Thursday, March 26, 2015

Aloha Moments, Aloha Years

Back in 2008 when Bill and I slipped away for a long weekend at the J.W. Marriott at Ko Olina on O'ahu I was so skeptical. Hawaii seemed like a cliché tourist attraction--right up there with Las Vegas.

There is a reason people come here--
And there is a reason people come back.

We had to bring the kids the next year and we still had flight benefits and all these Marriott points that were hard earned from Bill traveling when the kids were still pretty little.

Then my dad died and we had to share all this with my mom.

Then we couldn't leave out my sister and her family.

Then that got complicated and we just brought Savannah, and now we are back to the four of us and my mom.

The truth is, I wish I could bring everyone. I feel guilty for everyone who is not here. I wish my sister was here too.

Now, on our eighth trip--this has become the tradition. This is the Kotrba version of the Stephens' road trip out west. Waimea Beach is the new Black Hills. The east shore is the new Mt. Rushmore. The hike to the western tip is the new Avalanche Lake Trail. All the hours in the car and setting up camp at Glacier and beyond--to my kids it's a long flight and a bucket of sunscreen. This is what they will remember.

I didn't know that the ocean would bring me just as close to God as the mountains. I didn't know that power is power. Creation sings everywhere you look. I didn't know that seeing a monk seal would be just as amazing as seeing a moose. I didn't know that whales flapping their tales would be little winks from above.

I didn't know that for a few days we could all survive in a two bedroom hotel suite and live in a swimsuit and a couple pairs of shorts and a tee-shirt. No make-up. No blow drier. Same socks everyday. Simple. Simpler.

I used to make barbie houses at every campsite--with sticks and rocks and moss. Calvin makes extravagant sand castles. Mary collects tiny tiny shells.

I try to balance the mental health benefits of soaking up a winters' worth of vitamin D versus the threat of skin cancer and even those nasty brown spots. I imagine the dermatologist scolding me and then I decide that I just don't care. Life is short and winter is long. I ask God why being in the sun is a such a risk and causes such damage to our visage. Seems like a mistake equal to the creation of mosquitos.

The days go by. At first it seems like you have forever. Then you start to hate the people who are just checking in. The dwindling groceries in the fridge mark time.

Today we went to Matsomoto Shave Ice, the hole in the wall grocery store with the iconic shaved ice cones. People line up down the street and there is no place to park and worse. . . no place to pee.

This year. . . a remodel. Public restrooms. A parking lot. A new store. Progress?  It's enough to make a 13 year old boy sentimental. And it did.

Time marches on.

I didn't know the the island of O'ahu would become a sacred place. A place where nature and wildlife and a pina colada at 4:00 would all mingle together. A place my husband would take 1,000 pictures and grow his whiskers.

Turns out it wasn't exactly like Las Vegas after all.

Aloha--and I say from the bottom of my heart--wish you were here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

All Systems Go, Part Two

A week ago Saturday was the Suzuki Association of Minnesota Graduation for all instruments except piano. Five upper level piano soloists were selected by audition to perform as well. Lena and Calvin were included and all the pianists performed very musically. I'm proud of all the teaching going on at this level.

The guitars, harps and flutes perform in groups for their graduations. Two upper level flute soloists performed as well.  It was a very lovely concert.

Here is a link to Lena's Beethoven, Op. 13, Adagio Cantabile: Lena's Beethoven
Here is a link to Calvin's Mozart Fantasy in D Minor, K. 397: Calvin's Mozart

Next year, I'll be president and we will have a new graduation chairperson. I hope that things will continue to go smoothly and that the graduation day system will just pass into the next hands. Thank you, Andrea, for all your work getting the system in place and to all the other volunteers, Kamini and Meredith and Beatriz, Ellen and Paula--who am I forgetting--who put in hundreds of hours to make this special day for our students.

On a different note, last week at out SPTG meeting, we had a guest speaker presenting curriculums about sight-reading. It was a great program--she brought a table full of materials for us to peruse. There is no shortage of high quality systems. The knee jerk reaction, at least for me, is always, wow, I need to do that. We need to have a testing system and a grading system and a system to measure our progress. WE NEED A SYSTEM. . . .

. . . for sight-reading. . . for scales. . . for theory. . . for ear training. . . for technique. . . for rhythm.

Help. It's true that you could spend 30-60 minutes each week with each child on any of these subjects. But before you go clicking buy now on Amazon for the next curriculum. . . maybe we already have a system.

I love to quote Amanda Vick-Lethco, co-author of the Alfred piano books, because I was lucky enough have a year of pedagogy with her at UT. She even let me perform a tryout of my junior recital in her lovely home overlooking Mount Bonnell. She always said, you have to dog'um. You only have 30-60 minutes.

How are we gonna spend that time? In book one, foundations. Tone, technique, listening. We use the repertoire to build the foundations of tempo, articulation, and rhythm, balance, all of which should be smooth sailing because they are learning with the same ease they learn language. No one ever criticizes the four year old because they forgot some of the words they learned when they were three.  Success leads to success. We just keep adding more sprinkles to our musical cupcakes.

Beyond that--in books two through four we are adding reading, scales and theory. That is why we must have more time. At least 45 minutes. An hour is even better. My goal is to spend one third to one half of the lesson time with those "music education" tasks. The rest? Repertoire.

Beyond book four? We still have theory and technique but it has to serve the repertoire. The music.

At the extreme, if we take a child from three-years-old to graduation, that's fifteen years of about 40 lessons a years. Six hundred lessons. We have to dog'um, but if I'm gonna put a line in the sand I'm leaning on the repertoire side.

There is the famous quote, "perhaps it is music that will save the world" from Pablo Casals. Notice he didn't say music theory might save the world, or scales, or sight-reading. It is after music that we are studying. Music. All that other is important, very important, but it has to serve the repertoire.

That's my system, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, March 9, 2015

All Systems Go

Congratulations to Peter, Elizabeth, Solomon, Nehemiah, Calvin, Mary, Úna, Preston, Ford, Matthew, Britta and Lena who performed beautifully at the University Lutheran Church of Hope on Saturday.  Congrats also to Isabella and Kajsa who graduated from Books 1 & 2 respectively but were unable to be there.

There are many things in life that operate better with a system. When you have a system you don't have to reinvent the wheel over and over and you don't have to worry if what you are doing is good enough.  For example. . . I go to an exercise class twice a week.  The teacher is an expert and I just turn my fitness over to her.  I'm satisfied that if I do my classes and go for a couple walks every week I'm getting my exercise. For this stage in my life, that will have to do. It's good enough. I also have a gal turned friend who has helped me clean my house for the last 11 years.  Twice monthly we put everything right in the house. It's good enough. I don't waste any more energy--I turn it over to the experts.

Our Suzuki teachers group has a pretty darn good system. We are the graduation experts. Friday night I got the call that the trophy company had neglected to include the 61 book one trophies in our shipment. Ouch. It's the youngest kids who need the trophies the most. We scrambled. Calvin printed out a sweet congratulations card with an apology for the missing trophy. One gal bought 61 carnations. One gal picked up a bag of chocolates. Each Book One graduate had SOMETHING--a sweet little tied together package--to take home with them.  The trophies arrived from New Ulm by noon and the afternoon recitals all got their trophies. The children were gracious--every little thing in life is an opportunity for character development.

I'm still continuing to review my technical curriculum. I'm seeking out the experts to really go over what I'm doing with a fine toothed comb. It's fun and hard work--to really examine what we are doing each step of the way. Looking for the system.

The difference is with learning and teaching. . . . you never really finish the system. The teacher I'm working with has said a few times what I've always said in my head--"I can't believe, knowing what I know today, that I was able to successfully teach last year." Isn't that how it should be? We are never gonna completely have a "system" as much as I would enjoy that. To have a teaching system would mean that we have arrived. I hope I never arrive. The best we can do is listen and be aware. Bring it back to the music over and over and over.

The system will have to be a growth mindset. Surround yourself with excellent people and keep learning and growing. If you don't have someone who inspires you you had better keep looking and if your teacher thinks you are perfect just the way you are you had probably better keep looking some more as well

The best teaching takes you from the known to the unknown and back to the known.

Congrats to all the great Suzuki Piano teaching in the Twin Cities, and may we all continue to grow and learn every year.

Click for Link to Mary's Musette
Click for Link to Calvin's Minute Waltz

Friday, March 6, 2015

Howdy Partners

I'm back from Houston and life is a rodeo indeed. These photos are from Mary's program last night.  Lisa Schoen is a music teacher extraordinaire. I don't know how she does it.

Tomorrow is the Suzuki Association of Minnesota Piano Graduations all day--nine recitals.  And next weekend the rest of the SAM instruments.

So far I'm staying on the horse and actually waving my arm just a little.  I think I can hold on for nine more seconds.

Blog entries are clogging up my brain--but there are still a few more barrels to run.

Love to all!