Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Getting lost in the Grand Canyon

Taken through the windshield of my stopped car. Because it was so pretty and so was the music.

This morning I went to a town several miles up the road to buy some birdseed. We have lots of feeders and my finches have been eating me out of house and home.

When I got back in the car after loading 60 pounds of assorted seed into the back the radio was playing something that sounded familiar. I glanced down at the screen and smiled.

The Grand Canyon Suite was playing, and though I couldn’t remember much of it, I knew it was something I had enjoyed years ago when I was a kid.

As it was playing I was trying to remember if it sounded familiar because I had played it with my high school band. Still…I didn’t think that was it.

And then the movement with the mules and donkeys clip clopping down into the canyon came on and I had a sudden image of a green and white portable record player and I remembered. I’d had this piece on vinyl years ago and I’d loved it.

I turned the radio up and took the back roads home. By the time the piece ended I had no idea where I was, but it sure had been a beautiful drive.

Wonder where that record ended up.

The light was beautiful this morning.


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Magic

Saturday night was the Ann Arbor Symphony’s first concert of the new season. If you weren’t there you missed something pretty special.

Beautiful music in a beautiful venue.

It started out with the premiere playing of Ann Arbor Saturday, by composer William Bolcom. The piece was commissioned for the symphony and depicted Ann Arbor on a football game day, from the initial flow of cars coming into the quiet town to the intense game itself, with the University of Michigan finally coming out on top. Of course.

Along the way it pays homage to other universities with bits of their fight songs woven into the main themes. The audience, most staunch supporters of University of Michigan football got all the jokes and nuances. Being a Michigan State graduate myself, I guessed at some of them, but thoroughly enjoyed the music.

And we heard Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (in honor of the symphony’s 90 anniversary), “From the New World.” It was accompanied by visuals, shown on a huge screen hanging above the musicians, of landscape photographs and videos depicting the natural beauty of this country.

There are four movements. My favorite, musically, is movement number two, the Largo. The spiritual “Going Home” was adapted from this movement and every time I hear it I get teary thinking about my parents and wishing they were coming home even though I know they are, now, truly home.

At the end of the piece there was a long moment of silence as the maestro and his symphony orchestra shared that connection of a piece well done. Then they stirred and the audience stood and applauded to acknowledge the beauty of the entire experience.

But the biggest, most magical moments of the evening occurred during Aaron Diehl‘s performance of two Gershwin pieces, I Got Rhythm” Variations and Rhapsody in Blue. He’s a jazz pianist who improvised during the cadenzas, those parts of the music where only the piano played. Maestro Lipsky said, during the lecture prior to the performance, that his blood pressure was higher than normal during rehearsals of this piece because “I have no idea when or how Aaron is going to come out of the cadenzas. Each rehearsal has been different.” And as the music unfurled above us, rollicking, bouncing off the walls and ceiling of Hill Auditorium, you could see both Lipsky and members of the orchestra listening intently, waiting for the cue to come back in as Diehl’s fingers flew over the piano keys.

I was lucky enough to have a seat in the hall where I could see the artist’s face as well as his hands. He exuded pure, sweet joy that manifested itself into magic that flowed from his fingers and into all our hearts. His hands moved so fast it’s a wonder that, by the end of Rhapsody, the keys hadn’t all but melted. And speaking of Rhapsody – be still my heart – the clarinet in the beginning of the piece almost made me swoon.

Both pieces were extraordinary. And as the second one was coming to an end you could feel the anticipation building in the audience. We were on our feet cheering before he lifted his hands from the keyboard, before the last note had a chance to fade. The sound from the audience exploded with a noise so loud I’m surprised we didn’t make the evening news. You’d have thought someone had just kicked the winning field goal in a championship football game.

So I guess Ann Arbor won twice yesterday. The football team did, in fact, win their game. And music lovers who were lucky enough to be sitting in Hill Auditorium won too. Thanks Ann Arbor Symphony, for giving us, yet again, a wonderful gift.

I haven’t stopped smiling.

A little night glow.


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Music fills the sky

I love outdoor concerts, and Tuesday evening I was treated to a band concert played on a lovely stage facing a green hill filled with people enjoying the music.

Pretty music and a lovely venue.

The band is made up of musical professionals in Southeast Michigan. Band directors at school districts across the region and other musicians get together to rehearse and then put on a fun and varied concert for all of us.

These people are good!

It was a lot of fun, especially listening to some pieces that I’ve played myself. It was an entirely different experience to sit in the audience where I got to hear parts of the music I’d never heard before.

What a lovely evening. Children laughed and ran up and down a hill off to the side. Birds sang from the trees, and swallows swooped and twittered overhead.

Swallows turned and swooped to the music.

One little boy in particular wasn’t interested in playing with the other children. He was mesmerized by the band and continually tottered down to the front to get a closer view.

Look between the two adults….see him down there conducting the band?

His mom would come and get him, carry him back up the hill, but the next thing you knew he’d be down front again, engaged in the whole experience.

Sometimes when I’m enjoying a concert at a hall I imagine all those notes rising up and layering high on the ceiling. I think about all the music that’s been played in the hall over the years. I like to think it’s still there, tucked into the curtain material, etched into the paint. Floating in the air.

Accepting well deserved applause.

Tuesday night as I watched the birds flying overhead I thought about this music having no roof, rising up and up into the clouds where it could be enjoyed by the world. Like ripples in still water always moving outward, I imagined the music gliding up into the clouds with nothing to restrain it. Moving into the heavens and then into space.

That thought made me smile. And so did the Southeastern Michigan Wind Ensemble.

You can likely have a similar experience this summer. Check around your town, there’s probably a concert in a park near you. They are mostly free, just bring a chair and spend an evening watching birds and children chatter while you listen to music as it floats on it’s way up to forever.

And then, hopefully, you’ll have a sunset like the one we had on your drive home.

I had to pull off the road, but this picture doesn’t do the sky justice.

And it got better, morphing into this when I got out into the country near home:

Pretty stunning.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

A great group of musicians.


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“Happy Birthday Wolfie”

Yesterday was Wolfgang Mozart’s 262nd birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to spend an evening with the Ann Arbor Symphony enjoying their Mozart Birthday Bash.

Did you know Wolfgang wrote his Symphony No. 1 at the ripe old age of eight? And that Mozart had a favorite pattern of notes, three notes rising, the fourth falling, which were included in both his first symphony, written as a child, and his last, Symphony No. 41, a symphony he probably never heard performed before his death at age 35?

I didn’t know any of that either.

Last night we learned all that and were privileged to hear both Symphony No. 1 as well as Symphony No. 41. And though you could clearly hear his childlike interpretation of music in the first, it was much more intricate that I could have imaged at age eight.

And Symphony No. 41? The fourth movement was my favorite, the most intense, the most intertwined, the most triumphant. It’s eight and a half minutes long. Get a cup of tea or coffee and settle back to listen, it will be time well spent. There’s so much going on in this movement, let it take you where it will.

Now, take a moment to listen to the first notes of Symphony No. 1. The juxtaposition between that first symphony and the very last symphony movement he ever wrote was breathtaking. Isn’t it amazing what he created within his short lifetime?

And on top of all that, the evening’s guest soloist, Chad Burrow, performed Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major. On a basset clarinet. Be still my heart.

All in all it was a special evening for this clarinetist.

As I sat listening to the symphony building up to the final moments, the music swelling, the entire hall entranced, I gazed up, lost in the music, and wondered. On this birthday was Mozart’s music being played all across the world? Were there concert halls and high school auditoriums and living room stereos playing Mozart in celebration? And was he listening from somewhere, tapping his toe, smiling a bit wistfully, happy to hear his work, glad not to be forgotten?

I like to think he was.

So, as Maestro Lipsky said last night – Happy Birthday Wolfie. Thank you for your gift to us all. I hope you enjoyed the Ann Arbor Symphony’s gift to you.

I know we did.

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Christmas music magic


The holidays are long gone, people are taking down lights and trees, putting away ornaments and tinsel and prized family heirlooms. Our community band’s holiday concert was way back on December 20th, barely a memory now. Up here in Michigan we’re hunkering down for the long cold winter, with not a lot to lighten the mood.

Unless you’re me.

You see, Tuesday evening the band’s sound engineer gave me my copy of the CD recorded at that Christmas concert. And today as I ran errands I listened to the music for the first time. Magic. This afternoon I drove much further and longer than I needed to in order to listen to the entire concert.

Twice.

And I’m still smiling

So thank you to the Clarkston Community Band for making such beautiful music, and thanks to Marshall for making CDs for us. And thanks to Shelley for choosing the program and directing it, and for inspiring us to do the very best we can.

This winter, if I need a pick-me-up, I know just what to do. I’ll put that Christmas CD in the player and take myself for a long ride.

May the spirit of Christmas keep you warm and happy until the spring sun comes back this way to brighten your days!


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Let the music carry you

I’ve had a cold for the past week and been feeling pretty miserable, blowing my nose and having coughing fits during the most inopportune times. At this Tuesday’s dress rehearsal for our Community Band’s Christmas concert I had to rush out of the band room to hack my lungs out in the girls’ bathroom down the hall.

I was worried something similar would happen during our concert last night.

The program started out with a local big band group, the Stardusters, playing swing, rock and jazz. Community Band members sat in the audience enjoying their performance.

I sat out there plotting my exit just in case I needed to run. How many seats between me and the aisle? And once we were on stage, just where would I run to get as far as possible from the music before I began to cough? I imagined a disaster, the band playing a particularly quiet, delicate part of the music and me hacking, with tears running down my face as I tripped over my chair leg in a futile attempt to get backstage.

I am happy to say it didn’t happen.

Though there were moments during our performance where I felt the familiar tickle in the back of my throat I was able to control it with water. And I remembered not to breath in too deep so as not to trigger the really bad coughing.

Plus I have to say that music is magic. When you’re feeling sad or lonely or just plain crummy listen to a little music and you’re likely to feel a lot better.

And it doesn’t hurt to have Santa visit either.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you are all healthy and happy and full of the Christmas spirit! And if you’re not quite up to par…well…go find some holiday music. It can heal what ails you.


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Seriously it’s already Christmas

I’m headed up north soon to attend a photography workshop. To say I’m excited would be an understatement. It’s up north. And photography. What’s not to love?

So, anyway, I went shopping today for a couple of things. Waterproof boots, mittens, warm socks. Things every up north photographer should already have to shoot outside in the winter at night. I guess it’s not officially winter yet, but it will feel like it when I’m north of here, especially in the dark.

It feels like it at the mall too. I don’t do a lot of shopping and haven’t been out to a store aside from the grocery store in weeks. It was something of a shock to my system. Christmas music is blaring from the speakers, the store windows are decorated. Santa is already sitting on his big throne and there’s a line of little kids and parents waiting.

The few stores that were empty last time I was there are filled with seasonal merchandise now. There’s even a gift wrapping store. Complete with holiday paper and bows and people eager to make your gift festive.

The whole thing was sort of overwhelming. But I left with my purchases, one pair of socks and some mittens, whistling Christmas music. And I turned to the ‘all Christmas music’ station on the car radio for the drive home.

Guess it tis the season whether we’re ready or not.

PS: No laptop yet, and my photos are held hostage on an external drive that I suppose I could learn how to use. OR – you could use your imagination and visualize Santa and kids and decorations and music. Whatever you come up with will be perfect. I have faith in you.


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Music to smile about

We made a big sound. It was wonderful.

So. You’ve all probably been wondering how the concert went. Last week I wrote about practicing for it, my worry about a couple of the pieces. Maybe you worried that because I hadn’t written it hadn’t been successful. But that would not be true. The truth is this has been an amazingly busy week for me, something major going on every single day, and I just haven’t had time to tell you all about it.

Katie, of course, got to tell you about our trip up to Midland for her Rally trial on Friday. She’s not particularly patient and wouldn’t wait in line for her turn at the blog. What can I say. She’s a princess.

But now that it’s taken me days to write about Wednesday’s concert I can include the other concert we did on Saturday too. Each was a totally different experience, but both were fun.

I was nervous about Wednesday’s concert, not sure about the piece Pastime, a Salute to Baseball by Jack Stamp. I was worried about a few measures in other pieces too. But I’d practiced, so I figured I was as prepared as I could be. And of course nothing sounds exactly the same when you’re playing on an unfamiliar stage. Turns out I shouldn’t have worried, the music was played as well as we’ve ever played it. And Pastime went a lot better than I expected it to go; we even all ended at the same time, a good goal to have in any complicated piece of music.

I don’t know why I don’t learn this lesson. We can have a tough rehearsal and still pull off a good performance. Most of the time anyway. I think the audience enjoyed the concert and we had fun playing it. I went home humming the music while being glad another event was checked off my to do list.

Saturday morning a subset of the band played in a local farmer’s market. We played a bunch of patriotic music, some showtunes, and a few pieces from our Wednesday night concert. It was a blast. No matter that a heat wave struck that day and we were playing in full sun while seated in a parking lot. No matter that we played for almost three hours. We played fun stuff and pretty stuff. Stuff that made shoppers stop and smile and ask about who we were. Maybe we recruited a few people for next season, I hope so!

That’s me over on the far left in the big hat.

Thursday, while I was having a cracked tooth repaired, my dentist mentioned his wife used to play flute and she wanted to get back at it. Through gauze and novocaine I encouraged him to tell her about a community band I used to play with near his home, one that didn’t require auditions and was welcoming to new members. I hope she checks them out. I can’t say it enough. If you used to play and you miss it, quit making excuses. Dust off the instrument and go find a group. You won’t regret it.

On Saturday we got copies of the concert CD from Wednesday’s performance. I played it on the way home from the farmer’s market and guess what. I didn’t hate the baseball piece.

Actually it kind of made me smile.

A one and a two…


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Baseball, an American pastime and other music

Some of you know that I play in a Community Band. We’re a band made out of people who played in high school, maybe college too, often years, even decades ago. Some of us are retired, most of us are still working, and a few of us are still in school. We have whole families playing together, moms and dads and their kids all come to rehearsals once a week and play music.

That’s my favorite part.

Anyway, our last concert of this season is a week from last night. Like any group we’ve had our good and bad rehearsals, scheduling conflicts, missing music, lack of instrumentation. But we’ve overcome all of that, and with one last rehearsal next week we’ll be ready.

Which is good, because we’re playing Pastime, a Saute to Baseball by Jack Stamp. Give it a listen. At about two minutes you’ll hear the most difficult part, the fugue where the band is split up among several lines and if you’re not careful chaos reigns. Don’t worry, it all comes back together just before two and a half minutes. Still, the whole thing requires concentration and counting. There’s no guessing when to come in on this one.

So I’m practicing. Between now and next Wednesday I think I need to practice every night.

It turns out Pastime isn’t the only difficult piece. We’re also doing Sun Dance by Frank Ticheli. (You can skip the ad after a couple seconds. This is performed by Michigan State University, my undergrad alma mater, so I couldn’t resist. Plus they sound amazing!) It’s turning into a bit of a challenge too. I don’t understand why composers can’t keep the same time signature (the number of beats in a measure) for an entire piece. This is another one that requires concentration and counting. Listen, I think you’ll enjoy it!

But why is everything just so darn fast?

Wish us luck. I think it’s a cool thing, to play with other musicians from all sorts of backgrounds, to not give up our instruments when we graduate from school. If you used to play and haven’t touched your instrument for a few (or a lot) of years, think about joining a community band near you. Many of them don’t require auditions to join.

And don’t be nervous. OK, you’re going to be a little nervous on the first couple of nights. We all were. But you’ll find the other musicians are just happy to have you. We’re always looking for more people.

Trust me. What your brain has forgotten your fingers remember. It will all come back. Promise.

If you didn’t play, consider attending a community band concert. We’re always looking for audience members too. Mostly we ask our friends and families to attend, but it would be fun to look out and see a full house. Music always sounds better when the venue is packed. I bet you even know some of the people playing, and they’d be delighted to see you out there providing support. It’s a community thing, and we certainly could use a little community building these days.

Thanks for listening.