Monday, June 27, 2016

Make New Friends and Keep the Old--Small World Stories

Calvin and Simon--duet partners

Calvin and the St. Olaf Piano Academy Gang

Calvin and Dr. McWilliams
Calvin spent the week at the St. Olaf Piano Academy in Northfield. It's not that our advanced kids have outgrown our Suzuki Institute Faculty--it's only, in my opinion, that we have some work to do on recruiting and supplementary classes. If any of our summer institutes could recruit a dozen of our pre-college kids and come up with an inspiring curriculum we would have a Suzuki option for these kids like Calvin.

In the meantime, Calvin went back to St. Olaf again this year and a bunch of the same kids were there and that in and of itself adds tremendous value. Being with like-minded kids is inspiring. Dr. McWilliams addressed parents at the recital--he said sometimes at camps kids get into trouble. I'm reminiscing how I snuck out in cars to jazz clubs after hours at Birch Creek in Door County. These kids, he said apologetically, listened to Mahler this week. Oh no. . . .

The St. Olaf camp had classes in repertoire, healthy technique and ensemble playing. They also take notes for each other in daily masterclasses. Each student of course has individual lessons throughout the week. Last year I made Calvin videotape every lesson. This year as part of my transition to letting go, I didn't. If he cares, he will have to remember what the teacher said all on his own. That may seem obvious, but it's not so easy for me. For the record, he does care.

Visiting him in the dorms after a mid-week recital, it felt like visiting him in college. It's good to have these preparatory parental experiences. Sniff, sniff.

Here's the cool story.

One of the students, not one pictured, is an exiting senior, planning to attend St. Olaf in the Fall. I met his proud parents before the recital. They told me the story about how when he was about 15 his teacher told the parents, I could take Andrew through high school but I think it would be better for him to transfer to a college teacher, and here is one I recommend, my own teacher who teaches at Northwestern College. So the family makes the long drive every Saturday for the lesson and the home teacher keeps in touch and attends solo recitals of the kid's. We are not talking about the average successful piano kid here, this student was accepted to be a piano major at Oberlin, Northwestern and St. Olaf.

Because the parents were nice, then they asked about my family. I said I was a Suzuki piano teacher and that we had just returned from an institute at Beaver Creek, where my daughter attended the camp.

I was expecting the normal defense of Suzuki Piano--we are still educating the world about the Mother Tongue Approach and there are still many misconceptions about the kids and reading. Most people are still in the dark about how these pianists are so intuitive and well-rounded and play very expressively, as well as having really, really, beautiful hearts. And reading music.

Instead--the mother's face lit up. She said, our teacher was a Suzuki teacher. After her boy was well into collegiate repertoire, they made the decision with the teacher, and under the teacher's recommendation, to change teachers. Then she said--WE WENT TO BEAVER CREEK. We always worked with this one lady--she struggled for the name. On a whim I said--Doris Harrel? Again, her face lit up. Yes, Doris had worked with Andrew. They were thankful for Doris and the whole Suzuki experience and childhood relationship with their teacher and the community. Small world. We exchanged emails.

Moving on.

Saturday night Calvin and I went to the senior recital of a previous student of mine. Whose family I love. Who is an outstanding, above and beyond driven girl. Five years ago she did leave our studio to go to a contest winning teacher in town. Saturday night, I was very proud of her virtuosic and expressive performance. She is where she needed to be. Isn't it what we ultimately want--for our students to outgrow us? Even and especially our own kids? I can't take credit for Christina's technique or the doctoral level repertoire, but I'm taking credit for the love. We spent eight years together loving music.

I hugged her mom, and I hugged her grandparents and greeted the aunts and uncles. I know and love them all.

That's what we do. Love kids. Love music. In that order.
Christina will be a piano major at the University of Texas at Austin in the Fall. Small world.
Congratulations Calvin, and Andrew, and Christina!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Summer Week 1

A New Notebook to Fill
Summer actually started yesterday. We came to home from Colorado to cake platters and serving dishes and leftover recital food in the fridge. Also, one fresh rhubarb pie from my mother, which served me very well for breakfast and lunch yesterday. We moved the pianos back to their regular spots last night and we're ready to go!

I filled my notebook. I clocked in about 60 hours of observation of lectures and masterclasses and recitals at the national Suzuki conference over Memorial Day weekend. That included my teacher trainer training. This last week in Colorado, observing Mary's classes and a few other teachers, I logged about 35 more hours.

I'm ready to actually teach now. I have enough new ideas to kill a horse.

Summer lessons are nice. In the morning the windows can be open. We are competing with the sounds of birds and lawnmowers.

The new notebook only has one page filled in. Yesterday at the dentist, when the secretary asked if I wanted to book my six month appointment for December 20, the words HELL NO actually slipped out of my mouth. No appointments in December. No appointments in May. This is a good faith gesture for a year of careful yeses.

Happy Summer Week 1.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Beaver Creek News

Hello from the Colorado Suzuki Institute, live in Beaver Creek, Colorado. In case you are new to the blog, Suzuki Institutes are "camps" where kids go for a week to study their instrument, but unlike other camps, in keeping with the Suzuki triangle, parents accompany their kids to institutes and follow them around and take notes and practice with them and stay in a very small hotel room and spend 24/7 hours a day with them for a good 5-7 days. There is wine available. Here in Beaver Creek, us poor parents are also exposed to luxury hotels, high-end shopping, the Rocky Mountains, world class gardens, nightly ice-skating, bungee jumping and concerts in one of the finest halls you will ever visit.

Mary and Matthew, one of my students, are here doing the institute. They both auditioned and were selected to perform on one of two student honor recitals. Can I express the impact that auditioning, being accepted, preparing for, finding the God-blessed dress for, and performing in the recital has?  I don't think I can. The kids just grow. This was number six for me--as a parent. Three times per kids. So---just like when I used to get pulled over by the state patrol coming home from late night Texas gigs--eventually, after this many times--my blood pressure barely even rose. But you still want the kids to have a positive experience. And they did. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm really proud of Mary and Matthew, but that's just a selfish icing on the cake of their experience.

I've been doing informal research about how to get kids to love music. How to get them to stay. How to keep them engaged. My back of the envelop says that kids who go to summer institutes don't quit. There's something very deep and engaging about the whole deal. Every class and every faculty member that they are exposed to has some impact upon them. My kids remember every teacher they ever had for every class. We've got pictures of Mary at 2 running around Beaver Creek like she owns the joint.

There's a million reasons why this is important. Kids are really smart. Does the fact that mom and dad bought airline tickets or drove across the country and booked a hotel and bought groceries and paid for ice-cream and dinners out go over their heads? Or does it send the ultimate message that this is really important and special. Music is really important and special. They are really important and special.

It's just one tool in the tool-box. There are kids who can't afford institutes and we are all working on that. MacPhail in Minneapolis is an extremely affordable option. There are many, many scholarships available. My kids' childhood summers are punctuated by these institutes.

Here's a couple links to Mary and Matthew's performances. And that. . . is the Beaver Creek News.

Link to Matthew's Ecossaise at the Vilar Center
Link to Mary's Gavotte at the Vilar Center

While you are at it. . . check out Calvin's concerto last week at his freshman recital and check out my youtube channel. . . there are a bunch of new videos to share.
Link to Calvin's F Minor Concerto at Sundin Hall

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Looks Like We Made It

We made it up the mountain to Beaver Creek Lodge last night after 17 hours in the car. Minnesota to Colorado in one fell swoop.

We made it through the last ten days of five recitals and a baby shower and a fifth grade talent show and finals and packing the family for two different trips.

We made it through a school year of 15 hour days and accompanying on the weekends and SAM workshops and Suzuki Piano Teacher's Guild events and Christmas teas and new Steinway pianos and cabin kitchen remodels.

Looks like we made it. But I am not the same person. I feel older and wiser and foolish for taking on so much. I'm not proud of the frantic pace of this year.  I'm not proud that one of Mary's phrases has become. . . when we're not so busy can we. . . .

But we made it. And we made it with a lot of love and only a couple days of darkness and only one or two instances of yelling.

The phrase "it's all good" is overused and kinda annoying, however it does often fit.

It was all good.

Marching band was good. Calvin embraced high school and had a great year. Mary had the best year ever at school and had great teachers and friends. The piano kids had an awesome end of year recital in an awesome hall. Calvin and Mary worked so hard and each performed very musical solo recitals.  Lena had a beautiful senior recital and we had a lovely party for her.  Mary loved recreational circus all year and also has a great relationship with her ballet teacher. We had great chamber music experiences again this year with the O'Briens sharing their gifts with the studio. I bought a once in a lifetime instrument.

It was all good.

When they say it takes a village. . . it takes a village.

It's not like we won a Grammy or anything but here are a few thank yous. . . .

My husband. We are a good team. He is the light to my darkness. How could I count the ways?
My mom. Couldn't have done Christmas or this recital season without you. Lord, I don't even know what all you did these last two weeks. I just turned around and stuff was done.
Bill's folks. . . holding down the fort in Nisswa and doing so many behind the scenes tasks that I don't even know about yet I completely appreciate.
Calvin and Mary for "self sitting" and getting their chores and practicing done while I taught.
Mary Lynn. For every panicked text to please go pick up Calvin cause marching band got switched.
Delores--my cleaning lady turned friend. It's expensive to have a cleaning lady but she's part therapist so that actually saves me a lot of money. Between the conversation and the cleaning, when she leaves I'm at peace.
Conor and Adrianna for all the beautiful chamber music.
Maggie. . . you know what you do. You keep me tough.
Jason for plowing me out.
Linda Erickson for recital help and pinch hitting with rides.
Bill Henry for subbing for me for workshop weekends at church and working with Calvin.
Dave Highum for taking the wheel at the fountain and helping me out from under a sinking ship of weeds.
The SAM and SPTG boards. . . when one of us slips the others steady us.
Mary Walker for apprenticing for the Deerwood plant sale--you're gonna do a great job next year.
The good folks at the Kowalski and Byerly's bakeries--you don't want to know my cake budget for the year.
Amazon Prime. You kept the kids in shoes, socks and underwear. You kept the studio in office supplies. You sent a new blender in two hours. I love you. I know you love me too.
Coborns grocery delivery. . . . we've been together for 15 years now. You know what you mean to me.  Please never leave me.

This is how we do it. It was all good. We made it. We honored our commitments. I'm not proud of my over scheduling this year, but tomorrow is a new day. Next year is a new chance to be a little more sacred with our "yes."

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My Grieg Girl Graduates

What can I say about Miss Lena? I met her when her brother started lessons in 1998. She was a baby and her mom would do the mom things to entertain her during the lesson. Coins from her purse. Raisins and crackers. When she was ready to start, Fall of 2001, it was with the usual ease of a second sibling. She knew the drill. She was a little shy at the first couple recitals, those other kids were pretty big and intimidating (seven years old) by then. But we didn't fuss and in time she marched up there and did her thing. Lena has always done her own thing. It's not always easy to be the younger sister, no matter how much you grow, there is always someone around who is taller. But Lena has marched to her own beat. 

I don't remember what age she was when she got the hair cut. It was a stacked bob and this was her childhood trademark. I remember her playing A Short Story and we lined up six round magnets for the six phrases and she rounded them all! 

Lena has played for all the visiting master class clinicians, Doris, Chris L., Catherine McMichael, Reiko, and many many others. I've always been proud to show off her beautiful tone and expressive playing. 

I don't remember (I guess I'm losing it. . . ) when she started with the Grieg thing. You know, the adolescent stage when the kid falls in love with a composer and you do whatever it takes to keep them in the studio and keep them loving and playing piano. For a time we were the all Grieg all the time radio station. I'll take it. 

One of my favorite things about Lena--when she would come into lessons with a lot on her mind--like all high school kids do from time to time--even if the music was rough or she hadn't achieved everything she hoped for the week, once we were into the piece--I would see the secret smile. The secret smile that would come across her face--that she thought her mother couldn't see--that she thought I wouldn't notice--and that smile told me that everything was going to be okay. The Grieg took. 

Sure enough. Beautiful tone. Beautiful heart. 

Lena is off to Luther down in Deborah, Iowa. Her brother will still be taller than her there, but I'm quite sure she will still make her own path. She is studying wildlife biology and taking some art classes but she hopes to take piano lessons and play her trumpet in some ensembles. The Grieg took. 

I learned a lot from Lena. In addition to all the Grieg that I had never taught before, that is. I'm still learning about little sisters with tall big brothers. Thank you Jonelle, for paving the way for me in so many, many ways. 

In the photo below, I'm holding Calvin and expecting Mary. Lena is the last and littlest of this group--she's in the aqua stripe dress, which got handed down to Mary and worn to shreds. A lot of Lena got handed down to Mary. After the big kids left--it wasn't so easy for Lena to hang with the next generation. She hung in there and I couldn't be more proud. Dr. Suzuki says, beautiful tone, beautiful heart. 

Lena, my dear. . . there is a lot more Grieg out there. We've only scratched the surface. I'm sure Luther will be a great place to tackle it. You are a beautiful girl, inside and out and it's been my complete privilege to walk this path with you for the last fifteen years. I'm gonna miss all your smiles.  Blessings to you now and always. I can't wait to hear your program Friday night and celebrate with you.