Another Great Article on Music Education

June 23, 2011

I know…

You’re thinking, “Two (!) posts in one week!”

I can’t believe it myself.

Here’s another concise, elegant article on the importance of music education,  courtesy of the String Visions feed.

It occurs to me though, that here in the US, the people who value music education aren’t the ones who need to be convinced of its necessity. It’s the people who see it as just another “special,” something that can be cut in favor of more math or standardized test prep, who need to be reeducated. Not many people would willingly admit that they think music is somehow less academically important than math, science or reading. But they do, and it’s maddening, sad and incomprehensible. And shortsighted.

Given all the kerfuffle that a recent Atlantic article is causing, maybe some rethinking of how music is actually taught and performed in schools would be helpful.  Music gives us tools to help us become better humans.  Music holds performers and listeners, students and teachers, professionals and amateurs, accountable. Music provides essential building blocks for human character that cannot be obtained through any other  source, or by any other means. It is a skill, it is a coping mechanism, it is a comforter. It is objective, yet intensely personal.  And it is equal opportunity everything.

That is all. (I have to go practice now.)

Benefits of Music Education

June 15, 2011

Since I haven’t had anything earth-shatteringly important to say in quite some time now, I thought I’d pass along this extremely well-written post from a colleague I have never met. Emily Wright is a cellist and music educator and what she has to say about music ed from a “big picture” perspective is a stellar read.  Administrators, school board presidents and parents should take special note of this post, before the sound of music totally disappears from our American educational system.

I sincerely hope she doesn’t mind me linking, since I didn’t ask her if I could.

I’ll eventually return with something (hopefully interesting) of my own to say.

Reflections About Election Day 2010

November 3, 2010

I’ve never told you about my dad. Since this is a violin blog, he doesn’t really have much bearing on that. Well, other than that he basically bankrolled my violin habit until I turned 18. I sort of owe him I guess. My dad passed away in 2002, and I still regret that I wasted many opportunities to tell him he was right, about a lot of things.

Perhaps the two most important lessons I learned from my dad were: my actions, or lack thereof, can make a difference (maybe not for me, but for someone else); and conflict is inevitable, especially when principles are involved.

This year, these lessons had the unusual opportunity to coalesce in the realm of politics. The Man of the House and I both worked on a couple of political campaigns because for us it was not only the right thing to do but the only thing we could do, given what was at stake in this election. Unfortunately, we ended up on the side with fewer votes. You never lose when you stand solidly for what you believe in. I suppose many on the other side are thinking that very same thing. Just as unfortunate is that our social and constitutional beliefs are apparently not even on the same planet.

Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of our system. They would not work if citizens were not willing to step up and participate in the process. On Election Day, I was given the honor and privilege of being a precinct election official. I didn’t think I would actually be appointed when I applied, but they said “election workers needed” so I waved my hand wildly in the air jumped up and down and yelled Oooh, Oooh, pick me! Pick me! filled out my application and mailed it in. It was something I felt I could do. It was the least I could do.

Running a computer is well within my skillset.

It was an interesting diversion from my normal schedule. Even though it was a very long day, I would do it again if asked. It was personally rewarding, fun and I felt like I was truly contributing to something much larger than myself. It far outweighed jury duty on my personal “good citizenship” scale. Plus, I got this cool little gold pin shaped like the state of Iowa, imprinted with “1846-2010 Election Official.” By the end of my 16-hour shift, I sort of felt like I’d been around since 1846.

As anticipated, it was busy all day. People waited in line for upwards of thirty minutes toward the end of the day. It was 9:10 before the last voter in line when the polls officially closed stuck their ballot in the scanner. I did a little bit of everything, from setting up the computers to double checking the election register to handing out ballots to watching the scanner. I registered new voters, helped with provisional ballots, watched the poll watchers, and helped count write-in votes. And I carried the chairman’s snacks into the building before anything else, which earned me major brownie points. See, I know what’s really important about public service: free food.

On a much more personal note, I was taken aback not as much by the results, but by the margins of the results.

And now for a bit of Violinnovator history: I was a Reagan Republican in my early voting days. (Please commiserate if you feel led. Or point and laugh at my naivety.)

I chose that option mostly to spite my dad, who was a lifelong Democrat. But I also foolishly believed that “trickle down” economics would work, and that my life would get better.

That changed in a hurry when Mr. Reagan said that the homeless were homeless by choice.

Because at the time, I was bordering on homeless and having a really tough time financially. It was mostly my fault, through poor choices I made, but still. I knew a lot of homeless people and I volunteered at shelters and donated when I could. The President’s view of reality was neither the one I saw regularly nor the one in which I lived. The first president Bush didn’t help matters all that much with all his talk about “compassionate conservatism.” The only thing even remotely compassionate about it is that people talk nicely to you and nod and smile when you recount your difficulties. It’s still that way, even now. And it makes me cringe.

The results from Election Day 2010 are just as cringeworthy. The people in my district elected anti-immigrant-Hispanic-family-gay-women-Muslim “Christians” to our state legislature and senate, and the governor’s office. Something tells me they won’t be representing those groups or others who hold different views. I discovered some time back that my US Representative doesn’t represent constituents who feel differently than he does.

This election cycle was was ugly, mean-spirited and financed unethically on multiple fronts (thank you, Citizen’s United!) It was filled with innuendo, hate, distortion and outright lies. It wasn’t about jobs or the so-called Obama agenda. It was about discrimination, isolationism and plutocracy. I don’t know about you, but my reading and remembrance of social, political and economic history isn’t very complimentary to the US in the late 19th-century, 1920s, 1950s, 1960s or 2000s. The comparisons to Nazi Germany aren’t too far off the mark, no matter how much we might believe otherwise. (And, no, I don’t think I’m being melodramatic.)

The judicial retention vote in Iowa ended up being a colossal waste of money, on both sides. If this had truly been about changing the law, the emphasis would have been on calling a convention, not on the judges. When a small majority of voters throws out judges based on one court decision yet overwhelmingly rejects a call for a constitutional convention to permanently solve the issue created by said court decision, it is clear that nothing was really changed by the vote. Except that it upset a lot of people and created ill-will on both sides of an issue that never should have been one to begin with. The financial implications to the state were never mentioned, which is strange when you consider that one of the major talking points was saving money and smaller government. Something tells me that’s not going to happen, either. Perhaps one of Governor-elect Branstad’s first orders of business should be to come up with a new state motto. The one that served Iowa well for the past 164 years — “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain” — was officially torched on November 2. It obviously no longer reflects the will of the people or the climate of our state.

The America that spoke in these elections is not the America I know. The Iowa that spoke is not the Iowa that I know. There must be something wrong with my internal processor, because I don’t understand what happened. I am disheartened, disillusioned, and defeatist. Well, for today anyway. And probably for the near future.

Those of you who read my blog regularly or are actually personal acquaintances and friends know that I don’t wax political constantly and I don’t wear blue donkeys. Or yellow moons, pink hearts and green clovers. Or whatever the heck is in the Lucky Charms box. I don’t proselytize or preach during lessons about anything other than violin. Since violins rule the world. If you didn’t know that, you should.

My life is about to change. Drastically. That is the only thing I know for certain. Other people’s fear — played out in the voting booth — just impinged on my individual liberties and possibly my first amendment right to speak my mind freely. What happened on Election Day 2010 was immoral, unethical and ignorant.  While I sincerely hope that the Republicans will moderate a bit and come back toward the center, I try to be a realist, and some of the proposals that have been put forth by newly-elected officials both in Iowa and Congress are truly frightening in their consequences.

Music soothes both the savage beast and wounded campaign workers. Music is a fitting substitute for conciliation that will not be forthcoming from this new face of America. So, I will go practice before I say something really stupid and inflammatory start railing on truth, justice and the American way. What was the American way is obviously not anymore, so I should stop before I get arrested as a terrorist or something. Because I’m sure that John Boehner has his eye on me. Or my teaching assistant, who is every bit as threatening to our national security as I am:

An Open Comment To Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA)

September 28, 2010

Dear Senator:

I am ashamed to admit that I have voted for you every time I’ve been eligible in the state of Iowa.

I am a small business owner. There is one person in my company. Me. I can’t afford to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce or any other big business organization. But I am, nevertheless, accountable to a lot of people who pay me good money for what I do.  It keeps my family in groceries.

My husband, however, has been off-shored out of a job not once, but twice. He isn’t in manufacturing. He’s a highly-trained, well-respected software engineer who specializes in a particular program that isn’t widely used, but is very important in the industries which still use it.

I thought you were a normal guy. Especially when I saw you driving around in your little old orange Chevette in Cedar Falls a few years ago when I was a student at UNI.  I thought you were a moderate who was truly interested and passionate about doing right by your constituency.  The super-duper-expensive toilet seats were just the tip of the iceberg. Boy, was I wrong.

Your vote today to block providing incentives to American companies to bring jobs back to America from China, India, Mexico and other countries that both oppress their citizens and are sources of below poverty-level-wage labor is a slap in the face to those you are supposed to represent.

I will do everything in my power to see that Roxanne Conlin kicks your a** in November.


The Violinnovator

Not cool

September 18, 2010

I am definitely not cool.

It is soooo not cool to go two months without posting anything.

But I did.


I am as uncool as it gets.

And a very bad blogger.

Then again, I’m not really a blogger.

I do plan on posting again, in the near future. Or sometime. Especially since I seem to still be getting visitors. And you probably would like something to read that is more interesting than this drivel I am posting right now.

Never fear, The Violinnovator is here. She just stepped out for a short break. 🙂

In the meantime, the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis is in full swing.  The performance schedule is here. The sidebar on that page will get you to the live stream of the performances, as well as archived audio and video of the preliminary round. There is some really fine stuff there.

We now return you to your regular programming.

Losing The Excuses

July 14, 2010

I have another confession to make.

I like Jillian Michaels.  Jillian is one of the trainers on The Biggest Loser and is currently producing her own show, Losing It.  Controversial she may be, but she gets results.

On a recent episode of Losing It, Jillian said something that is also very apropos to violin study:

“You tell your body what you need it to do and it will do it.  You have the capability.  You have the potential….The only way to really fail is to give up.”

Being healthy is easy.  We already know what to do.  Unless you live in a cave, it’s hard to escape the constant droning from The People Who Know What Is Best For Us:  Exercise!  Eat Smaller Portions!  More Veggies!  Less Red Meat!  No Empty Calories!  Don’t Smoke!  Find God!  No Carbs!  Low Carbs!  Good Carbs!  Moderation!  Willpower!  Yikes!  We have way too many choices at our disposal, and way too many people getting rich off of our insecurities.

What our Keepers conveniently forget to mention is that, for many of us, the process is hard, no matter which one you choose. It’s hard to convince your body to do things that are good for it.  It’s hard to give up (or moderate) steaks and Jack Daniels, chocolate chip cookies and tortilla chips with ranch dressing (ahem).  Your body doesn’t naturally crave pain or stress, and it might even rebel for a couple of weeks, thinking you are depriving, starving or killing it.  But if you don’t quit, it will eventually adjust and move up to the next level.

Likewise, violin playing is easy.  Yes it is.  I’ve heard many people — amateurs, parents, non-musicians, “music lovers” and violin teachers — comment on how difficult it is (or must be), but I disagree.  Like with healthy living, it’s the process — the development of new habits and routines — that is hard.  In order to make the product (the playing) easy, we break down the process into small, manageable bits.  Even though our goal is to make all performance natural and effortless, experienced players can quickly forget how much work is involved, even if it doesn’t seem like work.  After we’ve been playing for a while, we stop consciously thinking about all the individual commands that our body needs to learn in order to be successful.  And our body adjusts and we move on to the next level as performers.

You tell your body what you need it to do.  One thing I’ve learned from training is that I can do a lot more than I think I can.  My body has the ability already to exceed what I’m asking it to do.  We shortchange our ability and endurance, limit ourselves with the word “enough”:  I’m not strong enough; I’m not thin enough; I’m not pretty enough; I’m not conditioned enough; I’m not smart enough.  We think we’re being humble and self-effacing when we say things like that, but in reality we are telling ourselves that we are failures in a “nice” way.

The same is true with practicing.  You tell your left hand and right hand what you need them to do.  It really is as simple as that.  They have no other choice but to respond.  Your hands have the same ability as Itzhak Perlman’s.  He doesn’t have some magical formula that makes him play better than the rest of us mortals.  He doesn’t wave a magic wand, have a fairy godmother, or yell “Ala-ka-zam” at the top of his lungs.  He doesn’t expect someone else to do the work for him.  He learned how to do it the same way you do:  by mastering the process.

And it will do it. As long as you focus on the act of doing, your body will reward you.  If you tell your ring finger to plop down on the third finger tape, with the inside corner of the tip contacting the tape and with a nice relaxed base knuckle, your finger better do what it was told, or there is something wired wrong in your brain.  If you tell your bow to seat on the string and travel steadily for four metronome clicks, it better do it because that is how your brain is wired.  It may not be pretty or graceful.  It may feel awkward.  It may look strange.  But your body will do what you tell it do, regardless of whether you are in the gym or the practice room.

You have the capability. You have the potential. Same principle, different phrasing.  Your body already has both the capacity to do the work, and the potential to learn to work more efficiently.  Exercise is simply training your body to use its resources in the most efficient manner possible.  Violin practice involves training your body to execute commands in the most efficient musical way possible.  The bow may travel for four clicks, but the steady part might take a few tries before it actually sounds even and your arm doesn’t shake from the effort to control the stroke.  Your ring finger might not land with absolute precision every time at first, but working it slowly and with attention will improve its accuracy and efficiency.

The only way the really fail is to give up. Much of the drama on Biggest Loser and Losing It arises from emotional blocks and walls that were created by giving up.  The ongoing plot in these shows, aside from the incredible amount of weight loss, is seeing the contestants re-engage with themselves and morph into new people, emerging triumphantly from the rubble of the emotional destruction.

Practice fail occurs when we settle for “good enough”, instead of continuing to review and refine both our commands and our execution.  When you give up, you stall out where you’re at.  You create your own walls.   And they can be really hard to break down.

Sometimes it is difficult and painful to work through issues, to push through to the next level.  The easy path would be to give up and pretend that everything is OK.   But in the end, you will be a better person and a better violinist for having had the courage and perseverance to lose the excuses.

SITP, Part 3: I Heart Sioux City. Mostly.

July 12, 2010

Because all good things must come to an end, and we must resume talking about violins, it’s time to finish up Saturday in the Park.  SITP had a few issues. But then, what outdoor event doesn’t?

Rant: There are never enough port-o-potties. They could put out 1,000 and they would all be full. And there would still be lines.

LOL moment: the code for the Sioux City airport is SUX.  Now that’s an airport I’d want to frequent regularly.

Rant: Santana’s crew installed a lovely HD big screen on the back wall of the shell. It would have improved the experience immensely if said screen had been operational for all the bands, not just for Santana. So, it might be worthwhile for the organizers, or the city, to invest in a screen and hire a crew to man the cameras.

Rant: There needed to be more shuttle buses.  We opted to walk the two miles back to the car at 11:30 at night instead of waiting in line for two hours with an amped but tired pre-schooler.

Rave: Sioux City scores lots of points for a safe street to walk those two miles back, apparently accomplished with invisible police (since the the visible ones were all on duty inside the park, or directing traffic).

Rant: If the park is going to segregate beer drinkers, then the management should also restrict smoking to designated areas, instead of relying on those stupid signs telling us that the State of Iowa has a Smoke-Free Air Law and urging people to please obey. I don’t think the law applied to that event, but if you must, either enforce it or designate an area for smokers. Frankly, I was more bothered by some of the really nasty smelling wood that the barbeque pits were burning.   It was foul, like really cheap cigars.

Idea! (Ding!) It could be a real moneymaker if you install a coin-op system on the port-o-potties.

Extended Rant on Profiteering: A 20-ounce bottle of water was $2, and there wasn’t a visible drinking fountain in sight.  Coolers were banned.

We knew from the festival website that there would be ATMs, just in case we ran out of cash.  What the website conveniently forgot to mention — The Dad happened to overhear when he was in line buying something — was that the ATMs were located in the beer tents.

Two issues are, or should be, immediately evident. First, you had to be 21 to enter the beer tent. Second, beer tent admission was $5 per person. Soooo. If you are under 21 and out of cash, you’ve got a problem. If you are legal, you have to buy a beer in order to access the ATM. If you’re a recovering alcoholic, you’ve got a problem. If you don’t want a beer — only cash — you’ve got a problem.  If you’ve got kids in tow, you’ve got a problem. If you are out of cash, you have a problem. Um, Houston?  Granted, if you had a “problem” you could fight the wall-to-wall sea of people to get back on the shuttle, go back downtown and find another ATM, which is really welcoming and hospitable to the tens of thousands of people who came significant distances to be part of the day. That is just greedy and mean. Period. (And possibly illegal, since it was a public park?) [Note: if my reading of the situation is incorrect, please feel free to set the record straight. We didn’t need to use an ATM, and I didn’t hear about their location until the walk back to the car.]

Then The Dad got to thinking about how much money a body could make selling pop or popcorn or hot dogs at an event like this. It’s obscene. Some of the smaller vendors, I’m guessing, made more in one day than they do in a week, because people were forced to pay twice the normal amount for food or drinks.  (For the record, I noticed several in my immediate area who had snuck food into the park in their backpacks, which were, according to the signage, subject to search.)

I know the vendor’s kids have to eat too, and he has to pay his employees and the suppliers and the rent, but isn’t there a limit? On the other hand, prices are not as bad, or as volatile,  in the Midwest as they are on either coast.  I guess we’ve got it pretty good, when you consider the other options.

Overall though, the good outweighed the bad. I saw two guys on my Concert Bucket List for less than what a single ticket would have cost to one of their regular shows.  We’ll be back at some point. Thank you, Sioux City, for a wonderful day!