Wednesday, December 31, 2008

That Was Some Year

It may come as no surprise to those who know me well, but I love the comic strip Mutts. Patrick McDonnell is not only an excellent illustrator, but he manages to incorporate thoughtful messages into his strip without becoming preachy. The strip below was posted December 28th, and it sparked an episode of contemplation.

Every New Years Eve the focus seems to revolve around looking forward into the future. The allure of an untouched, unseasoned year brings promise of a new beginning. It is a chance to start with a proverbial clean slate, to resolve to reinvent and amend ourselves, to look forward to opportunity with unbridled optimism.

While I share in the enthusiasm for a sparkling new year, it is important to remember how we traveled through the past 365 days. We are who we are today because of the things we experienced yesterday. This New Years Eve I will be taking a few moments to reflect on my journey through 2008. How was I successful? Where did I fall short? Who has entered and touched my life? Who is no longer here? What was inspiring? What was beautiful? How have I grown? It was interesting to revisit 2008, and I was surprised at how many seemingly little moments and images that emerged in my mind. I encourage you to take the time to flip through your mental photo album- 2008 was an interesting journey, I bet.

May you all have a fabulous, magical, and safe last evening of 2008. See you in the new year!

Image: Mutts © 2008 Patrick McDonnell. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Never Too Late

While returning home from teaching oboe lessons, I heard a great story on Weekend Edition about the struggles adult students face when learning an instrument. I must admit that I have fallen into some of the traps adult learners set for themselves while studying bass, which I started playing at age 21. For example, my brain may very well comprehend a concept, but often my muscle memory is not developed enough and my fingers simply cannot keep up the pace. I must admit this causes me much frustration, often to the point of being counterproductive. To refocus I take a brief pause, which usually involves sprawling out on the practice room piano bench, letting my limbs hang heavy, closing my eyes, and breathing deeply until my temperament has returned to its more natural predisposition.

Take a few minutes and listen to Never Too late To Learn An Instrument by clicking on the link, then select the Listen Now button. The NPR Media Player will open in a separate window.

Have you embarked on an craft later than the "normal" starting age? What challenges have you encountered? Whether a late learner or not, what do you do to combat frustration?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wreck the Halls

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. After many of us indulged in rich and decadent treats yesterday, a light post seemed appropriate for fighting off a food-hangover.

While Molly and I were doing our last errands and grocery stops on Tuesday, we couldn’t help but notice that retailers seemed fully committed to assaulting shoppers with some of the worst versions of holiday songs. After hearing some breathy popster warble an borderline offensive adaptation of O, Holy Night, Molly and I couldn’t help but start to list some of the worst interpretations we have heard. This list transformed into a debate over what could qualify as the top five most terrible performances. Yes, the list is a bit snarky, but it certainly would be hard to argue that the following renditions are remotely first-rate. Please, proceed with a sense of humor and caution.

Top Five Worst Holiday Song Renditions

5. Yes, Do They Know It’s Christmas is an original song, and the cause was honorable, but one would think a project involving the likes of Sting and Bono would be better.

4. Anything by Twisted Sister on A Twisted Christmas. I’ll Be Home For Christmas is an extra special treat featuring Lita Ford. Warning: red vinyl jumpsuit ahead.

3. What happened, Billy? Quite the departure from Rebel Yell. The band is fine, but Billy Idol is just creepy in this version of Jingle Bell Rock. Image courtesy of

2. The Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews singing Baby, It’s Cold Outside wins for the cheese factor. Tom Jones is Tom Jones, but Matthews sounds drunk. However, the video is interesting- if not a bit funny.

1. A far cry from David Bowie and Bing Crosby, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson mangle A Little Drummer Boy.

Do you know any holiday song renditions that are offensive to the senses? Please share!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Scrumptious Snacks and Parent Parables

Yet another dusting of snow! This is a much kinder, gentler winter day in Wisconsin than the past three. Temperatures are above zero, a balmy 16 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind is rather mild. While I am sure the maintenance crew at my apartment complex appreciates the warmer temperature, I am positive they are less pleased with the 4-5 inches of snow forecasted to fall throughout the evening and the potential for 4-6 more on Wednesday. I sincerely hope they receive a generous year-end bonus for all of their hard work. Look at the huge pile of snow next to my car!

However, the frigid, blustery days have been good gravy making days for some of my students. Look at the fantastically artistic cookies they made for me! They made a letter A and decorated it in one of my favorite colors. How delightful!

The cookies are a product of a mother and daughter (with the help of the younger daughter, too) who take joint oboe lessons with me. This leads into my first topic series: The Parent Parables. Needless to say, parents are an ever-present force in any educational or extra-curricular setting. Whether it is school, soccer practice, or piano lessons, parents can become a teacher’s invaluable ally or obstinate barrier. Through my relatively short career I am blessed to have many positive parental experiences, yet I have had some particularly unpleasant encounters. The Parent Parables series will explore the different types of parents and their involvement, or lack of involvement, in the activities and interests of their children. Stay tuned for the first installment.

Have an experience to share? Please leave a comment or send an email (

Monday, December 22, 2008

Bursting at the Seams

The past semester seemed particularly draining. I can honestly say I have never felt so relieved to finish up a term. I know many of my peers share my feelings. Even my bass buckled under the pressure. The center seam decided to open just before exams. The light colored line is the creeping culprit. The switch from 48 degrees to -4 last weekend was not well received by my usually compliant instrument.

This did not please my oboe reeds, either. Not only is my case embarrassingly sparse, I can honestly say I have three reeds I would publicly perform on. The weather change cracked five reeds! Looking at the splinters, my heart sinks knowing each lovely reed required several hours to create. It is hard not to mourn. Nonetheless, I have plans to create a bountiful supply of reeds over the winter break. It will be delightful and nourishing to my musical soul to start the year off with a plentiful crop of reeds to make beautiful music with.

What satisfying projects do you have planned for the winter or New Year?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Making My Own Gravy


I am a musician and a music education student. Inspired by my private students, I decided to take the plunge last January and work toward earning an education license.

Encouraged by my sister and her blog, I have embarked on my own blogging venture to assist my creative gravy making abilities. I have found much inspiration from other artist’s blogs, and have decided to join the community. This blog will be devoted to my musings, musical explorations, and adventures in teaching.

Today seemed like an excellent day to begin. What better to do on an arctic day? Here in Wisconsin the ground is freshly covered with over a foot thick blanket of snow, and the wind chill is 35 below zero. The wind is howling and the snow is blowing around is glittery swirls. The pictures below were taken from my front stoop. I am thankful exams are complete, and I have no appointments that require traveling.

I welcome comments and criticism.

What do you do to rejuvenate after a draining day/week/semester?