Category Archives: Self Improvement

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho


With soon-to-be two daughters in college I should have seen this coming, shouldn’t I?  All of my angst as a stay-at-home mom facing the future of an empty nest has come down to this one little truth: it costs money to send kids to college.

It’s not as if we haven’t been saving for this for years or that I had not known somewhere in the back of my mind that it would be a good idea to have two incomes for two tuitions; it’s just that I seemed to move from “someday” to already five weeks into a job in a quick hurry.  I went from “I should start checking into what it would take to get on the substitute teaching call list so I can start subbing next fall” to starting to work in the local city clerk’s office two days after I casually mentioned to the Clerk that if they ever needed part-time help, they should call me.

I’m on both sides of the fence, really.  I feel both lucky that I could find something so close and congenial to my schedule and gobsmacked that I now have a time card and a boss, without having a chance to mourn the loss of my formerly self-scheduled days.  All of a sudden I had to scramble to find pants that weren’t jeans and fill out a W-4 form and there has been no chance to look back.  Now I find my days melting one into the other and my appreciation of those that have been working all this time growing exponentially.

With so many out of work in this economy, I can’t complain about any of the small annoyances associated with having to wear less comfortable clothes or be in to work by a certain time.  Instead, every time I feel myself starting to grouse about having to go to work,  I remember how very, very lucky I was to be able to stay home with my kids for so long.

I left work for my children, and now I’ve gone back for the same reason.  *whistles*

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Filed under Accomplishments, Changes, empty nest, Gratitude, Growth, Parenting, Self Improvement

Stretching


Last Spring I made up my mind to take a chance on trumpet performance, a neglected part of my past.  I began practicing in earnest, not just when I had something to perform for.  I searched out opportunities, made connections, and started to play much more.  Today, I have rehearsals four times a week and teach lessons on two nights.  I had the opportunity to play with three big bands over the summer, and now concert season is beginning again.  On paper that all looks like plenty, but there was another aspect of my musical past that I was ignoring: conducting.

As a school band director, I conducted daily and almost unconsciously, like breathing.  What I conducted was paced more by the limitations of my community band or school group than my conducting skills.  Yet when an email fell into my inbox inviting me to guest conduct a piece in the next University Alumni Concert Band concert, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put myself out there, in front of a group again.  After all, I was a member of the group in order to play more, right?  Not to conduct.  It would just be an added distraction, and it had been years and years since I last held a baton in my hand.

It would have been easy and quick to decline and let them move on to the next person on their list.  I have plenty to do, between my playing and my family and my other commitments, and this would just be one thing more to take my time.  I haven’t conducted in a long time, I’d rather keep focusing on my playing, I’m just too busy.  Then, I started to suspect that there was a deeper reason I was leaning away from the invitation: I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore.

With that realization I reached my tipping point.  Last week I stepped onto the podium for the first time in almost fourteen years, rediscovering that wall of sound to mold, my other “instrument” that I had given up on ever “playing” again.  My baton shook a little as I made my first prep beat, but I regained confidence as the music blossomed.  I found myself making mental notes on what to rehearse next week, what to try, what to change, what to bring out.  I forgot my nerves, and let myself submerge in the music, doing what I used to do so fluently.

In seven weeks I’ll be standing on a podium in a major university auditorium, guest conducting the piece we have perfected.  Then the only question will be: how do I get more baton time?

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Filed under Accomplishments, Growth, Self Improvement, Self-realization

Comfort Zone


It’s supposed to be good to stretch and attempt things that are beyond what you think you can do.  Sometimes that involves noshing a bit of humble pie.

“Come on out and read the lead book.  The regular guy will be absent that night, but we’re just going to read through some stuff.  No worries.”  I used to play lead, many moons ago.  How hard could it be? I’ve been practicing lots, in pretty good shape, regularly playing with a different swing band, though lower parts – okay, I’ll do it.  It’ll be good for me.  I need more “face on horn” time.

After being welcomed graciously by the rest of the section last night, I was pointed at three huge binders of music and clued in to which book was which.  Off we went, calling numbers and plowing through music.  The first tune was a lead trumpet solo, of course, as were the next couple.  As the night went on, the lead parts got higher and higher.  I made it through, but I could tell I was just treading water and keeping my head up.  Granted, it was all sight-reading and stuff I hadn’t seen before, but I was hoping to have it go a little smoother, maybe make a good impression as well as advance my “being bold” campaign.

That’s where the humble pie comes in, of course.  Hubris.  Thinking I could step in and lead, where it turns out I am a better utility player.  The line between stretching past my present abilities and being able to deliver the goods that are needed for a job is a balancing act.  I maintained, and with practice, could probably contribute to the group, but I went home feeling pretty off kilter.  My faith in my abilities had been tested, and left wanting.

Back to the practice studio.

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The Eyes Have It


To go along with getting my instrument fixed and ready to play, I have just gotten one more notch in my musical equipment tool belt.  I have found that I play better when I can actually see the music.  This wasn’t an issue when I first started playing trumpet.

My young, sharp eyes only succumbed for a couple of years to the need for occasional glasses from the eyestrain of playing and studying so much in college.  After that, I didn’t even think about them until I started having to hold my books at arms reach to read them.  Reading glasses are a hassle, but can be dealt with.  Seeing my music on the stand at varying distances, plus the added need to see the conductor twenty-plus feet away in some of my groups, has become a bit of a challenge.  The reading glasses are made for closer work and the music is too far away.  The conductor is fuzzy through the glasses, but clear in my regular vision.  You would think bifocals or Progressives would work, but when you play trumpet you very rarely look at the music directly in front of you; there is a bell in the way.  What to do?

Many of my musician friends would tell me just to do what they do: ignore the conductor.  I have found that it’s nice to have a little eye contact and get a cue or two, so I have taken to peering over my glasses.  Not being able to read the notes quickly is a bit more of a problem.  It kind of makes a difference whether those blurry little dots are on a line or a space, and which one.  By the time I have squinted at them, the time for them to sound is past.

Today I presented my problem to the optometrist and let her figure it out.  Will the finished product solve my problems? Time will tell.  But it’s got to be better than what I have been doing.

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Filed under Accomplishments, Changes, Growth, Self Improvement

Going In Circles


Just when I think I’m making some progress, some forward motion, I find myself right back not far from where I started.  It’s a three steps forward, two steps back feeling, and I am not sure how to get where I want to go.  I suppose that if the circle is large enough, I don’t notice I’m heading back to where I came from.

Life has become a series of restarts.  I’m not sure I can do that too many more times.  Regrowth, repurposing, renew, re-this, re-that… Is it just that I need to get back to things I know or do I need to move in a new direction?  My rededication to music is going well but slowly, my rediscovery of myself goes apace, yet sometimes I still feel like I am not going anywhere.

Maybe I’m meant not to stray far from what I am already… or perhaps I need a new compass.

Sometimes a circle feels like a direction
Up and down, still lookin’ for perfection
There’s a lot goin’ on but it all adds up to nothing
Sometimes a circle feels like a direction

“Sometimes A Circle” – Louise Goffin

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Filed under Growth, Reflection, Self Improvement, Success/Failure

Break Unbroken


This is it – the official start to Spring Break.  A week of no (or not much) schedule, time do do a few projects around the house, free time for the kids to get ready for the last push toward the end of the school year.  A breather of sorts.  So how do we make sure it doesn’t slip away, arriving at the end of it with nothing to show for it? After having vague plans of how we are going to use our gift of time, I’m often caught scratching my head and wondering where said time slipped off to.

I am going to set down on paper at least five things that I want to do before school starts again.  First, a few ground rules: they have to be things that I have either been putting off for a while or not had the time to do lately, they have to be achievable, and at least one of them needs to be fun.

My Spring Break “to do” list:

  1. Wash all the winter salt and grime off my poor car and at least dust down the interior.
  2. Haul my bike out of the garage and get it ready to ride, hopefully taking a shakedown jaunt with at least one of my daughters.
  3. Finish making my Schilke valves feel like Schilke valves again – a little trumpet maintenance.
  4. Have a chick flick day with my girls.  Visit the movie rental store and pick up all the titles we have wanted to see lately.  Popcorn optional but recommended.
  5. Take music outside and clear out a front flower bed, making it easier to see the spring flowers.

I’m sure these aren’t the only things I’ll get done this week, and it’s not like I couldn’t accomplish this in one day if I needed to. That’s partly the point.  I just want a vacation-end “Ta-dah!” moment.

Maybe I’ll get some of the others to join me by making their own lists.  We didn’t get to go off on a trip, but we all need to feel like we did something we wanted to.

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Filed under Accomplishments, Day to Day, Parenting, Self Improvement, Success/Failure

Retroversion


The drummer leaned over during rehearsal last night and said, “I’m a band director, and you know what I always asked my kids? ‘What’s the difference between a twelve year old trumpet player and an adult one?’ (Meaningful pause…)  ‘Not a thing.’ (Ba-dump-ching!)”

One of the interesting side effects of my re-dedication to music has been not having to work to rediscover my younger self.  Seems she was there all along, and as soon as I sit down in a section of brass players she grins slyly and pops out in most of her glory.  I may be a hair less quick-witted and my mom persona sometimes sensors that brassy girl, but when the other guys in the section are telling jokes, making bad puns, and singing songs from “Blazing Saddles” (fake Teutonic accents and all) in between making great music, it’s like I never grew up.

It’s not just the group I played with last night, either.  It seems as though every time I sit down in a row of brass players I morph into a wry jokester, goofing around and saying whatever comes to mind, usually sotto voce so the director won’t hear but my section mates will.  Sometimes an opportunity arises to pop off to the whole group, but I think the other musicians just expect that from us; I’d hate to not meet their expectations, after all.  The trick is to be able to have some fun with it and still hit every note just like you meant to.

Getting back to ensemble playing has been a little like meeting up with an old friend; no matter how many years it’s been since you’ve seen them, you pick up right where you left off and continue the conversation you were having, full of laughter and joy.

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Filed under Accomplishments, Friends, Self Discovery, Self Improvement, Success/Failure