The Gift of being Thankful

A culture left behind?

It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything. One can construe I’ve nothing to share because in the areas of art and music I now lack common sense. But, in my defense, I share a new page on improvisation covering the use of the Alternate Bass and I am starting an new section of my own arrangements! You can look for them under Improvisation and Arrangement tabs.

4WH7044_largeI’ve been teaching drawing to a lovely young adult. The subject about clouds came up and I was explaining to her that as clouds approach us they are higher and farther up from the horizon line and this is very evident when viewing mackerel clouds. She had no idea what mackerel clouds. I explained these clouds signified wet weather in 36 hrs. She had no concept of forecasting weather before the age when satellite/radar imaging is seen on smartphone.

The youth of our country are missing out on a great deal of life experiences. Fewer go to orchestral or traditional, acoustical concerts, they don’t wait weeks for their favorite book to arrive via media mail, they don’t learn social skills by working out differences on a pickup softball or football game in the backyard and they occupy themselves most often by playing or communicating with digital devices.

A better Gift

You see images of children frantically ripping off giftwrap to get to the present. They see it and maybe ooh and ah a bit and then immediately go on to the next gift. They don’t comprehend the time, expense and or thought that went into the gift. When there is so much offered to them, they can’t seem to value that there was a cost to the gift. There was an expectation that the gift is to advance the enjoyment and development of the child.

It comforts me to know that children still prefer printed books over e-readers. Parents still value the importance of music lessons, especially piano. Children still like to express themselves artistically with hands on material. With the frenzy of gift giving, you would hope parents revert to the tried and true giving of gifts. Christmas and birthdays were never complete unless we received a book. Some years there were a few more presents, often just one or two more (and one or both were often clothes). My parents did well trying to give us one thing we would really use. It’s hard to go wrong with books, music lessons, art classes or archery instruction. These expand the child’s world through words or improves their sense of accomplishments and helps eye, hand and mind coordination through the mastery of a skill. Yes, these are often solitary pursuits, but they are shared socially. By the way, if one of us children in my family struck out in the present department, we still better not make faces, pout or not be thankful because giving thanks is giving back a gift in return. After all, even God thinks it is wrong to be unthankful (2Timothy 3:2 “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy…”). Much of our news is generated by stories of unthankfulness. It seems as if everyone is focused on how they are offended or unappreciated instead of being thankful for a country where they can express themselves and have the option to choose how they will live their life.

So, think about your gift giving, may you have a good response. Here’s a link to a past post about thanksgiving. Be Thankful!!

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War of the Worlds

There’s more to teaching piano than a degree. Play with fingers, think on your feet, yes – but hear with your heart.

Deep Bluesforget texting while playing piano

Have you ever had the “other world” encroach on your lesson time with a student? I don’t mean the ringing of cell phones and the beeps of a new text. They shouldn’t be anywhere near the piano bench nor allowed on until after the lesson. This “world” is a more old fashioned disruption. It is daily life brought into the lesson time or rearing it’s devious head in the middle of an important musical point you’re trying to make.

 

A similar incident happened when a nine year old started crying upon turning to the song “The Circus is Coming to Town.” I must be the most obtuse teacher around. I saw no reason for the tears.  The obvious connection to her tears – “The teacher said we are all going to die because of global warming.” Those were her exact words in 1991. I was flabbergasted. Firstly, global warning wasn’t going to be allowed during my lesson time! But, secondly, seeing her real distress (and my tissues piling up beside her) I was glad I didn’t mention this. I told her that we all needed to be responsible for taking care of the world (resources may have been too big a word) and God will take care of us. This satisfied her, but now I  had the problem. I was angry. Angry that a teacher would scare children with such topics when they had no concept of time and how true, natural science truly works. I had to explain this to the mother when she picked up her daughter a few minutes later, wondering why there were tears.

To cap my experiences off, a couple years later a young student and I were trying to make up words using the musical alphabet. Eventually, I chanced on the word D-A-D. A look of terror sprung up on her face and the tears started down her face. Tissues leaped into my fingers and I told her she was safe here and we could play a happy song to chase the sad thoughts away. To be truthful, I’m not sure why I actually got through the lesson as well as I did and the mother explained to me that the two of them don’t mention that word at home. And I thought I was having a bad week because a couple students didn’t pay up. This was a new level of perspective.
critismn not enough emotion

Effective Resolutions

So, some schools do teach you how to handle the unruly students. They convince you that showing the unwilling out the door is better for you than a hard-earned paycheck. You develop a love for a beautiful medium of expression and nothing prepares you for the student and the tissue box event. That’s where you need to draw on your love, not just for music, but for the student. Pray for a caring response and guidance on how music can help the student cope with the disappointments and heartaches in life.

Music Therapy – ancient remedy

There were many students who had very hard lives and never showed it, but I could hear it through their fingers and see it on their faces as they lost themselves in the notes pouring from the antique Steinway. Sorrows as old as time, remedies just as tried through the ages. Just as the Psalms tell of men, overwhelmed by sorrows, find relief through music and faith their faith in a faithful God. 

But I will sing of thy power; yea, I will sing aloud of thy mercy in the morning:
for thou hast been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.
(17) Unto thee, O my strength, will I sing:
for God is my defense, and the God of my mercy.Ps 59:16

I teach improvisation to all my students so they can have a means of expressions and a skill to play new songs well past the years they were “made to take piano lessons.” But we must also give our students the skill to express their emotions through music as a form of therapy and expression. And, may the songs they require include many happy songs!

Wedding Blues Pianist

Wedding Blues
A couple of blogs back I challenged musicians to be prepared so opportunities can be seized. Playing for funerals is easy. They generally start on time, and as long as you can play soothing music – you’re home free. Weddings are entirely different. Bridesmaids have other things to do half way through practice, ministers forget rehearsals and you have to drag them across the busy street to the church while they’re still wearing slippers and then there’s power outages that shut down the organ in the middle of the mother-of-the-bride’s appearance.

You better be prepared.

In fact, you’re the one in need of soothing music. I have played for brides who insist on both organ and piano music, though the instruments are on opposite sides of the platform. So I have vaulted over bridal trains as silently as possible while the preacher offers up solemn prayers. Some brides believe everyone owes them Oscar-level performances. My proof? One bride had five (5) solos, two (2) duets and two (2) instrumental pieces I was to play. This wasn’t a wedding-it was a full length Rogers and Hammerstein production. The rehearsals alone with all the vocalists tired me out weeks before the wedding. Probably one of the most frustrating times was when I played for a very accommodating bride only to have the rod controlling the damper pedal slip from the piano, clang onto the marble floor and roll loudly to stop a couple of pews back. Again, the mother of the bride was being seated. Umm. I had to play the remaining service without any damper pedal. Immediately I went into the organ method of fingering but wished I could have pulled off the music as I knew it should have sounded.

POISE is EVERTHING!
So, it’s a good idea to be prepared to play an additional 20 minutes of prelude before the wedding party marches down the aisle. Be alert – don’t think the accomplished vocalist won’t accidentally skip half a verse and don’t get startled if the candle starts to burn the tablecloth during your solo.

What experiences have you had in your weddings-as-a-musician?

Wedding repertoire
When it comes to the church service part of the wedding, I do not like to play show tunes and popular songs unless they sound very spiritually appropriate. If the bride insists on “We’ve only Just Begun” she can find someone else. You can decide what songs you will play for a wedding. That is YOUR choice. If the wedding is more informal and in a garden setting I might be a little more lax (as long as I am still comfortable with the words of a song and it’s rendering is compatible with a setting of vows exchanged before God. Again, as a musician, you must beforehand decide what you want to be associated with in your performances. As a church musician, I was very strict with my own choices but even I found no problem playing for a garden wedding where the ring bearers were two, well behaved miniature schnauzers.

Also, be prepared to improvise when emergencies arise. Take songs (vocal songs are more apt to fit this category) and practice playing them several different ways. Pull out the classics like Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” and “Canon in D” by Pachabel and other traditional pieces.

But remember, it is a happy occasion so have fun with it. Play with a glad heart and smile.

Do more with Chords, Time & What to practice

Using Chords Differently in Improvisation.

It’s the last day of February and I left my readers in Impro Limbo. So check out the next step in my Improvisation pages.

Time and responsibility

A dear friend of mine, Sandy, lost her husband. JD’s heart gave out and he went to be with his Savior Saturday. Though they are in their 80’s, there was no age barrier – no matter what the age of the person they spent time with. Time. We all have it. We all have a limited amount of it. The “trick” to making the most of it is to know when it runs out. The trouble is, you never really know when life stops here and we become accountable to our Creator. These are sobering thoughts, but we must have been bad enough for God to send His Son to pay our sin’s penalty on the cross. The only uplifting thought in all this is Christ arose! And because of that, we too can live for eternity with Him – or without Him. It’s our choice. The freedom of choice. Freedom always brings responsibility. So, how will you use your time and responsibility?

What to Practice
So as a piano teacher, one of the most important “jobs” I have is to teach each student how use use their time effectively when they practice. Students are different and learn in various ways, but I usually find the following formula to work for the majority of pianist:

Warm up with a favorite. You would think it would be scales and such, but
playing favorites improves pianistic expression and puts the player ion the mood.

Play drills, scales, etc. Play them 3 or more times each to improve dexterity (quickness and accuracy). Play them in various ways like loudly, staccato, crossed hands, octaves apart, with either a crescendo or diminuendo, ritardendo or accelerendo. Think of them as as foes to conquer or friends to enjoy, but play them!

Play the method book assignment. Learn the new skills in these books and the repertoire will be easier to learn.

Play other repertoire. If a song is really disliked, I would probably suggest you play it before the method books. Nothing like getting the spinach of the plate and ending with the brownie.

Play other keyboard assignments and more favorites. Explore interval sounds and chord progressions. Make up a tune. Have fun!

Do written work whenever possible. Theory and Harmony assignments help the student understand musical construction and read notation quicker.

Does your teacher assign from the four areas (drills, method, repertoire, written work) plus favorites? Do you as a teacher use these groups? Try it and let me know what you like to do.

How Do You Open A Closed Mind?

Art Supplies

I’m getting excited about painting. I used all my Christmas and B-day gifts to buy some materials. Since I’m usually house bound, I shop online. It’s hard finding what I need in the Wichita area anyway, so I pulled out my Dick Blick catalogs, made my list and after some online comparative shopping, stuck with my original order. With all the lesson openings in my piano studio schedule and the upcoming summer slow down, I figured it’s about time to paint.

Now, I’m pretty good at graphite drawings but it’s been a long time since I just painted for fun. Some one who saw my murals for church-use said they saw my artwork and that put me off a bit. Large scale murals painted for illustration purposes does not at all represent the nuances of fine art. I didn’t bother trying to sway a mind closed to the idea of discussion.

Closed Minds VS Ambitions

So, that brings up an interesting point – How do you open a closed mind? How can a piano teacher convince students they can do it? There are many reasons for a closed mind.

Now, I’ve engineered decks, wired an entire house, sewn suits, and trisected an angle with only a straight-edge and compass before the other student did it and made the papers – so I can safely say I’m a person willing to try most anything (I will not jump out of planes and ride backwards on a rollercoaster – so don’t even go there). But when it’s been a long time since I’ve done something, I admit to being afraid of failure.

Now nothing closes a mind from opportunities like fear. Fear from failing to get that scholarship is often pure fear. There are the fears of making a wrong decision that make adversely impact others and the fear of injury and such. These are legitimate fears but still they are often overcome with the reward of great satisfaction.

More commonly encountered, though is the fear of being laughed at or fear of not delivering on an expectation and maybe the fear of disappointing my own image of myself. I suspect the person who didn’t want to talk about my art was afraid she would have found I was as good an artist as her grand daughter. There is always someone better than you. Some will learn faster, play faster, paint better, throw farther, etc. The question is, “Can I live with the fact there are others better than myself?” This reasoning reveals more than Fear. Pride is often the underlying cause of our fears. Acknowledging that there will be someone better than you and that’s okay really frees you up to try new adventures. You’re not doing it to be the proven best. You are doing it to better yourself and to experience life more fully. So, sorry students, you do have to improvise! So go out and try!

Impro with Stride & Art supplies

Piano Skills and Improvisation

Since the start of January’s lessons, students here have been preparing for piano evaluations. I am a member of the Kansas Music Teachers Association (KMTA), a sub-chapter of Music Teachers National Association. All this means my students usually take the Music Progressions program offered through the state level. This is great. There is no competition, but students are evaluated on their performance of two contrasting styles of piano repertoire, listening skills, theory and keyboard skills (which include scales, chord progressions, intervals or chord inversions, etc.), all corresponding to ten different skill levels.

Nothing helps cement theory and keyboard skills as well as improvising music. As soon as I figure out how to insert links to my other pages I’ll include them for your convenience, until then, click on the improvisation page on the right. I discuss how to start improvising a melody offered a couple of weeks back.

Ducks, ice and art catalogs

We had one of those nice and nasty ice storms a couple of days ago. Coming from Massachusetts, we know when to drive slowly and carefully – a skill Kansans give little thought to. It amazed me to know the police only had to respond to a bit over 100 accidents on Tuesday’s commute home. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! Of course, there could have been another 100 plus that didn’t need to call in the police, but I’m hoping it will eventually get safer to drive in winter weather around here. I had the privilege of setting out around the duck yard the “anti-coyote” lights I made up and trying to pry up the water tubs from the frozen ground and still maintaining my balance. God was so good to me.

It always makes me feel good to actually experience winter weather in winter. In younger years I would have treated myself to a cup of hot chocolate after some outdoors time, but now it’s been a good cup of tea and crunching numbers from my want list in the art catalog. I got some Christmas and birthday money this last month and I’m determined to paint. Unfortunately I find my supplies greatly depleted so my list contains everything from canvases, gesso, hake brushes and acrylic paints. I think I’ll warm up with a couple of landscapes. Before my supplies arrive – I better set up my painting area. I’m starting to get excited about this! See, winter’s not so bad!

Empty studios, weather woes and merry meter maids

THE EMPTY STUDIO

Why Blame the Weather? (The Case of the Diligent Meter Maid)

Yesterday was a slow day in my piano studio. Why? The weather. Now my husband and I are teeny-tiny little produce farmers with some poultry, so we are always interested in the weather but the apocalyptic announcements of approaching blizzards on the Weather Channel that never appear are starting to jade me. After all, isn’t cable’s weather channel suppose to report weather? It’s ludicrous to see Cantore standing in lightly snow-dusted roads bemoaning all the snow IN NEW YORK in January. What part of winter doesn’t he understand? The result of winter weather in the Wichita area was the cancellation of school – again. Now, I’m sure if the school board was honest (Where’s the magic of “Liar, Liar” when you need it?) they would say, “We’re afraid of the lawsuits slapped on us when buses slide into students.” Now that is a valid concern. I could easily buy that one.

There’s no excitement in our society today. Everything is so “correct.”  But I admit I’m a transplant to Kansas from the Springfield, MA area. The Meter Maids there were made of firm stuff. You won’t see Cantore out there when one of them is on a mission to decrease the city’s budget deficits.

In 1994-95 the snow was piled as high as the meters. A man tried to climb up and over the snow banks to put his cold little quarter into the meter like any dutiful citizen would. Unfortunately, he slipped, he fell, he broke his leg and he watched while the meter maid whipped open her ticket pad and wrote him out a welcome present from the city of Springfield, Massachusetts. The shame and outrage from the public was so great, the major suspended parking meter fines until the snow season ended. I don’t know, but I would guess the fallen man could have sued the city.

Until a few years ago, most of us walked to school unless a REAL blizzard was in progress. My grandfather (Pepere, Joseph Goodreau, French Canadian) plowed for Ludlow (a suburb of Springfield), working sometimes 72 hours straight to make sure ambulances and other vehicles had access ASAP. He didn’t party it up or complain. My mother would meet him coming down our hill with a bottle of Pepsi or a cup of coffee. He was like so many others who plowed (or like today), fixed downed power lines or responded to accidents with tow trucks, ambulances and the likes. So we waited and waited for buses in subzero weather. Our school board finally drew the line at closing schools when the ambient temperature was below -20 degrees. Maybe we were soft after all.

PS

I love looking at Mt Washington’s website. In summer I feel cooler, in winter I appreciate how warm it is around me. In other words – this is one COLD place in USA.  To “travel there” follow this link:

http://www.mountwashington.org/

STUDIO NEWS

Next lesson in improvising will be posted in a couple of days. I’ve been busy shoveling.

Politics, the National Endowment of the Arts & the Challenge

January 5, 2011

GOALS

Well, Christmas is over, the bowl games just about done (Ouch to the Big 12!) and most of us are fat and unhappy. Unfortunately my husband and I had the stomach flu and I went through a deep cleanse so complete my colonoscopy would have shone brighter than the North Star!  But – Now is the time to boost our morale by conquering something new.  Improvise!

Now, if you have never taken piano lessons – don’t despair. This is a great time to begin. Waiting lists to get into music studios are way down and many have openings for new students. Call music stores or churches to get contact information for teachers.

IMPROVISATION

Now, improvisation is a funny thing. If you can read music well enough to play the melody, you often have not learned to improvise. If you can only play by ear, you probably already know how to improvise – but you are also dreaded by most piano teachers who struggle to teach you how to read music. Let’s do BOTH. Learn those staff notes and read my page on improvisation. Let me know if you are hitting any snags (or wish to call me names) and I’ll try helping you over those bumps in the road.

A POLITICAL ASIDE – and challenge

The Climate

Our nation has gone through a great upheaval in political tolerance this last year. Let’s be honest and politically incorrect – a majority of Americans finally woke up enough to hate what Washington continues to do and decided ON THEIR OWN to do something about it. They voted. Some formed TEA PARTY groups that far underrepresented the number of citizens who agreed with them. They didn’t wait for Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and other talk show hosts to voice their opinions. They went bodily to town halls. They told their representative exactly what that representative member was supposed to represent. They cinched the belt tighter. They budgeted Christmas expenses. They stayed home for vacation. Thosee citizens pulled out their hair while Congress spent more on protecting union jobs and Congress cut defense and Congress blew the Health Education&Welfare budget. They seethed while Obama vacated again and again and again in our face and at our expense while mouthing empty, conciliatory words from a prompter.

The Challenge

Art and Music have always claimed my love and time, yet while China continues to mop up our spilled unfunded endeavors Congress refuses to budget. If the citizens (of which our lawmakers are a part) must cut drastically because of the economy, why are they exempt? They cannot be and still claim to help America. I propose a cut of at least 60-75% in the National Endowment of the Arts. Though only one department, if all NON-essential departments cut back deeply, then maybe we can survive. Let government come to a halt for a few weeks. As long as National Security and Social Security departments still move forward who cares.  Government officials are just afraid the citizen will find out how much of the government is non-essential.  Some of the 2010 NEA expenditures breakdown as:

$ 57,708,710 for 64 partnership grants to states, regional and national entities

1,050,000 for 42 individual literal writing grants for prose

1,690,000 for 169 Challenge America Fast-Track Review grants (whatever that may be)

8,395,000 for 254 Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth grants

4,020,000 for 53 grants for Arts on Radio and Television

275,000 for 16 Literature Fellowship grants for Translation Projects

The total from the above grants is $ 73,138,710 and still doesn’t cover millions more in dance/opera underwriting, visual arts exhibits and more. When a nation is bankrupt, they don’t dance the jig. Our deficit calls for only essential expenditures. There is something to be said of a culture when communities will fork down millions to build monuments to sport activities for their high school or college sports but leave little resources to allow the soul to rejoice, think and mourn. Let us mourn the condition we find our beloved nation and show our resolve by leaving our feckless lover-the NEA. Let artists beg forgiveness from our true lover – the connoisseur of the arts and the honest heart begging for self-expression. Let it not be said of artists that we bled our nation dry. Staunch the bleeding wound and feed the hungry purse by giving hope to Americans by our example and producing honest arts. When our nation is again strong, both the individual and the corporation will fund the arts.