Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Piano Teacher

Twenty years ago, my life was very different. I was married and a home schooling mom to my three children. I took care of our home, ground wheat berries and baked all our bread from scratch, sewed clothes, made quilts, and dabbled in various crafts. I was an active member of my local home schooling support group, wrote articles about home schooling, and gave seminars to encourage other home school teachers. One article I wrote, along with a picture of my sweet family, even appeared in the column A Day in the Life in Mary Pride's Homeschooling Today magazine.

Now I am divorced and my children are grown. Although I still have my wheat grinder and heavy duty mixer, I don't remember the last time I used them. But I am still making things, teaching, writing articles about the work I do, and giving seminars to encourage others. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. So here is A Day in the Life of a Piano Teacher, an account of my activities on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.

8:30-8:50 - Wake up, catch up on social media via iPhone
8:50-9:00 - Get up, start coffee, take out dog
9:00-9:30 - Write morning pages
9:30-9:40 - Scramble two eggs, top with sriracha, call it breakfast
9:40-10:55 - Make four pairs of earrings, take pictures, post on social media
10:55-11:00 - Change from pajamas into exercise wear
11:00-12:00 - Walk three miles
12:00-12:15 - Cool down, add three pairs of earrings to listings in Etsy shop
12:15-12:30 -  Listen to son (aka RockStar) practice a speech for his Public Speaking class at UNG (due tomorrow)
12:30-1:00 - Shower, dress, heat up a turkey burrito leftover from last week, call it lunch
1:00-2:30 - Practice piano, read through some more music by the composer Zdenek Fibich, about whose life and music I am preparing a presentation
2:30-2:45 - Take out dog, bring in mail, fill water bottle
2:45 - 5:45 - Teach piano lessons
5:45-5:46 - Restroom break
5:46-9:00 - Teach piano lessons
9:00 - 9:15 - Take out dog, order pizza
9:15 - 9:45 - Listen to son practice revised speech for his Public Speaking class
9:45 - 10:45 - Eat pizza, drink a glass of wine wine, catch up on our days
10:45-11:00 - Run to Kroger, buy more wine
11:00-12:00 - Drink more wine, write blog post about day

I guess I like keeping busy! But I firmly believe that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do and I wouldn't trade lives with anyone. I am satisfied with everything I accomplished today and look forward to all that Wednesday will bring!

Friday, August 26, 2016

Fish Taco Friday

I know, I know: shrimp aren't fish. They are arthropods, and have no backbone. They are more similar to spiders and grasshoppers and crabs than they are to fish. But they are seafood. Therefore, I hereby declare that I might talk about any taco made with seafood on Fish Taco Friday.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

But I digress. Last weekend I tried a new menu item at my local Del Rio Restaurant. Sriracha Shrimp Tacos. I love sriracha. I love shrimp. I figured this was a sure winner.

I figured right.

They were taco perfection, tender shrimp smothered in a simple honey sriracha glaze with just the right balance of hot and sweet, stuffed in grilled flour tortilla shells with just the tiniest bit of crunch, topped with sweet onions and a generous helping of fresh cilantra. On the side, there was a cup of rice and a generous portion of chipotle mayonnaise - delicious but completely unnecessary. 

I stole the grilled jalapeno pepper from the plate of my dinner companion. We also shared a pitcher of Dos Equis Amber, served in tall frosted glasses. And of course there was chips and both red and brown salsa for starters. 

It was an altogether delightful dining experience. 

Now I just might have to find a recipe so I can try making these at home. On the other hand, it is hard to compete with perfection. Instead, I just might have to plan another visit to Del Rio very soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

88 Keys, 88 Days: Piano Practice Journal

I have maintained a journal of my music practice for several years, using simple composition notebooks in which I keep a list of pieces practiced with a few notes here and there - metronome markings, sections memorized, and such. But as I have been recording assignments the past couple of weeks in the beautiful practice notebooks I made for my students, it occurred to me that it would be lovely to have something a bit more aesthetically pleasing to use myself. So I set to work.

Here is the results: 88 Keys, 88 Weeks: Piano Practice Journal. Adapted from the pages I created for my students, each journal page in this notebook is designed to record a week's worth of practice, with an inspirational quote at the bottom for encouragement. In the back, there are pages for keeping track of new music terms encountered and a list of repertoire memorized. The very last page is a bibliography in which I share my all-time favorite books about practice and performance.

After receiving several queries from several colleagues, I have decided to make these available for purchase, with additional color choices available for the front and back covers. To order, click HERE.

Happy practicing!

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.