Monday, August 22, 2016

America: A Tribute to the Patriots of 9/11

Many people don't know that I play the clarinet in addition to the piano. I joined the school band in the fourth grade and played all the way through my senior year in college. When I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I resigned from the University Wind Ensemble so that I could pour all my energy into my master's program. Years went by. I thought I would probably never play the clarinet seriously again.

Then last fall Dr. Thomas Martin Wubbenhorst, the former director of bands at Georgia State University from 1991-2000, returned to Atlanta to conduct the Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra (GSWO). This unique ensemble draws literature from the symphonic band, wind ensemble and military band traditions and varies in size accordingly. Membership is by audition with the conductor or by invitation. 

Well, I'm in, and I play both the clarinet and the piano in the GSWO. We performed three successful concerts last year and have four in the works for this year. In our first performance, which will take place at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia on Sunday, September 11, 2016, we will join forces with the Gwinnett Symphony Orchestra (Robert Trocina, director), the Gwinnett Symphony Chorus (Rick Smith, director), and the Gwinnett Symphony Jazz Orchestra (Jose Manuel Garcia, director) in a program called "America: A Tribute to the Patriots of 9/11". The program will include Barber's Adagio, Copland's A Lincoln Portrait, and Clausen's Memorial. The GSWO's contribution will be Maslanka's Fourth Symphony. I have fallen head over heels in love with this powerful music and have been working hard preparing the challenging piano part to play with the ensemble. To whet your appetite, here is a recording of the United States Navy Band performing the work.

If you live within driving distance of Atlanta we would love to have you come to our performance. To purchase tickets for the concert (and for the 20th Anniversary Gala to follow, supporting Care for Cops, the Georgia Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Operation Homefront), click HERE. Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Musical Monday: Back to School

Today it's back to the books for the children in my local school district and back to full time piano teaching for me.

I've always loved this time of year. When I was a kid, it meant going shopping for new clothes and new shoes and school supplies. Of course, now I don't need a new box of crayons but I usually buy one anyway, along with a stack of composition notebooks (on sale, of course) and paper, printer ink, folder, and everything else I need to get ready for a new year of teaching.

Last year, I invested in a comb binding machine and made assignment notebooks for my students. In the notebooks, we kept track of weekly assignments and daily practice along with music terms we encountered throughout the year and a list of pieces memorized. This past weekend, I revamped last year's cover and updated the inside pages and put together this year's notebooks. I am very pleased with the results.

The first page of the notebook is a lesson and practice contract. This week, after I greet each student and hand over the assignment book, I will review the terms of the contract, which includes my expectations about conduct at lessons and practice at home. Then I ask each student to make a realistic commitment to practice a minimum number of minutes each day a specific number of days per week. These numbers vary from student to student but once the page is signed there is little room for excuses for not meeting the established goal. It takes the responsibility for practice off me and places it right where it belongs: on the student.

I also put together music theory folders, a vehicle for transporting weekly music theory assignments to and from lessons, and made thirty sets of music note flash cards for those students who haven't yet made it into the "minute club" - being able to name and play all 24 treble and bass clef line and space notes in one minute or less.

Yes, all this printing, binding, and cutting takes time. But it is time well spent. It gets the academic year off to an organized, intentional start, with goal setting a team effort. Students are empowered for success one practice session at a time.

I will be happy to share my assignment notebook pages (Word documents) and music note flash cards  (PDF file) with any of my readers who might be interested in adapting them for use in their own music studios. Just leave a comment at the end of this post and include your email address. Questions? Leave a comment and I will do my best to answer. Ideas? Please share them here as well. There is so much we can learn from each other!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fish Taco Friday

I'm changing things up a bit. Beginning next week, I will blog about music on Mondays and writing on Wednesdays. Fridays, however, I might write about anything.

Including fish tacos.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting my brother and his wife at their new digs in Dunedin, Florida. We crammed as much as we could into the four days I spent there: two beaches, five movies, and too many great restaurants and cute shops to count.

And it was at the Clear Sky Draught House I had the best fish tacos of my life (so far).

Here they are.

Salsa verde, shredded cabbage, cotija cheese on top of perfectly seasoned flaky fish served with a side of chips and salsa and jalapenos. They were, to quote Baby Bear, just right.

I also had a couple of their house brew Rowlock IPA - smooth with a citrus, hoppy finish. it was a perfect pairing.

* * *

School starts here next week, and I will resume full-time teaching and daily piano practice on Monday. But I intend to make time for walking, writing, jewelry making, and so many other things that bring balance to my life and joy to my heart.

Like fish tacos.

And I look forward to sharing my experiences right here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Failing Better

Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
~ Samuel Beckett

I failed.

Despite my best efforts, I fell far short of my goal of completing the first draft of a novel during PaNoWriWe. I didn't even come close to writing 50,000 words; as of Monday night, my total word count was only 7,056.

The good news? I AM WRITING AGAIN.

And I have about convinced myself that maybe I can find a way to make writing a part of my daily routine. Even after school starts again and I resume full-time music teaching piano practice.

Because while I like to think that I don't waste time, if I am brutally honest with myself I can admit that I do: five minutes here checking blog stats and fifteen minutes there scrolling through the news feed on Facebook and ten minutes somewhere else looking at jewelry ideas on Pinterest, well, right there is thirty minutes that might arguably be better spent writing.

And while there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, if I want to write a book - I mean if I really, truly want to write a book, then I need to make writing a higher priority.

Although my story has already taken some twists and turns, I haven't strayed so far from my note card scene outline that it isn't keeping me on track. So what if I were to designate a particular time slot each and every day to writing? Schedule it like I would a piano student, set a timer, pick up where I left off the day before, and write as fast as I can for thirty minutes? Perhaps set a weekly word count goal - say 2500 words - and make up the difference on Saturday and Sunday?

This just might work.

If you're skeptical, I can't say I blame you. If you've been reading this blog any length of time you know I have failed to meet my goals countless times before.

But I remain optimistic. Because maybe this time I have come up with the plan that will get me where I want to go.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Making Beeswax Candles

Who doesn't love the soft glow of a burning candle? But did you know that most candles you buy are made from petroleum based wax and release toxins into the air when burned? And did you know that some candle wicks contain lead which is also released into the air at potentially dangerous levels? Not only that, the artificial colors and scents that many candles contain can trigger allergic reactions in some people. And there is a laundry list of other toxic chemicals that is often present in paraffin and released through burning.


A little bit of research convinced me that unscented beeswax candles are the best alternative. When I stumbled upon this blog post I decided to try making my own candles using beeswax, palm oil, canning jars, and cotton square-braided wicking. Check out the article for lots of good information about the health benefits of beeswax candles, a list of ingredients and supplies, and detailed instructions.

I prepared my jars and wicks, melted beeswax and palm oil, and poured the sweet-smelling mixture into the jars. Here are my finished candles.

It was messy business - next time, for example, I will use a dedicated (or disposable) container to melt the beeswax and palm oil because it took FOREVER to clean the wax out of my glass measuring cup - but I think the results were well worth the effort! Decorated with ribbon or twine and tiny charms, these would make lovely gifts or party favors. This was my first time making candles but it definitely won't be my last!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Where Does Your Tuition Money Go?

The first day of school is right around the corner and I am in the midst of preparation for the new academic year in my studio, Asberry School of Music. Study upon study has demonstrated the positive impact musical training has on brain development and academic success as well as emotional and behavioral growth, not to mention the sheer joy music making itself brings. But occasionally a parent asks me this question: exactly what do my tuition dollars pay for?

Piano teaching is my passion and my full-time career. I earned my Master of Music degree in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and have been teaching piano privately since 1979. I keep up my own practice, perform regularly, and am a frequent adjudicator, writer and speaker. So in part, monthly tuition pays for my knowledge, experience and expertise.

But there’s so much more. Statistics suggest that for every hour enrolled in piano lessons, students are actually investing at least two hours of the teacher’s time. I spend countless hours on behalf of my students outside of lessons, including but not limited to such things as:

Planning curriculum and acquiring music for each student.
Scheduling lessons, planning students’ repertoire, communicating with parents (emails, phone calls, text messages, studio newsletter, studio website, Facebook page), planning and physically preparing for recitals and festivals, adjudicating area festivals, attending local and state music meetings and seminars.
Attending meetings, workshops and conventions to continually improve my teaching skills.
Performing organizational tasks involved with planning festivals, recitals, competitions, auditions, and other performance events.
Attending festivals, recitals, competitions, auditions and other performance events.
Belonging to and volunteering many hours to music organizations: Gwinnett County Music Teachers Association, Decatur Music Teachers Association, Georgia Music Teachers Association, Music Teachers National Association, and the National Federation of Music Clubs. Teachers must be active members of these groups for their students to participate in the festivals, competitions, and auditions.

So what exactly does monthly tuition pay for?

My time spent with student in lessons, performance classes and rehearsals, as well as time spent at recitals, festivals, and competitions
My time spent on behalf of my students outside of lessons, as detailed above.
Business expenses such as recital expenses, gifts and awards, certificates, repairs and maintenance of the piano(s) and studio, software, incentive programs and prizes, professional membership dues and journals, teacher expenses incurred in festivals and competitions, materials, postage, and normal operating expenses any small business incurs (i.e. telephone, internet, electricity, copies, etc.)
Continuing education such as conferences, conventions and workshops to help keep me current on methods and techniques of teaching and playing,  attendance at concerts and other musical events that cost money to attend.
Going to the music store or purchasing music online, incurring travel expenses or shipping charges that are not passed on to the student when billing for books.
Property taxes, self-employment taxes, health insurance, business insurance, retirement; since I am self-employed, I have no company to assist with these and do not have the benefit of sick days, paid vacations, disability insurance, etc.

It is clear that monthly tuition payments cover much more than the actual one-on-one time I spend with children at lessons each week. Each student registered at Asberry School of Music is scheduled to receive 36 lessons per academic year. For ease in billing and budgeting, tuition is prorated equally over 11 months, August through June, for all activities that occur throughout the entire academic year, not only for individual lessons.

The investment parents are making in music lessons today will provide lasting benefits throughout theirchildren’s lives and is one of the best investments they can make in their children's futures. I trust that my own students' parents consider their tuition dollars money well spent and am very grateful for the trust they place in me.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Keep these concepts in mind: You've failed many times, although you don't remember. You fell down the first time you tried to walk. You almost drowned the first time you tried to swim. . . . R. H. Macy failed 7 times before his store in New York caught on. Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. Don't worry about failure. My suggestion to each of you: Worry about the chances you miss when you don't even try.
~ Sherman Finesilver

My faithful dog Karma will be by my side every step of the way.
I just spent a very pleasant hour or so going over my note cards and the few pages I managed to complete of the first draft of the Christmas novel I started last November. Last Wednesday, I declared July 23rd-25th PaNoWriWe, or Pam's Novel Writing Weekend, and the closer it gets, the more excited I become.

I am feeling much better by now, fully recovered from the strep I was diagnosed with upon my return from Dallas, although I did have a bit of a setback Sunday night when I was waylaid by some intestinal virus that is apparently going around where I live. About an hour and a half after going to bed I woke up with some some of the worst stomach cramps I have ever experienced; shortly afterwards, I became violently ill and was up most of the rest of the night, finally sleeping fitfully for another hour and a half or so. When my alarm went off at 7:00 the last thing I wanted to do was get up but I was committed to teaching at a summer music camp this week and when I say I'm going to do a thing, well, I do it. So I dragged myself out of bed, took a shower, made myself a breakfast of dry toast and ginger ale (which, unfortunately, came right back up), and headed off to work.

Bad things don't happen to writers. It's all material.
~ Garrison Keillor

Other than the fact that I crashed on the floor of my classroom during my hour-long lunch break I navigated through the day reasonably successfully and enjoyed my two small classes of piano students very much. Mid-afternoon, I nibbled on a handful of soda crackers and managed to keep them down; at the conclusion of camp, I came straight home, made a hearty dinner for my son and me, ate my fill, and went to bed at 7PM. Twelve hours later, when my alarm went off at its usual time, I was feeling like my usual self again. Tonight after I got home from camp I decided it was time to curl up with my laptop and make plans for the weekend.

I started by reading the first fifteen pages of Christmas at Ticklebelly Hill (working title - can you say "southern fiction?"). At first, I was disturbed by huge gaps in the storyline, then I remembered I didn't actually start at the beginning and write chronologically. Last October, in preparation for NaNoWriMo, I outlined the story from beginning to end describing individual scenes on note cards with the intention of writing the scenes as inspiration struck placing them in the manuscript in note card order. Ah, better! Once I figured that out, although there were a few things that made me cringe, my thoughts generally ran along the lines of "Did I really write this?" and "Wow, that's actually pretty good!" - which is way better than the alternative.

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
~ A. A. Milne

In addition to the note card scene outline, I found a couple of pages of character sketches with names and descriptions of all the main characters in the story as well as about five typewritten pages of backstory. All of will help me keep straight who my characters people are, where they come from, and what makes them tick. I wish I hadn't thrown away all my old magazines after I finished my last vision board; a collage with pictures of my characters, story settings, and other visual clues might prove very helpful as I get back to the actual writing. On the other hand, time is running short; I guess I will be just fine without all that.

Now, about the actual writing. My goal is to have a 50,000 word rough draft completed during the 72 hours between midnight Friday and midnight Monday. I have 50 scene cards drafted, so assuming each scene is approximately a thousand words, roughing out all these scenes will bring me to my goal. And since I have nearly 5,000 words written already, just 15,000 words each day will get the novel finished. That's a thousand words an hour, fifteen hours each day. That still leaves me with an hour per day for food and restroom breaks, and eight hours each night to sleep.

I think I can.

Be careful or you'll end up in my novel.
~ Unknown

Although my eventual goal is an 80,000 word final draft, polished and ready for submission to enthusiastic agents and editors (thinking positive here), the revision will necessarily take place more slowly. Even in the midst of my regularly scheduled life as pianist and teacher, perhaps I can make time to revise a scene a day or (more likely) dedicate a chunk of time each weekend, perhaps a few hours every Sunday afternoon, to revision.

I don't know how this all will end. Worst case scenario, I will spend a long weekend drafting a novel that no one besides myself will ever read. On the other hand, this could be the start of something big.

Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and focus on what could go right.
~ Unknown