Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Process

Let me tell you about one of my newer students.  Lilah.  Piano is not her main love or interest.  She is a hockey goalie.  This is where her spirit dwells, at least for now.  I learned this when she came in to a lesson, smiling.  I asked her how she was doing, and she simply said, "I won the hockey match last night."  

The statement wasn't arrogant, but full of joy and pride.  It was one of those close games, and defense saved the game.  You could tell that this was REALLY important.  And she told ME!  I always remember that with teens, I may be one of the few adults during the week that is totally focused on her, and when a teen voluntarily TALKS to you, you know you have a relationship that is working.

I spend most of our lessons working with Lilah on the PROCESS of practicing.  This is probably the field where I excel.  I love practicing.  I believe its an art, and a science.  Its a mystery-solving thing.  Its an athletic thing (yes! I did say athletic), what with the mental-muscle control, the learning of efficient movements, and the stamina that it takes to perform.

Since I know that Lilah's time at the piano is limited, I want to make her time productive and efficient.  I want her to know the power you can feel when you identify a problem, and solve it.  I want her to find a way to think of herself as a success at the piano.  I want these things to be in place for the time in her life when she no longer plays hockey.  I want her to still love the piano, and be playing as an old lady with hockey photos in an album somewhere.  

I know she loves music, and especially the piano.  This school year she was faced with a problem caused by the Minneapolis Schools.  They decided to start school earlier.  She already was taking her lesson at 7:30 in the morning so she could have enough time to do her workout here and still get to school on time.  The earlier start time was not going to leave enough time for a lesson and travel time to school.

An after-school lesson was not going to be possible due to hockey and soccer practice daily after school.  Her first idea was not, "Oh well, I guess I can't take piano."  She asked if she could come at 7:00 am.  This is a high school girl.  They are famous for always being tired, and not wanting to get up early.  To get here for a 7:00 lesson she gets up around 5:30.  Are you impressed yet?  You better be!

I had all these thoughts today as I was making Gumbo.  I make it the real way, like a Cajun.  I lived in Louisiana for 20 years, and cooking creole and cajun food is one of the lasting loves from those days.  I thought about Lilah, because PROCESS and CREATIVITY is what drives piano practice.  It is the source of the joy and love we take away from the piano.  And, its the very same for cooking.

By Process, I'm not talking about a recipe.  I've had to write my "recipe" down before, but is excruciatingly difficulty.  Because lots of cooking is improvisation.  It is creativity, embodied.  But it is also a process.  You envision the product and you work your way toward that product.  There are things that you learn, efficiencies that you adopt, and many, many inefficiencies that you insist on to make the product PERFECT!

Like Seymour Bernstein says in his book, With These Two Hands, learning how to practice at the piano creates superior individuals that can organize their thoughts and actions, diagnose and solve problems, think creatively on how to achieve a goal set in their minds.  Piano Practice can teach you to accomplish totally unrelated things.  

Thanks Lilah, for reminding me of all this, and inspiring the Gumbo that I am creating today.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

So, What Are We Trying To Accomplish?

Sometimes I do wonder just what piano teachers are trying to accomplish. Most don't imagine their students as performing artists. Yet, we work to make sure that our students play with artistry, ever increasing their skills. We have our students learn to perform for live audiences, something that their parents and their peers might not consider important. We sometimes submit their playing to review by judges who don't know them, and don't love them the way that we do. The most common value we hear from parents is "I only want her to have fun; I want her to be able to play for her own enjoyment."

How does that stated value coincide with what we do as teachers? After all, to play for your own enjoyment, you wouldn't necessarily need public performance experiences. For your own enjoyment, why would you need music theory, judges and contests? One mother, a dear friend and supporter of New Horizons Music Studio for 14 years, told me, "I don't want him to be a concert artist. I want him to play better than I ever did."

The boy she was making this life decision for was an exceptional intellect. His family has told me many times that I "saved him".  From what? Presumably, from underachievement! At 7 years of age, he was already bored with school, and unfocused in his approach to just about anything he took on. Nothing was a challenge, and his response was to ignore assignments, and let his mind wander. 

He and I had an instant rapport, and I believe I was the first teacher that held his little nose to a grindstone. What this boy found was that there was virtually no end to what was demanded of him in the exploration of a musical score. Every accomplishment in his music reading skills left him with unfinished business in the creating of sounds that could tweak his imagination. Every expressive piece, executed with maturity and finesse, left him stunned at the amount of technical prowess he still needed to reach THE GOAL. 

And always, he had me telling him how much he had achieved, and, if he only would spend just a little more time, he would be amazed at what he had accomplished. This little boy would eventually go on to math and engineering. He was so advanced that he began taking math classes at the "U" when he was a freshman in high school. When he took the SAT 2 exam in math, he was only mildly amazed at the fact that he "maxed it".

What did piano study have to do with this? That's probably a question that will never have a definitive answer. Subjectively, he, his parents, and I all know that the study of piano, which he loved simply because it was his first real challenge, know that he turned a corner with his first piano lesson. He remained amazed at the whole process for his public school career.

But enough of this idea that music study is good mainly in how it affects the other, more real things in a person's life. The "Mozart Effect", as some refer to it. Or the worn-thin argument that we should leave the arts in education because of the positive effects on the more important studies of math and reading. If I had believed that music study was, in some way, secondary to other academic areas, I might have become an electrical engineer. I do think that the study of music is one path to integrating the mind, the thought processes, into one superior, functioning whole. There are many paths to this place, where critical thinking, analytical thinking, become part of a person's whole.

The study of music, with all of the performing and practicing, is one path to discovering the height of our humanity. I have never heard that said of the study of math. Higher math might lead to a cure for cancer, or a solution to the sustainable energy needs of this world, but it won't put anyone in touch with his or her humanity.

So, is that it?  What piano teachers are trying to accomplish is to put their students in touch with their humanity? I suppose that is a real part. I don't think that is the whole thing, though. I'm just not sure. I know I have a deep feeling that music is important, all by itself. Without trying to measure the benefits and effects it might have outside itself. I have no evidence. I've never needed evidence. But then, I'm probably weird; because I've never thought that education's task was job training, or a vehicle to the upper middle class. I've somehow managed, all these years, to cling to the notion that the purpose of an education was to become educated.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Drop of Kerosene in Your Glass of Milk

Yesterday I was witness to something of a musical miracle.  OK, maybe that is overstating, but at least we could fairly call it an impressive musical phenomenon.  This phenomenon is otherwise know as a Seventh Grade Middle School Choir.  I am the piano accompanist for this choir, and I have known, and worked with, the director for over 16 years.

Middle School Choirs are not necessarily the ensemble of choice for the concert-going public.  Their voices are mostly immature, and the boys range from soprano to baritone, with some forcing an almost frog-like sound due to some misplaced social requirement.  But Middle School Choirs may be the platform for the shaping of the future concert-going public, so don’t be too hasty in judging!

The beginning of this rehearsal was absolutely terrible.  The director was not able to get a reasonable reading of a selection the choir had been learning for over a month.  The altos seemed to want to join the sopranos in singing the melody, but down an octave.  They had been well-rehearsed, and they knew their part.  The problem was that the room was in actual chaos.  A casual observer might have wondered why the choir director couldn’t manage his classroom.  

The facts are this:  according to a school system, a choir is a class.  But musicians know this to be an over-simplification.  A choir is more like a team.  No one expects a football team to act like a class.  It is much more homogeneous than any math or science class.  In those classes, the teacher speaks, give illustrations or descriptions, lectures, and the students are free to pay attention, ask questions, answer questions, or… tune out.  In a choir, the class is front and center.  The action and the activity are vested in the students themselves.  Those that choose to not participate are not benign, they actually inhibit the progress of the whole.

It would be hard to imagine a basketball forward simply not paying attention, or a guard not closely monitoring the activity on the court.  It would be harder, still, to imagine the coach not immediately “benching” such a drag on the team effort.

If we think of the choir as a team in every respect, we can easily understand the actions taken by our choir director.  One singer had decided to not participate.  Not only that, she decided to distract others by engaging in conversation during parts of the rehearsal.  When she was asked to remove herself from the group, to sit in the back, she found it necessary to disrupt the room even further.  From this single misbehavior, several other students became disruptive.  

My focus was on not the disruptive students, but those that were there to make a choir.  Singing is fun, but these students had learned the magic that can be created when people sing together.  A choir is one of those entities that we say “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”  But choirs are not easy for children.  Choirs are especially difficult for American children.  Most of us have grown up with the idea of personal freedom, liberty… our rights as individuals.

A choir cannot exist with groups, or individuals.  You might wonder “how many individuals it would take to ruin a choir?”  My question to you would be “how many drops of kerosene would be too many in your glass of milk?”  In order to benefit from the musical magic that occurs with a choir, we all have to give up our ideas, our rights, and we have to form a unit led by a truly benevolent dictator.  We have to form a homogenous entity.  A choir has nothing to do with democracy, and it certainly cannot exist with its parts in defiance of the one who leads.

I believe the students in this Middle School choir have come to know this, at least on some subliminal level.  Their faces showed their dismay when the intangible was being stolen from them.  The director had to, one by one, have the disruptive girls removed.  They probably did not want to be in the choir, and they certainly had no understanding of their place on any team.  It is the failing of the school system that places students in classes that they are not able to manage.  Forcing these students into an ensemble that is team-oriented, team-dependent is a travesty.

But… yesterday when the disruptive girls were finally “benched”, the Middle School Choir sang.  They smiled, and they lifted their voices and the made music.  Each and every one willingly gave up their individuality for something that most people never experience.  A unit, a team that is focused on achieving together.  That was my musical miracle for yesterday.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Boxes! We Don’t Need No Stinking Boxes!

I sometimes get tired of hearing about the delights of “thinking outside the box.”  This probably has to do with the fact that I have trouble thinking inside boxes.  If I see a box, I run the other way.  For any given activity, I would rather invent my own method than read the directions, or get advice as to how other people have proceeded.  Maybe I’m just sensitive about being odd!

I noticed this sensitivity creeping up to the surface the other day as I was clearing leaves from my lawn.  We have just finished the first stage of the landscaping of our front yard.  The wonderful trees that we planted, four altogether, shade the lawn so efficiently that any attempt to grow grass has ended in calamitous failure.  We had a retaining wall built along the sidewalk, and the lawn filled in with black dirt and wood chips.  In the spring we will have lots of new plants installed, and the grass can just take a flying leap off a short pier!

However… as you know, with every solution come new problems.  The multifold dead leaves that drop every day are now lying on a bed of mulch.  You can’t rake them up because the mulch would dislodge, too.  I decided to try the leaf blower.  Huge success!  The leaves blow away and the mulch, much heavier, stays put.

In Minneapolis we’re now using the biodegradable leaf bags.  They are really nothing but huge, heavy grocery bags made of brown paper.  They stand up a little better than plastic bags, but they sag, especially when you have a bunch of leaves you want to drop in.  Dropping leaves seems to offend my OCD nature.  Luckily some “out of the box” mind invented a leaf funnel made of cardboard.  It inserts into the bag, helping said bag to stand rigidly.  The funnel part allows the leaves to flow down, where they can be packed into the bag.

I blew the leaves out onto the sidewalk, and proceeded to gather them up with a leaf rake and a free hand.  The rake is wide, and gathers up lots of leaves, but it was too wide for the funnel.  The leaves continued to drop around the bag, back onto the sidewalk.  Now understand, the sidewalk was an intermediary destination, and I had just a wee bit of trouble allowing them to fall back onto the sidewalk after I picked them up the first time.  Now is where the story gets interesting…

I went to my shed and got out my snow shovel.  The snow shovel gobbled up a huge pile of leaves, and by turning it to the side, I was able to get the leaves into the funnel with no spillage!  The shovel held more leaves than the rake, it scooped them up efficiently from the sidewalk, and my problem birthed a bouncing new baby solution.  Yea!

Now, I know there were probably neighbors on both sides of the street, peering out from behind curtains, looking at the strange piano teacher, shoveling leaves.  But, they’re really the same people that have seen me leaf-blow the first light layers of snow from my walk.  Who was it that said to use the “right tool for the job?”  He probably wasn’t thinking of me.

I’m sure I’m not the first, or the only, person to shovel leaves.  I really don’t care because I solved my problem in the most efficient manner I could imagine.  It made the mundane job of removing leaves intellectually stimulating, and satisfying to the inner efficiency-expert in me.

This, I told myself, is the essence of practicing the piano.  Yes!  Find a problem.  Determine the nature of the problem.  Find a tool that addresses that problem directly.  This eliminates the mindless repetition that many believe is piano practice.  If that were true I could understand those that don’t like to practice.  I wouldn’t either.  But defining a problem, finding a solution, and giggling at the amazing outcome… that is compelling!

I try to teach my students, in every lesson, to think of practice as an Emergency Room experience.  Assess and diagnose.  Practice TRIAGE.  Always do first-things first.  The piano equivalent of “opening the airways, stanching the flow of blood.”  When they learn to think and plan, set goals and take direct action, they start to play music.  That, of course if good, because if they came to me merely playing notes, I would be bored silly!  Practicing is nothing but defining problems and finding elegant solutions.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ranger Rory

I remember camping and hiking with some of my Sinfonian Brothers years ago.  I chose the site, led the hike and other activities.  After all, I was the Province Governor.  They began calling me Ranger Rory after I contracted one of the most severe cases of poison ivy in existence… on this planet or any other!  I think they found it amusing that a Professor of Piano at Louisiana Tech University liked to go out in the wild, away from the comfort of his piano and his studio domain.  The juxtaposition of what they saw when they viewed me, and the Rory before them, canoeing, hiking and tent camping, was too much for them.  And of course, they didn’t contract poison ivy.  I led in that aspect as well.

My wife and I just returned from one of our annual and ritual sojourns to the north shore of Lake Superior.  We camp up there every summer at least one time.  We sleep in tents.  We live with the mosquitoes and bugs, and the threat of rain, because the reward is greater than the sacrifice.  The scenery and the hiking trails are something to behold.  This year we chose Cascade River State Park.  It might very well be our favorite.  It was our first north shore experience, and the combination of Lake Superior and the wild river is wondrous.

The trails at Cascade River State Park, near Grand Marais, Minnesota, are not beginner trails, and not for the faint-of-heart.  They are rough-hewn, with many exposed roots, downed trees, and glacial rocks strewing the way.  A three hour hike after breakfast can easily burn the calories from those eggs and Canadian bacon, and even in the cool air along Lake Superior, you should plan on drinking at least two 20 oz. bottles of fluid to replace the sweat that burns your eyes and floods your mouth.

Along the trails there are always options.  You can take the higher trail, or the one along the river.  I usually opt for the river trail, as the water sound is so like music to me.  When I’m lucky the trail is low, and I can even get out on the lava rocks in the middle of the river.  Cascade River is interesting because there is so much kinetic motion.  The rocks create the cascades and whitewater.  In other places the river is placid, and almost halted, like two contrasting themes in a Beethoven Sonata.  At other times the trail is perched high above the river.  Down below are steep cliffs and across the way you can see “potholes,” and “kettles” in the river bed, and even little caves in the side of the bluffs.  The textures of the river are interesting and compelling.  They seem like the fabric of a Debussy tone poem, with subtle changes and yet a continuity that makes the mind wander.

Yes, the natural beauty, to me, is like varied pieces of music I have known and loved.  I hear through my eyes when I experience these awesome sights.  But, I feel there is more to my attraction for hiking than the enjoyment of nature.  It occurred to me as I was hiking a couple of days ago that the challenge of a strenuous hike is so much like the challenge of practicing on a challenging piece.  I think back to the “exposed roots” and “jutting rocks” in the Liszt Sonata in B Minor.  Along the trail of that piece I could easily have tripped if I had not focused totally.  Like taking a wrong turn on an ambiguously marked hiking trail, many times I had to turn back to meet the challenges of Franz Liszt.  But therein lies the beauty.  A paved trail … a simply mastered piece of music … neither one holds much attraction for me. 

On the trail, you put one foot in front, incessantly.  You work to find your balance.  You alter your rate of motion to match the terrain.  Liszt demands the same.  When you learn to respond to the immediate demands before you, you begin to see the beauty of your endeavor.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Life, As Seen Through The Eyes Of A Tuba

Let’s just start by saying that if I were you, I wouldn’t believe a word of what follows.  I don’t blame you.  I know, however, that every bit of this happened in real life, and then every bit of this was presented to me in the strangest dream ever.

First, I have never had a dream that could have been the script for and Indie Documentary film.  Until now, that is.  I witnessed a series of vignettes (I couldn’t call them scenes because some were rather brief and disjointed.)  The vignettes were a little confusing to me because they did not happen in chronological order.  The very end, like in a well-produced film, brought all of the scenes together and made THE POINT.  I will try to relate to you, in the dream order, what I witnessed of my life, as seen through the eyes of a tuba.

Vignette 1

I see myself on a riverboat, playing tuba in a traditional jazz band.  We embarked at a terminal point on the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa.  We left about 8:00 pm and will return at about 2:00 am.  The boat was chartered by the Lions, or the Elks, or some other lodge.  It is apparent that they are there simply to drink beer of the cheapest variety.  We are the “entertainment.”  In my heart I believe we are a surprise, an added and lucky feature. 

The audience seemed to like us.  One notable gentleman expresses his delight, partway into our round trip, by coming to visit my tuba and me.  I find myself totally surprised, and not at all happy, when the gentleman pours most of a pitcher of weak beer into the bell of my tuba.  My pique is nothing compared to the feelings expressed by my tuba.  Luckily I quickly found the “spit valve” and the tuba relieved himself, there, on the floor.

Vignette 2

It is the fall of my sophomore year in college.  I am a piano major, of course, but I still enjoy playing my tuba.  Fall means marching band.  I figured I could handle this task, although “sit-down band” is what I really like.  They tell me that if I want to play in a good concert band, I am required to march!  When I find myself marching at a football game, in the middle of South Dakota, and in a blizzard, I am somewhat less than a “happy camper.” 

When my lips freeze to the mouthpiece of the Sousaphone, I rebel.  If you know much about playing a tuba, you know that your mouth interfaces with the mouthpiece in a manner that evokes blowing bubbles in a toilet bowl.  This is a not-altogether unpleasant sensation.  However, the burning of the chill, the tear of the lip flesh when you try, unsuccessfully, to pry your mouth away, is a distinctly unpleasant experience.  Then and there, I decided that my tuba days were done… forever!

Vignette 3

My first tuba lesson!  Mr. Egli sat the beast on my lap.  “Hug it,” he said.  If I had not we both would have heard the crash of brass.  I was shocked how easy it was for me to get a sound from this huge thing.  I wonder if my background of making rude noises and blowing bubbles has prepared me in some way for this life experience.  I started tuba as a lark.  My sister had expressed interest in joining the band.  When she went to the meeting to meet the band director she chose the French horn.  My mother came back and told me that Mr. Egli would like me to begin tuba.  I felt neither heavily pro, or con, so I assented.  I could already read notes, as I had been learning piano for about two years. 

I was a little out of my element at the first band rehearsal.  I only knew a few notes, and they were semi-reliable at best.  The most exciting part of the rehearsal was the end.  The tuba and trombone players were required to take the school-owned mouthpieces out of their horns, and dip them into a two-gallon glass jar filled with a disinfectant.  I whipped my mouthpiece from my horn, swung it into the jar of purple liquid and shook!  Unfortunately the mouthpiece slapped against the inside of the jar.  A perfect, circular whole appeared in the jar about 2/3 of the way to the bottom.  The purple liquid poured out onto the floor.  The scowl of the band director was apparent, and the laughter of almost everyone else echoed in my ears.  Still does, evidently.  We never did get another jar of disinfectant.

Vignette 4

I really am not looking forward to commencement.  In the spring, the entire faculty of the university are required to process, complete with cap, gown and the little colorful thingy that makes it look suspiciously like a bad choir robe.  Some love the pomp.  I didn’t even go to my own commencements, not for any degree.  I figured that the actual diplomas were enough.  One, I had to go to the Field House to retrieve.  The other was mailed unceremoniously.  My parents didn’t seem to mind.  They came to my degree recitals and were sufficiently entertained, and reminded of my acquired genius!  So going to the commencement, as a faculty member, was anathema.  I must have mentioned this.  Of course I would never complain (where is that sarcasm font?) but I found out that the instrumental faculty played in the commencement band, and they didn’t have to gown.

So, after a few years of not playing the tuba, I held the beast one more time.  For rehearsal, and for gig.  Somehow I felt that I won, because I didn’t wear the gown.  I repeated this quite a few years.  Spring Commencement did offer one additional promise… my lips would NOT freeze to the tuba mouthpiece in May in Louisiana. 

Vignette 5

Oh boy!  Here I am, a freshman in high school, and I have just been promoted to 1st Chair.  This is obviously a big deal.  I had no idea.  The entire band had to go through “challenges.”  We were all given legal-sized sheets of paper; on each side there were melodies written out in every major and minor key.  The rhythms got increasingly complex, and every member of the band were required to play melodies with 16th notes, dotted notes, triplets of varying types, and even changing meters.  I was led to believe that these melodies were designed for the armed forces bands.  I think they were meant to be used as sight-reading for those musicians.  We were given a week to prepare and undergo an audition.  The band director would delete one point for each wrong note and one for each wrong rhythm.  The seating arrangement for each section was to be determined strictly by this audition.

I took my sheet and practiced every day.  I lived across the street from the school, so I could stay after school and make what progress I was able.  Of course, with a tuba, your practicing was normally done in the school building.  The school owned the instrument, and it was not easy to get permission to take it home, or to even carry the instrument unobtrusively.

I was a little nervous about some of the really tricky keys and rhythms, so I took the trouble to prop a door open in the school after I practiced on Friday.  Nobody found it, and I was able to get into the school on both Saturday and Sunday.  I had the band room to myself, and my tuba and me communed!  I remember running up the steps to the top floor to either get a drink or use the facilities.  When I was returning to the band room I took the stairs by twos or threes.  Unfortunately, I slipped and sprained my ankle.  That day I have invited a couple of my band friends to join me.  They just laughed at my enlarged ankle.  When my mother spotted my limp I convinced her that I was auditioning for a role in a play that required a limp.  I was just practicing.

On audition day I must have done pretty well.  When the results were posted, in order of score, I was at the top.  I didn’t miss any points.  The next in line missed three.  She was a junior clarinet player, and she assumed the 1st chair of the clarinet section.  Her brother, the son of my former junior high social studies teacher, had been first chair tuba.  I don’t remember his score, but he remembers mine to this day.  His only comment:  “You cheated.  You practiced!”  So it goes, Randy!

Vignette 6

I am in Germany, under the big top of a tent at one of Germany’s ubiquitous beer festivals.  Tuba in hand… or, if you prefer, wrapped in my arms.  The Army Band I am playing with has been using me as an assistant to the Warrant Officer in charge of the band.  I was brought on to keep the top players busy.  I acted as the piano accompanist to men playing every conceivable Hindemith Sonata, as well as other literature.  I arranged and directed a men’s chorus, using songs that I had learned through Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia professional music fraternity.  I played piano in a jazz trio.  We gigged at the Officer’s Club, and the Holiday Inn of Sindelfingen, W. Germany.  AND… I played tuba in the “German Band” segment of our concerts.  We played just about every evening from April through October at some Festival.  We offered segments of traditional American band music, specialty segments and our own German Band.  I got to play tuba many nights in the German Band.  This was really fun.  Much to my shock, after I had retired permanently from playing tuba and freezing my lips, I learned the traditional versions of Alte Kammeraden, and other German drinking songs.    The greatest fun was smuggling out all of those liter and half-liter ceramic German bier steins in my tuba case.  I still have some.  I do feel slightly bad, since all of the bier was free to the band.  All you wanted, all night long.  I came back to the US weighing 190, and brought back many steins!  Thank you, tuba.  Thank you, Germany!

Vignette 7

My high school band director just telephoned my parents.  The Superintendent of my high school had called him with some pointed questions.  “Why,” he expostulated, “was a school-owned Sousaphone seen being marched down the middle of the street in broad daylight?”  Mr. Egli was undoubtedly at a loss for words. 

I had been allowed to take my Sousaphone home over the summer.  The band director, despite the disinfectant incident, liked me and knew that I would make good use of the instrument.  Who would have thought that recruiting your friends, who played trumpet, trombone, clarinet and drums, would NOT make a pleasant noise with their own, personal parade.  We played all of the school songs.  We marched in straight lines.  We played in tune.  We were the best musicians in the band.  When the Superintendent saw us, he didn’t understand.  It now occurs to me that there is no law that prevents a school district from hiring a true Philistine as the Superintendent. 

The let me keep the tuba, but we weren’t allowed to march in the streets for the rest of the summer.  Bummer!

What, you may ask, is the thrust of this epistle?  Why does a mind-mannered piano teacher, a retired college professor, have to do with the tuba as a life-guide?  Glad you asked.  When I auditioned for my job, ultimately as Associate Professor of Piano at Louisiana Tech University, I was joined by hundreds of other candidates.  I prefer to think that I was hired because I simply outplayed all of the rest.  There may be a shred of truth in that, but I was told a few years into my tenure that the Department Head put in the deciding vote.  He was a brass man, himself, and he told the committee that he didn’t want some “practice room nerd” as a new faculty member.  He loved my playing, thought I would contribute to the department as a whole, but the final, deciding factor was… the TUBA.  He thought that anyone that played German music, traditional New Orleans Jazz, and the tuba probably had had the rough-edges knocked off.  My whole career as a pianist and a piano teacher might very well owe itself to my love for the tuba.

There.  If you can’t believe that, I know I’ll never be able to sell you that Brooklyn Bridge.