Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Well, thankfully (heh), and finally, Thanksgiving Break is upon us. This little bit of break, this measly three days is actually quite amazing in the solitary fact that it is just this: a break.

Now I went to to see how they defined the word "break" and got a plethora of meanings, so I chose one which I thought best fit this situation: "a rush away from a place; an attempt to escape: a break for freedom." I especially like their italicized use of the word. I do feel like this is a break for freedom.

At the end of the day on Tuesday, I'd never seen so many people break for freedom as I did with not only my students, but my teacher friends. To those that I have talked to, we all have felt for ages (and by ages I mean since school started) like we're working our selves to the bone. We see our students come to us tired by their classes. Our students see us tired by our classes. At this point in the year we are all very, very ready for break.

The English would call it "holiday". Going on holiday is just about right too, because it's Thanksgiving that we're celebrating here. We are called to be thankful for things, not just now, but all year long. Here are seven (it's a good number) things that I'm thankful for!

1) I am thankful for breaks. After working and working and not getting a chance to turn my brain off, I finally have the chance to rest, recharge, and spend time with family and friends, some of whom I haven't seen in a while.

2) I am thankful for warm houses. When it's cold out there, I am especially thankful for the warmth that central heating brings, but I'm not actually talking about central heating. I'm talking about family warmth. I enjoy knowing my family and seeing them. Being welcomed into my in-laws' home and fed and watered by them, shows me that they love me, and they love my husband. I love to see them. Warm hearts are even warmer than warm homes.

3) I am thankful for food. Good food is just amazing. It makes me hopeful, it brings family together, it shows loving care from the ones who made it. It shows love towards the ones whom it was made for.

4) I'm thankful for my students. I love seeing them hard at work and knowing that they listen to what I have to say and think that it is important. They bring light to my day, even though at the same time I sometimes want to strangle them because they are so annoying and do some very stupid things.

5) I'm thankful for my family. They love me and I wouldn't be the same if I weren't blessed with them.

6) I'm thankful that God has given me life, not only here on earth, but in him as well. So many of the things that I go through I wouldn't be able to withstand without his help.

7) I'm thankful for sleep. Sleep seems to be the one thing that doesn't come very quickly during the normal week day. Michael and I go to bed at 9ish and get up at 5:15 every morning on school days. This break, or holiday, will be nice simply because sleep should come in abundance. :)

What are you thankful for?


Monday, November 12, 2012

Verbal Pictures are better than None

So, it's Monday, the day after Veteran's Day, and Michael and I have had the day off. Three day weekends are fantastic, especially when there are things to do. Currently he's playing guitar and singing softly to himself. He's singing our song, the song he serenaded me with. It's hard to believe that in two days it will have been four months to the day since he tied me to himself permanently, and I returned the favor.

It's been close to a year since he last sang this song to me with a guitar in hand. Sure, we've sung the song to a recording in the car on the way places, but now, it's got a better, new meaning. God has been infinitely good in that period between last December 31st and now. I know I'm sounding sentimental, but I can't help it. He's playing the song that he used to ask me to marry him.

There's a lot I could say, but I think there's more that could be said without words. I wish I had pictures. I'm not good at taking pictures. But because I don't have pictures I can post, here are some verbal pictures.

We were massively blessed with our pre-marital counseling. They gave us good advice on how to say "I'm sorry." Michael and I haven't really fought, because we started out as best friends, knowing how to communicate fairly well, but we've had disagreements, and sometimes we've purposefully hurt each other because we want our way and haven't been thinking of the other person and the best thing for them. Our counseling counseled (heh) us to apologize quickly, to not go to bed angry, and when we apologize to think through the root problem behind why we hurt the other person and to admit that to them in an effort to help heal the relationship. It has worked so well, knowing that the other person actually dislikes what they've done, realizes they're wrong, and wants to fix it.

(He's playing "Call Me Maybe" on the guitar now. He gets a goofy look on his face that I love every time he's satisfied with himself and thinks he's funny. He's always funny. :-) Complained when I actually did call him.)

There are some evenings where I'll be reading a book and he'll just put his head in my lap and go to sleep as I read. It doesn't help when I rub his head, but then, his hair is right there and it's soft! Then there are evenings when we're doing totally different things, but he sits on his side of my couch and I sit on mine with my feet on the couch stretched out towards him, and he rubs my toes without really thinking about it. It's peaceful knowing that my best friend is able to relax with me, unlike he wouldn't before we were married.

(He just bounced through "Just the way you are" and is now playing and singing "Hey Soul Sister". Apparently he's playing all the love songs on the radio that he can think of right now. Then he looks at me with these faux-googly eyes and then giggles a little.)

Last but not least: In the last 4 months we've had several people over to our small apartment to eat and play games. Several people in our church, a couple family members, and some friends. The picture I want to leave you with is this: about four people gathered around the table, enjoying home-cooked food, laughing at something and enjoying each others company. There's family-ness and companionship. There's fun and deep friendship. There's good food. This is something I wouldn't miss for the world. We have the chance to create our own family atmosphere and share this with other people around us, blessing them with the love that God has given us for him and for them and for one another.

God has been amazingly gracious to us in these four months. It excites me to see what he is going to do in the next four years, or even four decades. God is o, so very good. :-)

(We've just ended with a joint rendition of "500-miles". Neither of us knew the words, so there was a lot of humming involved. Oh the joys of being a musical family.)

Over and out.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Exciting Moments in Teaching Orchestra 101

Being a(n orchestra) teacher is weird. It's official. It's weird because there are days when I definitely wake up and think to myself "I love my job, I WANT to go to school. I can DEAL with these kids who think I'm there just to torture them. I love my job!" etc. ad nauseam. And then there are days when I really AM excited about going to school and teaching students a subject that I love!

This week has been one of those "ad nauseam" weeks where I'm so weary and worn out that I just don't really want to get out of bed, but know that my students need me, so I drag myself to school anyway. But despite these draggy mornings, God has been gracious. There were several days where I had to ask Him for strength to just get through the drive to school, and He give it. Needless to say, these nasty mornings were capped off by two awesome moments this week. (It's what we teachers live for... the little awesome moments of the week. We're weird that way.)

First awesome moment:

My honors class, period 3 right after lunch, one day this week was eager to watch the video recording I'd made of them during the class before. This particular day they were going to watch the recording of a piece that they'd really taken a liking to and had tried to pull together on their own while I was out sick for a day recently. They had taken to heart what I had been trying to teach them and had tried starting and ending together, breathing together through out and counting like fiends. When I came back from my days' absence, they insisted on playing it for me without me conducting, so when it came time for me to record them it seemed like the best idea all around. They were all for it.

Now we were about to watch the recording of them playing this movement of the piece all by themselves. I asked them to watch their music as they played and watch the video at the same time. As we were watching at times they giggled because they were startled by seeing themselves on camera, other times they grimaced because of something they hadn't heard while playing as a group. One thing is true. The camera doesn't lie. If they played a wrong note, chord, or passage, the camera picked it up and played it right back to them. As we finished the recording and I turned the lights on, they all kind of grimaced at each other and when I asked them what their thoughts were, they shook their heads.

"That was awful!" One girl exploded.

"Our dynamics were sucky, and we were NOT together!" another said, exasperated.

I let them explain one by one their thoughts on the recording and how they could improve and then mentioned a couple thoughts myself (i.e. the camera was built to pick up voice, so it picks up the frequencies of the viola better, and that's why it sounded so loud, etc.). When I was certain we'd covered as much as we could with their recording, the giggling having reached a level that told me that they were out of ideas, I silenced them and told them that we would now listen to a professional recording of the same piece. A couple of them thanked me profusely before I shushed them again and pulled up the recording.

What I saw from that point on was different than anything I'd seen previously. Instead of commenting on things from the recording and having to be shushed for talking, they intently looked at the music and read along, listening like I'd never seen before. Noticing this, I decided like any good teacher to take advantage of the bout of reflectiveness they seemed to be taking and while the music was playing, I grabbed a pack of 3x5 cards and handed one card to each student.

As soon as the music was over, I said quietly, "Now, without talking to anyone else, or discussing this in anyway, I want you to write five descriptive words on the 3x5 card, like 'rich', 'deep', and so on. Five descriptive words about the emotion in this piece. You have about three minutes to do that." After two minutes, "And now, I want you to fold that card in half and put it away. Tuck it in your music, put it on your person, but don't show it to anyone unless you absolutely want to. It's just for you and for you only. I would like you to go home and practice these descriptive words into your music. Then I want you to think about the whole piece we're playing and dedicate each movement to one person. Say I'd dedicate this movement to my grandma, the first movement to my little sister, and so on. I think it would be really cool to share in the concert."

Every single one of the students nodded. Up to this point not one of them had made a sound, which meant that they were unusually focused. I then informed them that we wouldn't be playing the movement we'd just heard today, but that we would be playing another movement from the same piece.  For the rest of the period, my beautiful, wonderful students put their heads down and worked their butts off. We didn't get sidetracked, there was no talking between pauses, and at the end of the class period, two of the comments were, "Man, we really worked hard today!" and "I have an adrenaline rush like you wouldn't believe!" It was gorgeous. I was stunned. In a good way of course.

Awesome moment number two:

Orchestra club meets on fridays from 2:30 to 3:30. It meets in my orchestra room, obviously, but the glorious thing about orchestra club is that all I have to do really is be in the room and help them sort out difficult problems if they need me. Other then that it's all the students. Any student, whether or not they're in an orchestra class can participate, if they have an instrument and musical experience. Now, 90% of the kids in orchestra are actually in orchestra class, so they have me every day, so they hear my teaching and my rants every day ("Breathe and move together!" "Count! Count like a fiend!" "That note was.... .....interesting...." "I'll make you brilliant musicians with just one thing: what's written on the page!!" "I'm not here to teach you to learn to play an instrument, but how to love something and do it well.").

During orchestra club this past friday they decided to sight-read some Christmas music to play for the concert in December and later for a nursing home. It was awesome to hear them putting into practice (and using well) things that I have been asking them to do in my classes since school started. For example:

The music they were trying to sight-read was sounding awful.

"I can't get the key right!" One of the cellos explodes.

"Well, what key are we in?" the violin sitting across from him asks.

"Well, three flats, so that's... E flat major, or C minor..."

"Right, so let's all play the E flat major scale!"

"I don't know how to play the E flat major scale!"

"Well we've been learning how to build a scale in class right? The pattern's Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half!"

And sitting at my desk I got to hear my string-player students very carefully build an E flat major scale and then get the harmony in the song right because of it.

Then at another point, possibly in the very same song, the students had stopped to figure something out, and someone looking at the score said, "Well, cellos have to start us here because they have the downbeat and no one else does."

The lead cellist sighed (no one LIKES starting, to many stares!) and said, "Okay.... One, two, three, go."

Two notes into a poor start, the violinist across from him bursts out, "No! That's not how you start! You have to BREATHE!"

"Fine! One, two, three, *loud inhale*."

"No! Like this!" And two of my seniors demonstrate proper breathing technique to start an ensemble, and suddenly the small orchestra starts together beautifully, all without my help.

All I could do was sit at my desk and hope my cheeks didn't fall off because I was grinning so hard. It's a beautiful day when I can hear my students applying what I've taught them, and succeeding even better because of it.

This is why I teach orchestra.