Monday, October 31, 2011


Today was a half day for the kids at school.  We sat down to lunch together, enjoying the novelty of bologna sandwiches and orange slices in our own kitchen.

Simon and I were just finishing up (Allie had already snarfed up her tuna sandwich), and suddenly he looked at me and said,

"Mama? Do you think that life has meaning?"

Um. Well....

"It's a gweat mystewy, isn't it?  I think that the universe started -- from a COLOR CHEMICAL."

A what?

"A color.  It had so much energy that it exploded in a Big Bang.  Then?  ANOTHER explosion -- a BIGGER BANG -- made the whole universe."

So, if it was a color that started it all, what color was it?

"It was a color that I just discovered now -- in my mind.  It was -- hmm. I'm going to have to name it  'Suthuldu.'  It, at every point, changes into another color."

Wow.  That's an amazing idea. Now, eat your sandwich.


Then.... minutes later

"Mama?  What color was the FIRST black hole?  BEFORE it sucked everything into it?  If it's not all full of matter and energy, it couldn't be black yet, right?"

--mama falls on floor, eyes rolling into her head--

Captain Ameridog

In the last week or so, my dog, Teddy, has tried to rent "Captain America" on our DishNetwork SEVERAL TIMES.  He will sit or lay on the remote.  Who knew basset-mix-butts had such precision?

I keep looking up, and there it is again:  "Press "OK" to confirm this order!  Captain America.  $4.99 for 24 hours."

Then he looks up at me, dolefully.
I look down at him, and sigh, "Not again.  You know you'll just sleep through it anyway."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Achy and Crap

I've been having issues.  (Shut up.  I know I always have issues.  These are different.)

My left arm.  It hurts.  The upper arm, actually.  It has done this for years.  But now, it barely lets up.  It's like a sort of tiny cramp, deep in the muscle.  I can massage it to no avail.  Ben-Gay has no effect.  Likewise ice or heat.  It just WHINGS me sometimes, and sometimes it wrrrwrrrwrrrBRRROOOPPPlnnngggnnngggs me. 

I think this means I need massages.  Maybe massages by hot Latin non-English-speaking men?  Or a fat Swedish woman.  I don't care.  Just make it STOP.  My doc grimaced and agreed that a random arm pain sucks, but that it probably just means that I overuse it.  Hm. Overuse? My left arm?  That I write with, play flute with, hold all my bags with, operate nearly everything with?  Nah.  It's surely a stroke.  Or maybe a verrry stretched-out prelude to a heart attack?  Even though I've seen my doc very recently? 

Welp, there it is.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What About "My Eyes Are Closed and I'm Doing Yoga" Suggests Friendliness?

I have been working out.  Yeah, I'm tough like that.

Actually, my total motivation comes from:
1: I get to shower in a bathroom that I do not have to clean.
2: I love to stretch afterwards

So there I was.  At the YMCA. I had just finished AN HOUR on the elliptical.  Booh-YAH, baybee.  My reward was that I was gonna have a good stretch.

I did lots of backbends over a yoga ball, did toe-touches and Sun Salutations.  Stretched ALL of it.  Took my time -- probably 20 minutes or so.
Finally, I was relaxing, alternating between Child Pose, Cobra, and Cat.
Child is basically kneeling, lowering head and outstretched arms to the ground.
Cobra is lying on the tummy, back arched, arms supporting you, while you look straight up
Cat is hands-and-knees, back arched up, head down.

These are deeply meditative for me, where I tune in to whatever my body needs.
A voice filters into my brain.

I switch to Cat.
I breathe, lengthen my spine.
oh.  I look up.  I see an older couple standing there, hands on hips, watching me.
"Sorry.  I didn't realize you were talking to ME.  Yes.  I'm stretching and doing yoga."
I go into Child pose, breathing slowly.
I sit up.
"You can do whatever you want. It's the best part of my workout.  So relaxing!"
I pull up the exercise ball and begin to do a back bend stretch over it.
Um. ok. well...
I un-bend and sit up again.
"There are more over there."
"Sorry.  I use this one because I'm doing backbends, and this one supports my back the best."
"Ok. Here."
She sits on it.
I go into a butterfly stretch, typically the last one or two I do.  I sit up, the soles of my feet touching in front of me, knees flat on the floor on each side.  I then reach forward, head to feet, and stretch my hands as far in front as I can.
oh for Pete's sake...
"I suggest you talk to the staff here. They can walk you through everything! They're very informative."
I lay down in Corpse pose (just lying on my back, eyes closed, meditating on breathing)

At that point, I got up and left.  And made a mental note to always, ALWAYS wear headphones, even if I'm not listening to music.

Feeling Rather Older Than Usual (re-post)

For the last few weeks, I've been experiencing some pain in the ass. I do mean that literally.

I think I have some sciatic nerve pain - which is LITERALLY pain in the ass. Because of some stupid nerve that runs from the lower back thru the buttock and down the leg to the ankle. WooHOO this is fun.

So I called my primary care advice giver (my Dad) who has also suffered in this way. He is 81,though. His advice: take Ibuprofin for the swelling that caused it in the first place, icy-Heet rub stuff on the behind, and stretching and rest.

So naturally I checked my OTHER primary care advice giver, my Laptop, and it said -startlingly- much the same.

So I have taken many Ibuprofens, stretched a bit, rested,and GROANED like something in a haunted house. It works, then it stops working.

I have NOT called an actual doctor, because My dad said that as a last resort, after seeing a chiropractor and all, he had to get A Shot In His Spine.

Spine. in it. A shot. With a needle. That stuck into his SPINE.

So I'm trying alternative therapies. Mostly involving reading trashy vampire novels, drinking iced tea, and popping Ibuprofin every 4 hours. But. I should probably call my real PCP, this fantastic LPN (RN?) who is amazing.

I am hoping that the age I feel will descend from the high 90s to the low 70s soon.


A few days ago, I was swimming in the "lap" lane at the YMCA. Simon, in his little floaty belt, asked if he could join me, so I let him swim behind me. All of a sudden, I felt him up behind me, swimming just above my legs. I turned to him and asked, "What are you doing?"

He replied,
"I'm drafting."

Epic, Minute Discontent

I'm having a week. A week o' stupid. Nothing hugely significant. Just many small piles of crap.

I don't like when people talk through a big goofy smile. They don't move their mouths then. I don't like when dogs eat my pancakes. I dislike when people don't take a hint. AND I dislike when people are annoying.

I don't like when my hair sticks out.
I dislike when honey drips onto the counter.
It's annoying when I forget to put on socks.
How stupid is it when you look up to see all kinds of gross dust and dirt on the miniblinds?!
Ever notice that under certain lights (like in a parking lot), your car appears to be a different color? Then you wander around like an idiot looking for the car that is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.

I dislike when toothpaste spatters on the faucets.
What about when a wall in the house is not quite straight, and when you hang a picture, there is simply no way to make it look right? If you align to the floor, it looks "off" to the seams of the wall. If you align to the wallpaper, it looks weird to the floor.

What about when a shirt shrinks, but only top-to-bottom, so they're still wide enough, but keep pulling up above your waistline?

And that gross crusty gunk in your eyes in the morning? Yuck.

So there it is. The morning of my discontent.

Music: From My Perspective

Music has colors. Music has shape and texture.

I can't believe the difference it makes when I can get that concept across to another musician.

Recently, I talked about how the piece, "Syrinx," (by Debussy) can end. It is a very abstract and Impressionist piece, and starts out rather coldly -- kind of silver gray. Thin and metallic. It widens out to a greenish silver, more fluid than flat. Then it dips into a rather hot sensuous orange (where the low triplets are). It swirls in on itself, almost repeating, but not quite -- but it's so swirly, it's difficult to tell if it's same or different. Then it gets fiery and red and very jagged (at the high point). It's narrow and has a thick, plastic skin. You can't puncture it.
Then, the narrow silver gray focus of the beginning is reborn but in a new form. It's now smoky and diffuse and gray. Undefined. Misty. The sun sets on the piece, and the empty gray becomes night.

Another piece, the 3rd Mvt. of Sonata by Taktakishvili, is great for interpretation.

It begins brightly, busily. It's in 6/8, and leaps around from high to low and back. It's a child who is well behaved by the grace of God only. You KNOW it's gonna be up to something soon. It leaves tacks on the teacher's chair.
This child has a diabolical side, but charmingly so. It's brainy and quick, but temperamental. Abruptly, in the middle, it is in a deep, imaginary Grimm's-Fairy-Tale forest, where it's worried about the Big Bad Wolf. It hides, it runs, it plots. The Wolf creeps and smirks and idly leans against a tree trunk, waiting to be noticed.
Then, just as rapidly, the kid is back in the kindergarten classroom, high on sugar from the birthday cake. Up, down, back up, all around. The child gets hyper-focused and repeats the same word Over. And. Over (this is the pianissimo high Cs repeated over the piano's melody). At long last, the horrible child wears out and falls into an exhausted sleep.

This is what happens in my mind as I play and as I teach.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Music Is Its Own Reward

You know, I get irked. 
Irked, I tells ya!

When some parent or student says that "music is GREAT for raising SAT scores!"
Next, we'll be hearing that Flute Playing leads to colon health. 

Who.  Cares?

Isn't the music enough? Isn't the sublime experience of letting all your bajillions of synapses float on a sea of sound enough?

[BTW: did you know that if you plopped your brain in the blender, it would come out to roughly 6 cups of material?  I'm just sayin'.]

So anyway.

When I teach, I love to let the music teach the instrument.  I don't bother teaching scales and arpeggios (to the younger kids -- college students, yes).  I teach music.  If I sense a student has issues with some note combinations, I work on Vivaldi or Mozart of Perilhou or Rodrigo.  I find MUSIC that makes the idea of becoming fluent in these combinations ATTRACTIVE.  How Borrrring are scales?  Yet ask a kid to play "Joy to the World" in several keys (using different starting notes), they get intrigued.  "Can I do it?  how does it sound?"

Then they do it.  ANd they have just focused on the music, not the scale.

I hate when people make music boring.  Pedantic.  Methodical.

Let the damned MUSIC make musicians. 

Why Not?

An older lady just walked by me and was singing something, going "doo DOOP dee doop dee DOOOP!"  It made me smile.

My dad keeps doing such nice things for my mom.  She was taking a nap, and he went out and bought a lit-up garland and hung it on the mantel, then he lit a fire, made lunch and turned on all the twinkle lights in the family room for her.  Can we have an "awwwww"?  When she woke up, he brought her lunch and they sat out there and admired the pretty lights and the fire.

Also, my dad stole a TREE.

Yes, he did.

There's some construction going on near their house and he noticed a whole stand of beautiful saplings that had vivid red berries on the tips of the branches.  These saplings were right in the path of the bulldozers, so one day he packed a small hand-saw in his van, drove out there and right on Rt. 83, cut down one of the trees, shoved it in his van and brought it home.  They put it up in the family room in a Christmas tree stand, bedecked it with little LED lights and a few tiny ornaments and there it stands. 

I love the 'what the heck, why not?' aspect of my dad.

Which is why I held a midnight snowball fight when we found out the kids were going to have a snow day a few days ago.  Then I made them hot chocolate at 12:15 a.m.  It was awesome.  They were so delighted.  So was I.


It's almost Solstice!  Yay!  I love this time of year.  I also love Solstice rituals.  I have my own, and sometimes go to other people's.  It's so beautifully cold and crisp and shivery and dark.

Dr. Smartypants and I were talking about rituals recently.  I had gone to an Episcopal church to play a gig, and was amazed by the level of ritual there.  The minister (priest?) bowed every time he said the words "Jesus Christ" and they rang bells and whatnot, the choir processed up the aisle and back around to their seats, and the little acolyte girls lit candles while wearing their white robes. 

I was bemused and perplexed by my reaction.  It was "seriously?  You actually get on your knees?  You cross yourselves?  Then you go and act like you do outside of church?"

We discussed the point of ritual, after Dr. S said that he didn't really have a problem with rituals.  I said that I had a problem with mindless, meaningless rituals.  I thought for a bit, and then said that I thought of a ritual that meant something to me, but would not mean much to anyone else. 

Set the mental stage:
Musicians get dressed all in black (men in tuxedos).  They arrive at the usual time, and get their instruments, warm up a bit in the dressing rooms, then leave all their 'worldly' goods and go to the stage with just the instrument and the music.
The go to the semi-lit stage with the rows of chairs and stands.  The sit in their pre-planned, earned places.  There is a hierarchy.  The audience is rustling around, preparing too.  They have the programs in their hands, and are dressed up, anticipating.  They know what happens next.  Onstage, the musicians continue their warm up, preparing their thoughts for the night.  They are still individuals, but are moving toward unity. The house lights blink, and the audience settles in.  The house lights go down, and the musicians' warmup ends.  The concertmaster comes to the front to the applause of the audience, and the acknowledgment of the orchestra.  The musicians shuffle their feet, the string players sometimes tap their bows lightly on their stands.  He stands, back to the audience, and nods at the oboist, who sounds the unifying A.  This is the moment the orchestra members cease to be individuals.  The concertmaster's back to the audience also divides the players from the consumers.  This is the only moment that is for the musicians alone.  The players all unify into one pitch, one sound.  The audience is in darkness.  Then the conductor comes to the front, again witht he audience applauding and the musicians shuffling and tapping.  He gestures to the orchestra, and they stand, ending the shuffling/tapping sounds.  He is the bridge between music and audience.  He makes no sounds, but controls the audience's access to the sound.

For the next hour or two, the music tells its own story, and the musicians submerge themselves in the greater organism that is the orchestra.  Soloists are heard, but always in context.  The audience hears the total of the music, not the individual elements. 
As the last note is played, all eyes -- orchestra and audience -- are on the conductor, who gestures to end the piece.  There is a beat or two of ecstatic silence, during which time stops.  The sounds of the recent past are hovering in the mind's ear, and all are joined by the music-full silence.  No one breathes.  Then the conductor's baton lowers, and the spell is over, the circle is broken.  The orchestra stands one last time as a group, as a family, as an organism.  The conductor bows, the audience applauds, and the individuals are released from their covenant.

The lights go up.  The audience breaks into a thousand smaller pieces, all stretching, chatting, becoming individuals again.  The orchestra disassembles their instruments, thoughts returning to family, dinner, bills, dogs, dishes.  They remove their uniform black clothing, donning again the garb of everyday individuals.  They break apart and fan out, each to his or her own path. 

This ritual is significant to me, as are all of its smaller incarnations.  Each step is as vital as the candles being lit or the choir processing to their seats.  There may be no incense, but there is a odor of sanctity.  The smell of rosin on bows, of the wooden stage under the spotlights, the leather music folders.  There is no raising of sacred vessels, but there is the tap of the white wooden baton, the shuffle of feet, the hum of the percussionist to the timpani to check intonation.  There is the scrape of a cellist re-positioning her peg on the floor, the whisk of the swab in the clarinet in long rests. 

This is the ritual that means something to me.

Weirdly Clear to Me

You know in that weird Claymation-esque Rudolph movie where suddenly Santa realizes that Rudy's nose glows, but there's this FOG which apparently only a RED light from a REINDEER would penetrate? 

Up to that point, Santa's a bit of  a douchebag.

I mean, he's all "Hey, Donner, your boy is a WeIRDO!  Keep him AWAY!  Ew!"

Then it's all "Oh, we neeeeeed you Rudolph."

It's like when somebody's so fat that you don't want him around UNTIL your nuclear power plant gets a leak and only Fat Man Flab will stop the snowball-effect Nuclear Meltdown.  THen it's all, "Hey Fatty!  You're so WONDERFUL!"

It sickens me just a tad.

I think Rudolph should have been all, "Bite me, Santa.  Fair weather friend.  I don't need you, asshole.  Clarisse and I are going to Tahiti.  Buh-bye, old man.  Good luck."

A Day of Judging, lest I be judged. Or something.

Yesterday I listened to 56 high school flutists in the Detroit area.  As I drove out there the night before, I enjoyed the fact that I was going to a hotel by myself for a night, and that I wasn't in the nervous frenzy that I assume most of the performer were in.  I remember that night-before-contest feeling.  It's wonderful and awful.

As i sat in the hotel, on the bed (which I totally checked for bedbugs, I'll have you know.  I googled it.), I again thought of those 56 kids cleaning their flutes, checking their copies, figuring out what to wear.  And I sat and Epilady'd my legs and gave myself a facial and watched Grey's Anatomy on Netflix.  Then I painted my nails (metallic silver, fyi) and used a PedEgg to file off a few pounds of grody dead skin from my heels and toes.  Blechh.  it was very relaxing to just do all that boring girly stuff all by myself.  And I kept marveling at the difference there is, being on the 'other side of the desk,' so to speak.  I wonder if even ONE of the competitors considered that the judge might be thinking of THEM that tense night before.  I was sending them good vibes, wishing them well, and hoping they weren't being too afraid of who _I_ might be.  Would they get the scary, mean judge?  The boring one?  The smelly ugly one? (hey - it happens)

Then, charmingly, at about 2 a.m., one of my neighbors started arguing with the woman he was with.  yelling.  I ignored it for a while, but at about 3, I called the desk and asked them to please deal with it.  "OH!  Well, if anyone ELSE complains, we'll sure come up and talk to them."

... um.  Anyone ELSE?  Gah.

I turned up the fan on the heater to high to muffle the shouting and rolled over.  Sleep must have come somewhere around 4.  I had scheduled a wakeup call at 6, and set my cellphone alarm to 6:15 for some snoozing.  I got a call at 6:35.  Cellphone's ringer was turned OFFFFF.  I must have STEPPED on it during the night when I got uup to adjust the fan.  I needed to be AT the meeting for judges (15 minutes away) at 7:15.  BLAHHHH!  And I sorely needed a shower.

Quickest shower in memory... semi-dried the hair, was glad to find I had some bobby pins in my travel case, so pinned up some rolled-up pieces of hair into something resembling a 'do, dried and curled the front and a bit in the back, and remembered to toss my makeup in my purse so I could do it at the red lights.

No breakfast to be seen (thanks a lot, Day's Inn.  hide the damn breakfast room), so off I went.  To find the car frozen shut.  Michigan in January =  AWESOME.  Couldn't find address for contest, so had to get on my phone and check email, which took time, as I seemed to be in a reception black hole.  Sigh.

On the road at 7:03.  Snowwwy and icy.  Shit.  Slapped on powder base and very red lipstick at redlights, put in earrings while carefully driving on a straight part of the road.  Eyeliner at next red light.  Fluffed hair that was finally drying while driving, then slopped on some amethyst eyeshadow to match earrings at next light.  Decided against taking off glasses to do mascara, because it was too icy. 

Arrived at the location (whew) and found a spot RIGHT OUT FRONT.  Which I thanked Ganesh (or whoever is keeping track of karmic parking coincidences this week) for that.  Rummaged around for my cell charger (naturally the phone had gotten unplugged last night when I stepped on it), and then dashed in.  Remembered too late that I was still wearing my black everyday clumpy shoes, not my pretty kitten heeled silver with rhinestone sparklies pumps.  Decided I didn't care. 

Found what I thought was the judge room, but everybody looked all colorful and happy and chatty.  Whoops.  Volunteer room.  They pointed me to the _next room_ full of middle-aged men mostly in dark suits and (horrifyingly) women in sweaters with music-themed appliques.  (WHY would an adult wear such an item?  I don't care how cold it might be.  NO saxophones and eighth notes on clothing.  NONE. Please.)  They were all sitting in chairs with music stands pulled up in front of them, busily pre-signing the comment sheets (a good practice, which I quickly did as well).  The food was better in this room.  Yogurt, bagels, donuts and pastries, fruit.  Bottled water! Coffee!  The other room was just a gallon jug of OJ and some boxed donuts.  Perks of the job, I guess.

Apparently in my rush, I sat in the "piano judge" section.  You see, these things tend to fall into the following categories:
  • Piano people (thin, neat, high-strung, cheerful.  Often wearing cardigans and carrying large tote bags of supplies like hand sanitizer, nail clippers, metronomes, tissues, Tums.)
  • String people (Asian or frumpy late-middle aged white, loudly talking about suzuki and NASTA, often wearing woolen shawls, sometimes guilty of having violin-themed accessories like earrings)
  • Band Directors or Retired Band Directors (middle aged to elderly men in Republican suits, glad-handing each other and bellowing manly comments, ignoring anyone else.  often wear a lapel pin showing an association to a music fraternity, a team or university, or social lodge like the Elks)
  • Young/New Enthusiasts (mostly men, but some more group-sports type women; very clean. Respectfully and conspicuously  listening to the BDs, but then breaking off into smaller groups, and gossiping about people they know from college and high school.  Often casting furtive glances at the BDs to make sure they haven't left yet. These are usually either student teachers or first/second year band/orchestra teachers.  Many just graduated from the local universities.)
  • The Girls (usually woodwind people, some who teach in schools part time, or are private teachers.  Usually the best dressed, with makeup reflecting the actual current trends.  Eyeing each other competitively.)
I was running late, so I didn't bother to move.  Plus, I hate "the Girls."  I don't need that crap.  I'm here to get paid.

Now, I just got invited to judge this contest maybe 2 weeks ago.  Another flute teacher in my town (who mostly retired from flute to run an import store in town) HAD been contracted to do it, but her store was moving to a new location and the move was happening this weekend.  So they called me to sub.  IMagine my excitement to be the Backup Judge.  Sigh.

So I had to go through each and every of the 56 sheets and sign each sheet, And I had to carefully cross out HER name and print my name below.  Yeah.  Made me feel so vital to the system.  "Hey KID.  You got the SECOND CHOICE judge today! Congrats!"

So much more to tell.  I am cold though, and must go warm up.  (note to self: get space heater for basement)

Cant' Get This Analogy Out of My Head

Hey - bear with me.  This is a not-fully-processed thought.

In music, we either phrase notes TOWARD something or AWAY FROM something. 
Not all "towards" are the same, just like not all "aways" are the same. 

Think of this:

in Autumn, there is burnished richness, comfort, harvesting.  A time for gathering warmth to yourself, preparation, closeness.Then you are moving towards the winter solstice.  You are settling in, preparing for night.  There is anticipation, but it's more like regret, or dread.  Hunkering down. Then, there's the moment of being still -- the moment of the deepest part of winter.  There is no motion, only dark. 

Then, you are freed from the darkness, and are sliding away from all that tension.  Released.  The energy of the release allows you to coast towards light, towards growth, towards green.  It's all openness and relaxation.  Possibilities.  You arrive at the spring Equinox, and there you balance perfectly on the head of a pin.  No motion, just balance and stillness. 

Following that, you move towards summer.  Anticipation, excitement, fertility, growth.  You are energized and focused on where you are going.  It's a powerful motion forward.  There is increasing depth and richness, luxury.  Complexity and tangles.  Heat.  It inevitably climaxes at Summer Solstice.  You stand still at last, baking, panting, jubilant.  Triumph.

Then relief.  Bathed in the satisfied glow of a job hard-won, basking in the triumph, you accept your congratulations, you sit down with a cool drink, you let the rush of giddy power ebb away.  You're not ready yet for a new adventure.  Time slows.  You start to get organized, knowing you will have a job to start soon.  There's the cool in the air, the smell of leaves and pencils.  It's time to put away the lawnchairs.  Autumn Equinox poises you -- holds you back for one moment, before the ice.  Neither here nor there.

[Being the] Hairy East German Judge

  • Jan. 18th, 2011 at 10:20 AM

It's 8 a.m.  My room monitor lady (RML) who is a local band director AND a (former - probably) Very Good Flutist is efficiently bustling about. 

The first students enter.  They are panicky and worried looking.  I try to reassure, but know it does no good.  They won't see me through the haze of adrenaline.  I get it.  So I just keep smiling, hoping that their parents will later mention this to the hysterical kid.

It begins.  Some boring 'chosen by band director' kind of piece.  Crappy accompaniment.  Bleh.  I sip my coffee in its styrofoam non-recyclable cup (why do they do this?), nibble on my donut.  Smile some more.  I have to remember to get up from my chair and talk to the kid -- who won't remember a thing because of adrenaline-amnesia.  Whatever.  I direct my comments mostly towards the parents who might be able to regurgitate them to the kids later.

And so it goes.  All high schoolers, but WILDLY different levels of ability.  I hear two truly abysmal entries back-to-back.  First one is a flute duo which CLEARLY hadn't played together (successfully) before this morning.  Out of tune.  Utterly unrelated tempi, rather different interpretations of the key signature.  It was a standard 18th-century gavotte and minuet.  I should say, it was WRITTEN as a standard gavotte and minuet.  It came out sounding rather 21st century John Cage. 
When they finished, I looked  at them and then decided just to say it. "Well.  I'm not going to snow you here.  I know you didn't really work this out together.  Or probably by yourselves.  I cannot really comment on how you played this piece because .... there isn't much to say.  I can, however, talk about how to improve your Flute Playing." and then I did.  Embouchure, breathing, etc.  When that was done, I said, "when you both actually learn your parts individually, then work together intelligently, learning the piece, that's when you bring a piece to contest.  Better luck next time!"

They got the first III of the day.  Technically, there are 5 scores they could get, 1 being highest, 5 being worst.  I have given a few 5s, some 4s and plenty of 3s.  Most judges ONLY ever give 1s or 2s.  Ever.  I don't believe in inflation. 
Now, a performance has to be incredibly HORRIFYINGLY awful to be a 5.  For example: last year, 3 high school flutists played Edelweiss (from Sound of Music).  This is SUCH an easy piece.  It was in 3/4 time, and had 1 or 2 flats.  Can't remember.  The shortest note was maybe an 8th or 16th note (in the "blossom of snow" part).  Mostly quarters.  Well.
One girl played it in 4/4/ time.  One played it in MINOR.  It was so unrecognizable that I was actually flipping through the book to see if maybe they were all playing different PIECES.  They got to the end (each at a different time), then smiled at each other. 
My jaw was twitching withthe effort it took to keep it from dropping unattractively.  I smiled and told them "I must tell you, I can completely tell that you -- none of you-- have done any work on this at all.  I don't want you to think that you fooled me.  You didn't.  That being said, I will give you some suggestions on how to be better flutists.  I will not comment on this piece at all, because there's nothing to say."
And I gave them the 5 they so richly deserved.
Damn, that felt good.

But returning to this weekend.  The next flutist played a very popular piece (Bizet's Minuet de L'arlesienne fyi).  It's in 3/4, 3 flats. 
She played it in times ranging from 2/4 to 9/4 to 3/8.  Her sound was good, her notes were about 60%. But the rhythm?  HOLY CRAP.  The pianist didn't even attempt to follow her after the first few lines.  This is a LONG piece.
When she was done, I smiled.  I started with "Your sound is lovely today.  And this is a great flute piece you chose.  Now, you know it's in 3/4 time?  That means that there are 3 beats. In each measure.  Only.  I get the sense that you learned the notes, but were just kind of hoping for the best when it came to the rhythm.  That's not going to do it. "  I gave her some examples of how one might learn rhythm (counting, conducting, etc.) and reminded her that rhythm is the backbone of all music, and that it's not optional.  And that perhaps learning the notes -- all ofthem -- is also not optional.  And I delivered the final blow.  "A good sound like yours is wasted when you can't actually play the music.  Don't let this continue.  It would be a shame.  Good luck with your studies in music."

I smiled the whole time, and truly tried to be helpful, but good GOD. 

After that I heard several 2-rated pieces.  By 10 am I had given about 8 2s, 4 1s and 2 3s.  At this p9oint, my room monitor closed the door (there was noone in the room with us) and said, "I don't know how to say this, but ... you're really REALLY not supposed to give 3s.  It's just not done.  Here, we try to encourage as many students as possible to go to State (you only go to state if you get a 1)."  My jaw did its "try not to drop" twitching thing again.  She continued, "The other judges don't give out 3s.  Really -- we're trying to ENCOURAGE the students to come back in the future."
I stared silently at her.  WTF?  She asked me if I was new to judging. 


I smiled and said, "well.  Thank you for informing me of that.  I believe in encouraging students.  I encourage them to see the truth."

Then I got up to sharpen my pencils.  She opened the door and let in the next student.

Over the day, I gave a total of 6 3s.  Not bad, really.  There were no entries that truly justified 4 or 5, but I was ready to give them if necessary. 

I felt her lips purse, heard her little snuffle of disapproval each time she got a sheet from me that wasn't a 1.  WHen I handed her the ones with the 3s on them, she stood next to my desk for a few beats of silence while she perused my grades and my comments (which she wasn't supposed to be reading, except to check that I filled out the form correctly).  I smiled.


I'm struggling with the idea of effort.

I WANT to work out and get healthy.  But I'm realistic and know that unless I actually work up a sweat, it's not going to make much of a difference.  I will keep doing the bits and pieces I'm doing, but I need to really find a way to put some effort in.

A few weeks ago, I went through a teaching trend where I wanted to show my students what real effort was.  So we would choose a new piece for them and I'd work them through a section of it with the intensity and thoroughness that _I_ would use if I had to play it on a concert that weekend.

For instance,
a little Aria from the Baroque.

Looked it over for form.  Looked at the markings, the patterns.  Marked in what I like to call "invisibles," which are (example) whole steps that are in the middle of a bunch of chromatics, or recurring accidentals that would be easy to miss.  Or rhythms that resemble previous ones, but aren't the same.  Figured out the key, and identified likely modulations (to the relative minor, to neighbor keys, etc.).
ALL OF THIS was before we even picked up the flutes.

Worked through some of the tough rhythmic spots while counting aloud and fingering but not playing.  Examined difficult spots for possible alternate fingerings, etc.

Played slowly, no ornaments.  Played phrase at a time.  Looked for target notes, looked for melodic lines within the busy stuff.

Played again, but with ornaments.  Dissected the ornaments once I played them, deciding if I did them right, and if they sounded graceful or did I need to change something.  Played again, but with different approaches -- just to be sure I liked my final choice.

Then played again, arching the phrase, choosing dynamic levels, vibrato, colors, nuance.

That was all for ONE small section. 

Then I'd stop and look at the kid and say, "Lot of work, right?"
They'd emphatically agree.  They would usually say, "Why didn't you just play it?"

And then I'd say, "because then I'd be a complete amateur."

I'd briefly explain that there's a reason I sound so good when I play.  It's the hours of intense preparation, thought, decision making, and experimentation that I have done in over 30 years of playing.  That's why SO many people who play instruments are NOT excellent musicians.  THey play.  That's fine.  But do they put in the EFFORT NECESSARY to really pull off performance after performance?

I remind them that EFFORT makes the difference.  Not winging it.  Not "going by instinct," although that's certainly an element.  No.  It's thoughtful, "on your own" preparation that does it.

And they are aghast.  They think that being a musician is just Playing.  I hope they understand that what I'm trying to show them is that even without magical inspiration, music is awesome.  You make it awesome.  It's not magic. It's not!  And it's NOT easy.  Not a bit.  It's DAMNED HARD.

Which makes it wonderful.

A Great Bringing-Together

If I do what I intend to do, you may soon see a large number of posts here.  Over the last few years, I have begun various blogs here and there, and discontinued them for whatever reason.  I'd like to pluck the best writing from each and deposit them here. 

When relevant, I'll include the original date of writing.  If not relevant, I won't bother.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Labyrinth of the Mind

This is the form of the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.  If you're not terribly familiar with these, you might think this is a maze.  It's totally not.  There is one way in (look at the bottom).  There are no choices to be made.  Just follow the path.  It leads you to the center, where there is a small open space.  Then you turn around and walk back through the labyrinth and out again.

What's the point, you might wonder.  If there are no "wrong turns" or "dead ends" isn't it boring?
Well, I suppose it could be so.  But ... it's really an amazing experience.

 FIRST: get thee to this link:
You can find labyrinths of many sizes, forms, materials, and locations. Go. Walk a labyrinth.

Now, back to me.  Because this is MY blog, that's why.
Several years ago, I was a fairly new mom to two kids, and unbeknownst to me, I was deep in post-partum depression.  A friend of a friend handed me a brochure about a women's retreat weekend.  Although it was held on the grounds of the Motherhouse of our local convent, it was not a faith-based weekend, although it was definitely spiritual in nature.  It was ... exquisite.  I, in my mid-30s, was the youngest woman there by a good 30 years.  I shall have to write about the entirety of the weekend someday, but suffice it to say that the meditations involved dancing, singing on the syllable of our choice ("Om," for instance), and lots of red wine and bawdy stories told while in our jammies. 

One afternoon, we broke up to do some individual time.  Some went to nap, some to walk in the gardens, some to pray in the church.  I went up to the outdoor labyrinth.  It was simply grass with the pattern laid in pavers on the ground, and the path was grass.  It was rather large -- at least -- well, I have no idea.  It's big. 

I had no idea what I was supposed to do.  Go fast?  Go in lock-step like you would in a wedding, going down an aisle?  I saw two old women (they were nuns, I found out later) sitting on a bench nearby, and asked them.  They said that you stand at the entrance for a moment, holding your prayer, request, concern, or just desire for peace in your mind.  You breathe mindfully and walk "as you will," they said.  So I breathed in, out.  I didn't know what to meditate on, so I just thought about all the good and peace and divine sparks out there in the universe.  As I breathed in, I took in what the universe was willing to give me (I thought to myself, "Heal me.").  As I breathed out, I tried to send out my divine spark to the rest of the world ("Heal you.").  Over and over and over again. 
I was unconsciously raising and lowering my hands (up for inhale, down and out for exhale) as I walked.  At first my thoughts were speeding -- worrying about how stupid I must look to those old ladies; worrying about if I was doing this right; thinking about my kids, my husband, my job -- and at some point, somewhere in the Labyrinth, there was calm. 

I got to the center, and as the old ladies had told me, I faced each of the four directions in turn, and meditated.  I looked to the West and thought of all the souls in that direction, and asked for their love, strength, kindness, for a bit of themselves.  I faced the East, and acknowledged all the divine sparks that were being carefully nurtured.  Facing North, I sent out my spirit to the divine sparks that were being trampled upon, dimmed, flickering.  When I at last turned to the South, I gave myself permission to admit that I hadn't been listening to myself in a long, long time.  My own spark was so far underground, so far below my level of awareness, that it didn't really matter if it was lit or guttering in the wind or a wildfire.  If I never looked for it or felt for it, its presence was useless.

On the return journey, I did the same thing.  Inhale: Heal me.  Exhale: Heal you.  Over and over.  My hands floated before me, connected by breath and spirit. 

I finally reached the opening to the rest of the world, and I turned around and bowed my head.  My heart whispered a "thank you" to the divine sparks in all of us that led me to that place, that day, that thought.

The old women were gone by the time I finished, but I heard later from another woman at the retreat that the nuns had said to her, "I just witnessed a lady do the most transformational Labyrinth-walk.  It made me serene to watch her."

Heal you.  Heal me.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mental Lint: Giant Bonsai

I was reading Jen on the Edge's post
(I'm sure there's a way to do that in a nicer, prettier way, but this is the best I've got for now) and it inspired me.

Anyway -- I realized that I have some schnibbles of ideas drifting around, and it's helpful to just corral them into one place.

Several years ago, my husband, Dr. Smartypantz, picked up Bonsai as a hobby.  If you don't know, it involves taking little tiny trees and making them (over a long period of time) look like really BIG, OLD trees.  It involves wires, teeny little cutters, and cute little pots.

For example:

Aren't they sweet?

Sadly, Dr. S tends to kill them well before they get to the adorable stage.  Sigh.  Well, his talents lie in other areas.  Like baking chocolate cookies.

Anyway.  We went out for dinner one night, leaving kiddo #1 with a babysitter!  Blissful adult time!  So we went to a sushi place in our little Indiana town.

As we pulled up, I admired some beautiful, gnarled trees in front of the restaurant.
Like this, but not this.

"Look!  GIANT BONSAI!" I cried.

The hubs looked at the Giant Bonsai, and shook his head.  I heard him sigh, "Hon? They just call those things 'trees.'"

Oh. Yeah.

Neglect = Haiku

I realized that I haven't composed a (an?) haiku for rather a long while.  So, let's see what happens.

Dog sleeps on my knee.
Fire crackles, wind gusts.So bored.
I need to get out.

(admittedly not my best effort)

Beets make my pee pink.
There's a fancy name for that.
It's 'beeturia.'

(getting better?)

Windy fall morning
Laughing at neighbors' raked leaves.
House sounds like kazoo.


Use wilting veggies!
"Leftover Soup" so thrifty.
Asking for ptomaine?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Inspired Cooking

I have been bored with cooking lately.  BORED, I tells ya.  I was resorting to canned soups, fast food, cold cut sandwiches, and so on.  Not pretty.

So, to solve the problem -- to jumpstart myself, if you will -- I went to the farmers' market yesterday. 

Wow.  The haul?
A small tub of goat cheese
Heirloom tomatoes
little bitty beets
small flaky potatoes
small cauliflower
some hot peppers (a variety)
bok choi
butter lettuce
3 crab rangoons (I ate them in the car on the way home)
a Jamaican chicken pie
chocolate chip cookies

So, what did I do with my treasures?

Roast the beets, spread the goat cheese on some rough bread and grilled it, tossed the lettuce with red wine vinegar, layered the salad, added sliced tomatoes.

Scrubbed and roasted the little potatoes with olive oil and sea salt.
Served with Jamaican chicken pie and slices of cucumbers.

slices of eggplant, grill them.
Layer with goat cheese (that I will mix with chopped parsley, rosemary, garlic), and sliced tomatoes.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Scatter toasted whole almonds.

Smash and then thinly slice lemongrass
Add to rice, which I'll prepare with some peas and onions.
Stirfry sliced bok choi, carrots, cauliflower, garlic, and some hot peppers.  Soy sauce, fish sauce, and a scrambled egg to finish it off.

It's not really cooking.  It's assembly.  But who CARES?  It's awesome.

Oh, and for tonight's snack:
Saltines spread with goat cheese, then topped with thin slices of an apple we just picked at an orchard near us.  Oh yeah.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Color of the Rest of the Universe that is Not Made Yet

Confusing, yet?

Simon (aged 7) asked me,
"Mama? What is the color of the part of the Universe that is not made yet?"

I did that thing where you open your mouth to answer, and you stall out silently, eyes all screwed up, tongue tapping your canine tooth, thoughtful.

"The what?"

"Science teacher said that the Universe is expanding.  Into nothingness.  So, if the Universe is all blackness and planets and stuff, then what color is the UN-made part?"

Tap, tap, tap goes the tongue on the tooth.

"Isn't it black too?"

"No, Mama.  That's the part of the Universe that's already MADE."


"Sounds like a great question to ask your teacher tomorrow.  I have to go lay down in the grass and try not to fall up into the sky now."

Lullabies Are My Downfall [Worst Parent Award Goes To...]

I have many downfalls.  (Downsfall?)  Anyway-

Among them is that I have fairly poor recall for song lyrics.  Actually, that's not quite true.  It's really that I tend to not bother to try to recall the words if they don't immediately come to me.  I'd rather just make up new ones or just switch, mid-stream, to another song.  Over the years, that has led to many interesting -- and often wildly inappropriate -- songs being sung to my children.

"Lullabye, and good night, ....
la lala la la ....ummmmm...
... and Iiiiiiiii ain't got NoBODY [NOBODY!]
Nobody! Cares for me! No BODY! NOBODY!
'Cause I'm just a gigolo, everybody knows....
AND Iiiiiiii - ain't got NOBODY!"

I come by this honestly, though.  My mother tells me that HER mother (a fine upstanding citizen, member of the Order of the Eastern Star and such) would sing to her such ditties as,

"Show me the way to go home.
I'm tired and I wanna go to bed.
I hadda little drink about an hour ago
and it went right to myyyyy head...."

So, she sang it to me.  And I sang it to my babies.  There's nothing quite like singing a drinking song to your brand new infant in the middle of the night, when you're nearly asleep on your feet.  You get quite soulful with it, actually.
"Wherever I mayyyy roooaaaaaam...
O'er land or sea or foam,
You will always hear me singin' this song:
Show me the wayyy to goooo hoooome."

I'd start out singing a Winnie The Pooh song,
"Oh I'm so rumbly,
in my tumbly,
annnnd I'm rumbly
iiiiiin my .... tumbly."

and the next thing you know?

The hottest spot north of Havana!"


"Rockabye baby
In the treetop,
when the wind blows....
ummmm..... lala la la laaaaa....

Let your body... moooove to the music!"

So it shouldn't have been a surprise when I was driving one morning with my then-toddler Allie in the back seat, and the song "Just A Gigolo" comes on;

"And Iiiiiiiii
ain't got noBODY!"

from the backseat, a little voice chimes in,
David Lee Roth, "Just a Gigolo"

Friday, October 7, 2011

Were I the Empress of the Universe

Here is a list of rules I would immediately institute, were I in charge of everything (as I should be):

1. No fleas on dogs. Ever.
2. Each 10 years, you get a do-over for some significant event.
3. We each get our own personal roads. 
4. Alcoholic beverages should be full of vitamins.
5. Massage each week.  No charge.
6. Children would like to go to bed.
7. There really would be a laundry fairy.
8. House elves too. 
9. Flowers would grow more easily than crabgrass.

Please note that this is not an inclusive list.  There may be more.