SITP, Part 2: In Which I Render Myself Permanently Unemployable

July 9, 2010

[NOTE:  No violin talk today.  Maybe next time.  Meanwhile, this post may not be suitable for younger readers.   Or potential employers who might have googled me. ]

Shortly before the end of the show Saturday night,  Carlos Santana made it known to the audience that he favors legalizing cannabis.  At least one person in the audience thought his statement was offensive.  Why?

Because there were kids in the park.

The “offense” made the paper.  For the record, the audience did not agree with the offended party, indicating such by cheering.  Loudly.

Of the things I found offensive at SITP, Santana’s stance on cannabis wasn’t one of them.  Anyone who keeps up with Santana (and many other popular artists as well) already knew his position.  The fact that a significant portion of our population favors legalization of marijuana isn’t news either.  Even as a non-user, I can find more compelling logical reasons why cannabis should be legalized, regulated and taxed like nicotine and alcohol, than to continue the status quo.

So, let’s carry this a little further because I have questions about offensiveness.  For example, if it’s not appropriate for a public figure to advocate legalization of a widespread activity from a public platform, then please tell me:

  • Why it’s OK for children to be subjected to listening to their parents, politicians or other public figures (like radio and TV personalities) disrespect the office of the president of the United States or the man who holds it with a venom usually reserved for mass murderers and child molesters.
  • Why is it OK to be ugly, mean, or dishonest when you disagree with someone?
  • Why is it now acceptable to hint around at instigating treason or anarchy if you don’t like the government?
  • Why is it acceptable for children to watch their parents drink alcohol?  Or snuggle?  After all, those things might lead to (shhh) casual, non-procreative sex.
  • Or talk trash about their spouse, friends, neighbors or cubiemates?
  • Or put on a show by constantly overconsuming and overspending?
  • When did religious and political hypocrisy become a positive character trait?
  • Since when is smoking pot more “wrong” than lying, cheating, stealing or coveting?

Where do you stop with the policing and legislating of morality? Isn’t there a point where the whole discussion becomes a farce? The fact that I have to ask questions like that deeply offends me.  And Mr. Offended is worried about kids hearing the word “marijuana.”

You know what most offended me about SITP?

  • Men (and women!) with various combinations of beer guts, back hair, farmer’s tans and badly-executed ink insisting on dancing shirtless. In groups.
  • Countless people who didn’t say no to crack. (Old plumber’s joke. Think about it.)
  • Teenage girls (and, unfortunately, grown women) dressed like they were going to a strip club. Except that strip clubs generally require more clothing.
  • The obscene prices for food and beverages.
  • The people directly behind me who talked loudly and in detail about their friends’ sexual proclivities. They also named names.
  • And now that the Journal has given Mr. Offended a platform, people who think they know more than I do about protecting and nurturing my child, about what’s OK for him to be exposed to and hear. For that matter, deciding the same about everybody else’s kids, too. News flash! It’s not your job or responsibility.

I chose to overlook all the irritations because of the great free (!)  music.  Unless we’re planning to take a page from the Taliban and redefine offensive, the things on my list are never going to change.  However, I can choose how to react.  I can choose not to look, not to participate, not to let it ruin my day.  I can focus my ears in a different direction.  I can concentrate on the moment.  On what’s important.  On what really matters.  The offenses were minor annoyances when you consider the bigger picture.

  • People are losing their jobs and homes.
  • Our financial, political, and judicial systems are being gutted by corporate greed not seen since the 1920s.
  • We give corporate giants a pass even as they flagrantly violate laws and deliberately ignore basic human decency, in the name of “free markets” or “capitalism.”
  • Civil rights and human rights are quickly becoming optional, and we are riding carelessly down the road of institutionalized discrimination.
  • We are making a toxic soup out of our planet.
  • Civility and decency have gone out the window.
  • Our country is no longer welcoming and tolerant of diversity.
  • Elected officials and ordinary citizens are treading dangerously close to treason and inciting anarchy by the positions they are supporting.

These are the things that will kill the United States.  Yet depending on whose polls you read, people are more worried about whether gay people can buy marriage licenses or adopt children and whether women should continue to have access to safe and legal reproductive health care.  Many of our problems would solve themselves if more people would start practicing Jesus’s admonitions to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

It seems pretty clear that we have more important things to worry about, things that are crucial to our survival and prosperity as a nation, than whether kids heard the word “marijuana” from a public stage?

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Opinion: Saturday In the Park; Sioux City, Iowa; July 3, 2010.

July 7, 2010

As promised earlier, a sort-of review of our trip to Sioux City last Saturday to see Steve Winwood and Carlos Santana. This post has nothing whatsoever to do with violins, if it matters.  However, it might tie in later, say in part 3.

Have you ever gotten Goosebumps?  The kind that are the size of manhole covers and stay with you for several minutes, refreshing with every new song?  Sioux City’s 20th anniversary Saturday in the Park festival provided countless moments like that.

Grandview Park was the venue for this free admission festival, with its magnificent old trees and rare views of stars at night (literally — there wasn’t any lighting except for the stage lights and vendors.)  The bandshell, a fixture of many midwestern towns, was larger than most and accommodated everyone’s equipment and personnel with ease.

Steve Winwood opened for Carlos Santana as the headline mainstage acts.  There was another, smaller stage that catered to alternative, punk and rap fans. I’m guessing it was mostly local bands, but there wasn’t any coverage in the paper, so if you know more about this part, feel free to leave a comment.  And the other mainstage bands were varied and excellent.  I rarely buy music anymore — it has to be really spectacular for me to even consider it — but I’d buy much of their stuff.  If you don’t want to read this whole post, I can sum it up the entire day in a word: Awesome!  Or in Santana’s word: Perfect!

We  — The Dad, Eric and I — arrived about three hours later than we had planned (normal for us) and as a result, got worse seats than we had planned.  We couldn’t see the left side of the stage, but we also weren’t up to traipsing through people’s blankets and stuff to finding a closer or better vantage point. So.

I really, really wanted to hear the opening band, Indigenous,  a blues-based Nakota band from Yankton, but we were too late.  Drat.  Indigenous has some excellent music available and I am going to make a point of seeing them live, soon.

When we got there, Eric was starving.  So he and The Dad went off to find sustenance (and something for me to drink) while I caught the end of the day’s second band, Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys.  The band hails from New Orleans.  Miss Amanda is a fiddler/vocalist/jumper-around-on-stager.  The band was OK.  I mean, she’s not Alison Krauss or Mark Wood.  Or Charlie Daniels.  The cover of The Devil Went Down To Georgia was a bit mild.  Overall, a good band but not my favorite of the day.

The third group, Los Angeles-based Fitz and the Tantrums was spectacular.  I don’t know why they aren’t a top 40 group.  Because there isn’t a guitar (?!)  in the group? Any producers out there want to venture a guess?  They were a little overdressed for the weather — dark suits and ties, a la The Blues Brothers; the drummer eventually shed his jacket — but their cover of Sweet Dreams was one of the best I’ve ever heard.  Come to think of it, the suits and ties were rather Lennox-y.  Lennox-esque?  Yeah.  And The Tantrums are putting out suitably impressive stuff of their own.  I’m looking for them to make it big really soon.  Take a listen.

Next up was Michael Franti and Spearhead. They got plenty of space in the paper so I won’t give much here,  except to say that Franti jumped up on an instrument crate about twenty feet in front of me to sing, and I got video (!) before the sea of Fran-atics closed around so that no one else could see.  Except that my phone refuses to tell me where it is.  I’m sure I’ll find it eventually.  (The Dad was suitably impressed when I told him later.)  Spearhead’s cover of Billie Jean was a little out of place and wasn’t as good as the reviewer would have you believe.  I was there.  Heh.  Mr. Franti can moonwalk pretty well though, and kick a soccer ball.  And play guitar. And dance. He definitely won the Red Bull trophy for “Most Energetic Performer”.  I wonder though — Spearhead seemed like an odd choice as a warm up for Winwood.  It was good, but I personally preferred The Tantrums.

It took a little longer to change the set for Steve Winwood than for the groups prior, but it was worth it.  Mr. Winwood turned 63 in May, but he sounds like he’s still in the Spencer Davis Group.  Here’s the same song thirty years later. It didn’t sound any different, except for a much smaller band.  My gosh, what a voice!  Here’s another example.   If anything, Winwood’s voice has matured, but in a good way. It sounds richer, fuller and more in control than it did forty years ago.  It was surreal, sorta like sitting there listening to all my CDs, on The Dad’s exquisite ESS Tempest speakers.  Except it was LIVE!  Winwood’s set was a little short, which was a real shame.  So many great songs, such an incredibly versatile and virtuosic musician, so little time.  It was threatening to storm (there was thunder) and I think they ended early because of that.  People started leaving in droves.  Their loss.  The sky rumbled, the clouds raced through, it sprinkled about 15 drops and then…

Santana took the stage.

I have always thought that, as a guitarist, Mr. Santana should have shared the “God” billing with Eric Clapton.  The man can shred.

Santana’s band is about as close to perfection as you can get: three drummers, plus two lead vocalists contributing maracas and tambourines. Add a trumpet, trombone, keyboardist and Santana and you have a band that literally sounds ageless, timeless and limitless.  And two of the drummers alternately sat in with Spearhead and (I think) Amanda Shaw, who in turn assisted on one of Spearhead’s songs.  I wonder if it’s as cool for young, up-and-comers to work with established artists like Raul Rekow and Karl Perazzo, as it is for young violinists to work with, say, Itzhak Perlman or Midori?

I read an interview a long time ago where Santana likened playing music to lovemaking. (Just thought I’d throw that out to see if you were paying attention.)  (This isn’t the exact article but he says sort of the same thing.  Also, Santana’s description of how to spin out a melodic line is priceless. And funny.)  And that is part of what makes him — and other lyrically oriented guitarists — so satisfying to hear.  And watch.  Because if you’re like me, seeing how he does it and trying to figure out the mechanics, are just as important as hearing what he’s doing.

Again, the price of admission ended up being price-less after hearing Santana’s cover of Cream’s White Room.  Clapton hasn’t played it like that in years. (Said while kneeling reverently toward Crossroads.)  The last time I saw him really shred White Room was in 2005 at Royal Albert Hall (I’ve seen it live two times since then, as well).   The video is here.  We  — The Dad and I, and captive-listener Eric — were sitting directly stage right of the band in the first balcony, but unfortunately just out of camera range.

Watching Santana is a sight to behold.  If you didn’t click the link earlier, do it now.  Or nowThis one is good too.  (Sorry — it’s hard to pick a favorite!)  He makes it look easy, as is typical with truly great musicians.  When you watch guitar gods, it looks like they aren’t working at all, and it seems to be a pretty common trait to all of them:  Santana, Clapton, SRV, Hendrix, Jimmy Page, B.B. King, Chet Atkins, etc.  Economy of motion allows them to have complete control over what they are doing, and over what their guitars are doing.  It’s hard to do that when you’re jumping around like a maniac on the stage.  It’s also really hard to describe the mastery involved and what it looks like.  Suffice it to say that Santana’s technique looks like a combination of pure concentration and pure joy.  With a dose of axe-wielding and shredding when required and appropriate.  Because, you know how SOME concertgoers don’t think they’ve been to a concert if they haven’t seen the required theatrics on stage.  It’s amazing to me how many rock guitarists, the REALLY good ones, are ultra-conservative and reserved.

And then there were fireworks.  Oooh! Aaah!

Then we walked two miles back to the car, instead of waiting for two hours for the shuttle bus to take us back to the car.  And Eric has formally been initiated for surviving his first rock concert (if you don’t count Cream, ZZ Top, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy and Anthony Gomes while he was percolating).

But “free” always ALWAYS infers the opposite, and this festival sticks with tradition, giving “free” an entirely new meaning. That’s another post.


Random Thoughts: Is Today Your VIOLINDEPENDENCE Day?

July 2, 2010

[Note 1: This is not intended to be a political commentary. ‘Nuf said?]

[Note 2:  I had to “shout” the title because lower case L and upper case I look the same when written in a normal tone of voice. Heh.)

Imagine what might have happened had our Founding Fathers had given up on July 3, 1776.   “I say, dear Mr. Jefferson, ’tis not worth the effort to complaine against the Crowne.  Let us be content therewith, take leave of Philadelphia and return to our families.”   hey had high expectations, high enough that the last line of the text of the Declaration of Independence states that they were, as a group, willing to pledge their lives, fortunes and honor.

No one is asking the Violin Students of the Universe to lay down their lives or fortunes for the violin.  But I wonder sometimes if the concept of honor — having high expectations and upholding them without regard to personal consequences — has become so foreign, so antiquated, to our modern sensibilities (both socially and politically) that its demise has irreparably damaged our system.  The Founding Fathers were not willing (thankfully!) to stop at “good enough”.  Should we expect any less of ourselves today as citizens, parents, musicians and humans?

In keeping with my penchant for making lists, here’s another list of random thoughts based on the following quotes.  As you read and think about them, notice that all three are simply different slants on the same basic idea:  honor.

“Ten thousand times breeds ability.” Shinichi Suzuki

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” John Wooden

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein

My Random Thoughts:

  • New pieces are not an indicator of ability.
  • Ignoring a problem with technique or intonation will not make it go away.
  • There is no magical solution. The closest thing to magic is learning to hear yourself as your teacher hears you.
  • “Are you insane?” is a legitimate question for a violin teacher to ask.  With a smile and a wink, of course.
  • One hundred times builds a habit.  One thousand times builds security.  Ten thousand times builds ability.  This process can make you either an excellent violinist or an excellent mistake-maker.  You get to choose which path to follow.
  • A mistake means you’re one step closer to getting it right.
  • Mistakes become normal if allowed to go unchecked and uncorrected.
  • Mistakes are tools for developing excellence.
  • What do you expect from yourself?
  • Do you expect to sound good?
  • Do you like how you sound?
  • Do you expect yourself to play in tune?
  • Do you sound better than you did a year ago? Six months ago?
  • Are your expectations at least as high as your teacher’s?

Is this your VIOLINDEPENDENCE Day?


Minimalist Practicing, Part 2: No List = Practice Zen

June 30, 2010

Leo of Zen Habits is the undisputed King of Minimalism, pretty much.  In this post,  Leo talks about lists, specifically how to ditch them.  At their best, lists can be life savers, a brain on paper.  Or on Google Calendar.   At their more usual, however, lists can be annoying, unproductive and a way to waste or rationalize time.   Leo reminded me that “the only thing that matters is the actual doing.”

We shall return to Leo in a minute, but first I have a confession to make:  I am a Compulsive List Maker.  Maybe even an Obsessive Compulsive List Maker.  It could be a lot worse, so I guess if that is one of my worst faults, I’ll take it.

I joke that Advanced Maternal MommyBrain had something to do with my CLM.  In reality though, I make lists because it makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something as a WAHM.  I feel more Organized, more Motivated.  I’m not, but whatever.  And then?  And then!  Then there are days that I don’t want to do anything on my to-do list, even though I have spent a ridiculous amount of time outlining, revising, adding to, crossing out and otherwise mutilating streamlining my lists into Models of JulieEfficiency.  However, I am also fully aware that the world will not end if I sit and read all day, take a nap, or play with Eric.  None of those things ever appears on my to-do lists.  But I feel guilty anyway, because I “should” be doing something on the list.  If I’ve somehow managed to complete everything on the list, I feel guilty because I haven’t already started another list.

I haven’t always been a CLM.  When I was younger, I could easily remember everything — homework assignments, doctor’s appointments, my work schedule at the mall, changes on my paper route — without writing it down.  For violin lessons, I always knew what scale and etude to prepare, where I was in my review sequence and had a general idea of upcoming performances or events for which to prepare.  The steno book I carried to lessons, specifically to take notes in, ended up being a waste of money.

As an adult, my memory is nearly as good as it was when I was a child but I don’t trust the short term section as much as I used to.  I know by heart exactly what I need to work on in my own playing.  Those Things To Do never seem to change.  But I feel better writing down exact pieces or exercises I’m going to use, the exact things I’m going to focus on, the exact outcomes I expect to achieve.  I feel Organized, Professional and Teacher-y.  Like I know what I’m doing.  Because people expect me to know what I’m doing, to practice what I preach, to set a good example.  And then I get tired of writing and thinking and enter the practice avoidance zone go off to do something else, like read, take a nap or play with Eric.  Or if I’m feeling really squirrely, watch some TV.

And now, back to Leo, who has The Solution to the never-ending cycle of Compulsive List Making.  He suggests trashing the to-do list in favor of One Thing.  You do One Thing that is most important.  The definition of Most Important is that thing which you most want to do.  No force, no pressure. When you get it done, you move on to the next One Thing.

Yesterday, planting green beans with my son was the One Thing I most wanted to do.  Today it is reading (but obviously I’m doing something else, so I’m not taking advice very well, am I? Heh.)  Saturday, my One Thing will be traveling to Sioux City to see Steve Winwood and Carlos Santana.  (Because classic rock guitarists are perhaps my favorite research topic, rest assured that I will report back with details.  Maybe even pictures.  Woot!)  My One Thing isn’t always practicing.  I’m guessing that yours isn’t either.

Most older students know intuitively what they need to work on without being given specific Things To Do.  The problem is doing it.  Zen is synonymous with being mindful.  Paying attention.  Being in the moment.  Listening to yourself.  Being centered and balanced.   It’s really hard to do that if you’re distracted by too many things competing for your attention on a to-do list.

Sometimes practice sheets can be more crap-and-clutter than helpful.  So stop practicing from a list.  Try it for a week or two.   Practice, not because you feel like you have to, but because it’s the One Thing you want to do right now.


Minimalist practicing, part 1: Green Beans Edition

June 29, 2010

Last night we had green beans with supper.  Not just any green beans, mind you, but Eric’s Green Beans.  He helped plant them in a container on the deck.  He picked them, helped snap them and smelled them all day while they hung out happily in the slow cooker. And then we ate them. And they were yummo!  Even The Dad commented on how much better they tasted than the batch of fresh-from-the-store-imported-from-some-third-world-country green beans I cooked up earlier in the spring.  Normally, I don’t give a whit about green beans.  We happily eat them out of a no-salt-added can. (!!)  But these particular beans were so good that I am now fixated on green beans and solving the crucial question of how can I plant enough to get us through next spring.

And you are asking, so….exactly what do green beans have to do with practicing?

Not a darn thing, really.  But it was a good way to introduce today’s topic.  Penelope Trunk is one of my favorite business bloggers.  A while back, she posted the following:

“One thing at a time.  Most important thing first.  Start now.”

From a practicing perspective, this short, simple mantra can work wonders with organization and actual getting-it-done of your practice time.  I’ve done it myself, but I didn’t have the great phraseology that PT used at my disposal.

Here’s how it works in two simple steps.

Step One: What is the single biggest thing that would improve your playing?  What could you do that would have an immediate impact, something that would produce instant results, if you just did it? Actual practicing?  Intonation?  That pesky high-2, low-2 thing?  Tone production?  Even though there might be several things that fit this schema, take a guess and pick what you think would be The Most Important Thing.

Step Two: Start working on it now.  Not in an hour.  Not next week.  Don’t argue.  Don’t rationalize.  Don’t justify.  Just go do it.  Now.

Can you get much more minimalistic than that?

It’s really really easy to become distracted.  Keep in mind that focus is not something that we do automatically.  It is a learned behavior, and the only way to learn how is to deliberately do it. You learn to focus by ignoring the distractions and concentrating on One Thing.  Distractions keep you from your goal, no matter if it’s a musical goal or something else.  All successful practicing boils down to the ability to focus on one thing until you do it better.

I’ll talk more about One Thing practicing in the next post.  Meanwhile, I have two empty pots on the deck and a little boy who is dyin’ to get dirty.


The Cost of Choice

June 21, 2010

Beth Blackerby, owner of ViolinLab, recently described the experience of dealing with latent emotions that surfaced when she took on her first adult student several years ago.  She writes :

“…because I started as a child, I had never experienced what my adult student had: the burning desire to learn the violin; the self-propelling passion that comes from choice, the will to continue because it was what I wanted more than anything.”

I would like to thank Ms. Blackerby for raising this topic, because it is a tough one to discuss.  Most of us, musicians or not, are so busy with gigs, work, family commitments and life in general that there is little time for self-reflection.  But I can’t help but think that the feelings referenced in her beautifully-phrased, wrenchingly-honest quote are related to some factor other than age.  Why?  Because Ms. Blackerby described perfectly and precisely what I did experience as a child of seven, then eight, and finally nine, when I was allowed to start lessons.   I was prepared, ready and determined to do great things with the violin.  But when I failed to meet expectations — mostly my own — I was not prepared for the emotional aftermath.

Playing the violin was a choice, the first real choice I ever made.  I didn’t have to be prodded, cajoled, bribed or threatened to practice.   On the other hand, maybe choice isn’t the right description, because I have always felt compelled by something that I could not explain, driven by a desire that I can only describe in terms that are probably not suitable for younger audiences.   The childlike amazement and wonder, as well as pigheaded stubbornness remain some thirty-five years later, and I am no closer to being able to explain it today than I was as a child.

Playing the violin was also empowering.  People paid attention to me when I played, although at the time I couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about.  I was labeled “talented,” “gifted,” “special,” as if those words all meant the same thing (they don’t).   I didn’t understand why; I simply read the directions at the front of the book, did what they said, and checked my effort against the reference LP.  (The directions are, by the way, exactly the same today, but with more pictures.)   And I was sufficiently rewarded for my direction-following skills by moving through the repertoire at lightning speed:  all ten Suzuki violin books in about six years.   It took me a lot longer to learn that the more you achieve, the more people expect from you.

I’ve heard of students who “see the light” after they’ve been playing for a few years and suddenly outperform everyone in a studio.   As a teenager, I saw it firsthand in my own teacher’s studio.   One day, Kris was average, a couple of grades and a couple of books behind the advanced kids.  No one suspected a thing, because she was so quiet and did her best to stay under the radar. And then, out of nowhere, BANG! She killed at All-State seating auditions, earning Violin I, chair 4 (out of 40 first violins and 40 seconds.)  To the best of my fuzzy recollection, the highest I ever sat was Violin 1-9.  It was a clarion call for me, discouraging and painful.   Because I was in the second violin section that year (3rd chair) and she sat directly to my right, I was constantly reminded of how I failed to meet expectations.  Deep down, I knew I should have been sitting where Kris sat.  I had let my teachers and parents down.  I had disappointed myself.   I had been a horrible model for my classmates.

There is a cost associated with that passion, that desire to obtain regardless of any consequences.   The emotional toll of choice is not a topic of general discussion or debate during orchestra breaks.  I don’t know, maybe most other violinists don’t have problems with it.   Or maybe many do, but they are convinced that no one else would understand.

Outside the world of music, economists call it “opportunity cost.”  Psychologists label it OCD, and in “advanced” stages it can be crippling.  In my case, it manifested as depression. I was able to get it diagnosed and treated before it ended my academic and performance careers, but not before it cost me a marriage, relationships with other people I loved and respected, much emotional and psychological devastation, and deeply-rooted performance anxiety.  It is still difficult to admit it, much less talk about it, and it is much more complicated than I can discuss here.

The specialness has long since worn off.  I’m skilled, well-trained, not talented or special.  I am a realist, although my husband says I’m much too critical of myself.  (A musician he is not. But he makes pies and cakes and enchiladas for me.  And the programmer-slash-analyst in him doesn’t look at me like I have two heads when I ask a stupid computer question. So I think I’ll keep him.)   I am no longer willing to give up everything for the violin.  While I strive to be extraordinary and can easily hold my own professionally, the reality is that I am just an average violinist among thousands of other average violinists trying to buy groceries.

Dreams come and go, evolve, and help us grow.   Sometimes they even come true.   Dreams keep us alive, keep us motivated.   But they can become nightmarish in the absence of reason and sense.   And age has very little to do with it.   This I know from experience.


An Ode To My Teachers, Part 4: The Purple Cow

June 15, 2010

Artistic integrity is much more profound when it comes from a person who is perceived to be authentic.  Teachers whose integrity comes from a place of empathy, understanding, and from not being particularly concerned with political correctness often have a lot of success in dealing with tweens and teens.  The students see them as being “real.”  One particular teacher stands out as my example of the importance of being who you are and doing what you do unapologetically, energetically, honestly, and with humility.  You never know whose life will be touched by the simple act of being genuine.

When I was in sixth grade, I received an invitation to join the Greater Des Moines Youth Symphony.  Even though I was the youngest player in the group, Mr. Brauninger (the conductor that year) steered me to a seat in the back of the first violin section and thus began my education in standard orchestral repertoire.  We played “real” music, music that lived in another realm that I had not even imagined in my wildest dreams, music like Saint Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture and Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait (the program of the first concert I played with the group).  I continued performing with the GDMYS through my senior year.  There was a new conductor every couple of years or so, and when I hit high school, the new conductor was Sandy Tatge.

Mrs. Tatge was incomparable.  I had never had a teacher like her.  Ever.  Or since.  She was one of those teachers who impressed me multiple ways.  To me, she was the Epitome of Coolness and Rad.  She had long, gorgeous, curly, fiery red hair that was always perfectly controlled, but looked like it would run away and do its own thing at any available opportunity.  She boldly wore purple, magenta and a host of other bright neon colors, regardless of how badly The Experts said it would clash with her hair.  She accessorized!  Where most female teachers wore scarves or bits of very understated jewelry, Mrs. Tatge had a purple cow pin that she wore religiously to nearly every rehearsal.   We teased her every time she wore it, as teenagers are wont to do, and it became such a “mascot” for our group that we noticed (and teased her again) when she didn’t wear it.   She was very good-natured about it and years later, I often thought that maybe she was just messing with us, to see what our reactions would be if she wore a different pin.

I would never want to intentionally embarrass Mrs. Tatge, but I hope that she doesn’t mind if I tell this story, because it has held such a special place in my memory all these years.  One day after a summer chamber music rehearsal, she graciously agreed to go WAY out of her way to give me a ride home.  She put the key in the ignition and … her face suddenly got this Look that said “Uh-oh, THAT was what I forgot.”  Out of the speakers, which were cranked to window-rattling decibels, wafted not the classical stuff I expected, but classic rock courtesy of KGGO.  My jaw hit the floorboard in absolute amazement.  She looked at me, winked, turned down the volume a smidge, and said that we really SHOULD be listening to something more appropriate, more educational.  But the station stayed where it was.  That sealed it for me.  I would Defend The Honor Of The Purple Cow to the death, if necessary.  She became in that moment The! Greatest! Teacher! Ever!

I remember very little of what we performed in Youth Symphony, but I have never forgotten that moment of authenticity and how important it became a few years later when I started teaching.

To be continued…