How do you spell "inspiration"?
A confession: one of my all-time favorite movies is THE WIZARD OF OZ. I love that the core lesson Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion all learn is that the things they wanted so badly and sought so tenaciously were already in them -- they just had to recognize their gifts and believe in themselves. It's a simple yet powerful lesson for us all, and it came to my mind again last week. I MC'd an Adult Spelling Bee to benefit a local Literacy Council. It's always great fun -- the three-person teams study hard and expend great enthusiasm and energy to do their best. They overcome nerves and apprehension to compete in spelling increasingly difficult words. All the participants leave the event feeling proud and satisfied, and knowing they've accomplished something they initially feared. Before the spelling competition began, though, one of the Literacy Council's students stood in front of that room of strangers and told the story of his journey from being a non-reader to becoming a reader. He is a 58 year old man who explained that he finally became fed up with his situation and sought help. He spoke with great admiration, appreciation and affection for his tutor, and proudly informed us that he'd recently finished his first book and had just started his second book. Please pause and think about that. At age 58, this man just finished reading the FIRST book of his life. And he courageously explained to us all how he had come to the point in his life to seek help to make it happen. It was an extraordinary story about an extraordinary accomplishment. And when asked what advice he would give to someone else needing literacy help, he replied simply, "DO IT! DON'T WAIT." What wisdom! What inspiration! We all face challenges and set goals in our lives, and sometimes it is daunting and scary to tackle them. The bigger the challenge, the more hopeless or unrealistic it can seem. I hope this story is a reminder that even large obstacles can be overcome, and it's worth at least trying to follow your dreams. So ... click your heels together and DO IT! DON'T WAIT!
What feeds your creative soul?
Having dinner with friends the other night, the conversation meandered to activities that nurture our creativity. One friend is a retired engineer, but late in life he began art classes. He discovered he has a talent for painting, and he said, "Art feeds my soul." He spoke passionately about the significance of having a creative outlet in his life. Another friend is a retired physician who is an avid Bridge player, cyclist, and skilled amateur pianist and guitarist. These passions have become integral to both friends' worlds -- as essential to their well-being as water and food. Other friends are passionate about their avocations, too, including art, music, writing, flying, cooking, knitting and other pursuits. What feeds your soul? How do you make time for these hobbies and interests? Did you develop these interests later in life? What advice and encouragement would you give to others who might be deferring pursuit of their hobbies, passions and interests because of jobs, families and other duties? Please share your inspirational "pep talk."
A musician friend once joked that the definition of "highbrow" is hearing Rossini's WILLIAM TELL OVERTURE and *not* thinking of The Lone Ranger. It's meant to be a humorous observation, of course, and not a judgement. His joke popped into my head while listening to Maurice Ravel's BOLERO recently. I was instantly transported back to my first job as a teenager working the box office at our local movie theater. The film 10 with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek was showing and although I barely remember a thing about the movie itself, I vividly remember that BOLERO was the running theme throughout. Many people associate certain music with the cartoons they watched as children, or with TV commercials. Is that "lowbrow"? I don't think so. I think it's a GOOD thing when people are exposed to classical music in any context. I have a degree in music, and have been listening to and performing classical music for decades, and many of those associations are in my head, too. Music is a living, breathing art form, and I think its power is strengthened by extra-musical associations. Think about it: if classical music weren't as powerful as it is, those commercial interests (Hollywood and Madison Avenue, especially) would not mine the repertory so extensively for their projects! So, if hearing Wagner's RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES makes you want to sing "Kill the Wabbit" or hearing THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE by Dukas conjures the image of Mickey Mouse with his bucket and mop, I say enjoy it, and remember you are in excellent company!
Although Mother's Day is now past, it's always a good time to thank and acknowledge moms who instill music in their children's lives. Both my parents loved music, and they owned a substantial and somewhat eclectic collection of LPs (and some 78s!) they liked to play in the house. Although she never had any formal musical training, my late mother played the piano we somehow acquired. She couldn't read a note of music, so the music stand on the piano sat empty. But I can remember being a little girl, and watching her sit at the upright improvising pleasant-sounding chords and melodies. In hindsight, I realize she must have had a terrific ear for music to be able to do that! She's the one who signed me up for those early ballet lessons, and eventually, encouraged my pursuit of the flute. It certainly had a lasting and positive influence on my life! So, in honor of ALL moms who bring music into the lives of their children and nurture their interests, thank you!
What's for dinner?
During a dinner party I hosted recently, there was a selection of recorded music playing for background entertainment. Throughout the evening several of the guests noticed and commented on how much they enjoyed particular musical selections. Ever since, I've been trying to pinpoint what it was about those selections that caught people's attention in such a positive way. It was hardly the first time I've played music during my social functions, and yet it is the first time I can recall getting so much positive feedback. The crowd included people who are knowledgeable classical music lovers, as well as those who are more oriented to popular music. My playlist was an eclectic mix of musical genres. It made me wonder what music others use for entertaining. Do you play music when you host a party? What music do you play? How do you choose your playlist? Do you craft something special for a particular event, or just pop in a random CD and hit 'repeat' on the CD player? Do you mix musical genres? Please share your ideas for what makes a good musical mix for entertaining!
Captivated by Music
A musician friend has been augmenting her busy performing and traveling schedule with visits to a prison to perform for the inmates. She plays classical music for these men, some of whom have never listened to this music in their lives. They are more than just receptive to this special treat of live classical music performances-- they become hungry and eager for it, and in some cases they quickly develop a deep appreciation and passion for this music. In post-concert surveys they admit to being deeply moved, and having their hearts and souls touched. They're also experiencing the gift of people caring enough to visit from the "outside" and engage with them to bring a new and enriching experience. The inmates are not the only ones having a new and enriching experience, either. You can read more about these extraordinary interactions here: https://www.insidethearts.com/neoclassical/2016/04/tonight-i-didnt-feel-like-an-inmate/
Some of the holiest of religious holidays overlapped this year - the Jewish observance of Passover began one day after the Christian celebration of Palm Sunday and continues just past Easter Sunday. A lot of the music on Sunday Baroque is religious because the musicians in the baroque era often worked for the church, but our weekly musical gathering is ecumenical and inclusive. It's a celebration of the MUSIC, and I hope each listener is nurtured and uplifted in a personal and meaningful way, whatever that may be. This year's overlapping holidays, and the inclusiveness of music, reminded me of a wonderful friend who died two years ago. He was raised in an observant Jewish family, and was an enthusiastic classical music lover. As his Bar Mitzvah celebration approached, his mother asked him for a list of gift ideas because family and friends were asking her. He dutifully made a list of mostly LPs he wanted for his growing collection. He was delighted to receive one of his most coveted items on that list as a Bar Mitzvah gift. It was a recording of George Frideric Handel's oratorio MESSIAH! Music really is a universal language in so many ways. Every week we celebrate music together on Sunday Baroque: profound music that often honors specific religious traditions, but also transcends them in its beauty and artistry. So whatever this season means to you -- Passover or Easter or Spring or perhaps something else -- HAPPY DAY!
Last week, I had the pleasure of spending several days in Austin, Texas helping KMFA radio station celebrate its 50th anniversary. That's a rare and wonderful milestone for any radio station, and it's extraordinary for one with a classical music format. The events included a brunch for station donors, and two concerts by the Austin period instrument ensemble La Follia, hosted by KMFA. These were just a few of the ongoing activities the station is hosting throughout the year to celebrate its half century of existence. One of the most impressive aspects I observed was the pervasive community collaboration. Donors were recognized for supporting the station for 25+ and 50 years. What a vote of confidence to have contributors of such longevity! The station also has partnerships with a variety of arts organizations and businesses throughout the community, and there is great enthusiasm for the station even from people I met on the street. Whatever they're doing at KMFA, they're clearly doing it right, and their community recognizes and appreciates it. Congratulations to my colleagues at KMFA, and to the good people of Austin for nurturing such a valuable community resource!
While attending a chamber music concert today, I noticed how well everyone in the audience seemed to understand the "rule" of not clapping between movements. And while this was clearly a knowledgeable and attentive group of veteran concertgoers, it also reminded me of something a wise friend once said: he loves hearing people clap at the "wrong" time during concerts because it means someone new is attending! The concert featured musicians including the renowned violinist and conductor Jaime Laredo, whom I had a chance to chat with informally after the performance about concert etiquette. We've all seen people clapping at the "wrong" time and others shushing them, and Mr. Laredo made a passionate case for cutting people slack for showing their appreciation when they feel moved, and for not shaming them when they do. Too many people already feel intimidated about attending a classical music performance because they don't know what to expect, what to wear, how to behave, and yes, when to clap. So here is a thought: those of us who are insiders can mentor, teach and draw in new audience members, bring friends, help them feel welcome, and guide them along so they can fall in love with this music, too. That's something we can all applaud whenever we feel like it!
With a little help from my friends
I recently organized a benefit concert for a non-profit agency that provides free tutoring to adults who need help improving their literacy skills. An array of friends donated their time and energy: musicians shared their talents, other friends rolled up their sleeves and gathered raffle items, designed and printed the programs, hosted a lavish post-concert reception, and provided muscle power to set up and break down the chairs and tables. My public radio colleagues helped generate publicity for the event to fill seats and raise awareness of the agency and its vital services. Every aspect of the event was the result of a successful group effort involving many hardworking friends. It was magical and gratifying and a big success. More and more, I appreciate the tremendous value and pleasure of collaboration. As a musician, collaboration is essential in ensembles of all sizes. And in daily life, constructive partnerships seem to yield the best outcomes -- as the saying goes, "Two heads are better than one." And for the literacy organization that benefited from the concert proceeds, the tutor/student collaborations yield the greatest successes, as well as meaningful and often lasting friendships. So, I start this new week and the arrival of Spring, with gratitude for my many delightful collaborators. We really do get by with a little help from our friends!