Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Candy

Tonight is the night children will don costumes and begin their annual quest for sweet treasure. I'm really not a fan of Halloween, but I do love seeing the creative costumes. The best (or worst?) part is that my family begins preparing weeks in advance by stockpiling candy.

For as long as I can remember, my Dad has been known as the "Candy Man." Whenever he goes to church, kids of all ages find him, knowing that he has a sugary treat for them. As soon as October arrives, Dad begins looking for the most exciting bag of candy to share with the young revelers who will knock on the door on October 31.

Because of Dad's health issues this year, Dad settled for a simple bag of treats. Of course, my family didn't wait until Halloween to start enjoying the confections! For some reason, I opted for a different candy this year. Instead of reaching for a wafer drenched in chocolate, I grabbed a box of Milk Duds from the sack.

And that was the beginning of the end! Those little nuggets of chocolate-covered caramel are addicting! I feel like I need to find a meeting of CEA -- Candy Eaters Anonymous -- in order to deal with my problem. But I think I'll wait until Halloween is over, unless the little yellow boxes of yummy-ness disappear into my tummy first!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

If I Had Another Career...

I absolutely love my job! It is thrilling to make music on a daily basis in various styles and settings. I didn't always plan on being a pianist. As a child, I thought I would be a teacher. I'm luck that I get to live out my childhood dream of teaching as well as continuing to develop my own skills as a performer and musician.

While commuting to a morning rehearsal last weekend, I began to wonder what I might be doing if I hadn't found my way to music. What careers do I think I would have liked to try?

What I quickly realized is that I have developed multiple interests and skills throughout my life. I narrowed the list to four careers I think I might have enjoyed exploring.

Since I like to read and write so much, work as an editor would be fun. I'm fascinated by the process of raising questions that help an author find focus, clarifying their message. Along the same lines, my joy in helping others became the best person they can be makes me consider work as a counselor. I have experienced a bit of peer counseling while serving in ministry. I enjoyed seeing people consider new options that led to changes. My frustrations in ministry were often associated with people continuing down destructive paths.

I have become a planner and organizer in recent years. I have gotten to plan several vacations for my family and really enjoyed doing it. Since I value rest and relaxation so much, work as a travel agent might have been a good fit. I would probably spend the majority of my income visiting destinations of all sorts in the name of job-related research!

My mother has instilled a love of experimenting in the kitchen. I've also developed quite a sweet tooth. Why not become a pastry chef? There would only be a few downsides -- the fact that I would only be able to wear pants with elastic waistbands and that I would have to wash the dishes more frequently!

Even though these careers seem as though they would be fun at first, I think I will stick to my life as a musician as long as I am physically (and financially) able. After all, it is the work that I was created for, so nothing else could ever be as fulfilling!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hits and Misses (October 19-25)

Another busy week is in the books! Here's a look back at the week that was....

  • The week began with getting to attend church with both of my parents for the first time since Dad's triple bypass. Rather than making the commute to Collierville, Dad decided to join me at First Marion last week. It was such a sweet day of worship as a family that I especially enjoyed. After church, the siblings joined us in Crawfordsville for lunch together.
  • It's been a FULL week of music making that has mostly been successful. The highlight of the week was an outstanding senior voice recital by Lauren Harris on Friday night that featured the John Carter Cantata. I'm glad I got to perform this difficult work with Lauren, but very happy that I don't have to rehearse it any more at the moment! (Waaaayyyyy too many notes!) I've also enjoyed rehearsing with a couple of instrumental students for upcoming performances and had a quick rehearsal with the men's choir at Union this week. Lots of good music in the works that will be performed this week.
  • On Wednesday, I attended my first rehearsal with the praise band at Marion First. It has been nearly 15 months since I played in an ensemble in a worship setting. I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive stepping back into this type of situation again, but I really enjoyed myself. It's a wonderful feeling to have the opportunity to use my talents as an act of worship without having the stress and responsibility that had been associated with playing in the past. 
  • Friday afternoon saw a very "interesting" opera rehearsal at Union. There's nothing quite like seeing a grinning Dr. Warren wearing a dragon's head to cut through the tension and give us some much needed laughter. 
  • The week ended with a very nice dinner at Bosco's on Saturday night. The food was great, but the company was what really made the meal special. There was lively, invigorating conversation and plenty of laughter as old friends dreamed together again. We'll just have to wait and see what exciting things come about because of this dinner in the coming months.
  • I've been reminded this week how dissatisfied I am with my position in West Memphis. After 6 years, it is becoming clear that circumstances are never going to change and I will continue to be frustrated. I'm actively looking for opportunities that would allow me to let this position go once and for all.
  • While playing Lauren's recital on Saturday night, I was reminded of why I prefer a long piano bench to an artist's bench in collaborative performance. The second movement of Carter's Cantata required lots of movement from one region of the keyboard to another. In rehearsal, I was able to reposition my body easily in order to have the easiest access to the notes needed. In the recital, I was sitting on a tiny artist's bench that didn't allow for much shifting of positions. I was so afraid that I was going to fall off into the floor in the middle of the piece.
  • Saturday was an incredibly busy day. I left Jackson and drove straight to First Marion for a Christmas musical rehearsal. As soon as we broke for lunch, I exited and headed over to the dress rehearsal for the high school cabaret. The high school students and I ran that program twice before heading to Bosco's with a quick stop at the library. Even though it was a productive day and everything went well, I was worn out by the time I finally hit the bed that night.
  • When you're surrounded by good conductors all week in both academia and church work, it becomes extremely challenging when you find you have to work with a weaker conductor. What I find is that the better conductors do less talking and more rehearsing. If words are needed to explain a concept to an ensemble, it's often because the message wasn't communicated clearly through the baton.
  • Just as frustrating is watching a hard-working student perform less than their best as a result of poor coaching. In these situations, I find myself wondering if the student isn't aware of the poor instruction they are receiving or if they simply don't care. It's a tough balancing act.....and I'm still trying to decide whether I should speak up or remain silent. 
There you have it! Hope you have a great week ahead.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Purple Daisies.....for Domestic Violence Awareness

I have struggled with writing this post. Let me warn you from the beginning -- this is not going to be pretty. It is important though. Because of that, I refuse to edit myself or attempt to wrap things up in a neat package.

Last week, I participated in a Facebook activity to replace the negativity often found there with images of beautiful flowers. Gerber daisies were chosen as my flower. The next post on my news feed was a purple ribbon, honoring the many women and children in our country who are victims of domestic violence. Since October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, I decided to combine the activities into a single post. Domestic violence has become a personal issue for my family in the last few years. My purple daisy bouquet is for my sister.

In 2009, my sister came forward with the awful truth that she had been the victim of domestic abuse for five years at the hands of her husband who she was now divorcing. In addition to the physical and emotional abuse Carlene suffered, her pain was heightened as she realized that the emotional abuse was also impacting her two young daughters.

The details of Carlene's ordeal is hers to tell. Truthfully, I'm confident that I only know a portion of the horror and suffering she endured at the hands of the monster she married. What I CAN address are my personal feelings as a family member who also had to deal with the repercussions of the violence she endured.

ANGER!!!! That one word sums up so much of my feelings. I was furious that a man professing Christianity could inflict the bruises that I photographed along my sister's back and arms. I despised that my nieces had witnessed the violence and lived in constant fear. I fumed as I learned that this arrogant idiot of wasted air attempted to convince people that my sister had inflicted the injuries on herself!

My anger turned to rage as my family had to take significant steps to ensure our personal safety as well as that of Carlene and the girls. The jerk's abuse continued as he called my mother at work, appeared at our various places of employment, and ultimately began living in the same apartment complex that Carlene settled in in order to continue contact and dominating her life.

As I heard the responses from some in the church to my sister's situation, I was floored. "You made a commitment for life and need to stay in the marriage and try to work things out."  "Jesus said to turn the other cheek."  "He's just going through a hard time. Things will get better eventually." I wondered which of these "insightful" people would have offered the same advice if they were living in constant fear. I definitely began to understand why so many victims say that they don't feel safe confiding in the faith community; with responses like the ones Carlene heard, no one would find comfort or safety there.

Even though my sister gained her freedom from her personal hell over five years ago, I still experience frustration that continues to stem from the abusive relationship. I despise watching my sister struggle financially to make ends meet because the A-hole has failed to pay child support as ordered by the court for at least four years. That leads to other frustrations with Tennessee Child Welfare for not monitoring the situation closely as well as with Carlene for not pressing the issue more. I nearly blow a gasket every time I hear my nieces complain about having to visit the man who provided the sperm that produced them (I'm sorry....he doesn't deserve to even be referred to as a biological father, in my opinion!); it would appear to a rational person that failure to fulfill a responsibility outlined in the divorce decree (e.g. monthly child support payments) would result in the loss of parental rights and visitation.

When I get incredibly frustrated and upset at the situation that my family finds itself in simply because one man could not appropriately manage his temper, I find myself fantasizing. I fantasize about the day that the state of Tennessee finally notices that child support has not been paid. I dream about the abuser finally spending time behind bars. I wonder what the reception for him will be as other inmates learn of the pain that was inflicted on a woman and innocent children at his hands. I'm not stupid enough to fantasize about inflicting the pain on the idiot myself.....but I wouldn't mind being a casual observer either!

As you can see, I have no use for this man that I consider the scum of the earth. He didn't just inflict pain on random people; he violently abused those I love. He made their home a prison. That caused me pain as well. No one should ever have to suffer at the hands of someone who promised "to love, honor, and cherish" them. Sounds like a big lie to me....

So don't placate me with terms about how I need to find forgiveness. I really don't want to hear it. All I want is to display these purple daisies as a sign to those who might be dealing with abuse in their own life that they are not alone and that there are some of us who refuse to remain silent any longer. It's time for the shame many of these victims face to come to an end and for us to place the guilt where it belongs....firmly on the shoulders of the abuser!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Silencing the Critic Within

On Thursday evening, October 16, 2014, I had the distinct pleasure to participate in an outstanding student recital. Featuring works by Poulenc, Ives, Bellini, and Massenet, the performance was the culmination of a semester of thorough preparation. I felt very confident in my preparation as I walked on stage.

I also felt very tired. The week had been packed with all sorts of activities. As the start of the concert drew near, I began to feel that the week was catching up to me. I was depending on my solid preparatory work to carry me through the difficult program ahead. Thankfully, the recital was well-received and the audience was moved by the music.

As we exited the stage following the opening set -- Poulenc's Tel jour, telle nuit -- I found myself hearing the voice of my inner critic. I knew that I had played the cycle much better than what I had just presented. I was struggling to maintain focus. I was certain that I had disappointed my fellow performer and colleagues. In that moment, I knew how important it was to stay in the present moment and silence the inner critic. But his negativity was so LOUD and persistent!

I don't think my experience is unique. Regardless of what you do, it is easy to allow harsh criticism to rise up within you. Criticism can be a catalyst for improvement when properly handled. Criticism can also be crippling! One of our biggest challenges can be learning how to objectively listen to criticism and how to silence the inner critic when necessary.

Silencing your inner critic is an extremely personal process. Through trial and error, we individually learn the tools we can use to cause the negativity to stop. When I begin to criticize myself in an unproductive way, I intentionally look for things that were successful and think about them. I then remind myself that my worth -- as neither a musician nor a human -- is determined solely by my performance. Perhaps most importantly, I think about why the activity matters to me so much and challenge myself to enjoy the process since rehashing what is already done will not change the past at all.

Thursday's performance was far from perfect, but it was much more successful as I chose to enjoy the music-making instead of punishing myself for past sins. Whether you are performing on a concert stage, in a classroom, or in an office building, my hope for you is the same -- may you continue to live in the moment, enjoying your passionate pursuit as you diligently silence the accusing voice of your harsh inner critic!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hits and Misses (October 12-18)

What a WILD and crazy week it has been. I hesitate to take a look back for fear that it might repeat itself....but here goes!

  • I had a blast playing auditions for Union University's upcoming production of Into the Woods this week. I played a lot of music, observed some outstanding auditions, and sat in on the casting process. I'm really excited about the high level of talent that will be involved in this first joint effort between the music and theater departments this Spring. Now I know how I'll spend my Christmas break!
  • With all of the auditions and since I didn't have to teach in West Memphis because of Fall Break (can I get an Amen?), I was able to stay in Jackson through Wednesday. OMG! I felt like a different man when I didn't have to make the extra trip back home. I hope that one day I'll be able to shift my entire life to Jackson if I'm going to continue to play in the city. My productivity and the quality of my playing would skyrocket.
  • Now that October is here, I've been missing my friends in southern California. It has almost always worked out that I have been able to return for a visit every fall. This year, things just weren't going to be possible due to Dad's health crisis earlier and the expenses involved with that. This week, I learned that the trip will be occurring after all! Some friends wanted to express their love and help me get there. I don't know how to explain my feelings.....I'm overwhelmed, honored, humbled, and speechless. More than anything, I truly feel the love! I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that everything works out for this short trip to the left coast.
  • More recitals and recital hearings took place this week. Thursday night was a wonderful performance experience that I am honored to have taken part in. My favorite memory of the week came at the end of the hearing earlier that afternoon though. The student walked out of the room calmly, but as soon as he hit the threshold of the recital hall the entire mood changed! Trevor sprinted out of view of the faculty and leaped with elated joy that things had gone so well. It was awesome to physically see the weight and pressure lifted from his shoulders.
  • To round out a fairly good week, Dad had his check-up with the cardiologist on Friday and got a glowing report. While all the restrictions have not yet been lifted (we think we're waiting on the end of cardiac rehab for that), we don't return to the cardiologist until January, 2015. What a relief!
  • During Thursday night's recital, I struggled with my inner critic for the first time in a long time. I think it had a lot to do with my general fatigue after a long week. I'll be sharing some of my thoughts about this experience in Wednesday's post.
  • On Sunday afternoon, I arrived at church for a scheduled rehearsal. Little did I know that the rehearsal had been cancelled and I didn't get the memo. Since I've been in the leadership position before, I totally understand how things like this can happen and know that it was unintentional. Still, it made me a little shaky going into an already busy week.
  • I am not a fan of the high school cabaret I was drafted for. A rehearsal was scheduled for Friday afternoon that caused me to rush from the doctor's appointment to make sure I was on time. You KNOW how I felt when I left after 75 minutes and NONE of the scheduled singers showed up for their appointment. The only good thing about this show is that it will be performed next weekend and I won't have to deal with it anymore!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Power of Pocket Dialing

While having lunch this week, I got a text message from a friend telling me that I had pocket dialed her earlier in the day. I laughed and could only imagine what she had heard at the moment I had called. (Thankfully it was nothing embarrassing!)

Once the day's work was done, I knew that a "real" call was in order. Despite the 5 hour difference, we were finally able to connect. Our two hour conversation picked up as though we had just talked yesterday! That's the sign of a true friendship. At the end of the call, I was encouraged and knew that I had answered some important questions honestly. 

When we first met nearly 20 years ago, who would have imagined that this girl from Honolulu would have such a lasting impact on my life? Love you, TV! Now we really have to plan another trip for some eyeball-to-eyeball laughter and fun.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Hits and Misses (October 5-11)

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

  • The week got off to a great start with Liz Vaughn's recital. The program featured songs by Schumann and Barber. It was a great experience playing for a dedicated student who learned the music well in advance of the recital, allowing us ample time to polish. The performance was a joy to be involved with.
  • On Wednesday evening, I returned to choir rehearsal at First Marion. Minutes before rehearsal was to begin, I was asked to play piano. I had a lot of fun getting back to a supporting role in ministry that I have always enjoyed. Even if the music wouldn't stay on the rack at first and we had a moment of laughter together as I tried to stand at the piano in order to keep the rehearsal going, it felt good to be part of a group with a common goal. 
  • Fall break came at the perfect time. My hands and mind needed some rest. I only wish that I was able to totally relax instead of grading papers and recording lectures.
  • This week saw an extremely long lecture for my night class. Because of complications at the beginning of the semester that resulted in uncertainty about the class actually making or not, I've been running behind all term. Tuesday night was the night that I finally had to pay the piper and cover a ton of material in a few short hours. I think the students understood the majority of the material, but I went home with a sore throat and immediately collapsed into my bed.
  • It's always frustrating when financial issues cut into the amount of rehearsal that is permitted for an upcoming performance. Even though I understand the logic, it's still frustrating. It's one of the challenges we face as musicians -- do we only do what we're paid for or do we do what is necessary in order to ensure performances of the highest quality.
  • Dad's hearing aids have continued to be problematic. For the second time in just over six weeks, the hearing devices are back at the manufacturer for repairs and/or replacement. I'm just ready for things to get back to normal so life can move ahead for a little while without major difficulties.

There you have it. Have a great week.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Choices We Make

Every day is filled with choices to be made. Some are quite routine and appear insignificant at the time. Other decisions have lasting impact that will be felt for years to come. Whether we realize it or not, every choice we make results in a consequence. A poorly chosen outfit may result in being chilly all day. Decisions related to project planning and scheduling can significantly effect our productivity.

What factors contribute to the decision-making process? We hope that we have carefully weighed the situation from all perspectives, and made a decision that will be beneficial to everyone involved while aligning with our moral code. Unfortunately, not every decision is made wisely. Here are a few factors that have led me to make unwise decisions at times.

  • Snap decisions. Rarely do I know immediately what the best choice is. Decisions require thought. If I have not allowed adequate time to consider the decision -- or if I procrastinate due to fear -- the probability of missing an important factor in the process is significantly higher.
  • Peer pressure. Sometimes we know that others expect us to make a certain decision. In order to please others, we can make a choice that appears right to them and makes us miserable in the long run. For people-pleasers like me, this is a potential pitfall I have to constantly guard against.
  • Failing to ask for advice. Other people have journeyed this road before. Their wisdom can provide valuable insight. There is a fine line here, however. It is important that we hear their wise advice without falling prey to the people-pleasing trap mentioned above. Additionally, as a person of faith, I find it imperative to ask for divine wisdom on a daily basis. Jeremiah 29:11 assures us that God has a plan for our lives. Our greatest joy comes when we make decisions that align with the Father's perfect plan for our lives.
What other factors inhibit you from making wise decisions? What steps do you take to avoid the trap that you are now aware of? I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hits and Misses (September 28 - October 4)

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

  • I had a great time playing my first rehearsal of the Christmas production at First Marion on Sunday. I've finally made the step to get involved in the music ministry of the church instead of just sitting on the sidelines. I'm looking forward to the months ahead.
  • It's been a successful week at Union as well. Another recital hearing went very well. That only leaves three more to play this term as well as the performances. Thankfully, only one more hearing has really tough music to master.
  • The laughter has been rolling in the music lounge this week. As one student reminded me, "what happens in the lounge stays in the lounge." Laughter is such a stress reliever in the middle of a busy day.
  • Before driving up to UT Martin on Friday, I had a productive dress rehearsal for Monday night's recital with Liz Vaughn. We've worked hard to prepare this music and I'm looking forward to getting to share it with the music department.
  • This has been the week of sassy students who just don't seem to understand exactly why they are in school. I've had more than my share of tough conversations with several of them. Those are never pleasant, but always necessary.
  • Every time I participate in a NATS competition, I leave shaking my head. I don't understand how the judges in their "wisdom" selected certain voices to proceed to the finals given the other performances I heard. The comment sheets are becoming a contest between the judges to see who can be stranger than everyone else! "Let your eye see into the aural space." What in the world does that even mean?  I suppose the upside is that I make a little money; the downside is that students begin to question their progress because of some strange (and sometimes downright rude) comments.
  • On Thursday afternoon, I drove through the pouring rain to conduct a musical rehearsal for the high school showcase I was drafted into agreed to play. Imagine my surprise when I received a call ON THE WAY TO THE REHEARSAL to tell me that the piano was unavailable. Instead, in their wisdom, Delta Arts had secured a 4-octave keyboard for my use. What am I supposed to do with that? Teach a 3-year-old a nursery rhyme? If I had been informed of this earlier in the week, the rehearsal would have been cancelled so no one's time (especially mine!) would not have been wasted. The more I work in these situations, the more I understand why I continue to lose respect for DA. I'm fairly certain this will be my last venture with this group.
  • Nothing is worse than realizing that you have forgotten the password to an important site. I've searched all of my files, but there's no hint to be found. When I tried to change the password, I was denied access because I didn't correctly answer the security question. Here's where it gets really funny....when I tried to log in again using the security question, the site informed me that no question had been created for this user! I'm locked out and have to face the fact that I won't be making my deadline. C'est la vie!
There you have it. Hope you have a great week ahead.

Friday, October 3, 2014

I Hate Crowds!

I hate crowds! It's not that I don't like people or that I'm insecure. I just don't like the feeling that there is not sufficient room between me and my neighbor. If I have to plot a path to navigate the room, you will probably find me stationed along a wall with as few people around as possible. Some find it surprising since I love being in the city. Crowds of people that are moving are something entirely different for me; it's when I find myself in a large group of people in a confined space that I begin to feel uncomfortable.

This has always been a struggle when singing in choirs. Inevitably, my conductors have placed me near the center of the tenor section. If I'm in the center of the back row, I'm fine. There's still a way of escape if needed. More often than not, I have people on all sides though. When standing without the aid of chairs defining personal space, I start to feel a little weak in the knees. I count myself lucky that I have not taken a tumble in one of these scenarios yet.

I even struggle with tight spaces in my home. When the entire Freeman clan gathers for lunch, there are normally ten people around the table. After lunch, everyone crowds into the living room. I find myself escaping to other areas of the house throughout the event to simply breathe. Sometimes my family has mistaken my exit as a sign that they have upset me by something they have said; the reality is that I'm trying to regain control of an uncomfortable situation.

Sometimes visits last longer than just an afternoon and can stretch into days at a time. That's just part of family life, I suppose. Even though I truly love my family, these extended visits are very stressful for me. It feels as though the only place I can find some quiet time is in the bathroom. (My small bathroom tends to trigger another of my phobias in these escape scenes - claustrophobia. Now you know just how messed up I really am!) I feel that I've won a small victory when I haven't flipped out during one of these extended visits. I hate to admit it, but I always breathe a sigh of relief every time my living situation returns to normal with just me and the geriatric patients.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

As my family continues to come to grips with Dad's recovery from bypass surgery, we are very conscious of our diet at the moment. We are eating low fat foods as much as possible. We're aware of our sugar intake. We are hyper-aware of sodium levels. With all of these concerns, cooking has been challenging for Mom.

One of the doctor's final instructions to Dad before leaving the hospital was to "watch the salt." As the first week at home progressed, comments were made regularly at dinner about the food's blandness. I felt sorry for Mom who was doing the best she could, but I couldn't figure out what was going on. We had scheduled recipes that were low in sodium that we had prepared many times before to rave reviews. I was now a man on a mission.

My first thought was that the spices had gone bad and lost their potency. A quick Internet search explained that the spice's smell was the best way to determine if it was still good. I shared this information with Mom and then began smelling spice bottles in the kitchen. The aromas were amazing! This clearly was not the problem.

Once the house had quieted a bit, I had the chance to sit down and talk to Mom and Dad about their first week home. As we talked, we discovered some things that needed improvement and some areas that were concerning for each of us. The conversation moved to the week's food and Mom's questions about what was happening. It felt as though a light bulb illuminated over my head, and I asked Mom a simple question: "Are you still adding salt to the recipes as directed?" When she said that she was not, I knew we had discovered the meals' problem.

We talked about the difference between the ideas of "watching the salt" and "eliminating all salt." The doctor did not say that Dad could not have salt; Dad was told to make sure he did not use too much salt. It was fun to watch Mom's eyes light up with understanding. Now she is cooking with salt in a reasonable manner and making Mrs. Dash's Table Blend available for additional seasoning by the individual.

What a difference a little salt made! Saturday evening was the first meal of the week that Mom resumed her use of salt; the results were AMAZING! While eating dinner, my mind raced to the saying of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:13: "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It's no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men." (HCSB) After a week of eating food prepared without the added flavor of salt, Jesus' words took on brand new meaning....and the scripture's challenge became clearer in my mind.