig this week. He played solo piano for a couple little main street pep rallies for Blackhawk Middle School, to fire everyone up for. . . you guessed it. . . the MCA tests.

Growing up we did not have a pep rally to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

An ISD 196 teacher sang a parody. . . to the Let it Go tune. . .
"I've had my rest
I've had breakfast
I'm here to do my very best"

Don't gag. Aren't you glad you'll be singing that all day too, now?

So Calvin was warming up Wednesday morning to play that very same iconic tune for day two of the testing. . . and here is my confession: I got goose pimples. Hearing my son totally jamming out and singing "Let it Go, Let it Go. . . "  at the top of his lungs I had tears in my eyes.

We all like Fur Elise, because it's beautiful. It just is.
We all like "Let it Go" because it's a great song.  It's a great song about being ourselves and not putting a mask on for anyone. Not being afraid to use our powers to their fullest. Not holding back to please anyone. Be your very best self.

While I was thinking about this--everyone being themselves--I did suggest to Calvin that maybe he should unbutton the top button of his white polo shirt for the gig.  Elsa did. . .

But, he didn't.

Let it go.

Just because I spent the better part of my adolescence doing everything in my power to not be a nerd doesn't mean that he should follow that path.

Apparently letting go doesn't have to mean changing into a sexier dress and letting your hair down at the same time. I love the video, but it is something to think about. Anyway, Calvin didn't subscribe. Good for him. You can jam out to Pharrell Williams and Katy Perry without getting a tattoo or inserting any four letter words. It's just fine in navy blue shorts and a white polo buttoned all the way up with your silver cross necklace peaking through.

I don't care, what they're going to say. . . 

I like that. Here I stand and here I'll stay will serve you well.

Elsa, thanks for the song. Put on some clothes, and could you send Minnesota a little warmth? We're kinda done with the whole Frozen theme.

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Voice of Chopin

On Saturday the Suzuki Piano Teachers Guild held a workshop with Tadeusz Majewski. Twelve advanced students from our teachers participated in the masterclasses. Mr. Majewski also gave us an hour long lecture on the life and works of Chopin.

It was a magnificently lovely day. I'm still high.  Like the birds he kept talking about in reference to Chopin.

I had never met Mr. Majewski. He is the known Chopin expert in town, founder of the Chopin Society. We did not know if he would be kind or mean or fostering or judgmental.

He started off the morning by sharing how Chopin grew up in a house of music. Everyone in the family was musical and they studied literature and music and singing and piano. It was this wonderful environment that built Chopin and his legacy. Hmmmm. What does that sound like? Do I hear a nurtured by love? 

He shared his own concern that when his exceptional son goes off to conservatory, that anyone would cause him to feel that there was something "wrong" with him and try to fix him. That music should be full of expression, what we have to express can never be wrong. Never the feeling that something needs to be fixed, or tampered with, or made to feel less than whole. While we can, be must protect our children from these feelings. Their own instincts are to be trusted.

My mind was at rest. You can see from the photos there was nothing but joy the whole day.

I can't possibly share all the inspiration we felt--it wouldn't be the same without the Polish accent. He talked about Chopin's wish to be one with nature. And his loves and losses and how they shaped his compositions.  "How does that change the way you play this, knowing it was written the summer his beloved sister died at seventeen years old. . . "


Since the Opus Posthumous Nocturne in C-sharp minor is in the Suzuki repertoire, teachers and students might be interested to know that the B section melody, starting in measure 21, is a quote from a Polish song, "Maiden's Wish" and this would have been a "code" to his love Maria, whose father would not let them marry. The Maiden's Wish has lyrics something like "what would I give to only be a sunshine at your window, or a bird at your window."  I lost it in the Polish. Wink. I don't know Polish. Please correct me if I'm wrong. . .

It was something my Baldwin had never experienced when Mr. Majewski performed and sang the little art song in Polish during the lecture recital. Not to mention the polonaise.

I guess I won't be needing a new piano. Turns out the Baldwin is fine. Any lack of tone is user error. He also played all six of the Mazurkas I played on my graduate recital. (Baldwin did recognize those. . . ) That was really, really, fun.  Mr. Majewski, if you ever make your way to this blog, thank you so much for the gift of this day, we truly hope to have you back again sometime!

Here are a couple quotes to close:

Chopin said regarding his high story apartment in Paris and also as a metaphor of his life, "Everybody admires the view. Nobody envies the stairs."  Even Chopin earned it.

Mr. Majewski said something like. . . we all have something to say in life. Eventually people stop listening to the piano and they are only listening to you.

You through the music.

My teacher Doris is always all about the musical message. We all have something to say through the music, we learn and grow to figure out how to say it easier--to get the notes and the technique out of the way.  But just like Chopin, we have to climb the steps first, before we get the view.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Here's to the Sun

Good news, folks!  It turns out you can turn being neurotic into something positive! See this article: link to article from the Huffington Post.

Some neurotic people, it turns out, are conscientious neurotics. I like that. They manage to take all their worrying and anxiety and crazy and turn it into something good.

Conscientious neurotics.
I think they make good teachers.
I think if I'm very careful and try very hard and make a thorough checklist, I might be able to be a conscientious neurotic, but I'm not completely sure and it's a little upsetting. Do you think I could be?

Sometimes we don't know how messy things are until we turn the light on. This winter was like that for me. I don't think I even knew how tired and dark I was feeling until we went to Hawaii and I remembered what I'm really like. Not grouchy. Not worried about clearing off the gosh darn countertop 24/7. Not craving chocolate like I was an addict. Not staying up too late and drinking coffee all morning to make up for any authentic rest.

But then we came home and it was still winter. In April.

Last Wednesday I was hitting the wall. More snow. Sometimes it all seems so hard. Getting the piano kids to play well and have good tone and learn to read and oh yeah. . . save time for scales and theory. And what actually happens 25% of the time is that you just sit and practice with them because. . . oh yeah. . . they forgot to practice on their own. They just want to play.

And performing seems so difficult. Sometimes.

It would be so much easier just to get the countertop cleared off.
And organize the sock drawers really well.

I was thinking about this a lot.
A lot.
How easy life could be.

I went to church for the Lenten service.  I sat there alone and thought about my dad a little and a little more about how easy it would be not to. . .

And then something happened. After the service a stranger, I know only by her first name, Nancy, came up to me and said, out of the blue, remember when you played the Beethoven Sonata for Emmett's funeral? That was really special. I bet he really liked that. 

That was a couple years ago. What?

I thought that was a little God incident and it made me smile.  Little angels in our midst. It cheered me up.

Then I went on to choir practice and another person I know only by her first name asked me if I ever played solo in public. I said I did, but I should play more because I get so nervous because I don't play enough. She looked at me straight on and I'm not kidding, she said with a slant in her eyebrows--don't you ever quit. Like she was my mother.

That wasn't really a God incident. It was more like God slapping me in the face. Lutherans aren't exactly known for complimenting each other ad nauseam. And here we had two folks, two angels, in the course of a few minutes. On the day, I thought about quitting.

I guess I'm not going to quit.

Sunday the sun came out and the snow started to melt.

Sunday I went and took a piano lesson. It was lovely. I'm a great student. I love to learn.
I need to keep learning.

Sun. . . day.

Part of the magic of learning is that you want to share your knowledge. After my sixty minute lesson, I wanted to share everything I learned with my students this week.

Sun. Light. Transfer of energy.

Light and energy, to make things easier and take musical life to the next level.
I can do this teacher training thing.
I want to do this.
For myself, for my own kids, for my students, and for the next generation of Suzuki teachers.

I really believe we need to train up good teachers.
I'm asking myself a lot of questions.
I'm thinking a lot about my teaching.
I'm thinking a lot about my playing.
I don't know it all, but I know a lot.
I'm gonna keep learning until I feel worthy of teaching what I know.
The application takes about that long to fill out anyway.

And in the meantime. . . I'm gonna save a little time to plant my flowers and enjoy the sun. . light.
And get more sleep. And not worry about the countertop quite so much.  I'll probably still have some chocolate. Maybe an ounce and a half less than before. (Note conscientious neuroticism. . . )

Here's to the sun.
Here's to the angels among us.
Here's to the light.

Lord, for every time that you send the right words at the right time through the right people, to me--let me also have the courage to bring light, and the right words, to someone else. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Good Hair Day

"Good Hair Day"
It's here. It's available. Thanks to everyone so far who has purchased a print from Mary for $10. Some of you live out of town and I'll be sending yours as time permits. So far she has about $200 pledged for Feed My Starving Children.

Mary is nine and made this painting in art class at Deerwood Elementary. Folks seemed to respond to it, so I've had 50 prints made. She's signing them and numbering them and asking for a donation.

This weekend we recorded pieces for the Colorado Suzuki Institute. The institute has solo honors recitals and about 16 kids per session are selected to play. Mary did good on her video of Clementi's Vivace from Op. 36, No. 1. Like all kids, she's a complicated girl. She really wanted to make a beautiful recording and it wasn't hard for her.  Much easier than practicing. I don't mind if she gets selected or not. Every mother knows it's a mixed blessing to do this sort of thing. Calvin played Happy Farmer there when he was younger and Mary played Melody two years ago. I thought I might never be able to teach either of those pieces again and usually I'm not easily burned out on pieces.  But. . . there is a limit. Especially with an A, A, B. A', B, A' form which BOTH OF THOSE PIECES HAVE!

Deep breath. Come to think of it, they are both Schumann aren't they. You know he had some personality issues. . .

Mary is beautiful inside and out. She thinks about other people and their feelings. She cries herself sick over Barrington Bunnies.

Mary is messy. She eats with her mouth wide open. She interrupts. Her room is a ticking time bomb of trinkets and color and animals and a million completely precious objects. Heaven help me when one of them gets lost.

Mary is slow. At conferences. . . surprise. . her teacher told me she's a good girl, but always the last out of the coat bay and the last to get shoes on and the last to get in line for lunch and the last to finish lunch, last to the bus. . . . you get my point. She lingers longer.

This is all well and good when you're on vacation. Day to day it can drive you mad. Especially if you drink the copious amounts of coffee that I do. When I drop her off at school in the circle drive, I have to stop the car and tell her it's time to get out. By the time she has her stuff and opens the car door to actually get out, the line has moved so far forward that people behind me are stuck and I have to move the car forward in the cue and then we start all over, Mary get your stuff and move toward the door.  We're at the end of the circle. She blows me one more kiss and never looks back.

She's a complicated girl. You can see why, with so much going on in that hair of hers. When I linger longer, when the clock isn't ticking and I can just sit back and watch the girl, who can't play a sight reading piece without singing along, why would I count when I can sing?. . . then I have a glimpse of all the colors and shapes and patterns, with earrings and glasses and food on her face, that make up the mind of the girl with the Good Hair Day.

P.S. If you would like to order a print, email me at They are very nice and will cheer you up when you feel blue! They are 13x19 inches with a white border.