When my parents went to visit my sister who was living in China, she took them climbing up to the Great Wall of China. A landmark that can been seen from outer space is very high. Not only is the altitude a challenge, but the rugged stairs leading to the top are uneven and craggy. My mom's quiet mantra "Step. Step. Step" gave her power as they slowly and painfully ascended the mountain in the blazing summer heat. When I visited a few years later, I borrowed her phrase as I climbed, knowing she and my dad had successfully taken this journey before me. When we finally reached the top, it felt earned. With my energy returned, I sprinted from tower to tower on the Great Wall of China. Having a picnic with my sister while we gazed in awe at the countryside is one of my fondest memories.
Our studio is at the very beginning of a great climb! We are on Week 2 of our 20 week Treasure Hunt Practice Challenge. I am happy to report that after Week 1, 100% of our studio is still climbing! Musicians must practice at least 100 hours a week in order to receive a letter clue that unlocks a phrase for the treasure at the end of the Challenge. As a Challenge participant, I am feeling the pain along with my students! Sometimes, practicing is like gliding over water-smooth and easy, like when I'm playing or singing a piece I love. Some practice days are like the steps leading up to the Great Wall-uneven, rocky and challenging. And sometimes the landscape is just plain boring and I stare down that 20 minute timer willing it to speed up.
What is waiting for us at the end of these 20 weeks? Yes, there will be a sweet studio award! But richer than that, every time we say no to something mindless and pour our energy into our craft, we fee the part of ourselves that is hungry for change, for growth and power over our wills. We'll have grown to know that we are the kind of people who can do hard things and reap the benefits of that strength. We'll be mountain climbers.
"What will you unlock in yourself this year?"
This was the question I asked each of my students as we began the school year in September.
Normally each year, I create some kind of motivating practice challenge to engage the musicians with their long-term goals, but I didn't do one this year. Kids were starting hybrid classes in school, parents were completely
re-arranging their schedules-their lives-for each family member's needs. I decided to not add to the chaos by adding one more thing to keep track of. Color me naïve. At our parent/teacher conferences, parents told me that not only had their kids adapted to these new learning cycles, but they needed and wanted more! I should have known better. Not only are my student musicians bright and committed, but they are bold-hungry to be pushed and to grow. They inspire me everyday.
So off we go...continuing to discover and unlock treasures. For the next 20 weeks (now until the end of May), my musicians are challenged to practice for 20 minutes a day for 5 days. Every week that they are successful, they earn a letter which spells a phrase to win the prize. (Why yes...I do happen to love Survivor and The Amazing Race...why do you ask? ) :)
Would you like to join us? What skill or project are you trying to accomplish in the next 5 months? If you'd like some fun accountability, I will happily include you in our treasure hunt and send you a letter clue every week of your success! Let's go!
"Money can't buy everything/money can't make you a king/money may not bring success/money can't buy happiness/But of one thing I am sure/money doesn't make you poor/money doesn't make you sad/money can't be all that bad!"
These were the lyrics of the song I'm 99% certain I played at my very first piano recital. I was in 6th grade and proud that while it was tentative, I could finally play a song on the piano using both hands at the same time. My memory has long since discarded most of the recital, although I can recall experiencing many feelings. My cheeks warmed as I watched my crush, Tony, a blue eyed 6th grader, play a simplified, but impressive version of "The Entertainer." I felt both jealous and inspired upon reading in the program that my friend, Erin had arranged her own piece just for the recital. My own performance time at the piano is murky, but I remember very clearly liking what I felt when I stood to bow. The audience clapped and smiled at me. There was powerful energy in a room full of people who wanted me to do well. I felt pride in my accomplishment. I'd just done something scary, but had been rewarded by it.
My students know how much I value performance and that I will always encourage them to perform/audition any opportunity they get. This is why I believe recitals are so important to the growth of students at any age or level.
Growing Your Confidence Muscles
Our studio's annual Holiday Concert will happen virtually this Saturday night. What the audience will hear and see from my students is not just a 2-minute Christmas carol. It is hundreds of minutes of messing up and trying again. Of frustration, but never defeat. A love of music and an eagerness to share it.
In the introduction of the book, "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell describes a small, vibrant Italian community unscathed by stress and worry and the accompanying erosions to physical and mental health. His conclusion that this town's outstanding health conditions were linked to the harmonious nature of the community members and care of nature itself supports his own thesis that "who we are cannot be separated from where we are from".
I began reflecting on the men and women in my community who have nurtured me in life changing ways. It was fascinating to discover that although the people and seasons rotated somewhat, they all appeared to fall into these five categories.
A spouse, family member or a close friend.
These individuals are well-versed in my favorite things (bike rides to the bakery on an early summer morning!); pet peeves (when people interrupt) and most importantly, what motivates me (goal setting & exploration). They are the constant-a reliable force in both the tumultuous times and in the unremarkable times. I'm much more likely to take risks when I feel safe.
A co-worker, boss or family friend.
This is someone intimately acquainted with my professional strengths (interpersonal skills) and weaknesses (working too hard and caring too much ;)) and is a pro at providing regular, direct and honest assessments for each of these areas. A former boss once told me, "Julie, when you rush around before work it makes people feel like you're not in control. Get everything done ahead of time." That one hurt, but I've never forgotten it...and I definitely rush less.
The One You Want To Be
A person who embodies the things you value.
If I am lucky enough to know them personally, these are the individuals I ask out to dinner or karaoke so I can soak up some of their awesomeness. These top-of-their-gamers have also been public figures like Tony Robbins, Brene Brown, Alicia Keys and Simon Sinek.
The One Who Kicks Butt
Level of personal knowledge irrelevant-demands the most and the best of you.
That college professor I stayed up until 2 AM for because he told me the paper I'd written for his class wasn't up to my own standards. TV's Toughest Coach, Jillian Michaels yelling "Don't. You. Dare. Stop!" at me through the television on my final set of mountain climbers. That pesky client of mine who questioned every decision I made, but has forced me think deeper and more intentionally.
The One Who Gives Words and Hugs
An individual with the gift of warmth & intuition.
This person has reshaped my perspective with their very presence. They are the ones I can count on jumping up and down for me in the front row, remembering my big day and sending you a "You can do it" text. They are confident enough in themselves to not only truly want to see me succeed, but help me do it with their encouragement.
I'm deeply grateful for these people who have changed my life, who have poured into me-many without even realizing it. Who have been or are these people in your life experiences? And who are you to others?
I smell a future blog about mentorship, a topic of passion for me, but for now, for a more more thorough and technical look at social support structures, this article by Kendra Cherry is a great start.
My breath quickened and I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt. I glanced for the millionth time at the order of service. Two more songs, a prayer, and then it was my turn to ascend the stage.
I was 13 years old when I sang my first real solo at my family’s little church on a Sunday morning. Singing a solo during the church service on a Sunday morning was a huge deal-primarily reserved for the musical elite-seasoned, heavy hitters who knew how to pick the right hymns, make confident eye-contact with the congregation and deliver their memorized music with grace and poise. I had put in my time singing in duets, trios and choir ensembles at the Sunday evening services. “Special Music” as it was called, on Sunday nights was dedicated to amateurs; kids and teens trying out the instruments they were learning and vocalists who struggled with pitch.
Ever since I had discovered I could carry a tune and liked being in front of people, my musical aspirations were laser focused on the highest musical level a girl my age could go at church, the envied position of the vocal solo during a Sunday morning service. Thankfully, I was well connected. My family were regular and loyal attenders and my mom had been a leader in nearly every ministry area. When I finally saw my name listed alone on the monthly Special Music schedule, I was ecstatic. I felt a strong sense of pride that the music director had finally noticed my talent and that I was the first of my circle of friends to have achieved such an honor. The week before I was to make my debut, I selected a somewhat challenging song and ran through it once with the church pianist, confident that my natural musical ability would carry me through in the moment.
The morning of my solo arrived and I climbed the steps of the stage, wobbling in oversized high heels that I’d worn only for this special occasion. Standing behind the microphone and looking out into the faces of the congregation staring back at me, I suddenly felt very out of my league. The pianist played my introduction and missing my cue, I began to sing, skipping the first part of the song. The pianist struggled to follow as I jumped around in the music, squeaked through the high notes and skipped verses. I suddenly wished I knew the song better. It was a disaster and even as I watched the music leader’s face as I croaked and cracked my way through it I knew there wouldn’t be another invitation to this sacred setting until I’d put my time in again and proved I was prepared.
Starting With the Right Tools
The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. ~Confucius
Desire. Motivation. These are excellent and necessary traits to become successful. But more importantly…you need the right tools. A year or so after the Sunday morning service debacle, my parents enrolled me in voice lessons. It was then that my voice teacher taught me how to pick a song that was suited for my range, sing without running out of breath, practice my music and given the techniques and confidence to sing in front of a crowd. As a voice and piano teacher now, one of my primary goals is to provide my students with the necessary tools to learn and create music.
Talent vs Education
Education in music is most sovereign because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the innermost soul and take strongest hold upon it. ~Plato
While I highly value and appreciate raw music talent, the effects of music education are so far-reaching it’s impossible to deny its positive benefits. A couple of years ago, a study by Northwestern University’s professor Nina Kraus found that children who studied an instrument had stronger language and sound development skills than their peers. After studying a group of students in an after-school music program, Kraus noted that “even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement — attendance and class participation — predicted the strength of neural processing after music training." Basically, it’s not enough to just listen to or be exposed to music. Neurological growth occurs in the active participation and discipline of consistent music lessons. Similar studies have been found for adults who participate in music lessons.
Where to Begin
A goal is a dream with a deadline. ~Napoleon Hill
The beauty of private music lessons is that I’m able to assess each student’s learning process so when I’m providing the right “tools”, I’m really creating processes for them to discover how they learn and retain information. For a brand new piano student, sitting and looking at a full keyboard for the first time can be intimidating. But when I can help the student look at a keyboard in a new way-a way that makes sense to them, they can then use that same mental process to break down new concepts, musical or otherwise.
What is your musical goal? Is it to sing a solo at your church service? Be able to sit down at the piano after a long day and play a beautiful piece of music? If it’s for your children, you’ll never regret the values, neurological growth and discipline they’ll glean from a music education.
I was out and about shopping a few years ago. As I exited a store with my arms full of bags, an older gentleman held the door for me. "Thank you!" I responded, grateful for the help. He tipped his head and held a second set of doors open as we exited. "Thank you again!" I responded once more in the same manner. His face brightened. "Wow!" he said with a smile. "I wish we had more doors!"
It was a great reminder to me that gratitude doesn't have a shelf life. Appreciating the things and people in your life on a daily basis isn't redundant-it's actually a tool for success. In her book, "The Elite: Think Like An Athlete, Succeed Like a Champion", Dr. Jo Lukin describes how athletes at the top of their game have learned the power of gratitude. By remaining grateful and savoring each moment, happiness becomes a tool for achievement and by appreciating your opportunities, she suggests, we can experience gratitude every day.
Thanksgiving music is often passed over by the holiday train, but what it lacks in quantity and sparkle, it makes up for in depth and meaning. Such music never ceases to center my priorities and re-align my thoughts to reflect gratitude. "For the Beauty of the Earth" was written by a 29-year old English poet, Folliott Pierpoint as he observed the majesty of the countryside surrounding him.
For the beauty of the earth
For the glory of the skies
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
What people, events or opportunities compose your hymn of grateful praise this year?
Add these to your Thanksgiving dinner playlist-you'll thank me later. :)
And for fun!
Midwesterners can usually count on several times a year when you start to get that itchy feeling to be anywhere warmer and prettier than the place you're currently in. Throw in a pandemic and you've got a raging case of cabin fever. What can be done with these itchy thoughts?
This week, a high school student of mine shared with me his Greatest Dream. It was lofty and I had to steel myself against the "Have you considered...(fill in the blank with 'anything else')?" line. Then he told me that he had quit playing video games so he could focus more time on his goal. That moment convinced me that even if he doesn't reach that particular goal, this guy is going to accomplish anything he wants. It reminded me of this quote: "It takes many hours to make what you want to make. The hours don't suddenly appear. You have to steal them from comfort." (Derek Silvers)
Dreaming about your big picture goals and taking the time to work toward them transforms the hopeless, sedentary moments into moments rich with meaning and intention. And maybe it's not your goal, but there's nothing wrong with closing your eyes and transporting to a big, blue sparkling body of water lined with palm trees and a smiling sunshine. :)
I ran my first virtual 5K race this weekend. It was strange! No official starting lines, no fellow runners pushing past and falling behind. No energy of a crowd (or bananas and water!) as I ended the race.
However, looking at my race time, I saw that I'd beat myself! I worked hard this summer and was significantly faster and stronger than last year. I didn't need to pass anyone else to celebrate a win.
What old or current version of yourself do you want to crush? Let's use these lonely days apart to build our inner competitors and cheering sections. "Everything you need is already inside you. Don't wait for others to light your fire. You have your own matches." (Aamir Hussain)
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