Story Wonder: When that Thing You Hated Becomes Your Love

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I never meant to disappoint Mr. Zorro. Seriously, who could want to disappoint a teacher with a name like that?

He wasn’t as swashbuckling as the guy in black, but I liked Mr. Zorro. I agreed to do the solo contest under his guidance in college like I had done so many others before that–just because it was the thing to do. He chose Scherzo in C Minor by Paul Koepke and edited by H. Voxman.

The cadenza was the absolute worst. Every time I approached that string of notes in the score, my brain would start some sort of arooba noise, like a submarine dive alarm.

(Warning: This video is beyond annoying and way too long. I can’t be held responsible if you listen to the whole thing.)

This internal panic did not, as you might imagine, help my performance.

I think Mr. Zorro said something like: “Well, I thought this piece would bring out your tone but the notes held you back a bit.”

He was being kind. The contest left me numb, and it wasn’t long before I decided my part time job rolling tables, balancing beer bottles on trays, and folding napkins for the hotel banquets took too much of my time to continue with music.

I left the clarinet for a long time. So long, I almost forgot the sting until one day I started noodling on that old piece again with Mr. Zorro’s long ago notes telling me to memorize and use the H key for the trill.

Now, I love that cadenza if you can believe it. I love the roll of it and the way the notes pick up speed going downhill. I love that my fingers now find the notes like they would not when the judges sat trying not to shake their heads before.

For Mr. Zorro. I recorded my efforts last night. I won’t lie and tell you I got it all right. I didn’t. I do much better when I know I’m not recording with a demanding cell phone that insists on turning the screen to record my 1970s ceiling for you instead of the face down black screen I wanted.

It also helps when I’m not fearing the moment the 6-year-old barges in the pseudo-studio to ask a pressing question about whether he can have ice cream or not.

But the cadenza is better, I’m telling Mr. Zorro and you. Much better than it was in college. It’s better, I am sure, because I love it like I never did before.

Which just goes to show me once more.

I never know what joy might come around the corner even in things that used to freeze me in a panic.

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Wednesday Wonders: Seeking Life’s Rhythm

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Last night, the director kept stopping us in that annoying way that band leaders have.

“We’ve got to get those triplets sharp. Some of you are thinking you can just slip through them at a relaxed pace and it’s throwing us off,” he said.

“I am not in a parade up here waving at you like a princess from a float.” Here he wiggled his fingers at us like he does when he needs the whole note people to shush so the melody people with their quieter instruments could get heard.

And then he would have us practice. Again. Start at measure forty seven. Again.

We didn’t always get it exactly right. But he made us repeat until it was at least better. After three or four or more times, we got a little more together or the parts balanced each other out. If we remember to do it that way on concert day, it will be a lovely small miracle.

The band isn’t the only place where we humans in community need to be in sync or to quiet down so others can be heard. 

I just got off of teaching our last quarter this August 17th. This summer more than any before it, I felt the distinct pain of working through the time when other teachers are off. I have never had three whole months like many teachers get, but our college used to line up better with the K12 rhythm when we finished at the end of July.

I am not complaining, exactly. I adore my time off and there are even benefits to getting out so late. I will have time to help my kids get going in their own schools. I get to enjoy fall in ways that many others might not with day trips to the mountain while others are gearing up for their new school year.

But I feel apart. Separate. A little like I am playing triplets that don’t match the ones played in the next section. Or worse. Like that one instrument that comes in during the measure when the whole band has a rest.

This asynchronous rest of mine has taught me something. It matters when I am together with the group. There is a power in the rhythm of habits for writing and music practice that gets even stronger when others work along with me.

I am not going to whine about it (much more). Instead, I am going to remember that lesson the next time I am in charge of my own schedule.

May you find joy in the rhythms of your community-

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P.S. We’ll be playing at the Showplace Stage near the Blue Gate on Thursday, September 8th and Monday, September 19th from 7:00-7:30 . Come by if you’d like to hear whether we remember what the director said.

We’ll play Hogan’s Heroes, The King and I, and the Pink Panther along with a few others.

Finally, for just a little extra, here’s one of my all time favorites on rhythm and what it’s like to align with an even greater song.

Wednesday Wonders: When to Call the Book Done

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The other day my son said, “You know you’ve got a LOT of books on writing on your bookshelf. Have you read all of those?”

Mostly, I told him. (He wasn’t particularly impressed — just astounded that I could stay focused for that long on reading books about putting words on paper.)

And he doesn’t even know about the courses I’ve taken and the blogs I’ve read.

Writing takes a lot of reading.

And, of course, it takes a lot of writing words.

In my online reading, Randy Ingermanson once explained to me that the average writer puts over a million words down before she or he becomes a published author.

The million words could be several different books or it could be the same book rewritten over and over again.

I don’t know how many words I’ve written. It’s hard to keep track.

My very first novel is at the back of my file drawer where it will stay. I think I drafted 50,000 words or so. My second short historical fiction set on Whidbey Island is now around 30,000 words. Here is where it gets tough to track, though. It was 50,000 then I cut it down to 40,000. Then I added some. Then I cut it to the bone at 20,000. I added again to 32,000.

I have a third historical fiction set in Tacoma with a word count around that size, too, including the cuts and additions and whatnots.

Those are the larger pieces that are easier to keep track of. I’ve written scads of shorter pieces, some published, many more not, and some even on this blog. I’ve grown fond of mathematics but not fond enough to actually add up all the single words I’ve written to see if I’ve gotten to a million words. I know publishing isn’t anything like that straight forward anyway.

(You wrote the millionth word! Now you are published! Not exactly.)

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I declared my my second short novel finished last week. Over the last five years I drafted and revised, took classes with it, had my critique group read and re-read it through and then section by section. I’ve had beta readers take a look at it and acted on all of the feedback I’ve received in one way or another.

I’m ready to stop cutting and adding. I’m ready to turn my attention to other things and let the million words add up on some other project.

At first I decided to consign it to the bottom of a drawer, tucked into a file next to the first one about the fairies and the the other worlds full of trees and magic.

Then I read this by Priscilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor, one of the those books my son saw on the shelf:

“Work never sent out is very likely never completed. The author never has to stand by it, for better or for worse. It is never exposed to a stranger’s eye. It is never received with love, hate, indifference, or with interest. It has no audience, no public. As a result, the writer is never obliged to see it through a reader’s eye.”

Well, then.

I guess I’ll send those several thousand words out, roll with rejections, and get down word counts in revising my third novel.

I suppose I knew that all along from my music and drawing. Unless I share what I am doing, the art wilts in a corner. More often than not, I never make it at all if I know no one will ever see it.

May you know the joy of calling things finished even if that means you have to take a risk to get there-

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Wednesday Wonders: Young Clarinet Player Wins Award Named After a Clarinet Playing Doctor

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Special Note: This is a piece I wrote for the Puyallup Valley Community Band, a group I rehearse and perform with throughout the year. It’s a wonder to me that music can mean so much to so many at all ages. 

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For Katriel Looney, reeds are the biggest problem with playing the clarinet. It’s a constant struggle to find good ones and maintain a decent supply.

“Brass players have no idea,” she said.

Recently, she found enough good reeds to audition with Puyallup Valley Community Band and win the 2016 Lovezzola Music Award. Originally called the Outstanding High School Soloist Award, the band renamed the scholarship after a local doctor when he passed away in 2012. Dr. Mike Lovezzola was a founding member of the Puyallup Valley band and played clarinet with the group for twenty-two years. Looney is the first clarinet player to win the award since Lovezzola left the bequest to help fund it.

Looney’s private teacher Stan Purvis knew she was going places when he first met her in her 7th grade year. “I don’t think I’ve ever told her anything she hasn’t remembered.” He praised her innate sense of tone, ability to project, and knowledge of phrasing.

Katriel isn’t a newcomer to the Puyallup Valley Community Band. She’s been rehearsing and performing with them since she was fourteen and the youngest member of the all ages group.

Now eighteen years old, the Puyallup High School senior practices an hour a day after her chemistry class at Pierce Community College where she is also a Running Start student. Not short on ambition or talent, she is considering a double major in molecular biology and bioengineering along with music performance.

For the Lovezzola audition, she played the same concerto by Carl Maria von Weber that won her a college scholarship to the University of Washington and a superior rating in the Valley Regional Solo Ensemble Contest.

Purvis said he knew she needed to challenge herself with the more athletic and aggressive piece to expand her abilities even though it was not the more lyrical style she often favors.

His encouragement and her years of hard work paid off while Lovezzola would surely be pleased to know she found the right reed.

You can hear Looney perform Weber’s Clarinet Concerto in a concert with the band at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20th at First Christian Church of Puyallup, 623 9th Avenue S.W.

Admission is free.