Saturday, July 30, 2016

What a Nice Week at MacPhail

We had the MacPhail Suzuki Institute last week. Annette Lee, Fay Adams and I rounded out the piano masterclass faculty. We also got to play together on the recital, selections from Ravel's Mother Goose Suite. Annette got to do all the glissandi at the end--so she did get the glory. And the blisters. Adrianna and I also got to play together for the first time--a Chopin cello and piano sonata movement. I'm not sure why it took me so many years to realize how much fun it is to collaborate with others. I really enjoyed the recital. I was actually there, in my body, seeing the black dots on the page, feeling the smooth keys and hearing the tone coming out of the 9' Steinway in front of my peers and students. That made me happy.

The piano kids were great. There are some great kids who come year after year. I really love it.
We made popcorn, real popcorn, in the group class. It was to demonstrate the idea of different kinds of staccato. I also blew soap bubbles and let them pop on the children's faces.

I got to take a class from Fay, along with some piano friends! That was super fun.

Having your own child at an institute where you are teaching is it's own adventure. Talk about transparency. But Mary loves Fay and Annette and Wynn-Anne and Sue and L.A the drum guy. She just loves the institute. And she loves the piano kids.

Disclosure. It took every single solitary ounce of self-discipline for me to come home at the end of the day and watch the video recording of her lesson with Fay and diligently follow through on the teaching points. But we did it. Every night. I did at one point in the week resort to paying Mary a nickle a phrase for perfect reps with gentle endings on the Chopin waltz which we so responsibly started ten days before the institute. Because I'm just that perfect of a Suzuki mom.

I'm so proud of Nandani, Preston, Úna, Ella, Walt, Britta and Mary for all their hard work. I'm sorry Walt was feeling sick most of the week and missed out.

We do these institutes to get a boost. I hope the Minneapolis kids got what they came for. I sure had a good time. Good kids, good music. Good friends. Good memories.

Tonight, I'm writing from Connecticut. Got in last night at 2:00 a.m. I'm gonna go to bed and sleep. And get up tomorrow and continue my observation of Diana Galindo's Book One Teacher Training class. And meet the Connecticut kids out here.

When I pulled into the the parking lot at the Hartt school today--a wash of flashbacks overtook me. My kids were four and seven again and Calvin was chasing after Alexa with the long red twisted braids and Mary was hugging her friends in the courtyard and crying her eyes out when we left. This is the stuff. Marina Obukovsky was telling Calvin not to wake the baby in Cradle Song. He was singing the right hand to the Beethoven Moderato while he played the left hand of Cradle Song--playing the distraction game with himself. . . and Catherine McMichael was telling me that it was all going to be  okay--Mary was only four after all. There was a long path ahead. Mary Had a Little Lamb was going to be okay.  Calvin was scoping out every piano in every practice room and telling us about them for hours and hours and hours at dinner while we tried to have adult conversation with Chris Liccardo. This is the stuff.

Institutes. Good kids, good music, good friends. Good, good memories.
Good night.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

God Bless Us Everyone

While I remain 100% committed to Dr. Suzuki's mother tongue approach to the study of music, it very well may be that the single most important side effect of this method is community.

We spent a week in Beaver Creek at the Colorado Suzuki Institute with Matthew and Erica. Ella and Úna spent the week at the Chicago Suzuki Institute. Now we are here with Preston, Nandani, Walt, Úna, Ella, Britta and Mary at the MacPhail Suzuki Institute. And I get to work with Vivian and Gabriella and Natalie, Michael, Saanvi, Phillip, Natalia, Ben and Caden.

I get to perform with Annette and Adrianna and Fay.

There is so much good music going on but beyond that. . .

We get to know each other.

This is it folks. As Jen Hatmaker says. . . I can't even.

Kids. Marriage. Music. It's just not always easy. Every kid is unique, every parent is unique, every marriage is unique and when push comes to shove we're just here for each other. That's even more important than the music.

Most people have some big challenge.

OK. . . everybody has some big challenge.

You work with families long enough you pretty much figure out what their challenge is. While you are working on your own.

So tonight. . . God bless the Suzuki families. God be with Walt who is not feeling good. . . and with everybody and their deal.


Monday, July 18, 2016


Happy birthday kid!

Throughout history, apparently children, have done this thing, whereas they grow talller, get smarter and even sometimes more musical than their parents. This is normal. But no one prepares you for this.

Mama and Daddy are so proud of you and everything that makes you who you are. You are a one-of-a-kind sweet, smart, musical and fun son, grandson, great-grandson, brother, cousin and nephew. Child of God. We are all blessed by you everyday!

Especially when you help me at the computer. And with my phone. And vacuuming.
Happy birthday, I love you!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Flowers and Weeds Part Two

I received this very well thought out, kind and constructive criticism on "Seeing the Flowers Through the Weeds."

I get what she's saying and it's a nice piece. 
But what she's missing is that ignoring labels is only a privilege afforded to some people. I'm sure black people are also exhausted of being treated the way they are. But they can't choose to be non-black, ever. 

I know white people, especially in segregated areas like MN, are terrified ALL THE TIME of being considered racist. That gets tiring. It's because we don't understand what being racist is. It isn't stereotyping or generalizing. It's thinking that deep down, you are better, or that a person of color is less worthy than you as a white person. Disbelieving or ignoring minorities when they say their life experiences are different than ours is a form of racism. We aren't allowed to ignore these claims of institutional racism. 

The author is trying to avoid being racist, but that doesn't come from smiling at people or not. It comes from acknowledging that racist forces exist in our society, understanding what they are, and hopefully, acting in a way to help change things. 

Again, it's a nice piece, but we just can't shake our labels and pretend they don't exist. Remember that the root word for ignorance is "ignore".

I agree with everything this friend of a friend of a friend says. It's not about this suburban white piano teacher's feelings. It's about the age old and daily reality of the grievous stuggle that every non-white person is subject to. I'm sorry if I made it sound like racism isn't real or that it's as simple as smiling at each other. I don't feel that way. I'm not socially or politically intelligent enough to engage in a public debate.

Maybe I struggle because I actually deep in my heart do believe that we are all equally precious and valuable in God's eyes and that's so obvious to me that I'm unable to process that there are people who actually don't believe that.

Right now I'm seeing equal opportunity misbehavior everywhere I look. It's hurting my soul likes it's hurting everyone. When I think of what my black friend goes through everyday just to be thought of as a legitimate small business owner like me, I want to bawl. I do bawl.

My only disclaimer from this rebuttal? The clause "especially in segregated areas like MN." Here's where I became defensive. I cannot publish it for privacy reasons, but the class list for Mary's fifth grade room reads like a rainbow. She's one of only three white girls. The rest are ethnicities of all kinds. The beauty of this? She never even mentioned it. The kids don't even notice.

That may be the real flower in the weeds.

Sir or Ma'am who clarified those important thoughts above--I have no need to have the last word. You are 100% right. But like most things lately. . . the answer probably includes the word "and." We can take action AND keep smiling at people. We can acknowledge labels AND rise above them. We can see the privilege of our children AND work toward ensuring that privilege for every child.

I have hope.

Dr. Suzuki says "every child can" and that is the foundation of our whole Suzuki teaching system. We have our Suzuki Association of Minnesota board retreat today at my house. I put an item on the agenda--how to ensure that maybe one more child in the Twin Cities has access to music lessons regardless of their ability to pay for it. One more scholarship. Maybe ten more. It's action. It's a smile. It's a start.

"Perhaps music will save the world." Pablo Casals--cellist.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Deerwood You're the One

Always flowers for the teachers

Mrs. Sipe

Mr. Taylor and Ms. Howell

Ms. Highum

You Don't Know You're Beautiful

Mrs. Lindorfer

Calvin Skipping and Mary Crying

Mrs. Schoen

Principal Haugen

Mr. Highum

Ten Year Salute--actually I think the sun was in her eyes. . . 

Mrs. Rutoski

Mrs. Fischer 
I collected addresses and it was my intention to send each of the Deerwood teachers a little thank you note this summer. Today I thought--what the heck why not just put it out there how much each of these folks meant to our family. So, for better or worse. . .

Miss Highum, (K)
It was your first year as a kindergarten teacher. You got Calvin. Enough said. Congratulations upon your survival. Mary also loved you dearly. I know you are married now, but to us you will forever be Ms. Highum. You ushered my children into public education and a love of learning. Thank you.

Mrs. Lindorfer, (1st)
Mary loved you. You were perfect. She cried for two hours on the last day of school because she had to leave you.

Mrs. Schwartz, (1st)
You got Calvin. By that, I mean you understood him. You had all those other children too and I believe you understood them as well. We love you.

Ms. Jurgens, (2nd)
You and I talked so much about mindsets and kids believing they could do anything. You were a solid inspiration to me. You let Calvin sell his home made maps to the other students from his desk. This was a critical moment. Thank you for supporting Calvin's piano life year after year by buying and listening to his CDs. Thank you--we love you.

Mrs. Kirschbaum, (2nd)
I don't know you very well, because the year Mary had you for second grade you were on medical leave some of the time. It was a fragmented year but you hung in there and I really respected that. Thanks for everything you did.

Mrs. Rutoski, (3rd)
Mary will forever talk about how you were fair. You called a spade a spade. You made kids accountable. Through her respect for you, it made me aware of how important that fairness is to children. She says you were tough but kind. I want to be that way too. Thank you--we love you.

Mrs. Sipe, (4th)
You are our favorite. Unabashedly. You supported my kids above and beyond. You were honest with me when Mary was stressed and had too much on her plate. When Calvin screwed up his states test you taught him to understand that he wasn't really mad at you, he was mad at himself. And then you provided redemption. You were tough, in a good way. You once told me that Calvin had a lot to say, but he deserved to be heard. You taught me to try to listen. I'll miss you.

Mr. Highum, (5th)
Let's face it. Watching from a distance I thought you were a jokester. Then Mary got you for a teacher and I learned that that was a front for a depth of caring that was unparalleled. When Mary was "sick" on her birthday which was also Run-4-Deerwood--a big day for which she was accustomed to throwing up and you came into the office and assessed the situation and totally understood--when you put your hand on her shoulder and said "let's slow it down a little"-- I melted. I cried all the way home. It was the end of her "excitement" sickness. YOU MAKE THOSE KIDS FEEL SO LOVED. What could be more important on the eve of middle school. Those dorky pre-adolescent kids--and you make them feel cool and loved. And accountable. And in spite of you being so funny, Mary came home every day saying how much she loved math. Go figure.
Thank you.

Mrs. Oettinger, (5th grade science)
You taught Calvin science. You guided him through the journey of creationism vs. evolution. You have no idea. You helped him see that science and religion could be friends. Your words were like gold to him and made an enormous impact on his faith. In an appropriate and private way. Thank you.

Mrs. Thomforde, (5th)
You let Calvin read the biography of Steve Jobs for a whole year. What can I say. You also let him petition for kids to bring E-readers to class. All these little decisions let Calvin know there was a place for him in this world. We love you.

Mr. Taylor, (math)
I'm not completely convinced that you and Calvin did anything else but shoot the shit about computers during fifth grade math but. . . he seems to be progressing fine on the high school math path so. . . I believe that being with you for math all those years was EXACTLY what he needed. I trusted you and you did not let him down. Thank you.

Mrs. Schoen, (music)
When I asked you if my five year old could play piano for the music class, I firmly established myself as psycho piano teacher mom, but you were patient with me. How can I shout it from the mountaintop how amazing you are? I never in a million years dreamed that my kids would be performing in the calibre of music programs you routinely put on. Somehow, someway, you get every child to participate and love singing. And you were smiling all the way. I never saw you not smiling. Thank you for EVERYTHING: the music, the da capo choir, all the support of Calvin and Mary at the piano. You are gifted and I'm so thankful the planets aligned for us to be at Deerwood with you. We love you.

Mrs. Olive, (art)
I don't know you very well, but there is all this amazing high quality art on the walls all over my house, so I feel that I owe you a debt of gratitute. I love it that the children made such meaningful art and that your curriculum is constant through the years, so that I have projects made by each of my kids with the same parameters, yet each individual. Isn't that what art is all about? Creativity within boundaries. Thank you and best wishes!

Mrs. Fischer, (P.E.)
You took two non-athletic kids and made it through in a positive way. Thanks for setting a great example of lifetime fitness for the kids and most of all. . . thank you for letting me put the plants in the gym instead of standing out in the cold rain all day. You have no idea. Best wishes always!

Ms. Howell, (GT)
I love you. You walked my kids through the gifted and talented process for ten years. I learned so much from you. Calvin and Mary will forever remember you standing on a chair and yelling telling the kids not to tell you they didn't have time. You went out of your way to understand my kids and how they learn. Remember when five year old Calvin was taking the first GT test and pretended his pen was an ink quill and he scored in the 43rd percentile? You told me not to worry. You also taught me an important lesson. The one time I ever had to call school about an issue? You told me to back off and let Mary work it out. There were tears (from both of us) but then you know what? She worked it out and had the growth and life lesson of communicating with a teacher. Thank you for pushing my kids and having the courage to teach me when not to overparent. You and I both lost too many people we loved in too short of a time. And we both kept going. I'll miss you. Best wishes always.

Mrs. Smith, (band)
Instant sainthood. Anyone who teaches 5th grade band. At 7:00 in the morning? You are a saint among saints.
Thank you!

Mrs. Gallaway, (office)
Seeing your calm and lovely face everytime I came into the office for ten years was really special. Thank you for your quiet and consitent prescence. I never saw you rattled. You just make the school a great place to be.

Lynette, (office)
You were the behind the scenes hero of the plant sale. I enjoyed working with you so much. Best wishes next year and email me if you have questions. You know where to find me. I'm not going anywhere.

Crossing Gaurds,
I'm ashamed that I don't know either of your names. But for ten years you stood out there in the heat and cold and rain and every day you were smiling. Smiling to the kids. Smiling to the misbehaving adults rushing through drop-off and pick-up. You keep the kids safe and you also brightened my day with your attitude about 10,000 times and you never even knew it. Thanks to both of you.

Principal Haugen,
You are an amazing principal. Among a million other things--you stand out there on the sidewalk in the twenty below wind chill and welcome the kids to school every day. Every day. Your prescence out there made us all better people. It made me not cut off the next parent in line when I was running late. It made me not check my cell phone in the queue after my kids slammed the car door and toddled off. It reminded us that someone is looking out for these kids. I felt like my kids were safe with you there. Thank you for keeping music a priority. Thanks for being a model of everything good for these kids. P.S. you got great teachers.

Back when Bill and I were deciding where Calvin and Mary should go to school, we didn't know nothing. We only knew that our assigned school was on the freeway ten miles away and Deerwood was only half a mile away, half way to our church. It had that long driveway that felt quaint and safe. It was cute. I didn't really think about how we would be going there every day for ten years. I didn't know the teachers would become elemental in the growth and development of our kids. I didn't know what a great music program it had and how much emphasis it placed on GT. It just seemed sweet. So we open enrolled. Lucky us.

Deerwood You're the One
Lots of work and lots of fun
You're the home of blue and green
and the best we've ever seen
Rah Rah Rah
Making lots of friends
Where the learning never ends
We will laugh and sing and play
and we're really proud to say
Deerwood kids are number one!

Thank you Deerwood. You are the one.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Seeing the Flowers Through the Weeds

I haven't broken out of my funk yet, but I'm almost there.

I spent several hours this morning cleaning my closet. I can control my closet. Then I took the non-joy items over to the Goodwill store. I smiled extra hard at the guys who unloaded my stuff. Yes, they were black. Then I went to Home Depot for a rain gauge. The gal who helped me figure out where the heck the rain gauges were? You guessed it. African American. I smiled extra hard at her too.

Back at home I went out to do some weeding between the driveway and the sidewalk by the street. I'm not kidding, there's 1,000,000 weeds. Everywhere I look, WEEDS. Grape vines creeping their little tentacles up my pine trees and creeping charlie snaking along the ground and burr things growing so tall it takes an ax to chop them down. Weeds.

I was out there several hours. People passed by. A lot of people. The really poor lady down the street who is my garden friend and doesn't have a roof on her house. Asian people. Black people. White people. Indian people. I'm not kidding, Eagan is more diverse than you think and we live on a busy bike path. I'm kneeling down pulling weeds and trying to smile extra hard at everyone, because I'm so scared of being racist.

While I was smiling so hard--you know what all those people said to me?
"Beautiful flowers."

They all thought I had beautiful flowers.
Come to think of it, I do have beautiful flowers.
There's also a million weeds, but not one person said--jeepers, y'all got some bad weeds here.

We don't call it a weed garden.
We call it a flower garden.

There's so much evil going on right now. But we're not all evil. I think that's what's bothering me. There's one million weeds, but everyone I know. . . is a flower.

I'm tired of having to be something. Republican or democrat. Black or white. Christian or non-Christian. Racist or non-racist. I'm tired of internally defending my conflicted and torn beliefs. I'm tired of feeling like I have to be on a side. It's exhausting.

I want to just be. Child of God.
I talked to Pastor Kris today and it sounds like our church is going to be doing some specific projects to build unity in our community.

We can't stop weeding out the evil, but we gotta mostly see the flowers or we're gonna get strangled by the vines.

Again I'm singing the old Lutheran liturgy from Psalm 51, it always helps.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me
Cast me not away from thy presence 
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore onto me, the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with thy free Spirit. 

Peace to you. And me. I think that's about all we can take care of today. You and me.