Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Contrast and a Comparison (or, Life is Like a Band Rehearsal)

I love band.  I have since I was 12 years old and made my very first sound on a Euphonium.  
It is my first love, it is what got me through high school and it is what I studied at college.  
I have spent many, many hours in rehearsals.  I have had many different conductors.
I like band so much I make my friends and family play with me whenever possible.
This is a band put together for a church picnic made up of anyone who could hold an instrument.
That's me on the far right, my son on trombone next to me and my husband on tuba.
As a freshman in college I played under a conductor who was also brand new to the school.  He was young, friendly, and an amazing musician, but his rehearsals were unbearably tedious.  
Often we would be working on a new piece of music when he would notice that the flutes or clarinets (it was always the flutes or clarinets) were struggling with a difficult section where they had to play a lot of notes in a very short amount of time.  He would stop and ask them to play the section alone.  It would become obvious that it needed some work, so he would take some time to work on it, sometimes as much as 20 or even 30 minutes.  

Trombone players are not good at sitting and waiting.  
(They are a little bit like 2-year olds, only sneakier.)  
Trumpet players are also not very good at sitting and waiting.  
(They really like to be important.)  
Tuba players get comfortable and are soon snoring softly (or loudly). 

This conductor also had a tendency to stop whenever anything wasn't perfect, and well, we weren't very perfect.  This meant that we often found ourselves on stage preparing to play a song through from beginning to end for the very first time in front of an audience.  
Usually, it was fine.  
We were college musicians, after all.  
Sometimes it was not fine.  
We were, after all, just college musicians.*

In contrast, I currently find myself playing with the West Michigan New Horizons Music Ensembles Symphonic Band under the direction of Dr. Nancy Summers.

I have been playing with the New Horizons Band for about five years now
and I enjoy the rehearsals very much.  
Sometimes when we are learning a new piece of music Nancy will notice that the flutes or clarinets are struggling with a difficult section where they have to play a lot of notes in a very short amount to time.  She will stop and ask them to play the section alone.  It will become obvious that it needs some work so she will ask them to work on it at home over the coming week.  She may give them some pointers about how to practice it effectively and then we move on.  At the next rehearsal we will cover that spot again, perhaps another minute or two of help and some encouragement to keep working on it and just as the trombone players are wondering if they can get away with something 
we are all back in.

Nancy notices whenever something isn't perfect, and believe me, we are not perfect.  
(She is often jotting down notes for future rehearsals.)  
But we never find ourselves on stage preparing to play a song through for the first time.  She makes sure that we spend some of our time in rehearsal running our pieces 
from top to bottom, no matter what!  
This can get very interesting, but far more often it is surprisingly empowering.  
"Did you notice how we got it back together after that near train wreck?"
Sometimes our most moving musical experiences happen during rehearsal.  
It's a shame to miss the glorious musical moments just because they happen in a rehearsal.
Not only is this helpful when performance time comes, 
but it is amazing how satisfying it makes a rehearsal feel.  
Music is funny that way.  Try listening to the first half of a song and then go on with the rest of the day.  It leaves a strangely unsettled feeling, like stopping mid-sentence, or wearing one shoe.  

Now for the Comparison.  
I know you are on pins and needles to know how life is like a band rehearsal.  
Well, here it is: If we spend all our time focusing on one little issue that we find particularly difficult we will find ourselves unsatisfied and unhappy.  

Everyone has something that is hard.  
For flutes and clarinets it is those inevitable sixteenth-note runs.
For tubas it is not getting lost during those endless oom-pahs and then missing the interesting parts. 
 For me it is using my time effectively.
For you it may be something completely different.  
I know that I need to work on my faults.  This isn't permission to ignore them completely.  
There are certainly times when a full on Stop and Fix is in order.
However, it is permission to live the whole day, clear through, stopping only briefly, here and there to look at the difficult spots and plan how to work on them, then moving on.  
Don't quit every time something isn't perfect.  
Push through.  Make a plan. 
Come back to it, but don't dwell on it.

Glorious moments happen all around us, all the time, while we are just living our lives.
The "rehearsal" days of our lives can be fun, creative and satisfying.
Don't put off living for the "performance" days.

 *That particular professor did one amazing thing that I think very few professors actually do. He  read the student evaluations we were encouraged to complete every semester.  Over time his rehearsals became much more pleasant and our band improved dramatically.  (That is a good topic for another post some other day.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Climb On!

This is me...rock climbing.
For a middle aged, slightly over weight, mother of six, I'm looking pretty good on that wall.  You might even be tempted to be impressed.  (And maybe the fact that I was willing to put on the harness at all is impressive, but all the kids were watching, I had no choice.)

There are a few things you should know before you get too impressed.

  • There is a rope.  If you look closely you can see it.  There were moments when that rope did more than just keep me from falling.  Sometimes it gave me a little boost.
  • There was a belayer.  In this case it happened to be my husband.  The rope isn't much good without the belayer.  Not only did he make sure I didn't fall, and give me a couple of boosts, he also gave me instructions about where to find handholds and a lot of encouragement.
  • The person who took the photo (maybe it was my sister or maybe my son, I'm not sure) was kind enough to take it from the side, not the back.  I have some pretty awful photos of people's backsides while climbing.  It is not flattering.  Thank you for making me look good.
  • The bottom of the photo is about 2 feet above the ground.  That was as far as I got.  I'm not much of a rock climber yet.  I may never be.  My husband and some of my kids love it and I am happy to support them in that hobby.  I'll even put on the harness and try an occasional climb.  If nothing else it makes everyone else feel better about their own attempts.
It is so easy to look at a snapshot of someone else's life and make assumptions that may not be true.  You may not see all of the help they have received from family and friends.  You may not realize that you are only seeing the carefully orchestrated photo shoot.  Taken from a different angle it may be a whole different picture.  

It is ok to have a harness, a rope, a helmet, and a belayer in your life.  In fact, we'd really struggle to get anywhere without them.  And even if you feel like you can only get a few feet off the ground, don't discount the value of the attempt, and the example to those who are watching.
Climb On!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Habitat for Humanity

I have always wanted to work on a Habitat for Humanity house.  It just always seemed really cool.
But I'm busy and I didn't really know how to sign up and don't you have to go as a group and... so I never did.  You know how it is.  Good thing there are people our there who do stuff anyway, like my daughter's National Honor Society advisor.  She set up a day for the 12th grade Honor Society students to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.  And she needed adults to come along.  She emailed me personally and asked if I would be willing.  I rearranged my schedule.

My group spent the day painting the inside of a house.  (We were really glad we got that assignment because it was about 10 degrees that day.  Some of the other groups spent the day working outside.  Brrr.)  The lady from Habitat was so nice and so helpful.  She explained everything so clearly.  (Several of the kids had never painted anything.)  And she explained Habitat's mission in a way that made so much sense.  (Did you know that the owners are required to put in a lot of hours helping build the house?  There are two reasons for this, one, it gives them a sense of ownership of the house, and two, it teaches them the skills they need to maintain the house.  They know how to put up a shelf, paint a wall, fix a hole, replace a light fixture, etc.  Brilliant.)  The kids and I worked hard and we painted the whole house.  We felt like we accomplished something and we had a good time.

I was impressed with this group of kids.  There were about 10 in my group.  They were pretty evenly split between African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Caucasian.  Several were children of immigrants and several were immigrants themselves.  They were all members of the National Honor Society which means that they have maintained a GPA of 3.6 or higher throughout high school and committed to providing service for their communities.  All of them are planning to attend college and major on a variety of fields from medicine to archeology to environmental science.  And some are still undecided.  That's ok, too.  (Nearly everyone changes their major at least once anyway.)  None are wealthy, all have had to work hard and make sacrifices.  They are smart and kind and they really don't care what country you come from, what color your skin is, or whether you speak with an accent.  They care about how hard you are willing to work and how you choose to treat other people.  

I'm looking forward to another day with Habitat and meeting some more amazing service minded people.

I'm back.

It is OK to miss a few weeks on the blog.
Some months are harder than others.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Getting to Eagle

The Eagle Scout Project
or "It is ok to let a 14 year old lead."

The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

This is why I support the Boy Scouts of America.  This is why I give my time, money, energy, and my husband's time to the Boy Scouts.  This is who and what I want my son to be.

When Thomas achieved the rank of Life Scout and began thinking about his Eagle Project he struggled to know what to do.  He thought he had an idea to build a bridge at a local park but there were some complications that nixed that project.  While driving in the car I asked him to think about who he wanted to serve.  (Proud mom moment here.)  He started listing the most vulnerable members of the population: the homeless, victims of domestic violence, refugees, etc.  
As part of my responsibilities with my church women's group I had recently started a conversation with a local organization that serves refugees.  I gave my son the contact information and then helped him make the initial phone call.  

Here is the hardest part of helping your son earn an Eagle Scout award.  Letting him lead.  I cannot tell you the number of times I had to bite my tongue, or walk away.  My mantra: "It is ok if this activity looks like a 14 year old is leading."  The whole point of the Eagle project is for the boy to practice the leadership skills he has learned in scouts.  That is not to say that my husband and I didn't help.  We helped a lot.  But we worked hard to make sure that Thomas did everything that he needed to do to be able to say in the end, "This was my project and I did it."

Tom's project benefited an organization called Samaritas.  One of the things Samaritas does is sponsor refugees arriving in America.  They provide refugees with apartments, furniture, clothes, medical care, education, English classes, and help finding a job.  They serve these families for 3-6 months and then the family is on their own.  It is truly amazing.

They have a small warehouse space where they store home furnishings that have been donated until they are needed by a refugee family.  It was a mess.  More than anything they needed some shelves.  Thomas set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to buy used industrial shelving.  Then he organized a day of service for his scout troop.  He also invited our church friends and his old Cub Scout Pack to join us.  We spent the morning putting together shelves and clothing racks.  Then we filled them up.  It was a great day.  

It is ok to let the 14 year old lead.  It might even be AMAZING!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

It is OK to be Sad.

It is OK to be sad.

Pixar nailed this one on the head in the movie, Inside Out.
Allowing ourselves, and the people we love, to be sad when we experience loss makes it possible for us to heal.

Sorrow acknowledges that something is wrong 
and allows us to search for solutions.  
It lets the people who love us know that we are hurting 
so that they can help us.
Our sorrow is what makes us kind, compassionate, 
empathetic people.

Whether you are a toddler who has lost a favorite toy, a teenager losing a friend or an older adult who has lost a spouse, the pain you feel is real.  Being sad is how you deal with that pain.  
It is ok to be sad.

Be sad as long as you need to.  Let it heal you.  When you are ready to be done being sad you will feel it and God will give you the grace you need to complete the healing process.
It is ok to be sad.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Happy Mom

This is the Mad Mom!
She is on display at Meijer Garden in Grand Rapids Michigan.  (If you are ever in West Michigan I highly recommend it.)
I like the Mad Mom.  I can appreciate her on so many levels.  From the look on her face to her hands on her hips to the simplicity with which the artist portrays the emotion of being disappointed in a child's behavior.  I admit it, I look just like her far more often than I want to.

My daughter joined the art club after school in 5th grade.  The teacher introduced sculpture.  My daughter came to me trying to decide what she should make.  I recommended "Mad Mom," simple, doable, and I always really wanted a miniature "Mad Mom" to put in my kitchen.  (Just to remind everyone...)

The day finally came when the sculptures were fired and painted and ready to come home.  I was excited to see what she had created.

This is the Happy Mom.

For many years she was on display in my family room.  
I like the Happy Mom.  I can appreciate her on so many levels.  From the goofy grin to the bad hair day to just not having enough hands.  (She loses her head regularly, but never her positive attitude.) I love the simplicity with which the artist portrays the emotion of being happy amid the every day struggles of parenthood.
I proudly displayed the Happy Mom, just to remind myself.