Just got done walking with my old high school friend and her mother, and here I am at Starbucks again–across town from home–for another break. I’ve been trying to coordinate my schedule better in order to fit in regular writing time. When Virginia has guitar and band practice, I either rehearse with my music partner, Craig, or I come here to write. If Craig and I do rehearse that particular day, I make time on the weekend to write instead.
I’m not doing the Miracle Morning exactly as prescribed anymore. The reason is that, as you might remember from a previous blog, I now get up at 4:30 a.m. and am in caring-for-others mode until about 6:30 a.m. However, I do find time to fit in those important components during my morning, and I do not read any news or go on social media until I’ve got myself going in a positive direction. So I definitely find a few minutes to meditate when I can during those 2 hours, or shortly thereafter. For me, meditation does not always mean sitting quietly with my eyes closed, feeling my breath, highly concentrating on listening to myself, etc. (Although I do try to do this a few times a week.) Often I find it to be while I am watering my plants and garden, while the sun comes up and the birds begin calling all over the place. The cheering of the cicadas has begun to die down. So, as I walk around with the hose or watering can, I’m silently enjoying Nature and feeling consciously grateful for all of the good people and things in my life. In the shower as well, I try to gratefully acknowledge the miracle that my body is by thinking of all of the parts and the work they perform so harmoniously so that I can survive another day. I know it sounds hokey–I used to think this, to be sure–but I feel better afterward. When I step out of the shower to dry off and find myself staring into the mirror, I don’t feel as bad about myself. In fact, sometimes I don’t feel bad at all about my body. After all, I’m 42 years old, and I’ve done a fair amount of living. And I’m still here. And, I’m relatively healthy. What’s the point in dwelling on imperfections? Every day, we live a little more and die a little more. It’s better to take a positive approach. And gratitude puts me on that path.
I’m in the happy position of being friends with many working musicians–another situation I’m grateful for. More than 6 years ago, I took Virginia to her first violin lesson. There I met her teacher, another Virginia (who I’ll call Ms. Virginia now), who will probably be reading this very blog at some point. About 4 years ago, I took Tony to his first piano lesson–also with Ms. Virginia. Tony had observed (often passively, while playing with Ms. Virginia’s pups or reading or doing some other activity) our Virginia’s lessons over the years, and one day he said, “I’m ready to start playing music, Mom.” To which I said, “Great! Are you excited to play the violin, or were you thinking the viola like your sister?” And he said, no, that he’d actually like to play the piano.
Fast forward to yesterday. Tony’s piano recital. Our front room packed with friends, family and neighbors, Tony played 12 pieces (some very complicated) from memory. I was so amazed and proud of his accomplishment. He’s gotten so much better through persistence and discipline, and it showed. “He is no longer a beginner,” Ms. Virginia said to the crowd, and I watched his face light up from his bench. We had a wonderful day, listening to him play and celebrating his achievement. I felt it particularly, being a musician, myself. It was like a mama bird watching a baby bird take its first leap from the branch. Tony has played in recitals before, but never until yesterday had he played a full recital by himself. At age 12! I was 16 when I played my first recital, and I shared it with the very friend I walked with this morning, a clarinetist. We split the recital in half and collaborated on one piece–The Shepherd on the Rock (Der Hirt auf dem Felsen) by Schubert. It was a nerve-racking but critically important experience that did me so much good as a musician.
My daughter, Virginia, is still searching along her musical path. She stopped playing her viola (which she studied after beginning on violin) in order to play electric guitar, which she picked up quickly due to her strings experience. Through studying electric guitar, she stumbled into singing when she became part of an alternative band and no one else wanted to sing. She sings all the time now, practices guitar and periodically takes out her viola (as she did yesterday evening) to fiddle around (ha ha). What is important to me is that she cares about her music. It is up to her, at almost 14, to determine what is most important…what she should focus on.
But the reason I brought any of this up was really to go back to Ms. Virginia. Through Ms. Virginia, I met her husband Lyle (a cellist who I had the pleasure of studying with for a while–cello is my favorite instrument…but I decided to focus on acoustic guitar so that I could work up to accompanying myself when performing…I still believe my time spent on cello was a wonderful experience, and that learning other instruments will likely be one of my favorite pastimes throughout my life). I also met Lyle’s father, Pop. These three are some of my favorite people in the whole world. 🙂
But back to Ms. Virginia. Through her, I met this special friend, Rebecca, a singer-songwriter violinist (guitarist, uke player, etc.). Through Rebecca, I was reunited with several friends from the arts program I attended in high school: her husband Jeremy, LaRue, and Jamie.
Also, I have music friends connected to my dear old friend Chad (he is not old–I just mean he is an old friend, ha ha). Chad is a drummer and we met at work years ago when he was studying piano. He accompanied me for a while which was great fun. He’s been in several bands, so I made friends of those members, and Chad and I were also in a special music project for a while, so I connected with these folks as well. Through Chad I met Shawn, who recorded our music, and then Shawn and I became music partners and created an EP together with some good original music that we co-wrote and Shawn produced. That was my first experience in writing melody and lyrics.
Some years later, I partnered with Craig and he and I have written some gorgeous songs. We’re a lot more acoustic than Shawn and I were–mainly because Shawn was a producer and Craig is not–his strength is in his playing. He’s been playing guitar (and uke, banjo, mandolin, etc.) for 40 years. Both men are highly gifted songwriters. So, basically, I’ve been blessed in the partner department–although of course there are always ups and downs as there will be in any meaningful relationship/partnership in life.
Because of my main occupation as a homeschooling mom, or some may refer to me as a stay-at-home mom or a homemaker, I cannot devote as much energy to music as my full-time working musician friends. But I feel super blessed to be able to work with Craig and create beautiful music that others enjoy whenever we play out. And I love to practice my guitar and uke, and of course, to sing. Singing is my strength, and I do pick up a vocal student here and there, who wishes to explore singing and learn basic music theory.
I’ve realized over the last several years, though, that I want to do more as a musician. I began singing backup vocal harmonies for Rebecca as needed and then Jeremy asked me to become part of a very cool band he was putting together. This was super great stuff because it provided me experience working (literally, for money or other payment) as well as more contact with other musicians. I met more musicians in Rebecca’s band as well as Jeremy’s. It’s helped me learn a lot more about how musicians conduct their lives in order to do something they love. And, not surprisingly, it’s very tough. They must be careful in choosing what jobs to take, spend time marketing themselves, entering into contracts, hauling equipment all over the place, putting wear-and-tear on their cars as they travel great distances to gigs. And of course they must practice so that they put on a good performance. Many of them must teach as well in order to get by. But this has been the way of the world for musicians throughout time.
Some months ago I felt there should be a course for children so that they could gain an appreciation of music. A sort of mixing bowl of music that would contain fundamentals of music theory, music history and elements of performance. It wouldn’t be a dull class or program. (You can’t lecture to kids for very long…you just can’t. You can’t lecture to adults for very long these days, either!) It would be engaging. There would be some lecture, to be sure, but also some fun videos, and hands-on activities. For example, when we study Gregorian Chant or Plainchant, we would create our own hand-drawn chants on scrolls that we would decorate with gold and silver paint, just like the monks did. When we study Ancient music, we would make Egyptian sistrums out of wire hangers, duct tape, and shims or buttons. We would engage in activities to help these children better absorb music theory terminology, such as sitting in a circle and tossing a ball back and forth from student to student, and whoever catches the ball draws a card and must identify the term. It’s a fun and humorous activity that I’ve used before, and it really keeps participants engaged and alert. Since we would be spending chunks of time listening to music from throughout music history (which would be separated into eras, of course) in order to learn the nuances of those eras/styles, another great game is to play a super short clip of a piece–perhaps 3 or 4 seconds–and see which student can guess the musical era or style first. A more challenging game (for a more advanced class or perhaps down the line) would be to see who can guess the composer or name of the piece, based on all of our listening (as well as perhaps a Dropbox if they want to listen in their spare time while they are doing other things). Because we will spend time listening, I would make tea or hot cocoa, which we could enjoy. No one really slows down these days, but true music listening entails just that. We must slow down, stop, close our eyes, and savor the sounds. The more we do this, we begin to really detect what is transpiring beneath the layers. With practice, we develop the ability to pick out the percussion line. We can hear the different instruments. We can differentiate the flute from the oboe, and the oboe from the bassoon. We know which is cello, and which is bass. We might even figure out which line those violas were playing–not an easy task. (It’s like an auditory Where’s Waldo, actually.) We can listen to much older instruments, Ancient instruments that are still being played today around the world, and compare their sound to the more familiar sound of their descendants. How have these instruments changed? Why were those changes made? How do these musicians make their livings? What does music mean in various cultures? There are just a million directions to go. And in the right class, one where creativity is fostered and encouraged, this is one of the most wondrous things.
So I began to put together this class, and, I’ve got to tell you, it’s so fascinating. Much of the material I haven’t studied in decades, and back then it was just a class I was taking in high school or college. A class I was trying to pass with a decent grade that wasn’t conducted in an interesting manner. Mainly lecture and listening while we high school students chugged Coke clandestinely to stay awake or, as college students, hung onto our coffee mugs for dear life. There was just no attention paid to actually engaging a student’s mind, which is probably the most critical element of teaching, when you think about it. The average child or adult isn’t going to receive a good education if they are bored to tears. So I think, as teachers, we must not only reach out to students–we must TRULY REACH our student. And this sometimes means getting their hands dirty. By which I mean, getting their hands into or onto what we are trying to teach them. Engaging the senses is key. I would bring my musical instruments in for them to handle. We would play a little on them. We would do some sightsinging, ear-training, write our own basic compositions–perhaps collaborative at the start, and then they might write their own. A class that provides such a rich foundation (by engaging senses), that the students cannot help being interested in music. And perhaps they become a better singer or instrumentalist. Or, perhaps they begin an instrument. Or, perhaps they just come away with a better appreciation for what they are hearing on the radio. Perhaps they begin to vary their listening. Perhaps they become more open to music from other areas of the world. Perhaps they not only sing along, but begin to understand how those musicians created that song, and all the work that went into it.
In short, they take what they have learned, and write their own song.
I find that, after so many years of being involved in music, I’m still writing my own song. Will it ever be finished?Probably not. Not so long as there are recitals and friendships and hugs and love and death and poverty and longing and bills and strife and shouting and tears and smiles and pets and flowers and WiFi. To me, it is all music. No, I think my song, and probably everyone’s song is and always was, and always will be.
And that’s probably the world’s best composition.