Saturated in Music

Child,

Music is a vital part of who I am. My memories are steeped in concerts and recitals, practice times and rehearsals, clammy palms and shaky notes, exhilarating performances and spontaneous song.

I can remember back to my very first solo; I was the Little Red Hen in our kindergarten musical. Clad in yellow tights, red skirt and poster-board wings, I sang boldly even if confidence and skill lacked.

Piano and voice lessons became a weekly routine beginning in my 9th year. I almost never liked practicing and I never felt like I was any good. But my mom never let me quit, insisting she greatly regretting giving up on her own piano lessons in 5th grade. *sigh* I performed solos at least twice a year for the next…10 years…and I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t nervous. I made at least one critical error in almost every single song, and while some listeners may not have noticed, my little sister surely did. “You had that song perfectly,” she’d say with a hint of disappointment in her voice. I was disappointed too, Ash.

There was only one piano piece I played flawlessly:  Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata at my senior recital. I remember coming to the end of the song, holding out that last pianississimo note, having felt truly moved by the music perhaps for the first time in my piano career, and I heard an audible whisper, “wow” by an older gentleman in the audience. I knew then, finally, I had succeeded.

College piano lessons brought a whole new level to my experience. Though I wasn’t a music major (mostly because some voice in my head told me I wasn’t good enough), I wanted to keep up with my piano studies. Part of me knew I couldn’t let those last 10 years go to waste. My instructor didn’t go easy on me, though she was one of the kindest women I’d ever met. She required hours worth of practice, documented and described in detail. Her non-music-major piano recitals were held twice a year and we were required to memorize our pieces. You would not believe how difficult and challenging that was for me. Typically ok with being in the spotlight, I kept the piano recitals quiet. I invited no one except my college roommate. If I mentioned it to Kevin I was sure to say, “Don’t worry about coming.” I didn’t want anyone there to witness me messing up on the biggest stage of my “career.” I did just fine, though, sweaty palms and all.

Kevin came to at least half of my recitals, though, despite my urging against it. He and Brittney sat as my loyal audience, attempting to encourage me and calm my nerves. My most momentous performance moment came when I played the deeply moving piece by Debussy, Clair de Lune. The chills come back just thinking about it.

Here I am, five years later, and I’m simultaneously proud of myself and disappointed. I have made a bonafide career out of teaching piano lessonsI know! I can’t believe it either. (I’m also really wishing I had headed Mrs. H’s advice and completed the Associates Piano Pedagogy program at SAU. *sigh*) Here I am in my 5th year of teaching, the 3rd school year in a brand new town, and I was proud to host a Christmas recital featuring my studio of 28 (now 30!) students and 140 of their guests! WOW. It was truly an honor, a joy, a thrill to look out at that crowd. Despite all my doubts and fears along the way (they still creep in to this day) I felt I had truly accomplished something.  Glory to God in the Highest for allowing me to use the gifts He’s given which I’ve often viewed as meager. IMG_9953

The part of me that remains disappointed in myself rests in my personal piano advancements. I’ve felt stagnant for the past five years since those hours of rigorous practice. Sure, there have been times I’ve been stretched and needed to practice, perhaps even for hours (can anyone say, “pit orchestra”?), but my repertoire has remained the same. I have had exceptional moments to stretch my experiences and put a damper on my nerves. But new, challenging music? Not so much.

I plan to change that, though, Little One. and I’m telling you this for a few reasons.

You’re never too old to learn something new. Challenge yourself, even if it’s scary, even if it’s easier to stick with the status quo that’s getting you by just fine. Go farther. Make Jesus proud.

Keep me accountable. If you don’t hear me regularly playing piano, ask me to play. If you never hear me truly practicing, hammering out those tough measures note by note, encourage me to practice. I might need that.

Music will always be a part of our home. I’m not exactly sure if and how we’ll push you into the music realm, but I hope you won’t be afraid to TRY. I wish I had tried a new instrument in 9th grade. I missed out on the band experience. I hope you can find your niche and excel. BUT, should you turn out to be tone deaf (I admit, I really hope that isn’t the case) or your passions lie outside of music, I hope you can still appreciate it.

Music is a tremendous part of life, a true Grace from God. May your life be saturated with this gift.

Love,

Your Mama

The Preview of Beauty and the Beast

It’s show week again for the local high school’s spring musical. I can hardly believe it’s been an entire year since my first experience in the pit orchestra. (Last year was The Sound of Music, remember?) I was honored to be asked to participate as one of 4 adult instrumentalists in a 25 member orchestra. The connection I have with the band director and show director has been awesome. They are fantastic leaders and a lot of fun to work with. Because of these weeks and months of practicing, I also have great relationships with many of the students, which, you may imagine, is definitely a focus for Melanie-the-youth-leader. Now, when I attend other school functions (sporting events, concerts, etc), I can point out many students by name. What a gift!
 
The music in my synth strings score is much easier than last year’s Sound of Music parts, so I have put in far less practice time. This is partially laziness, I admit, and partially because I have learned the unique art of playing one small part in the mix of a large ensemble. My music just doesn’t work without all the other instruments. It’s actually quite boring to play all by itself, but man, put it with the full orchestra and suddenly it’s a beautiful thing!
 
Awww the joys of band.
 
This week includes nightly rehearsals from 4-8pm and a midweek “preview” for the students in the elementary, middle and high school. Tomorrow’s preview will go in 30 minute increments – we will perform straight through the show, pausing every 30 minutes for a new class to fill the auditorium.
 
AND, my mom is driving in for a visit and to see the show! It’s going to be a busy, awesome weekend!
 
 

{A Night of Choral Music is} Good for the Soul

Monday evening was the fruition of many months of planning. The Spring Arbor University Chamber Choir — of which I am an alum — came to our cute little village to put on a concert in our historic church sanctuary. It was a fantastic success! 
My beloved choir director, Dr. Livesay, contacted Kevin and me after receiving our Christmas letter and realizing we were in the area of the choir’s spring tour. We emailed back and forth for the subsequent months, filling in details. I worked hard recruiting gracious hosts to house the 40 students overnight and cooks who would bring dishes for the pre-concert student potluck. The meal was fantastic, filling us all to the brim with a wonderful assortment. (Special thanks to the Smiths for helping me clean up and make coffee in that new-fangled coffee maker from the 70s.) Dear friends of mine who own the local Bed and Breakfast generously offered to house the choir director and the bus driver as a “home stay,” and so many church and piano studio families made for great hotels for the rest of the crew. 
It was my job to find a set of choir risers, as the touring bus didn’t have room for them to bring their own. Thanks to my connections with the local music teachers, I received permission straight from the superintendent to borrow the primary-colored elementary school risers. I am so grateful for their willingness to trust us with school property and for the help I received from my husband, Greg, Tom and Mike in loading and unloading, loading and unloading the risers.  
My marketing skills were tested as I attempted to fill our sanctuary with an expectant audience for a choral concert on a Monday evening. It was a wonderful turnout of 90-100, doubling my estimations! Every single attendant – young and old – only had positive remarks to make after the soul-stirring hour of music. 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqWj59eZFFE]

This song, In Remembrance by Jeffery Ames, was one we sang when I was in the choir from 2004-2008. It’s quite moving, expressing the grief and prayers of one dealing with death.

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine (Let eternal light shine upon them, Lord). O God, my God, why hast thou forsaken? My tears linger at night, but joy comes in the morning light. Lord, in your infinite mercy, grant them rest. Rest forevermore. 

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I heard endless stories from students and hosts alike detailing their time together from 8pm to 9am Tuesday morning. Many of us were up way past our bedtimes, enjoying good conversation, spontaneous singalongs, and rowdy board games. Kevin and I were blessed with time to rekindle relationships with the wonderful Renee Runyon, choir accompanist and personal friend, and two students who have been Eccles family friends for 2 decades. Dr. Livesay was wonderful to talk with, asking about my sister and honestly caring about my life. SAU is truly a community not just an institution of higher education. The professors are invested in our lives, not just for those 4 years, for all these years (5) later. 
I am SO thrilled with the outcome of the SAU Chamber Choir Concert I hosted at Albion Free Methodist Church last night, and so proud that, onceuponatime, I was a part of that group of vocal musicians. The Music Department at Spring Arbor is truly remarkable, and though I was a Philosophy/Religion major, I spent many hours in that building, practicing piano for my lessons with Mrs. Heydenburg, rehearsing with the choir, worshiping with the Wellspring team, and auditioning for scholarships and solos. I cherish those times.  

The One with 5 Minutes [Connect]

Five Minute Friday

Today over at Lisa-Jo’s blog, the Five Minute Friday prompt is Connect. My mind went all sort of places before hitting the “start” button on my timer, but I’m so thankful I rested with this topic. It’s been resonanting with me all week, as I’ve received call after call, email after email, and welcomed in many new students to my fall schedule of piano lessons. I am blessed. And I’m seeing the connection.

Here goes:

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I never thought that all those years of piano lessons would connect to any other part of my life–besides my love of music and the occassional “special” for the church offering. But here I am, after 13 years of weekly piano lessons, having cried multiple times over failures, having heard the needed criticisms, having messed up the song I had “perfectly” in front of the recital audience…and I am teaching piano lessons. Me?! Yes, Melanie, YOU. 
Because not all of those 30 minute lessons were grievous. No, in fact, they were exciting, constructive, and life transforming. Both of my teachers spoke into my life as a mentor and spiritual role model. They encouraged me and pushed me toward the full capacity of my abilities which they knew God has planted within me. 
I know my parents never would have thought that their financial commitment to my piano lessons would ever result in a source of income for me, a joyous livelihood. But I am so thankful, mom and dad, for making me go to lessons all of those years, for making me practice when I hated it, for continually encouraging me to keep on, believing I would achieve something. 
And now, I see how it’s all connected. God was preparing me musically and spiritually to be a teacher to many students just like me. He has gifted me and filled me with his Spirit and I am thankful to be investing in the lives of my students. And something must have clicked–because my students LOVE to practice! Can you believe it?!

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The One with VBS Songs

Some people say I look like my mom. I think that’s pretty true. But I also know I followed in my mom’s footsteps in more ways than just her looks. One particular path I she led me down was children’s ministry song leading. I can remember summer after summer of Vacation Bible School as my mom taught tons of kids the words and motions to those catchy theme songs. When I was 12 or 13, my friend Elizabeth and I took the lead by ourselves as VBS song leaders. 
And now, decades since my mom showed me the way, I am the music leader for this week’s VBS at our church. We’re doing Adventures on Promise Island and boy! has it been fun. The songs are wonderfully writteneasy to learn and full of worth-while theology and concepts about God. I’m not one for choreography, but the dance moves that come along with the song-leader-position are pretty darn fun as well. The kids are having an absolute BLAST with them. 
Today, as we sang an updated version of “Standing on the Promises,” the kids filled the sanctuary with so much sound as they shouted the letters P-R-O-M-I-S-E-S with no help whatsoever. I love their receptiveness and their responsiveness to my leading. Kids are so much fun to work with! (and they make you feel pretty good about doing ridiculous motions on stage.) 
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I’m thankful for Maria & Malia–two of our teen girls–who have faithfully helped me co-lead the songs each morning. 
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As we waited for the last groups to arrive for the closing session, I invited the kids to join me “on stage” as we sang Always With Us and they all eagerly ran up beside me! Love their enthusiasm!
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And now for a few other moments from Vacation Bible School
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The little ones are focused on their craft-making

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And who doesn’t love game time?!
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The kids thought this was hysterical–wrapping up the leaders in toilet paper after learning about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. 

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And we can’t forget story time–the keystone f VBS!

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The One with Corporate Worship

Worshiping through song. It’s such an incredible thing. You come together with hundreds of Christ followers from all over the country and together you raise your voices in song, your hands in praise as one body. Even though most people filling the pews have never met, never been in the same church, never lived in community with one another, we share connection through the knowledge of these songs we call “worship songs” and through our passion for Christ
It is in an incredible thing that hundreds of people who live across the country from each other can know the same song. And not only that, but worship the same God. THAT is the binding factor. And it is incredibly encouraging. As much as I love worshiping alongside my church friends each week, there is something powerful in those moments when you realize it’s not just you, not just your church. There are millions around the world who believe and know that Jesus is the holy one of God
You are not alone. 

The One with the Sound of Music

After 3 months of practicing, 30 hours of dress rehearsals, and 13 live-show hours The Sound of Music production weekend is over. And honestly, I’m kinda sad to see it go. The show was phenomenal! You would not believe the quality of student actors and musicians–tremendous!
Being in the pit meant a front row seat to the action, the sounds, the expressions, the hilarity, the night-by-night variations in dialogue that kept us on our toes. Each night was just a *little* bit different from the others as the cast members came into their roles and felt the energy from the audience.
My husband sat in the balcony and took some fantastic pictures of the action. The costumes, the set, and the action are all beautiful. Enjoy!
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The Nuns Choir sounded beautiful and looked authentic
(and check out those mountains and the pit down below.)

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The “kids” were adorable as they met Maria and sang “Do Re Mi”

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Liesl VonTrapp (one of my students/teens, Lydia) & Rolph
in their secret gazebo dance to “I am 16, Going on 17”

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The Von Trapp Kids warmly welcome Maria’s return

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Caught in the action: Maria & Captain Von Trapp dance the Landler at the Gala 

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The children perform “So Long, Farewell” for the Gala Guests

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“Goodbye…Goodbye….GOODBYE!”
The Children say goodnight at the top of the steps (awesome set, huh?)

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The Family Von Trapp Performing at the National Festival
on the same night the Captain is commissioned by the Nazi forces

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And a quick shot of the keyboardist (Look at that posture, will ya!? LOL)

There were moments in some musical numbers that I wanted to shout “NAILED IT!” You know those parts that you practice over and over AND OVER again and you still struggle to get right? Well all three shows in a row, I played those parts perfectly. I was thrilled! Hours of practicing pays off (You hear that, students?! :D)
I have seen and heard great responses about the show and I’m so pleased to have been a part of it. One gentleman posted on the orchestra director’s Facebook and said, “I have to say, Mike…. I’ve been to every High School musical since 1997 (not kidding), and that was the best pit orchestra I’ve heard. Great work from everyone.” Wow! So cool, right?

And today I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. I’ve erased all of the pencil marks in my 140 pages of music and will return the book tomorrow. The show has come and gone, and I have accomplished something I honestly doubted possible back in January. Thank you, Jesus, for the opportunity to participate in the community like this, to use my gifts for your glory, to minister in whatever ways you allowed. 

The One with the View from the Pit

For the past 10 weeks, I have been hard at work learning the keyboard/synthesizer strings part of the full score to The Sound of Music. (Hence my absence this week–it’s show week, people. LOTS of rehearsals.) I was asked to be an adult member of the high school production’s pit orchestra, and it has been an unforgettable experience. The show opens TONIGHT and I couldn’t be more excited. With that in mind, I thought I’d share my…
Observations from the Pit {Orchestra}
1. It takes all of my self control to keep my eyes on the conductor, NOT THE STAGE. 
2. You miss out on a lot of awesomeness when you’re playing the background music for any given song or dance. 
3. Getting a “front row” seat to the action is pretty awesome though (for those few moments when we can just sit back and watch.) 
4. Listening to the vocals as you accompany them is an amazing experience. 
5. Finally coming to that moment of confidence, when you can say to yourself, “Hey, I’ve got this!” is invigorating. It means you can HAVE FUN playing your part.

6.  Being a part of something so much bigger that you is a really neat experience. Knowing that your music is just a layer of support–but one that is essential–is so cool. 
7. Those moments when it’s ALL YOU (or no music is heard) is a *little* bit intimidating. I’d better go practice again

8. Seeing those hours and hours and hours of practice time pay off is extremely rewarding. I needed a reason to practice. 
9. I don’t even mind having these songs in my head. It’s just good music. The hills are alive…I am sixteen…how do you solve a problem like a Maria…Edelweiss…Do a deer…

10. Getting to know the teens better–and getting to meet their friends–and goof off together is a fantastic opportunity. 
I never would have imagined that just 8 months into our newly-transplanted Western New York lives, I would have the privilege to be an integral part of the community, the schools. I’ve made some great connections, met lots of new friends, expanded my musical abilities, and gained some serious confidence. 
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJ7E7kJlZMI]

The One with the Love for Piano

Piano has played a part in my life since that first piano lesson in 1995. 
My relationship with this instrument (and the inseparable component of music) has ebbed and flowed over the years. There were months (maybe years, even) when I didn’t want to practice, the music was too hard, and I never played well at my lessons. 
I distinctly remember learning the music to Belle’s “Little Town” song from Beauty and the Beast. I loved that song and practiced it in earnest, day after day. It was challenging. (As a teacher now, I understand how much more difficult it is to learn to play those first few “contemporary” songs, particularly those that have lyrics to go along with them. The rhythms are drastically different from all of those lesson books’ contents.) And after all of my committed work, I would go to my lesson and play so terribly that my teacher was convinced I hadn’t even practiced. I don’t blame her. I really didn’t prove anything with my playing. But after months of working, I finally had it down and I played it at recital. My hard work had paid off! (Although, to be honest, I only remember one recital out of 18 when I played the song perfectly. Darn nerves.)
In the past 8 years, my piano repertoire has broadened, my knowledge of theory has deepened, and my love for music has blossomed. In the back of my mind, I always knew music would be used in my life, I just wasn’t sure how essential it would become.
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For the past 3 years, I’ve been learning to teach piano. I never would have dreamed that I would be good enough or knowledgeable enough to instruct others. But thanks to the encouragement and words of wisdom I’ve received from people like my husband, my Grams (a lifelong church pianist), Kevin’s grandma (a 25 year teaching vet), and many more, here I am teaching. And I LOVE it. It is a joy for me to instruct students–both beginner or advanced–and see them catch that joy for music. To play, to practice, because they LOVE it. 
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And all that to say, my piano playing has now become useful on a weekly basis–and even beyond the walls of the Sunday morning church sanctuary. I was asked by the high school band director to play in the pit orchestra for The Sound of Music. Woah! How cool is that? I’m playing the keyboard synthesizer strings (so I’m playing the violin, viola, and cello parts via piano). I was totally intimidated by the responsibility, but the past few Mondays, as I’ve joined in with the 20+ member orchestra and played my heart out, I couldn’t be happier. And WHAT FUN!? Even my daily hour or two of practicing is enjoyable. (crazy, right?) I can’t wait to see everything come together–stage and pit–next week.
And just last night I was asked to accompany two friends as they sing The Prayer at their college talent show this Saturday. A few years back, I don’t think I could have said yes on such short notice. But here I am, playing it well and eager to have their voices join in. 
I am so thankful for these talents God has given me. And I truly believe that He is pleased with my using them for His glory. May I continue to serve Him in my music.  
What talents has God entrusted to you? Are you using them or hiding them away like the servants in Matthew 25?

The One with the Official Music Studio

Friday afternoon brought a flurry of activity to our house. After having a super relaxing morning and afternoon, my brain warped into super-productive-ultra-creative-let’s-get-stuff-done mode. I’m sure my husband could have done without said mood, but he lovingly obliged. 
We had been dreaming about rearranging our living room, moving the piano, and making a more usable space out of our front “bedroom.” I honestly wasn’t sure this was ever actually going to happen. It would be a lot of work. Plus, who knew if the piano would even fit through the doorway or be too big for the space.

But I persevered. I found my trusty measuring tape and began the process of “staging.” I found that the piano would fit through the doorway–by barely an inch–and it would be the perfect size for the wall in the front room. Awesome. 

Now I had to tackle the other front-room-issues. This room had become a dumping ground for all things miscellaneous since our move. There was a large 80s style stereo system (complete with two 4-foot speakers), a stationary exercise bike, and a dresser that was functioning as my linen closet. Hmm. Think, Mel, think. 
I did some more measuring and discovered that the dresser would just barely (slash perfectly) fit into the space at the foot of the twin bed in the spare room upstairs. I immediately unloaded the drawers and transported them up to the second floor. It was at this point that I approached Kevin for help. 
I said, “I have a small job I would like your help with, and a big job that I hope you’re willing to help with.” He had no clue what he was getting himself into, but he jumped up ready to help. I was impressed. Brownie points awarded, good sir. 
The two of us hauled the dresser up our steep flight of stairs and managed to work up a bit of a sweat. It was harder than I thought it would be. Before taking the time to make the dresser feel at home in its new room, I hustled back downstairs to work with my husband before he decided he was done. :) 
We weren’t sure it was good idea to move the piano just the two of us, but we decided to give it a go. We carefully rolled it over to the front room, being careful to support the front legs. As we lined it up in the doorway, we realized how crooked our house really is. At the bottom of the door, there was at least an inch of space between the frame and the piano. At the top of the door, the piano was a quarter inch too wide. We needed one of us to lift and one of us to tilt the piano forward, while still supporting those front legs, in order to fanangle the instrument through the terribly-designed door. 
I climbed over the piano and lifted the back half while Kevin maneuvered the end. It worked! We were in! 
I finished the necessary wood-floor-dusting process and Kevin left me to “nest.” I spent the next 3 hours worked my tail off. I moved the sound system to the basement, the stationary bike to the kitchen. (Yeah, it looks kinda weird, but it doesn’t take up needed space, so that’s where it’s staying.) I hung up a full length mirror in the upstairs bedroom and made the dresser feel “at home.” I went to town with my drill, hanging up curtains in that bedroom and in the new music studio. I used a cute cloth shower curtain and rod to make a “door” for the upstairs bedroom closet. 
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My new music studio was coming together. With drapes hung, floor swept, space cleared, guitars displayed, piano in place, music posters hung, magazines laid, kid basket set, it was officially complete. And I am IN LOVE with this space! There are so many benefits to this arrangement. 
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1) I have a music studio
2) Students and parents will feel like they are in a piano studio rather than in someone’s living room. 
3) Kevin won’t have to tip toe around his house during lesson times (nor walk through a lesson to get to the bathroom.) 
4) The two of us have our instruments side by side for jam sessions. Maybe he’ll play his guitar(s) more frequently now.
5) I finally found the perfect space to hang my music posters. They weren’t quite “living room” appropriate, but they’re perfect for this space! 
6) I have an empty wall in the living room to fill with a new loveseat or chairs–more seating in our living room!
7) The futon in the music studio is perfect for waiting parents/siblings and can still be opened into a bed for guests.
8) I have space to lay out reading material for those waiting parents as well as display a basket of fun activities for patient siblings. 
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It’s perfect!!
Next on our list is finding that perfect loveseat or chairs for the living room, and procuring an official “teaching chair” (nothing fancy–old dining room chair would work) for the music studio.  

If you’re local and know of anyone interested in lessons, send them my way!