Yesterday I drove to Chicago and back to see a friend. I drove through the usual mess of road construction and major traffic snarls. The closer I got to the Loop, the more bogged down the traffic got. As I sat (at a standstill) I glanced at the cement median. Along several cracks in the concrete, I noticed grass and wild flowers growing. Not just growing — thriving.
I considered taking a photo but I couldn’t reach my camera safely. (So I found some similar photos on Flickr. See gallery below.)
I thought about how sometimes we feel like those weeds and flowers. Hanging on by a few fragile roots, in the middle of a hot unforgiving place, with just a tiny fragment of space, little or no resources — but still finding a way to not only survive but to actually bloom.
That trite saying “bloom where you are planted” has truth. I’ve had to move more times than I have wanted. Each time, the process of leave-taking then starting over commences: the good-byes, the leave-taking, then being the outsider, mustering the bravada to carry on, and finally searching for the new “normal.”
I got my first teaching job in the summer of 1985. It was in a tiny town just east of Urbana, IL. The band room was surrounded by a tar and chip parking lot. As I prepared for the first marching band rehearsals, I was pleasantly surprised to see some lovely pink lilies pop up out of the tiny seam between the building and the pavement. My mom told me they were Resurrection Lilies. I later discovered other names for them: Magic Lilies, Surprise Lilies, Naked Ladies, lycorissquamigera, and Amaryllidaceae.
They pop up out of no where (or seem to), bloom and then whither away all in a week or so. Each year I taught there (four, to be exact), I looked forward to seeing those lilies.
Image via Flickr CC, by Shihmei Barger
Image via Flickr CC, by Shihmei Barger
Beauty finds a way. Life finds a way. Always.
Image via Flickr CC, by Mickey_Liaw
Image via Flickr CC, by A Syn.
Image via Flickr CC, by Nita Hart
Image via Flickr by Robert Nunnally, CC license
Image via Flickr CC, by Nancy Phillips
Then today, I saw this posted on a friend’s Facebook wall.
I wrote this about solo/ensemble festival in a long-ago blog post:
I can write this before Saturday because I already know what the day will be like. There will be herds of young people moving up and down the halls. Girls will be dressed in their uncomfortable finery — some sporting high heels that are clearly killing their feet. Boys may have ties or tennis shoes, and sometimes both! There will be smiles, laughter, tears and frustration. There will be donuts, hot dogs and probably BBQ sandwiches. Some will perform better than they ever have (or ever will again), and some will make huge mistakes. Some who deserve twos will get ones, and some who deserve ones will get twos. Families and friends hover, chatting quietly, and move from room to room. The tension and nerves of many performers is nearly tangible. Scraps of conversations can be overheard: “I got a one/two/one star!” “That judge is crazy/easy/hard/good/bad!” “The room is running way behind.” “Where is my accompanist/instrument/music/director/reed/room?”
Image by Larry Miller, Baylor Solo and Ensemble day. Via Flickr CC license.
Image by Kate B “The Monkey Cats” via Flickr CC license. Solo and Ensemble singers.
Flash back to this past weekend: I had a conversation about this topic with another Mom while we were waiting for scores to be posted on Saturday (which was our state solo/ensemble festival this year). I said there are always the same types of people every year; some things never change. There are girls in too-high heels or no shoes at all (one walked by as I said this!), girls in too-short skirts (we saw one on the way to our cars), and people in various costumes (medieval dress, sparkly show choir outfits, bow ties and suspenders, etc.)
Nerves can be covered by a veneer of confidence that is only a millimeter thick — or not covered at all. Red-rimmed, tear-filled eyes are easy to spot in nearly every hallway. After (and sometimes even before) a performance that may or may not have been an accurate showing of the musician’s ability that inner voice that says “You completely messed that up!” or “You’ve never made that mistake before — EVER — why now?” can drown out all other coherent thoughts.
Musicians are fragile yet incredibly strong at the same time. If you’ve never had to stand up in front of a group of peers, or strangers, or experts and sing, play or perform knowing you’ll be evaluated not only against yourself but against everyone else who will perform in that room that day you can’t imagine the amount of courage and fortitude that requires.
We want to be perfect and perfection is nearly impossible to obtain. (That doesn’t stop us from trying to attain it, though!)
I think that is why we sometimes play the “Diva.” We can easily hide behind the DIVA persona . “Who gives a damn what you think? I know I’m fabulous.” But all the while We still have nagging doubts: “I missed that G#!” “I can’t believe I mixed up the verses!”
The fear that we are not good enough is always there. (At least it is for me.)
It isn’t easy to let go of the ideal “perfect” performance goal. Striving for steady progress and for excellence while appreciating and enjoying the journey are much more achievable, healthier goals.
Easier said than done. But saying it is the first step toward doing it, right?
A friend posted this article on her Facebook wall soon after I wrote this blog post. It is ON POINT so here it is:
“Oh my god, no. What are you talking about? I was terrible,” Hayes said, challenging Christine’s version of events. “I missed so many notes, I can’t freaking believe it. I never mess up there.”
Several audience members besides Christine also failed to notice Hayes’ embarrassing mistake, leading them to falsely conclude that the recital was a success and the 22-year-old pianist should be proud of his tremendous accomplishment. Most attendees were seated at a considerable distance from the stage and had at best a partial view of Hayes’ hands, while several among them lacked the musical education necessary to have formed a credible judgement of his performance.
Their glowing accounts of Hayes’ recital were directly contradicted by Hayes himself, who was the key eyewitness to the memory slip in the Schumann. Not only did Hayes have a closeup, firsthand view of his own senior recital, he had also been studying his repertoire in depth for several months and had better knowledge of the correct notes than anyone else present in the auditorium.
(Read the complete article which was posted on SubMediant on May 2, 1016.)
I’ve known for many months that you were going to die. That doesn’t make the news that you are gone any easier to bear.
I’m thankful I had the chance to let you know how much you meant to me before you were gone.
I wish you had not had cancer. Knowing that you suffered and shriveled makes my heart ache.
Losing you leaves me as the sole caretaker of our shared memories. We both claimed the other as “brilliant” and as the best (teacher/student) we ever had.
We only had about 4 years that overlapped in time and geography, yet your influence and spirit are with me still (more than 40 years and counting).
You were effervescent, ebullient and jaunty. I can still hear your voice and your laugh; I still see your lively eyes and joyous smile.
I didn’t know until last night when I Googled you, that you had taught in Colombia, Nicaragua and Venezuela as well as at Indiana University. That our paths crossed and that I became your student leaves me humbly grateful.
You changed my life.
Without your talent and knowledge (and patience) I would not be a musician, a pianist, an accompanist, a music teacher, a choir director.
I would not be who I am.
There are not enough words to thank you, dear Susan. There are no words to convey the sorrow; but the joy and the music and the wonderful memories will endure.
Two poems that will always remind me of you:
I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!
There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.
Why does the wild cherry tree
on the Hudson
So the green
of the elm is greener than
when it stands alone,
are one of those
who make others
more what they
Of those who draw them to
the extreme verge,
that is what
“The Wild Cherry Tree” from “To Hold in My Hand,” published by Sheep Meadow Press, Riverdale, N.Y.
(Excerpts below are from a letter I sent many months ago…)
There are no words to thank you for teaching me. Your daughter tells me that you think of me as your best student in all the years you taught, and I thank you for that gift. You were the BEST teacher I ever had! I would not play the way I did and do without your guidance and knowledge.
I’m so thankful that we found each other. You changed the direction of my life, whether you know it or not. Before I had you for piano, I was planning to become a beautician. By my sophomore year in high school, I had begun to think of music as my career.
I’ll never forget how I felt playing that first wonderful Rachmaninoff piece. The power, the beauty, the drama — I fell in love with it and with the piano. Then learning Fantasy Impromptu the next year was a new and completely different journey. I remember spending several weeks just working on the fingering and timing of the first page or two. I fell in love with the beauty of the phrases, with the melodies, with the emotion of the music. I felt like a door had been opened into a wonderful world that I never knew existed. I can still play Fantasie Impromptu mostly from memory even after all these years. Since learning that piece, I’ve loved Chopin’s music. Many of my future teachers continued to let me study Chopin pieces because I was good at it — AND because of the technique and training I got with you.
I think those two gorgeous pieces (and so many others you taught me) gave me so much confidence, not only musically but also personally. I realized I could do something quite well that most people couldn’t do at all and better yet, that I LOVED doing it. I played solos at school and at various community performances, and I felt proud and appreciated. YOU did that for me. I would not have had those experiences or opportunities without your expertise.
I also love the other big pieces we learned together, especially Reflets dans l’eau and the Chopin Ballade (and others). Each piece became part of my heart and soul. I can’t imagine my life without this wonderful music and without you having been in it.
Because of your influence on my life, I in turn have influenced many other lives. Some of the high school students I taught tell me that I made a difference in THEIR lives and that I was their favorite teacher. Parents tell me that students I had when I was a long term sub (for various maternity leaves) still talk about some of the fun things we did in music class many years after I taught them. That is YOUR legacy, too.
I’m sorry I haven’t called, but I am not great at expressing my feelings — especially over the phone. I asked L if she would consider reading this to you so that you will know how much you mean to me. You, your knowledge, your teaching, your expertise — your love of life and your wonderful personality — thank you for sharing part of your life with me and for making me a better person.
I realize this post is probably too late to be of any real help with Christmas gift shopping for this year. But maybe others, like me, wait until the very last moment to get those last few (or many) items. These ideas are also excellent ideas for gift giving for any event all year long.
37 ideas from Huff post. The social enterprises listed give back either a portion of the revenues to a cause, donate an item for an item sold, or directly invest in people by creating meaningful job opportunities.
As I was cruising the internet for inspiration and resources, I found this gem. It is the format for a poem: The “I Am” poem, specifically.
I Am Poem (format)
I am (two special characteristics about your personality) I wonder (something you are actually curious about) I hear (a saying that someone might say to you that encourages/discourages) I am on a journey toward (a vision for your future/challenge in your present) I want (an actual desire that you hold for yourself) I am (the first line of the poem restated)
I pretend (something you actually pretend to do) I feel (a feeling about something imaginary that is holding you back) I touch (an imaginary touch) I worry (something that really bothers you) I cry (something that makes you very sad) I am (the first line of the poem repeated)
I understand (something you know is true about yourself/context) I say (something you believe in) I dream (something you dream about for your future) I try (something you really make an effort to do/understand) I hope (something you actually hope for yourself/context) I am (the first line of the poem repeated)
I am musical and creative. I wonder about a lot of things I hear keep putting one foot in front of the other. I am on a journey toward an unknown future. I want peace. I am musical and creative.
I pretend everything is okay. I feel like I’m underwater. I touch cold space. I worry about being shot. I cry for beauty. I am musical and creative.
I understand Love.
I say aspire to inspire. I dream in color. I try to improve. I hope I can sleep. I am musical and creative.
As a teacher, one of my fundamental desires is to “Aspire to Inspire” my students. I found this list of rules (with a great little backstory*) and am sharing it so that you might possibly find truth in it as I did.
RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.
RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.
RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.
RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.
RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.
RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.
RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.
RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.
HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything. It might come in handy later.
*John Cage (most famous for 4’33”) was a pupil of Arnold Schoenberg (created 12-tone technique for composing music). Cage, in turn, inspired a generation of composers and artists. One so inspired was a California nun, Sister Corita Kent, who created this list of Rules in 1968 for a class project. For more information read this Open Culture article.
I love looking for great books at low prices at places like Goodwill, Thrift shops, and used book stores. I love buying a hard back novel for less than $2 or a recent bestseller paperback for less than a dollar. I also love taking them back to the store again as a donation if I don’t think I will want to ever read that certain book again.
I do not, however, like the fact that I sometimes have to put up with underlined passages, highlighting or even comments written in the margins. Unless it is a book I really, really have been wanting to read for a long time — I usually pass on buying a used book with any markings at all. The marks bother me, probably more than they should.
I find myself trying to figure out why someone would underline that particular passage or word. I almost feel like I’m reading someone else’s journal or peeking at their notes or journal without permission.
Imagine my surprise at finding a website called “The Pages Project” that is devoted to preserving specifically this “marginalia.” The “about page” says that “the goal of the project is to demonstrate the layered expansion of meaning and insight that occurs through the marginalia left by ordinary people within printed books.”
If you have pages to share, follow the steps given under the “Submit a Page” tab.
By the way, a great source for buying good quality used books is Thrift Books. Most books are $2.99 or less and shipping is FREE! They have a pretty comprehensive list of search categories, but for some reason one must check “hide out of stock items” when searching. Why show items that are not available? That makes no sense to me.
One of the little perks I give myself on a cold winter day on the way to school is a trip through the McDonald’s drive-through. I like their breakfast sandwiches. I realize it may not be the healthiest choice on earth, and that many people have philosophical issues with the place. But I enjoy an egg McMuffin, a sausage biscuit with egg or sausage and egg burritos now and then — I just DO.
I found a McDonald’s that is not far out of my way that has lightning quick, reliable service in the drive-through so I’m tempted to stop every once in a while.
Today was one of those days.
I didn’t sleep well.
Our coffee maker is on the blink.
I was hungry but didn’t want to cook anything at home.
I drive up.
Place my order.
Dig around in my bag for some money.
Drive up toward the window to pay.
I find myself facing the tailgate back of a big red truck.
On the left side of the tailgate is a very large bumper sticker:
It says — I’m Pro-Choice on Guns.
Under that there is an image of a machine gun.
Instantly I am perturbed. Irritated. Upset. Angry.
I work in an elementary school.
Guns and schools — well, we all know the horrific things that have happened.
I had to fight the urge to flip the guy off.
My friends know that I am not a frequent flipper.
I’m being honest here.
Not my usual response to these things.
But this bumper sticker really hit me wrong.
I did manage to restrain my flipping urge.
I looked further down to see what other tidbits of wisdom this guy had on his bumpers.
The next one I see is a large black-bordered white oval that simple says IRAQ in black letters in the center.
In smaller letters curving around the bottom of the circle were the words:
He served in Iraq.
I’m instantly ashamed of myself.
I send a silent apology and a fervent “thank you for your service” thought toward the red truck with all the mental force I could muster.
I give myself quite a “talking to.”
No wonder the guy wants a machine gun handy. After living and working in Iraq I might want one, too.
I don’t begrudge him his gun sticker any longer.
The next thing that happened brought me to tears.
I drive up to the “pay here” window. The young woman says — HE PAID FOR YOU.
I am flabbergasted. Speechless.
Most people would react by paying for the person behind them, and I wish I had done that!
But I was all caught up in my inner drama.
I drive up to the next window to get my order. The server has a huge smile and obviously knows what the guy had done for me, too. I say “Thank you” with tears in my eyes and try to mumble something about what a nice surprise and that this has never happened to me before. I don’t know what I said, really.
I looked around for the red pickup. I wanted to say “thank you.”
I saw him heading toward the stoplight in the left turn lane.
Normally, I would need to turn left to get to school but I quickly drove up beside him in the other lane. I rolled down my window and yelled “thank you” and gestured from my heart over to him. He nodded and waved as if to say “no big deal” and then he drove off.
As I drove to school I mulled over all the thoughts and emotions as I munched my burrito and sipped my sugar-free latte.
As a Christian the ramifications of “HE PAID FOR YOU” is glaringly obvious but equating my free breakfast with eternal salvation seems trite and ridiculous.
Why did this kind gesture surprise me make the tears well?
I surmised that it is because I was so mean and judgmental about the first bumper sticker. Then already felling chastised by the second sticker, all my assumptions were blown away by the incredibly kind, thoughtful and simple gesture of his “paying it backward.”
This young man who risked his life in Iraq while I lived my comfortable Midwestern American life bought ME breakfast.
The point that stuck with me is that caring (or hurting, for that matter) for each other doesn’t always need to involve grand gestures.
Simple words and actions matter.
Do good things.
Mean thoughts can lead to mean actions.
Don’t go down that path.
Be kind. Be generous. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful.
Let’s do it.
Pay for the person behind you in line. Soon.
I’ll tell you my story. Please share yours, too.
Oh. And the next time you see vet?
Gather your courage, and please take a moment to thank them for their service.
I’m reblogging your inspiring post. So many of your reasons are my reasons for writing, too.
I’m reblogging it also so that I will be reminded to write my OWN reasons for blogging.
Thank you for a great, thoughtful and thought-provoking post!
A few days ago I read a blog post discussing the reasons that people blog. The main point that I took from the post was the poster likening blogging to Facebook and accusing those who blog of showing narcissism through their choice of what they post about.
Whilst I understand this person’s reasons for blogging are to raise awareness of issues in the world, I believe that they overlooked the fact that by highlighting these issues, they were in fact highlighting their PERSONAL opinions of these issues thereby negating their argument. However, it is that person’s right to blog about whatever they wish – just as it my right to blog about whatever I wish to also.
Katie Hosmer recently posted this beautiful blog entry featured on My Modern Met.
A vibrant, flowing rainbow could be seen cascading across Tokyo’s Shinjuku Central Park in this colorful installation by French architect and designer Emmanuelle Moureaux.
Moureaux hand-dyed 1,875 pieces of fabric and hung them vertically from above in layers of textured color. The piece was set high off the ground so that it would move with the breeze and so that passers-by could walk underneath and find themselves consumed by the various hues.
–from Katie Hosmer’s blog post
Statement from the artist:
“When I first arrived in Tokyo,
I was fully fascinated by the colors overflowing on the street.
In that very moment, my mind decided to move to Japan.
Overwhelming number of store signs, flying electrical cables, and flashes of blue sky framed by various volumes of buildings, created three dimensional “layers” in the city.
The flood of various colors pervaded the street built up a complex depth and intensity in the space. These indelible experiences of colors and layers in Tokyo were the inspiration and essence of my design concept of “shikiri”, which means dividing (creating) space with colors.
Valuing the emotion inspired from Tokyo,
I want to show the beauty of colors to the fullest extent.
I also wish to share the feeling of being surrounded by overflowing colors by
exhibiting 100 colors, here in the middle of Tokyo.
Please come and find your favorite color. ”
Even though I’ve been teaching music for years, I’m always looking for better and more efficient techniques and ideas to keep me and my students motivated and engaged.
I’ve noticed a huge change in student attention spans and self-discipline over the years. Lest you get excited, the trend is downward for both.
I follow and am a member of many Music Teacher blogs, pages, and professional organizations. I keep reading the comment “Try Whole Brain teaching” on music teacher Facebook group comments. I looked it up and I plan to try some of the ideas with my new students.