Tuesday, September 26, 2006


My younger piano students (mostly girls, between the ages of 5 and 10) all receive a sticker at the end of each lesson. I keep a large assortment, and they use them to decorate their lesson books. I must say, this is not entirely selfless on my part -- I get at least as much amusement out of it as they do.

My first lesson on Mondays is with R, a 5-year old blond princess with one of those high, squeaky voices that only a 5-year old blond princess can have. Her parents are from South Africa, and though she has lived here most of her life, she still has a very strong (and adorable) South-African accent, probably due to the fact that she goes to a French-speaking school and doesn't watch much tv, so the only English she really hears on a regular basis is from her parents, who also have accents. In any case, she chooses her stickers in pairs, always with the following week in mind, and the pattern on the cover of her book is completely symmetrical in a way I didn't even know kindergartners were capable of. Two pink fairies in the top corners, two bumblebees in the bottom corners. A tropical fish dead center, and two sparkly butterflies evenly spaced on either side of him. She's very serious about choosing. For example, with the sparkly butterflies (one of which she chose yesterday), she carefully examined each one on the sheet to find one who's color and size closely matched the one she already had, then carefully placed it at a slight angle on the book to create a perfect mirror image.

Next I have E and T, two friends who both have their lessons at E's house every week. E is a year older and usually goes first. She is a very grown-up 3rd grader now, and has been taking lessons quite a bit longer than T, who just started 2nd grade. I often have to subtly and gently remind E that T doesn't need her extremely helpful hints and advice during her lesson. Both of the girls have sticker collections, so they take their stickers and save them to use in art projects or other books later on instead of putting them on their piano books. Not surprisingly, T watches carefully to see what sticker E has chosen and then often chooses the same kind. :)

I buy most of my stickers from the same drugstore, and lots of them are a brand called "Stickeroni," where each sheet has a "bonus" sticker on the bottom left hand corner of a piece of macaroni with arms and legs that somehow matches the theme of the stickers (on the butterfly stickers, the macaroni has a little butterfly net, and on the tropical fish, the macaroni has a scuba mask). A, who comes on Wednesdays, has almost exclusively these macaroni stickers on her book, and is always slightly disappointed if I'm out of them. If macaroni is not an option, she tends to choose small stickers (sea shells or little hearts or stars), which will decorate her book without detracting from her little macaroni family, which takes center stage.

K, my only boy right now, likes to put his stickers on the inside cover of his book, and goes in phases. First, he liked fish, then frogs, and lately he's very in to Sponge Bob Squarepants. Every week, he counts the stickers to see how many lessons he has had in this book, then counts the number of songs left to try to determine how many stickers he will have before he moves on to the next level.

O and S are second-graders and friends who come back to back on Thursdays. They like to spread out all the sheets on the piano bench, so as not to miss any great stickers that might be hiding. Then, they look at their books to see if there are any they don't have yet. Then, they pick the "cutest one." O's little sister, who is 4 and doesn't take piano (yet), often stands quietly nearby and watches, hoping to get a sticker, too. (she usually does -- I'm a softie, what can I say?)

T is the oldest of the bunch (10, and just starting 5th grade), and has been my student since she was 4, when I had just finished graduate school. Needless to say, I have a tender spot in my heart for her, having watched her grow up and progress over the years. She is getting more advanced now, and is no longer using method books, but instead has several books of piano literature and theory, which are decorated with well thought-out scenes. A frog is playing the piano while Spongebob sits on it, singing. A school of fish is swimming through the under-water picture on the front of her theory book, and a family of monkeys is tumbling around through the title of her piano book. Several butterflies are floating in a group, and two fairies are having a conversation over a cup of tea.

Oh, yeah, and occasionally we play the piano, too. :)

Monday, September 18, 2006

a good reminder

I feel almost caught up with the things that piled up while I was away, and fall is in full swing. I started teaching my piano students last week, though this was the first day I saw my Monday students, as I didn't get home until last Monday evening. Most of my students are young beginners, between the ages of 5 and 8, and Mondays are no exception. I like working with the young ones. I seem to have a good rapport with them, and they, for the most part, are happy to be taking lessons and come excited to learn and excited about music, which is really the most important thing to me. However, my last lesson on Mondays this year is a high school student. She took lessons with me for about 6 months a couple of years ago, and now she's back.

Two years ago, she was thirteen years old, and had just moved to Seattle from a suburb where she had been living with her mom. I don't know any details, but I got the impression that the living situation was not ideal, and she and her brother had moved to the city to live with their dad, a single parent. She was starting high school a year early, and in a much more urban environment than she was used to. When I first met her, she was painfully shy, withdrawn, totally uncomfortable in her body, and seemed to be very unhappy. She would occasionally cry in her lessons, not because she was frustrated, but (I think) because music was giving her an outlet that she wasn't getting anywhere else. She loved to play all kinds of music, especially Chopin, and also played the cello. At the end of the school year, she stopped taking lessons, a combination of financial and time reasons, I think, but really wanted to keep playing, so I made her a bunch of photocopies of things that appealed to her from my collection and sent her on her way. I've often thought about her, wondering how she was doing.

About six weeks ago, she called me and wanted to schedule lessons for the fall. Her grandmother had paid for several months of lessons for her birthday. Our first lesson was today. I arrived at her house this afternoon, and the door flew open to reveal a lovely, happy, and confident young woman who was absolutely beaming at the prospect of a piano lesson. She was articulate and well-adjusted and seemed totally comfortable with herself. She had learned several pieces on her own, and was completely excited to get feedback on them and make them better. And, she had made a (long) list of pieces that she wants to learn. I have most of them at home and will bring them next time.

Even now, hours later, I am close to tears thinking about it. Every now and then I'm reminded that the healing and transformative powers of music go so far beyond what I can imagine, and that's why I teach and perform. A good thing to be reminded of at the start of a new year.

Monday, September 11, 2006

all done!

I arrived home from Union this evening -- our final concert (a 9/11 memorial this afternoon) was a success and a great way to end the festival. I've been asked to come back for their Oktoberfest next month for some German lied recitals. It's exciting -- I love giving recitals, and try to do at least one or two a year. Usually, though, I have to put them on myself (finding musicians, choosing music, printing programs and program notes, making translations, finding a space -- it's fun, but quite a job!) and having someone else organizing (and paying me to sing!) will be a real treat.

I'm in that odd space that I often find myself in when coming back from a gig or audition trip. This festival, like many gigs, was an intense experience -- a beautiful setting, lots of great music-making, getting to know some fantastic new friends and colleagues and catching up with old ones. Even though I was only two hours away from home, I've felt a million miles away from "real life," and it's a bit disconcerting being back. Usually, I'm good about keeping up with things while I'm away, and it was my intention to be good about it this time as well. I was pretty successful for the first few days, but I must admit I got caught up in just being in such a lovely place surrounded by lovely people, and as the rehearsals and performances got in to full swing, things started piling up. As a result, I have lots of phone calls and emails to return, applications to finish, piles of music to learn (including some new German lieder -- exciting!), and a messy office to get organized. I'm sure that all this, along with some yoga and meditation, will help me feel grounded again. I find that I always come back from traveling feeling like things have been stirred up inside of me, and often this leads to great periods of introspection and growth as things settle back in new ways, enriched by new experiences. But for tonight anyway, I'll allow myself to relax in front of the tv and veg out a little.

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Burton Music Camp

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I have spent many a July at camp. Alec and I are one of seven married couples who met working there, and it has meaningful in my life in so many ways. Before I went for the first time as a painfully shy 10-year-old camper, I felt like being involved in music at the level I was made me a freak. I had never been around other kids who practiced their instruments, or who wanted to be musicians or music teachers. I worked there from the ages of 17 to 29, and I each summer I saw shy kids who were probably seen as "geeks" in their regular lives making friends and being accepted by their peers, and coming out of their shells in so many wonderful ways. It has changed thousands of kids' lives for the better. I owe so much to my time spent there. In fact, when I was first thinking about trying singing, I was completely terrified of singing alone in front of people. Hiding behind a giant grand piano is completely different than standing alone, facing your audience head on. That summer, I was asked to teach a section of the choir at camp, which required me to sing in front of lots of people everyday. It stretched my boundaries, and by the end of the summer I had no trepidation about it at all. I started taking voice lessons shortly thereafter. Camp has been a constant through the years of my life that were the most filled with change and uncertainty.

Barbara and Neal Porter started Burton Music Camp 34 years ago, and everything about it was Neal's brainchild. His philosophy of a non-competitive, accepting musical atmosphere and individualized attention from trained music educators is unparalleled in any music camp I have seen elsewhere. For all 34 years, they have had an agreement with the same site. Last week, that site decided not to renew the Porters' contract to run music camp there. On Tuesday, I helped them move their music library, instruments, and other things off the site and in to their basement. I am grieving as surely as if I had lost a loved one, and I'm certainly not the only one. I am alternately furious and incredibly sad, and I've found myself bursting in to tears at the drop of a hat for the last few days. Perhaps the biggest slap in the face is that the site intends to run music camp, using the Porters' camp as a model, under the same name, without them. This is their legal right, as the Porters worked, technically, as employees of the camp, never filing for non-profit status of their own. However, it is heart-breaking, especially because nobody at the site knows the first thing about running a music camp. As for the Porters, they are looking for another site, which is a challenge to say the least, but I have to believe that what they have worked for is too special for it not to live on, and there is a perfect site out there somewhere for them. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers, and if you know of any great camps in Washington or Oregon, pass on the word!

Monday, September 4, 2006


We've finished our first week in Union, and the festival continues to go well. One of my favorite parts of participating in music festivals as opposed to individual productions is the opportunity to go to lots of great concerts given by friends and colleagues. This particular festival has lots of creative programming, and this week I've heard pieces by Dominick Argento, John Cage, Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, Alan Hovahness, and Lee Hoiby, among others, along with lots of Copland. Among my favorites this week has been the performances of two 1-person chamber operas. The first, Lee Hoiby's Bon Appetit! is written for mezzo-soprano and chamber orchestra, and is taken almost verbatim from an episode of Julia Child's tv show, where she's making a chocolate cake. It's hilarious, and definitely a role I'd love to do someday. It may be at least a couple of years before I'd make a believable Julia Child, though. The second, Dominick Argento's A Waterbird Talk, is based on a story by Anton Chekhov, and is written for solo baritone and chamber orchestra. A man is giving a talk on waterbirds in his living room, and over the course of the talk we gain insights in to his life, specifically his relationship with his verbally abusive wife. Baritone Robert Orth has been here performing, and I've so enjoyed getting to know him and watching him onstage. His performance is hysterically funny and completely heart-wrenching at the same time. He's totally captivating onstage, and it's wonderful to get to watch someone like that in such an intimate setting (the hall seats about 80 people). I feel like I'm learning a lot everytime I see him. The festival kicked off with a vocal recital by the two opera artists, and he delivered the funniest rendition of Copland's I Bought Me a Cat that I've ever seen. In addition, he's kept us entertained at meals all week (a read of his dark bio will give you some insight in to his sense of humor).

We get a few days off now until next weekend's concerts start, so I'm headed home to relax -- lots has been happening this week, both at the festival and in the rest of life, and I'm exhausted. A visit home to see my husband and kitty will definitely do me good. :)