Saturday, January 22, 2011

where the music comes from

Here's the text to a song by Lee Hoiby I've been working on recently. It's a really beautiful song, full of joy and humility, and I think the words articulate exactly - or nearly so - my own feelings about the path I chose in my own education (never mind that everything is pretty well stalled at the moment for child-rearing!) I am always second-guessing myself, and wondering if I did the right thing studying piano when I could have gone in so many other directions. Poor Stuart, who has known me since I was a college freshman (!) has heard me time and time again question aloud if I should have gone into science or English or education or anyway, Something Different. Not that it matters now. What matters is what I am doing, which is the afore-mentioned child-rearing with a dabbling of piano whenever I can manage it. But I still want to share the text (and a youtube link) below, because I think that may explain why I keep on keepin' on.


I want to be where the music comes from,
Where the clock stops, where it's now.
I want to be with the friends around me,
Who have found me, who show me how.
I want to sing to the early morning,
See the sunlight melt the snow;
And oh, I want to grow.
I want to wake to the living spirit
Here inside me where it lies.
I want to listen till I can hear it,
Let it guide me, and realize
That I can go with the flow unending,
That is blending, this is real;
And oh, I want to feel.
I want to walk in the earthly garden,
Far from cities, far from fear.
I want to talk to the growing garden,
To the devas*, to the deer,
And to be one with the river flowing,
Breezes blowing, sky above;
And oh, I want to love.

*(Devas, pronounced "day-vas", means nature spirits)

Here's a youtube link to a video with good sound but lousy visual quality of the song being sung.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011


I tried to talk to the kids a little bit about Martin Luther King, Jr. I hesitated to do it because they're so young to be told about things like assassination and political violence. But they are old enough to have a basic grasp of right and wrong, so I gave it a go.

Me: You remember what I told you earlier this morning about today?
Daniel: What.
Me: Today is a holiday, so there's no school and no mail. Do you remember why?
Daniel: Because we're celebrating the birthday of someone who lived a long time ago.
Me: Well, not THAT long ago, about 50 years ago. But do you remember why we celebrate his birthday?
Daniel: Because he worked really hard to...I don't really remember.
Me: You're right. He worked really hard to bring equal rights for everyone. It used to be that only people who look like us with pale skin were allowed to vote and go to certain schools. And it wasn't fair, so this man, Martin Luther King Jr., worked really hard to make things fair. He went to jail for it.
Daniel: He went to JAIL?
Me: Yes, but he wasn't doing bad things. He was trying to make life more fair for everyone.

Then I told him that MLK was shot and killed for what he did, even though he himself never used guns or knives to prove his point. I said that he would get lots of people together to march in the streets and sing about freedom and equality. It was about this time that Daniel lost interest in the conversation and made some random, totally irrelevant observation about the kitchen light. (Anya didn't really pay attention to any of the conversation; I think it's too abstract for her at this age.) That's as far as I went, and for a kid who's not quite five years old, I was surprised he paid attention for that long.

This is a difficult topic, one that I don't know how to address very well at all. I think it's important for my children to understand some things. For instance: they come from a position of distinct privilege (white, middle-class, parents with a whole lot of higher education - you might say excess in my case). They need to be aware of racism and inequalities and unfairness. I do think it's important to learn about these things from their parents, lest they grow up to believe that we are oblivious to these social problems. Or worse, that we think racism ended with the election of Barack Obama.

Can you tell I'm uncomfortable with this topic? I'm afraid if I try to say anything meaningful, it will come out as trite and patronizing, if not downright insulting.

I need some help here, though. As my children grow older, I feel like I need to have more conversations with them about racism and inequalities and unfairness in our society and culture, and I don't know how to do this adequately. Just to say "It's wrong" isn't nearly good enough. So, readers, I turn to you. What do you tell your children? How do you address these topics?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

piano lessons

ETA: Boy, have I enjoyed reading the comments on this post, especially Animal's description of his first piano lesson! I'm not really so opposed to getting Daniel a ukelele before he's ready to be serious about playing it. But the principal of just going out and buying a toy or thing to play with as soon as a kid asks just goes against my better judgement. We have a piano, a fine little upright, and we have several percussion instruments (rhythm sticks, shakers, a little drum), and we have my grown-up sized guitar, so just for playing around and experimenting, Daniel's got a lot to work with. His birthday's in a few weeks, so if I'm still hearing that he wants a little guitar (in other words, if this isn't just a quickly passing phase) I'll certainly consider it. As for the Suzuki suggestions...well, I've got my own pedagogical concerns about that method of learning, which I'm not going to go into here. I will simply say that I'm glad of people who have success with Suzuki, and I'm not dissing on it all together. But it's not for me.

I have been teaching piano lessons since I was a sophomore in college, when I took my first semester of Piano Pedagogy. That was over a decade ago; in fact, when I was recently in Kansas to perform a 4-hand recital with my college professor there, one of the piano students I worked with was my very first piano student, all grown up! She was five when I started her as a beginner, and now she's a freshman in college. How time flies.

When I moved to Madison in 2000, it was for graduate school. At that time, I was very serious about pedagogy and I spent two years getting Masters of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy (kind of a mouthful). After I finished that first degree, I decided that Collaborative Piano was more my speed, so I switched specialties, but I've always had piano students, sometimes as many as a dozen, sometimes just a few. Now I have three, and they've been my students for a long time, since before Daniel was born.

There are definitely some things I could do better as a teacher. I could be more organized. I could definitely be more strict about practice regimens, though my students are in middle and high school, so I'm competing with soccer and tennis and baseball and swimming and homework. And Glee (don't ask). I'd like to be more motivating. I could be more methodical about technique. For all my shortcomings, though, I have pretty good instincts and I always insist on musicality.

One of those instincts says that it is NOT a good idea for children to take music lessons of any kind with their parents. Today, I kind of broke that rule and bought a couple of piano books for Daniel. You see, lately, he's been asking about playing guitar. I have a guitar, though I don't really know how to play it (yet - I will learn someday) and he likes to get it out and "play" it. I made the mistake once of mentioning that ukeleles are just like little guitars, and he responded "Okay. Let's go get one." Nooooo, I replied. You have to read music before you can have a guitar, and the best way to learn to read music is playing the piano. "But I already know how to play the piano," he insisted. Nooooo, I replied. You can make noise on a piano, but you don't know how to play it. This argument went on for some time until I finally said we could get him a piano book for him to learn from, and that's what we did this morning.

We went to the only store left in town that sells print music and I looked through the early beginner method books while the kids wrestled and argued over who got to stand on the step stool. After threatening at least 3 times that if they didn't quiet down and stop fighting we'd leave with nothing, I finally found a decent method (Piano Adventures wins every time, but gosh I could do with a change...though the early beginner books are new to me), so we paid and got out of there as quickly as we could.

Our first "lesson" went just about as I expected. Mostly, Daniel wanted to play with the CD that came with the book, but finally sat down, then immediately got upset when Anya wanted to participate. He stomped off in a huff when I let her have a turn with an improv exercise, then came back when it sounded too fun not to try. Ten minutes or so into our time at the piano (I'd rather not actually call it a lesson since I'm not going to be his teacher) he got wiggly and impatient, so we called it quits until next time.

Boy, this is hard. If he's interested, I want him to pursue that interest. I know I can never really be Daniel's piano teacher - not without disastrous results, anyway - but he's not quite old enough for proper lessons, so for now this is what we're doing. I'm sure there will be plenty of arguments (I never wanted to learn anything from my mom, either), but hopefully he'll learn a few fundamentals before he's ready for the real thing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

random tuesday

1. I haven't gotten my hair cut. Yet. I will, but first I have to decide just how I want it cut. (Thanks for the input, by the way!) I almost called to make an appointment last Saturday morning, but Stuart and I decided to go running instead.

2. I've decided that I really, really like running in cold weather. I'm fortunate that the cold air doesn't bother my lungs as badly as some people. Plus, going outside to do anything when it's 10 degrees out makes me feel pretty dang macho. Especially when I start shedding layers.

3. It finally snowed today. Two weeks ago we had a strange mid-winter thaw for three days that melted most of the snow, and then it got cold again. I didn't realize how much I would miss the snow until it was gone and we couldn't go sledding...or build snowpeople...or shovel random piles in the yard.

4. We may give ice-skating a whirl. There are outdoor skating rinks at parks all over town, and some of them rent ice skates, so Friday afternoon after preschool we've made plans with a friend to try it out. (They've already been, and really like it.) Then again, we may just go sledding instead.

5. I haven't been ice skating since high school. In Kentucky, nothing freezes long enough to skate on (so the outdoor experience is really unfamiliar to me), so if you want to skate on ice, you just go to an indoor rink. I went a few times in high school, maybe with a church youth group (I don't remember for sure) and it took every ounce of energy I had to stay upright. Forget about being graceful. I'm guessing that the passage of more than a decade hasn't improved my skillz one iota.

6. My neighbor tells me that there are ice skates with double blades out there that are kind of like ice skates with training wheels. I wonder if they make those for adults?

7. I also want to try cross-country skiing, which I suspect requires slightly less balance than skating. I hope to rope my friend Claire into teaching me (though she doesn't know it yet...Claire? Whaddaya think?)

8. I think I'm really starting to like Wisconsin winters. Imagine that.

9. Dinner last night was total improv on my part, and it turned out delicious. Even Daniel ate it up and asked for more, and he's the type of kid who won't eat anything willingly that's not a hot dog, a grilled cheese sandwich, or something that came out of a box labeled "Mac'N Cheese." We had red lentils with fresh chapatis. I didn't really measure anything I put in the lentils, but here's my best guess:

Cook 1/2 lb red lentils in 6 cups of water, scooping off the foam when the lentils come to a boil. I had a spice ball with cumin seed and ajwain seed in there as well. When the lentils are soft and cooked through (15 min?), turn off the heat.

Sauté 1 large onion (chopped) in 2 T. oil. When the onion is soft, add a generous amount of chopped garlic (a tablespoon or so), plus 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander and a dash of turmeric and cook a minute longer.

Add the lentils to the onion mixture, plus 1/2 can of coconut milk (roughly 1 cup), 1 cup tomato sauce (I used homemade, but 1 cup canned would do, or diced tomatoes), plus some salt to taste. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes, sprinkle with garam masala, and serve warm with fresh chapati plus cayenne pepper and lime wedges for the grown-ups.

10. Fresh chapatis are so delicious, and so easy. I plan to do a flatbread tutorial on this blog SOON; I hear there is interest. Am I right? Several times a week, we make fresh flatbreads here: flour tortillas, corn tortillas, pita, chapati...even Daniel, who is not yet 5 (not quite) is something of an expert on cooking flatbreads! They are not hard and so very tasty when made fresh, especially compared to pre-packaged varieties. Perhaps this weekend I can take some pictures and/or video to post here.

11. I need book recommendations. I just started Middlesex, which is quite good so far, but soon I'll finish it, and then what? A good novel, that's what I like. Anyone?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

new look?

I think I need a new look.

Most of the time, I feel like I can rise above the pressure modern culture puts on women and its preference for youth. Most of the time, I am reasonably satisfied with how I look. Most of the time, I see the gray hairs and marks of childbearing as evidence of life experience and therefore contributing to my own natural beauty, such as it is. But there are times when my own weakness and vanity comes through - lately, every time I look in the mirror - and I just wish I looked better somehow, spiffier.

Mostly, this isn't a body issue. I feel good. I am healthy. I run regularly, especially in the part of the year with longer daylight hours, I swim in the summer, I bike the kids around when it's not too cold. Eventually, I managed to lose the baby weight, even after a second pregnancy, though there's some postpartum redistribution around the middle I'm not crazy about, but whatever.

No, the problem is my hair, my face, my clothes, all the stuff that makes me appear shallow and vain to care about. I'm most comfortable in jeans and running clothes, so that's what I wear. I own exactly one tube of lipstick that might be a decade old, plus some foundation powder that I only use if I am performing or if someone's getting married. That's about it for make-up. Those things aren't going to change, at least, not until I get the kind of job that pays money and doesn't involve wiping butts and doing laundry for most of the day.

And then there's my hair. It's been sprouting gray, wiry bits around my temples since I was 25, with considerably more frequency since having children. Also it's thinner than it used to be; I'm going to blame pregnancy for that, too. it's straight and limp and I've had the same haircut for a really long time, just in varying lengths. Now it's long enough for a ponytail. I want something different, but I don't want to have to color it or style it. (We didn't even own a hair dryer until two years ago when my husband had to buy one because the car doors were frozen shut and he had to thaw them open to get to work.)

I'm just not sure what to do. Most likely, I'll get over it. But I'm tempted to get my hair cut. Something new and different. With bangs, maybe, or shaping or layers, something I'd eventually regret because it would make me look ridiculous or require me to spend more time on it than the 10 seconds I currently use to run a brush through in the mornings, 10 seconds that I consider optional certain days of the week.