Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nothing Else Matters

I'm not sure if it is funny or sad, but I actually knew the Apocalyptica version before I heard the Metallica original.

My friend, Sacho, introduced me to Apocalyptica in high school after he found out I played the cello.  I still remember saying, "I bet if I practiced I could play that."  He looked at me with doubt and said, "I don't think so; they're really good."


To be fair, that was before Sacho had heard me play.

Eventually I heard the original, but I (don't throw things at me!) actually preferred the Apocalyptica version.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Magical 5th Graders

My first year starting kids out in music as 4th graders, I was terrified.  I was incessantly worried I would mess up their foundation, thus ruining them for life.  The notion of introducing a child to music was daunting.  How do you do it?  While I obviously learned myself, I was 3 when I learned how to read music!  I don't remember how it happened!

When they were 5th graders, something happened, though.  Our very first song in the book, a 2 lined song, took 3 weeks to learn the previous year (with the 5th graders I had not started).  However, this time, when MY 5th graders read through the line, they made it all the way through the very first time.  I was ecstatic!  

We played Tchaikovsky, and I had to teach them how to say "Tchaikovsky".  
Chai - like the tea
Cough - like coughing
Ski - like the sport

They could count out loud.  They could pay syncopated rhythms and offbeats, which is challenging for anybody much less 5th graders.  They cheered for themselves when they were done playing through something.  When I would give them directions, they ALL would listen, all would do it, and all would remember it forever.  They were magical.  Thus, I began calling them my "magical 5th graders".  (Any teacher out there knows that getting a class of 50 kids to all do something the first time correctly and remember it forever really IS magical!)  They were an amazing combination of smart, hard working, talented, and pleasantly enthusiastic. 

As 6th graders, we played a piece called For The Star of County Down.  Most kids don't enjoy slow music, so I said we would sight read it and see if they liked it.  We had to learn a few new concepts (triplets, 6/8 time, some new notes) before we could do it.  But when we read the music for the first time and got to the slow section, something hilarious/wonderful happened.  They started playing and you could hear an audible sigh as they were playing.  One 6th grade boy exclaimed, "It's SO BEAUTIFUL!" as he was playing!  (That's completely allowed in my classroom.  I encourage dorking out.)  When we finished, the kids were SO excited and demanded we play it.  We ended up taking it to Festival, and we got our school's first Superiors (the highest marks) ever.  We were also the youngest group participating and I was so proud of them.

They remained amazing through 7th and 8th grade.  All the while, I called them my magical 5th graders.  It feeds the soul when you are with amazing people for 5 years.  I was so sad when they graduated 8th grade, and was mournful at the idea of not seeing them every day.

Well, today they graduated high school and they are on their way to college.

They may be 18, but to me, they will always be my magical 5th graders.  Still amazing.  Still smart, hard working, and talented.  Still genuinely good people.  I wish them all the luck, although I know they don't need it.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day!

Happy Father's Day to all those dads out there!

Since I made my mom a card for mother's day, I know my dad is hoping to get a handmade card himself :)  My parents are in the phase of life where they are trying to get rid of all the stuff they don't need, so they don't want any more THINGS.  So this was my way of bringing a personal touch.

My dad is a clarinet player, hence the attempt at a clarinet on the side.  He also used to really like fishing, and would take my sister and I out to fish as children.  My sister and I caught our first fish the same trip when I was 8 and she was 15.  Everybody tried to convince me I had caught a boot, but I knew it was a fish and wouldn't let anybody cut the line!  :)

This picture is my favorite.  It pretty much captures us :)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Worker's Comp - Almost 1 year later...

My school district was awesome.  I didn't even really know what worker's comp was.  I thought it was something you did if a beam fell on you while you were working.

So when I had to have vocal cord surgery because I had been missing my voice for 6 months, I was surprised to get some forms in the mail for worker's comp.  I had gone to human resources to talk about medical leave, and how I could go about it without missing any work or bothering anybody.  In the end, the human resources lady (shout out to Kay!) submitted me for worker's comp.  All 3 of my bosses replied with the general tone of, "GOOD!  You deserve it!"

Maybe it's because I had to teach with a bullhorn to be heard.  Maybe it's because, when my voice went away completely, I used a wireless keyboard to type instructions that was projected onto a screen behind me.  (Good thing I type quickly.  I used a LOT of emoticons and my own facial expressions to convey tone.  It was pretty funny, really.)

Well, it is almost one year later, and I'm finally being seen by a doctor!  I don't understand this, to be honest.  I had my surgery almost a year ago, already.  I'm fine now.

I went yesterday, and visited an ENT by Union Square.  Because I'm me, I arrived having been awake over 19 hours and it was only 10:30 in the morning.  I also showed up not having eaten in a while, in case they decided to scope me ::: shudder :::

After filling out pages of forms, I saw the doctor.  I told him the story, he asked me questions, and wrote everything down.  Seriously, 3 pages of writing things down.  I'm fully aware how ridiculous it sounds when I talk about teaching a class of 73 middle schoolers by myself while a band practices on the other side of a fake wall.  And every doctor always gives me a, "That's ridiculous!" kind of look.

As suspected, he scoped my vocal chords.  That involves a long straight metal stick being shoved down my mouth to take pictures and video of my vocal chords.  It's not horrible but certainly not pleasant, and I always refrain from eating before this to avoid throwing up on people.  I'm considerate that way.  THEN, my nose had to be scoped.  This is my least favorite thing ever, due to a traumatic emergency room situation that involved a clueless ER guy incorrectly packing my nose, and convincing me he had stabbed me in the brain.  While I know it's not actually possible to be stabbed in the brain by cotton through your nose, it very much felt like it, and I remain convinced that something happened that was not supposed to happen.

The scoping wasn't horrible.  No brain stabbing.  But I'd still avoid it if possible.

The doctor then put me in a room, made me stand in the corner and read a small paragraph while he and his assistant listened.  When I finished, he said, "Perfect!  35 seconds exactly!"  He said he had some partial hearing loss, but could still very clearly hear everything I said.  I project well.  =)  I had to!  I had to project my voice over 70 band kids playing their instruments!

I then had to close my eyes and march in place.  Apparently, I move forward when I think I'm not.  He checked my ears, and finished with, "You're fine."

Well, I know I'm fine.  That's why I had surgery.  =)

I'm not sure what happens now.  I wait.

Friday, June 7, 2013


When I lived in Orange County, I made two shopping trips a week.  One was to Henry's (or Sprouts, because their name changed) and one was to Vons.  Sprouts was for my meats and vegetables, mostly, since they were cheaper there.  My trip to Vons was for anything packaged and for my coffee creamer.  I love the caramel macchiato creamer, it's delicious.

Since moving to San Francisco, I've been walking to Whole Foods twice a week.  Grocery stores are strangely few and far between in SF, and this Whole Foods is a mere .3 miles from my apartment!  I had heard rumor there was a Safeway nearby, but my landlady told me to drive there.  Since I hate driving, I never went.

Today, I finally went!  I walked, because it seemed close.  Just .6 miles!  The walk there was fine.  I walked over Geary on a bridge, which was fun.  I have a special place in my heart for bridges, no matter how mundane they may seem.

I didn't realize how much I had missed Safeway/Vons/Pavillions.  It's been 8 months since I've been to one.  New foods exist, now!  Ice creams exist now that didn't before!  A strange reuniting.  Hooray!  I don't have to go to Walgreens or Target anymore for my packaged foods!  I also bought two cartons of Greek yogurt for 5.99 instead of the normal 7.99 at Whole Foods.  I found my peanut butter Oreos I've been looking for for months.  I didn't have to wait in line to buy meat!

I realize I'm a little too excited about this.

The walk back, however, was strange.  I usually struggle coming back from Whole Foods, as I cram everything into one impressive bag that leaves horrible red marks on my shoulder as I trek up a giant hill.  Walking twice the distance, while only .6 miles, was surprisingly difficult.  By the time I reached my apartment, my face was sweaty.  I had to change into cooler clothes upon returning.  My heart rate was elevated and I was breathing hard.

I've decided to count my trip to the grocery store as exercise.

Buses also don't really help.  All the buses will take you a block or two at most.  It seems like a waste.  Still.  I missed the store.  Perhaps I will only go for light foods next time...instead of a pound of yogurt.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pomp and Circumstance

Pomp and Circumstance is a piece my orchestra played twice a year every year for 8 years.  That's a lot of graduations.

After my first year, I began arranging my own versions of this piece for sheer convenience.  Our instrumentation changed, our strengths and weaknesses were different every year, so I adapted.

This is a tedious piece to play at a graduation, because it is inevitable to arrive at the same 8 bars that you must repeat incessantly until all the kids have made it to their seats.  We repeated it anywhere from 5 to over 20 times.  Every time we would come to the repeat, students would look at me with eyes of hope that pleaded, "Let this be the last time!"  But alas.  It never was :)

It wasn't exactly a joy to hear it over and over again, either.  Not only did we have to perform it, but we had to practice it over and over again.  We had to practice playing it twenty times so they had the physical stamina.

The year 2011 was a difficult year.  I had a difficult 8th grade class who had been with me for 5 years.  The last 2-3 years of that time had been....unpleasant for both sides.  They wouldn't practice.  They couldn't retain.  They couldn't listen or adjust to each other.  I tried and created so many different ways of addressing the same issues that by the end of 5 years I was drained.  I had used all my creativity to try to make them love music and enjoy my class.  Instead, they were apathetic toward the class and hated me.  I had never felt so much hatred coming toward me in my life :(

The year below them, the graduating class of 2012, was the opposite.  They were excitable, enthusiastic, extremely alert and observant, willing and happy to dork out with me.  In 2010-2011, I was truly frightened to join these two groups together, worried of who would win.  Would the 8th graders make music lame for the 7th graders, or would the 7th graders excite and motivate the 8th graders?  In the end, neither happened, which I considered a success.  8/9 of my classes were positive environments with this one class of negativity that poisoned my soul.  I just wanted them to love it, and they never did.

For the 2011 graduation, the 7th graders (and some 6th graders) played for the 8th graders.  My 7th graders were starving for a challenge and I was finally able to feed them with the technical rigors of this particular arrangement.  The first time we played together, before school, was magical.  The sound was the sound of 30 people sighing in relief.  We had grown accustomed to the mediocrity of every day orchestra, forgetting what we used to be.  When we began to play, a 12 year exclaimed, "I forgot how good we sounded!"  When we ended, another had a huge smile on his face, and he said, "FINALLY, something I can't play the first time!"

It reassured us that our orchestra would bounce back.

It became, at least in my mind, an anthem of rebellion.  There was a tinge of "ha ha" to it, and I'm not proud to admit that.  But seeing as how that 8th grade class took a big chunk of my spirit with them, I only feel moderately guilty.  It starts out minor, which we found funny (yes, a group of 6th and 7th graders found this funny).  The beginning sounded ominous.

In the end, we pulled off something special.  I remember thinking, "We'll be okay next year!  I'm going to make it!"

This is my arrangement of Pomp and Circumstance:

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gautier Capucon - Woo hoo!

I am a Dvorak snob.

I really am.  I first played the first movement of his cello concerto when I was 12 or 13, and it was a beast then just as it is still a beast for me.  Having such small hands really does create a needlessly difficult obstacle in general, but for Dvorak it is so unpleasantly obvious.  Simple melodies turn into complicated challenges for me.

I played the Dvorak Cello Concerto with my Youth Symphony when I was 17 (the first movement).  I played it again for my senior recital in college.  I own at least a dozen different recordings.  I know what I like, I know what I don't like (Maisky, I'm looking at you, man!).  Having said that, being me, I am always open and eager for new ideas and interpretations.  

Today, my parents and I went to the San Francisco Symphony to hear Gautier Capucon's version of the Dvorak Cello Concerto.  I'm always both excited and nervous to listen to new people.  I'm excited at the possibility of it being super awesome and unique, but worried it's going to disappoint me and my ridiculously high standards.
Capucon's rendition was....amazing.  His technique makes me jealous.  He hits EVERYTHING with impressive accuracy.  All those double stops, thumb position, fast technical passages...everything.  But what was most enjoyable was his interpretation of this piece.  He took some serious tempo liberties that I found pleasantly indulgent.  It can be too much very easily, and I can easily brush you off as being too flashy and too full of yourself.  This, however, was the perfect balance of ALMOST too much but not.  He did things I had never heard before.  A difficult feat considering how many I've listened to.  I really am a collector at this point.  And I thoroughly enjoyed almost all of his interpretations.  If I didn't outright enjoy them, I tweaked my head to the side and though, huh, that's interesting, I never thought of it that way.  I appreciate those moments, equally.

Dvorak is also physically demanding.  If I haven't been actively training for this specific concerto, by the time I get to the bottom of the first page my arm is burning from exertion.  I feel super buff by the time I can get through the whole thing.  My arms also feel a bit like limp noodles.  Buff limp noodles?  

That does not sound delicious...

Anyways, loved it.  I kind of want to be his friend now. 
I did, however, become depressed when I read his bio in the program and discovered he is the same age as I.  There's nothing to make you feel bad about yourself than the amazing ability of someone the same age or younger than you!  :)  That's okay.  That's better, in my opinion, than being the superior one in a group of mediocre people, right?