Friday, May 29, 2015

Stacks Upon Stacks

At times, my life feels like it's dominated by stacks. My desk is covered in stacks of materials that need to be addressed. Stacks of books cover my bookcases as well as the top of my filing cabinet. There are stacks of music on the piano top as well as in the floor. My clothes are piled in stacks on the bed in the guest bedroom. The stacks have taken over my life and I constantly fear that everything is about to come crashing down (literally) and take my last strand of sanity with it.

Why don't I take care of the stacks? The truth is that I don't know how. I tend to be a person who leans toward organization and finds comfort when everything has a place. When there is not a place for things, however, I let it stack up until I determine where it is going to live. I had developed a plan to organize one of the most stressful situations -- the storage of the mountains of musical scores -- but I'm finding that I am once again falling victim to the lack of follow through from others. I get frustrated about it. They seem oblivious. Others involved simply try to make the best of an awkward situation. It's a nightmare.

This is the struggle of an adult man attempting to relegate all of the possessions he's acquired in two rooms of a home that isn't his own. Somehow, I manage to survive with a clear path from my bed into the other areas of the house. I'm not satisfied with my current situation. I'm not living....I'm functioning and merely going through the motions. And you wonder why I am constantly saying that I am desperate for a job? I need a place to call my own. Hopefully, that most prized possession will find its way into my life in the not too distant future. Until then, I'll keep weaving my way through the stacks that are the strands of my life.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ready for a Vacation

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, there is no question that summer is in full swing. What does summer mean to me? VACATION! For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed hitting the highway and going some place new. There are few things better than enjoying a change of scenery for a few days without the responsibilities of our daily lives. Unfortunately, vacations are not always easy to schedule or plan -- and that's proving to be the case this year. Travel requires money. That's something I don't have a surplus of at the moment either. So I'm taking a moment to consider the aspects of the vacation experience that are most important for my well-being and figuring out ways to enjoy time away without breaking the bank.

The most important aspect of a vacation for me is time alone. I enjoy traveling with my parents each year, but that's not a break for me. I find that I need to slip away from everyone, turn the cell phone off, and trust that my siblings will handle any issues that arise for my parents in my absence. This also means that I don't visit friends when I'm vacationing.....that defeats the purpose of the trip. (Don't get me wrong....I love spending time with my friends, but I find myself still giving in to the need to accommodate their needs and desires rather than merely taking care of me for a little while.) This means that I need to stay in a hotel.

One way I manage to afford a vacation in a hotel is to stay in the same hotel chain throughout the year. By joining the chain's loyalty program, I earn free nights that I use to offset the expense of my vacation. The money that I would have used for a hotel can now be applied to a nice dinner or a relaxing massage.

When commitments at home don't allow me to leave right away, I try to find some activities to amuse my mind while I'm still living in the Geriatric Ward. Of course, going to see a movie or play are standard options. I'm also discovering that jigsaw puzzles and craft projects can be excellent ways to relax. This year, I've not been able to catch many concerts, so I'm making up for it by "exploring" some pieces I wanted to become more familiar with by viewing videos on YouTube.

Everyone needs time away from the routine to recharge and get ready for the busy season ahead. Don't allow your schedule or finances to determine the quality of your vacation. Think outside of the box, find something that you enjoy, and plan your escape today.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hits and Misses (May 17-23)

Happy Memorial Day! As our nation pauses to honor the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice in order to defend our way of life and the freedoms we enjoy, I am filled with gratitude. May we never take our liberties for granted nor forget that they came at a very high price.

Now here's a look back at the week that was....

  • The week has been filled with quality entertainment. The week started with a performance of Kiss Me, Kate at Playhouse on the Square that I thoroughly enjoyed. Additionally, I decided to enjoy the first full week of summer break by taking in two movies: Woman in Gold and Tomorrowland. The first film was a thrill for the mind and a moving story. The George Clooney flick was not as intellectual by any means, but was definitely a worthwhile way to spend a lazy Friday afternoon.
  • I auditioned for a church pianist position this week as well. I haven't auditioned for this type of position in many years -- because I was either serving in a volunteer capacity or in a congregation that was very familiar with my skills. It was nice to go into a setting where no one knew me and allow my technique and musicality to speak for themselves. Why audition? The congregation in question is placing a high value on quality musicians and are offering a salary that reflects that vision. Not only is the money good, but they have clearly outlined what will be required of the position. Acceptable salary, clear job description, and paid vacation....that's not been my experience in these positions in the past for sure! I was the first pianist to audition for the job, so it will be a few weeks before I have any news on this front.
  • On Saturday, I conducted my first studio recital with my piano students at the Beethoven Club in Memphis. I always forget what a nice space this is and fall in love with the in-house instrument all over again. The students that performed on Saturday did an excellent job and their parents were very appreciative and excited about the progress we have made in our short time together. I also played on this recital. I know there are differing opinions on this topic, but I think it is important for students and parents to hear the private instructor perform on a regular basis to clearly establish their professionalism and qualifications. Now I've established the expectation that I will play on my studio recitals from the very beginning. I'll be discussing the recital in more detail over on Collaborations later this week.
  • I was involved in a minor fender bender on Friday afternoon while coming home from the movies. I was sitting at a stop light on Madison Avenue when I was rear ended by a Ford F150. Thankfully, the driver saw me early enough that he was able to almost completely stop -- it was literally a tap that didn't jar me too much and did only cosmetic damage to the car. Still, I found myself sore for the next few days following the accident.
  • After getting hit, I took Mom and Dad to dinner at Coletta's Italian restaurant to celebrate Mom's birthday. I had just visited Coletta's last week when presenting the Cole Porter lecture in preparation for Kiss Me, Kate and was very impressed with the food. My return visit was rather disappointing. Mom enjoyed the veal Parmesan but didn't particularly enjoy the tomato sauce. Dad said his dish was bland (although he's the only one to blame about that......who orders a Cajun dish and has the chef hold the spices? The waitress even warned him that there would only be pasta, shrimp, and a light butter sauce remaining).
  • In the middle of the week, it came to my attention that a parent in my piano studio had not been receiving any of the communication I had been mailing to her home. That meant she knew nothing about the recital or other information contained in the studio newsletter. Upon investigation (and a phone call to the parent), I learned that the contact information provided by the academy's front desk staff was faulty and had not been updated in several years. Really? Needless to say, I was rather irritated and made it known. This single incident became the basis for this week's new acronym -- ISSP -- meaning "I See Stupid People!" Grrr! Can we just institute a policy across society that people who are incompetent and not committed to excellence will immediately be fired?
  • After resolving the issue with the uninformed parent (who cancelled a planned trip in order to hear her student perform on Saturday), I was really annoyed with the flaky parent that informed me on Saturday morning after piano lessons that they would not be at the recital that afternoon. Actually, he didn't inform me.......I asked him about it point blank. I know that something else came up that conflicted with the recital because the student told me about it! While we were reviewing recital pieces in the lesson, the student told me that he hadn't practiced them very much because Dad had said he wouldn't be playing........because they were having a movie marathon all weekend long! Come on!!! What are you teaching your child about commitment and responsibility? If you had planned this all week, could you not have the simple respect to inform me? I might not like your decision, but at least I'll have more respect for you as a man to tell me in advance rather than letting me find out from your kid. Honestly, if piano lessons are just another activity to fill a slot in your already overfilled schedule then just tell me that so I will only invest the same amount of time as you are willing to give to the process. 
  • Cuckoo's Nest - p. 276 of 325.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Building Baby's Library

We are getting excited about the arrival of Baby Boy Brauer around here! Everyone is dreaming and praying as preparations are made. Ever the bibliophiles, Jacqs and I have been joking about building the baby's library. I've sent pictures of sales in local bookstores featuring children's books. I found myself wondering what must-have books I would want to see in the nursery. That question became the basis for today's post.....and my list of ten must haves in any nursery.

1.  The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. This book is actually for Mom and Dad, but an important foundation piece. I was introduced to the book in my elementary literacy class. Trelease clearly outlines the importance of reading with a child from the earliest days and the impact the activity has on the child's total development. Most valuable are the graded lists of read aloud books -- complete with summaries of the story and publication information. Whenever I find myself asked to read to a group of children, I find myself returning to this resource over and over again.

2. Corduroy by Don Freeman. What childhood is complete without this charming story of a cuddly teddy bear waiting on a department store shelf for the friendship of a child? One of my all-time favorites that I discovered as an adult.

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Children always enjoy revisiting the adventures of the caterpillar as he eats his way through the pages of the book.

4. The Napping House by Audrey Wood. A great bedtime story that is also very funny. Its repetitive text becomes very rhythmic as the house and everyone in it prepares for a much needed nap. It will definitely put a smile on your child's face as he drifts to sleep.

5. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. When you need something a little calmer to settle your little one at the end of the day, this is a classic that has been enjoyed by generations of children.

6. I Love You to the Moon and Back by Amelia Hepworth. I love this story and adore the pictures. No matter how old we become, it's always comforting to be reminded that our parents love us "to the moon and back." I've heard many stories of parents fighting back tears as they read this expression of pure love to their little bears.

7. The Beginner's Bible: Timeless Children's Stories by Thomas Nelson Publishing. I've read lots of children's Bible story books over the years, but I tend to always return to this one for the youngest ones who are growing in their faith. The pictures are vivid and bright. The stories are well written and focus on the primary truth of the individual stories while maintaining an appropriate length for the early toddler. It also provides a good introduction to the idea of family devotions for a young family.

8. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss. I struggled to just pick one of the classic books by Dr. Seuss. The rhythm and repetitive use of language is helpful for language development and builds vocabulary. Who am I kidding? These books maintain a place on nursery bookshelves because they are FUN!

9. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. Another classic from this author that children always love. Often becomes an introduction to the game "I Spy."

10. You Are Special by Max Lucado.  This book is probably most appropriate for an older child (ages 7-12) because of its length and detailed writing. In a world that constantly points out the negative aspects of childhood, the kids we love need to be reminded that they are unique, special, and loved by their family and the Heavenly Father. Lucado's lovable Wimmicks will warm the heart and open doors for important conversations for many years to come. Go ahead and add it to your child's bookshelf now; the pictures are amazing and the story can be "told" (rather than read) to younger children when they need a special reminder of just how amazing they are.

What are your must read books to the children in your life? Which books hold special memories from your earliest years? When was the last time you visited your local bookstore or library and sat in the floor of the children's section? If it's been too long, I dare you to visit'll be very glad that you did!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Movie Review: Woman in Gold

Earlier this week, I treated myself to an afternoon at the movies and saw Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. I was expecting an entertaining film about the injustice experienced at the hands of the Nazis. What I experienced was a moving portrait of forgiveness and coming to grips with the past.

The film is based on the true story of a Jewish woman, Maria Altmann, living in Los Angeles in the 1990s who hires a neophyte attorney, Randy Schoenberg (portrayed by Reynolds), to help her acquire a painting that had been in her childhood home. The painting, familiarly called Woman in Gold, is housed in an Austrian museum and is considered one of the nation's artistic treasures. The beautiful portrait was stolen by the Nazis; when it was discovered after the war, a questionable will was found that left the art work to the Austrian museum.

In order to pursue what is rightfully hers, Maria and Randy must travel to Vienna. Maria has no desire to return to the city from which she escaped and finds herself facing ghosts and demons she long thought were dead. Randy's journey to Austria has an unexpected effect on him. The young lawyer's grandfather was Arnold Schoenberg, the Jewish composer who also had to leave Vienna because of the Nazi regime and the oppressive antisemitism that pervaded the city.

Two of the most powerful scenes of the movie come when both Maria and Randy realize that attitudes are changing. Randy attends a concert of his grandfather's music in one of Vienna's most important halls -- where Schoenberg's sounds had been rejected for decades. While attempting to reacquire Woman in Gold through the Austrian legal system, Maria encounters Austrians who maintain the antisemitism of the 1940s as well as young Austrians who are attempting to bring about change while making amends for the crimes of their fathers.

As a performing artist, I loved this film. The discussions about painting and music struck a chord with me. However, I was pleased to see that the movie's message about the power of the arts was not lost on the lay people in the audience. More importantly, I was struck by the power of the story of human suffering, persevering, and forgiveness. While watching Woman in Gold, I found myself reaching for a napkin to dry the tears that formed in my eyes. The movie truly was touching and a film worth checking out for yourself. You will leave with a new understanding about life, family, and love.

Let me make it simple for you. If you are breathing, you NEED to see Woman in Gold before it leaves the theaters.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hits and Misses (May 10-16)

Summer break is still a new concept for me, so I'm getting used to my more relaxed schedule. Even though it's late, here's a look back at the week that was.....

  • Mother's Day was a lot of fun. I suppose my siblings and I should be ashamed that Mom stayed home from church on Sunday morning to cook lunch for us. Truthfully, I'm not. It's what she wanted to that's that. It made her happy and it was a great day.
  • The semester is over! The semester is over! I love my jobs, but I'm always happy to see the end of the term. I'm looking forward to catching up on some reading and taking in some films I've missed along the way.
  • On Thursday, I had a great phone conversation with a friend and fraternity brother from Malibu. The purpose of the phone call was "business," but it was very good to catch up with what's going on in his life. I miss talking to my brothers on a regular basis. I know I should initiate some of the phone calls myself.....but I've never been very good at that. Once the call gets started, I'm always thankful that someone took the reins and dialed the digits.
  • This week also saw the first installment of Bartlett Music Academy's "Let's Go to a Show" series. The idea is that I will make a presentation on an upcoming performance in the Memphis area and then we will all attend the show together. This weekend, we saw Playhouse on the Square's production of Kiss Me, Kate. I had a blast learning more about Cole Porter and his very interesting life. I was a little nervous that people wouldn't respond to the information, but I've heard nothing but positive feedback about the whole experience. If you're in the Memphis area, I'd love to have you join us for our next adventure as we "Go to a Show" together.
  • To close out a busy and productive week, I attended the season finale concert of the Memphis Repertory Orchestra. I thoroughly enjoyed the music by Haydn and Bruch. I tend to forget about the MRO's concerts until my schedule has gotten too full to attend, but I'm always happy when I do....and the price can't be beat! Great music by young musicians for free.
  • I'm always shocked by the excuses students come up with during final exams. This semester, one student swore that she had written the wrong time for her piano final in her calendar. I found myself chuckling as I saw the correct time written in her music though. I'm not suggesting that she was lying.....I just found the entire situation humorous. 
  • Saturday night was a sleepless night for me. Some kind of creature was having a party under the floor of my bedroom. I knew I wasn't going to get any rest there, so I made my way to the couch in the living room. While things were quieter there, the couch has seen better days; there was no sleep for the weary.
  • Not a lot of reading for me this week at all.....
  • Cuckoo's Nest - p. 52 of 325.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Hits and Misses (May 3-9)

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

  • The last full week of the semester was filled with successful performances. On Tuesday evening, I played Percy Grainger's Children's March with the Symphonic Band. The week ended with voice boards on Friday afternoon. It always feels good to tick off another performance in a very busy season.
  • After Thursday's orchestra concert, I enjoyed dinner with some young friends. I am blessed to have the opportunity to have gotten to know these individuals in the past few years and look forward to seeing what the future holds for them. It's an added bonus when I realize that surrounding myself with young people throughout the week keeps my mind and spirit young as well.
  • With the end of the semester came the dreaded check-out routine at MSCC. I really don't understand why an institution doesn't trust their faculty enough to simply allow us to input grades with accuracy instead of wasting so much valuable time going through a litany of unnecessary hoops in order to get our final check of the semester. I keep hoping that this process along with others that make the college feel more like an extension of high school will be phased out in the near future.
  • While I normally love shopping for gifts, this week was a challenge with my crazy performance schedule. I knew what I wanted to give for Mother's Day, but it required me to visit several shops. I never expected it would be so difficult to find a light afghan in May either! I finally found one and had the gift bag ready in time for the Mother's Day festivities.
  • Somehow, I managed to keep reading this week!
  • A Family Affair - COMPLETE
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey - p. 14 of 325

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

National Geographic History

History was never one of my favorite subjects as a young student. I didn't like memorizing facts about dead men. The battles of war had little impact on my imagination. Things finally began to change during graduate school.

Suddenly, I began to understand that events impacted people across eras and across disciplines. How had I missed the fact that politics directly impacted the arts that I loved so dearly? I suppose it had something to do with finally encountering teachers who were passionate about world history rather than simply looking at trends in their minute area of interest.

Now I found myself wanting to learn more about historical figures and events. I wanted to consider their impact on future societies and understand the reactions created in literature and the arts. I felt that I had missed the opportunity to learn more about history since I neglected these courses during my academic career. There was no time to enroll in a class...and my interests were wide-spread. That's why I was so happy to discover the premiere edition of National Geographic History on a recent trip to the newsstand.

The magazine is filled with exquisite images and carefully researched articles that address history in such a way that the layman can easily understand the circumstances and impact of the dedicated issue. The first edition of the journal includes articles related to the American Civil War, the destruction of Pompeii, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. After reading the first few pages, I immediately knew I was holding a great resource that needed to be added to my personal library; I promptly subscribed to the magazine so I wouldn't miss an issue. Now I have finally found a way to appease my hunger for a better understanding of history.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Hits and Misses (April 26-May 2)

Your friendly neighborhood blogger is finally returning to a normal routine after an extremely busy season. I have missed writing....and I hope you have missed reading. Without further ado, here's a look back at the week that was...

  • The past few weeks have been consumed with Union's production of Into the Woods. We weren't always sure how the show was going to turn out. Actors were missing from the final week of rehearsals. Music challenges unexpectedly appeared. Despite the frightening times, the show managed to be a huge success. Most of the six shows were completely sold out and cast and orchestra had a great time together. I'm really thankful that I got the opportunity to work on this great show again.
  • Even though the musical was consuming my time, other musical responsibilities continued as well. On Friday evening, I collaborated on the final recital of the semester at Union. The music was glorious -- violin works by Bartok, Brahms, Gershwin, and Bruch were featured -- and the rehearsals were always productive and enjoyable. On Saturday, three of my piano students appeared on Bartlett Music Academy's spring recital. All three students have only been with me for about four months. I was very pleased with their performances. Honestly, I thought some of my young students showed an attention to detail and understanding of the score to rival some of the recital's more advanced pianists. (I know I am probably biased on this topic, but I also know good playing when I hear it!)
  • My online section of music appreciation ended on Friday night as well. Now that I've calculated the scores, I'm amazed to observe that as many students earned F's as A's in the class. Come on! The exams were multiple choice and the answers were sitting in front of you! That just takes the definitions of "laziness" and "ignorance" to an entirely new level.
  • With the little down time that I had during this busy season, I found it very relaxing to complete a jigsaw puzzle. The 1,000 piece puzzle featured the "Great Composers" of classical music and turned out much nicer than I expected. I'm now investigating the best way to display the completed puzzle so I can hang it in my piano studio.
  • I'm worn out! I try not to think about it very much, but the last day I spent without spending a significant amount of time on the piano bench was on Friday, April 10....and that was because of an injury.  As of now, it looks as though I'll get a break on May 13! I'm ready to spend a few days in bed with my hands soaking in a tepid bath. Ok....enough complaining....time to get back to work. :)
  • During the run of Into the Woods, I was able to take up residence in the Jackson area. It was great to settle in a single location for a long stretch, but I found myself getting sick of eating in restaurants. I'm ready for comfort food and simple sandwiches for a while.
  • I discovered this week that my summer and fall teaching assignments are going to be greatly reduced. MSCC is not offering a summer music course this year. Due to issues related to faculty load, it looks as though class piano will be taught by a full-time staff member at Union. Simply stated, that means my finances are going to take another hit. I spent a few days feeling depressed about the situation. Thankfully, I had a good friend advise me to shake it off and start looking for the next open door.
  • People can be insensitive and thoughtless sometimes. My niece got hurt when a man gave her a judgmental look when she attended church with temporary blue streaks in her hair. The man continued to make a snide comment to her sister. K is 16 and is not rebellious at all. (Case in point....she asked her mom's permission before dying her hair.) I've already ranted enough about this situation on social media as well as with my family. Suffice it to say that those Christians who are mature older need to learn to distinguish between what is of eternal, spiritual significance and what is a personal choice that is really none of their business in the first place (and is not a matter of sinfulness) before making potentially harmful comments to children and teens who are trying to grow in their walk with Christ!
  • Great Expectations - COMPLETE! 
  • A Family Affair by Mary Campisi - p. 74 of 201 (74 pages this week)