Monday, February 29, 2016

Hits and Misses (February 22-28)

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

  • The highlight of the week was the morning service at College Heights. Pastor received late word that our guest speaker was ill and would not be able to attend. Jason's message was powerful, timely, and clearly anointed. I'm so thankful to be a part of a church body with such strong leadership.
  • It was nice having Wednesday night off this week. There have been lots of scheduling conflicts with praise team rehearsals on Wednesday nights lately, so we decided to move things forward a night. It made Tuesday a long day, but the rehearsal was productive and I enjoyed crashing on the couch in the middle of the week.
  • I received the proof of my product review that will be appearing in American Music Teacher next month. It was a small article and definitely not my best work -- I procrastinated writing it over the Christmas break -- but it was nice to see that something I had written will appear in a national journal.
  • I picked up two new piano students this week through the Academy of Fine Arts here at WBU. Both students have had some previous training, so I'm not starting from scratch....and I'm thankful for that. It's been fun to have a few elementary students to work with again.
  • Fatigue is here and the struggle is real! It just seems as though my breathing is labored from the continuing congestion. I have a lead on a doctor in the area -- recommended by a friend who is a nurse -- that I'm going to try to get in to see next week. Things are not bad enough that I feel as though seeing a doctor is priority one, so I'm gonna let it wait another week. I need to get through my responsibilities with opera workshop this week.
  • I'm not the only one feeling under the weather around here. It seems that sickness is all around. I'm just trying to keep away from the sickies and stay healthy. So far, so good.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Power of Persistence

Last night, I watched the Pioneers of WBU take on teams from Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) in basketball matches. The women's game was an absolute blowout! The men's game was a lesson in persistence.

The men's game was hard fought throughout. The Pioneers were down at the half and by the closing minutes of the game things didn't look good for the men of WBU. Nothing seemed to be going right for our team. Despite their best efforts, the ball simply would not fall through the hoop. Easy shots that I had watched them make with ease at other games were just not finding the net. The only thing I can say is that it just wasn't their night. Still, the men pressed on to make the best of a tough situation.

As the game was beginning to wind down, the pep band and I had a clear revelation that there was a good chance the game would not end in time for us to make our weekly trip to the Donut Shop before their 10pm closing. The band had to break down their set up...and there were only a few minutes left in the I decided to leave early and make a dash to get our donuts for the night. (Hey! When there's a decision between watching the final minutes of a basketball game and getting yummy donuts, is there really a choice to be made? Really?)

When the music students entered the building after the game, I knew that something had happened. There was excitement in the air and the fans could hardly contain themselves. The students began to tell me that in the final minutes of the game -- just after I left -- the tide turned and WBU sent the game into overtime. The Pioneers continued to rely on the things they had practiced and invested so much time in....and things began to pay off! The victory was decisive and Wayland outscored the Lions of SAGU 108-90.

Those of you who know me well are asking yourselves by now why I am even talking about a basketball game. (My Pepperdine friends are probably surprised that I even understand the basics of the game!) Here's why I was so inspired by last night's performance. I'm sure it was tempting at times for the men's basketball team to just shake their heads in frustration and give up. It would have been easy to say that things just weren't going their way and they would save their energy for a later game where they might have a better chance of winning. But they didn't....they pushed through the difficulties and ended up achieving success.

Whatever our individual pursuits, we all face difficulties in accomplishing tasks from time to time. We simply cannot find the correct words to use for the report. A musical passage seems beyond our grasp no matter how often we repeat it. The mountain of paperwork on the desk never diminishes. Successfully accomplishing the task seems hopeless. The Pioneers' game reminds us that persistence pays off. When we continue to take the steps that we know are required, we make progress. The progress may be minuscule, but it's a step in the right direction. Hard work and patience -- the essential elements of persistence -- always pay off in the end.

The Apostle Paul says this of persistence:
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phillippians 3:12-14, NASB)
Whatever our task today, let's reach higher and faithfully persist. The task will ultimately be accomplished and we will see the reward of our hard work.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Annoying Sounds

Most people can identify the sound that most annoys them. Fingernails on a chalkboard. The incessant clicking of a ballpoint pen. Fingers mindlessly drumming the desk. Gum smacking in an open mouth. Noisy chewing. I must admit that many of these sounds can send me into orbit, but I'm discovering a new sound that is driving me crazy. The sad part is that the noise is coming from my piano.

I have a lovely Steinway Model A grand piano in my studio that I get to work with each day. When I first became acquainted with it, I wasn't sure we were going to have a good relationship. The action was stiff and I simply could not produce the tone colors for which I was striving. As time passed and as I got to know the instrument's idiosyncrasies, I grew very fond of my constant office companion and friend. I have fallen in love with its tones that can be brilliant and richly warm.

As west Texas weather continues to fluctuate wildly, the Steinway is developing new sounds. The sound varies from day to day and appears in different registrations of the piano. The sound can only be described as an obnoxious rattle. Today, it appears in the middle of the instrument. It is not associated with a single note either -- that would allow me to avoid certain keys -- so an E major chord rattles in one way while activity centered around F major generates a different frequency of annoyance.

I'm not a piano technician, so I can't speak with absolute authority on the matter. It appears that the unstable humidity in the atmosphere -- and my office -- is causing the sound board to expand and retract. The result of the wood's movement is the loosening of pins that begin to rattle when they are played. Even though I can't completely diagnose the problem, I know the impact it is having on my life. I am finding myself avoiding prolonged periods at the piano because I can't achieve the sound I desire through no fault of my own. While a non-musician may not be distracted by the rattle, it is driving me nuts. I have spent my life tuning my ears to the tones coming from my instrument and how my attacks and releases of the keys effect the sound that is produced. It's almost as bad as playing on an old piano that is horribly out of tune.

So here I sit with my treasured friend, longing for the day that things finally settle down and the unwelcomed rattle goes away. I'm ready to once again fully enjoy the sounds coming from this amazing instrument!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Hits and Misses (February 15-21)

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

  • Most of my week has to do with music because it has been an incredibly busy week with Regional UILs taking up a large amount of my time. The University Interscholastic League hosts competitions in various disciplines for students across the state of Texas. Saturday was the solo and ensemble competition for instrumentalists. I was contracted by Plainview High School a few weeks ago to accompany students. I had no idea what was ahead, but I have to admit that the day was fun -- despite the long hours. Even better, I should be getting a pretty nice check for the 22 students I accompanied on Saturday. Money always makes hard work better.
  • In other news, I saw my piano students take the first of three piano proficiency exams this week. The first exam covered solo performance and sight reading (although that's not the best description of the test since students received the materials to prepare a week in advance of the exam). This was the first proficiency I had administered at WBU and I was anxious to see how my students would fare. I'm happy to report that all of them passed! *Whew!* Now on to the next one that comes in a few weeks.....
  • In all of the craziness of this week's schedule, I've found myself asking "Where is my home?" I haven't gotten to spend a lot of time there and I'm looking forward to crashing on the couch for a few evenings....and actually doing some cleaning, too. *It's bad,'s really bad.....*
  • As much as I love working with other musicians, I actually despise when they stand me up for a scheduled rehearsal. I had blocked out several hours at Plainview High on Tuesday night. Students had signed up for rehearsals and it looked as though I would have a productive evening. While sitting there for nearly 2 hours, I rehearsed for only 20 minutes! I was livid! Since this was one of the few times I didn't have any reading material in my car, I was fairly grumpy for the entire night.
  • Spring Break is quickly approaching and I was planning to go back to Memphis for the week. I thought I would still have plenty of time to buy airline tickets since I am still a month out from the trip. Boy, was I wrong! Airline prices are through the roof right now. Wowzers! I had suggested to the Geriatrics a few weeks ago that they meet me in the Houston area for that week of vacation. That idea was quickly shot down, so I'm now looking for other options for Spring Break relaxation. I'm thinking it's time for a road trip with the compass pointing west. (But not THAT FAR west, guys.......just before you even ask!)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Paperwork is the Pits!

I absolutely love making music. I love getting to work with young students and presenting performances to showcase their hard work and talent. I love the fact that I get paid to make music daily. However, I hate filling out paperwork in order to get paid.

Let me give you a little background before I launch into this rant. I have been contracted to accompany a few instrumental students from Plainview High School for an upcoming competition this weekend. I did some similar work for another area high school a few weeks back as well. For that school, I simply had to provide my social security number and my fee; a check was cut and sent right away. That's the situation that I am used to when working as a contracted professional in high schools in Arkansas, Tennessee, California, and now -- Texas.

But wait! Plainview is going to need additional information. I spent a significant chunk of my lunch hour filling out a part-time job application -- did I mention that this job will involve a total of 8 hours of work by the time the contest is over? -- that was PAGES UPON PAGES in length. Come on! Do I really need to decline health insurance? How many times must I declare that I am a U.S. citizen? I understand that much of this is mandated by the federal government, but I find myself wondering if my short-term involvement actually requires all of this. Based on the comments of the employees that were trying to get all of the paperwork together, they were not entirely sure that it was necessary.....but their supervisors demanded it be done, so here we are. My work with the school district will most likely be done before this mass of paperwork is actually processed! This is insane! No wonder people shy away from getting involved with public school districts for short-term commitments.

Now that I've ranted about the lunacy of the situation, I'll accept the fact that I've lost those precious minutes of my life, chalk it up as another example of inane bureaucratic crap, and prepare to take a voided check back to the business office so I can actually get paid the money that I'm working to earn.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Hits and Misses (February 8-14)

I suppose it's better to post late than to not post at all! So here's my look back at the week that was.....finally.....

  • The week started with a bang as Brian Kuhnert and I presented our faculty recital. We presented an all-Mahler recital that featured the Kindertotenlieder. It was wonderful to share the stage with a gifted singer and to create luxurious sounds together. There were a lot of notes on the page......and I played some that were NOT on the page.....but the audience response to the program was very positive.
  • The biggest event of the week was my first trip to TMEA. Music educators from throughout the state of Texas gathered in San Antonio to learn together and celebrate the accomplishments of gifted students. This conference was HUGE and a bit overwhelming at times. Now that I've survived my first one, I'll know what to expect in the future and think I'll really come to enjoy this time each year.
  • While at TMEA, I got to spend a little time with Randy Walters. Randy and I were students at Pepperdine together and haven't seen each other since his graduation in 1995. Randy is now teaching middle school choir in the heart of Texas. It was fun to catch up on what has happened in our lives, remember past adventures, and just chat about music. I think Randy best summed things up when he looked at me and said, "You've grown up." Looking forward to re-establishing this friendship.
  • While returning to Plainview on Sunday, I was hit with a ton of birthday wishes from people far and wide. As I get older, I wish the calendar wouldn't move forward so quickly, but I also enjoy hearing from so many friends in a single day.
  • Before leaving Plainview for TMEA, I had a series of rehearsals with instrumental students at Plainview High School for an upcoming competition. This would normally be nothing out of the ordinary. However, the ending of the evening was nearly all I could handle. A student came in to rehearse and things sounded HORRIBLY WRONG! I checked the tuning and checked his part to confirm everything was transposed correctly. That's when reality hit. This "little darlin' of a musician" came into the rehearsal with an Eb contrabass clarinet while reading from a Bb clarinet part. NO WONDER IT DIDN'T WORK!
  • I had forgotten how much I hate attempting to park in downtown San Antonio. I lived this nightmare several years ago.....and immediately decided that the family vacation would have a hotel room on the Riverwalk! Lesson learned.....I'll be booking a hotel within walking distance of the conference next year.
  • On Friday morning, I opened my wallet to discover that my debit card was not there! I made a call to the bank to freeze my account in the hopes that I would ultimately locate the card. After a day of searching everywhere and returning to the restaurant I had last used the card, you can only imagine my thankfulness to find the card in the back pocket of the slacks I had worn the previous day. The only thing I can figure out is that I didn't secure the card in my wallet and it fell out. It was an inconvenient weekend without the card, but I made it through. Now I'm just ready to get back to the bank (after the President's Day holiday) to get my card back in working order.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hits and Misses (January 31 - February 6)

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

  • On Sunday morning, I played a piano solo for offertory at College Heights for the first time. Anyone that has heard me play in church for very long can guess which arrangement I pulled out of my back pocket -- Marilyn Ham's Great is Thy Faithfulness. I have to admit that I really enjoyed playing a solo in worship again. Throughout the week, I have received compliments from various people (most of whom I don't know) about how much they enjoyed the solo. I guess it's time to get to work on another solo hymn arrangement....
  • On Monday evening, I decided to treat myself to dinner at Cotton Patch. (I say this as though eating in a restaurant is an unusual event. It is probably more surprising when I actually eat at home.) Anyway, while sitting at my table, I looked across the room and saw Joe and Margaret Berry and was invited to join them for dinner. This precious couple are quickly becoming like family to me here in Plainview. Joe is the Music Minister at CHBC. It was refreshing to simply sit with good people and enjoy sharing a meal together.
  • On Tuesday evening, I played on the faculty clarinet recital with Dr. Sandra Mosteller. Together, we performed Schumann's Phantasiestucke and Poulenc's Sonate. I love both of these pieces, but I have a special fondness for all of Poulenc's repertoire. I was especially pleased with the sounds we made together in the French set. I'm looking forward to future collaboration with my colleagues. (I'll tell you about the next recital in next week's H&M!)
  • After the recital, I was happy to enjoy a calm day to do some solo practicing. As much as I love chamber music, I am loving having time to return to my roots and rehearse solo repertoire again. What was I playing? Much of this week's work was devoted to Mendelssohn's Song without Words, Op. 19, No. 5 and the last movement of Barber's Excursions. I think both of them will be programmed on my faculty recital next fall.
  • At the very end of the day on Monday, we received word that there had been a threat made against the Plainview campus. Administration attempted to assure us that there was nothing to worry about, but the idea of a gunman or bomb -- we really had no idea what type of violence was threatened -- was disconcerting. I was sitting in the music office when the alert came out. The Plainview Children's Choir was rehearsing just across the hall. I hung around the building to help watch as we returned children safely to their parents. Since the Plainview Symphony Orchestra was rehearsing in the building, there were lots of strange faces coming in and out of the building. As of now, I know nothing else about the situation, but I have heard no reports of anything out of the ordinary occurring this week.
  • I'm sick of the cold temperatures! This has been the week to be bundled up. The weather reported a temperature of 19 when I left home one morning. This guy wasn't built to deal with such frosty conditions! I'm not ready for the summer heat wave either, but something between the two extremes will be greatly appreciated.
  • The first thing on my calendar on Wednesday mornings is a piano lesson. I shouldn't complain because it is scheduled to begin at 10:00am. However, the morning after a recital, the last thing I want is to arrive for a lesson for which the student never shows! Grrr! No phone call....just a no show. Not how I wanted to start my day.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Square Donuts

Last week, I was introduced to the joys of the square donut here in Plainview. I had heard about the students' weekly donut runs for these amazing treats, but had not experienced them for myself. I was intrigued and finally decided to join the fun on Thursday night. The donuts were good; the experience was amazing.

Square donuts are sold by a small shop that I had passed many times while driving around town, but never noticed it was a bakery. The pastries are sold early in the mornings as you would expect -- but they are also available from 8-10 at night. Of course, college students are going to opt for the late night food run! The donuts were light and fluffy. Flavors of maple butter and warm glazed donuts were mouth-watering. Inexpensive donut holes were a treat to find as well. Where else can you buy a single donut hole?

While sitting in the drive-thru, I began to think the students' enthusiasm for donut night was just about the tradition. That opinion quickly changed when we returned to campus. Students piled in the hallway with their band director and that's when I witnessed the magic. Laughter and fun filled the air. As the night progressed, conversations took a more serious turn. What I witnessed was amazing! Students began to share their fears, hopes, and failures with their mentor who poured words of truth and Godly counsel into their lives. I quietly sat back and watched, fighting back tears as I silently interceded for the unexpected moment of ministry that was unfolding before my eyes. THIS is why I choose to work in a Christian institution. It's not about making money or having a prestigious position. It's not even completely about the music's all about investing in the lives of young men and women who are seeking answers to life's challenges. It's all about sharing passion for Him with the next generation.

I certainly don't need to add more donuts to my diet or waistline, but now that I've witnessed the power of the Square Donut Run I plan to be visiting the bakery more often. And I'll continue looking for other opportunities to meet students where they are.....and do anything I can to point them to their loving Savior.

What an awesome privilege I have!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Hits and Misses (January 24-30)

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

  • Since the instrumental students were on tour this week, that meant that I was able to fit all of my first year piano students into a single class. In other words, I got to teach one fewer class than normal. It was a welcome relief and led to......
  • A lot more practicing. With the extra time, I was able to dive into some solo repertoire that I've been wanting to begin working on for quite some time. It probably wasn't what I should have worked on, but I enjoyed getting to practice some solo rep this week.
  • I was exposed to the glory of the square donut this week by the band students before they left on tour. I can now say that I totally understand what all of the fuss is about and I'm looking forward to making a return trip. I'll share more about the square donut in Wednesday's post. For now, let's just saw that the experience is about much more than a yummy pastry. I'm hooked!
  • This week also saw me teaching a piano workshop for students enrolled in praise lab. I've been wanting to develop a course for this special aspect of worship study and this was a great chance to try out some of the things I've been thinking about. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to share my experience with these young men and women who are beginning to find their place as worship leaders and worship musicians. There is no higher calling in my opinion. I hope they learned a lot in our short time together.
  • To conclude the week, I got to join Dr. Fountain for a road trip down to Lubbock to hear pianist Nancy Weems in recital. The program was phenomenal featuring works by Haydn, Mendelssohn, Bach-Busoni, and Prokofiev. It was a wonderfully cleansing and refreshing experience that I'm glad I got to enjoy. Thanks for the tip, Richard!
  • I really don't have many negatives to speak of this week. It was just a really long week! I don't know why, but I felt like I was hit by a truck all week. 
  • I'm continuing to struggle with excess mucus. I'm thankful that I'm finally feeling better, but I have a feeling that a trip to the ENT is in my future. Having congestion in my head for nearly 2 months has been long enough.