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: 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.

Wednesday Wonders: Finding Help When Art Scares You Silly

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Clarinetists with warm-looking fingers

Thursday night I was driving down to the church when I realized my fingers were freezing, my heart was beating, and my mind kept thinking of all the ways I was going to embarrass myself.

I wasn’t headed to a solo performance with my clarinet. It was the rehearsal with the choir.

The music I was playing for Lent only had one short run. The key signature wasn’t difficult, but the time signatures changed from 4/4 to 3/4 to 6/4 to 2/2. They changed repeatedly from measure to measure, even during my rests in places where I didn’t have them marked in my transposed version. I had to rely on the director to see when to play my notes on the entrances.

For those who don’t read music, imagine a dance where the rhythm keeps changing and everyone will see your neon tap shoes stomp on your partner’s toes if you get the count wrong.

The whole thing nearly gave me hives.

And I didn’t feel any better after we practiced together.

The rehearsal ended with me totally flubbing the last notes and everyone thanking me for agreeing to play for the church in three days.

I felt like they thought I was a lost cause, but they weren’t going to worry too much. It was just a regular Sunday, not Easter, after all.

I tried several mental tricks to calm myself, many of them things that I tell others when they are stressed out.

  • I took deep breaths.
  • I thought of other times when I had been successful.
  • I reminded myself that the people listening loved me and would still love me even if I played all the wrong notes and came in after the song was over. My family might even love me more out of sympathy.

These things helped a little. I looked for more ways to reassure myself.

  • I reached out to the pianist and begged her to help me since I could not practice the timing alone. (Miki agreed. She is such a blessing.)
  • I imagined feeling calm and successful after the piece was over.
  • I asked my dear friend Ruth to pray for my peace of mind.

These things helped more but not enough. My fingers were still so cold I could hardly work the keys on my instrument. (Cold fingers are one of my stress reactions. They are not helpful.)

Finally, as I was sitting through the beginning of the service, waiting an eternity to stand in front of the crowd, I thought of a writing idea I use when the words get mired in fear.

I told the song that if she wanted to come out of me, she was going to have to do some of the work because I wasn’t sure I could do it myself. I even got a little snotty with her because I was feeling so stressed about my potential public humiliation. (Never mind that I had agreed to play and, on some level, deeply wanted to do it.)

I had often talked to my stories this way but I had never tried it before with a song.

I instantly felt calmer. It was almost like the song had just been waiting for me to ask.

Ten minutes later I walked in front of the pews and played. I made a few small mistakes but came in at all the right places in the right tempo. Or maybe Lenten Song moved through me and managed her own entrances.

Either way, I loved the peace I found by talking back to my art.

It’s a little woo-woo, I grant you. But the older I get, the more woo-woo the the best parts of life feel to me.

I didn’t make this up myself, by the way. I got the idea from Elizabeth Gilbert’s first Ted Talk and from her book Big Magic.

I’m beginning to think that this sort of sass might work for any great endeavor we try.

Want to finish a degree? Take the classes, study hard, and then tell the degree that if it wants you to earn it, it will have to step up.

Want to raise children? Change the diapers, set limits, hug them often and get serious with the universe, explaining that you are going to need help with that insanely impossible task.

Want more peace in the world? Volunteer, be kind to others especially when they cut you off in traffic, and then tell the world that this is way too big of a task. Insist that you are going to need help to see what to do and how to get it done. A lot of help.

Get snappy with the degree, the universe, or the world. This is key. Maybe talking back shows you are not kidding around. I don’t know. I just know it works for me.

And then relax. The song, the degree, the grown children and the world might surprise you with the impossible things you can do.

They might even surprise you like “Lenten Song” surprised me with the exact right timing so that the people in front of me could hear the song the way she wanted to be heard.

May you rest in the help you can find when you need it-

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Here’s the “Lenten Song” written by Mark Hayes and the solo played by a flute.

And a few other wonders from my week:

A recycled bit on the wonder series:

I love the way writing and other art forms open my eyes to the surprises around me in my everyday life. Many of these wonders will also be in my Instagram account since I discovered the joy of that program during an advent photo project.

I collect these surprises like little rocks in a kid’s pocket. I may use them in a story. I may not. Either way, life gets a little brighter when I take the time to notice.

The Art/Prayer Intersection Part Four: The Spiritual Terror of Performance Art

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My hands freeze and I start shaking about 30 minutes before a performance.

Last weekend this nervous reaction came as I sat quaking at the back of a room filled with my dear friends in a women’s retreat in Port Orchard. My hands felt so stiff and cold I wondered if they would be able to move across the keys.

Gail saw me trying to warm my fingers and kindly offered to hold my hands in her toasty palms. That helped. A little.

“What in the name of everything holy was I thinking when I said I’d do this?” I asked myself.

But I knew what I was thinking before. I had wanted to play because I so enjoyed choosing the music and practicing it with my trumpet/piano playing son. I enjoyed picturing in my mind how I would play, and the way I might give a gift of music to those who heard me.

And as soon as I got up there to introduce my music the blood began to move back toward my fingers.

The playing was even better. It felt like singing out what was in my heart to touch others sitting nearby.

It was the first time I had chosen my own music for an audience. It was the first time anyone had cried when they heard me play. And it was the first time people had danced to my music. 

Those firsts were worth the cold fingers.

The terror of a performance art comes wrapped in the complete exposure to an audience. Unlike writing or drawing, I cannot revise or decide mid-way through this isn’t the piece I want to share.

Sometimes, though, that terror morphs into a joy that the other art forms cannot match. I connect with people in live time in a way that transcends all else. I experience a moment when the audience members wrap their hearts around me and warm my soul.

Because of this, playing my clarinet is one of the best prayers of all.

I did not record myself. That kind of internet terror I am not ready for yet, spiritual or not. Here, instead, are others playing the two pieces I chose.

May you know that these players, too, are receiving your gift of listening even as you hear the sounds of their music.

For the sorrows of life:

For the joys:

If you’d like to hear the terror live, I’ll be playing with the Puyallup Community Band on Friday, May 15th from 7:30-9:00pm at the First Christian Church in Puyallup near the fairgrounds.

I probably won’t have the cold fingers, though, because I’ll be tucked into a crowd of others singing their hearts into their instruments. The guy with cold fingers might be the spectacular tuba soloist Andrew Rink.

Here’s his picture and a link to his bio. His music is even better. 

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http://www.puyallupvalleycommunityband.org/student_soloist/2015.html

At the Liberty for Christmas

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“It turns out you play clarinet with my mother!” said the woman I see every morning when I drop my son off at preschool. I thought the new lady who took my place as last chair looked familiar at the practices.

Last Tuesday, I played a Christmas concert in the Puyallup Community Band at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup. The last time I remember being in the Liberty it was a dollar to see a movie. We saw The Natural with Robert Redford that was released in 1984. Yes. It was that long ago.

Much of the woodwork is the same. The theater is still small. The stairs to the women’s bathroom are ridiculously steep and definitely not up to code. Now the place has been remodeled and is known as a wedding venue. And I had a marvelous time in 2014.

At first, I wasn’t sure I would be able to manage. Work wore me out on Tuesday. I went to my mother’s house with the kids for dinner and lay on her couch, mustering the energy to iron my white shirt.

Things got better when I walked in the doors to see the guests finishing their dinners around tables with white linens. It’s hard to be tired in a room full of happy chatting people. I made my way down front where I would sit, starting to wake up a bit.

The woodwinds and small brass sat crammed in a pit with the big brass on the stage behind us. My clarinet playing neighbor had her family handing over the rails into the pit. Her 3 small grandchildren stared down at us while one of them sucked a pacifier.

This made me feel much less annoynymous. Usually I feel hidden behind the flutes with no one looking at me in particular.

Still. The sing alongs gave the audience something to do besides watch my fingers mess up. And I loved the narrated T’was the Night Before Christmas. At times I even could get to that place where I set my thinking aside and let my brain rest into the notes and the intense feeling of togetherness that comes from making music with others.

I left the Liberty full of energy with Sleigh Ride ringing in my ears on a night when I could barely drag myself off the couch to get there. Life can be really fine if you are in a band. Sarah’s mom and I are lucky.

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The Inexplicable Power of a Licorice Stick

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clarinet Sometimes when my reasonably fine life gets to be too much, I pull out my clarinet from its beaten case with the sides all sliced and peeling from when it faced various indignities on long ago band trips.

I open the metal clasps on the side and look into that velvet-lined interior to find the five pieces that make up my black wooden instrument. I feel the corks as I slide them together with the reed soaking already in my mouth (I’m always hoping it’s the right reed — the one that lets the tones flow out easily instead of one of those others that have me straining for each note).

I start with the bell, then the two middle pieces, building it from bottom to the top, sliding the bridge carefully together. Then I push together the barrel and the mouthpiece, pulling the barrel up to give it a slightly deeper tone as if trying to tune with a partner or band not in the little office room where I play. After all this, I’ll run through the chromatic scale, fiddle with the keys and maybe pass through my memorized “Sound of Silence.”

If my lip feels strong, I’ll play through old books, looking for fun things. But most of the time and especially if I’m playing to soothe some nameless hurt that came over me before I cracked open the peeling case, I’ll go back to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major K 622 Adagio.

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I’ll play it long and slow with its climbing and then falling sixteenth and thirty second notes and trills. It’s in a book I used for contest but not a piece I ever played when I was in competition. No music teacher ever corrected me on it, and I think this is much of why I love it. I have no idea how badly I’m doing it. I don’t want to have any idea.

Somehow, when I play, I feel close to the man who wrote it shortly before his death — that crazy genius who died 10 years younger than I am now over 300 years ago. The sounds soothe me in a way that hangs in the air long after I pull the pieces of my well-loved clarinet back apart to let it lie once again in the velvet lining. Thank you, Mozart. Here’s what I hear in my head when I play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcIyTiKwDvU