July 25th, 2010 :: Ordinary Days
Life has her own way of slowing me down.
After my bike “spill” earlier in the summer, (this is how Matt likes to refer to it, As if I was a 5-year-old who just got her training wheels off.) my normal frantic pace shifted considerably. It's hard to move fast on crutches. It's even harder to carry a cup of coffee. Whether it was the crutches or the lack of caffeine, the speed of my life slowed down to what felt like a crawl. Or a limp, as the case might be.
I still did plenty, I can assure you. I taught and taught and taught some more---some days as long as 8-10 hours. My students were at first alarmed at my lack of mobility. "My bicycle was hit by a car," I told them, thinking borderline passive voice would seem less threatening to a small child. But I learned quickly this was the wrong choice of words because bike accidents hit home (no pun intended) with children; after all, most of them ride bikes. "WERE YOU ON IT?" one child asked in an alarmed tone.
In addition to my teaching schedule, I still hobbled to the piano bench for multiple performances and for too many rehearsals. For the last five years, July has proven to be an extremely busy performing time around here, because my husband organizes what are known as "Thursday Evening Musicales" every---you guessed it---Thursday evening. These are wonderful evenings, where musicians of all stripes and musical persuasions come and play 10-15 minute sets to benefit a local organization called "Healthcare for the Homeless." The musicales not only earn money for a great cause, they are always fantastic evenings. Musicians in Albuquerque have come to look forward to this concert series as a chance to work with different people, or to play music that they don't normally perform in their regular lives.
But there is always a need for pianists, piano being the universal accompaniment to just about anything. This year I have played for a chamber choir, a tenor, a baritone, a soprano and flute, a soprano and mezzo, a jaw harp (THAT was a new experience. Ever heard a set of Beethoven variations for jaw harp and piano? I doubt it.). I have done a set of piano duets, and next week will do a solo set of PDQ Bach Preludes and Fugues. July has become a great music-making month, but it puts the pressure on the practicing for sure. So while physically I was moving at the pace of a snail, the demands of my work life hadn't really let up. Just to add to the complications, for the first week I had to pedal entirely with my left foot. There is no subtlety with my left foot I can tell you. I gained great insights to the pedaling habits of my 8-year-old students. The pedal is either on or it's off. There is nothing in between.
Keeping up this schedule meant that everything else had to go. It took all the energy I had to get the bare minimum of teaching, practicing and performing done while on crutches. Matt and I discovered quickly how much I do around the house without even knowing I'm doing it, when the cats went 4 days without water and the garden began slowly withering away in the heat. Being on crutches for over 2 weeks put a serious damper on my “The World is My Gym” exercise motto. Although now that I think about it, the world still was my gym, just in an obstacle course kind of way.
In the midst of this mid-summer madness we are sitting outdoors one evening with friends enjoying cocktails. Suddenly, Lora says, "You know I don't have my glasses on, but I think there's an owl in that tree." We look up. Sure enough, on a branch hanging over our yard was a screech owl. We look closer, and pick out not one owl, but a total of four owls, hanging out in the trees overhead. They are intent on something in our yard, which I realize just might be the neighborhood cat, whom I call Pinstripe, busy rustling in the bushes. In fact, Pinstripe is after something, probably a chipmunk. The owls never take their eyes off the chase. We go inside. It's getting both dark and a little creepy out there what with the posse of owls and what is clearly about to be a massacre with Chippy as the victim.
Two days later my neighbor knocks on the door. There is a dead cat between our houses. she tells me. "You know the cats in this neighborhood better than I do," she says, "Can you come see if you recognize it?"
It's Pinstripe, or a cat that could play her double in a movie. Her body is intact, but the look on her face is one of horror and trauma. Could the owls kill a cat? I've heard of hawks killing cats, picking them up and dropping them to their deaths, but a little screech owl? What about four screech owls working together?
We call Animal Control, who comes and takes away the body. I'm sad. Pinstripe was a sweet cat and one that has been coming to visit for years. I didn't know where she lived, but she loved our garden, and did her part in keeping the rodents out of the flower beds. More than once, I saw her catch a mouse in my yard, and she rubbed against my ankles whenever I hung out laundry.
Days go by, and we notice that every evening at dusk, Godiva, our indoor cat, is sitting by the sun-room door staring out the window. It takes us awhile to figure out what she is doing, but then we remember that most evenings Pinstripe would come to that door. The two cats would bang up against the glass hissing aggressively, and then settle down and stare at each other for some time before one of them got bored and wandered off: Pinstripe to another outdoor adventure; Godiva to come find us to curl up for the night.
"It's good to have a worthy adversary," Matt says. "We miss them when they're gone."
In the meantime, I am back on two feet. My friend Jerome calls me "Ms. 5/8," because of the irregular manner of my limp. "Walk in 4/4," my physical therapist reminds me. On my good days, I manage common time, largo as it is. It will be a while still before I am back to the regular pace of my life. As I write this, there is only one official month of summer left around here---my fall schedule begins August 16th. This has become the summer that wasn't---all my plans of hiking and biking, gardening and yoga classes disappearing the minute I took that spill on the bicycle. All I have respectably managed is a great deal of summertime lounging, a pile of books at my side.
Last week I was outside watering, limping from flower bed to flower bed dragging the hose behind me. A woman walks by with her dog. We exchange a few pleasantries and then she says, "You know, these daisies would bloom again if you'd just deadhead them." Nothing like unsolicited advice from a perfect stranger. I explain about my accident, and say, "I'm doing good just to be watering at this point." "Oh," she grunts, "I'll do them for you," and proceeds to deadhead the entire plant. I shake my head, marveling at both the audacity and the generosity of people that walk through our lives.
Inside, Godiva sits at the door, waiting for her friend.
July 18th, 2010 :: Reading Days
If at the most susceptible age, from the age of 6 to 16, the child isn’t at least once moved by the life-giving power of great music, later he will hardly be influenced by it. Many times one single experience opens the young soul to music for his whole life. This experience shouldn’t be left to chance: to obtain it is the duty of the schools.
July 4th, 2010 :: Student Days
Music will only enter our souls, live within us,
if we plow our souls with our own efforts, with our own music making.
This month, I took a two-week intensive Kodaly certification course. Zoltan Kodaly was a music educator and composer in Hungary during the first part of the 20th century. His a-ha moment came one day when attending a chamber music concert. He noticed that the only people in the small audience were people who were chamber players themselves, and that the average non-musician didn’t attend chamber music concerts. His life’s work became about training the future audiences in Hungary---thinking that if they could produce a country full of amateur well-educated musicians, then the professional musicians would always be supported. In doing so, he created a system of teaching music that is largely singing-based. When he died in 1967, he left a country where the music education is among the best in the world.
In this country, however, Kodaly is largely viewed as under the umbrella of the classroom music educator. At first glance, this course might seem like a strange tangent in my piano-centered teaching career, but these days I am interested in thinking about teaching and music making from different angles, specifically ones that might include delightfully fresh perspectives after spending my life on the piano bench. Besides, in taking this class, I could earn three precious hours of graduate credit which could be applied to my Ed. Psych degree. As our friend Regina so eloquently put it, I am pretty much a whore for graduate credit these days.
I arrived the first day with a pretty cavalier attitude. I was open to the whole experience, and knew it would very likely expose all my musical weaknesses and holes in my training. After all, as Kodaly himself said, music education is about training first the ear, then the mind, then the heart, and finally the hands. Whereas I nearly failed ear training in college, and my knowledge of those solfege hand signs are suspect at best. On top of that, the pedagogy part of this training is all about classroom teaching, and as I told a group of music teachers this spring when leading a workshop, I require parental help when leading my performance classes, and they consist of 10 kids, tops. I wouldn’t say that I really have a handle on classroom teaching on any level.
But I’m fine with that. I wasn’t there to improve my classroom skills, only my musical ones, and to glean some new insights about teaching to infuse into my piano teaching. A lot of this course would roll right off my back, and I had no problem with that.
However, I didn’t really understand the full immersion environment that went along with such training courses. The day began at 8AM and went straight through till 5:30PM with about 5 minutes for lunch. Just when I thought I could waltz out of there and run home to the several hours of practicing I had waiting for me, I discovered that there was hours--and I mean hours--of homework. Homework? This I had not accounted for.
And so it unfolded: days of singing and solfege, choir and conducting (Heaven help me. There is only one conductor in this family for a reason.), lectures and pedagogy classes. I started getting up at 4:45AM to put in a couple hours of piano before I left. (Yes, we have the most tolerant neighbors. Ever.) It’s time all of us performance people to lose our superiority complex; there is nothing easy about the music education track. At night I paced the house memorizing pentatonic children’s songs, and analyzed songs and games. In an attempt to preserve the true spirit of Kodaly’s methodology, which sought to utilize the folk song culture of the Hungarian people, our materials included lots of songs that were in Spanish. This is indeed a true reflection of the community I live in, but let’s stop and think about this for a minute. I am roaming the house muttering Spanish words. It’s been 20 years since my last course in Spanish and I retained nothing. Nothing, I tell you.
That was about the moment when I threw myself in front of a moving vehicle.
Which, in retrospect, was perhaps not the wisest thing to do. While there had been plenty of tears and suicidal thoughts among my classmates in Kodaly boot camp, this was perhaps a rather dramatic response.
It happened like this:
After yet another long day, I was headed home on my shiny blue bicycle. I had just unlocked my bike from the bicycle rack and out of laziness was cruising along on the sidewalk until I could find a convenient place to enter onto the street. I came upon an intersection with an alley, and I knew it was blind for both of us even as I approached it. I saw the car before it saw me (in the driver’s defense, most of us do not stop at sidewalks, we stop at streets. This is wrong of us, but we all do it.). I quickly saw the writing on the wall, swerved and was literally jumping off my bike when I was hit head-on. Perhaps not the day to wear a skirt and heels.
It could have been so much worse. It could have been my head, my hands, my life. Instead it was only my right knee, which I knew immediately was pretty mangled. The distraught non-English-speaking Hispanic driver and his mother got out of the car, totally traumatized. I was comforting them, and ironically, my only real method of doing so was to sing pentatonic Spanish children’s songs at them. I need not ever worry about being left on the side of the road without help again. This was a busy street close to the university with its ubiquitous coffee houses, shops and restaurants (in fact, our “encounter” took place in front of one of our favorite New Mexican restaurants). Dozens of people came running. Not every day does a blonde in a dress and heels throw herself in front a car.
I landed in a perfectly lady-like position, just in the way my mother taught me to sit on the floor with a short skirt. Unfortunately, that was my last graceful move for awhile. I am developing blisters on my palms from the crutches, and amazing biceps in the meantime. I will be fine, fortunately, and perhaps even on two feet in another week or so. But Kodaly boot camp is behind me, and triumphantly I have three more hours of graduate credit under my belt.
There is no perfect spiritual life without music.
The soul has certain regions where only music can penetrate.
The purpose of music is to get better acquainted with, make flourish and bring to perfection our inner life.
Contact Amy Greer at: firstname.lastname@example.org