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

Cooked Butter is Delicious

Dear Child of Mine, 

One thing you’ll learn quickly is your mom likes loves to bake cookies and concoct cakes and create candies. (At least I hope you’ll find this out relatively early in your life…but maybe not, because from what I hear raising kids takes a LOT of time. Baking may take a back burner. pun intended.) The oven was on from 10am to 5pm today, as I was busy making sweets for my piano studio Christmas Concert which is coming up Friday.

I already have multiple batches of Homemade Spritz Cookies and Mint Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies in the freezer, but I today I added Chocolate Covered Butter Toffee sprinkled with sea salt to the list.

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Seriously, child, this candy is like a miracle in your mouth. It’s THAT good. Who knew a pound of butter could turn into something so delicious? (I try not to think about the pound of butter become pounds on my hips. I truly believe indulging in your favorite foods is totally part of living fully. We just have to have the self-control to not cross the line into gluttony. But that’s another sermon for another day.)

I hope my piano students and their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends will enjoy my sweet little Christmas gifts to them. Their support is continually an encouragement to me and to my business and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to thank them. 

Are you going to have a sweet tooth, I wonder? 

Will you be playing in a piano recital one day? 

Time will tell.

Love you,

Mama

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Piano Recital [Year 2]

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Though I started teaching piano in September 2009, June 2012 was my very first piano recital as a teacher. I hosted a second recital at Christmastime at a local assisted living establishment. This year, I was excited to have 16 students performing in the recital (doubling my 8 from last year.) They all did a tremendous job.

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I played duets with many of my students! Fun!

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laughter is key

It made my heart sing to see our church sanctuary filled with at least 100 people in the audience, many were friends and family of my students and some were there as my beloved support system. (If you came just to support me and listen to some lovely music, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.)

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My mom, grandma and Chuck made the drive from Ohio to encourage me and they did much more than that. Grandma played a 20 minute prelude while families found their seats, and did a fantastic job of entertaining our ears and calming some nerves along the way. Both Mom and Grams helped tremendously by keeping the cookie and punch reception flowing and plates filled. Thanks!!

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Kevin was my faithful photographer and captured hundreds of phenomenal photos to remember the occasion. And yes, he even played a four handed duet of The Entertainer with Matilda, one of my Middle School students.

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One very thoughtful florist from our church learned of my recital and coordinated the Sunday floral arrangements with my piano studio colors, and even made pipe cleaner music notes and “Eccles Studio” letters to accent each bouquet. So wonderful!

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I was thrilled to present two special students with the Annual Awards of Excellence for Most Accomplished and Most Improved Pianists. It was a very hard decision as many of my students showed noteworthy progress and have used their piano skills in more than just personal practice time.

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After presenting those unique awards, I gave first year (with me) students a music tote bag with my Eccles Piano Studio logo, and to my second year students, I presented these sweet new tshirts. (I wore mine yesterday and already had someone ask about piano lessons! Score!)

Eccles Piano Studio TShirt

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Way to go, everyone! I look forward to another year of lessons with you (and some newbies, to total 23 students in the Fall…and growing! Yay!)

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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!
 
 

The Start of My New School Year

It all began at 3:30 yesterday afternoon when 2nd grader, Zach, walked though my front door. Piano lessons are back in full swing now! Yesterday, five new students had their very first lessons with me and I love each of them already. I can tell this is going to be a fantastic year. 
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And to think, I was somewhat nervous about lessons starting again. “Nervous about what?” you ask. That the hours would be too long (teaching till 7pm), that I wouldn’t remember new students’ names, that I might now have too many students, and the ever-present worry-whisper–that I wouldn’t be a good enough teacher
But all of those fears subsided after each student filed in, took their seat at the piano, and opened the first pages of their lesson books. I feel excited, confident, and in love with piano teaching all over again.
My first student for Wednesday will be here any minute. I’d better bring out that plate of fresh baked chocolate chip banana mini muffins!  

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 the Second First Piano Recital

In May 1995, with shaky hands and butterflies in my stomach, I played at my very first piano recital–a piece by John Thompson, Fairy’s Harp. (I know all of these details because my awesome mom saved every single one of my recital programs–all 15 of them–in a neatly organized file folder. Thanks, mom.) 
Seventeen years and one month later, I hosted my very first piano studio recital with 8 wonderful students and 30 of their friends and family members. 
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I am a piano teacher. wait, let me say that again. I am a piano teacher. 
After nearly 4 years of teaching, the reality has finally begin to sink in. I teach students how to play the piano and they have learned and proven themselves as musicians, no matter the level. Wow. I have been continually overwhelmed by this thought since my recital on Saturday afternoon. I am praising God for the gifts He has given me, the musical education I have received through Mrs. Colvin, Mrs. Heydenburg, Mr. Kirby, and Dr. Livesay, and the encouragement and tools I have been given from my husband, my grandma-in-law, and my Grams. Oh! And not to forget the beautiful Baldwin piano passed on to us by Kevin’s parents after we were married! What a gift! 
Ok, ok, enough sentiment! on to the recital! 
I had a hair-brained idea to put a fun twist on the traditional formal recital. What if we held the recital at a more relaxed, cozy venue like a coffee house, and invited the guest to chat and mingle throughout the event–making it less stressful on students and more enjoyable for all in attendance?

Thanks to a friend/piano studio parent/coffee house owner, the idea worked beautifully! We set up tables of lesson information and lovely color programs (thanks to another parent!), an assortment of snacks including confetti sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, pizzelles, and hummus (all made by yours truly), and an original designed cake congratulating our students (homemade by a studio parent). 
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Recital Cover_Spring 2012
program cover
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isn’t this cake awesome?! Thanks again, M! 
Moments before the recital began, I gathered my students in the front of the coffee house to lighten the mood, calm their nerves, and pray together. It was a blessed time.
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And then they were off! I sat beside the piano after introducing each student and having them share the title of their piece(s). I am almost certain I was more nervous for them than they were for themselves. :) The audience enjoyed each song, and I was proud watching them perform well! I even had a couple opportunities to play duets with my students–always fun. 
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V and I played The Beatles I Want to Hold Your Hand
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T and I played a fun arrangement of When the Saints Go Marching In
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The Crowd Applauding
After the students finished playing, it was my turn. (Thankfully, my nerves had been all used up while watching my students play, so I wasn’t nervous at all. :D) Because of the numerous requests I received to perform at the recital and since many of the studio families had never heard me play, I thought it would be a nice surprise. I picked out my piece with a few particular studio moms and daughters in mind, as they are fellow-fans of a BBC/PBS tv show Downton Abbey. I was so excited to be playing the theme song to this riveting 1900s drama, and it seemed that everyone loved it.

After taking a break for snacks and conversation, it was time to present the awards and gifts. I created two awards that will be presented each year–Most Improved Pianist and Most Accomplished Pianist. My hope is that these awards will be highly sought after each school year, motivating students to receive top honors in the studio. In addition to those specific certificates, I recognized each student for an area in which they were excelling.

Most Dedicated to Practice. Passion for Perfection. Most Elegant Musicianship. Strong Theory Comprehension. Most Accepting of Challenges. Expressive Piano Compositions. 

And finally, I was excited to give each student a gift–one that I hoped would be useful as well as enjoyed. These personalized music tote bags accomplished both with great success, and they proudly display Eccles Piano Studio on the side. I love them! 
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And before we knew it, the first Eccles Piano Studio recital (and a first recital for 6 out of 8 students) had come to an end. WHAT A SUCCESS! 

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Like I say on my website, I have a lot of FUN with my students! :D



Special thanks to my husband for photographing the event, and to my dad for making the 3 hour drive to be with me on my second-first piano recital. It was a joy having you there, Daddy! 

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?