Friday, January 30, 2015

Plagiarism: An Issue of Laziness, Ignorance, or Immorality?

Plagiarism has become a national epidemic. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term in the following way:
plagiarize - /transitive verb/ - to steal or pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own; use (another's production) without crediting the source.
plagiarize - /intransitive verb/ - to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
We most commonly expect to find cases of plagiarism in student academic papers, but the crisis reaches into other arenas as well. Many politicians have been accused of plagiarizing speeches, including Rand Paul and President Barack Obama. Musicians -- from Mozart to George Harrison -- have allegedly "borrowed" melodies from other sources without providing credit. The issue has even reached the pulpits of the nation's churches; the case of Marc Driscoll in Seattle immediately comes to mind. To be clear, I am not stating that any of the above referenced accusations were valid; still, the problem seems to exist in our society today.

Why is plagiarism such a problem in our nation? I think that there are several issues here that we must realize and begin to take steps to correct. First, plagiarism is often associated with simple laziness. If a person is writing a document or presenting a speech and refuses to invest the time to develop their own thoughts into an original piece of work, there is nothing else I can attribute it to than laziness. It appears that they are simply looking for the easy way to fulfill the requirements of their class or job. Sadly, the use of the Internet has made plagiarism much easier to commit -- and easier to catch.

Sometimes plagiarism might be a result of ignorance. A writer may lack the tools to produce an original work. Training in research and writing may be needed. Even if they try to create something new, the uninformed writer may begin to experience levels of frustration that leads them to look for an easier way of producing the document. While ignorance is an understandable excuse for plagiarism, it is not an acceptable excuse. The result is still unethical and criminal.

Sadly, many think that attribution alone is enough to avoid the theft of ideas and material. For example, I recently sat in an audience listening to a speaker and found myself quite bored. I noticed that the accompanying projection mentioned that the lecture was "inspired by" another author. I decided to google the topic and referenced author and found a document with the same title as the presentation which I was currently hearing. As I opened the file, I soon realized that the speaker was reading the material I was seeing online verbatim. Did this speaker really think that by simply including the author's name that it was fine to exclusively use the words of another? I'm sorry.....adding a few personal comments that account for less than 5% of your presentation is not producing new material! (As a general rule, no paper, article, speech, or sermon should include more than 30% of other people's material. People are listening to you because they want to know what you have to say on a given topic. In regards to the above referenced speaker, this is not the first incident of plagiarism that I have observed occurring.)

Let's look at the immorality of plagiarism briefly. First of all, when one plagiarizes they are knowingly stealing the material of another. Plagiarism has been discussed in classes throughout our country and addressed by major news agencies. Ignorance is not a defense. When one is caught plagiarizing, the reputation of the guilty party (whether written or orally presented) is destroyed. It effects the level of trust that we place in what they have to say. We must also question their ethics in other areas.  If the speaker is willing to act immorally in this area, what other aspects of life are they living in grey areas? Finally, plagiarism implied that the speaker is not an authority on the subject or in their discipline. If you can't come up with original material that might be supported by carefully researched supplementary material, why should I listen to you? I can seek out the same material online that you are currently presenting as your own material.

How do we stop the cycle of plagiarism? First we have to examine our own work. Unintentional plagiarism can happen to anyone. If it is a recurring problem -- if everything I write is solely based on another's thoughts -- I have to admit that there is a problem. Once we admit there is a problem that is unethical, we seek help. Community colleges, seminars, and seminaries offer classes that will train speakers and writers to develop their own ideas, research the topics, and build their own written material. In the process, we also learn appropriate citation techniques for written documents as well as public speaking. (Attention should also be given to citation for slide presentations that accompany our public speeches.) Finally, we have to accept no compromise. The issue is not whether or not we have been caught plagiarizing; it's a question of our personal morality.

What are your feelings about the nation's plagiarism crisis? I'd love to hear from you in the comment section below.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Too Little, Too Late?

Have you ever been involved in a situation that completely destroyed a relationship? It might have come at the hands of a close friend, a family member, or a business associate. Now imagine that the person returned at a later time in an effort to make amends. There are times that the relationship can be restored. But I'm wondering if there is a point where the hurt is too deep and the relationship has been broken too long that makes reconciliation impossible? Is there a time where it is truly too little, too late?

I've struggled with this question at various times in my life. One of the first things I have to address is whether having irreconcilable differences implies a lack of forgiveness? Over the years, I have come to think that reconciliation and forgiveness do not always occur at the same time. I may have honestly forgiven someone for the pain they brought into my life while also admitting that I have not observed a significant change in their attitude or behavior that assures me the destruction will not reappear. In those cases, I think it would be foolish to reconcile too quickly; this becomes a matter of self-preservation. I know the damage that has been caused and that I am not ready to allow a repeat performance to occur.

I like to think that I am also older, wiser, and more cautious. I have learned from past experience to see warning signs in interactions with others that suggest hurt is on the way. Some may ask how I can determine that the other person has not changed without giving them a chance to prove me wrong. My answer is that a lack of trust on my part would not be beneficial to either party. By admitting that I am not convinced the situation would be any different, I am effectively saying I am not at a place where I am ready to risk being hurt again. When it all comes down to it, I have to take steps to protect my emotional health at all costs.

Sometimes I think the most important reason for declaring a situation "too little, too late" is that I have already found peace with the situation and moved on. I have developed other relationships that are encouraging me and bringing me fulfillment. Why would I ever consider leaving a peaceful setting in order to return to past hurts and memories?

Yep.....there are times that we simply have to say that it is "too little, too late."

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hits and Misses (January 18-24)

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

  • Once again, the week began with an anointed sermon that blessed me immensely. Looking at Joshua 6, First Marion explored the steps to "Overcoming Obstacles." There was no doubt that God had a special Word for each of us attending the service that morning. 
  • It's been a very productive week in many ways. Much of my time was spent recording the final series of lectures for my online class. The process has taken a lot longer than I had hoped, but now that it is done I am very pleased with the results (for the most part). I've also spent a lot of time developing and creating visual aids for use in my piano lessons for beginners. It was great fun getting to tap into my creativity again to make sure that my youngest students are understanding concepts.
  • Speaking of piano lessons, the week ended with several really good lessons. There are some concepts that my students didn't quite understand this week, but there were more successes than failures. That's all I can ask for!
  • On Saturday afternoon, I finally took the time to get my car washed! It doesn't look like a brand new car, but it definitely looks (and smells) better. Who knew it would be so hard to find time for the simplest of tasks?
  • I was saddened to miss the PBS broadcast of The Marriage of Figaro on Sunday afternoon. I don't mind the reason that I missed it...but I was really looking forward to seeing this production of the opera.
  • College students continue to baffle me sometimes. It is certain to raise my dander when students begin looking for the easy way rather than truly applying themselves to master the material. On Friday, a student missed a conference that they scheduled earlier that morning! Come on! Get a clue! You can imagine my response when the office called an hour after the scheduled time to tell me the student had arrived. You snooze, you lose!

My reading life has looked a little better this week. Yeah!
  • Professional Piano Teaching - p. 389 of 389. COMPLETE! (90 pages read this week)
  • Crime and Punishment - p. 422 of 551. (111 pages read this week)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Conflict Resolution

Conflict is inevitable. It is going to find its way into every life and every relationship. While it is painful to go through, we can sometimes find comfort in the knowledge that conflict -- when handled appropriately -- can result in a stronger relationship. How do we attempt to resolve conflict?

I've experienced conflict in my life and have learned the truth of the adage that "hurt people hurt people." What I have also learned is that the pain these hurt people have inflicted is sometimes completely unintentional. That's the first thing to do when facing conflict -- determine if the offending action was intentional or not. If it was not an intentional act, chalk it up to a mistake and a learning experience. It is still important to tell the other party in the relationship what they did that caused pain, but go into this conversation with a spirit of forgiveness. I recognize that you were not aware of how your action would impact me, so I'm not holding it against you.

If the action was intentional, the conversation between the two parties is still necessary. This discussion will be more difficult because we have to accept the fact that an apology may never come. It never feels good to tell someone how they have hurt you and have them respond with a "who cares" attitude.

While preparing to have a non-combative conversation is important, I have found that my response after the conversation needs greater attention in order to bring closure. The first thing to do after you have addressed an intentionally offensive act is to pray about it. Pray that healing will come to you. Pray for restoration with the other person. Pray that you will learn more about forgiveness in this process. It is also important to simply let it go. The hurt has occurred and you are unable to change it. Since you can't change it, there's no need to dwell on it. If you continually bring up the conflict, you are allowing the actions of an uncaring person to negatively impact your life.

Now it's time to determine your next step....regardless of what the other person does. I highly recommend seeking out some form of counseling to deal with the issue. Trained professionals are wonderful options, but you might also consider speaking with a minister, mentor, family member, or trusted friend. Ideally, you need to speak with a neutral party who can objectively listen, sympathize with your pain, and offer wise counsel.

It is also necessary to remove the negativity from your life. Once the conflict has happened, you cannot maintain your emotional health while attempting to interact with the offender. Sometimes you can simply avoid the person. If this is not possible -- because you work together or are both members of an organization -- you may have to take additional steps to remove the pain from your life. It seems extreme to suggest that you leave a job or some activity that you enjoy because of another person, but I can attest to the fact that it is a small sacrifice to pay to ensure your personal mental and spiritual health.

While dealing with the conflict, it is important that you don't bottle up your feelings. You have to have an outlet to let the pain out. If anyone suggests you push down your emotions or that you strive to "be the bigger person" in the situation, that is not someone who is offering you good advice. Humans have emotions that must be expressed in order to remain healthy. On the flip side, you cannot gossip about the other person either. If you begin to tear down another with your words, you are contributing to the conflict that is creating destruction in your world. Lastly, you must not allow yourself to play the role of the victim. You are not helpless in this conflict. You have options that will empower you and allow you to regain control over your personal life.

Conflict is tough. Unresolved conflict is tougher. Resolution can come in the form of restoration as well as in the dissolution of a relationship. Ultimately, the decision lies in your court. Do what's best for you and move on down the road to happiness.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My Most Influential Musical Moments

This is the final installment in this series of major influences on my life. Music plays a tremendous role in my life, so I thought it would be fun to think about the top five musical experiences that have impacted me as a musician. (There is no way that I could confidently state the "most influential" moments, so I will have to settle for five that were really important.)

  1. The youth department of the church that I grew up in held an annual Teen Talent competition. The contest featured local, state, and international rounds and winning was a great honor. I competed in the Arkansas state competition for 6 years and won the piano division each year. I was fortunate enough to compete in the international competition twice. It was during these competitions that I was first introduced to the hymn arrangements of Marilynn Ham. These arrangements have served me well over the years and I have a special fondness for Ham's arrangements of Great is Thy Faithfulness and Be Thou My Vision. The introduction to these works clearly established my belief that instrumental music can be a powerful method of sharing concepts of faith with an audience.
  2. After transferring to West Memphis Christian School, I was encouraged to participate in the summer musical presented by the local community theater. I really didn't know what I was getting into, but I auditioned anyway. A few weeks into that production of Carousel, I found myself sitting at the piano....and being asked to play for the evening's rehearsal. I didn't really realize that playing a major score at sight was a big deal, so there was no opportunity to get nervous. That night taught me that I had a gift for sight reading, a love for musical theater, and began a great friendship with one of my personal mentors, Donna Bledsoe.
  3. Eastern Arkansas was not known for its strong choral tradition while I was in high school. When I began studying at Pepperdine University, I had the opportunity to sing in a choir for the first time and fulfilled a lifelong dream. What I never expected was that my first semester would include the opportunity to sing Carmina Burana! I immediately fell in love with this powerful choral work and have been involved with choral music ever since.
  4. It was also at Pepperdine that I began to gain confidence as a pianist. When I was asked to open the dedication of the college's new recital hall with Brahms' G Minor Rhapsody, I was overwhelmed and honored. I still enjoy going back to this early work and diving into the richness of those bass octaves!
  5. In graduate school, I had spent most of my accompanying time in vocal studios to make a little extra money because that was the repertoire with which I felt most comfortable. As soon as I was introduced to Halsey Stevens' trumpet sonata, I was hooked on the world of instrumental collaboration. Not only did I enjoy it; I learned that I did some of my best work with brass and woodwind instruments. I still spend most of my time with vocalists at the moment, but there's always a longing to return to the instrumental side of collaboration as often as possible....and I'm looking forward to playing a recital with an undergraduate violinist in early May!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hits and Misses (January 11-17)

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

  • The week began with getting to have the geriatric patients attend church with me. We were incredibly blessed by Dr. Hallmark's sermon that explored how God brings change into our lives at just the right moment in just the right way. I've been meditating on those truths all week long.
  • I am confident in my skills as a musician and teacher. Still, it's nice to get a referral from colleagues. It builds me up and reminds me that I am doing exactly what I was created to do.....and not trying to conform to some other plan.
  • As a result of the referral, I gave an introductory piano lesson to a late intermediate student on Wednesday afternoon. It was such a joy to hear a young pianist playing solid repertoire that I was able to sink my teeth into as a teacher. This was definitely not another lesson consisting of the Bastien method! We spent an hour together looking at passages from the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" as well as the first of Bach's Two-Part Inventions. At the end of our time together, the boy and his parents agreed that they would like to study with I will travel to their Germantown home each weekend for a lesson. Even though it's adding another commute to my crazy schedule, I'm really looking forward to it.
  • This week, I also got some nice feedback from one of the students in my online class. She told me how much she was enjoying the recorded lectures over the typical "read these pages" assignments found in many of her other virtual classrooms. Normally, I would chalk this comment up to an effort to get on the teacher's good side; however, her insightful questions and thoughtful responses to those that I posed changed my mind. Teaching is a pleasure when I encounter students like this.
  • I've also been reminded how thankful I am to work at Bartlett Music Academy. I have toyed with teaching private lessons over the years, but never felt I was very successful. My students were always those I knew from other areas of my life and lacked the motivation to excel. The teaching environment was less than ideal. Did I mention how much I hated the "business" side of teaching -- collecting fees, confirming schedules, and everything else that took time away from the actual teaching? When my friends, Bobby and Melissa, first approached me about joining the team at BMA, I was apprehensive. When I finally decided to take the plunge, I realized what a great situation this is for me. The time I was spending on other things is now devoted to lesson planning. I'm more confident in the lessons and my students are reaping the rewards. More importantly, I look forward to going to the studio each week -- even if the lessons are on Saturday mornings.

  • One of my greatest weaknesses is waiting. I've been doing my fair share of it this week. I've waited in the doctor's offices. I've waited for test results from my stress test. (I'm assuming that no news a week after the test means that the doctor didn't notice anything terribly wrong.) 
  • Worse than waiting for me is dealing with poor organization....especially when it impacts my personal calendar. On Sunday afternoon, Mom informed me that she had gotten a call from the cardiologist about an appointment she had this week. Mom didn't have it written down any she was convinced it was wrong. While there on Monday with Dad, I learned that the appointment was scheduled for the next day as a follow-up from her last visit. Ugh! Just when I thought my scheduling issues were over for the week, I was informed late in the week that another piano lesson was added to the beginning of my teaching schedule for Saturday. wasn't added yet, but it might be. (Trust me, I'm not complaining about the new student and the money that the lesson will bring....just the uncertainty generated by the "scheduling.") Late Friday afternoon I received confirmation that the lesson was in fact happening (after making a call to the studio boss!); I proceeded to adjust my plans for the following morning. I can be flexible when I need to.....I just don't always like it.  :)
  • Blown light bulbs always come at the most inconvenient times. Here's a funny picture for you to imagine:  I'm standing on the edge of my bed with a light globe in one hand as I try to remove the blown light bulb. Nothing can possibly go wrong, right? Thankfully, the light bulb has been replaced and nothing was broken.
  • I hate dieting! That's really all I'm going to say about that....even though I am seeing some initial results.

A busy week didn't equate to great progress in my reading efforts.
  • Professional Piano Teaching (Jacobson) - p. 299 of 389  (33 pgs. this week)
  • Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky) - p. 331 of 551 (83 pgs. this week)
  • That's a whopping 116 pages I've read this week. I'm really hoping to improve on that total in the coming week! 
There you have it! Have a wonderful week.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Can We Talk About Race?

The answer to that question truly depends on the answer to a few other questions. Do you want to see your friendship end? Do you want to be classified as a racist? If you answered "no" to either of these questions, the truth is that most of us can't talk about race relations. That's a sad realization....and a major part of the problem.

I'm not here today to provide solutions to the race problem in America. I don't think it's possible to solve to be perfectly honest. If I could offer an effective answer, I would probably be one of the wealthiest men in the nation. What I do want to think about is why the topic of race is so difficult for us to discuss as rational beings. Just thinking about putting my thoughts out there makes me very nervous. I stand behind my beliefs and know that I have the right to express these opinions without repercussion, but I fully expect to hear from the naysayers as well. That's a chance I must take in order to begin a dialogue among intelligent people, however.

First, many of us refuse to admit that we are wrong about some things. None of us like to have our errors pointed out. Many of us honestly don't believe that our opinions on the topic of race are wrong at all. I think we have to realize as a society that every time a police officer shoots a minority, the action was not sparked by racism. Additionally, we have to understand that every young man of color who wears a "wife beater" with low riding pants is not a criminal and should not be treated as one. Let's face it.....because of our life experiences and personal opinions about other people groups, we come to the discussion about race with preconceived ideas.

Those preconceived ideas are difficult for us to look past. This poses another hurdle to leap over as we prepare to discuss race relations. I was raised in Arkansas and attended a predominately African-American public school for ten years. I encountered some African-Americans of incredible character and tremendously beautiful spirit during those years. I also met some thugs who took great joy in making my life a living hell. Like it or not, my experiences resulted in stereotypes that I subconsciously rely on in my future encounters with people of the same race. As sad as it is to admit, I sometimes sense my defenses rising to high alert when someone reminds me of the bullies of my past. I also deal with the ideas of my parents and their experiences. Does this mean that I am naturally prejudiced against a certain race of people? Not at all....or at least I don't think of it as racism. It just means that I have a starting point in all of my interactions with them and have to be cautious that I do not let past experiences negatively impact my current interaction with the individual.

We're always looking for someone to blame for the national crisis. The media is at fault. White supremacy continues to dominate American society. The problem is poor education in urban settings. The list of reasons expressed goes on and on.  The one reason that never gets expressed is probably the greatest problem -- ALL OF US. As soon as we begin to look at ourselves and our interactions with people who are not like us, we begin to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves that we are simply not prepared to handle. Instead of facing the truth and dealing with the root problem, we become much more comfortable pointing the finger elsewhere.

What is the problem? I'm coming to the opinion more and more that it is a basic issue of morality. Regardless of one's religious beliefs, I think all people can agree that one mantra should be espoused by all people:  "Do to others as you would have them do to you." If we could daily practice that one simple principle in all interactions with other people -- regardless of their color, political affiliation, gender, or sexual orientation -- prejudice would be diminished and conflicts would be avoided.

Since the solution is so simple, why is it so difficult to practice? There lies the real question.....

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

My Most Influential People

I've continued thinking about the people and things that have helped to influence my life. Today, I would like to share with you some of the people who have had the greatest impact on the man that I have become. My family has obviously been a tremendous influence on me and I am eternally grateful for my parents and siblings (well, most of the time anyway). For the purposes of this post, I'm going to be looking at the people I encountered outside of the four walls of my home. I'm listing these five people in the order in which they appeared in my life.

  1. Eva Keith was the music teacher at Crawfordsville Elementary in the 1970s. It was on a rainy afternoon in October of 1977 that my life would forever be impacted by this woman as I had my first piano lesson sitting at an upright piano in her classroom after school. No instruction happened that day because the car that my mom and I were in was hit by a school bus on the way to the lesson. This little lady was quite a tyrant when she needed to be. I developed a habit of daily practice out of fear of her wrath. After working through the first two books of a now out-of-print piano method, Ms. Keith began to introduce me to works by Bach, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff. Neither my parents nor I had any idea the high caliber of instruction that I was receiving; it was nothing short of Providence. I continued studying with Ms. Keith for six years until she left the area to move to north Mississippi. I was crushed and contemplated ending my study of the instrument at that point. I credit Eva Keith with much of the piano technique and sight reading skills that I have learned to depend on in my career today.
  2. Mrs. Ussery was my fourth grade teacher. She was also the first teacher who called my bluff and refused to allow me to coast through another year without applying myself to my full potential. With her guidance, I developed a love for learning that has not been quenched. Mrs. Ussery taught me the value of books and the power of knowledge while instilling in me lessons of integrity and compassion for those who were struggling.
  3. During my late adolescent and early teen years, James Marlow became the pastor of the local congregation my family attended. As luck would have it, the congregation did not have a pianist. Bro. Marlow allowed me to begin exploring the position of church pianist as a ten-year-old child. (It's not a situation that I would ever recommend for a developing pianist, but it turned out okay for me.....with a lot of patience, prayers, and love from this man and his wife, Alice.) Bro. Marlow did much more than introduce me to church music though. He also provided solid Biblical instruction in a crucial time and became a lifelong friend to my family.
  4. While looking for a work-study opportunity at Pepperdine, I found my way into the Campus Life Office and became a CLO kid. Bob White, Rita Sears, Lori Otto, Vanessa Nichols, and Darryl Calkins all impacted my life in various ways, but the greatest impact came from Hung Le. Somehow I ended up working as an intern to Hung and got to be involved in the planning for events like New Student Orientation, Parents' Weekend, and Graduation Brunch. I learned so much about organization and event planning from this man that you will ever know. More importantly, I watched a Godly man live out his faith openly day in and day out. Hung was not only my boss; he became a cherished friend. I sat in his office in tears at the death of my grandmother and sought his advice when facing a devastating blow in my academic career. I was blessed to return to Pepperdine for a few months in 1998 and work for Hung Le again. What I thought was going to be the beginning of a glorious return tour to the school I loved turned out to be an unexpected trial as my dad faced colon cancer. As I found myself thousands of miles away from my family, Hung became my family -- offering support, encouragement, love, and prayer. Once again, my Heavenly Father knew exactly who to place in my path when I was most in need.
  5. I have spent more time in the piano studio of Joan Gilbert than any other teacher. Ms. Gilbert was my graduate advisor, but she was so much more than my teacher though. She was a mentor, advisor, and friend. She helped me fall in love with my instrument again when I thought that playing was nothing more than a past hobby. Her wisdom helped me chart a course of study that led to my current career as a collaborative artist. Her tenacity and drive pushed me to complete the doctoral degree when I was ready to give up. 
As you can see, I have been tremendously blessed by amazing people who have challenged me, mentored me, and loved me. I could continue and tell you about Jody, Dr. Ferguson, Robbie, Andy, and Donna. The list could stretch for days! I will forever be indebted to each of these influential people for the part they have played in my development. I only hope that I can some day honor them by offering similar encouragement to those I encounter in the years to come.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hits and Misses (January 4-10)

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

  • All is right with the world now that Downton Abbey has returned to my life. I'm anxious to see what's going to happen in season 5.
  • Some cross stitch patterns and kits that I had ordered arrived this week. I don't always have a lot of time to devote to the craft, but it has definitely been fun to return to the calming rhythm of the needle going up and down through the material. I'm not in a position to post a photo of anything yet, but I hope to let you see my progress in a few weeks.
  • It feels good to finally begin to get things done now that the holidays are over. I pulled out my to-do lists and my daily index card this week. I still like the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off of my list.
  • Dad and I made a return visit to the doctor when both hearing aids failed to work. I suspected that we were missing some important information since we were not able to go back for the follow-up know, because he was in the hospital and all.....and that was exactly the case. I never would have imagined that a little ear wax under a filter would cause such expensive equipment to stop working. Now we know...
  • It's a blessing to share time with friends. We talked about life, memories, work, and dreams. I don't always get to stop in the middle of the week for a chat, but when I do, it turns out to be one of the highlights of the week.
  • I'm still on my Great Performances kick. This week, I thoroughly enjoyed watching American Voices with Renee Fleming on the Mississippi Broadcasting System. A very informative, insightful program that featured lots of great singing from multiple genres of American music.
  • Round two of my battle with congestion continued this week. Thankfully, the doctor did not hear anything that suggested a chest infection. I'm treating the lingering congestion with OTC medications and more fluids. As the week began to wind down, I finally began to feel more like myself.
  • I struggled to decide if the cancellation of my night class at MSCC was actually a hit or miss. I finally opted to put it here because of all of the preparation that had gone into it and the loss of income that it will mean. I'm trying to keep my head up and hoping that another opportunity will present itself to replace the money I expected.
  • While I was at the doctor on Thursday, we decided to go ahead and do blood work. When the lab reports came in, most results were pretty good. My cholesterol continues to be a constant struggle to manage. It appears that I'm not able to manage these numbers with diet alone, so my daily dosage of medication was doubled. The doctor will check my progress in two months.
  • My online class is still moving ahead this semester, but the technology problems from last term are rearing their heads again. With the help of a member of the college's IT team, I moved the recorded lectures to this semester's website. By Friday afternoon (before the official start of classes), I had already received an email from a student telling me that some presentations worked while others did not. The funny/frustrating part? The ones that were working were the newest; those from last semester still are virtual nightmares. I guess I know where I will be while you are reading this post on Monday morning.
  • I love my piano students. They are fun and excited about learning. What drives me CRAZY is when a student arrives ten minutes late for their first 30-minute lesson and does not even offer an apology! Grrr! I really hope this student and I do not have a rocky experience in the months ahead.....
At the end of the first full week of the New Year, I thought I'd like to add a new element to my weekly H&M post. Since I try to read on a consistent basis, I thought this would be a great place to give a weekly update on the progress of my reading life. You can continue to catch my complete book reviews on Reading for Me.
  • Professional Piano Teaching (Jeanine Jacobson) - p. 266 of 389
  • Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoevsky) - p. 248 of 551

Friday, January 9, 2015

A View From Above

I love to fly. As soon as I boarded a plane for the first time as a teenager, I knew there was no other way to travel. Not only did I like the fact that I arrived at my destination much sooner, I also enjoyed looking at the earth from high above. Each time I find myself looking out the window of a jet, I am reminded of a few very important truths.

As I look out at the scenery, I am reminded just how small I am. As cars and people begin to look like ants and toys, I realize that my life is just a minuscule part of what is happening on planet Earth. Things that seem enormously important in my life are seen in a new light because I am suddenly aware of the fact that there is a much bigger picture. The world does not stop turning just because of my problems. Truthfully, much of the world is completely unaware of my existence -- much less the challenging issues I face daily.

While this can seem like a very negative view of the world and life at first, I have to go a step farther and notice the immense patchwork art that I see from the Master Artist's perspective. Even though I am a small part of the overall masterpiece, I take great comfort in the realization that the One who formed this work of art sees me as an essential part of His plan and is lovingly aware of my life. While I am focused on the immediate circumstances, He sees the bigger picture that is taking shape as I am morphed by my current situation. My challenge becomes determining if I will choose to focus on my limited perspective or trust the bird's eye view of the Master Artist as He carefully creates another masterpiece out of me.

Next time the stress of daily life hits you hard, take a moment to hop on a jet plane in your mind's eye and grab a peek at the big picture He is forming for you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Most Influential Books

With the beginning of another year, I'm thinking about people and things that have influenced me throughout my life. I thought it would be interesting to think about the books that I have read and reflect on which ones have made the greatest impact on me. Before starting the list, I must say that I have not included the Bible as a possibility because it has been a important book in my life since childhood and I strive daily to allow its principles to shape my morality and life choices. Having said that, here are the top five books that influenced me (in no particular order)...

  1. No Wonder They Call Him the Savior by Max Lucado. I first encountered this volume as a high school senior when my Bible teacher, Mr. Harold Redd, gave it as a gift. As I began reading the book, I found myself entranced and falling in love with Christ all over again. Truthfully, I think this book is primarily responsible for my continuing faith journey as an adult.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is my favorite novel of all time! I read the book over the summer before beginning my freshman year at Pepperdine University. The book was a required reading assignment for all students in preparation for an orientation session on ethics. This was my first experience of reading a book outside of a classroom setting that spoke so clearly to the world that I knew and challenged me to think about my own views of race relations and prejudice.
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. While at Pepperdine, I majored in English as well as music. (One of those majors was much more successful than the other, by the way!) During my junior year, I was enrolled in Survey of American Literature, the Early American novel, and Southern Literature. All three classes included Twain's masterpiece on the reading list. When I first noticed this, I was thrilled to have one reading assignment for all three classes. What I came to discover was that this would become an intense study of this magnificent novel. The more I thought about Huck's adventures, the more I learned. This novel stands as one of my greatest learning experiences in all of my educational pursuits.
  4. Read for Your Life by Pat Williams. Who knew that a book by a basketball coach would have such a huge impact on me? Williams lays out a clear explanation of the importance of reading in maintaining intellectual health as we age. It was in this book that I was first presented with the challenge to strive to read a book a week. I've not achieved that level of reading activity, but I'm still pursuing it....and my reading life became much richer as a result of my time spent with this book.
  5. Oh the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss. While on a family vacation before beginning my college career, I overheard a family member predict that I would completely fail out of school because I was trying to live "the big life" in California. I was crushed by the destructive comment. Shortly after coming home, I was given a copy of Dr. Seuss' book. Oh the Places You'll Go became my personal reminder that my success (or failure) was not dependent on anyone other than me. So I continued to shoot for the stars....and I'm much richer because of it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hits and Misses (December 28 - January 3)

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

  • After I finally found the restaurant, I thoroughly enjoyed Sunday brunch at the Arcade in downtown Memphis. The eggs, biscuits, and gravy were astounding; the pile of country ham was a little overwhelming, but still quite tasty.
  • Because of Dad's surgery this year and my own issues with chest discomfort over the past few years, I finally went to see a cardiologist on Monday. The initial report is that everything is fine. To be on the safe side, however, Dr. Kraus wants to run a stress test later this month.
  • What better way to celebrate a good report from the doctor than lunch at Mellow Mushroom? Probably not a heart-healthy meal, but the BBQ chicken pizza was great.
  • To celebrate the end of 2014, I treated myself to a much-needed massage at Massage Envy. Giving myself the gift of a membership was one of the smartest decisions I made this year. 
  • The rest of the geriatric ward went to bed early on the 31st, so I was left alone in the living room to watch Great Performances on PBS. The episode featured scenes from the Metropolitan Opera's productions that have been part of their Live in HD broadcasts. It was such fun to hear great singing and to remember the performances that I have seen in movie theaters. I still hope to make a trip to NYC during the season to catch a performance live.
  • On Saturday evening, I acted on a whim and went to hear The Talley Trio in concert at Cornerstone Baptist in West Memphis. I've grown up listening to the Talleys and have always loved their harmony. While I missed Kirk's voice, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy that Lauren brings to the group.
  • It has been cold this week! I don't like cold weather at all. Sadly, it doesn't look as though things are going to get better any time soon in that department.
  • Trying to listen to classical recordings on my car stereo is a frustrating experience. I'm sure it was funny to those driving around me as I nearly jumped out of my seat when the orchestra's fortissimo entrance surprised me. Oh well.....lesson learned for now.
  • After celebrating New Year's Eve, I woke in the night with a stomach bug that knocked me off of my feet. While my family enjoyed lunch together, I was nursing a bowl of chicken noodle soup. I was glad when my sick stomach finally went away on Friday.
  •  After watching Great Performances, I decided to visit the PBS website to see if I could find out when the next opera would be airing. The website and its programming schedule should be entitled "Adventures in Frustration." It took 30 minutes to convince the site that I watched the Memphis station even though I live in Arkansas. Ugh!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Goals for the New Year

Happy New Year! I'm sure that many of you made resolutions this year. I have found that it is important to set goals in order to have something to aim for.  Even if I don't reach the goal, any amount of progress is an improvement from the current situation. Additionally, by making my goals public on this blog, I know that I will be held accountable throughout the year.

This year, I've created goals in three areas:  personal, musical, and spiritual. Here are my 7 goals for 2015 with a brief explanation of each.

  • Begin a personal savings account. I'm thankful that I am not reckless with my money, but I've never been one to stash away cash for the future either. There always seems to be something that the funds are needed for immediately. This year, I am going to strive to put a portion of each paycheck directly into savings. I've not come up with a plan yet -- whether I'm pushing for a set amount each month or a certain percentage -- but I have a few days to figure this out. January is not a major source of income for me.
  • Increase my personal reading. This continues to be an annual goal. 2014 was not a good year for me as a reader with health crises on every hand. In 2015, I plan to read more than I did last year (21 books is the number to beat). Honestly, I'm hoping to regain the momentum from 2013 and improve on that year's number of 46 books.
  • Lose 10 pounds. Weight loss has been the unattainable goal for the past several years. Fast food, lack of time to exercise, and sleepless nights are the major culprits. Rather than shooting for the moon as I normally do -- hoping to drop below 200 pounds -- I decided to be a little more realistic and aim for 10 pounds. To hold myself accountable, I'm going to publicly admit that at the time of writing this post, the scale reads 229. (Ouch...that's painful to admit!) Let's see what happens in 2015 with my waist line and my weight.
  • Improve my knowledge of orchestral repertoire. I love classical music. I am fairly well versed in piano literature and song repertoire. My short coming comes when I begin to think about orchestral music -- symphonies and concertos.  My goal is to become familiar with 24 major works by the end of the year. That works out to 2 works per month. What will determine "familiarity"?  If I know more of the work than when I started, I'll be satisfied. I'm going to let my interests guide me through the year rather than feeling tied down to an arbitrary list. I plan to begin with Tchaikovsky's Pathetique (Symphony #6, Op. 74).
  • Perform a solo piano recital. This is going to happen in 2015! I've finalized the program for the most part and now I'm in the process of learning the repertoire. I anticipate this will be performed in early fall.  Here's what's planned:
·  “The Alcotts" from Piano Sonata 2 by Ives
·  Sonata in F Major, K. 332 by Mozart
·  A nocturne by Faure (either the Eb minor or Db major)
·  Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 21, No. 1 by Brahms
·  Prelude and Fugue in C Major, WTC Book I by Bach
·  Napoli Suite by Poulenc
  • There might be another short piece included.....I'm just not sure right now.
  • Read through the Bible. I've done this a couple of times, but feel a need to commit to an entire reading of Scripture again in the New Year. One of my challenges in the past has been not having a Bible physically with me when I'm on the road. This year, I am using The One Year Bible Online. The website sends a daily link to my email account that I can access from my phone, tablet, or a computer. I actually began this project in mid-December and have found the process to be very convenient.
  • Become actively involved in a Bible study group. Now that I've settled down and found a home church, it's time to make connections and commit to a small group. I'm picky when it comes to Bible teachers that I will sit under each week. So far, my solution has been to avoid Sunday School all together. That's no longer this weekend, I commit to beginning my search for a Bible class.
Now they're out I have to get to work! What are your goals for the New Year? Do you share any of mine? If so, let me know.....I'd love to have an accountability partner.