By the Numbers

I have always been fascinated by the connections between music and math. And I love using math concepts to teach music. No, they are not exactly the same. But they do work together beautifully.

Today in music class, students were introduced to that connection. And they used it to become composers.

The premise was simple. Students would write four sets of four numbers (using only 1-5) on a notecard. The groups of numbers would then be translated into a melody, using the notes C, D, E, F, and G.

Before students chose their number groups, we talked about patterns. First, we studied the patterns on the keyboard. We discussed how numbers in a pattern can step up and down, skip, or repeat. Just like a melody.

2, 3, 2, 3…

With this in mind, each student received a notecard. They divided it into fourths, creating four boxes. Each box was then filled with four numbers of their choosing.

There were students, notecards, and pencils everywhere! It was loud! Controlled chaos, I like to say. But it was awesome!

Once students completed their pattern cards, I planned to play their melodies on the piano.

The response from my fifth-grade class was precious. And “precious” is not a word I often use to describe fifth graders. 😉

As I began to play the compositions, students huddled around the piano. Each one crowded in, trying to hand me their card next. Each one sheepishly smiled as they heard their creation. I wish I could have snapped a picture.

Maybe the actual composing was more logic than creativity. But the outcome was music, nonetheless. Even if it was music created by the numbers.

Grandma’s Piano

The image remains
Though faded
Old and upright
Tall, black, majestic
Eighty-eight keys in a row
Sitting on the bench
Beautiful patterns
Come into focus
Two-three-two-three
A perfect guide
For little hands
Learning to play
Roll knuckles up
Tap twice
Repeat
Roll knuckles down
Tap twice
Repeat
I dropped
My dolly
In the dirt
A love that began
With simple melodies
Played on ivories
Prominently placed
In Grandma’s
Dining room
How I wish
I could play
Those simple melodies
One more time
For my Grandma
On her old piano

A Time to Share

I know hymns are sometimes viewed as old fashioned. But there are moments when they enter my thoughts like a long-lost friend. I picture the hymnal page in my head, each note in its place.

That picture transfers from my brain to my hands and the piano keys. Hearing the melody revives the words. The hymns I think of most often speak of grace, peace, and prayer.

This happened yesterday. I was preparing for the school day to begin, and one of my favorite hymns came to mind. So, I sat down at the piano and began to play.

After playing it in several different ways, I decided to record myself. I don’t do that very often, but I liked the way the music was sounding. As I listened to the recording, I began to think of sharing.

Sometimes I love technology. In a matter of minutes, I emailed my recording to a few family/friends. I chose the first three names that came to mind.

Not long after, I received three replies. Each sweet thank you made me smile. Yes, playing calmed my thoughts before students arrived for class. But this same music brought joy and peace to three others, miles apart.

At the end of the school day, I felt exhausted. I closed my classroom door, allowing the sounds of the day to fade away. Choosing another favorite hymn, I once again began to play. And once again, I hit the record button.

I have not played the second recording for anyone else yet. For now, It will serve as a reminder. A reminder that beginning and ending the day sitting at the piano, spending time with old friends, bring peace. A peace which, if shared, has the power to impact those around me.

Hmmm…maybe it’s time to share them both now. 😉

Heart and Soul

My parents attend a small church in Wye Mountain, Arkansas. The people are kind and serve as a beautiful light in their community. Each Wednesday evening they welcome, feed, love, and teach a large group of children. And those without transportation? They pick them up and take them back home.

The building is simple. A beautiful, stained glass window graces the wall behind the podium. A piano sits to the left. There are no fancy lights, no choir, and no band. Only a few microphones and speakers. And there is always coffee in the kitchen.

Every time I visit, mom asks me to bring piano music. My trip last weekend was no different. Of course, I forgot and had to go music shopping on Saturday. I chose a new book of hymn arrangements and picked two to play during the service on Sunday.

My Aunt Linda, who happened to be my first piano teacher, plays for the services each week. I saw her Sunday morning before the service began, gave her a hug, and she asked, “Are you playing today?” I smiled, “Yes.” “Want to play for the whole service?” she asked. “I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”

And so, I played the hymns and this precious group of people sang along. I also played my carefully chosen solo. As I began to play, the air grew still. The only sounds flowed from the piano.

The melody in this particular arrangement was a familiar hymn tune. One I remember from childhood. One which brings peace.

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine,
Can peace afford.
I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior,
I come to Thee.

After the service, many people thanked me for playing. Truthfully, I should have been thanking them. Being with them reminded me of how sweet it is when people worship together in simplicity.

Experiencing last Sunday morning from behind the piano (my favorite spot 😉 ) filled my heart and soul to overflowing.

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. 🙂