My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A recital that was worth a thousand words

© calamardebien -
Sometimes recitals are memorable because of the music that is performed.  Sometimes it's a musician's incredible musicality or technical prowess.  And sometimes, when we're really fortunate, a recital is also memorable because of the glimpse we are given into who the performer is as a human being. 

Last night afforded me one of those special moments.  

The British pianist, Martin Jones,  performed at Radford University, which is located in southwest Virginia - an area that doesn't regularly get visited by performers who are used to traveling the globe.  There are a lot of wonderful things I could say about his jaw-dropping technique, the broad spectrum of colors he got out of the piano,  and about the really interesting mix of repertoire he chose, but what I really want to point out was how gracious and unpretentious he was and how enchanting that felt as an audience member.  Although I could sense who he is as a person from the very beginning of the recital it was especially at the end that it was most apparent.  After playing two encores he walked back onstage, bowed, and then walked over to the piano again, standing right in front of the Steinway logo, and pretended to turn a crank as if he was getting the piano ready to play again.  It got the audience laughing and I dare say it got him smiling even more.  And as if that wasn't enough, when he walked onto the stage after that third encore he stepped just a few feet onto the stage and bowed, took a few more sideways steps toward the piano and bowed again, a few more steps and bowed until he finally was standing next to the piano once more.  So what was left to do but to sit down to play yet another encore?!  Again he had prepped us for another encore by being so playful about it.  As he left the stage after this fourth encore the lights on the stage immediately went dark which led the audience into another round of soft chuckles as we took the not-so-subtle cue and stopped our applause, feeling like we had just witnessed not only a stunning performance but also met a wonderful man.  

Perhaps it might seem odd to some that I have chosen to write a review without saying hardly a word about the music but I suppose that says something about me.  I rarely go to performances craving to hear perfectly executed music - I go hoping instead that the opportunity will give me a chance to soak in something personal about the musician that is performing.  

Last night definitely gave me that chance thanks to Mr. Jones.  What a gift.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Learning music, riding bikes, and eating Oreos

I love layers.

I love them in cakes, cookies, and lasagna;
in literature, when there are multiple layers of meaning;
in geology, where you can find history buried in each layer;
in mysteries, when each layer helps bring the crime-solvers one step closer to the truth;
and last but not least, I love layers when it comes to learning.

© Jason Stitt -
A few weeks ago an opportunity presented itself that put my layering tactics to the test on a completely different stage - on the street outside our house.  A typical "mean mommy" move of mine, I had taken the training wheels off our daughter's bike and was insisting that we figure this whole bike-riding thing out together.  It was one of those experiences when I realized yet again just how hard it can be to learn something.  When she was younger it was crawling...then walking...then learning how to use the bathroom...and now riding a bike.  I was literally speechless as she sat on her newly transformed bike, shaking nervously as I struggled to hold everything steady.  I froze.  I had no idea how to proceed.  

At first we tried what I remembered seeing in movies - the "run-down-the-street-holding-onto-the-bike-and-then-letting-go-and-watching-her-fly" method.  That method proved to me that what works on a movie set doesn't necessarily work in real life.  My arm practically fell off trying to keep her upright and because I'm very out of shape I thought I was going to pass out.  Huffing and puffing after my feeble and terrifying attempts, I passed our daughter off to my husband who had a bit more success at not putting his own life at risk.  After a few runs our daughter was still leaning to one side the entire time she was riding.  

Aaargh!  What next?

That's when I thought of layering.  With the musicians I coach I am frequently reminding them of how challenging it is to learn a new piece of music.  We've got pitches, rhythm, vibrato, fingering,  and dynamics.  Add to that breathing and words if we're's a lot to keep organized and in place, especially at first.  Trying to combine them all at the same time inevitably leads to frustration, mistakes, and faulty rhythm and pulse.  It's kind of like trying to ride a bike for the first time by just doing it.  So what do I do when it comes to music?  I take apart the layers and address them one by one.  It's like taking apart an Oreo and eating the filling first and then eating the cookies one by one.  (I know I'm not the only one that does that!)  It makes the eating of the cookie a more enjoyable process because I can savor the differences in texture and flavor.  Same goes with learning music.  If I can separate the layers and take one at a time it is so much easier for me to process each facet of the music.  Putting it all back together once every piece is defined is a piece of cake after that (pun completely intended).

Back to our bike-riding dilemma.

As with learning music, riding a bike has a lot of different components to it.  There's balance to
learn, pedaling, turning, stopping,'s no wonder my daughter, for whom physical challenges like this don't come easy, was having a difficult time.  She was completely overwhelmed and paralyzed by all that she had to do.

Time to pull apart the layers!

First she learned balance by starting on a little incline and having her learn to coast downhill with her feet in the air.
Second, she learned how to put her feet on the pedals after getting her balance.
Third, she learned how to pedal after she got going.

It was interesting to see how much easier the learning process seemed to be once we started using this technique.  It was still a lot of work for her but because we were breaking the process down she did not seem to be as overwhelmed with fear - her brain had more time to process what she was doing, she was able to give herself feedback on how attempts went, and several times she ended up finding her own solutions.  Her success has been more satisfying than eating one of those Oreos!  

So the next time I find myself struggling with learning something new I'm going to think about this lesson in layering.  Maybe I'll need to grab a bag of Oreos to serve as a reminder...

Got milk, anyone?