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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The High Cost of Ignorance

What are five things you wish you had learned earlier in life?

Everyday I am learning new things. A couple posts ago I mentioned the shortcuts some artists take that’s pretty much akin to a vocalist lip-synching at a concert.
After saying goodbye to the refrigerator repair man (hopefully not the compressor) I took a walk among the genuine creatures on the farm – the ducks and my Border Collie, Kansa. I was hunting grasshoppers when oCapture16ne crept it’s way up my pant leg. I learned grasshoppers only travel UP and I was dancing a jig trying to turn him around fast! The neighbors just had confirmation that I lost it. This incident is not profound in its own right; however, I was reminded of one of the most important lessons I’ve learned.

#1 It’s okay to laugh at yourself (and not at others unless they are laughing at themselves, too). I was at a small tiny town in north central Kansas, practicing on the organ for a funeral the next day. The town was astir with talk that a musician from the east was going to be playing at the ceremony. This was big news to them. It was important to me to make that good impression (after all, I had a reputation to make and uphold in only an hour). I pulled out the different stops and played some nice sounding chords. As the journey down the tabs progressed, the chords became more creative, maybe more intense, too. Well, I’ll just admit it, I started playing good old diminished seventh chords just like they did in the old movies when the train was boring down on the lady, tied up and lying on the tracks.
This was getting really fun!
As I took a break to set the tabs to a new setting, someone called out to me, “Heh, there, just wanna let you know the tower speaker’s on and the whole town’s hearing you make that awful noise!”
I guess then that knowing when to laugh at yourself is more important than making a good impression.

#2 You only have one time to make a great first impression but you should give people more than one chance.

A piano student’s mother sat in a lesson with her daughter for the first time. Now, I am a very good piano teacher and am passionate about teaching; however, I had a massive sinus infection (from sanding drywall mud) and this was a very bad day but not the type to cancel piano lessons. Without asking for my feedback, she stopped her daughter’s lessons because she said I lacked enthusiasm. The sad part was her daughter was learning well and enjoyed lessons, but the mother felt her daughter didn’t need her help anymore to learn piano and probably felt threatened.
How many times we wished we weren’t judge by the impression we gave others that in no way truly represented our self? How many times did we lose out on a good opportunity because we were quick to judge someone based on one impression?

#3 Being yourself is more important than being important. And there is no one more important than one in need. So, try to be giving.

I don’t know how much of my life was used up trying to impress or please others instead of just being my self. I’m not saying it’s wrong to try to make a good impression – on the contrary. First and good impressions are very important. They allow those you interact with to have confidence in your word and work. But if you think making great first impressions is hard, try being someone you’re not!
It’s like the time our family had a couple over to share a meal and to see our new house we built. Everything was going to plan. The meal was great, I got to use a dishwasher for the first time leaving both hubby and myself free to take the couple on the grand tour.
The lady guest and I were following behind the men when the man ask,”Why is there so much foam spilling out from the dishwasher?”
I tried to stay calm as I rounded the turn into the kitchen – but there was no denying the gallons of containers of foam engulfing the kitchen floor. It looked like a 7′ x 12′ hot tub spewing out suds galore! It must have been quite hilarious to watch me try to mop up the mess as elegantly and inconspicuously as possible.

Now, if anyone has a “right” to be important, you would think it would be Jesus Christ! Yet Christ took up the towel and washed His disciples’ feet. He specifically said that this was done as an example of an attitude for us to follow. His actions backed up the words He spoke, “The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.” (John 13:16)

So-Amish or Mennonites? Which one answered God’s call in my life? womens-control-top-pantyhose_nude-rt
One Sunday our family was in route from Massachusetts to Kansas when our car motor’s belt broke in Berne, Indiana. My hubby quickly pulled to the shoulder. The Amish guided their buggies around us. The faces of the elders looked on in disapproval, maybe a little relish and youngsters looked at us with curiosity. Well, I sacrificed a pair of panty hose that actually got us a couple miles (literally) further down the road. Amazing invention – yet they still run when snagged, a pity. Again we were on the side of the road next to a large wheat field. More buggies and frowns came our way. The strong August sun had no competition from any shade and we were hot, discouraged and very thristy. Temps were near 100 degrees. Would you believe a Mennonite family came out of their house to help and we informed them of our predicament. Their neighbor, also a Mennonite, owned a garage and helped my husband replace the belt while the lady invited us into an air conditioned house and pumped us with iced tea and popcorn. Sure, the Amish thought they made the right impression, but –

you can’t beat the impact you’ll have on a life if you meet a need.

Voluntarily.

We weren’t important, but that caring, Mennonite family, just by being themselves, made us feel important to them and that makes me feel small just thinking about it.

Enough for now. Watch later for more lessons I wished I had learned. BUT – what do you wish you had learned earlier?

What IS Art?

The Artist
This has been a very revealing week for me.
Earlier, while reading posts to the Portrait Painters LinkedIn site, I found out some artists trace their work, then paint. I suppose it’s okay as long as the client understands the process. Somehow I have a feeling that I am part of a group of artist whose entries that are based on tried-and-true artistic tradition are competing with those who use projectors or worse – they print out the work on canvas and paint over it!!

“The Discovery” by Norman Rockwell

When this reality hit me, I felt like the boy in Norman Rockwell’s painting “The Discovery.” The truth absolutely shattered my fairytale expectations. Is it really unrealistic to expect an artist to draw his or her artwork? I’m not talking about someone who draws their original layout and then stencils to a final surface or uses a projector to enlarge it for a large-scale mural. The concept is theirs.  Tracing photos is hard to call original. Though I can’t seem to wrap my arms around the practice, I suppose it’s okay as long as the client understands the process.

The Art
Then, bringing up Rockwell’s work refreshed my memory of another revelation. I ran into a woman who said Norman Rockwell was not an artist, he was just an illustrator. Now, this cut me to the quick since that was my artistic thrust at the time. I was young and impressionable, but I asked myself, “Isn’t all art illustration?”  It illustrates places, people, vocation, moods, fantasy, aspirations, social issues.  The list is endless. I’ve heard people like to make such comments to impress others about their knowledge of art. Sure, I wouldn’t want to be remembered for just the painted logo on a van I did, but illustrative art can be very complex and demand high artist skills. Rockwell’s imagination and skill are seen above.

No one questions calling the sculptor an artist. Why, even hair stylists are called artists today. Maybe the word “artist” has lost some of its meaning. If a person renders a creation in or on stone, metal, paper, canvas or whatever, they’re an artist. If they copied a work or photograph, they’re a copyist. How good of an artist they are can depend on the viewer and the artwork. But if Reader’s Digest wanted to use “The Scream” by Edvard Munch for their cover would you have to call Munch an illustrator?

I would love to hear from critics and artists – is copying art? Is Illustration art?

Back On – finally!

An Update

Just a quick, no philosophical update.
I took a vacation from blogging so I could purge the computer from it’s hiccups, viruses and broken hard drives. Yes, I’m slow – but I’m an artist, not an IT guy. It safe to post again.

Painting Delivered

Seascape - Cape Cod (22x28 on linen, private collection)

Seascape – Cape Cod (22″x28″ gallery wrap  on linen, private collection)

The BIG highlight to this frustrating winter was in February. I got to deliver a painting. It is always rewarding when you both enjoy the painting process and you see the client enjoys the end product. I would have rather painted a dramatic scene, but she wanted serenity and looking back over the past couple months – I needed it. Besides, being from Massachusetts, seascapes of Cape Cod hit a tender spot in me.

So, what made this painting exciting for me is the medium. I used OPEN acrylics by Golden and the rich color adds a depth and luminosity that rivals oil paintings. I was very pleased with the way it applied: however, I will have to experiment more combining OPEN with Blick’s white Gesso. It seemed to create a drag as I applied it to the linen. Now I can focus on the next project.

Around the Farm

UnfortunatelIMG_2009 - Copyy for my art, gardening season is kicking in. One of the more pleasant aspects to the early season is the hatching of chicks – which are easily surpassed by the arrival of baby DUCKS!!  I love waterfowl. The hens are troopers by laying marvelous eggs, but ducks are adorable. (Duck eggs are great, too!)

While walking around the pond to check on trees,  I saw a flock of Blue-winged Teal on the pond.IMG_2030 - Copy I had to snap a picture or two. Also, I  got a photo of a muskrat swimming away from them. One good thing about muskrats is they’ll control the cattail growth around the edge of you pond!

I figured, it’s been awhile since I snapped a picture of the magpie ducks and I didn’t have a photo of Buster (the ToulIMG_2016 - Copyouse gander) and Mandy (the Pilgrim goose) in their new tractor. They didn’t like the camera. Kansa is still my helper (of sorts), just in case you’re wondering.
Maybe I’ll be more profound next time. Have a great weekend!

Wrapping up Christmas and Scoring Big in 2014

Do you remember the day-after-Christmas as a child?

It can be a big let down. As a child I probably got everything on my list. I didn’t want anything more, yet the let-down feeling was there. Why? Looking back, it probably was because there was no need to anticipate. The activity of anticipation brings excitement into the dull, everyday events of life. Children know these days as filled with chores of making of beds, washing dishes and the hated task of folding socks. (I still hate folding socks to this day. What’s the use, they never match!)

The value of anticipation.

Anticipation is part of “HOPE” when you think about it. You expect a change, hope for something different. The artist expects to be delighted with the finished project. Anticipation drives the brush or pencil towards the image in the mind. The same goes for the composer.

Maybe it’s the hopeful look of appreciation in the receiver’s eye’s that drives the giver to shop and wrap each present. I wonder what God anticipated that first Christmas. Does He even do that? Did He think of the joy of having a restored relationship with you? And me? The human psyche is a complex subject, yet I have confidence God understands it all. So much of His design for worship fills the needs of the human to understand his place in the relationship with God.

Long term VS Short Term Goals – IT’S RELATIVE

Mothers of toddlers have ONLY short – very short-term goals – such as going to the bathroom before the next catastrophe. For the child, each day drags on forever. Lunch is way out in the future. Supper will never come.

The act of anticipation is a serious, long term commitment to a six year old.

2013 ornament

The little track house made big memories.

I remember my siblings and I would insist on decorating the obligatory shrubs in suburban landscaping. The snow would settle on top of the large colorful bulbs and when they were plugged in, it looked like five, humungous M&M cookies lining the front walkway. We watched our Dad string them up and we waited for snow.  When it came we were ecstatic. So it made sense to give this memory back to our parents this Christmas.

So, maybe looking forward to meeting goals gives us the same excitement and sense of satisfaction as adults.

If that’s the case, I’m making both long term and short term goals to fill my life and keep me young at heart and mind.

Artistically, I would like to complete at least eight pieces this year – 3 acrylics, 2-3 pastels and the rest in graphite and/or  inks. Motivation for this should be easy since I’m starting a commission piece this week. Musically,  I would like to take 4-6 of my arrangements which have been floating around in my head (a dangerous place to store anything valuable) and notate them for solo piano. Some of my goals may be very dull to you – organization, for example – and one challenging – memorization of more Scripture. (I’m still working on Philippians 4:5-11).

What goals have you set? I’d love to hear of them.

May your days be blessed and have a joyous New Year.

What is Christmas Anyway?

 

What is Christmas Anyway?

 

I remember teaching from a Christmas favorites book and my piano student asked me why do we celebrate Christmas. So I told him that it is a day to remember the birth of Jesus. He countered with “Who’s he?” I have to admit, I was a bit stunned, but thought maybe he’s Jehovah Witness or something like that and I tried to form a brief answer to the nine-year old sitting on my piano bench. “God sent His Son Jesus to earth to die for our sins. Jesus came as a baby and this is the way we celebrate the event. That’s why it’s a joyful time.”a-Light Echoes from Red Supergiant star V838 Monocerotis - Copy

 

I wanted to say it’s the most important act God ever extended towards mankind. I wanted to say that when I heard the Christmas story one year, it dawned on me how bad I must have been for God to resort to such extreme measures. I wanted to tell him how much joy there is in believing that God wants the relationship between mankind restored and that it can be – and has been for so many.

But I figured parents pay me to program their children to learn piano – not preach to them or give a testimony, so I did keep the answer “bare bones.” 

 

Not enough.

The parent talked with me about his plan to raise his son with no exposure to religion. When piano books are riddled with “Silent Night” and “Away in the Manger” it’s hard to ignore the reason for the celebration. It doesn’t matter, he had chosen the book and the child picked the song and I respectfully listened. But inside I thought, “It’s like going to a party but you don’t know who it’s for.”

God – the greatest Visual artist

 

Proof#1

 

I am glad our God is bigger than our opinions – and our imagination. Who else, other than God, would think to stoop to the level of a baby in a manger to paint the word “LOVE.”

 

All our altruistic depictions are nothing more than adaptations of “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” You must admit, Hollywood falls way short of inspiring in how it portrays love. I”ll take God’s definition any day.

 

It would be interesting to know:

 

How would you depict love in visual form?

 

until then – “Have a Joyous Holy-day!

 

What do you value?

We just passed the season of gifts and giving. What was your favorite gift? My husband and I had the privilege of spending time with both our children and their families. That’s priceless. You only have a set time to create certain memories and this year my husband and I tried to make as many memories as possible.

But what else do you value?

Time

Have you ever been discouraged about your studio practice?

In my early years of teaching I would bring my husband to work and go home. Then I would teach my lessons and go home – only to turn around and get my husband at 11 pm and travel home. We could only be a one car family at the time, but we made my teaching piano work. However, several times I would drive up to a student’s house only to find they were out (The mother wanted to go to the mall.) – or still in bed! I decided to end the madness and only teach at home.

The wasted gas stopped; however, there were still calls canceling because students didn’t practice or worse yet the no-shows. I bawled in private but was gracious to those that little valued my time. But help came.

A colleague told me, “If you don’t value your time, the students will never value it. Charge them for their missed lessons.” So after five years of teaching I finally wrote a studio policy. Who would have thought boundaries bring…

Freedom.

When you know what the rules are you can point out to the parent the policy and say, “You agreed to these terms and I still get paid whether you practiced or not.” When I was called to jury duty, I reimbursed my students. My time became a commodity of a set value and my students, the parents, my family and myself knew what value I put on it.

Opportunity

Then there are the scholarships. I made it a practice to give greatly reduced rates or free lessons to one or more individuals each year. Over time I saw the result of my generosity. With one, maybe two exceptions, of the dozens given – the students didn’t value their opportunities. I sat amazed at the gifts given to them and the way they squandered their time and lessons. They were some of the most ill-prepared students and what once was desired became an annoyance to their daily schedule.

So, if I really feel the need to offer scholarships, then I have a 3 strikes policy. The first lesson they come unprepared I warn the student. The second lesson I give a written warning to the parent stating the scholarship is in jeopardy. The third lesson (and not necessarily consecutive) and the scholarship is withdrawn.

It may sound cruel. I am a soft soul and have given latitude for mid-terms and injury but what do I teach them to value if I don’t value the opportunity I have given to them?

I would like to know what you value? How do you protect what you value?

Visits in Time

The Catalyst

I just returned from a visit to my two Texan sisters. I am 3 dozen eggs lighter on the return and a couple bags of clothing heavier from Deb. I brought the eggs down to prove to Deb that baby chicks don’t hop out when you crack them just because we offer fertile, free-range eggs. At least I spared her the goose eggs.

Yes, it was hot, Yes, we spent most of the time chatting in the pool. Yes, we had fun. Topics ranged from the July 1st death of Peter Falk (I love Columbo movies) to childhood neighbors trying to sell their houses. In fact, some topics brought up would never have crossed our minds a decade or so ago. Normally, the time would be ripe for old-age jokes, but just telling you – we compared 401K and retirement plans, wills and those golden year aspirations.

Repertoire

Change is inevitable. We’re not just talking sagging bodies here. Circumstances change and shape our outlooks. Life experiences shape our coping mechanisms, our likes and dislikes. The song we obsessed over as a high school student seems silly now. Yet, we involuntarily respond to “That Song” that symbolized a bond we had with special people in our lives.

Now my brother may have played “Ole Yeller” until the record warpped but I couldn’t stand songs that made me cry. Give me “Along Came John” over “God Didn’t Make Little Green Apples” any day. Of course, my genre really included “Climb Every Mountain” and “To Dream the Impossible Dream” but I grew up in the age where the pop culture did not speak for me. Other than “Hey Jude, and “I Want to hold Your Hand” I couldn’t name the top hits except for Simon and Garfunkel’s two songs I liked: “Sounds of Silence and “Like A Bridge Over troubled Water.” I still prefer sacred, religious and inspirational music (along with the classics) that carried me past my school days through my adult years.

What are your favorite songs over your lifetime?

As a musician, do you try to update your repertoire? If you haven’t mastered playing by ear, have you purchased music you love and learned it – memorized it? This is the time. No classes. No grades. Just your heart wanting to speak through the keys. Try it.

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.

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.