I do it, and I do it big. Here's to not forgetting about it.

Archive for July, 2014

Black is Beautiful.

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Earlier this month, I was lamenting that the Chopin score above has SO. MANY. NOTES. For my taste, there is entirely too much black on those pages. Every dot is one more thing for which I’m responsible and quite frankly, I wonder whether I can handle it.

The score and I have a “special” relationship. Read: I’ve grown up hating it. That’s where the problems are! My strength as a musician has always been my ear; music reading has been a chore for me as long as I can remember. It is likely the greatest of my insecurities as a pianist. Seriously. Of musicians, we’re the brilliant ones. How can I not be a kickass sight-reader? Yeah, yeah, I’m still growing and improving, but I’m never going to catch up to where I feel I should be. Don’t ask me what that is.

However, as I’ve been preparing for my recital, I’ve heard the collective wisdom of my piano teachers bouncing back and forth between my stubborn ears. “Don’t be afraid of the score!” “Pay attention to detail!” “Put the notes where you want them!” Whatevs, guys. I guess I need to know where the notes are in order to do as I please with them.

And so, this summer I’ve arguably done more score study than I ever have. I think it has to do with playing on the other team (the teacher team) and asking my students to do the same. I hear them fight me like I’ve fought my teachers and I laugh, smile understandingly, then crack the whip. In this study, I’ve discovered something –

This is where the beauty is.

Not even necessarily in the score itself, although I believe that to be true as well. The beauty is in the process of the study.

I heard this particular Chopin piece at a high school piano camp and have been in love with it since. That was half my life ago. Actually getting to know the piece – digging in, closely studying – has been a struggle at times. However, I appreciate Chopin’s brilliance more than I ever could have as listener, or even casual player. My “in love” feeling was just that – an infatuation. Now, having really taken it apart, I feel I can say I truly love this piece.

There are few discussions of love that don’t remind me of the following verses from the New Testament:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13‬:‭4-7‬ NIV)

In learning to love the score, I have had to be patient. I have had to be kind to myself. I have had to resist the temptation to compare my talent to that of others. I’m continually humbled as I discover new things each time I really focus. If I were to keep a record of my errors, I don’t know that I would have the will to continue playing. I trust in my ability to grow. I persevere, hoping that I will do justice to Chopin’s music.

In learning to love the score, I am learning to love myself.

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Breath of Life

You heard it here first: I’m a big punk. I am prone to worry. It often manifests itself physically with headaches, stomach pains, twitching. Even though I know and believe the following:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭6-7‬ NKJV)

I remind myself of this, see it work, and forget EVERY TIME I need to apply it. Within moments, even.

Flashback – January 12, 2014. My second triathlon. HITS Naples, baby. I had heard the half and full athletes had a gorgeous swim on Saturday. The sprint and Olympic distance races were on Sunday. I had had a few swim lessons with Coachie and was excited to take my new knowledge for a spin. Hahahahaha OR NOT! The water was so choppy that I ended up having to take a break. That was after I had decided not to return to shore in a panic after the race had started. So. Much. Water. Everywhere. I breaststroked that bad boy, man. I was bargaining with God – “just get me through this and I’ll change!” Yeahhhh I’m still working on that too, hah. 🙂 When I made it to the shore, I was like Sweet Brown, y’all. I RAN FOR MY LIFE.

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Heh. I suppose the both of us were craving what we thought to be safe air. Quite frankly, I think bronchitis is less paralyzing than the fear I dealt with that day. In my panic, I forgot that indeed, I had plenty of air. Not only did I have air, but I had time to breathe it. My next triathlon swim went much more smoothly, thankfully. All I can do in the water is breathe and move forward as efficiently as I can without compromising my breath.

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Ah. If only if I had been able to internalize the business about breathing sooner. No worries, Coachie. In terms of words of wisdom, I’ve been ignoring (usually unintentionally) people a long time.
You’re in fantastic company with my piano teachers. They’ve been trying to remind me to breathe my whole life. What has happened to me in the water plagued me first at the keyboard. Instead of “OMG so much water! So many people,” it’s “OMG so many notes! So many people!” I question whether I really know what I’m doing, regardless of my preparation. “Should I really be here? Have I earned this?” At least triathlons have lifeguards! If I have a memory slip during a performance I am SOL, man.

But when I remember to breathe…

It fills my lungs and my music with life. I start to enjoy what I’m doing. I’m able to focus on the present. There may be a big ass wave in the B section, but there’s nothing I can do about it until I complete the A section. Why not try make the most of every moment?

My triathlon swims since January have been FAR from perfect. That didn’t stop me from having a great time and crossing each finish line with a huge smile on my face! I want my recital to be don’t expect my recital to be perfect, but I pray that The Lord will help me fill my music with life.

Tee hee. I screamed “I’M NOT DEAD!” at the end of St. Anthony’s. You better believe I’ll be thinking it when my recital is over!

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15. Bloody. Seconds. Race Report

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So my plan had been to run with the 2:30 pace group. My best time to date is 2:27 and change, and I had received instruction from Coachie to take it easy. There were 2 of the 2:30 pace teams – one that planned to run continuously and one that was to do intervals of running 5 minutes and walking 1. I figured I would go with the run/walk group to A. Ensure that I was indeed not pushing myself too hard physically and B. Pace myself mentally. I thought this would be especially beneficial because I had been loathing struggling with running and this would be a way to not focus on having to do it for two and a half hours. Plan in place. Rock on.

I wandered over to the chick holding the 2:30 sign. Y’all already know. I don’t tend to open my mouth unless I feel the need to speak. Or flirt. I listened to the pacer explain to someone else that the run/walk pacer couldn’t make it. I’m sure you can imagine how disappointed I was. “Oh, well! Guess it’s just me and G and G.” G and G being God and Garmin, of course. I figured I would stay behind the group, keeping them in site to make sure I didn’t go too fast in the beginning. New plan in place.

While the race officially started at 6:30 AM, my corral didn’t arrive at the starting line until about 10 after 7. As we were about to start, I gave my cousin a hug, listened for the horn, and off I went. Garmin’s on. Music is on. Chicago is so pretty! Almost immediately, we went through a tunnel. “Uh-oh.” My Garmin was angry. I figured she would be better as soon as I got through the tunnel and I could check my pace again. I wanted to err on the side of slow because I was feeling all the feels and didn’t want to burn out because my adrenaline was pumping. Out of the tunnel, my watch looked more accurate. I passed mile marker one feeling awesome. The official time clock read about 53 minutes.

Mile 2 took us through some of Chicago’s most iconic sites. Over the river. Through downtown. Oh, no! The ABC building headline read that Maverick died! I arrived at the next mile marker to see that my Garmin was only reading 1.8 miles. Um. I began paying closer attention to my watch as I ran the next mile. I noticed it was auto-pausing even though I was running. Apparently, all of those iconic buildings were interfering with satellite reception. By the time I completed mile 4, I realized that the only thing I could rely on was the time on the watch – the pace was all over the place. 9:30! 16:20! 7:50! Fan. Freaking. Tastic. Okay, Joan. New plan! I passed the pace group and thought, what the hell? Let’s try to keep each mile around 11 minutes and go for a PR. So now I had to run and add at the same time. Piss off!

Looking back, I think my Garmin’s acting out was a blessing in disguise. I had thought my main concern would be my brain being bored of running. There was just way too much going on for that even to be an option. My legs felt great. The city and weather were lovely. My only lament was that I didn’t want to stop and take pictures OR stop at Giordano’s! It just isn’t natural to pass Nordstrom and not go inside. I pressed on.

Along the course, there were rock bands playing. I had my own music, but I’m sure you can imagine that these bands were quite loud. Of course, they were playing loudest when my favorite pieces came on my iPhone. “Sigh. Don’t these people know that Earl Wild’s Chopin Etudes ARE SACRED?!” I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they were only playing so loudly to motivate me to run faster and out of earshot. In addition, I had been smelling ALL kinds of fantastic Chicago food during the race, but mile 8 brought the most pleasant scent yet.

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I don’t know who had it, but I thanked them. I remember when that used to smell like old people to me. Either I’m maturing, an old person, or both, but that smelled so soothing! I thought “YEAHHHHHH guuuuuuurl Imma get me some of that in less than an hour!” Still feeling good, I kept running.

Then there was mile 10.

By this point, I had been running about an hour and 50 minutes. I’m not sure what did it, but all of a sudden the giggles were gone and I turned into a bitch. I thank God that no one can read minds and that He has blessed me with a functioning frontal lobe because if I were to say out loud some of the things that were going through my head, I am sure I could have started a fight or two. EVERYTHING was making me angry. This joker over the mic saying “you only have 3 miles to go!” Another loud band outplaying Andre Watts and the Atlanta Symphony. The ABSOLUTE worst was my turning a corner to be greeted by a seated spectator doing NOTHING. He was just sitting there, observing. “You’ve got some *bleep* *bleep* nerve CHILLING and watching thousands of people run for their lives.” I was irrationally upset with this ugly ass man. Even thinking about it now makes me grimace, hah! We made the final turn toward the finish line around mile 11. Soon after mile 12, I could see it.

NOT. COOL.

“But Lady J,” you counter. “You’ve got visual confirmation that the end is near!” Indeed, that was true. But from so far away, it feels like a tease. A mirage, even. I looked down at my watch and it appeared my plan to PR was still intact, but it didn’t allow for any wiggle room. I ran. My legs complained. “Mommy will take care of you in less than 10 minutes. You do me, I’ll do you,” I told them. They carried me across the finish line, where I noticed they were feeling quite jelly-like. I checked my watch. 2:24 something, but I knew that wasn’t right because of the stopping and starting it had done. Thanks, Chicago. Still, I thought I had run enough to PR. Rock on.

I received an email later announcing that official results were available on the site.

2:27:53.

Of course, I had to check my previous best from the Suncoast Half Marathon.

2:27:38. Oh, dear. 15 seconds long.

This made me wish I had run with the pace group. If I’m not going to PR, why would I run as hard as I could? Then again, did I really run hard as I could? Did I take it too easy in the beginning? Did I walk too long as I got water? It’s not particularly pleasant for me to rack my brain, wondering where I could have shaved off fifteen stupid seconds. Lots of places, I imagine.

Not proud.

However, I do realize what my not being proud means. I completed my first half marathon only 7 months ago. For me to be whining about 15 seconds over 13.1 miles shows that I’m pretty committed to this madness. That’s probably something.

Welp, I did it. Something.

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July 22 – Update:

I’ve decided to be proud for taking a risk to do my best even though it didn’t come out the way I wanted to. I guess that’s the point of living. I am smiling about the race today. Yay!

The Importance of Hydration: Pre-Race Report

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Water is kind of a big deal. We’re made of it. The world is made of it. Yet it is often a fight to force ourselves to consume enough of it to keep us healthy – unless, of course, you are a student looking for an excuse to get out of the classroom. My babies can’t get enough water. I’ve found that the earlier I begin drinking water during the day, the easier it is for me to drink it. Moreover, the more I drink it, the more I appreciate it.

There are some times I crave water more than others, however. Water is never so good to me as it is while I am running. Of course, because life is HILARIOUS, it’s also not particularly convenient to drink while running. I hate carrying anything with me as I run, though I know that if I don’t, the results will be ugly. Then I will curse both water and running and a vicious cycle can occur if I don’t choose to simply HTFU.

The more I need something, the more I tend to resent it. So it has been with my relationship with running since I last had a race. That run was brutal. I was secretly glad for my overuse injury as it gave me a valid excuse to take a break from running. I used the elliptical for a few weeks as a sad, sad substitution. I returned to running with some resignation. “Do I remember how to do this? Why am I doing this? IT. IS. SO. HOT.” I was able to force myself through one 10 mile run prior to leaving for Chicago, which I’m positive I wouldn’t have done had I not had this race and wanted to feel halfway good about it.

Then I saw her.

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Ooh, baby. The starting line. I cannot see a starting line of a running race without my eyes brimming with tears. I was filled with joy as I remembered why I love to run. I love the chance to show myself what I am capable of when I do my best. I love to surprise myself. I love that I have an imperfect body that can do perfect things like run 13.1 miles! The starting line is just that – a chance to begin again and to give thanks for the gifts of life and health.

It frightens me how easily I can forget this. A little pain, a bit of discomfort – can cause us to take so much for granted. When we don’t hydrate properly, it is too simple to think that maybe we just don’t need it like we once thought. Suddenly, we are reminded by fatigue that this is not an option. Likewise, when we take the time to count our blessings, we realize that this too is something we should do regularly. We can then remember why it is we need something or even someone in our lives, and hopefully do our best to nurture it.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should hug your running shoes while you have the chance.

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Apparently, I’m a Total Bitch. Classroom Edition

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Here’s a secret – just because your kid gets the claps and is adorable doesn’t mean he’s good.

Periodically during the school year, I allow my classroom students to perform for one another with very little guidance (a. Be nice to one another and b. You break it your parents buy it). I like this exercise for several reasons, but I think my favorite is that it gives the students a chance to explore without a right or a wrong hanging over their heads. I love being surprised by my students’ previously hidden talents and am delighted when they appreciate one another and burst into applause.

But maaaaaaaan do I see some “wrong” musical decisions. No sense of rhythm. No sense of steady beat. What’s a key? And that’s not even the kicker. Those kids receive the SAME amount of applause.

This is where I think to myself, “y’all just heard what I did, right? Why the hell are you showing EQUAL amount of appreciation for something of significantly lower quality? Don’t you know about the normal curve?”

Indeed. I’m sure my students would have a greater understanding of my frustration if I would only display this image to them:

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Mm-hmm. Clearly you understand now, dear children. Not everyone deserves the same amount of claps because not everyone can be exceptional. Otherwise, awesomeness loses its value, yeah? How can a standing ovation mean anything if ANYONE can get one?

Yet not just anyone receives standing ovations in my classroom. I do not force my students to perform for one another in situations like these. While I think it’s important that students push their comfort level, I don’t want them to develop a strong association between music and anxiety. My babies volunteer to share their music, and THEY are the ones on the end of the normal curve. I have to reassure my ears that the students are actually clapping for cojones and not musical quality. I suppose my job is to nurture already existing bravery and encourage them to discover that which they can do.

In the meantime – anyone know of any discreet earplugs for purchase?

Confidence, My Foot.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I like to roll solo. If not, bring yourself up to speed here.

Heh. Speed. I don’t have that. I’m running with the 2:30 pace group tomorrow, just slightly behind my best
half-marathon time I ran in January. Coachie says I’m not allowed to run the hell out of this race as Augusta 70.3 is in only SEVENTY-ONE DAYS OMG and I shouldn’t risk injury. Can’t be mad at that. Plus, I’ve been sleeping in this:

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Mm-hmm! My strassburg sock brings all the boys to the yard, y’all. Which brings us back to preferring to be alone LOL! Today, I was at the race expo with my cousin. She will be running the 5k. It’s perfect because I had a buddy that I don’t actually have to run with. Everyone wins. As we were walking around, she was lamenting that most racing paraphernalia was geared toward the half-marathon distance. “Some of us aren’t there yet!” She rightly protested. Granted, the race is part of the Rock N’Roll Marathon Series, but if you’re going to have a 5k, why not ensure that runners of that race feel like they are equals? My opinion is not really humble here, but if you’re going out there and doing your best, and the best at that moment in time is a 5k as opposed to a half-marathon, why should you get any less props? I can’t say I remember feeling that way myself prior to running longer distances, but that may be because I’m already so accustomed to feeling inadequate that lack of representation through running swag was the least of my concerns.

And indeed, I did find it odd that I didn’t feel odd at the expo myself. As exhibitors asked me if this was my first half and I said, “Nope,” it further cemented that I am one of these running people. Slow as I may be, whatever distance I cover.

Upon returning to the rest of my family, I met this cool guy who has been running a long time. He was complaining that he could never get his full marathon time under 3:30. Hahahahaha! I regret not telling him what my time goal is tomorrow for my half. I let my fear of inadequacy win, which makes me wonder if I REALLY believe deep down that my 5k running cousin deserves those accolades.

Nah. I know she does. I know I’m awesome too – for being willing to grow and challenge myself. I just have to learn to embrace it.

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Ms. IronPianist – Joan Of All Trades, Master of None

I am blessed to have a circle circles of extraordinarily talented and capable people around me. Their gifts and strengths are diverse, and I count myself thankful that I have no one in my life from whom I cannot learn. Appreciative though I may be, I find myself sad at times. As I float in and out of my circles, there is not one in which I feel completely comfortable. I struggle with feeling like an outsider, and I often wonder if doing less would alleviate my feeling disconnected.

Ms. – The Teacher

One might think that having two degrees in separate fields of music teaching would make me feel like I know what the hell I’m doing. Quite the opposite, actually. I am far from the first person to realize that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know much of anything. I give special recognition to teaching for being the area in which I feel doubly inadequate; both parading myself in front of 25 pairs of eager eyes and sharing what makes the most sense to me with one willing child. Most of my colleagues whom I would call friends have been teaching for significantly longer than I have. Much of that has to do with the fact that they went into music education in school before I did. I’m always late to everything!

Iron – The Triathlete

So, I’ve been doing triathlons for about 5 minutes in relation to my life of music. I call myself a triathlete unapologetically because it’s what I do. I have a coach. I eat to fuel for the sport. I train to improve. I complete races. Don’t think there’s anything missing, except the awesome, naturally. It would be unreasonable for me to expect to be a beast at these beginning stages, but it doesn’t stop me from noticing that everyone around me is faster. I would imagine that most have more experience, not unlike my colleagues, but I still fight with the thoughts that I don’t belong and that no matter how good I get, they – and it doesn’t matter whom they are – will always be stronger and faster.

Pianist – Duh.

I have a lot of emotion wrapped up in being a pianist. More so than either teaching or triathlon. While I am still a novice triathlete and even a young teacher, it’s fair to say I am a seasoned pianist. I have little tolerance for people who say “I’m not that good!” with false humility, so I won’t do that here. I’m well-trained and get things done. After 25 years of playing, I should. And there’s the rub. Could I be doing even better? I look at bios of other pianists and they seem extraordinarily more polished and impressive than mine. Where did I go wrong?

Joan

The choice to pursue all three of my major interests as an adult means that I cannot give all of my time to any one of them. I must admit that part of me is relieved, in that somewhere in my twisted brain my being a pianist is an excuse for my not being fast. “I could have trained to get faster but I had to practice!” I’m always shielding myself from accusations of inadequacy or mediocrity – accusations that I don’t think have ever come. “But you guys are thinking it, I swear! You think that I suck and you just smile and pretend to be my friend because I’m cute and witty.” I’m a head case.

But I can’t imagine my life without any of the three. All of them are ways to express the joy and full life for which I am so grateful. The grandness of playing Brahms will never be like crossing a finish line, which will never be like seeing a child’s eyes light up as s(he) is exposed to something for the first time. I am so blessed and humbled that I get to do all of these things.

I will never know if I am good enough. I’m not even sure if I’m doing the best I can with the gifts God has given me. I just know that I am better than I was yesterday.

I pray that’s enough.

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