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

Posts tagged ‘Learning’

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?

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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Just As I Am: The Dangers of Knowing Too Much

Most civilians know how stressful music making situations can be. By civilians I am referring to amateur musicians, of course. I say amateur musicians (as opposed to professional) because all of us have musical experience. There is not one person who does not listen to music and analyze it. We sing along, even when it is by ourselves. Only a complete asshole a very unsure person wouldn’t participate in a communal happy birthday, right? Professional musicians just have the ability to express their tastes and preferences with a greater degree of specificity.

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Das right. I’m fancy. But nobody ever thinks of the perils of being fancy, least of all Iggy.

So I’m in church last week (this triathlete loves Jesus) and we’re worshipping the Lord in song. I must confess – this is my least favorite part of the church service. “But Lady J,” you say. “This makes no sense. You love music. You love Jesus. Music + Jesus = winning, right?” Only when done my way, silly billy. I love singing my favorite hymns on my bike. I love playing through them early mornings as I have tea and (not so) quiet time with The Lord. Meanwhile, this choir and worship leader are up there, singing songs that I may not know, invariably in keys that are uncomfortable for my voice.

“Still,” you insist. “You are a trained musician. Your voice cannot be that bad.” Please. When did I say my voice was bad? It’s just not the best it can be because I have not rehearsed the songs and the worship leader was not considerate enough to contact me regarding an appropriate key. Some
Christians, man.

“So, what you’re really saying is that the talent with which God has blessed you – you’re allowing your knowledge to get in the way of thanking Him for it.”

Guilty.

It’s not as though I am embarrassed of my voice, like others often are. Hell, I’d have to care about the opinions of those around me in church to be at that point. In truth, that kind of concern would probably be a step forward for me. My perfectionism is manifesting itself yet again. God, I want to give you my best. I hate when my technique is wrong. I hate when I yawn as I’m singing praises. But Christ’s death on the cross was probably not to pay for all the off key singing.

I’m sure it didn’t help, though.

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Too Young For This Kind of Memory Loss: On Performance

I’d like to start this post by saying that I have a long history of kicking ass and taking names. I’ve been an overachiever for quite some time. Academically, musically, and hey, just look at me.

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So why is that I am so afraid of failure when I all I do is win.

This is no little thing, y’all. Every time I have a race. Every time I speak in front of adults. Every time I have a performance of my own. Multiply that exponentially when my babies have a performance. I flip the hell out like the sky is going to bloody fall if anything goes wrong. It doesn’t even have to be in the context of a performance – for instance, let’s say I am in the middle of teaching a lesson and I am demonstrating a piece for a student and I make a mistake. You know what my first thought is? “Omg the parent is going to think I am a horrible teacher because I Missed. A. Note.”

Crazy Lady J. You’re forgetting who is in charge. And it ain’t you.

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea; Though its waters roar and foam, Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. Selah. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, The holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; He raised His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has wrought desolations in the earth. He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalms 46:1-11 NASB)

This God you serve, Joan. He does Big Things. You’re worried about notes, a fall, a misspoken word. None of this is even trouble as David describes. But He still cares. Why else would my life be so blessed?

I hope and pray that as I grow, I will learn to stop striving and finally KNOW that God is God. I am a champ only in Him.

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No, wait, it is all about me.

So, all my talk about thinking about others was crap. My bad.

I have a piano student (I’ll call her Faith) that I’ve been concerned about for a while now. She and her best friend were born 2 days apart and have known each other their whole lives. I’ve been privileged to teach them both but saw quickly that the besty was – and still is – progressing much faster. I’ve worried that Faith would see and hear how much more advanced the besty is and become discouraged or jealous. Moreover, parents love to compare notes (see what I just did there?) and all I want is for everyone to live and grow harmoniously (I just did it again!).

I make a concerted (okay, I’ll stop – probably) effort to not make mention of any other student during my private lessons for this reason. Everyone is on his or her own path, and I want to ensure that my babies are focused on their own growth and no one else’s. I want them to hear each other play so they hone keen listening skills and can appreciate and uplift each other, but I’ve had a teacher or two directly compare me to another student and I found it devastating. If I’m doing my best – what else can I do?

There are many virtues I’ve taken from music and applied to endurance sports. Persistence. Courage. Humility. However, a stark difference occurred to me as I was in the middle of the race, talking to myself as I normally do. I started to say something to myself that I often say to myself as I am practicing the piano.

“Joan. You don’t have to go so fast. It’s not like this is a…shit.”

There actually is a first place. Aaaaaaand you get it by being the fastest. How – different.

I wish I could say that it didn’t bother me that I am the slowest person in either of my peer groups. No matter that I’ve been racing for about 5 minutes. It still sucks to feel like the loser. It frightens me to think that one day this won’t be the case and I could be one of those people who thinks, “Thank God I’m not the slow one anymore!” Gross. I would rather come in last forever than relish in the fact that I am not the slowest. Aim higher, people.

How does one deal with this? Recognizing and appreciating that there are people who are better while simultaneously recognizing and appreciating your own strength?

I’ve got to shut them out.

Not completely, of course. I still want to cheer them on and celebrate their victories. But I am on my ass about this all the time. “Self, did you do your best?” “Yes.” “Then STFU and celebrate victory.” See, I didn’t even say YOUR victory. Victory. Full stop.

It is important to me that I progress. What a relief for an overachiever like me that I have NO FREAKING CLUE at what rate I am “supposed” to progress. Thank God I’ve got a wise triathlon coach who doesn’t compare me to her other clients and allows me to grow at my own pace. All I can see is the next stroke/revolution/step in front of me. And I make it and take it. Like a freaking champ.

My baby Faith is also a freaking champ. I’ve had to help her through a couple of moments where she wasn’t doing her best because she wasn’t sure it was good enough. I know she hears the besty and part of her wonders why she is not where she is even though they started at the same time. No matter. She’ll never be as good as she can be if she’s not putting in the time. Now, Faith is progressing more quickly – not because of being motivated by the besty, but because she sees how well she can do when she applies herself fully.

Me too, Faith. Me too.

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Finding Freedom in Fabulousness: My Original Endurance Sport

Music and Me: A Story of Love, Hate, and Redemption
By Lady J

My Ones
The story my parents tell me is that as my mother was in graduate school, one of her professors saw my two year old fingers and said I have piano hands. They wanted me to have a skill to hone anyhow, so why not piano? Fast forward to age 4 and Girl J is seated at a piano for her first lesson. I loved music AND receiving praise (still do!) so I practiced what I was told with little drama. My concert debut was that October and my Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star opened to rave reviews. I suppose that I was more motivated to practice by myself (INFJ hayyyyyy) and get the applause by myself, so my parents allowed me to quit my dance lessons soon after. I am told that when I was 7, I told them that I didn’t remember asking for lessons. I can only assume that this was around the time when I began learning scales. 🙂

Other than having to practice technique, life as a beginning pianist was good. Practice. Go to lessons. Go to the mall afterward. Perform. Get the claps. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My Teens

By now, I was starting to delve into more advanced piano literature – you know, stuff by the guys civilians have heard of – Beethoven, Bach, et al. I struggled but I loved the payoff. So much so that I told my piano teacher at the time that I thought I wanted to study music in college.

#shitjustgotreal

I started entering competitions, which I LOATHED. Sometimes I would win, sometimes I would lose, but the glory of winning did not compare to the shame of losing. Normal teenage foolish thought. As much as competing sucked, the music was boss. I spent two high school summers at piano camp and was inspired to practice 4-6 hours daily. Long before I ever experienced runner’s high, I was having musicgasms (Chopin was my first, thanks boo) and wanted to learn more and more. Though performing made me nervous, I knew I had a stage presence worth watching and talent worth hearing and the payoff was worth it. More notes brought more claps. Bring it. High school graduation brought on my piano performance majorness.

#shitgotevenrealer

Practicing 4 hours a day for funsies in the summer as opposed to practicing 4 hours a day all the time to avoid getting your ass kicked by your professor. Entirely different game. I remember frequent conversations with my high school teacher telling her how burnt out I felt, wondering if I belonged there. I knew I loved playing, but I didn’t quite feel like I fit in with the other performance majors. My professor saw it too and encouraged me to switch majors – incidentally, to music education, but we’ll get to my twenties later. 😉 I had caused a car accident my sophomore year which prevented me from practicing as much and had to delay my sophomore jury by a semester. I felt like I was making it by the skin of my teeth. Not so comfortable for the overachiever that I had always been.

About that tendency to overachieve – junior year comes along, which meant it was time to start thinking about graduate school. I took piano pedagogy classes for the first time and was really enjoying them. I also learned that that path would allow me to both study teaching and performance, which appealed to me. The music ed people seemed like they were not into performing. The performance people seemed out of touch with reality. A middle way! I made it out of college with my performance degree and accepted into a pedagogy program. Off I go to learn more about how much I don’t know yet!

My Twenties

Sooooo I kinda had a meltdown in graduate school. Big. Time. Essentially because I thought I knew things then I realized I didn’t. And every time I turned around there was something else I didn’t know. Looking back, I know now that it was because I had laid my foundation on how good I was at stuff. Not too solid, especially at bloody 20. I needed that meltdown. I can’t say that I have ever been a cocky person, but my knowledge/playing ability definitely isn’t something I should be taking to the bank like I take God’s faithfulness. By His grace, in 2 years I had a master’s degree in pedagogy. Naturally, the glutton for punishment that I am, I went on for a doctorate.

Idiot.

When I started the Doctor of Musical Arts program, I had wanted another pedagogy degree, but the school decided to eliminate the program. I was given the choice to pursue performance or accompanying. Accompanying? Other people? Bump that! Why don’t I do performance? My original pursuit? I could handle it. Even though it made me MISERABLE in undergrad. Yeah, Joan, why don’t you do something you disliked at about 57204720274820 times the intensity? Makes perfect sense.

This did not go well.

I was VERY unhappy. A lot of people pissed me off. No worries, I pissed them off too. I made some poor decisions and found myself with a choice to leave school or get a second master’s degree – in music education. By this time, I had stopped swearing off classroom teaching and it seemed like an option I would enjoy. Coming out would mean alternative certification and feeling like a failure. Not. An. Option.

I switched degree programs. Was I happy? Nope. I didn’t trust many people, so I found myself very lonely. Go to class. Come home. Eat. Write. Intern. Blah. I enjoyed the coursework, but looking back now I wish I would have opened up more. I was around some really great people that I’m thankful I still get to be in touch with professionally. I made it, and off to the workforce I went. I got a job in elementary music, just as I had wanted, very close to where I grew up. Three degrees and nine years later, it was time for Homecoming. Perfect.

New job. You already know. Feelings of inadequacy All. Day. But you know what?

It wasn’t until I stopped seeing performance as my vocation that I embraced myself as a pianist.

Ass backwards, perhaps. I feel that teaching is my therapy, in many ways. I spend upward of 50 hours a week telling students the things that I am still working to internalize as a student of life. I see them play and grow and love what they are doing and it has helped me to appreciate what I love to do. I tell them to own the fact that they are musicians and dammit, I don’t want to be two-faced. If they should embrace their bad ass Minuet in F, I should embrace my Waldstein Sonata. Seeing them reminds me that it is okay to be a work in progress. I’m a – music sharer. I own that proudly.

Today, I showed a video of an excerpt Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 to my Kindergarteners. I asked them what they thought. A girl raised her hand and told me she was mad. “Why are you mad?” I asked. “I loved it. I’m mad that you turned it off.” I get paid to share joy with people. That’s blessed, y’all.

Our Silver Anniversary

When it comes to my passions, I’m a bit of a tramp. Some people are happy doing one sport. I like three. Some people are happy only teaching or performing. I need both. I’ve decided the best way I can honor my relationship with music is to give a recital. You’ll note that there is a date on my calendar that is not a race. I’m looking forward to a throwback summer of hours of practicing – now mixed in with hours of triathlon training. Not gonna lie, irrespective of how I sound, I’m going to look bloody fantastic.

My hope is that after 25 years, I will finally be able to share my love with the world without apology.

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The Liberty of Newness: My Second Endurance Sport

The fun I have had training and growing and surprising myself in the past year has not come without cost. I often feel guilty for not playing the piano more. Real talk – when I started teaching, I wasn’t practicing so much anyhow as I adjusted to having the FT, but it still bugs me. Yeah, I’m all up in the music on the daily, teaching the kiddos, enjoying what I’m doing, but I feel that I am learning things from endurance training that music has been trying to show me for…well, ever. Why am I willing and able to put so much time into something new when music has already done so much for me?

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Yup. You see, music and I have been together for damn near 25 years. We’ve had our ups and downs but I know we’ll always be together. But racing? Everything is new and fresh and I get surprised all the time! I am enjoying each new day, but with that comes the fear of my honeymoon ending.

What will that even look like?

I imagine that eventually I will hit a point where I am not progressing as quickly, if at all. Age will bring its challenges, as will injury and life interfering with training. How will I feel about racing then? Will I still love it even though I don’t feel it is being as good to me as it once was?

My mother recently commented that she has never seen me as happy as I am now that racing is in my life, but I know me. It is fulfilling a need to achieve. What happens when that need isn’t being met? Will I run off to the latest thing? Heh – run. Did I do that with music? I don’t think so, simply because I was too ignorant to realize all the ways music benefits me until, ironically, I began racing.

The fact that I am an advanced musician brings with it certain pressure that I am still working to relieve. While with racing, I push myself to achieve and grow, with music I push myself to not only achieve and grow but also be exceptional. Anything less than pristine performance is difficult for me to see as worth having. I know it is highly unlikely that I will attach my self-worth to being an athlete, but music has played such a huge part in my life that when I feel I’m not doing well as a musician, I’m not doing well period.

I guess what’s great about racing is that I allow myself to suck acknowledge my shortcomings without beating myself up because I know I am a beginner. A wise person would apply that lesson to other parts of her life – shouldn’t I acknowledge my shortcomings as a musician and just keep growing and enjoying? One can only hope, pray, and play.

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