Sunday, February 22, 2015

Eagles' Wings and the Beautiful Savior

Yesterday would have been my dad's 75th birthday. I didn't think of it until late in the afternoon when I went to run this morning's anthem, Eagle's Wings. I could hear him singing it in full voice in my inner ear.

The anthem is based on Psalm 91, a favorite of many, including Bill's mom. I turned to it when my dad was sick.

When he died of pancreatic cancer I lost my spark for it--I guess it turns out you can dash your foot pretty hard even with those angels circling round.

It's still a very pretty song and this morning our choir did a really special job with it. At least for me--it seemed like that rare combination of simple and expressive.

I was still chewing on the dashing our foot so hard as I sat and prepared to listen to the sermon. "Who was Jesus?" Pastor Paul gave a lot of scholarly historical info about true God and true man and the reasons for our different creeds and I learned a lot. It was a great message.

Then we sang the hymn Beautiful Savior and it all came back to me. No one dashed their foot harder than Jesus. The whole true God and true man and the whole reason we need Jesus came over me like a flood. God has been there. The story isn't over yet. Maybe the shine like the sun part is still to come--for my dad and for all the innocents. For all of us. Maybe even the hold you in the palm of his hand part too. Maybe that's why the Beautiful Savior part is so important. I know this, but it's easy to forget. That's why it's okay to sing the same songs and hear the same message over and over. It's so easy to forget.

My foot is feeling a little better.

You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord
Who abide in His shadow for life
Say to the Lord
"My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!"

And he will raise you up on eagles' wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of his hand.

The snare of the fowler will never capture you
And famine will bring you no fear
Under His wings your refuge
His faithfulness your shield.

And he will raise you up on eagles' wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of his hand.

You need not fear the terror of the night
Nor the arrow that flies by day
Though thousands fall about you
Near you it shall not come.

And he will raise you up on eagles' wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of his hand.

For to His angels He's given a command
To guard you in all of your ways
Upon their hands they will bear you up
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

And he will raise you up on eagles' wings
Bear you on the breath of dawn
Make you to shine like the sun
And hold you in the palm of his hand.

and. . ..

Beautiful Savior.
King of Creation,
Song of God and Son of Man!
Truly I'd love Thee,
Truly I'd serve Thee,
Light of my soul, my Joy, my Crown.

Fair are the meadows,
Fair are the woodlands,
Robed in flowers of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer,
Jesus is purer;
He makes our sorrowing spirit sing.

Fair is the sunshine,
Fair is the moonlight,
Bright the sparkling stars on hight;
Jesus shines brighter,
Jesus shines purer,
Than all the angels in the sky.

Beautiful Savior,
Lord of the nations,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor,
Praise, adoration, 
Now and forevermore be Thine!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sparks of Joy

Mary wants to learn the clarinet

Yes, this is an instrument we already own! 

It's the next best thing to the saxophone. 

Wild Turkeys in the Tree at Dawn

Birthday Flowers

World's Best Cake
It's early in the morning and I'm up. Today's the day. The room cleaning event. We're going to tackle Mary's dwelling space.

Hitherto this would have brought out the dark. It's the next battle in the war between mama and the girl's stuff.

Not now. I've turned a new leaf. DON'T LAUGH. I'm serious.

The winter of 2014 was the worst installment yet of S.A.D. That is, seasonal affective disorder. This is when people in Minnesota start to forget that life is not eternal winter. Beyond the weather, everything starts to feel dark and cold.

Not this year.

This year we are facing February with a Spark of Joy. It's the new Kotrba catch phrase. You see I read Marie Kondo's best seller, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. I'm a believer.

It's listed in the spiritual section. For good reason. For many of us, our relationship, whether at peace or war, with our stuff, is a lynch pin of our mental and spiritual health.

Marie's mantra? If the item in your house does not give you a spark of joy, get rid of it. No, ifs, ands or buts.

After the event? What's left? We are surrounded only by things that bring us joy.

So why is this spiritual. The catch phrase is contagious. Not only are the free samples of hair oil not bringing me joy along with college notebooks of Texas government 101--perhaps there are behaviors and relationships that don't bring joy. Suddenly it's not just your house you have an urge to tidy, but your whole life.

As I have long suspected, it isn't just the silverware drawer that needs wiping down, it's my attitude. When we start looking at EVERYTHING through the lens of whether it creates a spark in us, many things become instantly clear. We are the captain.

I'm not a victim of my stuff, nor the schedule or anything. Taking life's items one by one and deciding whether or not to keep them, refines our decision making skills.

I'm keeping my husband. And the kids. And the cats. And the bunny. And anything that has to do with ferns.

Last week I took a class in advanced technique and I'm following up with private lessons with Kathie Faricy. Learning and growing is a spark of joy. Finding a technical curriculum that can apply to every child, not just the ones that "get it." That's a spark of joy.

Getting the Mozart ready to video. I'm on take number 237, but dammit, I'm not giving up until I get it perfect. Perfect Mozart is a spark of joy.

Organizing the Suzuki Association of Minnesota Fall workshop in February is a spark of joy.

Realizing that it's not some vein perfectionism in me that wants to have my ducks in a row, but a God given instinct that when our lives are in order, it frees us to move past the tidying to service.

It's like knowing the notes so you can actually make music.

I've had some conferences with a couple parents lately. The kids are just not digging piano.
Yeah, okay, maybe it's just not his thing. Kids are busy, you know how it goes. Adolescence is tough stuff.


I'm not accepting that. It's our job, IT'S MY JOB to create that spark of joy at the piano. It might mean some new repertoire. It might mean a come to Jesus about the practice schedule. What brings us joy at the piano? Playing good music really well. That is where the joy comes from. Everybody has to earn it. Success leads to success.

Work before play brings a spark of joy. That's just another word for discipline. Self-descipline. We have to facilitate that.

Marie hit the nail on the head with this book. Finding sparks of joy in everything also means having a consistent attitude of gratitude. Thanking the people and things and activities in our life for their service, and letting go that which is no longer of use. Might be that extra slightly melted spatula, or it might be the lingering thought that we aren't good enough.

If I can tidy the gosh-darned sock drawer, I can tidy my brain. Separate the grain from the chaff, as my sister would say.

What's left? Beautiful. Useful. Joyful. Confident. Grateful.

The other day someone asked me about my email signature. I have this at the bottom of my emails automatically and I forget that it's even there. Maybe I've known about the life-changing art of tidying up all along.

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Philippians 4:8
Paul doesn't say "and purge the rest." Maybe Marie's thoughts are just the next step.

In a hour or two Mary will be up and the room tidying will begin. It's her room, It's her spark of joy. I want her to feel that satisfaction of being surrounded only by things she loves. Bunnies. Books. Scarves. Little necklaces. Papers. Notes from little girls. Silly bands. A rubber ball collection. Gymnastics trophies. Kindergarten art projects. Notebooks. More notebooks. Birthday party gifts that have never been opened.

Okay, I'm already losing the spark. . . wish me well!  If we're not done by 5:00 p.m. I might need the spark of joy that a good glass of cabernet brings.

That girl is her own spark of joy.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I Loved It, but I Think We Could Do Even Better

The paradox?

Loving the kids. Loving the teachers. Being okay where we are at, but at the same time imagining that we could do even better.

Saturday was our Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild Recitals for Advancing Students, in Antonello Hall at MacPhail. We had two one hour recitals. My kidos (Lena, Solomon, Mary and Calvin) performed on the 4:00 recital. We invite students in Suzuki Piano Book Four and above to perform.

There are three kinds, well maybe four kinds of performances, well maybe more than that. . . but the three kinds I noticed on Saturday were those who nailed it, those who were obviously well prepared and played very musically but got mixed up anyway and those who just weren't that well prepared.  It's the middle group that I always feel for. Lord, haven't we all been there.

It would be easy to be critical of that group who are not well prepared, perhaps not a shining example of Dr. Suzuki's heritage. A few phrases come to mind--one from the Karate Kid: there are no bad students, only bad teachers.

I would add to that. . . there are no bad teachers. . . only incomplete training.

Regardless, this road is not going to get us anywhere, because tomorrow it will be my student that is unprepared and none of us are going to get it right all the time. Too many glass houses around for throwing stones.

When I look at some of these oh-so-awkward teenagers, my heart goes out. Did they even want to be up there? And yet they were there and they made it through their pieces in a very fancy hall on a nine-foot Steinway and they lived.

I try to embrace the paradox. I love every kid that had the courage to get up there and put their soul on the line in shoes that may or may not have been appropriate. And I love and respect each and every one in our teacher group. Yet, I do think we can do better. Saturday there was more fear in the hall than love and that's not how it's supposed to be.

My idea? Next year? I think we should have the children submit an audition video due at registration two to three weeks ahead of the recitals. Not that anyone would be rejected. It would only force the teachers to submit only those kids who had the piece memorized and ready in enough time to be comfortable. The teachers who watched the videos could give a one line feedback, even if was only to suggest they start with a more elegant bow and rest position. I think this would vastly up the performance quality.  This also takes the weight off the teacher to tell them no if they just aren't prepared. If you don't have it ready, you don't get to play.

Well--it is not my intention to be a kill-joy. In fact it's the opposite. Kids who get up on the stage and crash year after year are not gonna love music. It's our job as teachers to prepare them thoroughly so they can experience that joy of making music--and don't get me wrong, it's doesn't have to be note perfect to be beautiful music. Loving kids means setting them up for success.

Compassion? Yes. Yes. Yes. And then let's talk about how to make it better. For the kid. For the music. In that order.

Congratulations to all the kids who worked so hard and played from their hearts. There was a whole lot of very moving performances.

When it doesn't go exactly as you planned? Wash it down with cookies and punch and top it off with a hug. Recommit to learning something from it and move on.

Click here for link to Mary's Mozart Rondo
Click here for link to Calvin's Mozart Fantasy in D Minor, K. 397