Confessions, Letters to My Kids, Music, Piano

Saturated in Music

Child,

Music is a vital part of who I am. My memories are steeped in concerts and recitals, practice times and rehearsals, clammy palms and shaky notes, exhilarating performances and spontaneous song.

I can remember back to my very first solo; I was the Little Red Hen in our kindergarten musical. Clad in yellow tights, red skirt and poster-board wings, I sang boldly even if confidence and skill lacked.

Piano and voice lessons became a weekly routine beginning in my 9th year. I almost never liked practicing and I never felt like I was any good. But my mom never let me quit, insisting she greatly regretting giving up on her own piano lessons in 5th grade. *sigh* I performed solos at least twice a year for the next…10 years…and I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t nervous. I made at least one critical error in almost every single song, and while some listeners may not have noticed, my little sister surely did. “You had that song perfectly,” she’d say with a hint of disappointment in her voice. I was disappointed too, Ash.

There was only one piano piece I played flawlessly:  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at my senior recital. I remember coming to the end of the song, holding out that last pianississimo note, having felt truly moved by the music perhaps for the first time in my piano career, and I heard an audible whisper, “wow” by an older gentleman in the audience. I knew then, finally, I had succeeded.

College piano lessons brought a whole new level to my experience. Though I wasn’t a music major (mostly because some voice in my head told me I wasn’t good enough), I wanted to keep up with my piano studies. Part of me knew I couldn’t let those last 10 years go to waste. My instructor didn’t go easy on me, though she was one of the kindest women I’d ever met. She required hours worth of practice, documented and described in detail. Her non-music-major piano recitals were held twice a year and we were required to memorize our pieces. You would not believe how difficult and challenging that was for me. Typically ok with being in the spotlight, I kept the piano recitals quiet. I invited no one except my college roommate. If I mentioned it to Kevin I was sure to say, “Don’t worry about coming.” I didn’t want anyone there to witness me messing up on the biggest stage of my “career.” I did just fine, though, sweaty palms and all.

Kevin came to at least half of my recitals, though, despite my urging against it. He and Brittney sat as my loyal audience, attempting to encourage me and calm my nerves. My most momentous performance moment came when I played the deeply moving piece by Debussy, Clair de Lune. The chills come back just thinking about it.

Here I am, five years later, and I’m simultaneously proud of myself and disappointed. I have made a bonafide career out of teaching piano lessonsI know! I can’t believe it either. (I’m also really wishing I had headed Mrs. H’s advice and completed the Associates Piano Pedagogy program at SAU. *sigh*) Here I am in my 5th year of teaching, the 3rd school year in a brand new town, and I was proud to host a Christmas recital featuring my studio of 28 (now 30!) students and 140 of their guests! WOW. It was truly an honor, a joy, a thrill to look out at that crowd. Despite all my doubts and fears along the way (they still creep in to this day) I felt I had truly accomplished something.  Glory to God in the Highest for allowing me to use the gifts He’s given which I’ve often viewed as meager. IMG_9953

The part of me that remains disappointed in myself rests in my personal piano advancements. I’ve felt stagnant for the past five years since those hours of rigorous practice. Sure, there have been times I’ve been stretched and needed to practice, perhaps even for hours (can anyone say, “pit orchestra”?), but my repertoire has remained the same. I have had exceptional moments to stretch my experiences and put a damper on my nerves. But new, challenging music? Not so much.

I plan to change that, though, Little One. and I’m telling you this for a few reasons.

You’re never too old to learn something new. Challenge yourself, even if it’s scary, even if it’s easier to stick with the status quo that’s getting you by just fine. Go farther. Make Jesus proud.

Keep me accountable. If you don’t hear me regularly playing piano, ask me to play. If you never hear me truly practicing, hammering out those tough measures note by note, encourage me to practice. I might need that.

Music will always be a part of our home. I’m not exactly sure if and how we’ll push you into the music realm, but I hope you won’t be afraid to TRY. I wish I had tried a new instrument in 9th grade. I missed out on the band experience. I hope you can find your niche and excel. BUT, should you turn out to be tone deaf (I admit, I really hope that isn’t the case) or your passions lie outside of music, I hope you can still appreciate it.

Music is a tremendous part of life, a true Grace from God. May your life be saturated with this gift.

Love,

Your Mama

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Music, Piano

The Preview of Beauty and the Beast

It’s show week again for the local high school’s spring musical. I can hardly believe it’s been an entire year since my first experience in the pit orchestra. (Last year was The Sound of Music, remember?) I was honored to be asked to participate as one of 4 adult instrumentalists in a 25 member orchestra. The connection I have with the band director and show director has been awesome. They are fantastic leaders and a lot of fun to work with. Because of these weeks and months of practicing, I also have great relationships with many of the students, which, you may imagine, is definitely a focus for Melanie-the-youth-leader. Now, when I attend other school functions (sporting events, concerts, etc), I can point out many students by name. What a gift!
 
The music in my synth strings score is much easier than last year’s Sound of Music parts, so I have put in far less practice time. This is partially laziness, I admit, and partially because I have learned the unique art of playing one small part in the mix of a large ensemble. My music just doesn’t work without all the other instruments. It’s actually quite boring to play all by itself, but man, put it with the full orchestra and suddenly it’s a beautiful thing!
 
Awww the joys of band.
 
This week includes nightly rehearsals from 4-8pm and a midweek “preview” for the students in the elementary, middle and high school. Tomorrow’s preview will go in 30 minute increments – we will perform straight through the show, pausing every 30 minutes for a new class to fill the auditorium.
 
AND, my mom is driving in for a visit and to see the show! It’s going to be a busy, awesome weekend!
 
 
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Music

{A Night of Choral Music is} Good for the Soul

Monday evening was the fruition of many months of planning. The Spring Arbor University Chamber Choir — of which I am an alum — came to our cute little village to put on a concert in our historic church sanctuary. It was a fantastic success! 
My beloved choir director, Dr. Livesay, contacted Kevin and me after receiving our Christmas letter and realizing we were in the area of the choir’s spring tour. We emailed back and forth for the subsequent months, filling in details. I worked hard recruiting gracious hosts to house the 40 students overnight and cooks who would bring dishes for the pre-concert student potluck. The meal was fantastic, filling us all to the brim with a wonderful assortment. (Special thanks to the Smiths for helping me clean up and make coffee in that new-fangled coffee maker from the 70s.) Dear friends of mine who own the local Bed and Breakfast generously offered to house the choir director and the bus driver as a “home stay,” and so many church and piano studio families made for great hotels for the rest of the crew. 
It was my job to find a set of choir risers, as the touring bus didn’t have room for them to bring their own. Thanks to my connections with the local music teachers, I received permission straight from the superintendent to borrow the primary-colored elementary school risers. I am so grateful for their willingness to trust us with school property and for the help I received from my husband, Greg, Tom and Mike in loading and unloading, loading and unloading the risers.  
My marketing skills were tested as I attempted to fill our sanctuary with an expectant audience for a choral concert on a Monday evening. It was a wonderful turnout of 90-100, doubling my estimations! Every single attendant – young and old – only had positive remarks to make after the soul-stirring hour of music. 
This song, In Remembrance by Jeffery Ames, was one we sang when I was in the choir from 2004-2008. It’s quite moving, expressing the grief and prayers of one dealing with death.

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine (Let eternal light shine upon them, Lord). O God, my God, why hast thou forsaken? My tears linger at night, but joy comes in the morning light. Lord, in your infinite mercy, grant them rest. Rest forevermore. 

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I heard endless stories from students and hosts alike detailing their time together from 8pm to 9am Tuesday morning. Many of us were up way past our bedtimes, enjoying good conversation, spontaneous singalongs, and rowdy board games. Kevin and I were blessed with time to rekindle relationships with the wonderful Renee Runyon, choir accompanist and personal friend, and two students who have been Eccles family friends for 2 decades. Dr. Livesay was wonderful to talk with, asking about my sister and honestly caring about my life. SAU is truly a community not just an institution of higher education. The professors are invested in our lives, not just for those 4 years, for all these years (5) later. 
I am SO thrilled with the outcome of the SAU Chamber Choir Concert I hosted at Albion Free Methodist Church last night, and so proud that, onceuponatime, I was a part of that group of vocal musicians. The Music Department at Spring Arbor is truly remarkable, and though I was a Philosophy/Religion major, I spent many hours in that building, practicing piano for my lessons with Mrs. Heydenburg, rehearsing with the choir, worshiping with the Wellspring team, and auditioning for scholarships and solos. I cherish those times.  
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About Me, Music, Piano

The One with 5 Minutes [Connect]

Five Minute Friday

Today over at Lisa-Jo’s blog, the Five Minute Friday prompt is Connect. My mind went all sort of places before hitting the “start” button on my timer, but I’m so thankful I rested with this topic. It’s been resonanting with me all week, as I’ve received call after call, email after email, and welcomed in many new students to my fall schedule of piano lessons. I am blessed. And I’m seeing the connection.

Here goes:

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I never thought that all those years of piano lessons would connect to any other part of my life–besides my love of music and the occassional “special” for the church offering. But here I am, after 13 years of weekly piano lessons, having cried multiple times over failures, having heard the needed criticisms, having messed up the song I had “perfectly” in front of the recital audience…and I am teaching piano lessons. Me?! Yes, Melanie, YOU. 
Because not all of those 30 minute lessons were grievous. No, in fact, they were exciting, constructive, and life transforming. Both of my teachers spoke into my life as a mentor and spiritual role model. They encouraged me and pushed me toward the full capacity of my abilities which they knew God has planted within me. 
I know my parents never would have thought that their financial commitment to my piano lessons would ever result in a source of income for me, a joyous livelihood. But I am so thankful, mom and dad, for making me go to lessons all of those years, for making me practice when I hated it, for continually encouraging me to keep on, believing I would achieve something. 
And now, I see how it’s all connected. God was preparing me musically and spiritually to be a teacher to many students just like me. He has gifted me and filled me with his Spirit and I am thankful to be investing in the lives of my students. And something must have clicked–because my students LOVE to practice! Can you believe it?!

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