Monday, September 1, 2014

Monday Music Moment- My Story, part 2

Me and Reagan playing at church festival

My story- part 2
When I was seventeen, a junior in high school, my Dad presented the idea that I prepare myself to leave for college the next year.  I was mature, a little bored with high school, and bright.  It wasn’t a new idea.  My three sisters before me had done it, but I hadn’t really given it a thought as to my plan before.  It seemed like a good idea.  I took all the AP tests I could and college tests.  I had even to take an extra senior English class, zero period, in order to apply for college.  I was admitted for fall that spring at Brigham Young University, with out a diploma.  I never graduated from high school.  I don’t know if they allow that sort of thing now, but it worked for me. 

That was a busy year.  My piano lessons were intense preparing difficult pieces for competition.  I worked a little on the weekends at Pier One.  And, I was on the varsity volleyball team, which I loved.  My next favorite subject at school was French.  I really wanted to forward my progress in my speaking skills.  My parents were kind enough to send me to school in La Rochelle, France that summer before I left for the University.

Now that I have two children in college myself, I can look back and say how hard it is to decide on a major.  But now a days, to not waste time and precious money, it’s almost a given that you need to know what you want to major in the moment you step foot on campus.  I was a bit wishy washy.  I liked French a lot, and piano, and English, even history.  How could I combine all of them into one major? 

At my university, everyone that played the piano, played it well and better than me.  Ok, that’s a huge generality and not true.  But, that is how I felt.  Coming from my arena in Dallas, I was known as a talented pianist.  Going into the music department at BYU, made me feel like a schmuck.  I started off with piano lessons from a fellow professor.  He didn’t seem impressed with my playing- maybe that was my arrogant fault, to try and impress him.  Then, when other students played for each other, my pieces seemed like chop-sticks compared to theirs.  Looking back, I realized that I gave up too early and didn’t challenge myself.  But most of my willingness to not carry-on came from my high school feelings of burn out.  The spark of desire had gone out.  I quit piano, that year.

It wasn’t hard to quit.  To play, I had to physically go to the practice rooms on campus, wait for an open room, and practice.  I just avoided that part of campus.

Because I made that decision, the possibilities for a major and minor that I loved became less complicated.  In the international department, I found major that combined English, history, and Art History (a new found love from my freshman general ed. Courses).  For this major you had to choose a language minor.  Bingo…I had my French already in tact.  This was the perfect major for me.  I had officially turned my back on piano.  Burn out was complete at this point.

After my freshman year, I signed up to do a work study program in Europe through the university.  I would get credit for the work and more language experience. Win win.  For four months, I headed to Belgium to be a fille au pair (a nanny).  No not glorious work, nor did it pay well.  But I learned about life in another culture and mothering.  And I realized I missed the piano.  Where ever I went with the family, and there was a piano, I would play.  They were amazed that I had never told them I could play.  But, why should I have, they didn’t own a piano.  But, I was glad they enjoyed it.  I missed it.

When I returned to the university, I was too busy with an extra full schedule to fit piano in, even though I now wanted to play again.  I took the most credits possible in a semester.  Full credit semesters, along with the AP tests from high school, and school credits from two summers, I was able to graduate from BYU in three years.  During this time I had also met my husband and we were married a week after I graduated with a Bachelors in Arts in European History with an emphasis in Art History and a minor in French.  I was twenty and a typical liberal arts graduate with no skills to get a job.

I landed a job with Microsoft that year, 1989.  It wasn’t glamorous.  In fact, it was bottom of the rung, selling external CD-ROM drives through cold calls to executives.  For my left brain this was boring work and I didn’t dig computers.  Besides, I was pregnant and wanted to stay home with my child.  After I quit, Microsoft went public and even the peons were wealthy.  Oh well.

We moved to Utah so my husband could go to school.  I stayed home and did odd jobs to help out with the budget.  I tried babysitting, working at a bank while my husband was studying at home, working at UPS at night; any situation so my children didn’t have to go to daycare.

I had started to play the piano again, a little.  I scraped up a little money to buy a spinet piano.  I love antiques and this cute piano was one hundred years old and come over on a ship from Europe.  Little did I know that a piano never sounds the same once it travels over water.  I didn’t care.  There was a piano in my home again.

A friend heard me playing in my apartment.  She asked if I would teach her five year old AND she offered to watch my two babies while I taught hers.  Having never thought of teaching before, I decided it would be an adventure.  I didn’t know how to teach piano.  But, really how do we learn to teach anything.  It’s really like an acorn seed.  The outcome is there all the time, we just have to put the effort forth and it will come. 

There wasn’t internet yet, so I went to the library and got a few books.  But, there wasn’t much help out then.  So I winged it.  It went fine.  Besides, even without a degree in music, I’d had so much experience playing, I felt confident in my teaching.

Shortly after that first year of teaching, I had my third baby and we moved into a new house.  A few weeks before the move and the baby, I had been in a local music store and saw an advertisement for a week long piano teaching seminar.  I signed up knowing it was during a crazy time.  So, I called my mom to come help.  Thanks, Mom.

That week was amazing for my growth as a piano teacher.  The seminar was taught by two women who had developed a new way to teach- group piano lessons.  It meant the teacher needed more than one piano, obviously, and it enhanced the teaching process.  Some students thrive off peer pressure and seeing how they can excel.  Others don’t want a private lesson and be alone with an adult (I call it the ‘helicopter complex’.  They feel too “hovered” upon).  We have centers that the children move around to during the lesson.  This means they are more active than in a traditional private lesson. (link)  However, it is best for the parent to determine the needs of the child and which environment fits the student’s learning process appropriately.

Now, these ladies were not only there to teach us their revolutionary method, but to sell us something.  Surprise, surprise- four digital pianos and their teaching material for $20,000.  I was too shocked to even consider it after just buying a new home.  But, my thrifty spending wheels got spinning.  At this time, digital pianos with MIDI in them were fairly new to the general public. Doing my homework, I found another supplier and bought a brand new Roland KR-570 that is still the Daddy of all digital pianos.  It has weighted keys, 16 track recording, over 300 sounds and effects, games for teaching, and computer hook-ups.  It truly is like a computer and a piano put together.  And, the crowning glory is that students can practice with head-phones two at a time, or teacher and student together! Ta-da!

This piano was to become the keystone of my studio.  I did pay a pretty penny for it, but no where close to the above price tag.  Then I bought three used full sized electric keyboards (nowhere near the same thing as a digital piano) and started my group piano studio.  I had twenty students in a snap.  That was 16 years ago.  I still prefer group teaching for the first 3-4 years of lessons for a student, then we usually switch to private lessons.  However, right now, I have 3 students that are early advanced and are still in group lessons together.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Music Moment- My Piano Story, part 1

Me- accompanying for a play

My Piano story

              My parents didn’t play any musical instruments but we always had records playing in our home on our large Hifi that took up one wall of the living room.  Phantom of the Opera, Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald were what my parents listened to.  My older sisters were listening to Bread, Karen Carpenter, and 3 Dog Night. Because of my family, I’ve always had a broad listening repertoire.
            I started piano when I was six.  My oldest sister, Cindy, tried to teach me piano.  She was a very social fourteen year-old, so this must have been slightly painful for her.  She was patient with me, though.  We tried our homemade lessons for a year. 
            Then it came time for formal lessons.  I don’t really remember my first piano teacher and her methods, but I can recall the room she taught in.  Her studio was a converted porch on the back of her house.  I had a thirty minute private lesson then another student came and we would have fifteen minutes of theory together.  I really liked having another kid around.  I can still see the green, turf-like carpet and orange chairs we sat by next to the large porch windows.
            After a couple years with her, we moved to another state and I had ordinary private lessons.  I don’t remember much about them.  Mostly I was bored.
            When I was eleven, we moved again, to the state that boasts some amazing piano schools and teachers, Texas.  I had three memorable teachers here.  The first teacher used ordinary methods- a private lesson, then a monthly theory class with three to four students.  We met in her small living room and her family often tip-toed by the doorway and waved when they went by. She was into what I call “alternative” performance.  The “alternative” part came at recitals.  She would invite different piano colleagues to perform “creative” music on the piano by dropping paper clips, erasers, feathers and other odds and ends onto the strings of a grand piano.  Sometimes, the colleagues would play a classical song and embellish a trio or stanza with forks on a high string or rubber balls on a bass string.  It was heady stuff for the early 1980’s.
            My classical training progressed nicely.  I played sonatinas, quadrilles, minuets, and was moving into advanced romantic era pieces.  At twelve, I needed a different approach.
            Barbara Brashear was a real classical pianist.  Her studio- another add-on type structure to the back of the house- had a sitting area and a large grand piano filling one space.  On the opposite side of the room was a wall full of awards and pictures of Mrs. Brashear standing in front of a grand piano shaking hands with a judge or her standing with roses in her arms accepting a medal. Underneath this display were rows of crates full of dusty albums, cassette tapes, and recording equipment.  Sometimes she would record my playing, just to humble me.  My favorite part of the lesson is when I would get it right.  Mrs. Brashear always sat toward the back of the room- to hear the vibration waves at the “sweet” spot.  When I performed a section especially well with feeling and musicality, she would pump her long, crane-like legs up and down and say “yes”, “yes”, “yes”.  At my tender age, I didn’t know what to think.  Instead of questioning her, I played to please her. 
Mrs. Brashear primed me to start judication- which is piano language for competing on the piano.  Yes, people do compete to one-up each other on the piano.  For me it was very stressful.  I did get very nervous. My legs got the shakes and my hands sweaty.  The fear of forgetting passages loomed.  But, I always did well.  I have many ribbons and, one time, I was a finalist for the Junior Van Cliburn competition.
            She lived in an area of Dallas called Lover’s Lane.  It was about 30 minutes from my house, without traffic.  Bless my mom for driving me for one or two lessons a week.  My practicing time was ramping up also.  No measly 30 minute practice would do, I had chose to practice one or two hours a day for optimum results.  In middle school and high school, I kept this up with honors classes, school sports, and I worked a little bit after school.  And you thought I was joking about being type A. Hah!
            My sophomore year of high school, my mother was pooped out I’m sure.  She called up to North Texas University to find a graduate, living in Dallas, and that would do in-home lessons.  Elizabeth fit the bill.  She had just graduated and wanted advanced students. 
            She wasn’t as serious as Mrs. Brashear. I desperately needed things to lighten up.  I was in serious danger of burn-out.  My parents were talking music conservatory school.  A professional singer at church had asked me to tour with her.  I just didn’t know if I wanted to dedicate my life to just one interest.  I had always loved my well-rounded upbringing, and now it was being funneled down to one thing.  The piano. 


Friday, August 22, 2014

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What to do the Summer? Scrub-a-Mutt

photo by V. Dahlgren

Never mind my get-up, focus on Bono.  He is getting a doggy massage!  Say what?

Yes, Bono was pampered last Saturday at the Strawberry Fields Scrubb-a-Mutt day.  It's kind of like a street fair for dogs. The organization that puts this event on is raising money for dog shelters and the like.  

For a small fee (small, as in $10) Bono got a bath with warm water and his nails clipped, with the flashy bandana to top off his coiffe.

There were booths to buy dog paraphanalia and companies offering free doggie gifts.  Oh, and raffles with really awesome dog goodies going on all the time.

There was so much going on- the gawking at other dogs, pooches getting tangled up in leashes, and not to mention the LARGE breeds.  We saw a St. Barnard so big they had a ramp on the back of their truck so the Big Dog could get himself up to his seat.  That's a big, heavy dog!

So near the end of the summer, if you're a local, look for ads in the paper for the Scrubb-a-Mutt festival.  It's like a little fair day for your dog and you'll have some fun too.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Music Moment Monday


Have you ever watched the Sing Off?  It's one of my favorite shows.

A Cappella groups are getting very famous these days, as the genre is gaining popularity.  Pentatonix and Peter Hollens are a couple of our family favorites.  We also thoroughly enjoy the talented Vocal Point, from the campus of BYU.  They were highly favored on the show a few years ago.

As a Monday treat to you, enjoy this hymn:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Garden 2014

photo by SMW
Here is my garden so far...a lot smaller than last year.  But I'm happy that I even got a garden in this spring.  So.much.going.on.

photo by SMW
In the planter box that huge monster of a plant was really only 2 little tomato starts that decided to overtake all the other plants I had growing there.  I had my first tomato yesterday.  Nummy....with sea salt.  Heaven!

How is your garden?  
Check out some photos of last years garden here and here

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Trek 2014

photo by Niki Roskelley

What is Trek?  Good question.  Since I've been talking about it with friends lately they think I'm saying 'track'.  Nope, it's Trek.  Like trekking, having a good time.  But in this case, it's a good time with your friends re-inacting what the pioneers went through to travel from Illinois to Utah during the 1800's.

You can read more about the history of the pioneers here.  The short story is the mormons had  built a beautiful city in Illinois.  They were murdered and robbed for their land and city.  With hardly any belongings they went west to Winter Quarters, IA.  The next year they travelled to Utah.  For the next 40+ years immigrants and converts to Mormonism traveled by boat then wagon or train or handcart (for the poorist of travellers) to the Salt Lake Valley.  Many died.

I have many ancestors that made this Trek.  I'm proud of the heritage they left for me and I hope that I'm living my life to honor them.  My children are learning a bit of the sacrifices that their ancestors went through by participating in Trek.  My children can be proud of themselves for being a 'different' kind of teenager and standing up for truth and righteousness.