Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Christmas music magic


The holidays are long gone, people are taking down lights and trees, putting away ornaments and tinsel and prized family heirlooms. Our community band’s holiday concert was way back on December 20th, barely a memory now. Up here in Michigan we’re hunkering down for the long cold winter, with not a lot to lighten the mood.

Unless you’re me.

You see, Tuesday evening the band’s sound engineer gave me my copy of the CD recorded at that Christmas concert. And today as I ran errands I listened to the music for the first time. Magic. This afternoon I drove much further and longer than I needed to in order to listen to the entire concert.

Twice.

And I’m still smiling

So thank you to the Clarkston Community Band for making such beautiful music, and thanks to Marshall for making CDs for us. And thanks to Shelley for choosing the program and directing it, and for inspiring us to do the very best we can.

This winter, if I need a pick-me-up, I know just what to do. I’ll put that Christmas CD in the player and take myself for a long ride.

May the spirit of Christmas keep you warm and happy until the spring sun comes back this way to brighten your days!

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Let the music carry you

I’ve had a cold for the past week and been feeling pretty miserable, blowing my nose and having coughing fits during the most inopportune times. At this Tuesday’s dress rehearsal for our Community Band’s Christmas concert I had to rush out of the band room to hack my lungs out in the girls’ bathroom down the hall.

I was worried something similar would happen during our concert last night.

The program started out with a local big band group, the Stardusters, playing swing, rock and jazz. Community Band members sat in the audience enjoying their performance.

I sat out there plotting my exit just in case I needed to run. How many seats between me and the aisle? And once we were on stage, just where would I run to get as far as possible from the music before I began to cough? I imagined a disaster, the band playing a particularly quiet, delicate part of the music and me hacking, with tears running down my face as I tripped over my chair leg in a futile attempt to get backstage.

I am happy to say it didn’t happen.

Though there were moments during our performance where I felt the familiar tickle in the back of my throat I was able to control it with water. And I remembered not to breath in too deep so as not to trigger the really bad coughing.

Plus I have to say that music is magic. When you’re feeling sad or lonely or just plain crummy listen to a little music and you’re likely to feel a lot better.

And it doesn’t hurt to have Santa visit either.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you are all healthy and happy and full of the Christmas spirit! And if you’re not quite up to par…well…go find some holiday music. It can heal what ails you.


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Seriously it’s already Christmas

I’m headed up north soon to attend a photography workshop. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. It’s up north. And photography. What’s not to love?

So, anyway, I went shopping today for a couple of things. Waterproof boots, mittens, warm socks. Things every up north photographer should already have to shoot outside in the winter at night. I guess it’s not officially winter yet, but it will feel like it when I’m north of here, especially in the dark.

It feels like it at the mall too. I don’t do a lot of shopping and haven’t been out to a store aside from the grocery store in weeks. It was something of a shock to my system. Christmas music is blaring from the speakers, the store windows are decorated. Santa is already sitting on his big throne and there’s a line of little kids and parents waiting.

The few stores that were empty last time I was there are filled with seasonal merchandise now. There’s even a gift wrapping store. Complete with holiday paper and bows and people eager to make your gift festive.

The whole thing was sort of overwhelming. But I left with my purchases, one pair of socks and some mittens, whistling Christmas music. And I turned to the ‘all Christmas music’ station on the car radio for the drive home.

Guess it tis the season whether we’re ready or not.

PS: No laptop yet, and my photos are held hostage on an external drive that I suppose I could learn how to use. OR – you could use your imagination and visualize Santa and kids and decorations and music. Whatever you come up with will be perfect. I have faith in you.


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Music to smile about

We made a big sound. It was wonderful.

So. You’ve all probably been wondering how the concert went. Last week I wrote about practicing for it, my worry about a couple of the pieces. Maybe you worried that because I hadn’t written it hadn’t been successful. But that would not be true. The truth is this has been an amazingly busy week for me, something major going on every single day, and I just haven’t had time to tell you all about it.

Katie, of course, got to tell you about our trip up to Midland for her Rally trial on Friday. She’s not particularly patient and wouldn’t wait in line for her turn at the blog. What can I say. She’s a princess.

But now that it’s taken me days to write about Wednesday’s concert I can include the other concert we did on Saturday too. Each was a totally different experience, but both were fun.

I was nervous about Wednesday’s concert, not sure about the piece Pastime, a Salute to Baseball by Jack Stamp. I was worried about a few measures in other pieces too. But I’d practiced, so I figured I was as prepared as I could be. And of course nothing sounds exactly the same when you’re playing on an unfamiliar stage. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried, the music was played as well as we’ve ever played it. And Pastime went a lot better than I expected it to go; we even all ended at the same time, a good goal to have in any complicated piece of music.

I don’t know why I don’t learn this lesson. We can have a tough rehearsal and still pull off a good performance. Most of the time anyway. I think the audience enjoyed the concert and we had fun playing it. I went home humming the music while being glad another event was checked off my to do list.

Saturday morning a subset of the band played in a local farmer’s market. We played a bunch of patriotic music, some showtunes, and a few pieces from our Wednesday night concert. It was a blast. No matter that a heat wave struck that day and we were playing in full sun while seated in a parking lot. No matter that we played for almost three hours. We played fun stuff and pretty stuff. Stuff that made shoppers stop and smile and ask about who we were. Maybe we recruited a few people for next season, I hope so!

That’s me over on the far left in the big hat.

Thursday, while I was having a cracked tooth repaired, my dentist mentioned his wife used to play flute and she wanted to get back at it. Through gauze and novocaine I encouraged him to tell her about a community band I used to play with near his home, one that didn’t require auditions and was welcoming to new members. I hope she checks them out. I can’t say it enough. If you used to play and you miss it, quit making excuses. Dust off the instrument and go find a group. You won’t regret it.

On Saturday we got copies of the concert CD from Wednesday’s performance. I played it on the way home from the farmer’s market and guess what. I didn’t hate the baseball piece.

Actually it kind of made me smile.

A one and a two…


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Baseball, an American pastime and other music

Some of you know that I play in a Community Band. We’re a band made out of people who played in high school, maybe college too, often years, even decades ago. Some of us are retired, most of us are still working, and a few of us are still in school. We have whole families playing together, moms and dads and their kids all come to rehearsals once a week and play music.

That’s my favorite part.

Anyway, our last concert of this season is a week from last night. Like any group we’ve had our good and bad rehearsals, scheduling conflicts, missing music, lack of instrumentation. But we’ve overcome all of that, and with one last rehearsal next week we’ll be ready.

Which is good, because we’re playing Pastime, a Saute to Baseball by Jack Stamp. Give it a listen. At about two minutes you’ll hear the most difficult part, the fugue where the band is split up among several lines and if you’re not careful chaos reigns. Don’t worry, it all comes back together just before two and a half minutes. Still, the whole thing requires concentration and counting. There’s no guessing when to come in on this one.

So I’m practicing. Between now and next Wednesday I think I need to practice every night.

It turns out Pastime isn’t the only difficult piece. We’re also doing Sun Dance by Frank Ticheli. (You can skip the ad after a couple seconds. This is performed by Michigan State University, my undergrad alma mater, so I couldn’t resist. Plus they sound amazing!) It’s turning into a bit of a challenge too. I don’t understand why composers can’t keep the same time signature (the number of beats in a measure) for an entire piece. This is another one that requires concentration and counting. Listen, I think you’ll enjoy it!

But why is everything just so darn fast?

Wish us luck. I think it’s a cool thing, to play with other musicians from all sorts of backgrounds, to not give up our instruments when we graduate from school. If you used to play and haven’t touched your instrument for a few (or a lot) of years, think about joining a community band near you. Many of them don’t require auditions to join.

And don’t be nervous. OK, you’re going to be a little nervous on the first couple of nights. We all were. But you’ll find the other musicians are just happy to have you. We’re always looking for more people.

Trust me. What your brain has forgotten your fingers remember. It will all come back. Promise.

If you didn’t play, consider attending a community band concert. We’re always looking for audience members too. Mostly we ask our friends and families to attend, but it would be fun to look out and see a full house. Music always sounds better when the venue is packed. I bet you even know some of the people playing, and they’d be delighted to see you out there providing support. It’s a community thing, and we certainly could use a little community building these days.

Thanks for listening.


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One More Boo

2016-one-more-boo-flyerIt’s that time of year again. Time for musicians around here to get dressed up and play the first Community Band concert of the season. No we’re not dressing all in black, no tuxes for the guys, no black skirts or dresses for the women.

It’s time to get dressed up. Seriously dressed up.

We’ll be playing our season opener next Tuesday. We’re doing several scary pieces, but perhaps the scariest is Strange Humors by John Mackey. For some of us in the band it’s the stuff of nightmares. Those of us sitting in the back are counting over 100 measures of rest in assorted time signatures. 3/4, 5/4, 4/4. Pay attention or you’ll be lost. Don’t listen to the music, just watch the baton and count.

Count.

We there in the back have marked our music with which instruments are playing during which section of rests that we count. So that when we get out of sync, when we lose concentration for a moment, we might have a chance of getting right. Otherwise we miss our entrance and then all is lost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So if you come to our concert (7:00 p.m. at the Clarkston High School, Tuesday November 1) and wonder why we at the back are all focused and serious when we aren’t playing anything you’ll know it’s because we’re counting.

Don’t distract us.

The piece is just over five minutes long; we make our entrance at three and a half minutes. We don’t want to miss it. And yes we’re doing our Halloween concert the day after Halloween.

Because everyone needs One More Boo.

I’m going as a pirate. You’re invited to dress up too.

Middle aged pirates wear glasses.

Middle aged pirates wear glasses.


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Let the music begin

I’m clinging to summer, not willing to let it go — hanging on with both hands to it’s ankle as it drags me wearily toward the exit.

Still…

Saturday night I was privileged to attend the first concert of the Ann Arbor Symphony’s 2016/2017 season. It’s time for music again, in conjunction with the arrival of fall. It reminded me, as I was sitting at Hill Auditorium, that there are exciting aspects to the end of summer. That, in fact, it’s less about something ending than it is about something beginning.

Ready to begin!

Ready to begin!

The music Saturday night was fun and exciting, even joyful as befits the beginning of something wonderful. It started, as all Ann Arbor Symphony season opening concerts do, with our national anthem. There’s something about an auditorium filled with musically inclined people, all singing their anthem loudly and enthusiastically, accompanied by a first class musical unit, that makes you appreciate just how lucky we all are to be living in this country. And how lucky I was to be there to hear it.

The first piece of the evening was Festive Overture Op 96 by Shostakovich. I know, I know, many of you don’t like the music of Shostakovich. But listen to a little of this. It was written the year after Stalin died when the composer could finally express his joy. Listen to the first minute of this wonderful piece of music, and at the 45 second mark note the clarinet work. Amazing. Just another reason why I enjoyed this piece so much.

The second piece of the evening was Der Rosenkavalier Suite by Strauss. Another joyful beginning to a piece, with strong French Horns and full orchestration.

And then it was time to hear the guest soloist, Jon Kimura Parker on piano performing Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major by Brahms. He talked to members of the audience prior to the concert, explaining the piece and talking about what it was like to play it. He told us how different it was from other concertos, in that the slow movement wasn’t second, and the fourth and last movement wasn’t necessarily the triumphant ending with brass, that in fact the trumpets had nothing to do in the piece after movement number two! The explanation made listening to the work even more fun.

I had thought the opening piece by Shostakovich would be my favorite of the evening, but it turns out that the fourth movement of the Brahms was my favorite. It starts out so light, almost the bouncy dance of a small child. But then, just about one minute into the movement the orchestra begins to swell like gentle waves at the ocean. The piano comes back in dancing, the waves continue to pull.

And so I began to see a child dancing on a beach, the waves calling, the child dancing faster, the waves always just beyond the toes of the dancing child. So it goes, the dancing piano, the frolicking orchestra. Each playing off the other, until, in the last seconds the piano and the orchestra are joyfully dancing at the ocean’s edge together.

Lights...action!

Lights…action!

And that’s what this concert was all about. Joy. Anticipatory joy for the autumn season approaching, for the music season now upon us and reminiscent joy for the wonderful summer just experienced. What better way to experience the transition from summer to fall than to spend an evening listening to such wonderful music.

And I can tell you that it sure took the sting out of having to say goodbye to summer.

Thanks Aunt Becky!

Thanks Aunt Becky!


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Winding through Shakespeare’s woods

Have you ever explored through beautiful woodland in search of Shakespeare? Unless you live in Ann Arbor, maybe not. But if you’re from around here you’re in luck. The University of Michigan is putting on a spectacular production of Love’s Labour’s Lost in the Arboretum below the beautiful peony garden.

The peony garden.

The peony garden.

You should go. Even if you aren’t sure you love Shakespeare. Because what could be better than to spend a couple of hours wandering in the beautiful trees and flowers of the Arboretum while watching talented people joyously telling a story of love and mistakes and confusion and confirmation?

As the actors headed down into the woods to prepare for the evening performance my Aunt and I wandered the beautiful peony garden.

On her way to find her nobleman.

On her way to find her nobleman.

It was past it’s prime, last weekend would have been perfect, but it was still beautiful, and smelled like heaven must.

Can you smell the perfume?

Can you smell the perfume?

Once the show started we followed along eagerly, as we learned that the country’s king had decided to ban women from his court for three years, while he and his noblemen studied. Women are, you know, distractions from serious study.

No women?? For three years???

No women?? For three years???

But had he forgotten that the Princess from France was scheduled for a royal visit? Why yes he had! So she and her noble women would have to stay camped in a field outside the court. She was quite put out. Which was a shame, because the King had a huge crush on her.

The ladies arrive.

The ladies arrive.

And the rest of the women? They and the King’s noblemen had crushes too. So what to do? Meet in secret, write love letters that get hand carried to the wrong people? Pine away in the forest?

Studying.

Studying.

All of that and more. And of course don’t forget the visiting Spaniard with his grandiose ideas of love and women who falls for the common milk maid.

She's a match for him.

She’s the match for him.

It was all there deep in the lush green forest. How does it all end? Does everyone get to live happily ever after? I’m not telling you. You’ll have to go find out for yourself. The play continues Thursdays through Sundays until June 26.

Playing a deceptive game.

Playing a deceptive game.

Head out for an adventure. Try something new. Wear bug spray and bring a blanket or a chair to sit on.

The women celebrate.

The women celebrate.

You’ll love it. Guaranteed.

Heavenly.

Heavenly.


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Bits of this and that

Katie and I are officially camping right now. Only we’re not.

I have the last concert of the season tonight, dress rehearsal was last night. So after rehearsal, late in the night, I gathered her up and we drove over to the State Park where I have a campsite reserved.

Katie was very confused. I woke her up out of a sound sleep when I got home, asked her if she wanted to go camping, she ran to the back door very excited to camp in the back yard, and I picked her up and put her in the car! Oh no she thought! Where are we going? This can’t be good! This is not normal! I like normal!

What's going on mama?  (This is from last year because I haven't taken the camera to camp yet this trip!)

What’s going on mama? (This is from last year because I haven’t taken the camera to camp yet this trip!)

Once at our campsite, in the dark with only stars overhead she sniffed a bit, wanted to go on a long walk (which I vetoed…it’s good to be the mama) and finally consented to getting in the tent. But she wouldn’t settle down. This was not right! It smelled different! What are we doing mama? Where are we? Why are we here? Where’s my daddy?!?!

Eventually she settled down and we both shivered through the cold night until 5:30 when, according to Sheltie rules, it is important to be wide awake. So we went out, walked down to the bath house, both of us did what we needed to do and we walked back to the tent and went back to sleep.

It all worked out.

Last year we camped a lot!

Last year we camped a lot!

But now we’re back at the house while I get ready for tonight’s concert. She seems very sleepy. I am too.

We’re playing a bunch of music tonight, and will be joined by selected 7th graders for two pieces. They came to rehearsal last night; they are very good and play like they’re in high school. Oh but the drama of it all! I’d forgotten what it was like to be in 7th grade, so confident, so giggly, so out there. They made our band sound great and it will be fun to preform with them tonight.

And totally unrelated, this happened a couple of mornings ago at home.

Mom and Dad visited for a moment.

Mom and Dad visited for a moment.

A good friend painted the mockingbird on the rock when my parents died. It’s a long story, but I consider the mockingbird to represent my mom, and when one pops up around me I always say hi because it feels like a visit from her.

And the rainbow? Well, after mom died someone in dad’s church gave him a little prism that on sunny days spread a rainbow across his kitchen. That’s still on the windowsill of our lake house. This particular rainbow was created by the sun shining through my front door. I’ve never seen it before, and certainly not shining on mom’s mockingbird.

So I figure I got a joint visit this week. Made me smile pretty wide.

Hope it makes you smile too.

You HAVE to smile at me!

You HAVE to smile at me!


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Music of Angels

Last night we were treated to something extraordinary from the Ann Arbor Symphony.  Of course that isn’t a surprise because every performance the symphony gives is extraordinary.  But this truly was music meant for feisty angels.

Those of us in the audience were treated to the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, Op 25 composed by Alberto Ginastera.   If you’ve never heard it you’re in for a surprise.   I, for one, didn’t know a harp could make the sounds that musician Primor Sluchin produced on the beautiful instrument.

She told us, in the pre concert lecture,  that we probably thought harp music was something soft and gentle, something you’d find on clouds.  And then she proceeded to demonstrate a few of the techniques she’d be using in the piece that evening, which included rapping her knuckles rhythmically on instrument, and plucking the middle of strings for a sound almost like a gong.

And who thinks to pair a huge percussion section comprised of 28 different instruments with a harp?  Composer Ginastera did.  The whole piece is amazing, influenced by Argentine music and with a contemporary feel, it  requires the musicians to remain focused and concentrating on counting.   There is no room for relaxation, either by the musicians or the audience, especially in the third movement.

The intense third movement gives you a feel for how different the piece is.  Ginastera was commissioned in 1956 to write it, and he didn’t finish it until the end of 1964,  saying it was a most challenging piece to write.  Guest artist Sluchin said it was very challenging to play as well, and that her whole body would hurt by the time she was done.  After listening Saturday night I imagine her physical pain is something like a marathon runner’s — the body hurts, but in such a very satisfying way.

Listen to the third movement yourself. In this video link you’ll get a birds-eye view of the harp, the percussion, and the rest of an orchestra. It’s not Ann Arbor, but it will give you a good idea of how it felt to listen and watch the piece. It’s about seven and a half minutes long.  If you’re short on time start listening at minute 3 because that’s when things really get jumping.  I think you’ll be just as amazed as we were, and though the artist in the video is not the beautiful, talented and incredible musician we saw, you’ll probably be on your feet applauding at the end.

Just like we were Saturday night.

So once again, thank you Ann Arbor Symphony, thank you for a wonderful evening of inspiring music and soul filling joy. I know you know how wonderful it was. I saw the smiles on your faces, the head tilts, the relaxed shoulders, the bodies leaning forward as Primor Sluchin played her encore, a sweet and gentle harp piece that showed the softer side of the instrument. You were all as mesmerized as we were out in the audience.

I guess we all got the same gift last night. And it was big enough to share.