Stress Secrets

Today, I physically felt my stress level rising. Our family has a lot happening right now. Not horrible things, just changes. Even so, a feeling of weight began to creep upwards through my chest. I had to remind myself to breathe.

What caused such a reaction? A combination of events. Tomorrow, I begin teaching at a new school. My daughter also begins her first teaching job. We are moving to a new house on Saturday. And my youngest son is starting college classes next week.

Each of the things listed is exciting! My new school is awesome! Our new house is beautiful, and the details will all work out. I’m proud of my daughter, just having a little trouble with the “mama bear” complex. And my son? I am still learning how to let go.

For a few moments today, I was unable to separate these events. It was as if they were all morphing into one big problem, a problem I could not solve. I took a few deep breaths. My head began to clear, and one beautiful thought entered my mind.

Tomorrow, I have the privilege of welcoming groups of new students to their music room. We will make connections, discuss expectations, and establish routines. We will play games, listen to music, and read stories. I will be exactly where I am supposed to be. ❤

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold & Suzanne Kaufman

Those other things will continue to be out of my control, and that is ok. If the stress begins to rise, I will remind myself to breathe. And if I’m still struggling at the end of the day, an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood is sure to help.

I guess my secret is out. 😉

Yesterday and Today

Think about your favorite song. I bet you can hear it playing in your head right now. (You are welcome.) 😉 Maybe you even remember a person or place associated with said song. Certain melodies/lyrics work their way into our memories and pop up when least expected.

Now imagine you wake up tomorrow and are the only person who remembers this song? It has been inexplicably wiped from the memory banks of everyone in the world…except you. This is the plight of singer Jack Malik, in the movie “Yesterday.”

As we watch Jack reintroduce the world to the music of The Beatles, he quickly finds himself in a difficult position. Even though no one else seems to know the songs are not his, he begins to experience a guilty conscience. And he alone has the power to make things right.

I know it may not be an award-winning blockbuster, but what a fun and entertaining 1h 56m! Though the music was a big focus, the movie was about so much more. The songs were beautifully intertwined with stories of family, friendship, life, love, and integrity.

It reminded me how chasing something just out of reach may cause me to miss the amazing things right in front of my face.

This funny, sweet story introduces us to the wonderful songs of The Beatles, as if for the first time. Songs from yesterday which continue to influence us today. You just might be tempted to sing along!

🎶Help me if you can, I’m feeling down
And I do appreciate you being round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won’t you please, please help me
🎶

~John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Beatles Kind of Day

Although I enjoy many genres of music, I’m a creature of habit when it comes to everyday listening. You can pretty much count on 80’s music or NPR from my car radio. If I do play iTunes, it’s usually James Taylor, Chicago, maybe Toto or REO Speedwagon. They never get old.

These summer days, though much-needed, are sometimes difficult for me. I enjoy reading and catching up with friends, but those can’t fill every minute. Honest reflection says I function much better with the routine of school days. It is part of my DNA, I suppose.

Our house is currently on the market, so I have created a bit of a routine. Necessary in order to keep the house ready for showing. General picking up, dishwasher first thing in the morning, wiping down countertops, dusting, etc. During the school year, these are not daily occurrences.

For some reason, this morning I decided to add mopping to my list. I had the time and energy, so why not? About the time I finished, my husband called. Would I mind bringing something to his office? Of course not! A reason to get out of the house!

Which brings us back to my music. When I got in the car, the radio wasn’t going to cut it. I plugged in my phone and scrolled through iTunes playlists. The Beatles Essentials. Perfect! Press play. Drive. I listened there and back, singing along, noticing words I’d previously glossed over. This made me smile.

While I was in Gart’s office, I received a text. Request for a house showing at 5:45…glad I mopped.

There was still some picking up and dusting to be done at home. And cleaning music would be required. “Hmmm…think I will just keep it on this Beatles playlist.” And that is what I did…all afternoon.

Even after the cleaning was done and I sat down to rest, I wasn’t ready to press stop. A sudden realization; this music had positively impacted my whole day. I felt happy and relaxed.

One song stood out above the rest today. Thinking about the words makes me smile.

🎶In a couple of years
They had built a home sweet home
With a couple of kids running in the yard
Of Desmond and Molly Jones
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, life goes on, brah
Lala how their life goes on
🎶

If you haven’t listened to the Beatles lately, press that play button. And maybe, just like me, you’ll realize how much you needed a Beatles kind of day. ☀️

My Favorite Seat

The past several weeks, I’ve spent many hours in my favorite seat. Hours practicing piano, preparing for rehearsals with young musicians. Some were singers, others played instruments. All of them dedicated and hardworking students. My job? To be their accompanist, providing support for their music-making endeavors.

Opportunities like these often fill my head with thoughts of more performing jobs. Memories of the years when playing piano consumed more of my time begin to surface. And although those were good times, this train of thought can be a dangerous one. Feelings of restlessness begin to creep in, causing uncertainty and doubts about my teaching.

Not so on this particular occasion…

This past Thursday, I spent the day accompanying high school students at State Solo-N-Ensemble contest. That evening I also participated in their chamber music concert. Such a fun, rewarding day of performing.

What happened after the concert had the most surprising impact.

As I left the concert, my phone started buzzing. The students I had accompanied all day were sending thanks through text messages.

“Thank you for being my accompanist!!!”
“Thank you for everything, Mrs. Morris!”
“I loved playing music with you!”

Suddenly my thoughts were not on seeking more playing opportunities. My thoughts were on the amazing opportunities I already have. “Best of both worlds” kept entering my mind. Both worlds? What does that mean?

Ah…performing and teaching.

Yes, my favorite seat is behind the piano. However, I cannot spend all my time there. Time spent in a classroom is also important. I must recognize the value of getting off of that piano bench and teaching the next generation.

Who knows, maybe some of my elementary students will grow up to be accomplished musicians. Maybe future requests for an accompanist will come from some of them. I hope so!

Accompanying my son, Robert. 🙂

An Old Friend

I love old friendships. You know the ones. Those which don’t seem to recognize the passing of time. Even if you haven’t seen each other in years, you pick up right where you left off. Memories of times past mix with the present, providing a comforting familiarity.

Sometimes music is like those friendships. Certain songs are stored in memory banks. Suddenly one plays, and I’m transported back in time. I can remember clearly a specific person, place, or time. In that sense, a song is like an old friend.

Last weekend I rehearsed with some oboe players for an upcoming studio recital. I’ve accompanied this studio for many years, and have become very familiar with the repertoire. After the rehearsal, I offhandedly referred to my accompaniment book as “an old friend.”

Today was recital day! Students were well prepared, some a little nervous. With the exception of one new piece this year, each song was pulled from my memory bank. I smiled as we began to play.

Yes, the students were different, but the music was the same. The notes and rhythms were familiar. The phrases were comforting.

Obviously, a book of music is not the same as a person. But as I played these familiar songs today, it felt as if I was visiting an old friend.

My seat during the recital. 🙂

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! 🎶🎹🎶

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