Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Joy of Beginning

I love to try new things. Over the years I have dabbled in writing and art, cake decorating and yoga, jewelry making and sewing, scrapbooking and soap making, knitting and crocheting, mandolin and tin whistle playing. Although few of these activities have put money in my pocket - in fact, most of them have required at least a minimal financial investment on my part - I don't consider any to have been a waste of time. In face, most of these dabblings have really resonated with my soul in some way and become important parts of my life, at least for a season. 

Also, putting myself in the position of being a beginner at a task makes me a better teacher. I have been playing the piano for more than fifty years; it is easy for me to take for granted the skills have been acquired through long hours of practice and unyielding persistence. It is not so for my piano students, especially those just starting out. Every week, their reward for mastering previous work is being assigned new and more challenging tasks. In order to make progress, they must keep putting themselves out there and deal with the frustration that accompanies making the inevitable mistakes. They have no choice but to trust me as I encourage them to keep trying, helping them to understand that the only way they will fail is if they give up.

When faced with similar challenges as a beginner myself, I am reminded how it feels to be inexpert and vulnerable. It affirms that my most important job as a teacher is a simple one.

To be kind.

* * *

A short week ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the Threadmill Complex in Austell, Georgia,

Pinky Flamingo strikes a pose.
 where I strode purposefully into the Uke Republic

and bought myself a ukulele.

Ohana CK 70, concert size, spruce and maple.
I also picked up a beginner method book and am attempting to teach myself how to play, although at this point I can't manage more than five or ten minutes at a time because the fingers on my left hand have grown so sore from pressing down on the strings along the fretboard. Eventually, though, I will develop callouses and my endurance will increase. In the meantime, I have taught myself how to play a C major scale, a few simple tunes, four chords, and Bach's Minuet in G (transposed into the key of C). Not bad for five days' work! Yes, it all feels very awkward; nothing sounds the way I want it to and my chord changes are hesitant at best. 

But, like my piano students, I will not fail so long as I persevere.

* * *

Have you had any new beginnings in this new year? Leave a message in the comments to share your experiences with other readers!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

2017 has been quite a year.

I made good on my "one word," venture, traveling to Europe for the first time since 1982 and to Sedona, Arizona where I recorded my first ever album of original solo piano music, Seashells in My Pocket. I went to Nashville where I was welcomed into the family of Enlightened Piano Radio artists; since then, I have also become a Whisperings Solo Piano artist. My music is on Spotify and iTunes and Amazon and has been listened to in countries all over the world.

I have grown as a musician in other ways too. I performed with the Redeemer Piano Ensemble and the Gwinnett Symphony Wind Orchestra and joined two local musicale groups. I have a new piano duo partner and have a concert planned with her in September 2018 and more concerts planned throughout the coming year with other solo piano artists. I adjudicated for numerous area piano festivals; I did a Saturday seminar for the Peoria Area Music Teachers Association in September; I presented at the Georgia Music Teachers Association state conference in November. All the while, I have maintained my studio of 58 piano students and taught them well.

Few of us are lucky enough to make it through a year without experiencing loss. In August, my dear friend friend Shawn succumbed to diabetes; in October, I said goodbye to my dog Karma, my faithful companion of fifteen years. In September, my dad fell and broke his hip, requiring hospitalization, surgery and physical therapy. But in November, my brother and I helped move my parents from southern Illinois into a rental home just ten miles from my house. I am happy to have them nearby and look forward to seeing them once or twice a week instead of once or twice a year.

I don't make New Years resolutions anymore, but I do believe the end of the calendar year is a good time to reflect on past accomplishments and make plans for the future. And while I am proud of my achievements in many areas, I fell short in others. So yesterday I took a good hard look at my Amazing Life List, made some revisions, and honed in on 21 items that I believe I can check off in 2018. I have already started, formulating weekly goals for time at the piano, exercise, reading, and creating, and establishing deadlines throughout the year for the rest. I am visualizing myself this time next year reaping the fruits of my labors. It feels fantastic.

If there's one thing I am good at, it is GETTING STUFF DONE.

But all this going and doing have taken a toll on my body and mind. In the spring, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and now take medication daily to keep it under control. Exercise? My walking tracker app has been idle for weeks. Reading? The pile of unread books sitting next to my bed is three times the size of the stack of books I actually finished in 2017. I am a chronic insomniac; my intake of red wine and dark chocolate exceed what might provide health benefits.

This is no laughing matter. Because I need to be healthy and fit if I am going to be able to check all the rest of those items off my Amazing Life List. I need to make time to nourish my body - for cooking and baking and getting out in the fresh air and taking a walk. I need to come up with a night time routine that I can adhere to and go to bed early if I need to. And I need to make time for all those things that nourish my mind - for reading and knitting and watching uplifting television shows and movies. I need to say "yes" to time with friends and "no" to to things I really don't want to do.

Recently, I stumbled across the word hygge, a Danish concept that cannot be translated into one single English word. says:

“In essence, hygge means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people around you. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family - that’s hygge too. And let’s not forget the eating and drinking - preferably sitting around the table for hours on end discussing the big and small things in life.”

So my "one word" for 2018 is hygge. I want this to be the year that I really learn how to take care of myself. Obviously, my to-do list isn't going anywhere, but I am going to make a conscious effort to take regular breaks from the busy-ness of my daily life - to enjoy the simple pleasures of a warm bubble bath, a hot cup of tea, and a good book, and to simply be - in order to preserve my health and sanity.

And now, as I finish this final post of 2017, I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for following my blog and for supporting my work. I wish you all a safe and happy New Year's Eve and the best of everything in the year to come.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Seashells in My Pocket is launched!

 My debut solo piano CD, Seashells in My Pocket, officially released on Friday, October 13th.
 Like shells plucked from the seashore and tucked into my pocket as souvenirs from a magical day at the beach, these pieces evoke memories of some of the beautiful islands and coastal cities I have had the pleasure of visiting over the years.

Straight from the manufacturer.
I transcribed all of my compositions and put them together to create a companion sheet music book.

Seashells in My Pocket solo piano sheet music book.
And I made a pendant to tie in with the theme.

Also available with a golden shadow or a clear diamond starfish.
On Saturday night, I hosted a CD release concert/party to celebrate. 

Pam Asberry playing a selection from Seashells in My Pocket.
It was pure joy to play all the pieces from my album, share the stories behind them, and sign autographs at intermission. 

My handsome son Nathan kept things running smoothly at the merchandise table. 
 My album is available for purchase at iTunes, Amazon, and at my website, where you can also order the companion songbook and pendant.

It is also available for streaming on Spotify. Click here to follow me on Spotify and add my music to your playlists.

I can't really say this is a dream come true, because I am living a dream I never dared to imagine.
But now that I am on this journey, I hope it never ends.
Thank you for joining my on my grand adventure.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Seashells in My Pocket

I am happy to announce that my debut solo piano CD, Seashells in My Pocket, is now available for pre-order!

You can pre-order the physical CD, the digital album, and the companion sheet music book at Bandcamp (click HERE).

If iTunes or Apple Music is more your style, the digital album is available for pre-order HERE.

With any pre-order, the first track, Cozumel Blue Waters, is available for immediate download. The rest will be available for download/shipping on Friday, October 13th, the album's official release date.

CD's and sheet music books will also be available at my CD release concert the next evening. I will play selections from the album and share the stories behind the music. Here are the details.

Saturday, October 14, 2017
6:30-8:30 PM
2805 Buford Highway, Duluth, GA, 30096
Admission is FREE!

In the meantime, please "like" my new Facebook page (click HERE) and visit my new website (click HERE). The website is still under construction, but after my release date that will be the best place to find news about concerts and to purchase CD's, songbooks and other merchandise.

I couldn't be more excited! As always, thank you for your support!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Summer's End

The future started yesterday.
~ John Legend
Grand Canyon, Arizona.
All good things must come to an end, and so did this wondrous summer.

But I sent it out with a bang. Last Wednesday morning, I boarded a Southwest jet, flew to Phoenix, rode the shuttle to my rental car, hopped in "my" Toyota Corolla, and drove to Sedona.

Bell Rock, Sedona, Arizona
As first sight of those famous red rock formations, I fell in love. I have always been drawn to the ocean and dreamed of living close to the water. But Sedona has its own special appeal. More than one person I met started out as a visitor there and ended up a permanent resident. I can see why.

A few miles down the road, I found the lovely Arabella Hotel, checked into my room, had a delicious meal at the nearby Elote Cafe, and got a good night's sleep. The next morning, I was greeted by this smiling face. 
 Tim is one of the dynamic tour guides who works for Grand Venture Tours. He took six other travelers and me on an fast-paced trip to the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas, sharing lots of history and local wisdom as we went. I actually took notes, as there are many things I want to learn more about, and it was way too much to remember.

Sunset Crater National Monument

Wapataki National Monument

Lunch and shopping at the Cameron Trading Post

The Grand Canyon. Pictures don't do it justice.
 All too soon, Tim dropped us off at our hotels. I spent one more night at the Arabella and had another delicious dinner, this one at The Hudson. Then it was time to check out and make way to my final destination, Piano Haven,

Piano Haven, Sedona, Arizona
where I spent the next two days recording and editing all the songs that will go on my soon-to-be-released solo piano album, Seashells in My Pocket

Shigeru Kawai, the king of pianos
It was a delightful experience. The piano was amazing, hands-down my all-time favorite, and Joe was kind, patient and encouraging. I can hardly wait to get that finished CD in my hands.

* * *

I arrived back home late Sunday evening, just in time for back-to-school here in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and back to full-time piano teaching for me. But I couldn't have asked more from the summer of 2017. I forged new friendships, checked a few things off my bucket list, and turned some dreams into plans. 

The way I see it now, every day is a new adventure.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Summer Adventures

Italy was everything I hoped it would be.

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the privilege of attending the InterHarmony International Music Festival in Acqui Terme.
My travel companions Yoonsook, Soojung, Qin, Dr. Thomas, and I. 
The path to our hotel. Acqui Terme, Italy.
Leftover from Roman times. Acqui Terme, Italy.
Thermal Baths. Acqui Terme, Italy.
I walked six to eight miles every single day
These feet were made for walking.
and I ate and drank whatever I wanted.
Cappuccino every morning for breakfast.
A typical meal at our hotel. Served buffet style. 
My new favorite drink, Aperol Spritz.
Gelato was a refreshing reprieve from the relentless heat.
There was no air conditioning anywhere in Acqui Terme.
Inspired by both caring faculty and fellow students, I made music every single day.
My practice room.
Dana, Sandra and me performing our chamber piece, Ibert's "Deux Interludes." So much fun!
During the course of the festival, we enjoyed two days of sightseeing in Milan and Turin;
Duomo di Milano.
La Scala Opera House, Milano.
Egyptian Museum, Torino.
View from atop the National Museum of Cinema in Turin.
then, at the conclusion of the festival, we spent two days sightseeing in Rome, 
making wishes and tossing coins into Trevi Fountain,
Trevi Fountain, Rome
touring famous places I had always dreamed of seeing,
Coliseum, Rome.
Borghese Gallery, Rome.
Vatican Museum, Rome.
St. Peter's Basilica, Rome (we saw the Sistine Chapel, too, but no photos are allowed in there!)
and eating and drinking some more.
Best pizza ever at Da Baffetto. Yes, that's an egg in the middle!
Red wine goes with everything.
I learned a lot and made many wonderful memories. 

Now I'm making music back home. I've played in two formal concerts
I played "Forest Solitude" by Zdenek Fibich. Steinway Galleries, Alpharetta, GA, July 23, 2017.
I played two of my original compositions. University of North Georgia, Gainesville, July 30, 2017.
and enjoyed an evening with friends playing the fifteen solo piano pieces I composed this spring and sharing the stories behind them.
Dave & Julia, dear friends and gracious hosts.
Tomorrow I'm headed to Sedona, Arizona where I will spend two days with Joe Bongiorno at Piano Haven recording my music. And that's just the beginning. But if all goes well, my first solo piano CD will be ready to release on October 13th. I have already booked the recital hall for the next day for a celebration concert.
I will return home late Sunday evening; on Monday, school starts and I will resume full-time teaching.

But for once, I'm not asking myself, "Where did the summer go?"

I know EXACTLY where it went.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Italy Bound

By the time you see this post, I will be in Italy.

That's right. ITALY! The one in EUROPE!

As I write these words, I am in the final stages of preparation for the InterHarmony International Music Festival in Acqui Terme, Italy. Click HERE for details.

For the next couple of weeks, I will be completely immersed in music - practice, lessons, chamber music coaching, concerts - and enjoying a bit of sightseeing, in Milan and Turin. Then, at the conclusion of the festival, a colleague and I will take a high speed train to Rome and see the sights there.

During my practice time and private lessons, I will focus on my festival chamber music assignment, solos/duets/duos that I plan to perform in future concerts, and getting my solo piano pieces ready to record the first weekend in August. Which reminds me: I have come up with a new title for my CD. Ocean Views wasn't bad. But Seashells in My Pocket is PERFECT! I am so excited about the way this project is shaping up.

There are moments when I can hardly believe all this is actually happening.

* * * 

A couple of thoughts:

(1) Continue to learn. What you know will never be enough.
~ Sonya Teclai

Last week, when I shared my plans with a very young student, she crossed her arms and said, "Wait a minute! I thought you were a piano TEACHER, not a piano STUDENT." I explained to her that I am BOTH, as no one can ever know everything there is to know.

(2) Never say never because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.
~ Michael Jordan

Last year (and the year before that, and the year before THAT), when my festival teacher invited me to be a part of the summer event, I politely declined, saying there was NO WAY I could ever afford to do such a thing. Well, last August I fired my housekeeping service, put the money I had been spending into savings, and over the academic year it covered my festival tuition in full. All I had to purchase on top of that was an airline ticket (and order some euros to cover incidental expenses). Mission accomplished!

* * *

I look forward to sharing my experiences and impressions after I get back. In the meantime, I encourage you to challenge yourself to learn new things and dream your biggest dream. You have absolutely nothing to lose and so many joyous, amazing things to gain!