Tag Archives: Music Studio

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.


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?

Stocked pantries and Piano Repertoire

Preparing for Opportunity

Before you can seize the opportunity, you must prepare for it.

Starlings outside the breakfast nook windows found the down from the ducks. They are stuffing their bills with as many as possible before flying to the nest site. Unfortunately, as they are plucking the feather up they drop one and they must stop and try to reload. It’s so comical seeing their bills crammed with feathers looking half their size.

At the same time the starlings were raiding the feathers my husband and I were trying to calculate the amount of beans to plant. Now I love beans. I don’t even mind canning them – but picking them! If you didn’t feel like you were 80 years old you did by the time you picked a few hundred feet of beans-especially knowing you couldn’t stop and relax. No. Snapping and canning them while fresh is imperative. So I wasn’t too enthusiastic about planting “miles” of beans. In fact, I am thinking about just turning pro by picking only once. In fact, instead of picking, I’ll pluck each plant, pick the beans and put the plant to good use in the compost pile. After at, many gardeners use succession planting, don’t they?

I must admit, a pantry full of my “Dilly Beans” (I’ll put up some tarragon infused Blue Lake beans for more refined meals), Romano Beans with garlic, onion and bits of tomato, canned tomatoes, homemade jellies and pickles sound great. I was looking through a vintage “The Ball Blue Book” for canning (1943) and found a charming recipe for Brunswick Stew that started with: 4 young squirrels or 4 frying size chickens. Along with the “Green Walnut Sauce recipe, I was beginning to think people during the Depression (we’re approaching that scenario) made use of everything.

We did come to some consensus on how much to plant so my hubby went to clean some fish he caught from the pond last night. It’s always nice when the pond is in your front yard – he left them in a cage in the water over night. Just three bass, two smaller ones and one a whopping 23” long and 5 lbs 2 oz. I’m sure glad it’s out of there before I swim this summer. I wonder if I should can some?

Choosing and Learning Repertoire for Preparedness

I have had a few students who started as or stayed with me as adults who wanted to “perform.” Now few students will ever earn a living as concert pianists so definitions of performance are moderated to fit different abilities and lifestyles. When students are asked to play for family – well, anything goes. Formal recitals usually require a variety of repertoire in either when the piece was composed or the different forms (types) of music.

My experience playing as a church musician for twenty -two years is quite different in musical scope than the hodge-podge events such as playing for school events, weddings, birthday parties and fashion shows. I do favor the role of background musician and my choice and treatment of repertoire is different than celebratory events where people expect more interaction with the music.

So the teacher and student must discuss choice of song and performance of song. Amazing Grace is played differently at a funeral than as a rousing anthem for a church’s postlude. Also, playing 3-5 songs for a church service is not the same as playing 30-45 minutes of easy listening music for a fashion show.

Make the student practice various skills, then when opportunity knocks, they can seize it!

Culinary Snobbery & Teaching Flexibility

Confessions of a Culinary Snob
I like to cook. If an ingredient is missing – no worry-improvise! My daughter does me proud by following in my footsteps. We may improvise but we would never, I repeat, NEVER use put cottage cheese in a lasagna, use anything but real butter and avoid Cheese whiz like the plague. My daughter-in-law made the mistake of asking me how to cook “burnt carrots” – a name that does NOT do this vegetable justice. I had to tell her the “real” way. FYI:

1.Peel (or wash) 1 lb carrots (for 2-4 people) and cut length-wise thick roots
2.Cook in a little water 8-10 minutes until tender-crisp. I do this in my pressure cooker and it only takes 1 min under
3.Drain. Pour into an oven-proof dish and toss with 1½ Tbsp butter to coat.
4.Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes (or whatever temp you may be roasting at for something else). Carrots are done
when edges are turning brown. The darker the brown, the sweeter the carrot. Serve warm.

This is such a simple recipe with a big WOW but like my dad would say, “No sugar.” Well, the memories of sage culinary wisdom flooded my mind. I would be sitting in a room while my dad and his brothers were visiting and their verbal parries of cooking comparisons would intensify. But none brought more ammo to the debate than how to cook  the humble yet signature dish of any respectable caterer to Polish weddings – the “Pork-Cabbage” recipe. “You add just a bit of brown sugar” was countered with “Never, it would ruin the balance and you would have to add vinegar!” That discussion once exploded into such deep convictions that my father picked up a loaf of bread (homemade by his mother no less) and threw it at his brother. They all hitched up their pants, and strutted out of the various exits from the dining room. As I grew older, I realized there was little hope for me, for I, too am a culinary snob.
So, garlic bread on my table bears no resemblance to the soggy, artificial loaf wrapped in foil from the store. My breath will bear witness to the authenticity of the garlic in my house!

Flexibility in the Studio

So I am not very flexible in the way I want to cook, but what about the way I teach?

Method Books

Every teacher has his/her pet method books. For some it may be the newest pedagogy backed by trials in teaching studios. Other may prefer the “tried and true” oldies. Some teachers still use the Thompson and Aaron courses of old. I use John W Schaum’s series of “A” book, “B” book, etc. for the majority of my students and lean towards Hal Leonard’s basic course when there are siblings learning in near enough time that learning-by-ear poses a threat to the beginning student’s progress. The Middle C approach seems to fit most students and they develop independence in learning skills and materials that I found lacking in Suzuki transfer students. I give myself credit for standing hours in the music store pouring over materials only to reject most of them for one reason or another. This is usually not because they are bad, but I know how and why I teach Middle C approach. Some progress too slowly and have more eye appeal than progress for me to imagine myself being excited about teaching 5 weeks of one element though it may be perfect for just a certain student needing reinforcement. It’s hard finding the perfect method but that’s why supplemental material abounds.

An aside: Why Middle C is so effective
1.   Most of my first grade students can start in the Primer (Beginning) book and learn staff reading after 2-4 weeks.
2.   It starts with one homing point. It doesn’t matter pupils are playing off of any “C” on the keyboard, they are all still “C”. I have my
students playing hand-over hand “C” arpeggios by the second or third lesson.
3.   Relationships between “C” and other notes are quickly established both visually and mechanically.
4.   The eye has a chance to gradually read an expanding Grand Staff.
5.   Many familiar songs can be introduced with this method.

It might be good to discuss my encounters with other approaches in future visits.


So, where I teach has been very flexible. Like many new piano teachers, I traveled to the student’s homes like Mr. Ernest St. Jacques taught my sister and myself. The advantages were I didn’t have to disrupt our family in our teeny tiny house and I got to see what my student were practicing on. This, at times, was very enlightening. There was one place, though, that few of my peers can say they taught. One of my students wanted to learn the organ but on the instrument she could practice on and would be called to play on. So off I went to teach her in a cemetery/crematorium. There we would be, reviewing her foot drills and one of the staff would roll another cardboard box up the chapel aisle in line to be cremated. I was hard put to assign her some of the music that normally came to my mind.

There were a few other times I was flexible in my approach in the studio but I’ll save it to another day. Until then, Be Flexible!