Monday, December 8, 2008

NCSSM String Orchestra at Orange Grove Baptist

Hi all -
Today, I would like to tell you a bit about a cool performance that the NCSSM Orchestra did on Sunday, December 7 at Orange Grove Baptist Church in Durham. I have to say, it was one of the most appreciative audiences that I have ever performed for! I had a great time and it was a great experience for my whole group.

First, a little background. About 3 weeks ago, I received a phone call from
Marlon West, Minister of Music at Orange Grove Missionary Baptist Church. He explained to me that the another orchestra had been planning on accompanying his choir for a December 7 performance, but the conductor had been having some physical problems and the group had to cancel. He wondered if my ensemble could accompany them on the Hallelujah Chorus (Handel), and the Vivaldi Gloria, as well as do a couple of featured pieces on the program.

As I looked at the calendar and contemplaed what this meant in terms of rehearsals and time, I thought that there could be a couple of real benefits to doing this. First, it would provide a concrete goal early in the 2nd trimester. We would learn some new music and perform it in a very short time frame. Second, it would most-likely be the only baroque era music that we would be doing this year. And, I do feel a responsibility to select music from a broad range of eras over the course of a school year. Third, and maybe most importantly, this would provide some great real-world experience for my students. They would have to prepare new literature, put it together with a different conductor and choral ensemble, and perform it in a space that they will have only heard on the day of the performance. There are many unknowns in that equasion and the only way to learn how it goes is to actually do it. As it turned out, there were many other benefits to the performance, and I will get to them later.

So, I said "yes" and we began our preparations right away. As I got to know Marlon via phone calls and e-mails, it became apparent to me right away that he is a man with a gentle spirit and I just loved all of our contact. We dedided that the orchestra would perform the Messiah Overture (a great baroque instrumental work that has a slow introduction and an Allegro Fugue. It isn't long, but it is powerful.) and the "Dargason" movement of the St. Paul Suite by Gustav Holst. (It is an allegro movement that features an English folksong that is eventually superimposed with "Greensleaves." I figured that the "Greensleaves" theme would be "Christmassy enough to make it viable for this performance.)

Marlon brought his choir over to NCSSM last Tuesday night for a brief rehearsal. It went great. I think the Orange Grove kids really enjoyed it and I know that the NCSSM kids did as well.

Which brings us to the performance yesterday. Phillip Riggs and I picked the kids up at NCSSM at 3:00 for a 3:30 reheasal at Orange Grove. we made it over there right on time and got into our places. The sanctuary is a nice size, but still we had to work around their set-up. It was a great experience to see the NCSSM students trying to figure out how to really make this work. He had a brief dress-rehearsal wth the choir and before we knew it, we were finished. We headed to our room for cases and coats and waited for the performance. the folks at the church provided us with bottled water and some finger food while we waited. During that time, I had a really nice conversation with one of my students regarding the way that art and creativity feed ones interest in academics and vice versa. I was mindful of what a great goup of kids I am working with. They hung out in the room, talked quietly, and enjoyed each others' company.

We headed dwonstairs for the performance and got ready to go. There were several introduction and many foks had an opportunity to speak. It was a really cool experience to watch and [participate in the service and to watch my students' reactions to all that was going on.

The orchestra played marvelously. I had asked the students to focus on "depth of sound" as they played the Overture and they certainly did that. I also had the opportunity to intoduce the piece and briefly discussed the concept of anticipation as it reales to the Overture of The Messiah. That seemed to resonate with my musicians and they really made the concept come to life. When I introduced the Dargason movement to the audience, I mentioned that they would be hearing the tune of "Greensleaves." As we performed it, the tune REALLY carried and sang. It was magnificent! I must admit, I don't think that I have ever performed for a more appreciative audience. The ovation seemed to go on forever as we finished. I am so glad that my student experienced it!

Interestingly, through all of the events of the day and the weeks leading up to it, I couldn't help but to think that, yet again, it all comes down to relationships. My new relationship with Marlon West is one that I know will last for many years. The relatioinships between my students were strengthened by the common experience. My relationship with them was strengthened as well. And, I feel like we all started new relationships through music with everyone that was in attendance that evening. How cool!

As we enter the holiday season, I wish for you a renewed appreciation for the relationships in your life. Remember that the folks that you encounter all through your day are important, too. And, I know that I will endeavor to show my appreciation for the folks around me the way that the folks at Orange Grove showed their appreciation for my orchestra. for some reason, this weekend I was reminded: Do unto others....


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Putting Your Effects in Order

Hey all -
Check out a recent article that I wrote for Teen Strings magazine.

For those of you that are electric violinists - I hope it is helpful!!


Sunday, November 30, 2008

25th High School Reunion Indiana HS Class of 1983

On Friday night, I attended my 25th high school reunion. I had a great time. It was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends and to make some new ones, too. I am not one of those folks that has bad memories of high school. I had a great time. I truly value the relationships that I established there and always look forward to these type of events.

I have 4 particularly close friends from high school and stay in relatively close touch with each of them. We try to get our families together about once a year and have enjoyed watching each others' kids continue to grow and develop into the great young people that we expect them to. Our wives have become friends over the years and these family friendships are important to all of us. Three of the 5 guys in that crowd were able to make it to this gathering and that group served as "home base" for us and for our wives throughout the night.

Other than that crew, I particularly enjoyed rekindling 2 friendships from 25 years ago. First, I spent a good deal of time catching up with Dean, a friend that I remember particularly from band, but I think we were in several other classes together as well. He has two beautiful kids, a wonderful wife, and works in the software industry. We just seemed to connect on a cool level and I will look forward to communicating with him as we move forward. The connection on this evening was a common interest in the music of Jean Luc Ponty, the famous electric violinist. It seems Dean began listening to Ponty's music as a 10th grader. I had no idea. I began listening to his music sometime in Jr. High and have been a fan ever since. Dean's parents were both educators like mine and I suspect that our families were somewhat similar. His kids are into music and so are mine. I am not surprised that Dean and I reconnected at this reunion, but I am glad that we did.

The other conversation that was particularly enlightening, was with Valerie. I remember Valerie to be a quiet, really nice girl. But, I really didn't know her that well. Near the end of the evening, I had the chance to ask her what she was up to lately. She reluctantly told me that she was in Boston and after I pressed a bit, I found out that she works in the Harvard Graduate School of Education is interested in career theory and understanding the employment market as it relates to today's higher education student. We had a brief, but interesting, converstation about our work and definitely found a strong common interest in education. I hope that we will continue our dialog in the future. I know that I can learn alot from her.

The night was certainly another reminder to me that relationships are so important. It is so important to be open to to the relationships that come our way. How many opportunities we have to learn about other places, people, and ideas. And, really, we just have to be open to seeing those opportunities when they arise.

I wonder who I'll meet this week? i wonder what I'll learn this week? I can't wait to find out!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Beethoven Symphony No. 5

Tonight, my orchestra was rehearsing Symphony No. 5, by Beethoven. What a gas! I love conducting Beethoven. I really can't think of anything better. His passion and fire are evident every time I jump into his music as a player, listener, or conductor. I am privileged to participate in it.

I just love it when a student group begins to feel the emotion of a work. That happened tonight. The moment was near the end of the 1st movement when the strings play a unison half note, tied to an eighth and then three separate eighths. This pattern repeats several times. We spent a few minutes going over the correct bow placement and bow-lifting routine and then put it together. I explained that the tied eighth really sounds like a rest. It was fantastic to see their reaction when they heard it really work. And, you could see it in the faces of the wind section as well. They knew it, too! For the rest of rehearsal, they just got it. I'd like to take some credit for it, but I can't. It is the magic of Beethoven, the power and passion of Beethoven.

This performance can't come soon enough. I just can't wait.

I had a busy day today and am glad it ended with this!


Monday, October 13, 2008

Why do we "do" music?

This past weekend, I had two opportunities is make some great music as part of a group. First, on Saturday night, the NCSSM String Quartet (4 of my students) were scheduled to play for an alumni function at Hope Valley County Club. One of the violinists had a last minute schedule conflict and it was too late to prepare another student for the event. I agreed to play. We played for almost 2 hours and did primarily Mozart String Quartets. I played first violin and really enjoyed myself. It had been quite a while since I had played really good string quartet music with an ensemble that wasn't just playing the standard gig or wedding music. What a pleasure it was to play Mozart String Quartets that actually required preparation and practice to pull off in a musical and expressive manner. There was a real feeling of satisfaction as we finished up for the night. We had played a fine performance.

On Sunday, I put on my improv hat and headed out to a gig at the Piedmont Restaurant to play for Sunday Brunch. I work at Piedmont regularly with Willie Painter and Keith Guile. This week, Willie was out of town and Keith invited his friend and bassist, Robert Truesdale to sit in. We played a fair amount of music that was new to me and I had an opportunity to test my aural and improv chops for a couple of hours. Much like Saturday night, it was a blast. We had such a good time making music and I walked away from the gig with such a great feeling of satisfaction.

This brings me to my thought for today. What is it about music that keeps bring us back as both players and listeners. It certainly fills avoid in our lives and thoughts. Something quite satisfying happens when we listen to great music, when we play music. People are compelled to spend billions of dollars each year on recorded music, concert tickets, and musical instruments. We invest hundreds of hours each year in practicing, listening, and discussing music and performers. And, I am not talking about professionals. Let's take the pros out of the equation. Something is definitely going on in the brain when we play and listen to music. What is it that compels us to invest so much in the pursuit?

Certainly, music is different than most other activities. It requires study, practice, and preparation much like any other worthwhile pursuit. One thing that makes it unique is the fact that it is timed. If we are performing music, there is no time for pondering or considering our next move. The pulse will not wait. The closest activity to which I can compare this is timed sports. In football, the play begins and the player must hit every mark in order to be successful. In track and field, the gun goes off and the runner must perform every move perfectly in order to win or even complete the race. The athlete must prepare ahead of time in order to do these things at the tempo required for success. Just like the musician.

Here is another thought. I teach a course in piano and guitar. This course attracts students from all ends of the experience spectrum. Some of my students are quite experienced in the discipline of piano or guitar and take the course to build practice time into their busy schedules at NCSSM. But, a greater percentage of my students in that course are beginners. They are kids that just want to learn the skill of playing an instrument and they are starting from scratch. Some of them are brilliant kids that struggle to play little tunes such as Jingle Bells and Merrily We Roll Along. But, they invest the time in the pursuit. the are drawn to the complexity of the activity. They are drawn to the notion that they can't just "learn" it by reading the concepts in a book. they have to first comprehend the activity and then, they must perform it. And, not only perform it, but perform it in time, in rhythm. Most of them succeed. Certainly, they succeed in varying degrees, but succeed they do. Regardless, I am always amazed by theri degree of determination and drive. Very few give up. There must be something there that they need as humans. There is some extra bang for the academic buck that you get from music. Otherwise, why would so many be willing to invest ther time in it?

My son has the bug. He comes home from school every day and goes straight for the instruments. Some days it is his violin and others it is his bass. Still others, his brother's drums. but, he goes to music most days. I did it, too, as a kid. I would wear out the piano after school nearly every day. I would wear out my LP records nearly every night. I would go to sleep listening to WDVD in Pittsburgh every night and wake up to it in the morning.

I have an old frind that is a brilliant scholar. He made his career in music, however. He told me once that, "Music is the only thing that I ever really had to work at to be good." I think of that statement frequently and wonder if that is part of the appeal. I am certain that it isn't the whole story. Part of it, at least, is much deeper. It is emotion. It is connection to feelings. It is aesthetics. But, i am sure that part of it is what it does to our brains. There is so much there to process.

I read a book this summer entitled, This is Your Brain on Music. Let me encourage you to read it. It really sheds some insights into what is going on in our brain during the pursuit of music. It definitely gives some answers. but, for me, it also creates new questions. How cool is that?
Until next time....



Sunday, September 28, 2008

Extended Weekend/ Energy

It is Extended Weekend at NCSSM. These are weekends that are built into the NCSSM calendar that permit students to get home for an extra day over the weekend to rest up, see family, visit with friends, and generally reconnect with home. I noticed that my classes on Friday were particularly distant and clearly, the students were already letting their minds wander to the events of the weekend, rather than the tasks at hand. I understand that. It is normal to anticipate a long weekend a little early.

The thing is, I have noticed a large number of unresponsive students this year. Don't get me wrong. They are not disrespectful, unprepared, disruptive, or unwilling to work. Quite the contrary. They couldn't be nicer. But, in many ways, there is a wave of unresponsive students. I am really not sure why. But, here is my best guess. I think they are tired. Actually, we are all tired. I am convinced that we are all just exhausted in many ways. We are physiclaly exhaused from lack of sleep and busy schedules. We are mentally tired from working hard and thinking hard from the time we wake up to the minute we go to bed at night. We are emotionally exhaused from trying to do our best in all that we do. We all want to achieve and it takes energy. It takes physical, emotional, and mental energy.

So here is my thought for the day. Even when we are tired, we have to find the energy for every activity of the day. We have to approach everything as if we are rested and ready to go. Even if we aren't. After all, if we don't give it our best, with our best effort, what will we really get out of the activity. There are many days that I get going and just feel like I need another hour of sleep. But, by the time I get to work and my first class, I give it all that I have. I find the energy. I approach the class with the same energy that I expect to receive in return from my students. this doesn't happen without effort. One must make a conscious effort to be energetic.

I see it in orchestra the most. In order to make a wonderful sound, the musician must play with energy. It can be seen in theri posture, bow use, left hand, and can be heard in their tone and facility. Even if the players don't feel energetic, they must still play with energy. They must still rehearse with physical, mental, and emotional energy.

So, as you return to school on Tuesday, or to work on Monday, find your energy. Prepare yourself to give it everything. Give it your physical energy, mental energy, and emotional energy. Without it, you are short-changing yourself. And, trust me, your teachers, coworkers, and family will appreciate the effort.

Have a great week! May you find your energy.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Seating Auditions are Traumatic

Seating auditions are traumatic. Anyone that has ever played in an orchestra knows it. A musician's seating is a concrete expression of a musician's "rank" in the ensemble and one really can't hide from the number. (1st chair, 2nd chair, 14th chair, etc.)

I have to constantly remind my ensembles that auditions are like a snapshot. Sometimes photos give a very true impression of a person's image. Sometimes our eyes are crossed and we look horrible. Other times, we see a shot a person that just makes them look fantastic. They are all the same person, but that snapshot can go either way. Auditions are similar. Sometimes we go into an audition, get nervous, and end up being the subject of an audition "photo" that depicts our eyes crossed and hair totally messed up. Other times, we show better that we actually are. but, in the long run, generally speaking, the image is still us and we give some kind of general impression of the player that we are.

The beauty of the ensemble is this: once the auditions are over, we all have the same responsibilities - to prepare our parts, participate in rehearsals, lead from any chair, and work to be as intagral a member of the group as everyone else. Seating order ultimately does not matter. Yes, it provides a tangible "rank." But it really doesn't change anything. We are an ensemble. And, by definition, it is all about the entire group. Ensembles are only successful when everyone understands their importance to the sum and committs to that concept. (Just think of the last time you watched a dance ensemble performance where one of the dancers didn't operate at the same level as the rest of the group. Ruined the effect - didn't it.) He is where I usually go into sports analogies and the need for team play, but I will spare you that sermon today.

My orchestra received their seating on Wednesday right before rehearsal. It was a weird rehearsal that day. Players were getting used to their new stand partner, adjusting to the reality of that new "ranking" that they had just received, and generally getting comfortable. I really hope that today is better. This is such a fantastic group of musicians and I have such high expectations for the year.

For now, we move on as an ensemble. Seating doesn't matter. That is the first key to success as an orchestra. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Now we get to the real work of developing musicianship, artistry, technique, repertoire, and a commitment to the goals at hand. I will enjoy the journey!



Tour to Tanglewood

Last weekend, 23 students and 8 faculty and parents participated in the Tour To Tanglewood MS Bike tour and had a great ride. Hurricane Hannah put a damper on the Saturday portion of the ride, so we just had one day on the bikes. Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day and eveyrone had a great ride. Most of our crew rode 50 miles in the rolling hills of the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area. A few of us opted for the 75 mile route.

On a personal note, I had a great ride. It was a great day. I felt fantastic through the first 60 miles. If I am totally honest, the last 15 was a little more work. It started to get hot about that time and my legs started to cramp a bit after our last rest-stop with 10 miles to go. I was glad to see the finish line.

This weekend, after Family Day on NCSSM on Saturday, I am heading to New Bern to ride in the 2nd day of their event and plan for another 75 miles. The New Bern ride is much easier be cause of the flat terrain. I can't wait to get there!

To all who are supporting my efforts with the MS society, thanks so much. It is important work and your support means so much!!

Thanks and ride safe!



Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Orchestra is My Favorite Class

This week, my son started middle school. He is 11 years old and in the 6th grade. He has been so excited to get started and finally, the big day came on Monday. I thought about him all day as imagined what kind of exciting things must be going on for him. Did he get lost in the hallways? Was he late to any classes? Did he like his teachers?

He called me as soon as he got home from school on Monday. It had been a great day! The first things I heard about were the larger portions of food in the cafeteria than the elementary school had. And choices! He had Salisbury steak and rice! Yum! Also, the locker was a big deal. He mastered the art of opening a combination lock on day 1.

But the kicker was this one. I asked what his favorite class was. He immediately responded, "Oh that's easy. Orchestra." Well, wasn't I proud. Of course it was orchestra. So, I decided to press on a bit. "Why?" I asked. "Because the teacher let me go to the restroom without a hall pass!"

Here we go. Middle School is upon us. I really used to feel like I understood the kid. But, if I have learned anything as a teacher in the last 20 plus years, I know this. The next couple of years will be an adventure. For him and for me. Bring it on. Let's have this adventure together!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cycling to Make a Difference

This fall, I am, once again, riding in the MS Bike Tour to raise funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Many of you know that about 3 years ago, I started at bike team at the NC School of Science and Math as part of that effort. Over the past 3 years, our team has raised over $30,000.00 for the MS society and over 75 students, parents and faculty members have gotten involved. This year, Team NCSSM will have team members at two different MS rides. One is in the Greensboro, NC area (Tour to Tanglewood) on September 6-7 and the other is in New Bern, NC on September 13-14. I will be riding in both of these events.

As many of you know, MS has touched my family and we have certainly benefited from the ongoing research that is supported by fund raisers such as the MS Bike Tour. About 10 years ago, shortly after my oldest son was born, my wife began having trouble with her vision. She was quickly diagnosed with MS and we found ourselves completely unsure of exactly what that meant for her longterm health, our "plans" for more children and our future as a family. Over the past 10 years, Barbra has been fortunate to have very few major difficulties and our family life has remained vibrant, exciting, and healthy. We now have 3 sons and you would never know that Barbra had MS to see her. We feel very blessed to be in this situation. Not all MS patients are so fortunate. Much of that health that Barbra enjoys can be attributed to the medications that she takes (Beta Seron) and the research that is ongoing in the area of Multiple Sclerosis. I can tell you first hand that the MS medications that have been developed in the past 10 years have done wonders for folks that are afflicted with the disease. Beta Seron wasn't around when Barbra was initially diagnosed.

Initially, as the spouse, I felt very helpless. I knew that I would support her in whatever she encountered. (Although, I didn't really know what that might be.) But, there wasn't much else that I could do. A former student, who was an avid mountain biker, came to me and told me that he wanted to ride in an MS 150 bike tour in support of Barbra. I had never done any distance riding at that point, but I had a bike and felt like that was something that I could do. I knew how to ride a bike and at least I would be doing something. Students and parents from my former school stepped up and that spring, with their support, I raised over $5000 and rode in the event with my friend and former student, Mike Gray. I remember that we were riding mountain bikes with knobby tires that made a loud whirring sound as we flew down the road and all of the road cyclists kept remarking about our overall speed and determination. I think I had tears in my eyes for well over half of that ride. I can't tell you how important that ride was to me as the husband of a newly diagnosed MS patient. Over the years, I have participated in at least one MS Bike Tour event every summer and sometimes two or three. I have graduated to road cycling as well as mountain biking and have logged thousands of miles over the years.

This post is not intended to be a request for donations. I simply want you know know about the efforts and the background behind my commitment to the MS Bike Tours. Of course, if you want to donate, you are welcome to do so through the linked pages and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. If your are interested in tracking my progress with fund raising or the efforts of Team NCSSM, I have a separate page for each of the events in which I am riding. Our team page is linked to my personal pages. They are:
Many of you have contributed to this effort in the past and I so appreciate your ongoing support.
I am so excited to be riding with students at NCSSM. It is my mission to get them involved in supporting the National MS Society and introducing them to the joys and health of cycling. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to e-mail me or comment on this post and I will occasionally be posting notes about my training and the events here.
Thanks to all of you for your continued support and friendship and your support for the MS Society.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Don Houpe

Today, I found out that my friend and colleague at NCSSM, Don Houpe, passed away last night. Don taught Spanish and French as well as Esperanto at NCSSM. He was also the Foreign Language Coordinator for the school. Don was a wonderful man and exceptional teacher in so many ways. He had a gentle manner and always had a pleasant word in the hallway. Everyone that knew Don, loved him. He was sort-of an old school guy in all the best ways. He loved his students and his subject matter. He was a great role model for me as a teacher. He was dedicated to this institution and proud of the folks that he worked with. He also loved music and loved to discuss various composers and musical experiences. I think he was partial to Strauss.

I had the pleasure of sitting down to breakfast with Don last Friday. We had a great conversation about the past summer and the upcoming school-year. I am glad that we spent that time together.

Last spring, Don need to have an audio cassette transferred to CD. I ran into him in the library, trying to figure out the computer set-up in there. He wasn't going to ask me to do the transfer for him. He never would. Fortunately, I had a little bit of time and offered to take it over to my office and take care of it. Don really appreciated it and came over while I was doing some of the work. We chatted for quite some time about his house in Virginia, Esperanto, the upcoming summer, and life at NCSSM. I will cherish the memories that I have of Don. He was a wonderful man and a true role model.

I hope that you all have a Don Houpe in your life at some point. If you do, tell them that you appreciate them. Life is fleeting. Take the time to be a friend now. You don't always get to do it tomorrow.


First Day of Class

Today was the first day of class for the 2008-2009 NCSSM Orchestra. It is a great group of students that all seem eager to get started. I love the first day. It is filled with anticipation of the work that is ahead of us and the great fun of meeting each other for the first time. One might think that I, as the conductor would talk about the literature that we are going to play, our rehearsal and seating procedures, and various other "orchestra" topics. But, no. Today, I went philosophical on them right from the beginning.

Back in February, I spoke to a group of orchestra teachers at a conference in Albuquerque. Following my session, one of the attendees came up and enthusiastically recommended that I read the book, Better, A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande. I read the book this summer and loved many of the concepts that were presented. Since I teach at the NC School of Science and Math and many of my students will find themselves in the medical field following graduation, I thought that starting the year in orchestra with a book by a surgeon about medicine might surprise inspire them.

At the end of the book, Gawande offers 5 suggestions for making a worthy difference. I decided to challenge my students with his suggestions. They are:
1. Ask an unscripted question
2. Don't complain
3. Count something
4. Write something
5. Change

Let me say a few words about each of these as they apply to my student and the NCSSM Orchestra.

1. Ask an unscripted questions. Think about everything that you do in orchestra. Ask the question that others haven't thought of. Don't just sit back and let the information come to you. But, instead, be proactive in your thought Be unique in your thought. Be inquisitive in all that you do. Ask the unscripted questions every day.

2. Don't complain. Instead, work to make things better. Nobody wants to hear me complain. And, nobody wants to hear you complain. Instead, work to change the tide. Work to make things better.

3. Count something. Be a scientist in all that you do. Don't let opportunities to find trend pass you by. If today you missed 5 of the c naturals in a passage, tomorrow only miss 4. Count something.

4. Write something. Back in 1988, noted string educator Jacqueline Dillon told me that the way to have impact in the field of string education boiled down to one word. Write. Share your ideas. Write something that is creative. Start a blog? Just write something! Her advise to me has carried me in many ways to this point in my career. I really do believe she was right. Gawande must know the same thing. I want my students to know it, too.

5. Change. Be willing to try new things. Try new music, new styles, new practice methods. Just be willing to change. Be the first one to change, too. Don't be the skeptic. Be the front runner. if it doesn't work, it isn't the end of the world. Just be willing to change and look for opportunities to change.

So, there you go. That, in a nutshell, was the first day of class for the 2008-2009 NCSSM Orchestra. I think they get it. Do you?


Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Beginnings

I spent the morning weloming new students to NCSSM on "Jr. Move-In Day." It was great to be the first person to greet the vanloads of Moms, Dads, students, brothers, sisters, and in some cases, more relatives as they pulled onto the NCSSM campus to begin their new life there. Some folks were visibly nervous, others emotional. Everyone was excited at the prospect of things to come in the new school-year. There were definitely tons of musicians filing into the dorms. Of course, that made me happy! It was also a new beginning for some of the faculty at NCSSM. My new colleague in the music department was there to help with the move-in as well. It was great to see him meeting that new 11th grade band students with whom he will be working. At the end of the morning, he told me he "sure was having fun!" What more could I ask for? It is going to be a great year.

While I was at NCSSM welcoming in the new students, my wife and kids were at my kindergartener's preschool, picking up pinecones and participating in the annual "clean-up day" before school starts. He can't wait to get started! I have a 2nd grader that can't wait to find out who his new homeroom teacher and soccer coach will be. This afternoon, my 11 year old son received his team and class assignments in the mail today as he prepares for his first year of middle school. We looked over his classes, called friends to compare team assignments, and made carpool arrangments.

I think this is one of the reasons that I love teaching so much. I love the new beginnings. The year is filled with possibilities. Anything can happen. And, today, as we anticipate the new school-year, all we can imagine are the great experiences that everyone will have. What music will we program this year? Who will be in his classes? How many wins will we have? What great new concepts will fill up our minds and hearts?

I sure had fun today. It was great to meet so many nice families. I will certainly do my best to help fulfill the promise of this new beginning for the students at my school and for the kids in my family. I hope we can all keep this day in mind throughout the school-year. It was a good one!


Thursday, August 14, 2008

So much to admire, so much to learn

Tonight, in the Olympic broadcast, Bob Costas said, "Even though our countries have fundamental differences, there is so much to admire in the people of China and so much to learn from them."

What an important statement with broad implications. Even though groups of people may have fundamental differences, there is always something to admire. There is always something to learn from each other. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we could always keep that in mind? Wouldn't we better teachers if we could always keep that in mind? Better friends. Better citizens. Better community members. Better people.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cycling makes me better

Ok - lets get this out of the way- I am not fast. At least by cycling standards I am not fast. By non cycling standards, I am fine. I just got home from a fantastic 27 mile ride. It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I can't think of a better way to spend some of it. I averaged about 16 mph today and that is a really good day for me when riding alone.

I just love what riding provides for me. Obviously, it is great exercise and it definitely makes me feel a little better about that dish of ice cream that I am sure I will have later today. But, there is so much more to it.

I love the personal challenges that it provides me. I love hills and the challenge of not down-shifting too early. The idea is to maintain your power and speed as long as possible before down-shifting and, ultimately, slowing down when ascending hills. It takes a great deal of willpower not to down-shift too early. But, if you can focus on maintaining your speed and power long enough, hills become less daunting and your goal (the top of the hill) is attained with significantly less pain and suffering! There are great lessons to be learned on hills that pertain to so much of life.

Another great benefit for me is the time alone with my thoughts that an hour or two on a bike provides. I spend so much of my life "switched on" while working with students that it is just great to get on the bike and just think for a while. This morning, our pastor encouraged us to consider the landmarks of faithfulness in our lives. That is, the places that we can encounter God's grace in our lives. For me, my bike is that place. On my bike, I am able to appreciate the beauty of the world around me: the wind, sun, rain, grass, trees, winding roads, beautiful homes. I could go on and on. In this environment, I can be thankful, meditative, prayerful, reflective, reverent, and even creative. Yes - in many ways, my bike is a landmark of faithfulness in my life.

Finally, when I get home after a great ride, I am better. I have more focus and concentration. I am happier and generally more positive. I pay better attention to my kids. I am more attentive to my wife. I feel better. Yesterday and the day before, I spent about 13 hours in a state music educator's association board meeting. Don't get me wrong, the work that we do is important. But, afterwards, I felt terrible. Today, I got on my bike and rode away that 13 hours. I just feel so much better.

Recently, my sister and her daughters have started cycling. I am so proud of her and the girls. She called me a few days ago and told me how much fun they are having and how good this new activity has been for them. I hope that they can find some of the enjoyment and enrichment that I find on a bike. I think they are on their way.

So, if you are considering it, do it. Buy a used bike. Start out slow. Ride around the block. You don't need to break any records. But, trust me when I tell you. Cycling makes me better. Maybe it will make you better, too!


I love the Olympics!

How exciting!
The competition is fantastic. The background stories are inspirational. We can all learn something about perseverance, dedication, commitment to excellence, and true performance from these athletes. Another thing that I love about the Olympics is that, at least on the surface, it isn't about money. I watched the three fencers on the medal stand last night and realized that in all likelihood, they won't be on the a Wheaties box next month. Nor will they make a living in the sport of fencing. They have simply committed to excellence in their area of interest for an intense and extended period of time and they will carry the experience with them for the rest of their lives. It will permeate its way into everything that they do from now on. They will be goal-setters, hard workers, and high achievers at work and at play because they have experienced the results of these traits in a tangible way.

I wish the same for my students. It is my mission to provide them the opportunity to be achievers. It isn't easy. They need to know that great accomplishments only come through great sacrifice. And, that there is always something to be gained by striving for excellence, regardless of the potential financial gain at the end of the line. These are difficult lessons to learn, to internalize. If I am being honest, they are lessons that I need to continue to learn on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

So, it is great to have the Olympics in my living room for a period of time. I am inspired by these athletes in so many ways. I think I'll go for a bike ride.....


Saturday, August 9, 2008

Getting Started

Hi all.
I am just getting started with this. I am totally looking forward to the beginning of the upcoming school year and posting my thoughts on teaching, learning, and music on this space. Please check back often.