Go Practice!

When it comes to practicing challenging music, I am a little out of practice. 😉 Yes, I have rehearsed and performed solos with high school students and played for our all-school musical this school year. There were challenges, but none which required extended focused practice.

I am currently preparing to accompany seven college students at the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition. Each singer prepares four pieces from different time periods with contrasting styles.

Let’s do some math: 7 singers x 4 pieces = 28 individual songs.

I have played some of this music in years past. Some songs immediately returned to my hands. Muscle memory took over and the notes fit right under my fingers. Others, not so easy. Plus there are new ones I’m learning for the first time.

While talking to my mom on the phone today, I mentioned going home to practice after school. She laughed and said, “It’s been a while since you’ve really had to practice, huh?” I’m afraid she is right.

I have great sight-reading skills. Skills which have helped me through many a lesson, rehearsal, and even some performances. Not a practice I would recommend. And certainly not one acceptable for this current playing opportunity.

Practicing is hard work! Not a new truth. It was my life for many years. I can’t say I miss spending 3-4 hours a day in a practice room. But I was young and didn’t need to rest or stretch every 30 minutes. Nor did I have these pains in my neck and shoulders…

Despite the physical challenges which now accompany extended practice time, it is time well-spent. The list of benefits could go on and on, but here are a few:

  • Finally correcting a wrong note/rhythm
  • Repeating a particular phrase until it works
  • Combining my practice with the practice of others
  • Creating beautiful music

I suppose this experience falls into the life-long learner category. Learning new music and re-learning old. Discovering the need to change my practice habits. Shorter amounts of time, practicing more efficiently. Yes, I still have the ability. The process just looks a little different than it did thirty years ago.

I’ve had some dinner and taken a couple of Aleve. Put on a pot of decaf. Beginning to feel a tiny bit rested. Guess I’d better go practice! 🎶🎹🎶

The Nest

Do you find the word nest interesting? I do. Appearing in a wide variety of phrases, it easily connects with the idea of home. These phrases bring images of feathered friends as well as our own lives as parents. I thought it would be fun to make a list.

  • Love nest
  • Nest egg
  • On the nest
  • Nesting
  • Hornet’s nest
  • Empty nest

I recently noticed a bird gathering supplies to build their nest. Twigs it would weave into a home. This lead to memories of various nest observations from the past. Tiny blue eggs one day, newly hatched chicks the next. Baby birds with their mouths wide open, clamoring for tiny bites of food from their mom. Little chirps silenced only by the care and protection of parents.

Memories of deserted, empty nests followed. Sometimes seen in trees or found on the ground. Both sad and beautiful at the same time. Intricate weaving still intact. Leftover fuzzy feathers stuck inside the twig walls. Reminders of the former flurry of activities. Now quiet.

Much like parenting…

What brought on these notions concerning nests? It certainly could not be the fact that our youngest graduates high school in less than a month. 😉 We feel the empty nest rapidly approaching. So before our flurry of activities has come and gone, here is a little poem from this mama bird.

Child Abuse Awareness

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month.  A difficult subject, but I could not let the first day of the month pass by without recognition.  As a teacher, I’ve witnessed the heartache and devastation which accompanies this kind of abuse.  Documented, reported, testified-all things I hope I never have to do again. 

I continue to have contact with my former student, Marie.  Today I will share the link to her story.  But first, a brief update.  She continues to thrive in her foster home.  I’m amazed with each new photo.  They show a different child.  And the events she has attended?  School dances, church events, even a Tim Tebow Night to Shine prom.  She looked like a princess!

Marie is happy and well-adjusted.  She laughs and jokes.  Her personality is funny, sassy, and sweet.  Although I don’t get to see her as often as I’d like, phone calls are treasured.  She continues to ask, “Do you miss me?”  My answer will never change. “Yes, sweet girl. I miss you.” 

https://pianogirlthoughts.com/2018/08/13/face-to-face-with-child-abuse-personal-reflections-of-a-teacher/

A Pink Letter

Pink is such a beautiful color. Small amounts of reds blended with white to create a calm, reflective palette. One which reminds me of springtime and flowers blooming. Maybe a lovely dogwood tree or cherry blossoms.

If you’ve had any experiences related to breast cancer, you recognize this color as a symbol. A symbol of awareness, support, solidarity in the pink ribbon. I’ve worn this ribbon on my clothing with a simple safety pin. My mom wears it around her neck daily, a reminder of her survival. I have a wooden pink ribbon in my front yard to honor my mom and remind me of my sweet friend Shannon. https://pianogirlthoughts.com/2018/09/04/instant-friends/

The pink ribbon.

Pink also serves as a guide at the facility where I have my mammograms. Lovely pink signs direct me to my parking space. Simple reassurance that I am in the right place. A reminder the people here always take good care of me.

This beautiful color provides calm during sometimes stressful times. Over the past sixteen years, I’ve faced quite a few of these times. Physical changes which required additional mammograms, ultrasounds, a lumpectomy, biopsies, MRIs. Thankfully, none of these tests resulted in cancer.

This past week I faced that MRI machine once again. And although cancer had not been mentioned, my thoughts drifted in that direction. After so many positive results, for which I am grateful, I began to think, “This may be my time.”

I know this thought process may not be logical. But it was my way of preparing myself, not that that kind of preparation is even possible. Nonetheless, such was my state of mind.

My follow-up with the doctor to go over the MRI results was scheduled for one week later. I was not expecting to hear anything before then. Simply feeling relieved to have made it through the MRI process, my worry began to subside a little.

That brings me to Friday afternoon, three days after the MRI. The first one home from work/school, I let the dogs outside and walked to the mailbox. There was only one piece of mail waiting-a pink letter. Pink. I knew where it was from before I even read the return address.

You might think I ripped it open, standing there in the driveway. But no. I walked back inside, confirmed the return address, and calmly opened the pink envelope. The letter inside was the same shade of pink. I read the beginning words, “We are pleased to inform you…no signs of cancer.”

A flood of relief and excitement, I relayed the happy message to my husband, kids, parents, friends…and prayed a whispered, “Thank you.”

This particular shade of pink will continue to play an important role. It will remind me of friends and family who are survivors. It will remind me of those who are currently fighting. It will remind me of those who have died. It will remind me of the importance of early detection, and the need to continue being proactive where my health is concerned.

Always get your mammogram!

And it will remind me of one particular Friday afternoon. A Friday afternoon when I received a pink letter in the mail.

Memories & Hymns

Some of my earliest memories of playing the piano in public are at church. I attended a small, country church as a child. On Sundays when the pianist was not there, the music director would come to get me out of Sunday school. “Ok, Kelley girl, which hymns do you know how to play?”

We would go over the list, making sure I was comfortable with each selection. After our short practice, it was time for the service. I’m not sure my exact age, elementary school, but I remember barely being able to see over the piano.

Who is this little girl? 😉

Thinking back to those early memories of playing, I don’t remember being nervous or afraid. I only remember being excited about the opportunity to play. The place and people provided encouragement and support. And it was fun!

Those early experiences lead to many more years of playing in churches. Different types of churches, services, funerals, weddings. Actually, I’ve spent more years playing piano in church than not.

Currently, I’m in one of those “not playing” times. Services have changed, much more involved and complex. Not that it’s a bad thing, just different. One that I don’t feel lead to do at this time. Maybe that will change in the future, who knows?

The simplicity of my childhood experiences is long gone. And although I sometimes miss that playing, I realize the important part remains. The music is forever part of my heart and mind.

The following is a short list of some of those early hymns:

  • Amazing Grace
  • In the Garden
  • Sweet Hour of Prayer
  • What a Friend We Have in Jesus

Sitting here on my couch typing, I can hear them in my mind. I can feel them in my fingers. I can see the notes and words on the pages. Sometimes they flood my thoughts right when I need them. 🙂

I am grateful for the memories of these hymns. They are a powerful part of my musical and spiritual foundation.

“…speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:19

What a Friend We Have in Jesus-Me playing in 2001. Arrangement by
Phillip Keveren

Flat on my Face

Flat on my face, not a position I would intentionally choose. This phrase conveys negative connotations and feelings of discomfort. Though it was not from a fall, I spent some time in this unpleasant position today.

I had an MRI this afternoon as a follow up to some previous tests. The check-in was not unusual. I filled out forms, answered questions, reviewed history, signed consents…donned lovely hospital fashions and prepared for an IV.

For this particular series of images, I had to lay flat on my stomach, face down, arms stretched out above my head. Towels covered everything and cushioned my face and elbows. As I said, not a position I would purposefully choose. But necessary, at least for a short while.

Earplugs in place and a panic button in hand, the table begins to slide into the tube. I would hear no voices until the test was finished, about thirty minutes unless I squeezed that panic button. And even though there were moments I wanted to shout, “Is anybody there? Are we almost done?” I remained still and silent, the panic button un-squeezed.

As the machine began to do its job, loud noises surrounded me. Many different timbres, volumes, and tempos filled the small space. Feelings of panic filled my head. “Just breathe. You can do this.” I began to pray. I silently sang some favorite hymns.

When anxious thoughts crept back in, I would start the whole process over. I must have repeated the same three hymns several times, not to mention Psalm 23. The words, “We’re all done,” never sounded so sweet. Pretty sure my response was, “Thank goodness!” 🙂

Changing back into my clothes, I looked in the mirror. Towel marks imprinted on my face. Gart noticed them as soon as I entered the waiting room. They wouldn’t last but provided a temporary reminder of the previous thirty minutes.

Tonight, those marks have disappeared. The loud noises quieted. Some amazing truths remain. Prayers are powerful (my own and my friends). Hymns and pep talks are powerful. Knowing Gart was in the waiting room the entire time, also powerful.

These truths all worked together to provide assurance. Assurance that I could keep from squeezing that panic button, and that I would not remain flat on my face.

Thinking of summer! 😉

Pancakes & Sr. Trips

We’ve enjoyed a variety of family traditions over the years, dependent on where we lived, the age of the kids, etc. One favorite was Saturday morning pancakes. We started this one the year we lived in Liberal, KS, far away from extended family and friends. A simple thing, but so important for us as a family.

Not all traditions happen as often Saturday morning pancakes. Actually, there is one family event I never thought of as a tradition until our final one. The senior trip…

As each of our children approached their high school graduation, Gart and I asked them to choose, within reason, a place they would like to visit. The choices of these three proved as varied as their personalities. Robert? Colorado. Rachel? Washington, D.C. And Ryan? New York City!

Dad planned, saved, worked out all the details, ensuring the graduate experienced all the activities on their list. What was Mom’s role? Let’s just say I learned how to let go a little. And began to recognize my babies were not babies anymore.

It all started in Colorado. What could be more relaxing? A quiet cabin, hiking, fishing, feeding the chipmunks, coffee on the deck…but those were my plans. Robert and his friend, Jeremy, had something much more adventurous in mind.

These two 18-year-olds successfully hiked to the top of Mt. Elbert, 14,400 ft., the highest peak in the continental U.S. It was difficult to hear them drive away that morning, before dawn. I wanted to yell one more, “Be careful!” Honestly, I can’t remember what I said. I only remember being proud (and relieved) when they returned that evening.

At the top!

If that accomplishment was not enough, they went white water rafting the next day, again unaccompanied, this time with a younger brother in tow. Talk about letting go!

Excited younger brother!

Our second stop in this Morris family tradition was Washington, D.C. This trip was a little different for our family. Robert, busy with college commitments, could not go. Only 4 out of 5 would make the trip. Another mom adjustment.

What an amazing trip! Our Rachel, compassionate and a history buff, was so excited! Highlights included the FDR memorial (her favorite president) and the Holocaust Museum. These experiences strengthened her passion for special education and equality. Watching her soak in the meaning behind these places, I learned more about history, but more importantly, I learned more about her.

Her favorite president!

Our final senior trip took us to NYC! I was ready for the change in family dynamic this time. Ryan would be the only one of our three kiddos going, accompanied by his friend, Will. We packed in as much as possible. Times Square, Joe’s Pizza, Uptown Comics, Empire State Building, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Statue of Liberty, Museum Of Natural History, Rockefeller Center…

First night in the city!

How was there time for a “letting go” moment? For me, there’s always time. 😉 The end of day two we headed back to our hotel. I was exhausted and needed a break. The boys wanted to do more shopping at Rockefeller Center. We exited the subway, Gart gave them directions, and we went our separate ways.

I might have held back a few tears as the two boys took off on their own…walking down the street…in NYC! I fought the urge to yell after them, “Be careful!” My thoughts suddenly traveled back in time six years to Colorado. They would be just fine.

That’s my baby!

As I sat on the flight home, post-graduation trip number three, the end of a family tradition, I had a revelation. Yes, these trips highlighted changes in our family dynamic. Yes, I had to learn to let go a little. Yes, I learned things about my kids. But there was always one constant right beside me-Gart.

We are in this marriage/family thing for the long haul, no matter what. I cannot imagine my life without him. I’m thankful Gart had the wisdom and forethought to not only begin this senior trip tradition but see it through to the end.

Here’s to new family traditions. And maybe revisiting some old ones along the way. I think Saturday morning pancakes might be a great place to start. Pancakes anyone?