Change of Course

My lesson plan for today was in place. I had taught it yesterday to a different group and it went well. Today I would hit repeat. No need to change course.

The end of my lesson included selections from a list of students’ most requested songs/videos. Near the end of my first class, I mentioned this list and my recent promise to show some of them. Today was the day, and they were excited!

This list includes things like the Marble Machine, O Fortuna with Star Wars, and The Champion by Carrie Underwood. After viewing a couple of selections, a 5th-grade student said, “Why don’t you play the piano for us? Didn’t you add that to our list of favorites?” “You want me to play the piano for you?” I asked. “Yes! How about the Pink Panther?” someone else yelled.

I have taught this group of 5th graders since they were 1st graders. That first year, I often ended class by playing the piano. It was part of our routine, and helped students get to know me.

For some reason, I have not continued that routine. Not sure why. Trying new things, I suppose. Thanks to this one comment from a 5th-grade student, it made a comeback today. Not only did his class hear Pink Panther on the piano, so did every other class today.

This “change of course” may have been small, but it created bright spots throughout the day. A 4th grader commented, “I always love when you play the piano for us.” Kindergarten and 1st-grade students accompanied me with their maracas. 2nd graders created a scat cymbal sound while I played. Chhh-Chhh-Ch-Ch. So much fun!

Before you picture Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, strumming her guitar, children happily singing, let me assure you that was not the reality. Moments of frustration remained. Patience did not always abound. And I was a little grumpy right before lunchtime…

That being said, the day as a whole was a success. And not because of my lesson plans. Because one student suggested a small “change of course.” One which had the power to impact the whole day. I’m so glad I listened. Besides, how can you go wrong with The Pink Panther on the piano? 😉

Encouraging Student Musicians

Today was solo-n-ensemble contest day. I spent the entire day accompanying brass, string, and woodwind players. Twenty-five of them to be exact. These young musicians spent many hours over the last weeks and months preparing for today. Choosing a piece, learning notes and rhythms, memorizing, rehearsing with their accompanist.

Today, all of their hard work culminated in one brief performance. Each of them walked into a room, faced their judge, and began to play. Making beautiful music. That is the point. At least, it is supposed to be…

No student walks in that room thinking, “I really hope I don’t play well today. Hopefully, I will have a big memory slip.” Those statements are ridiculous! Each student hopes for positive results. They want to play their best. They are hoping for the highest rating and a chance to move on to the next level.

After some of the first ratings posted this morning, I overheard a disturbing conversation. Students who had received their scores were warning other students. “Well, if you make one mistake, there’s no way you will receive a I (the highest score.)” They were attempting to prepare their friends for probable disappointment in this particular room.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting everyone deserves the highest rating. I certainly would not want to be in the judge’s seat. However, I can speak as a professional musician concerning our responsibility to these young musicians. If we are pushing perfection, we have it all wrong.

I’m happy to say the other rooms I accompanied in did not have this effect. The atmospheres were inviting and encouraging. The results in those rooms also accurately reflected the performances. Performances of high school musicians, not professional ones.

As adult musicians, college long behind us, career paths chosen, it is easy to forget those early days of learning. The anxiety that often accompanies those first performances. The searching for approval.

Today I was reminded that this seven-minute performance represented so much for these young performers. They needed someone to acknowledge their hard work. And their hopes for positive results rested in the hands of a complete stranger. Hopefully, a stranger who recognized the power they held in those seven short minutes.



Longevity

I have thought about this word many times in recent days. Longevity. I’ve often said I hope to be the ninety-something-year-old grandma playing the piano at the nursing home. My family usually chuckles or says, “I’m sure you will be!”

Typically, we think of longevity in reference to long life. Obviously, I have no way of knowing how many years I will spend on this Earth. However, I cannot deny the common thread woven enduringly (so far) through my fifty-one years. Music! Here’s to forty-eight more. 😉

Picture me, maybe seven
Stringy hair in my eyes
Sitting on the piano bench
Grandma sweetly smiles
Hands on keys, eyes on notes
Melodies flowing clear
Sharing music from my heart
Even though young in years

Picture me, fifty-one
Trying to hide the gray
Teaching music to little ones
Exhausted every day
Hands on keys, eyes on notes
Melodies flowing clear
Sharing music from my heart
During these middle years

Picture me, ninety-nine
Grey hair in a bun
Glasses perched on the end of my nose
Ready for some fun
Hands on keys, eyes on notes
Melodies flowing clear
Sharing music from my heart
Even after all these years

Where do the years go?

Merry Christmas From A Tired Music Teacher

For teachers, Christmas break feels like it will never arrive. Those last few weeks are crazy! Students are restless, teachers are feeling the pull between home and school. Searching for time to decorate, shop, make travel plans…one can start to feel overwhelmed.

This year proved no different. Our final day before break started with leading the choir in some hallway caroling. Then my teammates and I assisted with parties in the gym. And although it was fun, we were on our feet all day.

Exhausted, but relieved break was finally here, I drug my tired body home. I could barely move. At home, I shuffled from couch to bed to couch and finally to bed for the night. The best part? No alarm!

The next morning was awesome. First coffee, a snack, and catching up on the morning news. And next? A nap, of course! Mornings like that are a luxury.

Once I was out of bed for good, Christmas music was on my mind. “Charlie Brown Christmas” was my first choice. I pressed play and started getting ready for the day.

Hair still wet, no makeup on, I suddenly had an urge to play the piano instead of just listening. Christmas carols, of course. The thought of recording songs to share had been in the back of my mind the past couple of weeks.

My initial plan was to go buy a book of fancy arrangements. But on this first day of break, I suddenly changed my mind. Upstairs looking through an old hymnal, I decided to simply play some of my favorites.

And that’s what I did-played these beautiful carols, adding a little of my own style. Nothing fancy, just honest and peaceful music.

My offering may not be extravagant, but that’s ok. It’s from me…from my hands…from my heart. The heart of a tired, yet grateful, music teacher.

Merry Christmas! Hope you enjoy!

Special thanks to my husband, Gart, for getting me set-up, giving me a refresher course on using garage band, and being my editor-in-chief. ❤️


Away In A Manger
Carols Sing
Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Silent Night
The First Noel

My Red, Ceramic, Music Box Piano

I have a small collection of miniature pianos. The very first one was a gift from my mom-a red, ceramic, upright piano with a cute little round stool. I’ve had this piano for as long as I can remember.

                                                 My little red piano

There is one more thing which makes this piano extra special. It’s a music box! A metal key on the back must be turned to begin its song. And what song does my red piano play? Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. If I turned the piano key today, the music would play at an extremely slothful pace, making the song nearly unrecognizable.

                                            The magical key

So much joy came from turning that key when I was a kid. If I sit quietly and listen, the song still plays in my head. Fast to slow, then stopping as the mechanism winds down. The melody and the lyrics fill my thoughts, just as they did when I was a little girl.

So I just did me some talking to the sun
And I said I didn’t like the way he got things done
Sleeping on the job
Those raindrops keep falling on my head,
They keep fallin’

Funny words for a song. Childlike in nature. I can picture a little girl standing in the rain, shaking her finger towards the sky. Asking the sun why it went away. Wanting the rain to stop.

I really hadn’t given much thought to the history behind the song until now. The original singer was B.J. Thomas. I’m certain I heard his recording on the radio. What I didn’t know-it was written for the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and won an Academy Award. How exciting!

It’s funny. I started thinking about this song yesterday in conjunction with my red, ceramic, music box piano. And then today, it rained all day long. Actually, it’s still raining now. Which leads me to the bridge section of the song.

But there’s one thing I know
The blues they send to meet me
Won’t defeat me, it won’t be long
‘Till happiness steps up to greet me

Now that the day is ending, even though the rain is still falling, I’ll choose to look for that happiness. The happiness which comes from simple things. Simple things like the last line of this song:

Because I'm free
Nothing's worrying me

Simple things like my red, ceramic, music box piano and the precious memories it brings.

The Voice of an Old Friend

It amazes that a music composition from 1839, which I learned to play thirty years ago, has such a powerful influence over me today.  Arabeske Op. 18 by Robert Schumann was my absolute favorite college recital piece.  I’ve always found Schumann’s ability to beautifully weave a melodic theme throughout a piece captivating.  He presents the theme, expands it to represent a variety of emotions, and finally restates in a peaceful resolution.  This particular composition clearly follows that structure.

My second favorite Schumann composition is Frauen-Liebe und Leben (A Woman’s Love and Life.)  A song cycle based on a series of poems, each song represents a different phase of the love relationship from first meeting to wedding and finally ending in death.  This lovely depiction of life also follows the structure of beginning and ending with a recognizable theme. In the final song, the piano provides a beautiful postlude,  giving the listener a reminder of the true love represented by the recurring melodic theme.

My memories of playing these two pieces are crystal clear, relating to specific events in my life.

Picture a young, twenty-one-year-old college student, senior year.  The two years previous marked by a difficult, controlling relationship.  An unwise decision to marry this person had ended in divorce after a year and a half.  Now I was attempting to get my life back on track, finish college, and figure out what was next.  Many evenings were spent in a tiny practice room.  And often when I practiced Schumann’s Arabeske,  the tears would flow uncontrollably.

Fast forward nine years-happily married with three young children.  Looking for a job, preferably in the music field.  Directed by a previous employer, I applied for a staff accompanist opening at the Univerisity of Tulsa.  The interview process involved playing a prepared piece and sight reading.  I chose to play the Schumann Frauen-Liebe und Leben since it related to the position, and because it had been one of my favorite recital pieces from graduate school.  There I sat, all alone on that stage, desperately wanting this job.  I played the Schumann with clarity and emotion, sight read confidently and got the position.

So what directed my thoughts to these pieces on this day?  Today was exhausting.  It was the third full day of a brand new school year.  Following a full day of teaching elementary music with the grand finale of car duty, I trudged back to my classroom.  Walking in, I immediately noticed the music sitting on the piano in the corner-Arabeske.  It was like an old friend calling me to the bench.

The simple act of playing the piano always calms my brain.  I’ve experienced this truth many times, so why don’t I take the time to do it more often?  I’m not sure-but today I had no choice.  Sitting down at the piano, I began to play this old familiar piece.  Reaching the last page, playing that final melodic theme, listening to it fade away…I let out a big sigh of relief.  Still tired, but now relaxed and much calmer, preparing my thoughts for the next day didn’t feel so overwhelming.

Will I do this every day?  Probably not.  But hopefully, more often than I have in recent days.  Playing the piano has an undeniable positive influence on my state of mind, and days like today the music sounds like the voice of an old friend…