Friday, August 18, 2017

Tired

Two weeks ago, my Aunt Joyce passed away. She was 94, but it was still a shock. I always thought she'd live to be at least 100. She played a big role in my life as I was growing up, but I hadn't seen her much since moving away 14 years ago. The last time I saw her alive was last Thanksgiving. I figured we'd see her again this Thanksgiving. But instead, I traveled to Louisiana last week for her funeral.

I flew back to Georgia Saturday and was home Saturday night and all of Sunday. On Monday, I was up at 4:30 a.m. and on the road by 5:00 to drive to Asheville for three days of work. On Wednesday, after a long day of work, I drove back to Augusta and got home around 9:00.

And then yesterday, Thursday, was a full day of working from home.

I'm tired. And sad. I need a break.

Yesterday I had my acoustic guitar lesson, after two weeks of barely picking up my guitar. As I played through the simple pieces, I wondered if I really needed to be taking lessons for $20 a week--particularly since I'm also taking classical guitar lessons for $25 a week.

So, I think I'm doing to stop the acoustic lessons. It was something fun for the summer and my teacher taught me some very basic things that I needed to learn. But I'm tired. Right now I give up three to five lunch hours a week for either music lessons or regularly scheduled work meetings. And I'm tired.

I haven't gone back to voice lessons, and I don't know if I'm going to go back. Not that I don't want to, but ... I'm tired.

Am I sounding like a broken record? I feel like one. A broken something, at least.

Yesterday we went to Portman's, the local music store where Anne is taking drum lessons. While she was in her lesson, I plopped myself down in front of a Yamaha clavinova/keyboard and played for a half hour. I love to play so much, and I love that I can still make magic come out of my fingers, even though I don't play regularly. I'm thinking ... if I don't do acoustic guitar lessons and I don't do voice, then I would have time for one thing I really want to do: play piano at local assisted living centers and nursing homes.

And I can play guitar and sing whenever I want, just not formally.

But still, I'm just so tired. My new year's resolution was to get back in touch with my musical self, and I've done that, to a great degree. But it's taken a lot of time and effort (and money).

One thing I won't quit is my classical guitar lessons. I'm not good at it yet, but after a few years, I'll be able to enjoy it the way I enjoy piano. I'm certain of it. And it can bring me (and others) the same peace and joy that piano does.

So, this blog post doesn't really have a point, other than to tell my four readers that I'm tired. And kind of sad. And wishing I had more time for music, while also wondering why music has to take up so much of my time.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Time for a Music Update: Piano

With the move last month (or was it two months ago?), my musical life had a bit of an interruption. But now that I've been here for eight weeks, I've fallen into more of a routine. I've also started working out in the mornings (5:30 a.m.), so it's been a challenge to wake up, work out, and still make time for music practice before the rest of my family rises and shines.

Oh, and I have a music room now.



Let's talk about piano first, since it's my first and best love, and the only instrument that I can play with some skill. I recently discovered Sheet Music Direct, and oh my ... it has put a dent in my "fun money" account (I don't have a "fun money" account, actually. But if I did, it would have put a dent in it.)

I've decided that I want to find a few nursing homes or assisted living facilities where I can play piano for an hour or so a few times a month, doing something of a rotation every other week. With that thought in mind, I started finding songs that would be appropriate for that. Of course I have a decent repertoire of hymns, and a few simpler classical pieces that I learned as a child and never forgot. I also have the Bach's G minor sinfonia and Chopin's B-flat minor nocturne, along with a few jazz and ragtime pieces. So I have enough of a repertoire to play for an hour ... but I need more than that.

Nursing home residents can range from my age (or younger) to somewhere in the 90's or even 100 or more. So we're talking about people born between, say, the 1920's and the 1960's ... with musical tastes formed in around the 1940's to the 1980's. That's everything from Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller to Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis, to Louis Armstrong, to the Beatles, to Carole King, to Billy Joel and Elton John. That's a lot of music! I can play a little bit of everything, but I need to up my piano game. I need to build my repertoire. So I've begun building a list of songs I want to learn, and once I start volunteering, I'll ask the residents what they'd like to hear, and learn those songs.

I think part of me wants to be kind of a para-professional--not a paid pianist, but good enough, and professional enough, to be one. I know I have it in me. I just need to practice, and I need to start getting some "volunteer gigs." I have a list of facilities in front of me, and I'm going to start making calls next week.

As far as what I'm working on right now, not necessarily for nursing homes but for me:
  • Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)
  • I Feel the Earth Move (Carole King)
  • Re-learning Bach's C#-major prelude from WTC I
  • Polishing up Chopin's B-flat minor nocturne (Op. 9, No. 1)
OK, onward to instrument #2 ... guitar.

Time for a Music Update: Guitar

This post is part of a group of posts, the first of which is my piano update. Now it's time for guitar. I need to divide this post into two parts: classical guitar and acoustic guitar.

Classical Guitar

When I told my guitar teacher I was moving, he said, "No problem, we can do online lessons." I wasn't so sure about online lessons, but I said I was willing to try.

They've been OK. Definitely not as good as in-person, but ... in some ways, better. For one thing, it's nice not to have to lose 30 minutes driving back and forth to my lesson each week. And, thanks to a high-octane internet connection, I haven't had any technical problems. And here's something weird: I used to leave my guitar lessons feeling kind of dejected, like I wasn't cool enough for this teacher because I didn't care about power chords or electric guitar or jazz improvisation (yet). With the online lessons, the focus is solely on classical guitar; we have less chit-chat, and we go on fewer tangents.

Because I have to go back to Asheville every four to six weeks for work, I still have the occasional in-person guitar lesson, which I think is good.

I'm currently working on "Mary Hamilton," a Scottish folk ballad arranged by Peter Hudson. If you'd like to hear the version I'm learning, you can watch this YouTube video.

This piece has brought me so much frustration! I've been working on it for three months, and it was only a couple of weeks ago that it started to sound like an actual song and not a painful stumbling through notes. I think the piece is above my level, and when I told my guitar teacher that, he said he thought it was perfect--just enough to make me reach and get better.

I understand that. I understand that you need to challenge your students, and I need to challenge myself. But I still felt like I was jumping from Kindergarten straight to third grade, and it wasn't any fun. It was three months before "Mary Hamilton" began to be recognizable as a song and not some tortured finger exercise. When he assigned a second song ("Simple Gifts," arranged by Richard Summers) that was at about the same level, my frustration levels increased as I practiced the same tricky measure over and over again with very little progress.

So I got on the phone with my guitar teacher and said, "Look, this stuff is too hard. I need something easier. Baby steps." I have the feeling that, because I know theory and can play piano, there's the idea that those skills and knowledge are somehow transferable to guitar technique. Maybe they are in some students ... but I can't do it. Guitar is so different from piano, and so much harder. The white keys on a piano, and even the black keys, feel like football fields compared to the tightrope wires of the guitar strings. And on piano, everything makes sense--low notes to the left, high notes to the right. Middle C is middle C is middle C. On the guitar, there are half a dozen or so middle C's, and your fingers have to move and forth along the fret board just to play a scale.

So, we're going to ditch "Simple Gifts" for now and come back to it in six months or a year once I've mastered a few more Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade pieces. It's a beautiful piece and I want to play it, but now is not the time.

Acoustic Guitar

While classical guitar is my main focus, I also want to be good enough at acoustic guitar to lead and play songs. A woman in our neighborhood has been giving me informal lessons, working from some old Alfred and Mel Bay books. Some of the stuff is really easy, but I'm also learning some things that I wouldn't have learned (or I wouldn't have learned as quickly) in my classical lessons. It helps that my neighbor is an elementary school music teacher who has made a career of leading kids in folk songs.

So I'm working on some basic scales, practicing (and learning!) some folk songs, and working on simple strum patterns. For acoustic guitar, this is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for, and I feel fortunate to have found someone who can work with me at that speed.

OK, that's it for the guitar update. Now on to voice. (Sorry, didn't have time to do the voice update. Not that there's that much to tell, as I haven't really picked it up again since moving. I'll do an update soon ... or in a month.)

Monday, July 31, 2017

The View from My Window

The buses are doing their practice runs. School starts next week.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Moving

This is going to be a long, rambling post--not unusual for me, I guess. I started writing in my journal this morning and couldn't get rid of the urge to shut the notebook and open the laptop. For some reason, I feel compelled to write everything here instead of privately. I'm not even sure what I'm going to write, and how much the published version will resemble the messy draft. But here goes ...


We're moving. We move every five years, roughly. When we got married in 2003, we moved to Maggie Valley. Then we moved to Franklin in 2008, and again to Fletcher in 2013. In 2014, we moved from one house in Fletcher to another. And now we're moving to Augusta, Georgia.

When the Hubster first put his name in the hat for a promotion, I ... well, I don't know what I was thinking. He's considered putting his name in the hat for other promotions, and I've always been a part of that decision ... the decision of, "No. We don't want to leave the Asheville area." When the Augusta position opened up, though, I gave him my blessing. I said okay. But then, once he got the interview, I balked. Leave Asheville? Leave my job? My Girl Scout troop? My friends? Anne's friends? My music lessons? My mountains? No. Wait, make that an all-caps NO. An all-caps, bolded, italicized NO!!!! with a handful of exclamation points.

But then we went down to Augusta for the interview and for all the meeting and greeting that accompanies it. I liked the people there. And when he got the job, I saw how truly happy they were to have him on board. And even though I cried on and off the whole three-hour ride back to Asheville, I wasn't sad about moving to Augusta. I was sad about leaving Asheville, certainly, but at the same time I felt okay about Augusta.

And then we went down not long after, kid in tow, to house-shop. We looked at seven or eight houses. After a mad morning of house-viewing, we had lunch with the realtor and went back to view the house we liked best ... and made an offer on it. We're scheduled to close on June 2 and move down there on June 8.

It's crazy that we bought a house. Our Maggie Valley house, which we've been trying to sell for years, finally got an offer on the day of Hubster's interview. Two offers, in fact, and we accepted the better one. We close on that house May 30. (Though I'm a little nervous because the inspection was Friday. Fingers crossed that they didn't discover some horrible problem that we didn't know about.) The housing prices in Asheville are apparently a lot higher than Augusta, and we got a nice, roomy house in Augusta for about half of what it would cost in western North Carolina.

Last night we had a Girl Scout activity and an art show at Anne's school, so we spent the first part of the evening with the Girl Scouts and the second at the school. On our way back home after it was all over, I felt the first real twinge of sadness since buying the house. (Funny how a nice new house can make you feel better about leaving a place you love.) I've been involved in Girl Scouts for less than a year, but I've started to make some friends through that. And here I am, leaving. I'd looked forward to building on those friendships in the years to come, but that's not going to happen. And I'll get to see my Daisy Scouts grow up on Facebook, but I won't get to be a part of their lives anymore ... and they won't be a part of mine. Just that thought makes me break down in tears.

And then there are the parents from Anne's school. I've made some good friends in the last few years, and there are more parents that I think would become good friends if I'd just stick around. I've put down more roots here in Fletcher/Asheville than I ever did in Maggie Valley or Franklin, for some reason. I guess that reason is that I have a kid, and that kid has friends and school and Girl Scouts, and there are more parents/potential friends to meet through those things. It feels like a part of me is ripping apart when I rip myself away from this community. Part of me will never leave here.

The good news is that there will be school and friends and even Girl Scouts in Augusta. There will be neighbors, and there will be friends I make through volunteering. And we'll own a house that I truly love, which will be a first. And I'll be able to invite people to that house, where the driveway is big enough that parking isn't a pain. We've never had a house with a good driveway.

Isn't that weird? I'm excited about a driveway.

I'm also excited about starting over, in a way. Not that things are bad here. But I've grown a lot in the past seven or eight years; I guess motherhood does that to you. So much of that growth here in western North Carolina has been painful and humbling. It nearly killed my marriage, it's sent me from job to job, and at times I've thought I should probably check myself into a psych hospital. It's only in the past couple of years that I've felt consistently "in a good place" emotionally and spiritually. Weirdly enough, I feel somehow equipped to move somewhere new and start over. As if, if this has to happen, this is a good time for it.

There's also the money. I'm tired of debt, and this promotion is going to help a lot with that. I know that there are no guarantees in life, no real security when it comes to material things, but I'm happy, at least, at the prospect of getting out of debt and ... well, just not having the constant burden of worrying about money. I think money stress has aged me more than motherhood ever could.

I'm planning to keep up with my music lessons, and I get to keep my current job and work remotely, so some areas of my life aren't going to change that much. I'm looking forward to having an extra hour each day since I won't be driving back and forth to work. The school Anne will be attending is a top-notch public school, so there won't be tuition to worry about (though I'll miss the school uniforms).

I think it's going to be a good life. There will be a lot of tears involved in the good-byes, but I think there will be a lot of joy involved in our new life in Augusta. I'm ready for this.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Update on My Musical New Year’s Resolution

Have you been wondering, oh three faithful readers, how the musical pursuits are going? No? Well, I’m going to tell you anyway!

George the Piano

My piano project for this year is a somewhat attainable one—meaning I have the ability, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time. (Right now, I practice maybe an hour or two a week, usually on Friday nights.) What I want to do is learn a handful (or more) of “best-loved piano pieces,” those pieces that get requested most often by friends and family. With all my years of playing, I’ve managed not to learn some very famous pieces, such as “The Entertainer,” “Linus and Lucy” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” Then there are pieces I learned as a child (“Fur Elise,” the second movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata, etc.) that I once knew but can’t play on request. And there are harder pieces, such as Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, that I once knew but definitely couldn’t play now without some focused practicing and re-learning.

While I’d like to learn these pieces for others, I selfishly want to get them into my own head, so I can play them anytime I want. I guess that’s a worthy enough piano goal.

Waylon the Guitar

I am picking up on guitar much more quickly than I thought I would! I’m managing to practice between 20 and 45 minutes in the wee hours of the morning, and more on the weekends. I’m getting better at switching between chords, and I’m starting to get the hang of bar chords. I’ve started classical guitar lessons and am hoping to get my (as-yet-unnamed) classical guitar (a gift from my uncle in Louisiana) within the next month.

One thing I love about guitar is that I can practice it early in the morning, when Dan and Anne are still asleep. Piano practice would wake them up, and voice practice would have them sitting bolt upright in their respective beds, their hearts pounding in terror. But guitar? It’s quiet enough that I can play without bothering them. And that’s just what I do.

No-Name Voice

I think I hit a couple of milestones recently. For one, I’m learning to sing louder. That has been my biggest challenge, or one of them: simply raising my voice above its usual soft-spoken near-whisper. When I sing louder, my voice is less “breathy” and I can obviously make a better, purer sound. I was also delighted to learn that I’m a soprano, and I’ve surprised myself at just how high my voice can go. (It’s those loud, high notes that would rouse and terrify a sleeping person.) I still have a lot to learn, but I’m starting to feel like a real voice student, and not some lost person who happened to wander into a voice studio.

Still, it's hard to find time to practice voice. I can usually grab ten or fifteen minutes each morning after Dan leaves to drop Anne off at school. And then there is the car on my daily drives to and from work. I'd like more time, but I take what I can get.

I've named my other musical instruments, but it just feels to weird to name my voice (even though it's an instrument as well), so I'm calling it No-Name Voice for now. If a name comes up, I'll be sure to share it with you, dear readers!

So that’s the music update for now. More updates to come!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A (Mostly) Musical Day

My 2017 New Year's resolution was to reclaim my musical self, and I've been doing a pretty good job of it so far. It's a struggle and a challenge to practice every day, but I'm managing to do it.

Guitar: This morning, I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and practiced guitar for over three hours! Anne was at a sleepover and Dan had to leave early for an out-of-town convention, so I had the whole house to myself. I worked on my sight-reading, and then I worked on songs. I practiced singing a lot of them, though my voice is still depressing me.

Voice: I did work on voice a bit, practicing some exercises and the song "Somewhere" from West Side Story. The trouble with practicing songs is that it's very easy to play the accompaniment, and I find myself forgetting to sing as I play and improvise on the accompaniment. I have to stop doing that. It's just that I'm so discouraged by my lack of progress in singing that my love for playing piano tends to seem even greater in contrast. So all I want to do is play piano and not sing. Singing is hard for me, a foreign land and a foreign tongue. Piano is home.

Piano: Speaking of piano, I got a book of etudes and pieces by jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. It's pretty easy to sight-read, so I played some stuff from that book for about 15 or 20 minutes tonight. Next I moved on to Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer"--a song I've been able to play poorly for years but have never played well. I'm focusing on not being sloppy when I play it. I learned to play it well many years ago, but I've gotten sloppy over the years, and I don't want to be sloppy anymore. I also worked on Vince Guiraldi's "Linus and Lucy," one of those songs I've always wanted to learn but never have.

When I wasn't doing music, I was spending time with my kid. We went around the neighborhood selling Girl Scout cookies for a good part of the afternoon, and then tonight we worked on a project she has for school next week. It's been a good, low-key day. Hoping tomorrow will be similar: quality time with my kid, my guitar, and my piano. And my, er, voice.

I haven't mentioned that I've had a problem with coughing for the past seven months. I finally went to the doctor, and antibiotics and steroids haven't helped, so the next step is to go to an ENT so he can put a scope down my throat to figure out what is wrong. The throat problem has definitely had an effect on my voice, so I'm hoping the ENT can diagnose the problem and get me a cure. Until then, I think that learning to sing will continue to be a particularly frustrating uphill battle.

The end. Time to go to sleep and dream of more music tomorrow!