Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Cello Tales

A year ago, January 9th, 2019, I posted a list of fun stuff I hoped to do. Better than resolutions, these were things that I’d thought about doing over the years but just hadn’t accomplished.

Making a sound on a cello was one of my crazier ideas. It was so crazy in fact that I could never successfully explain just what I meant – or even why it was a thing for me.

A cello at rest.

Probably because I wasn’t even sure myself.

But as of Wednesday, one day short of a full year later, because of two lovely ladies who went out of their way to make my wish come true, I can check hugging a cello off my to-dream list.

Learning the basics, with Joan, our host, standing in the back and Carol with her cello.

And I’m not so sure I can find words to share the experience with you.

Joan got a lesson too.

Our host was a professor from my days at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. We’ve kept in touch off and on over the ten years since I graduated and last month she read about my cello hugging dream and knew that she could help me realize it.

Learning how to hold the bow.

She coordinated with a cello playing friend of hers who, it turns out, didn’t mind at all letting some novice stranger sit with her cello and hold her bow while making noises unrelated to music.

Carol was so patient.

There’s a lot to playing a cello. Two hands doing different things, one bulky instrument leaning against you, knees and arms encircling it’s girth. Fingers to grip the bow just so, relax the shoulder, movement from the elbow only, the angle of the bow on the strings, how the fingers of the left hand press down just from the tips. What to do with your left thumb.

Turns out Joan’s husband was a natural.

So much to remember.

But when I got everything right a low round tone would swell out of the instrument. Not as beautiful a sound as when our instructor played, but still pretty nice. And each time I played a clear note I could feel the sound reverberate right though my soul and fill me up.

Not quite a virtuoso, but smiling.

Amazing.

There was so much to remember that I couldn’t take my eyes off of my own hands to look at music. Which is just as well. Because, well, cello music!

I thought it was written in base clef and it often is. But when the notes get high enough it switches to treble clef! So you could be reading along and suddenly your brain would have to switch clefs? And to make it even more insane, there’s also a tenor and an alto clef!

Carol played for us after we were finished making noise on her cello.

I saw at least three clefs on one of the pieces of music she shared with us. The different clefs are needed because the cello has such a wide range of notes, from very low to quite high. All those notes won’t fit on any single staff…so the composer can just include several different clefs in a single piece, and those talented cello players deal with it.

Mind boggling.

The next time I’m enjoying cellos playing in the symphony or a quartet, or even in a DC subway, I’ll have a better understanding and admiration for their talents. The sounds are spectacular. The brains and hands of the artists are astounding.

Those fingers on the left hand had no clue what they were doing.

It was so much fun. I am indebted to the women who willingly shared their lives and time with me just so I could learn something about an instrument I have always admired. If everyone could hug a cello the world would be a better place, and I’m grateful to have had the experience.

I drove home in late afternoon sunshine under fat, purple bottomed clouds that were chasing a three quarter moon. I tried to pinpoint what the experience had felt like.

It felt round and strong and deep and soft, sort of like the golden light falling all around me as I drove.

It felt beautiful.

The moon rises over a wonder filled day.


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Holiday smiles

Trent is still hosting the Weekly Smile, and though sometimes I don’t get moving fast enough to include my smiles in his recap, this week I wanted to make sure I shared. This week’s smile is all about music, specifically the Christmas music our community band played last night at our annual holiday concert.

Getting ready for the concert.

I love it when our concert is early enough in December to feel like it kicks off the holiday. This year it seemed perfect, just after Thanksgiving and with a few weeks until the big day.

We shared the stage again this year with a high school choir group. They add just the right touch of elegance to the music, with their formal attire and lovely soaring voices.

Look who arrived!

And of course we had a visit from Santa, who showed up right after the children in the audience came up on the stage and rang their jingle bells as we played Here Comes Santa Clause.

The little ones were in awe of the big guy in red. We kind of like him too.

Children ready to shake those bells? OK, let’s go!

And he stuck around to conduct our last piece, Sleighride, the perfect way to end a fun evening.

A perfect way to end a lovely evening.

You couldn’t count all the smiles that were in that auditorium last night. And that makes it my smile of the week.


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Sharing a smile – musically

You ever have one of those weeks that just flies by and you’re pretty sure you had plenty to smile about but you can’t really remember anything specific? Well, that’s been my week. So this week’s smile comes to you from this very afternoon, the last afternoon of the week.

Today I attended a band concert at our local high school. But this isn’t just any band – it’s made up of band directors, private music teachers and a few assorted graduate music students. Talk about talent filling a hall!

Though the house wasn’t full (and it should have been, all the students of all these teachers should have been there) those of us in the audience were serious appreciates of good music. During one piece I noticed a guy up one row and to my left conducting along with the music. And there was plenty of head bopping going on all around me. Yep, the place was filled with musicians and musician’s families.

And in the middle of their last piece, Danzon No. 2 by Marquez, where the piece gets extra wild and a bit raunchy, (about 7:38 into the piece, see link above.), I actually got goosebumps.

That was definitely cause for a smile.


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Worrying about the music

This coming Tuesday night is our community band’s first concert of the season, and as usual I’m worried, not about the band’s performance, but about my ability to contribute.

Band started this fall two weeks after I fell and broke my finger at the end of August. I missed the first three rehearsals because my hand was still in a splint. And even now, though my fingers are free to move, they are swollen and sluggish.

Or maybe that’s my brain.

The concert is all John Williams music – things he wrote for movies and other events. And though it’s been arranged by people to make it work for a concert band, it’s still hard. At least for me. He likes to use different meters and key signatures and switch stuff up. A lot.

Tonight, the night before our dress rehearsal tomorrow, I was intent on going through every one of the ten pieces of music, playing along with groups I found on YouTube who were playing the same arrangements.

I found this (you can opt out of the advertisement after about 4 seconds), for Schindler’s List – a high school group from a town about 30 miles south of me, the town I used to work in. This was recorded in 2014 and as I watched their faces I realized all of them would have graduated by now. I wonder where they are today, if they’re in college or out working somewhere.

I wonder if they are still playing music. I hope they are.

We will have a guest violinist on Tuesday night too. I think it will be a treat for our audience. And as for the other 9 pieces of music, well, I can play parts of all of them. We’ll sound just fine.

As long as I stay out of the way.

You sounded fine to me mama, but then I was sleeping.


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Musically smiling

My goodness the weeks are flying by now that summer’s abandoned us. But there’s still time to stop and recognize a smile or two.

I usually have plenty of things to smile about, so choosing just one each week can be hard. But this week it was obvious to me what my smile post should be about. And it’s music.

Those of you that know me know I fell last August and broke a finger on my right hand. Six weeks later I’m still doing physical therapy, and I see my hand doctor tomorrow morning for more ex-rays.

My physical therapist says there is progress, but it’s frustratingly hard for me to see. I do know the pain has lessened, almost down to zero some of the time, while other times it catches me by surprise as it throbs.

Still, I’m not in a cast or a splint any more. I do my exercises at home, attend my therapy sessions, try not to jam the finger into anything during the day and wrap it up to protect it at night.

And this past Tuesday I attended my first band rehearsal of this season in the hopes that I could play at least a little bit that night. Two hours flew by and my finger was never a problem except for a certain extended trill with a base note of C. Not going to lie, I won’t be playing that at the concert. But the rest of it? Oh yea, I’ll be there.

And that made me smile.


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This week’s smile

Trent, over on Trent’s World, hosts a weekly blog post that collects smiles from bloggers all over the world. This week his featured smile is the bees that survived the Notre Dame fire.

And he wonders what all of us have found to smile about lately.

I did plenty of smiling this week, given the first part of the week I spent in Florida, walking beaches and exploring parks, and especially hanging with good people and wonderful dogs.

Hi mama!

And of course I flew home on Wednesday to my husband and my Katie-girl. Lots to smile about there too.

Then last night I attended a community orchestra concert in a small town about an hour from here.

A fun evening.

On the early evening drive over to the venue the sky was filled with big beautiful blue bottomed clouds. I wished I had my camera and time to find a place to stop.

I had neither.

The concert was fun, and it was good to see an almost full house to support a community orchestra. There were some really talented people playing, and you could tell they were having a great time.

Pretty amazing!

After it was over I emerged from the high school to see the clouds were thinning, but still in evidence. And they were turning purple and pink.

The barns were glowing.

With only my phone to capture the beauty and in a community I didn’t know I set out trying to find an open field with a place to pull over before all the light was gone.

Everything was beautiful.

I got a few good shots, and that, in combination with the evening’s music, made me smile.

What made you smile this week?

The last glow of a great evening.


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Still smiling.

There have been plenty of things to smile about this week. A couple days with sunshine, my hands are healing, Katie is feeling a little bit better, I did my grocery shopping in the middle of a Thursday when most people have to work, (that one made me smile pretty wide) and beautiful morning light two days ago that made my world glow.

Oh yea, lots of things to smile about this week.

But the biggest smile happened for me and, I think, a whole lot of other people on Tuesday night during our Clarkston Community Band concert that we played in conjunction with the Dave Bennett Quartet.

We’ve been working on our portion of the concert for weeks – most of what we played Tuesday were movements from Shostakovitch’s Jazz Suite no. 2. Though the music isn’t jazz like we know it today, it was fun, kind of tongue in cheek, sometimes almost circus like.

And some of it went really really fast.

To break up all the Shostakovich we preformed Oblivion by Piazzolla, which was slower and featured our oboe player. She sounded wonderful, with a full, rich tone filled with mystery. (The Oblivion link above takes you to our full concert; Oblivian is # 3.)

And we were honored to accompany Dave and his jazz clarinet for two of his own pieces, Blood Moon (#6 in our concert at the Oblivion link above.) and Falling Sky (#7). During Blood Moon I actually stopped playing to watch him and be mesmerized.

I couldn’t help it.

We played the first half of the concert, (through #8 in the link above) and while the Quartet played the second half I got to sit out in the audience and just listen. To be honest I had to wipe away a tear during his rendition of Hallelujah (#12).

Magic.

I couldn’t stop smiling. Couldn’t stop clapping either, even though my hands, wrapped up so that I could play my own clarinet without further injury, didn’t make any sound. And even though it hurt to clap.

I just couldn’t help myself.

Winding up, the music and the evening.

What a night! The crowd gave us a standing ovation after our portion was complete. And they stood up and clapped and a few even danced through Dave Bennett’s entire last piece. I don’t think anyone (except maybe the quartet) wanted it to end.

It was fabulous.

Things got a bit crazy. In a good way.

I just got the link from our recording engineer and listened to a few of the pieces. OK, we weren’t always in tune and there were some things that went a bit awry. We’re a community band. But overall I’m so glad that I get to play music with this group.

And I’m extra grateful that I had the opportunity to hear Dave Bennett play his clarinet. Check out his website, see if he’s going to be playing near you. And if he is, make a point of going to hear him. He’s a young Benny Goodman with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis breaking out on occasion.

Guaranteed to make you smile.

A full moon greeted us at the end of a magical evening.


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Let’s explore Bok Gardens and Pinewood Estate

We’re back home in snowy, cold, shades of white Michigan this evening. But I have so much more to show you from sunny, warm, colorful Florida, so let’s pretend we’re still there, shall we?

The front of Pinewood Estate.

I last left you with a tease about Bok Gardens, a wonderful place full of magical gardens, a winter mansion and an amazing bell tower. I don’t want to leave you hanging, so here we go!

We wandered under huge trees enjoying the azalea bushes that were in full bloom.

Bok Gardens is a 7 acre slice of heaven, including several types of gardens designed by Olmstead brothers landscaping company (the same that designed the gardens at Biltmore in North Carolina, and Central Park in New York City), a new children’s play and educational area, what seems like acres of azaleas, a Florida desert trail, and towering live oaks covered in lichen and ferns.

I’ve never seen red sugar cane before.

The home, built in the center of all of this beauty, was the winter home of industrialist Charles Buck (not Bok, I know, it’s confusing) from 1932 to 1945. After that it was purchased by a couple of families before being acquired by Bok Gardens in 1970.

The house from the back.

The house, with over 12,000 square feet, feels much more intimate than many of the seasonal homes of the wealthy back in those days.

Dining with color everywhere.


The rooms were smaller, and many had lower ceilings.

One of several bedrooms.

There wasn’t gold gilding, unlike many homes of this vintage, but there were plenty of wonderful details.

An ibis acts as a doorstop, holding up the heavy and intricate door.

Tilework acted as wainscoting throughout the first floor, and ran up the stairs to the less public rooms.

Beautiful tile covers the risers on the front stairs.

The floors on the main level were covered in handmade red tiles, each room with it’s own pattern.

One of many patterns of these tiles.

The docents told us the gardens were put in first, and then the house was built so that each area had a different garden view. Pretty spectacular.

Magnolias, azaleas and camellias were all in bloom.

And then there’s the bell tower, with it’s huge carillon and sixty tons of bells which are played regularly. It is absolutely stunning.

Glimpsing the tower through the trees.

There were two concerts the day we were there, one we heard as we wandered the garden, and another that we purposely sat and listened to.

Details of the top, the colors are beautiful.

Bok Tower Gardens is located between Tampa and Orlando, and I think time spent there is well worth the admission for you and your family. Kids can play in the kid garden and run on the lawns up by the tower.

Stonework at the entrance to the childrens’ garden and play space.

Parents can let the beauty wash over them…and I guarantee everyone will smile.

And after all that, we made it over to the Gulf for the sunset.

A pretty ending to a very good day.

I’ll post more about the beaches in another post. We did spend a bit of time walking those white sands. After all…it’s Flordia.

Door knob detail.


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A musical smile

If you’re a Facebook friend of mine you know I’ve been working on a pesky Shostakovitch piece, Dance 1, for this Sunday’s community band concert. It’s hard. Not the key it’s arranged in, or, really, any particular part of it, done at a manageable tempo. But this one is presto, which translates to really really really fast. Please click on the link above, it’s a YouTube post of a group playing the same arrangement we’ll be doing, a three minute and eleven second thrill ride.

There’s a whole other page too.

I let this piece stress me out.

I’ve practiced many nights, starting at a slower tempo and working out difficult fingerings, going over and over passages until my fingers could remember what my eyes and brain couldn’t always coordinate. Every evening this past week I worked at a faster tempo.

I shouldn’t let playing music stress me. The whole idea behind a community band is to provide an opportunity for people to continue playing after school. People that aren’t professional musicians but who loved to play as young people have the chance to reconnect with others just like them, all working toward a common goal – make some music and have some fun.

In our band several generations are represented, and that’s special. We have people that some would label elderly and kids just getting their drivers licenses. This season I’m sitting between a tenth grade boy and a ninth grade girl. Sometimes the sheer drama of their lives overwhelms me. I’m not typically a lover of kids. Individually there have been some I really like, but mostly I think they’re best enjoyed at a healthy distance.

But here’s where this week’s smile comes from.

During a break.

Tuesday was the last rehearsal before our concert. Everyone was pretty worried about this particular piece. When the conductor asked us to pull out Dance 1 we all took a collective deep breath. And then we began. One hundred fifty beats per minute, and the music just soared. The runs climbed and dipped, the trills thrilled, the beat pulsed. And when we got to the end of page four the conductor put her baton down and sort of hugged herself.

And she smiled.

In the back row of clarinets there were quiet grins and a few high fives. Kids on both sides of me sat back satisfied. The ninth grader told me she liked sitting back there with us. I told her I liked having her next to me too. The tenth grader, who generally doesn’t engage with me actually looked at me and smiled.

Music brought a whole bunch of disparate people together. Music made us all work hard for a common goal. Music made us all, for that moment, beyond happy.

Music made us smile.


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Hope = smiles

This week I had plenty of reasons to smile. After all I’m retired; I don’t have to get up in the dark and drive on congested construction strewn roads to work and then do it all again the next day.

That in itself makes for automatic smiles.

Visiting Lansing, the Capitol of Michigan, on a cold Sunday afternoon.

But if I had to pick one thing that made me smile this week it would be Sunday afternoon when my husband and I attended the ceremonial swearing in of our new Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin.

I keep insisting that I’m not political, I don’t like politics, I don’t have the patience for all the talk and lack of action, for the arguing, for the lack of empathetic listening, the insensitivity. I hate that neither party even tries to hear an opinion outisde their own dogma.

But this year the candidate challenging my district’s incumbant Congressman caught my attention. She actually sat down with my husband and me and listened intently to our truck safety issues. So I became involved in her campaign, canvasing and talking politics to strangers, which was very scary for me. She won by 13,000 votes and attending her ceremonial swearing in made me smile.

Photo from Slotkin’s webpage. Senator Stabenow, Congresswoman Slotkin and her husband, retired Colonel David Moore.

Presiding over the ceremony was Michigan’s Senior Senator who has also been very open to our issues, which made me smile broader.

But the biggest smile during the event was reserved for the Sexton High School choir who sang for us. A group of young people, diverse in ethnicity and culture, sang of hope and change to a huge ballroom filled with mostly middle aged white people.

Lansing’s Sexton High School Choir rocked it!

They sang from their hearts and we listened with ours, knowing that we were on the cusp of change for our district, filled with hope for a more responsive government. And when they finished we rose in a standing ovation before their last note ended, which made them smile.

“If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
(lyrics from Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror)

After the event, while we were all milling around talking I noticed one of the young singers standing behind me. I turned around and told him how beautiful the music had been. He nodded his head respectfully, then burst out into a wide grin and swallowed me up in a hug.

Seems smiles were the order of the day.

The gears of change grind slowly.

What’s made you smile? Tell us about it and link to Trent’s blog, he’ll recap for us next Monday!

Note: Follow the link above about Elissa to read a short article about the ceremony which contains a few quotes from her speech. I think they’ll give you hope too.

Something to smile about in Lansing last Sunday.