Oak Hill Vignettes

Morning Visitor

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He was the first thing I saw when I got up this morning. Not a bad way to start the day! I love foxes and would be happy to see more of him if it weren’t for our chickens, which he seemed quite interested in. He sat quietly for a few minutes before trotting over to sniff around the chicken pen.

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Creating a stimulating environment

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This cute, whimsical bird caught my eye recently. I thought my younger students might enjoy seeing him as they leave the studio. It’s “perched” on the wall adjacent to the front door, and one might imagine him bidding them farewell as they leave!

My admiration for Carol Montparker has evolved into an enchantment that has kept me preoccupied lately. She has buoyed me up with her words and ideas; they breathe fresh vision and inspiration, as well as confirm ideas that have already begun to take root in my mind.

I have now read through the first half of A Pianist’s Landscape. My thoughts that for the past several months have been in flux regarding my purpose and vision for my piano teaching, are beginning to solidify–and this, even before reaching the block of chapters that I am so very anxious to read, “In the Studio”–those which focus primarily on Ms. Montparker’s  teaching, and which I am on pins and needles to read! Normally, I would have no qualms about skipping chapters to read others, but I haven’t been able to do so, not wanting to miss any possible background information that might help shed greater light on her experience of teaching.

I do love her thoughts on the interplay between the arts and senses. This relates to what I have been thinking regarding the type of atmosphere that I would like to create in my studio, aka…dining room. I am aiming for a light and airy, colorful room full of interesting items that might help to stimulate creativity.  Carol says it best:

In my own studio, within arm’s reach are art books and music reference books of any given period or subject that will enhance my understanding of music literature; I also read from certain collections of composers’ letters if I think they will serve to enlighten. I have gone about the business, over the past many years, of consciously surrounding myself with paintings, pottery, and books that help to put me (and I hope my students) in a sensitized, peaceful, receptive, and fertile state of mind. What seems to count a lot to me is not only the availability of reference material, but a harmonious space, with every corner balanced in form, color, design.

What I like about this approach is that this takes into consideration the whole person, nurturing a love for beauty, of which a love for music is just a part of a greater whole. I feel rather strongly that music, like other art forms, nurtures a deeper part of our beings, and I’m wondering if we are able to reach a higher level of fulfillment and joy when music is brought into a broader, more natural and artistic context.

Alright, enough philosophizing–just something I’ve been thinking about.

Here are a few other snapshots taken around the room.

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Finding inspiration in the writings of Carol Montparker

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In an effort to stir up fresh ideas for my piano teaching, I have come across numerous piano teachers who have various blogs and websites filled with unique, fun, inspirational ideas that seem to flow nonstop through their creative fingertips. Often I am encouraged and helped by their thoughts and ideas. However, to be honest, it can turn the other direction and zap me of energy and motivation if I allow myself to go down a mental road of thinking that if I’m not juggling 25 creative ways to incorporate 55 important piano pedagogy techniques then I’m not being the best teacher I can be. I can quickly become overwhelmed by all of the information and ideas available!

But sometimes gems can be found, as was the case when I recently stumbled across pianist / teacher/ artist / author / nature-lover, Carol Montparker. Her love for each of these things (that I happen to love also) led me to immediately request one of her books from inter-library loan. I ended up with A Pianist’s Lanscape. She has a gentle, straight-forward writing style that gives a clear glimpse into her interesting musician/artist’s life. It’s the type of book that I like to read in small bits and savor. She seems the type of person that I would like to spend time with over coffee–very personable, creative, inspiring.

The first chapter of the book is entitled Nature and Music, and introduces the close ties between her love for nature and music:

I have come to think of myself as both a naturalist and musician. Certainly I have found a great source of spiritual strength in both realms, and probing the relationship between the two has been an ongoing preoccupation and pleasure for as long as I can remember. Apparently even as an infant, I looked up into the trees and murmured to the rustling leaves. Now, my first love, nature, can subvert my work at the piano, for example, when a red fox emerges from the woods and catches the corner of my eye, or a bird song seems more beautiful than anything I could ever play.

Later..

The thrush, in particular, has a song that moves me as  much or more than any music. He had been missing from our property for a few years, although he stopped to sing and forage en route to more densely forested areas. Of late we have left our wooded tracts alone, neither tended or pruned, and it is almost too wild to walk there; the overgrown thicket not only attracted the fox, but brought back the thrush, and I take it as a compliment and a blessing. More often heard than seen, he is relatively plain, with speckled breast and umber plumage. But his full-throated, intermittent phrases, delicately ornamented, slightly and infinitely varied, render me a captive audience; I stand motionless wherever I am while his song reaches me over the trees and across the green expanse of lawn from his podium branch. No mere grackling, clucking, chirping, or whistling of ordinary birds, this fluting is what many years ago I told my little girl, Kim, to strive for in her music-making.

Later chapter titles include, “An Artistically Nourishing Environment,” “On Playing Chamber Music and Concertos,” ” Students I’ve Known and What They’ve Taught Me.” (Besides performing, she also teaches in her home studio.)

I have only read the first five chapters, but have found so much that has encouraged me both personally and as a piano teacher. I can tell already that this is a lady of widely varied passions and interests, and from what I’ve read so far, it would appear that she has found a way to balance them and live a life that allows her to enjoy them fully and share them with others– a goal that I would like to set for myself!

I’m really looking forward to reading her latest book entitled, A Pianist’s Journal in Venice. The description from her website says that the book is, “an exploration of how three modes of expression: music, painting, and writing coalesce into one inspired attempt to capture the magical atmosphere of Venice.” Included are several of her watercolor paintings.

You can read more about Carol Montparker and view some of her artwork, as well as listen to her piano music, at www.montparker.com.

Doing what I love

By now, you probably have a pretty good idea of where I’m heading with this, and yes, the piano has something to do with it.

When the kids were little, as part of their homeschooling studies, I began teaching them piano when they were young. I had never taught before, only taken lessons, so it was a new experience for me. However, as with all of their other subjects in which I had zero teaching experience, I researched various approaches and eventually came up with my own style and focus. Through the years, some friends and acquaintances would ask me to teach their children, and so piano teaching became a part of my life through the last 12+ years.

Shifting to this past fall as I was deliberating my options of what to do with myself for the foreseeable future, the idea of growing my piano business began to take a clearer shape in my mind. Previously, whenever I had considered this option,  I often perceived obstacles that always made me feel a bit uneasy. These included my lack of formal training, my own insecurity in performing, the question of whether I could really fill up my studio with students, etc.

What I have come to realize in regard to each of these perceived hindrances is that there are solutions. If I learned nothing else as a homeschooling mom, it is this-that it really is possible not only to think outside of the box, but to act on those thoughts and find success. And this, more than anything, has helped me to see that perhaps God has been preparing me for the next phase all along without my realizing it. It has been a fresh, welcome reminder of His love and faithfulness.

So, what have I been up to these past several months? I’ve spent much time exploring, learning, evaluating my goals as a teacher, determining what has worked well in the past and what I need to do differently, and overall developing my own style and focus as a piano teacher. Through reading online at various piano teacher blogs and analyzing my own strengths and abilities, I have found that the possibilities are endless! There is just so much available online to encourage and support me as a teacher, that even though I don’t have all those nice titles after my name, I can be continually learning and progressing, which is a good thing regardless of the number of degrees (or lack of.) Also, I’m realizing how much I have learned (and continue to learn) through experience and just how valuable that is. I am continuing to learn, honing my own skills, aiming higher, seizing opportunities to build confidence in performing (well, a few so far….I played Christmas songs at a retirement home and also at a Christmas Rotary party; both occasions seemed to boost my confidence.)

Overall, I feel very excited about what I am doing.  I really enjoy getting to know my students. I have several new, and a few from last year. I love the challenge of working one on one with them, coming to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and then finding ways to encourage, inspire, and help them to progress, and above all, nurture a love for music and all things beautiful.

This is my new piano, a gift from my mother a few years ago. It is a Samick and I love it! It has a beautiful sound, much better than my grandmother’s spinet which retired to my mother-in-laws home. I guess it served its life purpose and got me (and several others) to where we are today.

The “studio” couples as our dining room. Just to the right is our dining room table. This may seem a bit awkward for a studio, but the table serves well for sitting down to do some activities on the iPad-a recent addition to my teaching. As I’ve looked around online at other piano teacher blogs, I’ve noticed that everyone has their own style and learning environment. After deliberating about this a bit, wondering if I should try for a more “musicy” look–you know, posters of scales, keys, notes, etc.–I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer a simpler, and hopefully more elegant look that will serve to inspire. With that in mind, I’m thinking the quilt may have to go to a different wall in a different room. Anyway, that’s just part of the fun I’m having with this and maybe someday I’ll make some changes and post photos of them.

For those of you who have made it this far, thanks for reading along. It has been fun to review the way things have progressed.

Now, I’m off to practice and later prepare for a new student beginning this afternoon.

An answer?

So here’s where things get a little interesting. Sometimes in my quest to search for answers to difficult questions, the obvious is obscured.

When Luke and Michaela were quite young, I decided to teach them how to play the piano. Even though I had never taught piano before, it seemed as natural a thing to do as teaching them to tie their shoes. I was inexperienced, but ready for the challenge!

I took lessons myself throughout childhood and have had a piano in our home since shortly after marrying, which is rather interesting too. I remember well that first, rather large and heavy piano that we got for free from a friend. It took several guys with ropes to lower it in to our tiny, two room basement apartment. It wasn’t the best sounding piano, but I loved it and even spent hours sanding, finishing, painting it, and playing it!

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Our stay in that little apartment was short-lived; within a couple of years we were heading to the next stop in Bill’s educational journey. Since we were moving across country with a pick-up pulling a trailer full of our meager possessions, I had to say good-bye to my dear piano.  I often wonder what ever happened to that piano.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to haul such a (super) heavy piano up a narrow flight of steps!

My mother was our church organist for years, and music has always been very near and dear to her heart. And so, I suppose it’s not too surprising that shortly after arriving in my home state of IL, she suggested I take my Grandmother’s piano. My Grandmother had died a few years prior and the piano hadn’t seen much use since my uncle had taken lessons as a boy, but it fit nice and snug in our little campus apartment. I was pregnant at the time with Luke, and in just a few short years, we would be hefting the spinet piano into a u-haul on its way to our next stop in MS where Bill would be getting his PhD. And yes, our new home would be another tiny college campus apartment! It wasn’t easy living in the midst of rowdy college kids, so we prayed God would provide a house for us to rent. Within 6 months, we moved into a lovely country home with two huge oaks flanking a perfect little porch that extended the length of the house. Needless to say, I didn’t get too much piano playing during those three years of young motherhood.

Before long, it was time to pack up yet again, and yes, the piano made the move with us back to New England, where it found its place in the home we live in today.

Stay tuned…this really does have something to do with the question I mentioned in my last post!

The big question..

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“So, what will you do with all your time now that you’re done with homeschooling?”

Many friends and family had asked me this $24k question of the year once they learned that Luke would be going to college and Michaela  to a local high school in the fall of last year. I admit, the question had unsettled me at times and I felt like I really didn’t have time to give it much thought. Right on through last summer I was kept preoccupied with other things as we made preparations for the kids’ shifting educational gears and didn’t have time to consider the seismic shifts on the horizon of my own life.

It seems like an obvious consideration for every homeschooling mom to ask herself through the years–just what would my occupation be once I had worked myself out of a job? But for me, homeschooling was my main focus and kept me busy right up to the very end. So, there I was at the end of August asking myself the tough question that everyone had been asking me for months.

My first thoughts shifted to new career paths. Hadn’t other women begun their careers later in life? Certainly, I could too! Although I do have a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture, it really didn’t seem practical. I had worked in the field at various points prior to having children as well as later doing small design jobs several years back. But with the economic downturn and especially my lack of optimism about such prospects, it wasn’t a serious consideration. Well, how about going back to school, I thought. I was tempted a bit by this idea–specifically going back to become a school guidance counselor. I enjoy working with kids and have a little experience working with people in that capacity. I spent a fair amount of time looking into this option, but in the end, I just couldn’t see myself being locked in to a job situation with little wiggle room. I had grown quite comfortable with the independence of thought that settles in to a homeschool mindset. In short, I’d much rather be my own boss–not that I’ll never reconsider this or other similar options.

As time went by though, one other option that I hadn’t taken seriously began to take shape and appeal to me more and more.

More to come…

New beginnings

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I would never have guessed that life would have gotten so busy post-homeschooling as it has for me over the past few months! And although much remains the same with my focus (I think my kids will always be right near the top of my daily list of priorities,) there has been a shift in direction of my time and energy. More to come on that soon!

The fruit of kind thoughts

It has been a rather quiet week, aside from the nor’easter that brought us our first light snow and more wind–thankfully nothing too extreme. It was a rather enjoyable storm as storms go. I love the sound of the throbbing wind as it gusts through the pine trees  and swirls around the house. I can think of few other settings that are more pleasant to me.  To rest or work within a warm and snug home, a fire crackling in the wood stove,  sets me in a contemplative, creative, and attentive frame of mind.

I have new goals and duties now that everyone is off  following their own courses, and I am finding routines and rhythms that work well for me, keeping me somewhat balanced and on track. With more freedom comes a sense of obligation to spend my time well. I don’t always succeed, as there are so many distractions that vie for my attention–all the more reason to develop good habits derived from daily routines. I think I’ll write more about that next week.

Lately, I have been feeding my thoughts on some excellent writings in a book entitled, The Hidden Power of Kindness by Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik.  There is so much great meditative food for the mind and soul within these pages–so much so that I realized right off that it would be silly to try to jot down quotes from it into my journal. I’d be practically rewriting the entire book! Each day, I read a small segment and just try to think about what it means and how I might incorporate it into my life. I recently read this:

Genuine love will always feel urged to communicate joy–to be a joy-giver. Mankind needs joy. In our own day, the world is particularly sick because of its joylessness, and all its noisy amusements can neither hide nor drive away its misery. Genuine love always feels impelled to  listen to this hunger of the human soul for love.

It usually costs little to bring joy to another’s heart. All it takes is a little good will, a trifling exertion for the sake of your neighbor, a cheering gift, a few words, and sometimes just a smile.

This passage comes from the chapter entitled, “The Transforming Power of Kind Thoughts.” The opening sentences for the chapter help to shed light on the connection between our thoughts and our actions.

Kind thoughts give power to words and works. Without kind thoughts, there can be no charity. The kind thought is the mold into which charity is cast. The thought eventually takes shape in words and works, giving them their beauty, life, and worth, as in the case of the widow’s mite. The kind thought constitutes the most precious element of even the greatest works of charity.

Honestly, I don’t always think kind thoughts, but I do think, with the help of Christ, it is possible to develop the habit. And to think of all the good fruit that is born of kind thoughts gets me pretty excited. Isn’t it so true that “..the world is particularly sick because of its joylessness, and all its noisy amusements can neither hide nor drive away its misery.” It is sometimes overwhelming to think of all of the trials and difficulties that daily bombard people in the world at large, including those close to me. Yet with a simple act of kindness--“a little good will, a trifling exertion for the sake of your neighbor, a cheering gift, a few words, and sometimes just a smile,” we have the ability to help lighten their load. Even just a little bit might make a big difference for them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of love, which is really what acts of kindness are, and how showing love can bring light and hope to even the darkest and most difficult situations. It gives deep purpose and meaning to all of life. And what better purpose in life than to be a joy-giver spreading the love and kindness of Christ!

A Novemberish day

A few leaves are still hanging on, even after windy Sandy blew through earlier this week!  Some chilly air and gray clouds have moved in making it feel quite Novemberish today.  Even so, it was a good day to get some yard work done.  The garden now has a blanket of leaves covering it, just waiting for God and nature to break them down and enrich the soil for next year’s crop.

The pleasure of eating should be an extensive pleasure, not that of the mere gourmet.  People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know that the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when the gardens are at their best.  Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating.  The knowledge of the good health of the garden relieves and frees and comforts the eater.  (The Pleasures of Eating, an essay in Wendell Berry’s What Are People For?)

My preferences

I have never been good with answering the question, “What is your favorite _______?”  I just never seem to be able to narrow it down to one thing.  When I read Susan’s preference list, it seemed doable, though to be honest, I don’t feel super strongly about several of the following, except for those near the bottom.  Well, here goes.

I prefer….

quiet to noise

lamplight to whole room lighting

subtle, natural hues to bright colors

meditative to informational reading

books to magazines

country to city

slow to fast living

wood floors to carpet

classic to modern styles

speed walking to running

mountains to plains

strings to horns

spring to fall

reading a book to any kind of electronic media

farm fresh eggs to store bought

streams to ponds

natural to synthetic

white wine to red

lingering meals to fast food

a few close friends to many acquaintances

a few meaningful possessions to a house full of stuff

vacations in nature to touristy places

comfort to style (when they cannot coexist)

early morning to late night

Western (US) skies to Eastern

barely sweet to super sweet

breakfast to lunch

embroidery to cross stitch

The following preferences I have grown to feel pretty strongly about in recent years, but don’t always have success with carrying out:

Studying Jesus to Theology/Doctrine (esp. when detached from the person of Christ)

Teaching by example to using words

Loving to condemning

Forgiving to harboring bitterness

Being merciful to being judgmental

And that’s probably enough!  🙂