Thursday, March 31, 2016

Spring Forward

A few of my piano kids at Sundin Hall on March 12. 

The "After" Picture. New life to a very old sofa.

A before picture of the cabin kitchen

The other side. Say goodbye to three layers of vinyl flooring. 

Easter Dinner
The school year of our Lord, that is, 2015-2016, will go down as the most dramatically and obviously overbooked year yet to date. I'm not proud of this. . . we are weaving our way out. . . and saving future yeses for sacred tasks. I have put a passcode on the iCal application, and the password is: "don't do this." That is a joke. But. . . sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before it all becomes clear. It's clear. Just say no.

In spite of week after week of 15 hour days. . . and the tail bone thing, and 10 weeks of bronchitis, it's been a really, really great year. I've never been more thankful for my family & friends, and the studio and our music teacher organizations and our choir.

The piano kids are playing beautifully. Every single one. I'm so pleased. The new piano sounds great and it's really a boost. All the ideas from Kathy Faricy and Calvin's coaching with Tadeusz Majewski have also been a great inspiration to me. And, I'm this . . .  close to finishing the teacher training process. The national conference in May, and my internship in Colorado in June, and I'm there.

I'm also reading the best book ever. Thank you, Kathy H. from Deerwood for this recommendation. The book is called GIST, the Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids, by Michael W. Anderson and Timothy Johanson. It's one of those where you want to buy a copy for everyone whether they have kids or not. I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK.

The book validates every gut feeling I ever had about parenting, but didn't have the courage, mindfulness or stamina to follow through upon. And some that I did. The book is convicting but equally encouraging. I believe it also correlates well with our Suzuki philosophy. For example, when you are in a mode where you feel like there is a million things to fix about a kid, you just pick two things, and focus on ONLY those. For example--getting out of bed on time, and brushing their teeth morning and night. Then you make a dramatic consequence for ONLY those things. We really can only change a little at a time. It's the same thing with any good piano lesson--one or maybe two. . . points to think about is all the child can handle.

The other parallel is that although the Suzuki Triangle is critical for early childhood, ultimately we need kids who can practice independently and take ownership of their piano life, sooner rather than later. It might perhaps be the most important thing. We can't sit with them forever. Same with life. We can't knock on the dorm room door every morning to get the kid out of bed. I'm gonna turn on the light in five minutes. . . . not.

My last Deerwood plant sale is almost done. I'm not saying that I made any serious oversights, but there wasn't a place for the student's name, on the order form that went out to 500 families, and it says the forms are due Monday April 1. Tra la la.

Spring forward. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. Two months left. I'm renewed and ready to go. I'm prioritizing sleep and cutting out sugar. I'm making sure I get my exercise even if it means I can't schedule a meeting. This is how we do it.

At the end of this school year, I will know we did a great thing. I'm sure you all have done great things too. Summer will be a fresh start.

Happy Easter!

Here's a link to our Easter choir performance--Calvin and I had a very fun time doing a four hands accompaniment.
"I Know that My Redeemer Lives"

Saturday, March 26, 2016

My God, My God, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me

I've told this story before. . . but sometimes we like to tell stories again. I shared this at the 5:00 Good Friday Service Yesterday, and Mary shared her poem and drawing.  Blessings.

I grew up in a small town Lutheran church in Iowa. My father was always the choir director and he sang solos throughout the year as well. Holy week was always busy.

Growing up, almost every year for Good Friday service he chose the Theodore Dubois cantata, The Seven Last Words of Christ. Similar to Easter’s Tenebrae service, there is one song for each of the seven last words of Christ.  I knew each of the seven the movements by heart and I’d sing along in my mind, listening to his voice, the choir and the other soloists. It was a tradition. A family tradition. A community tradition. After I grew up I didn’t hear the cantata for many, many years.

Then, seven years ago on Palm Sunday, my dad gathered several small town Tipton, Iowa church choirs together, to put on a big musical production of the cantata. There were Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans.  It was his vision. This was to be a multi-denominational community event. He was to conduct this huge choir and he rented a black tux just for the occasion.

The kids and Bill and I drove down from Minnesota, on that Palm Sunday, to see my dad, my sister, my uncles, my cousins, and the church choirs of Tipton, Iowa sing those wonderful, terrible, seven last words of Christ. It was a family event. It was a community event.

When it came time for the fourth word, the local high school choir director took over the conducting baton and my dad stepped up to the microphone to sing the baritone solo. He sang that fourth movement--God. . . my. . . father. . . God. . . my father. . . why. . . has thou. . . forsaken. . . me.  He sang. We listened.

As it turned out, those were the last words I ever heard my dad sing in public.

When the cantata was over, my mom had a big reception back at the house, because, well, that’s what she does. Everybody came. It had been such a spiritually moving and beautiful production, we needed the afterglow.

My dad shook a couple hands and gave a couple hugs but then, immediately fell fast asleep in his chair, still in his tuxedo.

We knew he was tired. We knew something was wrong. But, we didn’t know, he had stage-four pancreatic cancer.

We didn’t know it until that next Thursday, Maundy Thursday, when the doctor called he and my mom into the office for those other, terrible, terrible last words. Terminal. Cancer.

Although my dad never uttered those words “why me,” this irony of that last song he sang was never lost on the rest of us. God, my father, why hast thou forsaken me? He died less than five months later.

Bad things happen to good people. Everyday. That’s for sure. We all know someone. Multiple someones.

Some of us, like me, once upon a time, believed that if we were good, really good. . . if we were obedient, really obedient, nothing bad would ever happen to us. God would protect us. My dad was very good. My dad was very obedient. It wasn’t fair.

When you think like that, it’s easy to feel forsaken, when the bad thing happens. And sooner or later, the bad thing will happen.

Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes it feels like bad things always happen to good people. We wonder how can God let these things happen? How can he forsake us like this? How can he let these cancers, these earthquakes, these terrorist attacks happen? We pray for protection. We pray for a miracle. But we don’t always get it. Even Jesus didn’t get it.

I guess Jesus is the best proof that bad things happen to good people. God let his own son cry out and die and never came forth with the miracle.

To me, Jesus dying on the cross, uttering those words of complete abandonment is the best reconciliation of every bad thing that ever happened to every good person. 

The bad things are reconciled, because they happened to Jesus too, especially to Jesus. Jesus was good. Really good. Jesus was obedient, really obedient. It’s almost like the cancer diagnosis happened to Jesus too. And the earthquakes. And the terrorist attacks.

Every bad thing that ever happened, happened to Jesus too, and worse.
Jesus felt that betrayal. Jesus felt abandoned. Jesus felt forsaken. It wasn’t fair. And he uttered those words out loud, in public. Those human words.

And it was acceptable. To feel human feelings. It acceptable to feel forsaken. It was human to feel forsaken.  

But, as we know from the story, it turns out that God didn’t actually forsake Jesus. God was there all the time.
And Jesus did get his miracle.  The miracle of resurrection.
And though there may be times on this Earth when we feel forsaken by God, He is also with us all the time and we will get our miracle too. 


When I see injustice in the world and in the lives of people I know, I circle back around to this, no matter what bad things happen to good people, they happened to Jesus too, and just like Jesus, we will not stay forsaken. Just like Jesus, we will rise. We will all rise. Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Labor of Love (part one)














The piano is here safe and sound. No heart attacks were sustained. No limbs or digits were crushed. No head injuries. No cats were stepped on. There is no hole through any part of the house looking down into the basement.

It arrived Saturday while I was at the SAM piano graduation. That was probably a good thing. Bill is in better shape cardiovascular-ly and emotionally, to deal with such things. In case you haven't been following the story--Doris Harrel's Steinway B is now here in Minnesota. We took out the bookcase in the stairwell. We moved the Baldwin to the basement. Around through the backyard. Upon the recommendation of the Baldwin movers, we took out the railings and banister to the staircase to accommodate seven more inches of piano. The Steinway showed up and four masculine angels in jeans and workbooks zenned it up the staircase. Mind over matter. It was just a lot of matter that's all. Slow and steady. They took off the lid--there's a 100 pounds right there. They pulled the action. Every piece possible.

They put it all back together. All the kings horses and all the kings men.
Now, we just need to make it safely through another week until the railing is fixed (pieces are numbered and laid out in the basement) and we will turn the page on this chapter and say our thank yous and blessings.

That's all I have time to say about this right now. Much more later. . .

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Once in a Lifetime

Once in a Lifetime

So we did the Austin thing. Two weeks ago we took the family down to Texas to visit my old stomping grounds. We left on Thursday and came home Monday. This was our spring break, albeit early. ISD #196 spring break is Holy Week this year and that pretty much put the kibosh on any dreams of Hawaii. Woe is us.

It has a happy ending.

After the flight landed we drove immediately to El Mercado. Sitting outside they brought us bottomless fresh tortilla chips and we hooked ourselves up to the I.V. drip of salsa. Real salsa. Mainline. Fresh cilantro. I also ordered a Corona, even though it was only noon, because, well, that’s what you do, at El Mercado, sitting outside, in the courtyard, eating your chips and salsa. You don’t even really have to drink it, you just have to have it in your hand.

We proceeded to be Austin tourists. Barton Creek. Toy Joy. Waterloo Ice House. Hamilton Pool. Mama, is this where you went with your boyfriend Dean? Is this another place you lived?  So, I guess I overdid it with the “kids, look!. . . This is where I lived in grad school. . . . “  They glance up from the screen toward the white box garage apartment with three A.C. units hanging out the second story windows. Neat, Mama. Patronizing at best.

Show a little respect. This is sacred ground. This’s where I learned to live alone. Not everyone can say that. It took four years, and the first few weekends were gut wrenching lonely, but by the end I couldn’t ever imagine sharing a bathroom with anyone ever again.

The place hasn’t changed in 18 years. Mama, is that bad? You look sad. I don’t know. I guess the landlord could have thrown a coat of paint on it. I think my little garden might still be growing. The outdoor steps never quite recovered from the Mayflower moving guys hauling the Baldwin out. The gate is still hanging off the fence.

Bill made the executive decision to take the kids to Whataburger while I went to lunch with Doris and Vickie and Mary P. Good call, Bill. Lunch with four piano teachers takes two to three hours at best. 

On the way to lunch, driving in Doris’s car, she casually mentions that she has decided to sell her Steinway. Right there on Dean Keaton Avenue, I almost had to pull the car over. She forgot about my letter last March, where I tried to have some small ounce of tact while making it clear to her that if her children weren’t interested in the piano and if she didn’t take it to some future apartment, I would like to be first on the list to buy it. That’s okay.  She’s had a lot on her mind.

I told her right then and there on Dean Keaton that I wanted it. She insisted that we come down to San Marcos and play it.

The last time our whole family was in Texas was at least five years ago. The last time we had this kind of leisurely weekend was never. Forgive me if I say this was a total God thing. We had nothing planned for Saturday. After the token 65 minute wait for breakfast at The Kirby Lane CafĂ© on Kirby Lane and migas with tomatillo sauce and gingerbread pancakes, we hauled ourselves down to San Marcos in the rented minivan.

Doris was there waiting. Mary played through her Book 4 repertoire. Calvin played most of Bach’s F Minor Concerto and most of Beethoven’s Op. 2, No. 1 and Chopin’s Op. 18. I played a couple scales, cuz I’m so busy practicing with them I got no repertoire of my own. That was embarrassing, but I can take that.

There I sat next to Doris on the sofa where I spent books 1 through 5. I listened to the kids play that repertoire that they had just played on the MacPhail nine foot Steinway last weekend. I had all these sounds in my ears. Doris leaned over and said, “I think he likes that piano.” As if she needed to sell it. The piano shined. After they finished Doris and I just looked at each other. What could I possibly be qualified to say about this moment. I’m not worthy of comment. What finally came out of my mouth was something like, Doris—I can’t imagine that I could ever, ever, in my whole life, do any better than this. No piano could ever sound better than that afternoon and no instrument could ever had more meaning to me. What Ralph and Doris picked out 46 years ago, and played on and taught on, till this day, was too sacred to discuss.

There are a few moments in a marriage that pierce your heart. Engagement. Two lines on a stick that you pee on. Births and deaths.

Bill said, I’ll go out to the car and get the checkbook. He let me write the check.

Don’t kid yourself—this is gonna take some sacrifice and more than a little creative financing—but it was the right thing at the right time. A once in a lifetime thing. Like everyone, my love and gratitude toward Doris is immeasurable. Now her piano will carry on the Suzuki torch, for everyone, through the Kotrba Piano Studio.  


Dear Lord, I don’t deserve this instrument. I’m not a concert pianist. But, I do have an appreciation for it beyond words. Let this piano be a blessing to my children, my students and to the Suzuki Community. Let the spirit of Ralph and Doris and their love of music and all the music that has been played on it carry forward to the children and teachers from generation to generation. Amen.