A Social Distance Duet

I love playing the piano. And playing the piano in collaboration with another musician is even better. It requires a whole new level of concentration. But it also provides a whole new level of enjoyment.

Not only am I reading and listening to my part, but I am also doing the same for the other instrument. One section on its own does not make sense. But when played at the same time, harmony in motion. Almost like two characters telling the same story from their own perspective.

Even though collaborative playing is one of my favorite ways to experience music, it has not been part of my life in more recent times. Right now, my professional life is more focused on teaching. Playing is mostly for my own enjoyment.

That is ok. I am not complaining, just setting the scene.

Here we are, many months of living during a worldwide pandemic. The school year ended strangely. So many plans put on hold. And just when it seemed things were improving, our numbers are on the rise again.

There are so many questions about the future. How long will this last? What will school look like? It is easy to feel anxious.

What better way to calm anxious thoughts than some musical collaboration?

My friend, Lisa, came over and brought her oboe. Lisa and I teach music in the same district. She is also a professional musician. We have talked many times about getting together and playing music.

What better time than during the middle of a pandemic?

My music room has glass doors that open up to the main entrance. So, we opened the doors and sat a chair and music stand in the entryway. That way, we could still maintain a social distance but also have a sightline.

We played music for almost two hours! The time flew by. My fingers got a workout, but my brain was at peace. The music was beautiful! And we had the perfect audience, my miniature dachshund, Poppy.

Poppy’s bed was placed between the piano and the oboe. She was perfectly still, relaxed in her bed the entire time. I think she approved.

Playing music did not erase our questions or concerns. But it did provide some moments of contentment. Music is powerful, therapeutic. And the therapy is even sweeter when it’s a social distance duet with a friend.


The Winter’s Passed by Wayne Barlow
Lisa Wagner, Oboe
Kelley Morris, Piano

Storms

I am currently re-reading an old favorite, “Hinds’ Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard. I love this allegory, especially the main character, Much-Afraid. This book was first introduced to me by my precious friend, Shannon.

Read her story here. ❤  Instant Friends

A specific passage caught my eye as I read this morning.

“…while the storm still furiously raged outside, there they were, sitting around a crackling fire, warming themselves and drying their sopping garments while they drank comforting hot cocoa and satisfied their hunger. Though the uproar of the tempest without was almost deafening and the hut shuddered and shook in every blast, yet inside was nothing but peace and thanksgiving and cheerful contentment.”

What a goal. To experience that kind of inner peace, no matter the storm outside.

I once heard someone say the following regarding life and storms. At any given time…

  • A storm is approaching
  • A storm is raging
  • A storm has passed

For me, it seems finding peace is most difficult when the storm is approaching. The clouds are far off in the distance, but it’s only a matter of time before it arrives. The “calm” can be thick with tension. Questions are constant. What if, what if, what if…

The time before the storm is when my anxiety builds. And then when the storm finally arrives, it fades. I just have to push through. That is when I realize I never really had any control anyway.

Although storms cause us to question, they seldom provide answers. They are sometimes accompanied by sorrow and suffering. But I must believe that the possibility of peace exists. Even when it is hard to find.

Each of us has to find our way through the storms. But we do not have to face them alone.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.” Psalm 57:1

In Tune

Last week a piano technician came and tuned my new piano. Even though it is a beautiful new instrument, there are several reasons it needed tuning. Being moved to a new location. Sitting in a different space, with different temperatures, on a different type of floor. All factors that affect the way it sounds.

I listened as the technician worked. She listened to such tiny details. The way she would tune one note to its octave counterpart. When I played those notes together in a chord, I didn’t notice that they were out of tune. But hearing her pick them all apart, it was obvious.

The mechanics of a piano are fascinating. My explanation to students is usually simplified. Your finger presses down the key, which causes a hammer inside the piano to strike a string producing the sound.

Watching my piano being taken apart, actually viewing the insides, gave me a new perspective. Each piece has its place and must be perfectly aligned to produce a high-quality sound. Even a new piano needs time to adjust and sometimes requires a little assistance.

One thing stood out above the rest, voicing. I asked the technician about adjusting the voicing, making it a little less bright. Basically, taking the edge off of the sound. She explained that part of that process involves the felt material on the hammers.

A needle is used to soften the felt. When done correctly, it does not damage the material. It just slightly changes the way the hammers strike the strings.

Once the piano was put back together, I sat down to play. Wow! What a difference. Not only was it in tune, but it also had a much warmer tone. The sharp edge had been softened.

This experience made me think about my life. What if I’m in a new place, with new surroundings, expectations, and people? What if my reaction is one of fear or frustration? My words may sound edgy, sharp, or out of tune.

Like the felt on those hammers, something inside me needs to be softened. An adjustment might come in the form of an honest word from a trusted friend. Yes, stings for a moment. But the sting will not last if accepted with grace. The knowledge that someone loves me that much, however, is lasting.

Hopefully, as I continue playing my piano, I will be reminded to check my own tone. And will gracefully accept any needed adjustments to keep me in-tune with my husband and children, family and friends, the world around me.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” Proverbs 27:17

Schumann Arabesque Opus 18. One of my favorite piano pieces. Only the beginning theme and the conclusion. ❤

Beautiful Technology

I would never have thought of using those two words in the same sentence, until today. Our current state of social distancing and quarantine, however, has given me new perspectives on many things. And after my experience this afternoon, I can safely say technology can be beautiful.

It has been over ten years since I taught at the University of Tulsa. Two of my then piano students, now friends, convinced me to get a Facebook. This kind of technology was definitely new to me at that time. I was a little hesitant but soon embraced it as a way to communicate and connect.

These two girls, Sara and Grace, are now married. Grace has three precious children and Sara is expecting her first. Even though they initially helped me appreciate the usefulness of social media, I did not think of it as beautiful. Wouldn’t you know, my change of perspective involved these girls.

Today I attended a virtual baby shower via Zoom to celebrate Sara’s baby girl. Grace was one of the hosts. Was it the way we hoped to celebrate? No. We would have preferred to be physically present, giving hugs, eating cake, and drinking punch. But right now, that is not possible.

Celebrations, however, are still possible! Thanks to technology, a group of people came together. We came together to express our love for Sara, her husband, and for this precious baby who will be here soon.

We watched as Sara opened gifts that had been mailed or dropped off. We laughed and looked at baby pictures of each other. We listened as she received parenting advice given with love and wisdom. No, we were not in the same room. But our celebration was no less meaningful.

Yes, it was different from our usual traditions. Yes, I would have loved to hug my friends today. But the most important thing is for the expectant parents to feel loved and prepared to welcome their little one. And hopefully, today brought both. I’d say today was a picture of beautiful technology at work. ❤

Blank Slate

As I opened up my computer to write this morning, all I could think was, “look at that blank page.” No idea what I wanted to write about, I just knew I needed to write. And then it occurred to me all these days at home are truly blank slates. There was no advanced plan for them. Each one is faced truly not knowing what the next one will bring.

Although that is true of our daily reality, we don’t often live that way. We make our plans, plan our trips, and dream about the future. Don’t misunderstand, those are important things to do. However, they must be balanced with the acceptance that we never truly know what tomorrow holds.

Even more than future planning, these circumstances make me think of missed opportunities. For example, if a specific person comes to mind today, I am more likely to send a quick text. Three weeks ago, I might have pushed it to the back of my mind. “Oh, I will contact them tomorrow…”

Not that I am following through on every thought, but I am working on being more intentional. I’ve already experienced the payoff in some ways that may seem small. One “Hello, how are you” text yesterday resulted in a sweet phone conversation about life and changes. It also brought much-needed tears and encouragement. That conversation will stick with me for a long time.

Another experience from earlier this week also made a lasting impression. I was thinking about dropping off a small care package to a dear friend. The plan was to leave it outside her door, get back in my car, and wave from a safe distance. Even typing it, it sounds silly. I almost didn’t do it.

Thankfully, I decided not to worry about looking silly. When my friend walked out of her front door, I found myself wanting to jump out of the car, run over, and give her a hug. She even had to remind herself not to keep walking in my direction. Driving away, I fought back tears.

My takeaway? We need each other. We miss each other. And I cannot wait to once again freely embrace my family, friends, colleagues, and students. I don’t know when that will happen.

Until it does, I will keep looking at these blank slate days with faith and hope and love. And just maybe, cover that blank slate with a little kindness. ❤

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13: 13

Cues

Cue-a signal (such as a word, phrase, or bit of stage business) to a performer to begin a specific speech or action.

When I think of the word cue, it is usually about music. As a pianist, I’m very good at giving and receiving cues. For example, I might follow a singer’s breathing or lead them into an entrance with tempo/musical changes. The cues help us stay together, resulting in beautiful music.

This week, I’ve been forced to listen to a different kind of cue. It actually took several days for me to even recognize that it was a cue. 

If only it had been a musical cue. 

But no, this was an emotional cue manifesting in a physical symptom.

The first time it appeared was around 5:00 p.m. I had planned to cook dinner-homemade meatballs, roasted veggies, and pasta. 

All the ingredients were ready.  

Suddenly, I began to feel a little nauseous. “Hmmm, that’s weird,” I thought. I immediately began to worry about getting sick. But I hadn’t been anywhere, and it was not likely. I almost changed dinner plans to take-out.

But then, I decided to push through. We needed a home-cooked meal. It would surely make us all feel better. So, I cooked. It was yummy. I even baked cookies. When the cookies were done, I realized the nausea was gone.

The same thing happened the next day, at the same time. Curious. 

“I wonder if this is stress?” I asked myself. This time, my daughter and I took a short walk around the neighborhood. Guess what? Nausea once again disappeared.

That night, I told my husband what had happened. I also expressed that I thought it was a reaction to stress over all the changes occurring right now. He agreed. 

Somehow, just sharing how I was feeling helped.

As I thought about this more, it made sense. I may be putting on a good front, staying calm, and saying I’m not worried. But truthfully, these are unsettling times and they are affecting my emotions. This little cue was trying to get my attention. Trying to tell me it’s ok to not be ok.

The time of day also made sense. Each time I noticed this feeling, it was around 5-5:30 p.m. This is the time of day we would normally be getting home from work. Everyone would be sharing about their day, talking about what went well and what didn’t. Talking about students and what we were planning the next days, weeks, etc.  

That has all changed. We are together most of the day at home. Not knowing when we will go back to work. Worrying about our friends and family. Worrying about our students. All things that are out of our control.  

No wonder my physical cue was nausea.

The most important thing about cues? They require a response. How could I respond to this one? Well, I’ve found a few things to be helpful.   

  1. Take a walk
  2. Tell someone how I’m feeling
  3. Cook
  4. Play piano

This experience also made me think of our kiddos. How do they react to stress? What is often their first complaint? “My stomach hurts.” I guess some things never change. 😉   

Take care of yourselves, friends. Listen to your body and pay attention to your emotions. Don’t be afraid to say how you’re feeling.  ❤ 

Lifted

Lost track of time
Wandering in the
Shadows between
Dark and light

This will pass
I told myself
A feeble attempt
At reassurance

And then…
Thinking of you
Are you ok?
Praying for you

Glimmers of hope
Breaking through
The haze to
Light my path

Cautiously I
Inched forward
Each step
Growing lighter

My spirit
Began to rise
As the fog
Lifted

Cousins

Simpler days spent
Playing outside
Soaking up the sun
Only after hearing
My most recent
Piano/violin solo
As you
Recently
Reminded me
You were a good
Though reluctant
Audience
Do you remember
Digging in the dirt
Under the big oak tree?
Silly childhood thoughts
Making mud pies
Digging to China
Swings and slides
And downhill
Wagon rides
Playfully pushing each other
Off of Grandma and
Grandpa’s front porch
The winner
To be named
King of the Mountain
The subjects
Now laughing
In the grass below
Hours of kickball
On the gravel road
Many heated arguments
Was the runner safe?
The ball out of bounds?
Problem-solving
A few skinned knees
Fights and tears
Hugs and laughter
We learned to be friends
First friends
Cousins

Cousins sitting on Grandma and Grandpa’s front porch. 🙂

Wedding Week

Well, it is wedding week for our son, Robert, and his fiancé, Erin. By this time next Sunday, their celebration will be added to our family album of wonderful memories. All the hard work and planning worth the outcome.

Of course, that outcome encompasses so much more than the wedding day. Yes, that day will be a beautiful reminder of a new beginning. But it’s just the beginning. There is so much more to come.

As parents, our roles are continuously transforming. Yes, we are still here to help and offer advice. But they are now adults, making their own way in this world. Walking more often beside us, instead of viewing us as the guides.

I must admit, this change brings some rollercoaster moments for me. Questions. Am I embracing my new roles with the same excitement as when I was first a parent? Am I providing enough support while giving needed space?

Truthfully, their questions are more important than mine. How do I know they have questions? Because I remember our beginning. The excitement and the uncertainties.

Right now, at this moment, I want them to know how much they are loved. And how excited we are to celebrate with them. I also want to remind not to sweat the details. It is going to be a beautiful wedding!

So, bring on the vases, lights, flowers, and music. The dress, the suit, the rings, the promises. Get ready for family and friends to surround and lift you up. Expect lots of smiles and laughter, and maybe a few tears. But most of all, enjoy your day! ❤

Beautifully Imperfect

I have a favorite photo of me and the kids. I remember the day it was taken. It was quickly snapped by a friend, not the result of a professional photoshoot.

Look at those sweet faces! ❤

Everyone is looking in different directions. We are tired and messy. And yet, it remains my top pick.

The picture always surfaces this time of year. When I saw it this morning, I began to think about what it represents-an honest reflection of one day in the life of a young, stay-at-home mom.

That particular day was far from perfect. I remember having a migraine earlier that afternoon. The medicine I took made me sleepy. I also remember my husband, Gart, was not be able to attend the fall festival with us. He had a graduate school class that night. That meant I had three kids to get ready for the evening festivities by myself.

With the help of some friends, we made it to the party. Everyone had a costume. Robert was Superman, Rachel-Tigger, and Ryan-a baby bumblebee. The kids had fun playing games, spending time with friends, and collecting candy. If you look closely, you can see their candy buckets hanging on the handles of Ryan’s stroller.

My friend took the picture at the end of the evening. I remember collapsing onto the floor. The kids just naturally settling in my lap. Three tired kids and one tired mom. Yet in the picture, I am still smiling.

After considering the story surrounding my favorite photo, I am left with this truth: A perfect picture has more to do with the memories it evokes than with the image itself.

Our picture is beautifully imperfect. It reminds me of a busy and challenging time in my life. A time I would not trade for all the perfect pictures in the world.