Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

The holiday season is upon us.  I don't know about you, but it seems to me that this season has been especially poignant.  What I mean by that is my emotions have been on a roller coaster.  I think that stems from losing my grandma a month ago.  I have moments of sheer joy, like when I'm rocking my son to sleep and singing him Christmas songs.  And at other times, I can cry at the drop of a hat, like when I play through a piece of sheet music that has Nanny's distinctive writing on it.

It seems this year my highs have been higher and my lows have been lower.

I'm not complaining because I do think this is part of experiencing life to the fullest, but it can be exhausting to run the gamut of emotions I've been feeling.

Nothing feels more like true comfort and joy than some good 'ole Christmas music.  On a whim, I bought two digital Christmas albums in the same day-- the whole albums!  They are Michael W. Smith's The Spirit of Christmas and Pentatonix' That's What Christmas Means to Me.  They do not disappoint.  I highly recommend them both to bring you much comfort and joy during this season.

I thought I would take a post to tell you about some of my favorite Christmas songs and why I love them.

"Jingle Bells"- I don't know what it is about this silly song, but it's Christmas personified if you ask me.  My kids at school just love it.  We perform it many different ways.  The 4th graders are learning to play it on their recorders.  The 1st graders can play it on xylophones.  The other grades have experimented with jingle bells and just their voices.  And I learned a fun arrangement of the song on piano this year.

"Still, Still, Still"- This is such a beautiful Austrian carol that I discovered a couple of years ago when I was a high school chorus teacher.  As soon as I heard it, I knew we had to learn it for our holiday concert.  I had my ensemble group perform the song, and it brought tears to my eyes.  It's one of those songs that will always transport me back to that special time in my life.  Try to find a version of a choir singing this song.  It's sure to touch you.

"O Holy Night"-  I don't know what it is about this hymn/ song.  It's magic.  I wonder if the Frenchmen who penned it realized that back in the 1800's or John Sullivan Dwight, the man who translated it into English.  Any version of this song is good in my book.  But last year, it became especially meaningful to me.  I was asked to sing it at my church on Christmas Eve.  I was excited to perform it, but grew concerned as the date came closer and I was struggling with losing my voice.  The day before, I almost asked the directors to replace me because I was almost sure I couldn't sing it.  But, I prayed for strength and sang it any way.  Below is a link to that performance.  Even though it's not perfect, it stands out as one of my proudest performances.

I pray that you will find much comfort and joy as you spend time with those who mean the most to you this holiday season.

Do you have a favorite Christmas song?  If so, I would love to hear what it is in the comments below.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Worth of a Music Teacher

Last week was a crazy week.

It was the week of our holiday performances at school.

Now, those of you who have been involved in any kind of holiday performance can probably understand just how busy this time of year can get.  Not only is there the holiday performance (many times, multiple performances), but all of the extra rehearsals you have in order to prepare for it.

Now, imagine being the director of the performance.  The workload just multiplies when you're actually in charge of pulling the whole thing off.  You're not just responsible for one part.  You're responsible for all parts.  And if something goes wrong, it's your fault, no matter what.

I'm very lucky to work with another talented music teacher, so we are able to tag team and help each other.  This year, she worked with the lines primarily and I focused on the music.

We did not have the luxury of being exempt from our normal classes while we were directing the musical.  Which meant, I was technically in charge of a group of students both sitting behind me and performing in front of me on the stage.  It was a good time to use the "eyes in the back of my head" that all teachers claim to have.  I don't know what I would have done if one of my out of sight students had done something wrong.  I suppose I would have had to stop the show, correct the student and move on from there.

Anyway, last week in the middle of all the chaos and madness and glitter and tinsel, I thought to myself, "Do people ever really see the worth of a music teacher?" I mean, we live in a country whose education is so regimented, the powers that be see more merit in removing the arts to make room for more math.  But does anyone really notice the magic that happens when a music teacher takes a bunch of rowdy kids, puts them in a small room together and teaches them to channel their endless energy into a beautiful melody?

Maybe it's something you've never thought about before, but so many countless, thankless hours go into a holiday production, and the music teacher doesn't even get the credit.  That goes to the stage performers who shine bright because of their solos or funny lines.

If you attend any musical performances this holiday, will you do me a favor?  Take a minute and see if you can locate the director of the show.  Watch him or her for a moment during the performance and you're likely to catch a person making magic.  Injecting energy and spirit into each and every line of a song that someone else performs.  Bonus points if you thank the music teacher who allows your loved ones to shine so bright on that stage!

Happy Holidays!

( Here are some of my holiday elves and reindeer getting ready for their 4th performance of our show in 48 hours!  No wonder they look tired!)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Practice in Heaven? (A Tribute)

For the past two days, I have been contemplating whether or not musicians have to practice in heaven.  For real.

Yesterday, around 11:15am, my grandma, beloved by so many, kissed her life on earth goodbye and went to heaven.  I have no doubt whatsoever that she is in heaven.  She's been a faithful follower of Christ her entire life.  And what a beautiful life she lived.

(This is a picture a picture, but one of my favorites of Nanny and me from my wedding day.)

Next week will be her 86th birthday. Of her 86 years of life on earth, my dad guesstimated that she played piano for 75 years.

Now, if there's one thing I know about my Nanny, it's that she was a great piano player.  She was never afraid of the challenging pieces and always practiced more than anyone I know and made lots of notes in pencil on her music.  If it's any indication of how much she loved music, up until a few weeks ago, she still taught piano lessons and took them herself.

I am the woman I am today in part because of her.  There are so many traits about my Nanny that I try to emulate on a daily basis, such as her zest for life, her courageousness, and her frugality, but it thrills me the most that we both share such a passion for music.

I haven't always enjoyed practicing my music.  But, now knowing that she's in heaven, I feel like practicing will be a little less of a chore for me and a little more of a reminder of my grandma and her love of music.

And so, I wonder if she has to practice in heaven.  Because you can't convince me otherwise that she is the piano player for heaven's choir.  I wonder if the music played and sung in keys nonexistent here on earth just come naturally.  Or if she still takes a moment (whatever that equates to in heaven) to go through the celestial score in front of her.

I miss you, Nanny.  I will keep your music alive here on earth, and I will think of you each time I sit down at my own piano.  I hope to join you in a heavenly duet someday.

(A picture of my Nanny's piano where she practiced daily for many years of her life.  I will especially miss her signature style of playing those ivories.)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Little Blessings

Time for a little honesty:  there are days, even seasons of my life when I wonder if what I do makes any kind of difference to anyone.  Sometimes I question why I had to fall in love with music and writing instead of, say, brain surgery.  Music is so subjective; everyone has their own preference and feelings about what they like and why.

Still, music is my thing.  It is the thing that I will do if I never make a cent from it, just because I have to make music.  But sometimes it can get discouraging when you feel that no one even cares to hear it.

I was having one of those pity-party days last week as I was working at my elementary school job.  Thinking to myself, "What if I take all the time and effort to create this music that no one cares to hear?"  It was about that time, my 3rd grade class arrived for their lesson.  As I greeted them at the door, one precious girl stopped and handed me a bracelet.  "I made this for you, Mrs. King."  The bracelet has white round beads with a silver treble clef charm.  It's lovely.

After exclaiming my excitement over the gift (because, I don't care what it is, all teachers love getting gifts from their students), I asked her if she really did make it.  She said yes.  I put it on and wore it the rest of the day.

Ok, so maybe millions of people won't be inspired and touched by my music, but that little girl was.  Even if she's only heard me sing silly songs.  My music impacted her enough to think of me when she crafted a beautiful personalized gift.

The lesson is this: whatever you're doing, whether big or small, matters to someone.  Keep doing it.  Keep writing, even if you think no one reads.  Keep making music, even if you think no one hears.  Keep playing ball, even if you think no one cheers.  I think you'll find that someone is, in fact, paying attention.  Do it for them.  And do it because you can't not do it.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

New Opportunities

What a year it's been!  And it's not quite over yet.

If you had told me back in January all of the opportunities I would get with my music this year, I wouldn't have believed you.  It all started when I decided upon my motto for the year: "Make Something Happen".  You see, each year, I come up with a theme or motto to base my entire year around.  This year, those three little words kept coming back to me, so I decided to let them frame everything that happened in my life for the next 12 months.

Then came the song, "Make Something Happen".  Initially, I was irritated when I woke up singing the chorus and the bridge that I either dreamed or composed in my sleep.  When I looked at the clock, it read 5:30am and I had 40 minutes left to sleep.  The last thing I wanted to do was leave the comfort of my warm bed to go work on a song.

Still, I grabbed my phone, trudged dreary-eyed to the bathroom, shut the door so I wouldn't wake up my one-year old son, and hit record on my phone.

A few days later, I put some verses and chords to the chorus and bridge, and I had a song.

The song inspired the project, and fast-forward 11 months, and I am getting ready to release a 5-song album to the world entitled Make Something Happen.  I am really pleased with how this project turned out and am so excited to release it soon.

This week, I'll be traveling to Nashville for the 4th time this year to discuss some exciting music business opportunities.  What a whirlwind, landmark year it's been!  I wouldn't have it any other way!

(Doing some tracking for my project, Make Something Happen, right on Music Row in beautiful Nashville, TN)