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Monday, June 24, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Dare to Make the Tough Decisions

One of my favorite quotes is from Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, in her book Eclipse. In this quotation moment, Bella, fresh from high school graduation, is in the car with her father, and they are discussing important decisions. Bella's father Charlie tells her: The right thing isn't always real obvious. Sometimes the right thing for one person is the wrong thing for someone else. So...good luck figuring that out.

Last week I wrote about life's challenges and riding roller coasters. A major part of life's challenges is making tough decisions. I label them "tough" because the real thing is not always the obvious answer and because sometimes what is right for someone is indeed wrong for someone else. There are so many twists and turns in the decision process that a person can get all turned inside out and twisted like a pretzel without actually finding any clear sense of direction or answer.

Still, decisions need to be made, whether it is about a toxic relationship, an elderly parent, or a disappointing work environment. Without decisions, we drift, we think less of ourselves, and we continue to devote unnecessary mental and emotional energy to something that needs to be taken care of.

I do not intend this article to be an explanation about how to make decisions. You can find many such articles readily on the Internet, and many of them have very sound suggestions for learning how to make decisions and to trust the decision-making process. No, my purpose in today's article is to urge you to take that first step toward searching the Internet and making the decision, not how to do it.

Actually, decisions are rather easy to make. We merely need to pick one option over others. I believe what keeps us mired in the indecisive fog is the possibility that our decision might be wrong or that it is not the best decision we could make considering the circumstances.

There is a psychic energy cost when we are faced with making decisions. Each thought we have costs us something in terms of time and mental energy, and in many cases, physical energy as well. When we vacillate in making a decision, we use up time and energy thinking of ways to avoid making the decision. Yes, we call this process "rational thought," but in a way this process is really a sum of tactics we use to avoid coming to a decision. Should I dump this guy or hang onto him for fear there isn't anyone else? Should we switch teachers? Should I do something about my elderly aunt? Should I quit my job? Unless we sit down and go through a decision analysis on paper, we probably are wasting a lot of our time and energy dithering about clouds and the weather in space and fooling ourselves into thinking that we are actually weighing factors that will weight and influence our ultimate decision. Uh huh.

I am fairly certain that we all have a few decisions that need to be made that we have not been making. So let us resolve this week to take care of that unfinished business. Find a quiet time, perhaps while you drink your coffee in the morning and contemplate your day, or while you drink your herbal tea in the evening and contemplate your day. Have a pen or pencil and paper handy, or for those of you who like to mind map, have that computer program or Smart Phone app handy. Here are my suggestions:
  • Make a list of those open loops, those subjects that you need to make a decision about. Merely list them. Do not attempt to solve these issues at this moment. We are removing emotion for the time being and merely making a list of items that need our attention in some fashion.
  • After you have made your list, turn your emotional side back on and look through the list for the one thing that makes your stomach turn, your fingers grow cold, or your heart anxious. This is probably the one thing that most needs your attention right now. Let us take that one item off the list and put it on a separate piece of paper.
  • Now you can begin to analyze your options. If you mind map or practice clustering, go ahead and do that. (You can search the Internet for more information about mind mapping or clustering as idea-generating tools). If you prefer, you may also write columns of pros and cons. I sometimes use an outline program, because I find that I can backtrack my own thoughts, spark new ideas, and organize my thinking as I go along. Sometimes a decision has many steps or parts to it, and making a list will reveal any of the possibilities that something else is standing in the way of making a decision. For example, if I want to sell my horse, I may vacillate in my decision about selling the horse because I have no idea how I would go about the horse-selling process. Making my various lists will reveal these initial steps that I need to take in order to position myself for a potential sale.
  • Finally, take a step on your decision. Do something. Anything. Any small step that acts upon your decision. Why?
    • First, we sat down and wrote about it, even if all we did was make a list. The act of sitting down and writing is a step that will help to break whatever inertia we created when we gave ourselves permission to wallow in the mental fog we pretend is the act of decision-making.
    • Second, when we take a step in any direction, special things start to happen. It is as if the energy we created just by moving or looking in a particular direction starts drawing other things like a magnet to us. If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours. -- Henry David Thoreau. Countless times I have thought about a particular person or considered a particular subject, and the person will call me or I will receive unexpected information about the subject. I am familiar with reticular activation -- that phenomenon that makes us see yellow cars every place after we have bought our own yellow car -- but this energetic coincidence seems bigger. Without this magical step in a particular direction, all the wonderful synergistic coincidences will not spark.
    • Third, dithering about decisions makes the decision-making process exhausting and difficult. Making a decision is actually ridiculously easy to do. What makes the process difficult is that we are generally afraid that we will make the wrong decision. Having made several wrong decisions myself, let me assure you that it is alright to change your mind. I am told that pilots make hundreds if not thousands of course corrections in the course of a flight plan. Why could we not do that too? When we make a decision, if it is not the right one, we will probably figure that out in moments. Changing our minds is perfectly acceptable. Our paths are lined with different doorways that lead to many new hallways that ultimately end up in many new places. Our decision today is merely one of the many possible decisions that we could make. Lawyers understand this, which is why civil contracts provide for various remedies in the event that circumstances change and different economic decisions need to be made. Need to break a lease? Go right ahead, because your current lease contract provides for solutions.
    • A good friend asked me for some advice once about a career change: giving up his music career in favor of working full time in the website design business, which he currently does on a part time basis. He told me that his parents supported the decision to change careers and that his wife supported his not making the change because she feared that he would miss the music too much. My advice? Who did you argue with? I asked. My friend actually laughed, because that gave him the answer he needed. Apparently his wife knew him best of all. I learned this decision-making technique years ago when I was puzzled about which high school class ring I should buy. I asked everyone for their opinion, and then I realized that I argued with everyone who picked something other than the color that I ultimately selected. In that I had my answer.
This week, let us take a few moments out of our schedule and make a few of those decisions that we have delayed making. What are some issues that you need to face?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Ride a Rollercoaster


Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

When I grew up, we celebrated my birthday every year at a local amusement park. I was a frequent rider of roller coasters, as was my dad. My mother did not enjoy the ride and preferred to sit and wait and hold our belongings while the rest of us had a blast. When my niece was in elementary school and would visit me every summer, we enjoyed visiting Fiesta Texas and riding the roller coasters. We especially liked the end of the day when we could ride the coasters over and over, sometimes even getting off the car and back on again within a minute. When my niece was afraid of a new type of coaster, we would analyze it together and then think of a way to "ease" ourselves into trying it. We succeeded each time in challenging ourselves to try the new ones, even if they did look scary because they ran backwards, upside down, loopy, and feet dangling. It was all a great deal of fun in the end.

My niece has grown now, and I have had no reason to go to the amusement parks for many years now. Two years ago, though, I visited my father, who was suffering from an illness that kept him pretty tied down to the house. He suggested that I amuse myself at the park one day. Remembering how much fun I had with the coasters years ago with my niece, I gladly drove to the park by myself.

I hopped on the first coaster I found -- an older, wooden kind that bumped and jerked and banged and squealed around the course. I managed to hang on, but I was terrified. When I got off the coaster, I almost felt a spark of nausea. What was this? Have I reached the age like my mother when I can no longer ride the coasters? I considered this, and I thought about how many other rides I would not be enjoying, since they also involved the thrill of risk and the fear of crashing. I sat on a park bench with an ice cream cone and thought for a long time that day about what this fear of riding the coasters meant. And this was just the usual type of coaster. This was not a newfangled kind with the loops, feet dangling, backwards motion, upside down, and supersonic speed. This was the usual one, the one I had grown up riding.

It was a dark series of moments on that park bench as I thought about the future -- my future -- at amusement parks. All of this thinking took place with the squeals and shrieks and roaring noises that form the backdrop of the roller coaster amusement park. In those moments, I came to a decision that I would not be defeated by this setback. I would not give up. Of course, as most of my readers already know, this is typically the way I deal with things eventually. 26.2 miles? Why yes, thank you. Where do I start? What? I have to finish it within a certain time period. Pfft. Nah. I'll just go 26.2 miles, thank you. 50K? Yes, I do believe I can stay the course, even if I have to crawl.

I approached my decision to meet the roller coaster challenge as I would meet any decision -- like a Suzuki teacher would. My first question: What do I need to do to bring me to the point that I can ride the things?

I just needed to do it, I decided. I needed to get back up and do it. OK, maybe not right away. First I will ride that Pirate ship swingy thing, because that always bugs my stomach. That is what I did. I rode it and endured it. Then I went back to the original scary coaster and rode that again. The second time wasn't that bad, actually. I felt better about my decision. Then I looked for another medium-to-easy ride. Then I went for another coaster that looked to be about one step up from the one I had first rode.

I alternated this plan of challenge versus easier for the entire day. I circled the coasters on the park map and made mental notes of the rides that I had accomplished. I walked around that park all day long and into the evening as I continued my plan. I noted that with each coaster, I got stronger and stronger. By the end of the day, I was ready for the ultimate coaster challenge -- the coaster that starts out by going straight up and then straight down. I had circled this monster most of the day, several times in the day, and viewed it from all angles. I had listened carefully to the reports that excited youths shouted to their friends about the rush and the experience. I was ready. I had saved this challenge for the end of the day, and the line was long enough to make the waiting and the anticipation excruciating. My father called me sometime while I was in the line to ask where I was. I think I had been at the park for 8 hours by that point. I explained that I was waiting to go on my last ride, and that I would come home after that.

The ride was fabulous! I do not know whether I would want to ride it again, but I can go through my life with the knowledge that I did it.

This experience was 2 years ago. This year I returned to visit my father, and we went to the park together. My father did not ride with me as he would have in our younger days. He rode a few things with me, but then he preferred to sit and wait and talk to a friend while I indulged my coaster fun. I approached the first coaster with a little trepidation. It was the coaster that I had first experienced two years before. I had a history with it, and I wondered idly about what kind of experience I would have this time. I prepared myself mentally for the challenge, whichever way the challenge would turn out to go.

I need not have worried. The ride was terrific. Oh yes, it was fast and scary, and bumpy and jerky, but I had no trouble handling it and finding that place of enjoying the challenge. I did not worry from that point on. In fact, every roller coaster I rode that day was fun. I enjoyed them all. I did not have time to ride all of them, and I did not want to tax my father and his friend's patience while they waited for me to ride.

Where am I going with this? There are several lessons to take away from this experience, or my experience. "Roller coaster" is merely another word for challenge, and life will be full of challenges if we want to experience life to the fullest and the richest. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience."

Do not let too much time go between challenges. I let several years elapse between my roller coaster experiences, and the result is that I forgot several things, such as what the experience would be like and how to handle it. Do not allow yourself to be benched for too long. Get out there and try again.  Often.

Develop a plan to meet the challenge. Do not rush into an experience without contemplating the best way to approach the challenge. Observe. Reflect. Consider. Create a plan to face the challenge, which will allow for setbacks, rest, and new evaluation.

Enlist the help of others. Although I did not have anyone to help me through my coaster crisis two years ago, I did glean information from other people this time. While I stood in line, I talked with folks about the ride experience, and I used this information to form a mental picture of how the ride experience would be. I prepared myself mentally with the help of information derived from other people's experience.

Use your mind to prepare a picture of the challenge and how to handle it. I am a firm believer in the power of visualization. Anyone who has ever woken in the middle of the night with night terrors -- racing heart beat, paralyzed scream, and panting breath -- will realize that the mind is powerful enough to believe that a monster is coming out of the closet and the body should prepare for fight or flight, even when the reality is that there is nothing there. Our mind is a powerful thing. We have the power to figure out how to use a computer, drive a car, and use all sorts of electronic tools. It is also indicative of how powerful our mind could be if we turned it to the task of visualization. Visualize a successful outcome. Be prepared to succeed. I ran many marathons, and I formed mental pictures of my routes, which carried me through the difficult stages of the races.

Put in the effort. Practice the skills you need. Two years ago I developed a plan to inure myself to the challenge of riding the roller coasters. I exposed myself time and again to each coaster so that I would lessen the fear. This is skill practice. Do it over and over. Again. One more time. Ability development is mostly about repetition and review.

There is one more lesson that I can offer. The entire experience is so much more rewarding when you share it with someone else -- a friend, a spouse, a relative. During my recent park experience, although I spent the afternoon with my father and his friend, I did spend some time alone in the waiting lines. I met several families, and in the case of one ride, I spent quite a lot of time in conversation with two younger boys, about 9 and 10 years old. They were terrific boys, and we had a great chat about the various rides the boys had been on and which coasters and rides the boys recommended that I try. I ran into the boys again later in the day, and we compared our experiences and reconnected. The rides together were so much more fun because I could share them with these two youngsters. I almost wish that I could have hung around with the two of them for the entire day,

Now look back through my list. Do you see how this works as a teaching plan?

Do not let too much time go between challenges. Offer students a little piece at a time, but do not allow the students to rest too much in between. Stagnancy is all too easy. Growth does not occur in this state. Stagnancy is good for rest periods, but a challenge outside the comfort zone is where the real learning occurs.

Develop a plan to meet the challenge. Suzuki teachers attend teacher training workshops to learn how to teach the Suzuki materials in a linear progression. Even university instructors have standardized syllabi that guide teachers and students alike in the progression of skill development. Each student (and teacher) and student-parent-teacher relationship is unique and will present different challenges and opportunities to create new plans to address the individual issues. Nothing much happens though or within a reasonable amount of time without a plan that systematically addresses the challenges, opportunities, and individual issues.

Enlist the help of others. Parent and teacher work together in the Suzuki world. Teachers in general work together to help each other come up with solutions to creative teaching problems. We have teacher-student-parent forums. There are blogs like this one to help teachers and parents. There are collective organizations that provide encouragement and support for teachers and parents, and there is nothing like the Internet to provide us with just about every answer for every issue and problem.

Use your mind to prepare a picture of the challenge and how to handle it. Visualization is the most powerful tool that I know for handling challenges. I never fail to note how the Olympic athletes spend time in quiet reflection with their eyes closed before beginning their next event. I am certain that this quiet reflective time is spent conjuring up mental pictures of successful efforts and outcomes. Playing a musical instrument has much in common with athletic endeavors. Musicians would do well to borrow from this most successful athletic technique.

Put in the effort. Practice the skills you need. This is self explanatory, yes? We cannot accomplish something unless we actually do it. Talk is useless. Eventually we need to step up to the plate and take a swing in order to figure out where we go next. Nothing happens if we just sit back and talk about our experience. Some of my favorite lines in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, occur when Mr. Darcy's obnoxious aunt claims expertise that she does not actually have:
"[M]usic is of all subjects my delight. . . . There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully."
Uh huh, we all giggled when we read that. To claim proficiency without actually doing anything? Comical, that.

Share it with someone else. Challenges are best shared. A physics teacher explained how ladies' footwear and the different heels on the shoes change the way that pressure is spread across the wearer's foot. Larger, wider heels spread the pressure more equally across the foot than the localized, pinpoint pressure experienced with a spiked heel. So it is with challenges: as we share the pressure of the challenge among a wider range of people, so the pressure is lessened a bit on ourselves.

Challenges are a part of life, and life lessons are everywhere. Dr. Suzuki recognized this phenomenon when he made it his life mission to teach children and parents in order to raise children to have noble hearts and admirable character. Dr. Suzuki used the violin as the vehicle to reveal these life lessons. The truth is that everything we do and face in life will reveal these life lessons if we are open to receiving the instruction. For me the challenge has been to ride the roller coaster and to continue to ride the roller coaster throughout my life.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Paul Olefsky (1/4/1926 – 6/1/2013)

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Paul Olefsky was the son of prominent Russian immigrant musicians, Maxim and Rita Olefsky. His formative studies were with Johan Lingeman and Daniel Saidenberg in Chicago. His further studies were with Pablo Casals in France; Herbert Von Karajan at the Mozarteum; and Pierre Monteux. He matriculated from the classes of legendary greats FeuermannPiatigorsky,Primrose, and graduated from the Curtis Institute in 1947. Mr. Olefsky won the first prize of the prestigious Naumburg International Solo Competition in 1948, and he was awarded the first prize of the Michaels MemorialInternational Solo Competition in 1953 over a field of artists that included famed pianist, Van Cliburn.

Applauded by leading music critics worldwideMr. Olefsky performed as a cellist and conductor on five continents in major music centers during the course of his distinguished career. Mr. Olefsky was an Emeritus Professor of Music from the Butler School of Music,University of Texas at Austin. The United States Government awarded Mr. Olefsky the Civilian Service Award for a ten-month USO sponsored armed forces tour in WWII.


As the youngest principal cellist in the history of the Philadelphia Orchestra, he appeared as soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Carnegie Hall with EugeneOrmandy, introducing the premier performance of the Virgil Thomson Cello ConcertoKleinsinger Concerto with the Symphony Orchestra of America (Korn), Detroit Symphony (Paray); Chicago Symphony; Oxford, England Pro Musica; English Chamber OrchestraOsloPhilharmonic (Kondrashin); Bombay, and India Orchestra to name a few. His international broadcast credits include: USA-ABC; CBS; NBC; Voice of America; England (BBC); Radio Brazil (Villa-Lobos Festival); Radio Salzburg, Austria; Radio People’s Republic of China; Radio India; Hong Kong Radio; Taiwan Radio; and NHK Japan. The Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund for music sponsored his solo European tour.


Mr. Olefsky appeared numerous times as soloist in Carnegie Hall, Library of Congress, and Lincoln Center as conductor/cellist; as well as at London’s Wigmore Hall and Purcell Room; Vienna’s Beethoven Saal and Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. He served on the jury panels of the Piatigorsky International Competition (Violoncello Society of New York), and Interlochen International Competition (General Motor & Seventeen Magazine).  He collaboratedand appeared in premier performances with such composers as Ginastera, Gonzalez, Kodaly, Milhaud, Shapleigh, Tcherepnin, Thomson, and Welcher. He was the director of the Casals Festival in Zermatt, Switzerland and invited noted Ecuadorian/Austin pianist Alegria Arce as one of the featured artists; the Oxford Pro Musica Festival, England; Mozart Festival of Washington D.C.; Milhaud Festival; Amatius International Music Festival, and the Amatius Chamber Music Series at the Dell Campus in Austin.


Among his other highlights, he appeared as a soloist in Viola Da Gamba performances with the National Symphony at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC and Baltimore in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. He also performed solo gamba concerts for the American Society of Ancient Instruments. He was invited to join informal chamber music concerts with Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Mischakoff and Ernst Walfisch. His Brahms Double Concerto appearances were with Schmuel Ashkenasi, Gabriel Banat, Stuart Canin, Mischa Mischakoff, and Leonard Posner.


Mr. Olefsky's renowned recordings include six concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra as conductor/cellist for Amatius Classics along with his concert cellist wife Hai Zheng; the Amatius Orchestra of New York; cycles by Beethoven, Brahms, Grieg, Kreisler (with pianist Alegria Arce) and Schubert (with pianist Walter Hautzig), Kodalyand Rachmaninov (with pianist John Perry); Boccherini,Tcherepnin; Tchaikovsky; and Vivaldi on the labels of Amatius Classics; Americus Record, Monitor; Musical Heritage Society; Voice of America; and Vox. As the cellist of the Olewsky trio, he and his relatives, violinist Julian Olevsky and pianist Estela Olevsky, recorded the complete Arensky, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky trios. He was especially proud of his daughter, Maxine Olefsky, who is the second cellist of the Boston College Symphony Orchestra and is a Biology major and Theology minor at Boston College.


Mr. Olefsky performed and conducted master classes at Oxford and Cambridge, sponsored by the European String Teachers Association. He gave master classes and festivals around the globe. Before coming to Texas, Mr. Olefsky was on the cello faculty at the Peabody Conservatory and the Hartt College. Mr. Olefsky was awarded the Mary Helen Thompson Centennial Fellowship and was the director of the UT Plan II Honors Chamber Music Program in the College of Liberal Arts at University of Texas at Austin. He was the Artistic Director of the Amatius classics. He and his wife are members of the Littlefield Society and University of Texas System Chancellor’s Council.


To honor his former teacher, Mr. Olefsky’s former student, Gregory McCoy established the Paul Olefsky Cello Scholarship. The endowed scholarship was approved in 2012 by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System to benefit The University of Texas Butler School of Music. In lieu of flowers and remembrances, contributions may be made to the Paul Olefsky Cello Scholarship fund:The University of Texas at Austin, Butler School of Music, 2406 Robert Dedman Drive, Stop E3100, Austin, TX 78712-1555, Attn: Development.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Quick Practice Tip: Story Book Practices for Group Classes

I got this idea from reading a post from Suzuki teacher Mary Lou Roberts of Michigan. Mary Lou is a guitar teacher trainer and was one of the faculty members of our former Texas State University Suzuki String Institute (TSUSSI). Mary Lou suggested that parents turn practice time into story time as well. As the child performs a practice task, the parent then reads a page from a story book.

I have used this idea in my group classes. We get pretty energized with activity in my group classes. I have a lot of personal energy in general, and I learned early on in my teaching career that I needed to be mindful of the energy level I instilled in my students right before I released them back into the care of their parents. I recall one of my early group classes and how much fun we had. I thought we had a great class that had been full of exciting activity and fun. As I released the students at the end of the class, one of my mothers said to me, "Thanks a lot." She was referring to the hyperactive behavior of her child. I had caused that. I had not thought about rounding out the class activity to bring my students back to a place of calm. That was a valuable lesson for me.

Since that time, I am more mindful of how much energy I have at the end of my group classes and lessons. I am careful to shape my lesson plans so that the more active part of the class or lesson occurs somewhere in the middle and then I allow a period of time that brings the students to a calmer place. We often end the classes with a sitting activity. I certainly switch to a sitting activity whenever I sense that the energy level of the class or lesson has risen higher than it should for optimum learning.

Story book practice is a great way to end a group class. This year I have found several short books about music or the violin, and we have read these books during our group classes. Sometimes a book will last through two or three classes. I have become quite adept at reading upside down as I hold the book open for the students to look at while I read. Many times the students themselves volunteer to read a passage or two and take turns reading the book for each other. We discuss what we read as we go along, and it is a lovely way to calm everyone down and yet keep everyone engaged and interested in an activity that relates to music. Part of teaching also involves teaching life skills, including social skills, and these story book practice sessions allow students to interact with each other in a relaxed and informal manner. We discuss vocabulary words as we read them, and I ask questions that engage the students in searching through the illustrations.

One book was not as good as we had hoped. We read it anyway, and I let the students discuss those parts of the story that did not make sense or that were unsatisfying. Ultimately, the book did inspire the students to create an alternative ending, and the students asked if they could play Twinkle Theme outside. We have also discussed writing our own stories for story book practices.

Story book practices may also encourage good attendance at group classes. During lesson weeks, the students see the book sitting there on the piano, and they are reminded about the story book time during group class. Students do not want to miss out on what happens next in the story.

There are many good books and stories that relate to violin or other important matters and that would be good for child instruction. I have listed many of these books in my Resource Store, if you are interested in adding story book practices to your group classes.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Celebrate Milestones


Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

Yesterday was my studio's spring recital. We discovered several things.

First, the studio has grown to the point that we have outgrown the venue we used yesterday. Although I enjoy using the community room of our local library (they maintain a grand piano in very good condition for the room), there are not enough chairs and space to accommodate all of the students and their guests, especially considering that not all the students were even able to participate. So, we will begin looking for more commodious space for next year.

Violin Studio (west side)
Violin Studio (east side)
 Second, there are several good reasons to celebrate our achievements with a big recital event at the end of the school year. The recital is a big milestone for most families, as it represents the end of a school year's worth of practice and lessons, and the recital presents an opportunity to pull everything learned throughout the year together for the final recital of the season.

Touchstones

The recital is one touchstone to measure students' progress. For example, as my students performed, I found myself recalling the students' performances in the recital from last year. One student was in the last half of book 4, and in this recital she was now solidly in book 5. Another student performed last year in book 5 and now was solidly in book 6 with one of the best "La Folia" presentations I have ever witnessed. Another student played the first song in book 5 last year and presented the last song in book 6 this year. While each student performed, I mentally created placeholders in my mind to help me remember the students' lines of progress for next year's recital.

Piano Studio
Messages

The recital provides parents with reassuring messages that all the hard work that parents have put into the students' practices and lessons during the school year have paid off. The students really did make progress. The hard work really mattered, parents think, as they witness their children performing with self-confidence and assurance and take their final bows with smiles to celebrate their success.

Reality Check

The recital provides parents (and sometimes students) a reality check that success results from the formula of:
  • daily practice (discipline, perseverance, memory, concentration and focus, parental involvement)
  • listening to reference recordings (environment, memory, role modeling)
  • consistent attendance at learning events (lessons and group classes, environment, memory, role modeling, parental involvement)
Skimp on any one of these areas, and parents and students may pay the price later in a recital situation. Students may find that they have fallen behind other students who began lessons at the same time. Although I never advocate that parents and students compare themselves with others, the reality check is that parents and students will be mindful of where they stack up in the scheme of things. If parents make this comparison in order to remind themselves to keep to the plan and do the work that is required, then this aspect of the recital is a good thing, as it will benefit the students in the long run to have the parents recommit to being engaged in their children's lessons. Neglect any aspect of the successful learning program, however, and parents and students may sadly discover that the students are unable to perform and participate with the level of self-confidence necessary to experience a successful recital event.

Community

High Schoolers!
The recital event also allows the studio community to pull together for a common purpose. Most of my parents and students arrived early to help me set up the venue. We moved chairs, set up the piano, and readied the reception tables for our after-recital fellowship. Several advanced students volunteered to help the younger students check tuning, store cases out of the way of the audience, and set up the physical accoutrements needed for the performance (music stand, foot stools, bench cushions for the piano, piano accompaniment books, and several mothers displayed bunches of flowers). During the recital, one student stepped up to assume the role of stage manager; he consistently set up the music stand when needed and moved it out of the way after use.

After the recital, parents arranged the food table to accommodate the students and other guests. The students and their families and guests shared congratulations on successful performances, and everyone joined in the picture-taking. We all pitched in to clear the venue of chairs and piano so that we could restore the venue to its original empty room state. And, of course, everyone was eager to take home all the leftovers!

Commitment

The recital also provides parents, students, and their teacher an opportunity to renew a commitment to continue the work that we have been doing. In some cases, students graduate and move on to the next phase of their life, and music will play a role in some way for that student. For the parents, they will have the strong bond and relationship forged by the effort that the parents have put into their child's music learning program. For parents whose students are still in school for another year or more, the recital reminds the families of the valuable lessons that music study provides for the family and its members. Parents and students alike renew their commitment to continue lessons. It was all worth it, and what will come in the future remains to be seen, but it is worth the effort to travel down that road and find out.

My graduating senior!
As the students grow up, it is important for us to provide these opportunities to celebrate the milestones along the way. These momentary snapshots will serve as important memories when these students move on to the next stages of their lives.

I am so proud of my students and their families! The recital milestone is important for me to recognize how much work my students and their families accomplished and be assured of the high the level of commitment that everyone has given to the program. I am pleased beyond words to share this momentous milestone with my studio family!