Friday, February 28, 2014

Movie Reviews: The Butler and Now You See Me

Last weekend, I enjoyed some down time and caught up on a couple of movies I had wanted to see for quite a while. I enjoyed both films for very different reasons.

The Butler told the story of one man who escaped the racism of the South to ultimately become a member of the White House staff. The film was a powerful history lesson through the eyes of those who silently watched behind the scenes. I especially enjoyed the depiction of the Civil Rights era and the butler's relationship with President Kennedy. As the story progressed into the 21st century, I felt as though the film became a decidedly political piece. I wasn't offended by the inclusion of Obama's presidency, but I did find it beyond the scope of the movie's basic plot. Honestly, I think The Butler would have been a much more powerful film if it had ended with the lead character's retirement from the White House.

On a completely different plane was Now You See Me. The film tells the story of four magicians who join forces to rob banks during their shows. The cast was spectacular, the effects were amazing, and the film was really fun to watch. I thought I was in for a puff piece when I rented the DVD; I found that the story had been carefully crafted, producing a very enjoyable afternoon. Make sure that you don't miss out on this little gem!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On the Road Again

I spend a lot of time in my car. While I'm still waiting, hoping, and praying for a full-time position, I'm making the best of things and piecing together a career with a few part-time jobs. On most days, I drive 85 miles one way to work. The miles add up, but I'm finding that the benefits of all of my driving greatly outweigh the negative aspects.

My drive time forces me to stay organized. It's no longer an option to run home and pick up a file that I forgot. To get everything done, I have to keep my eyes on the big picture throughout the week and constantly plan ahead. That means I'm practicing when I'm near a piano, grading papers at the computer, and returning phone calls on the road. My time has become very valuable and not something I can afford to waste.

My commute also helps me maintain my daily routine. If I'm going to make it to my next appointment on time, I have to stay on schedule. This necessity demands that I effectively manage my time and that I work smarter. I only have certain hours at MSCC; while I'm there, I have to identify tasks that need immediate attention while avoiding distractions. When I have a short break at Union, I have to identify the passage of music that will most benefit from a few minutes of practice or acknowledge that my body needs a rest before moving to my next project.

What I love most about my drive time is that I get to spend time in a personal sanctuary on wheels. As the road passes under me, I have quiet time to spend with my thoughts, my prayers, and my God. It's a wonderful opportunity to meditate on Scriptures, work out lesson plans, sort through my thoughts, or just listen to the beautiful sound of silence. My time on the road allows me to change hats and prepare for the next task that is ahead.

Don't get me wrong…..there are days that I really don't want to drive another mile. Those days are few and far between because I know that this situation is only for a season. There will come a day (hopefully in the not-too-distant future!) when I will long for the break in my work day that commuting provides. Until that time arrives, I'll keep my seat belt fastened and my cruise control set as I enjoy my quiet times traveling along the roads of Tennessee.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Hits and Misses (February 16-22)

What a week! It's been filled with laughter and tears. Here's a look back…


  • After a very sad start to the week, I was able to attend a concert by the University of Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The concerto winners were incredibly talented and the music was beautiful. It was a needed respite in the midst of a stormy few days.
  • The Olympic Games had their final week of competition in Sochi, Russia. I didn't get to catch as many of the competitions as I would have liked, but I did enjoy all of the winter sports. I really enjoyed watching the hockey and bobsledding competitions. It's still on my bucket list to attend an Olympic Games in person. I enjoy the Winter Games more, but I think I'd enjoy the locales of the Summer Games more.
  • It's always a good feeling to participate in a recital hearing that goes smoothly. Even though there were some logistical glitches with scheduling, the singing itself was successful. I look forward to playing the first of my programs for the semester on March 7.
  • Saturday evening's performance by the Memphis Symphony was great! The performance of the Brahms Requiem was astounding and the soloists were flawless. The night was made better by running into a couple of colleagues from graduate school. It was so nice to catch up again.
  • It was difficult resuming classes at Union University after the tragic events of last week. Grief is a process that students, staff, and faculty are walking through together. I am thankful that things are getting better with each passing day, but it has been an emotionally draining week.
  • Anyone who makes purchases online knows that there is a possibility that their financial information will be compromised. It happened to me late last week. I have an amazing bank that alerted me to the unusual transactions very quickly and we were able to stop most of the charges before they hit my account. I spent much of the week watching my bank account, waiting for the fraudulent charges to finally post in order to file an affidavit. The process wasn't that difficult, but it certainly is a pain in the bumpkus.
  • I hate the way my hair feels after a haircut! It's much more manageable at the moment, but it feels like coarse broom bristles! Fortunately, I'm the only one running my fingers through it at the moment…..otherwise, I would be horribly embarrassed! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hits and Misses (February 9-15)

Here's a look back at the week that was.


  • The week got off to a great start with the beginning of a new sermon series on Revival by Dr. Clay Hallmark at First Baptist Marion. Using II Chronicles 7:14 as a text, Dr. Hallmark began by looking at the importance of humility in bringing personal revival to our lives. I found myself challenged to examine my own life and encouraged that times of refreshing are definitely on the way. What a great beginning to the week!
  • Lessons and rehearsals were extremely productive in the early part of the week. It's always a great feeling to see that hard work pays off. I'm looking forward to playing on some really nice recitals in the coming weeks.
  • I was blessed to celebrate my parents' 56th wedding anniversary on Friday. That number is simply a testimony to their love and commitment to making it work in the good times as well as the bad times.
  • On the same day, I turned another year older as well. Although I might not like seeing another digit turning in the age category, I'm glad to look forward to a new year ahead with those I love.
  • The week ended getting to spend some time with family over dinner. We don't get to do that too often, so when we're able to meet, it's always a special time.

  • The weather is still at the top of my list! We were spared the wintry weather this time, but the temperature was chilling. No wonder I'm not able to get well!
  • On Wednesday morning, we learned of the tragic death of a music student at Union. We have mourned for her loss and tried to deal with the situation as best we know how. Just before writing this post, I learned that her fiancĂ© has been arrested in connection to her death. While I am thankful that truth is being brought to light, I am horrified by the sheer tragedy of the entire situation. My prayers are with the families of both young people.
  • The last thing I wanted to do on my birthday was go to the gym. Since I haven't been in nearly 2 weeks because of conflicts and sickness, I knew I just had to do it. I paid for it when I tried to get out of bed this morning. Achy muscles in my arms and legs are never a fun way to begin a weekend!
There you have it.  I pray you have a marvelous week filled with peace and joy.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

When Faith Meets Tragedy

Difficulties come into the lives of all people. Tragedy is inevitable. As Christians, our faith is based on a hope that God in Heaven is actively at work in the lives of humans and that He acts based on His unfailing love for us. Tragedy often strikes suddenly and unexpectedly. In these times of trial, our faith can either be shaken or provide an unexplainable source of stability in spite of the trouble.

Yesterday was a tragic day for the music department at Union University. A student vocalist was found dead in her car early Wednesday morning. When I heard the news late yesterday morning, I was filled with questions. What had happened? Why did it happen? No answers were clear. I had been in rehearsal with the student less than 24 hours prior. I began to reflect on my last interaction with her. Did I display kindness? Were there warnings of trouble in her life that I somehow missed? Was there anything that anyone could have done?

As the day progressed, I was strengthened by the response of music students at Union. During what was certainly a troubling time for this close-knit group, they were turning to the promises of God's Word to find encouragement, strength, and peace. One verse resounded throughout their posts on social media; I later learned that the verse had been read on Wednesday morning when the news of the tragedy was shared with the entire department. The Scripture states that  "The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (Psalm 34:17-18, NIV)  How comforting it is to realize that when we are crushed, broken, and troubled, we have a God who hears our cries, cares about our pain, and moves to bring healing to our souls! When tragedy strikes, our Heavenly Father is intimately aware of our hurts and questions; we are not alone in our difficult times. He promises to be with us in the midst of our pain.

I am certain that questions will abound in the hearts of the Union family in the coming days and weeks. Some answers will never be known. I'm thankful that when answers aren't present or they are simply insufficient, our Savior is THE answer to all of our most pressing questions. As I have tried to wrap my mind around the horror of yesterday and find appropriate words to pray for all those who are suffering right now, the words of Hillsong's Still seem to be the most appropriate.

Find rest, my soul, in Christ alone.
Know His power in quietness and trust.

When the oceans rise and thunders roar,
I will soar with You above the storm.
Father, You are King over the flood,
I will be still and know You are God.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hits and Misses (February 2-8)

Here's a look back at the week that was.


  • I am thoroughly enjoying my time at Marion First Baptist. Last Sunday, I was introduced to the song Just As I Am…..I Come Broken by Travis Cottrell.  It has become my anthem in so many ways. It's a song that I expect more and more congregations to begin falling in love with very quickly.
  • I am slowly working my way through Beth Moore's Bible study on The Patriarchs. The story of Jacob wrestling with God for a blessing came alive in my quiet time this week. I'm so thankful that we can return to familiar passages time and again and find new revelations that speak to our present circumstances.
  • As the weather grew colder, some of my non-traditional students found themselves ready for opportunities to explore ideas in their educational setting. It's thrilling to watch students jump into an open dialogue and face topics that are outside their comfort zone in an effort to discover truth.
  • I finally made the decision to attend a Sunday School class at MFB.  Despite its advertisement of having classes for adults of all ages in the early session, I quickly discovered that the classes are designed for senior adults. While the class was sound, the poor attendance and lack of discussion certainly made it more difficult to decide to return.  
  • On Tuesday night, we lost power at home. Despite a generous gift of a generator, my father had failed to take the initiative to retrieve the gift. So my parents and I spent a very cold night (and the following morning) in our home without heat.  Despite the weather, classes continued at MSCC the next morning. I'll spare you the gory details, but I can assure you that I took a minimal "shower" in the cold and dark in order to get through the morning.
  • Because of the chill, my sinus and bronchial infections relapsed. I was forced to return to the doctor on Friday morning for another round of antibiotics. (Mother has also had a tough week and will return to see the doctor today. We are desperately anxious for good health to visit our home again soon!) While I was with the doctor, I reported some numbness in my forearms at night. The initial diagnosis is that my carpal tunnel is progressing; I am now wearing braces while sleeping each night in the hope that the splinting will allow my arms to rest properly during the night without furthering the damage.  If there is not significant improvement in the next few weeks, I will have a nerve test performed (but I'm really hoping to avoid this at all cost).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Disney's Frozen

I finally got around to checking out Disney's Frozen in theaters last weekend. I suppose I had avoided seeing the film because I revere the animated features that were released during my undergraduate days:  Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. While I have been entertained by many of the recently released films, the newer pieces rarely seem to measure up with the greatness of these animated classics.

Thankfully, Frozen easily held its ground and showed that Disney Studios can still produce the best in animated features. The story, based on a tale by Hans Christian Anderson, reminded me of the basic plot of the musical Wicked. Perhaps this connection was strengthened by the appearance of Idina Menzel as Queen Elsa.  While the story was powerful and the animation was beautiful, what grabbed my attention was the stupendous musical score that accompanied the film.

While the highlight of the film was easily Menzel's rendition of "Let It Go," I was also pleased with the opening musical sequence that had lots in common with Belle's opening in Beauty and the Beast. I was also pleased to hear that Kristin Bell as the voice of Anna was able to hold her own against the power of Menzel's voice. The two blended beautifully in "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and "For the First Time in Forever." The only disappointing voice for me in the film was that of Santino Fontana as Hans. I found the sound to be unbelievable and far from "princely."

I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone who has yet to see the film, but I will say this…..if you are looking for an animated feature that is filled with great music and amazing animation with a strong message about the power of love (and a hint of Disney magic!), Frozen is well worth your time! (You'll want to see it on the big screen, for sure.)  So head to the theater TODAY and check out the magic and fun that is Frozen.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Hits and Misses (January 26-February 1)

What a week! Despite fighting sinusitis and bronchitis (not something I recommend trying), it's been mostly positive. Here's a look at the week that was.


  • Nothing makes a sick body feel better than a warm bowl of soup. This week, my family tried out a new recipe for Tomato and Basil soup and the results were really nice. We're looking forward to repeating it this winter; we're planning to try a pumpkin soup recipe very soon.
  • It was great to begin a new semester of teaching and playing at Union University this week. I really enjoy my work there.  It's going to be a very busy term though. I am teaching two classes and have lots of recitals…….actually, it's 3 senior recitals and 4 junior recitals. March is going to be busy and also a lot of fun.
  • Since I've been sick, I've slacked off on my diet quite a bit. I couldn't make myself stay as disciplined as I needed to when I wasn't feeling well. Imagine my surprise when I put on my favorite pair of jeans Saturday morning to discover that they were hanging onto my hips! I looked like a grown man impersonating a thug. Thank Heavens for a strong belt to hold my pants up…..and the good news that the diet and exercise are working.
  • Regular sleep has been difficult to come by this week. If I was able to breathe, I was coughing. When I finally found a position at night that would quiet the cough, I couldn't breathe at all. I was a hot mess for much of the week.
  • Even though I was sick, the show had to go on! MSCC has a policy that says classes are never cancelled. Since I felt like crap, my choices were to push through it and teach my classes OR exert a ton of energy to develop a lesson that a non-musician could lead. I understand the logic behind the policy, but it's really crappy when you're in the situation. C'est la vie!
I told you it has been a good week…..spent lots of hours napping on the couch or coughing up a lung. That's why there's not very much to report. Glad to say that I am on the road to recovery and expect that things will start hopping again this week.