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Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Quit NowMy wife and I were discussing the children last night and their activities. Among that discussion was music lessons. One of the things we told our children is that they will learn to play a musical instrument starting no later than their 12th birthday. We’re not expecting any of them to become a virtuoso, but we do want them to experience what it’s like, to learn how to read music, and gain some appreciation for what musicians go through. My wife and I both grew up playing flute, and we know that it has been beneficial for us. We wanted to pass on those benefits to our children.

Our oldest two boys have taken up instruments. The oldest plays guitar. His younger brother, the iconoclast, chose the ocarina. My oldest loves playing. He willingly practices every day, usually multiple sessions every day. He’s fully embracing some of the lessons from Talent Is Overrated. My younger son, however, doesn’t enjoy structured playing all that much. Both boys have instructors. We told them that if they picked an instrument we were familiar with (flute and french horn for both of us, and trumpet as well for me) we could tutor them or we could find an instructor, if they preferred that. If they picked an instrument we weren’t familiar with, we’d have to find a tutor. We did happen to find an ocarina tutor, but unlike in Taiwan, there’s a limited amount that he can do without building a curriculum from scratch. As a result, my younger son’s tutor also introduced him to the recorder.

My younger son has done his part for 18 months. He has learned an instrument (actually, two), can read music, and has demonstrated a willingness to practice a piece until he can play it to the expected level. He has performed on both recorder and ocarina at a recital and did a fine job. He has shown the ability to play as a soloist and with accompaniment. He has done everything we’ve asked and expected. As a result, last night my wife and I decided to give him the option of stopping music lessons. It’s not something he’s passionate about. We’ve accomplished the objectives set forth with asking him to learn an instrument. Now it’s a question of whether or not it’s something he wants to continue to do.

In other words, from a parenting perspective, we decided it was time to quit. He won’t be graded on it for school this year (we homeschool) and we won’t insist he practice and continue to attend lessons. Now it’s his turn to determine whether or not to quit. I know that since he’s had the time to learn the ocarina and has gotten some skill with it, he will always play it from time-to-time. I’m like that with flute. However, I don’t want him taking lessons anymore if he doesn’t want to. I’d rather he pour the time and energy into something he’s passionate about.

In life, especially as we pursue our goals, we have to know when to quit. Maybe something is a worthwhile goal, but there is a bigger goal it’s taking us away from. If that’s the situation, and we have to choose, it’s likely time to quit the former and pursue the latter with the resources we get back. We don’t want to quit too early. We want to reap the benefits of pursuing a goal or endeavor. However, we can’t make decisions based solely on what we’ve already spent. That time, that energy, those resources, are already sunk cost. They are in the past. If the goal isn’t worth pursuing anymore or if the endeavor isn’t worth what we’re continuing to put into it, then it’s time to quit. Too often I’ve seen people continue down a particular road because of the miles they’ve already traveled. Whether or not they realize it, they’ve let the past imprison them in the present with further incarceration ordered for the future.

Every so often take time to assess where you are and what you’re doing. Look at each goal, each area of interest and effort, and each endeavor carefully. Judge your involvement and where you want to go and be in the future. If something doesn’t fit anymore, don’t be afraid to call it quits. Realize the impact, don’t do it too easily, but have the courage to make the change. And then pour the freed up resources into other areas of your life.

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flute Want to get better? Be intentional about it. Plan out your development. Think about what you need to do to improve and build a schedule or routine. This isn’t just for weight lifting, but for most anything in life.

A month ago I was playing some hymns on my flute and realized that I hadn’t technically challenged myself for a long time. About the hardest thing you see in hymns are eighth notes in 6/8 time at slower tempos. If you don’t know what that means musically, consider it to be a relatively easy task, something you would expect someone who had been playing only a couple of months to be able to handle. I picked up something, a solo piece that I used to use as a warm-up exercise, to see how I would do. I struggled.

It was then that I knew I wanted to get back to my old level of playing. To do so would take a lot of work. I didn’t want to go about things haphazardly. I wanted to make solid progress continually. However, I know I don’t have the two to three hours a day I used to spend practicing. Some days I may only get a 15 minute block. I need to make that time count. It was time to be intentional. Here is the schedule I devised depending on how much time I have:

15 minutes:

  • 5 min: warm-up – scales, lower notes held
  • 5 min: fingering & tonguing exercises
  • 5 min: 1 or 2 passages in chosen piece

30 minutes:

  • 5 min: warm up – lower notes held, chromatic scale
  • 5 min: scales
  • 10 min: fingering & tonguing exercises
  • 10 min: work on chosen piece

1 hr:

  • 5 min: warm up – lower notes held, chromatic scale
  • 10 min: scales
  • 15 min: fingering & tonguing exercises
  • 30 min: work on chosen piece

There isn’t anything fancy about this schedule. However, it hits everything I need in a reasonable breakdown of time for each type of practice. I use the timer on my smartphone to get me within the allocated time.

Look to do something similar for the areas you want to improve. Think about how best to progress and build yourself a schedule or routine. Then execute on it and stick with it. Be intentional about planning your practice. You’ll accomplish far more than if you go after it haphazardly.

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At the Kelley household we have a standing rule with regards to our homeschool: you must pick an instrument and take lessons in it. Any reasonable instrument is acceptable. So far my oldest chose the traditional guitar. His younger brother has gone complete non-traditional and went with ocarina. Ocarina can be a serious instrument, especially when that is the level of expectation. So what’s the deal with music?

Music Requires You to Learn Something Completely New

When you first learn to read music, that’s new. It’s not like reading that you’ve done thus far in your life. Learning music requires you to learn specific theory that has as its closest application some parts of physics and mathematics, but isn’t really similar to other subjects. Therefore, music requires you to think in new ways. This expands what and how you consider things. That’s probably why you see so many music types in IT, especially as IT becomes more and more complex.

Music Requires Diligence and Practice

There are some kids who are naturally good at the sports they play. Until they hit the collegiate levels, they don’t really have to try. We call them natural athletes. Some kids are the same way with certain academic subjects. I went to high school with a whole group of them. Music is the great equalizer. Even if you have immense talent there’s always something more difficult out there to try. If nothing else, trying to play with others in a way that is blended and sounds awesome is a new experience each and every time.

Music Teaches One to Listen Carefully

This starts with making sure your instrument is in tune or that you’re singing on pitch. You must listen and you must correct yourself or you will sound terrible. When you’re playing as part of a group, you must listen to others around you. I will never forget in elementary school when I got a chance to play the tympani. I really went to town, banging them with abandon. The problem was I was so loud that you couldn’t hear anyone else. I wasn’t making music, just noise. To make music you must listen. You must listen to yourself and you must listen to those around you. If you’re a solo performer and you have a wind instrument, then as that horn warms up from you blowing in it, its pitch will change. If you’re out in the sun, the pitch will change. So you’re constantly tuning, or at least, you should be. That requires listening.

Music Teaches Precision

If you’re going to play a well known piece, you have to play it precisely. Sure, you can add your personal touch and that’s expected. That’s part of the creative process. But if I try and play the Stars and Stripes Forever like a dirge, people are going to go, “Huh? That’s not right!” And I can speak from personal experience that messing up the piccolo solo on that march is something you really don’t want to do. You stand out and it sounds bad. Really bad. Therefore, you must be precise.

Music Teaches Cooperation

I am primarily a solo player as a flutist. I don’t even tend to play with piano accompaniment. However, I can play with a group because part of being able to play music is being able to do just that. There’s a different dynamic at play when you have to cooperate with others. If one person tries to hog the spotlight, folks know it. Therefore, you must cooperate. You must be part of a larger team. If I didn’t take anything else away from my experience as a member of The Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes, it was this lesson.

Music Teaches Failure and How to Try Again

When you practice a difficult piece, you will fail a lot. The key is not to give up. When you try to put a piece together as a whole band or ensemble, it takes some work to get everyone together. That means, yup, failure. Failure is part of the learning process. It is not the end. And music, better than anything else I know, teaches that you can overcome failure if you keep working at it.

 

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It was in the movie I’m Gonna Git You Sucka that I first heard a quote about every hero needing theme music. Given that the movie was a parody, it mocked the fact that previous movies would do just that. However, a lot of us have a song or two that gets us going. For instance, a lot of couples have their song, which was usually a song playing at a memorable time early in their relationship. As individuals we usually have a song that picks us up, lifts our spirits, and makes us feel better. Or we have a song or two that motivates and gets us back at attacking life. I was reminded of this in a post at Small Notebook. Music is powerful. It can completely change our mood. It can invigorate us with new purpose. Have you identified the music which does this for you? Have you found your theme music?

Earlier in life mine was Basil Poledouris’ Riddle of Steel / Riders of Doom from the original Conan the Barbarian movie, starting at the 3:30 mark. It actually came about as a joke, as my cousins and I were sitting around playing Shadowrun and I was playing a throwback dwarf character who had “learned” of the dwarven heritage by reading old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books. One of my cousins said, “Hey, I know what would be the perfect song for this character!” He proceeded to order the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack and thus this song became attached to me. So much so that it made an appearance on my marriage day. My wife and I were walked over from the chapel to the reception hall by a bagpiper (a Citadel tradition) and as we stepped into the reception hall, my cousins had cued up this song.

But we all change and my “theme song” has changed to Last Impression from Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz.

A few of my friends groan because I chose an anime song. But It more reflects my attitude as I’ve matured and as I’ve come to understand the need for the love of Christ to be foremost in my life. I love it musically because it is is made up of three clear movements which reflect how I often operate: slow as I build up to action, frenetic as I am engaged, and then slow again as I reflect upon and verify what has been done. The song isn’t a Christian one and the love talked about is between two people (as described by a kiss), however, the overarching themes point to some of the things I hope for as applied to my faith:

  • There is great strength in love, not only God’s love for us, but our love towards Him and each other.
  • Love will overcome our faults, especially as God’s loving work in us through the Holy Spirit makes us more like His Son.
  • God’s love will heal our wounds, both physical and emotional.
  • War, strife, and shows of force will eventually end. Yes, they are sometimes the only means in our messed up world and God will use these in the end to bring about lasting peace (see Revelation), but once Christ fights that final battle, that’s it. We will only have peace.
  • Jesus went to the Cross in a moment of great sorrow, but it is because of the “dream” of sinners forgiven through His sacrifice. I am one of them, though I do not deserve His grace.

And also, the relevance of the song to the movie Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz has meaning. It is the closing theme. It comes as the Gundam pilots have fought a desperate battle against those who would once again bring about a state of war. They’ve intentionally pulled their punches, using their skills and their equipment to disable instead of kill. When all looks lost, a Gundam pilot reappears with a badly damaged Gundam, Heero Yuy in Gundam Wing, and fires a shot to end it all, knowing that his blast could very well kill the love of his life, who is a prisoner in the HQ he fires upon. It carries the very same idea as the Father sending His Son to die on the Cross, to complete a mission only He could do. And thus this song also reflects upon my greatest hope, especially given my military roots and background:

He shall judge between the nations,
   and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
   and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war anymore.

– Isaiah 2:4, ESV

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I really enjoyed Francesca Battistelli’s first album, My Paper Heart. It quickly became one of my favorite albums from my collection though I’m typically a Gospel rap and urban Gospel kind of guy. For instance, her song Beautiful, Beautiful chokes me up every time I hear it. As a result, I was really looking forward to her next album, Hundred More Years. I picked it up last night and have listened to it through a couple of times and definitely recommend it. It has a lot of the same upbeat style from My Paper Heart, but there are some slower and more thoughtful tracks, too. Overall, great messages in the majority of the songs (only one I have any real issue with, and it’s not so much with the song, but with the fascination on angels).

This is the Stuff

This is a light-hearted reminder of how we often get so caught up in the little things that we forget “how big [we’re] blessed” by God. It’s definitely a bridge from her first album to this one as the style is very similar. As my wife put it upon hearing it, “Her stuff always sounds so upbeat.” And this song definitely is that way. Rather than hit us over the head with how we focus on the wrong things, she invites us to come along with her as she reveals her own foibles.

Constant

We are told to rely on God for everything and that’s what this track communicates well. It is a pointer back to Psalm 139 at the very end, too, with the words:

Before I was a thought on earth
You knew me then and You gave me worth
When all of this is said and done
You will be the One I’m standing on

You Never Are

This is a song about grace. “You never are” too far gone from God, too “hidden in the dark” or too sinful for God to redeem. It’s something God has been hitting home with me lately, to remember that I am not perfect, I will not be perfect while He is sanctifying me, but that I am to keep trusting, to keep leaning on His grace, as I seek to be obedient and faithful to Him. This one covers the first part of that, and asks why we can’t forgive ourselves even though “God is bigger than the times we fail.”

Angel By Your Side

I’m not a big fan of this one and it might have something to do with how watered down “angel” has become, even within the Church. It sounds like this song is from the perspective of a friend instead of Christ and while angels provided comfort, we aren’t angels. I know that’s nit-picking, but as watered down as doctrine has become in this church and knowing how certain youth respond to anything angel-related, this one gives me pause. Musically it’s a great song (and it’s not upbeat) and I understand the sentiment, but I won’t list this among my favorites of her work.

Motion of Mercy

I really like this one. It starts with where we all start: spiritually bankrupt before God. We’ve come to the point where we realize we are sinners in need of a Savior. Through His mercy He redeems us but that’s just the start. We are changed and we gain a desire to serve, to love, to “give something for nothing” and to “be a glimpse of the Kingdom that’s coming soon.” Awesome way to state what we are to be as Christians and why we are to be that way.

Emily (It’s Love)

When I saw the title of this one, I immediately went to the lyrics. As I read them, it hit me how appropriate they are for an “Emily” I know who is struggling with questions of self-worth and who at times feels she can’t do anything right. I know we’re all at that point sometimes in our lives, and this song speaks well to that state, reminding us:

If you feel you’ve had enough
He’s never given up
It’s love

God doesn’t give up on us. We should not give up on ourselves.

Good to Know

Once we are His, we can always come back to Him. He never lets us get so far away that we can’t come back home. That’s the message of this song and it speaks a lot of truth about grace, forgiveness, and the faithfulness of our God. Like any good Father, sometimes He lets us go ahead and make the mistake because that’s the only way we’re going to learn. This song speaks to that, too.

So Long

We all have dreamed where we could leave our problems behind. It’s a fantasy that won’t come true in this sin-filled world. However, we have a Savior who will help us even when the days are darkest and when we need someone to give us comfort that we can’t find any place else. I’ve seen some of those pitch-black days and I have found that with Christ they are bearable. Without Christ I lost control. And that’s what Francesca Battistelli so eloquently sings in this song.

Don’t Miss It

A very upbeat song that reminded me a lot of the opening track’s of Natalie Grant’s Relentless album, this fast song ironically tells us to slow down. She points out that we can be driving along so fast to get where we’re going that we miss everything that is really important. Here are some haunting words:

What if you took the time
To really soak it in
‘Cause someday you’re gonna wish you did

Worth It

This is my favorite song on the whole album. Francesca doesn’t mince words about what love really is. This isn’t the stuff you’ll find in teen paranormal romance novels, but the way love is described in Scripture and the way love is supposed to be in our relationships with one another. She also includes words about love saving us, a reflection of the fact that without the love of Christ, without His redemption, there is no heaven. We must have a relationship with Him, a real one, or our eternal destination of Hell is not changed.

Hundred More Years

This is a great song about a young couple getting married and about how they would freeze that moment in time if they could. About midway through the song is a reflection of a daddy watching that same girl, three years old, “spinning like a little princess.” Those of us who have little girls know this moment well. Mine is in ballet and just today she was spinning just like this. This is definitely a heart tugger of a song and it’s a beautiful way to end a very beautiful album.

 

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I’m evaluating the goals I have for 2010, and I’m breaking them based on a rough area of focus. The first list I really have together is the one of my creative goals for this year. They are:

  • Learn to Sew – I really want to learn how to sew, and sew well, for this coming year. It’s something I’ve put off for far too long.
  • Write a Book Targeted at Men’s Ministry – This is more of a calling that a personal desire. Hopefully I have something worthwhile to say on the subject.
  • Improve My Ocarina Playing – I have a sweet potato ocarina, like the one pictured to the right. I was starting to get used to playing it, but got busy and forgot about it. I want to get back to playing it, because it has a unique sound.
  • Become Consistent on My Flute Playing – When I tore up my shoulder back in 1993-1994, I lost a lot of technical proficiency. I never practiced to gain it back. I’ve maintained just enough practice to get my tone back after a couple of weeks of practice, but I’m not where I want to be with the caliber of my play. The only way to change this is to try and play every day.

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After reading one book by Wynton Marsalis, To a Young Jazz Musician: Letters from the Road, I went looking for more. I have an awesome public library, one that was rated the best in the nation a few years ago. They have a couple more books, including one that’s part biography and part auto-biography, Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life. It is writted primarily by Carl Vigeland, with comments here and there by Wynton Marsalis.

The book chronicles some of the travels and Marsalis and his band and in a lot of ways is an inside look at what it’s like to be an ensemble on the road. I say ensemble instead of band because when we think of bands, we often think of rock and pop bands that have made it big, and their experience is certainly different than those experienced by Marsalis’ crew. After all, Marsalis’ group played all over, from big gigs to ones in small towns. Also, because they were an ensemble looking to play “real jazz,” which isn’t so popular anymore. So you see a group that is going from destination to destination, usually low key, never really knowing what kind of crowds they’ll have, but a group of top notch musicians who are there to play. To play is everything.

And that’s what you realize what these cats have given up. What they have sacrificed. Those of us who have been musicians probably have dreamed of being on the road and just playing. It sounds like a great life, until you really consider what it costs you. These men struggle with their family lives. They struggle with the expectations of themselves, of the people that come to see them, of other musicians, and of the critics. They struggle with trying to balance playing with studio time to record albums. They struggle with playing. Nobody can always be on all the time. But when you’re a musician playing a gig and you care as passionately as these guys do, you give it your all. The folks who have come to see you deserve it.

Speaking of deserving things, after reading this book, I have a new found respect for Wynton Marsalis and his passion for nurturing other musicians. The same goes for the folks accompanying him. His group didn’t just work gigs. They did workshops at all levels. And you see cases where kids and youngsters have been able to get to a performance and he ends up giving an ad hoc lesson. Like one case where he helps a young trumpet player with her breathing. Some folks might be thinking, “Breathing? How hard could that be?” It can be very hard. As a flute player, it was something I struggled with early on. When I got to college and we were playing a lot longer frames, it meant I had to have more air capacity. A lot of that is based on how you breathe. Breathing is critical for any instrument requiring the power of your lungs. It was a lesson I learned on flute, but I had reinforced when I branched out and played trumpet and french horn, too. So for him to take the time for a lesson like that, without prep, likely without pay, says a lot.

Now, would I recommend this book? If you’re a musician or you a music type, especially someone who loves jazz, absolutely. If you’re easily offended, however, no. The language can be rough at times, as can some of the political and social views that are presented. If you want to gain an appreciation for someone working so passionately for their art and craft, this is a good book. As a minister and as a DBA, I gained new perspective on how to approach what I do. And I was humbled by what I read. We talk about passion. These guys have it.

 

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