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Blog – Page 3 – Sing-Play-Pray-Be Fearless…

Never, Ever Give Up- You Can Do It!

I watch my students struggle and stress and strain to learn a new idea or skill. Some will accomplish it- others will throw up their hands and cry, complain, get angry with me and finally quit. The ones that make it through those hard skills will likely continue on to be successful in many things. Those that quit will likely do well in some things but not many things. Granted, this is just my opinion (and years of teaching and observing students).

I am completely fascinated with seeing the progress of students and trying to figure out what might help them succeed in music. Why do some excel and others, as they say “pack it in?” I’ve been reading up on the four stages of competency- most of you teachers will have heard of this. Initially explained as the “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill,” it was developed in the Gordon Training Institute by an employee named Noel Burch in the 1970’s. So this is how it goes: Stage one- Unconscious incompetence. The student doesn’t know or understand how to do something and is blissfully unaware of that fact.
This is the stage I see a lot. “my mom wants me to take _______ lessons and I really just want to play video games!” Sometimes the person isn’t even aware that they don’t know what they think they know. One time I was looking for a new accompanist to play for a church choir and worship services. I put an ad in the newspaper and many people came to audition. I was amazed at the number of people who came that didn’t read music! I mean-not at all. Interesting…. Stage two- Conscious incompetence. The student doesn’t know how to do the thing but recognizes the value in learning it.
Most of my beginning students are at this stage. They really want to learn to play the ukulele, for instance, and they come to class ready with instrument in hand, but quickly learn how much they don’t know, that their fingers are going to be sore and that they are going to have to practice- every day.  This is especially hard for older adults who don’t learn as quickly as young students. And God bless them for sticking it out! These are the ones I admire the most. It isn’t easy but they are hanging in there. You know who you are, my friends, and let me just say:  Yay, you guys!
Stage three- Conscious competence. The student knows how to do the new skill and it requires a lot of concentration to accomplish it.
I can’t decide if I like this stage or dread it. The student knows how to do the thing you are teaching them and sometimes they think that’s good enough. It reminds me of the t-shirt that my son’s university swim team was wearing that said “When Good Enough Isn’t.” It requires so much concentration to accomplish the skill at this stage. Sometimes it’s good enough. I learned to play (Fill in the blank) and that’s all I needed to know. But if they could just can just hang in there a bit longer they can get to….
Stage four- Unconscious competence- through practice and much repetition the skill has become routine, a matter of course. This is the big pay off! When you can do the thing you’ve been learning without thinking of how to do it. You just hit that beautiful backhand down the line for a winner in tennis. You’ve played that concerto that you’ve been working on without mistakes for the first time from memory. You’ve driven mom’s car for the first time to the grocery store and back without shaking out of your skin that you’ll run into a tree. We call this “playing out of your mind.”

Absolutely everything we learn to do has to be funneled through this “system” of learning- we have to create the pathways in our brains or the muscle memories that make it happen and when it does- magic, grace, beauty, love, success! Maybe the rest of our lives are like this as well. I really don’t want to spend a ton of time in the Unconsciously Incompetent stage- I think this is the place where life happens to us and not the other way around.
I enjoy the work of the Russian composer, Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin (November 12, 1833 – February 27, 1887), but what I think I like best about him is that he was a chemist, a physician, a woman’s rights activist, AND a composer. Some would say he was an over achiever. I would like to think that he wasn’t satisfied with Unconscious Incompetence.
Enjoy the music!  http://youtu.be/TmfTqVqngO8
We’ll talk soon,

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Of white lines and yellow bumps…

I’m not sure if it gets foggy where you are. That kind of low-hanging, dense, you-can’t see-across-the-street, kind of fog. But here in the central valley of California it can really come down after a few days of rain and warm days.
Today is one such day. My kids tell me that it’s how they know it’s Christmas/winter time when it’s foggy and they love it. The youngest said this morning “isn’t it beautiful outside?” We don’t get snow, so they’re a little twisted, these kids.
When it’s especially thick it can silence the world.
You know it’s foggy when you come to a stop sign (if you can see it) and you have to roll down your window to listen if other cars are coming because you can’t see their headlights. You can’t really see much of anything.
I got lost in the fog one time on the freeway and ended up 20 miles beyond my turn off.
The white lines on the side of the road that break just before the intersection and the yellow bumps and lines in the center are the only guides you might have to find your way from place to place and keep you from drifting into oncoming traffic. God forbid you’re in the country where you don’t even have those markers to go by.
One time I ran out of gas on the foggy road home from a concert out of town. I knew where I was (kinda), but it was very late and I was dressed up and I had to go to a farmhouse to ask for a ride into town to get gas. This was before the cell phone. It was like one of those Stephen King movies-stumbling along the road to find the single porch light glowing in a very dark and silent world. Fortunately the farmer wasn’t the suspicious or malicious type and I was safely delivered back to my car in one piece.
Some of my very best prayers have been said in the fog in my car on the way to somewhere. Usually these prayers are simply for safety, but sometimes, on really foggy nights they’re those beggy prayers- “please, oh please let me not crash into a tree” and sometimes they’re the bargaining types “if you just get me there I promise I will…”
I wonder about those white lines and yellow bumps in the road though. I wonder about the people who put them there and who first thought of this idea and hopefully he or she is thinking of very cool to invent.
I wonder too about those people in my life that are my white lines and yellow bumps- those great ones who keep me from drifting into oncoming traffic or driving completely off the road into some muddy ditch.
I’m blessed, lucky, happy, at peace because of them- because of you. If you are reading this, you are likely aware of how important you are to me and to others. If someone hasn’t told you this today, let me be the first. You are important to me.
Find your way home, ask for help, let your way be guided by those you trust and love,  and “Let’s be careful out there.”
We’ll talk later,
foggy road

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Not just whistling dixie…

Working with a friend the other day, I had to step out of the room for a moment. I could hear him whistling one of the tunes we were working on. High and light, the sound carried through a closed door in a crowded room. Distracted from the task at hand, I had to stop for a moment and listen. Could there be a happier sound?
Strangely enough, the next day I was talking with friends and one guy mentioned that he had always wanted to be able to whistle- you know, that kind of piercing burst of sound that gets the attention of someone at a distance? So there we were, four adults with our fingers in our mouths trying to teach him the art of it. Whether he gets it will depend on if he is willing to put in the practice but we were all encouraged that he was well on his way. Makes me smile to think of him driving around out among the farmers he works with practicing his whistling technique.
Did you know there is a language of whistling? Me either.
On one island in the Canary Islands there is a traditional whistling language called Silbo Gomero. Seriously. Look it up. Two vowels, four consonants- 4000 words. How cool! Must be the happiest place on the planet. How could they argue whistling?
Was thinking of all the songs I know that have whistling. My favorites (and the ones currently bouncing around in my brain) are: Bing Crosby in White Christmas, Bobby McFerrin in Don’t Worry Be Happy, Sweet Georgia Brown, the Harlem Globe Trotters theme song, The Andy Griffith Show theme, Otis Redding in Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay, and maybe the catchiest one of all, the Colonel Bogey March from Bridge Over the River Kwai. If you don’t remember this one, it was also in the movie The Breakfast Club. oh, and what about “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from the King and I? Once that gets in your head, you’ll be stuck with it all day long!
I’ve been reading the blogs of people who hate whistling- these are truly grumpy people. The same ones that hate birds singing in the morning and the sound of children playing, and puppies.
Listen up- do you hear anyone whistling? These, in my humble opinion are the happy people- the people to stay close to, the ones you want to be around. The sound they are making is coming from their souls.
What sound is your soul making today?

Psalm 100- a Song of Thanksgiving
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;[a]
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
We’ll talk later- you are a blessed child of God.

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Pretty Good Day… for a Wednesday

One of the favorite pastors that I worked for would show up in the morning at the church and say “well, I guess God didn’t want me last night, so I’m here.” Always made me laugh- still does.
So, it’s Wednesday. Both of the morning lessons I had scheduled cancelled, so I have this little stretch of time to take a deep breath and look around. Once again the house cleaning fairies didn’t show up, so there’s that to deal with. Where are those little buggers when I need them?
The sky is finally clouding up- maybe, just maybe we’ll get a little rain around here. I know you people in the rest of the country are buried in the snow, but could you please send a little this way? I volunteered to lead a rain dance out in front of the coffee shop this morning. Not many takers- I was thinking that a samba might be just the thing, but surprisingly, no one seemed at all interested. Imagine that?
Big dog has decided that, since I’m home and all, it’s time for a walk (again).  After all, I do look as if I have nothing better to do! I should have taken her with me this morning- she would have rain danced.
So, in an effort to get something done this morning, besides checking out what’s on television (this is a very bad idea by the way- daytime t.v. will suck your brain dry. There is a reason it’s called the idiot box.) I made a pot of regular coffee, which I intend to drink in it’s entirety. Then I shall arm myself with all of the cleaning supplies in my possession and get to work. Maybe.
Or maybe I will sit here at my computer and talk with you awhile. You are so much more interesting than my bathrooms…
But first a song- This one will get us up and moving. Sing along with me. You heard me! Turn it up! Let the neighbors complain. We’re having church here!!

Have a great Wednesday- We’ll talk later.



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Random Thoughts for a Tuesday

Things seen from the coffee shop window…
There is a little boy running across the parking lot with a purse in his hand.  No one is chasing him, so either he got away clean or he’s bringing it to his mother.
The are two men sitting next to me speaking a language that I can’t identify. I would dearly love to listen in but I can’t catch a word- darn it!
The young woman who just walked in has on the most impossibly high heels- her feet are going to kill her later, but they look great with her outfit, so maybe it’s worth it?
There is a sweet couple sitting together down the way from me. They come often- he pushing her wheelchair and she with the biggest smile on her face. He is so sweet and gentle with her. It makes me happy to see them.
I think the Episcopal priest just ordered his coffee. He doesn’t have his clerical collar on but he’s wearing his “Jesus sandals” (HIS feet aren’t going to hurt later)and has a big cross around his neck. What coffee would Jesus drink? I should ask him.
Last night my ukulele class played along with Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (had to copy/paste that one) on Somewhere Over the Rainbow. No, he wasn’t in my studio but isn’t YouTube great? We definitely felt like big shots and very accomplished playing along. These ukuladies are getting pretty good!
I took big dog to Home Depot on Saturday. She’s in therapy dog training. Other than lots of drooling, she did great! She wasn’t startled by the forklift or the power saw or carts or any of the people. Children came from all over the store to pet her and give her treats. Note to self- bring more treats and a bigger towel to wipe up.
I’ve finished my coffee- so it’s time to go.
Life is happening all around us, if we will just pay attention. Pastor Byron said on Sunday that God wants us to be 3 mile per hour Christians- Taking time to see the need of those around us. Ok, I get it.
We’ll talk later- You are a blessed child of God.
empty cup

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