Friday, April 29, 2016

I Once Was Lost

Late last summer my mom and I were putting in some hosta plants in the west-side garden between the driveway and the street. I was using my left-handed felco pruners to unbind the roots. After all was said and done I went to collect my tools and it was gone. We had planted about 25 hostas. We looked and looked. I borrowed a metal detector from Nehemiah and Solomon. I kept looking off and on until the snow fell.

I asked for and received a new pruners for Christmas. Actually two. Because my mom gave me my dad's and my in-laws got me a new one.

April 28.  There is it, lying on top of the mulch in plain sight. A little rusty and muddy. I posted the picture on Facebook and I was thinking about how my grandpa could fix it up right smart. Without him around, I will have to take it to the hardware store.

Cousin Robin saw the post and commented the same. Grandpa would fix it. He would oil it and sharpen the blade and align it.

But he would've found it on the day he dropped it.
He never stopped looking for the lost thing.

He found my pocket knife in Canada. I knew it was somewhere. . . . he found it under the dock. In eight feet of Canadian lake water. And he dried it off and oiled it.

He could get a knot out of the finest silver chain. Slivers? Not a chance against that man of patience.

I took something from the pump house before my grandma sold the farm.  It's a leather dog leash. Sewn together in five places with tidy little pieces of wire. The leather was still oiled. You just don't buy a new dog leash when the old one wears through. You fix it. And fix it. And fix it.

God, the stuff I throw away in a day.
Amazon will bring you a new one in less than two hours.

I've always hated lost stuff. I think it is the symbol of negligence. If something is worth having it's worth taking care of, and being taken care means first and foremost not being lost.

Guilt. I let the snow fall. On my left-handed pruners. Now I have three.
I'll take one to the cabin. And I'll have a spare for when I take the other to the hardware store. Cuz I don't know how to oil it and sharpen it and align it myself.

The similar thing happened Christmas of 2008. With my dad's home-made ice cream machine.  It was the tradition. New Year's Eve. And the darn thing busted. Blew out the motor. Because I'm a rigid follower of traditions, I told him we'd stop and get a new one on the way home from our lady's day out shopping. We'd give it to him for an early birthday gift, I said. He was disgusted. The aren't cheap. Just stop and get store-bought ice-cream, he said. I won. We made the ice cream and it was wonderful and the kids licked the beaters in the garage with spoons my mom sent out and the cookie sheet to put all the parts on. Photo op.

Two points.

Number One. My dad took the old motor into the hardware store and the guy fixed it. $6. I'm ashamed to tell you what the new one cost. Bill and I took it home and we still use it on New Year's Eve and the forth of July. My dad's handwritten 12/31/2008 in sharpie on the box.

Second point. That was the last time my dad made ice cream for us. So there. It was worth the $200.

I guess there's a time to be frugal and a time for extravagant grace. The dog leash hangs in my closet with my belts and tries to remind me of life's lessons. And the pocket knife is in my jewelry box, rust-free with the red label tape "Stephens" on the side.

I'm missing those two men--and thinking of the bear hugs they gave me and the lessons they left me. I don't think they would approve of Amazon Prime. My grandpa would say--we don't need that--and give me a wink. My dad would call it Sahara Express and I'd probably get a wink from him too.

Upcoming Special Dates--Invitation to a Mud-Pie

There are some very special performances on the horizon.

May 1--Easter Lutheran Choral Service, your's truly, the Easter Choir, the handbells, Bill Henry and other instrumentalists will tell the story in two services, 8:30 a.m. and 10:00.  Links to live steaming at (In case you are my mother. . . )

June 3rd--3:30 p.m. Calvin's freshman recital run-through at our home.  He will play Bach's F Minor Keyboard Concerto with a string chamber ensemble, Beethoven Op. 2, No.1, Chopin Op. 18, a Chopin Nocturne and Mazurka, and two Debussy pieces. He will close with his own arrangement of Mercy, Mercy, Mercy by Joe Zawinul. Refreshments will follow. RSVP to Sara.

June 4th--Studio recital at Sundin Music Hall on Hamline University. 1:00 p.m.  Twenty-five kids will play from their heart! Refreshments will follow.

June 4th--Calvin's Freshman program with string ensemble--at Sundin Hall at 3:30. Refreshments will follow. RSVP to Sara.

June 5th--Suzuki Association of Minnesota BBQ at our house at 5:00 p.m. Family event for SAM members--or anyone who wants to stop by.  RSVP to Sara.

June 10--Mary will play her Book 4 graduation at our home at 5:30. She will play 12 selections by Bach, Mozart, Grieg, Burgmüller, and others.  She will be accompanied by Conor and Adrianna O'Brien on violin and cello. Refreshments and appetizers will follow. RSVP to Sara.

June 10--7:30 Lena Schmitt will perform her senior recital at our home. She will play Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Chopin, and Grieg. She will be accompanied by Conor and Adrianna. Dessert and dinner will follow. RSVP to Sara.

Congrats also to Solomon and Nehemiah, graduating from Books 5 and 4 on May 15.

I'm reading The Perfect Wrong Note by William Westney. In his first chapter, titled "Music, Magic and Childhood" he says and quotes J.M. Thorburn:

No matter how old we get, there is something uniquely precious in that which we fabricate with our own hands. In the works of J. M. Thorburn, "all the genuine, deep delight of life is in showing people the mud-pies you have made; and life is at its best when we confidingly recommend our mud-pies to each other's sympathetic consideration."  

Please consider coming out to hear these kids--they've been working very hard. They want to share their precious mud-pies.

And by the way. . . . thanks for reading my mud-pie.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Nurtured Into Independence

We Don't Do Much in Moderations Around Here. 

Sniff, sniff--thank you Matthew

All the kids work hard, but when you're blind, Book One graduation is extra special! 

That's a Keeper. Thanks, Ford. 
I could write a whole entry about each of these photos. When you really study them--a picture is worth a thousand words.

Mary and Tasha's pipe cleaner dolls--diversity. And a little bit of OCD in the DNA.
Matthew's school paper--the role of accomplishment in the development of self esteem.
Preston's celebration--music as a gateway to well--everything--for a visually impaired child.
Ford's composition--the development of intuition and understanding of the language of music.

Even before I read Gist, the best parenting book EVER, a theme in the studio this year was increasing the quality of independent practice in kids in say--fourth grade and above. That's not good writing. . . but. . . I'm a little sleepy.

Everything, everything, everything we do, as parents and as music teachers, must lead the child down the road, however gently and gradually toward independence. As human beings this means being compassionate, trustable, responsible contributors to society. As musicians, this means actually loving music and practicing and performing because we really just want to. Not because our parents signed us up, or because it makes us smarter or because we want to show off for our friends. We play  because music is a language of expression of the soul.

Jeepers it's so easy to forget that when we're so caught up in how the kid's not practicing the A-flat scale enough. Or when they haven't even practiced enough to get through the notes.

I feel this tremendous responsibility to lure these children into a lifelong love affair with piano. When I'm not achieving that with any certain kid--and Bill will back me up on this--I can't sleep. If they quit before they are hooked. That's the worst.

Dr. Suzuki says, "ability leads to ability." Truth. It's a circle--you practice and the piece gets better--and you love it more--and the next piece gets better and it's even more fun--and you see the pieces coming ahead and you can't wait to play them and you finally get there and you dig in and make it happen and you can't believe you're playing such a "hard" and great piece.  

But you can't do that unless you have the tools to go home and get r'done.

There's a poster floating around the web about the stages of learning a piece. It's something like-
1. Wow that's an awesome piece, I really want to learn that.
2 This is cool, I'm going to get to play this.
3. Hmm. It's a little harder than I thought.
4. Jeepers--I'm really poor at this.
5. I really don't think I like this piece anymore.
6. Actually, I hate it.
7. Well, it's is getting a little better everyday.
8. Hmm, I'm actually getting it.
9. This is a really cool piece.

You get the point. But some kids never get there. So here are a couple ideas for independent practicing.

1. Setting goals (you must set a goal for the week, and for each session at the piano)
2. Give specific assignments (get the A section at quarter note equals 80 or memorize the right hand of the B section)
3. Learn to break it down to the smallest necessary snippet. Go beat to beat and bar to bar (as Tadeusz and Paul teach).
4. Use tools like rhythms and blocking to fix the hard stuff.

Even the littlest ones can do a checklist of their own body. Feet, back, hands, fingers, eyes. Play. They are in charge of their very little bodies.

Parenting? That's a whole other story as well. The gist of the Gist book is--trying to parent less and let life do the teaching. This is especially hard for those of us whose default is talking and talking. Instead of fixing the behavior and getting on with it--we talk and talk and add shame to the cycle. Swift and consistent consequences are compassionate and offer optimum opportunity for redemption.

The Gist way: child spilled her milk? Child cleans it up. Done.

My way? I want to talk on and on about how if we had better table manners and were paying more attention and if you had your sleeves rolled up better. . . and probably this is the outcome of a complete lack of self control that really started back in preschool and really--you're gonna feel so stupid in the dorm cafeteria when you spill your milk all over your new friends. Jeepers, even the little piano kids don't spill like this. Here. Let ME CLEAN THAT UP WITH MUCH HEAVY SIGHING AND DRAMA.

I'm not always that bad. But I have to think about it all the time. And I still run the forgotten clarinet back over for band. (I think that might be the music teacher in me, band is only once a week. . . ) But I'm getting better about some things.

A lot of it comes down to having faith that we have good kids and that they're turning out fine and just letting life take care of the little stuff.  Kids know right from wrong.

Nurtured into independence. At the piano and at life. Confidence comes from achievement. The truest compassion is swift and consistent discipline. Teach the kids how to practice at every lesson. Less talk.

Happy weekend. A chance to do less parenting and maybe a little more gardening.