Monday, May 26, 2008

Musical Musings

Tonight I was driving the kids home from our Memorial Day "Barbecue" at a friends house (we did grill, despite the overcast sky and periodic rain). Dave stayed at their house to help them hang a light fixture and I was taking the kids home, much after their bedtimes, to repair the damage of the late bed time as best I could. I was listening to music on my mp3 player through the car stereo, trying to keep Jackson distracted from crying, and one of the pieces from my graduate piano recital, Bach's Toccata in G Minor, came on. I almost skipped past it, thinking that it would be too heavy to listen to with tired kids at 9:30 pm on a school night, but I let it play for a moment, just to hear the opening flourish. I gave myself a perfunctory mental pat on the back, "Good job, Karen," and then went on with my drive now that the showy opening part had passed.

As I went on though, gradually, the music started to draw me in. I forgot for a moment that I was the person playing and just listened. It had been a long time since I had heard it. Unlike previous hearings, back when every note, dynamic marking and fingering were still deeply ingrained in my psyche, the dynamics, subtle nuances and improvised ornaments almost came as a surprise. I enjoyed the recording as a listener, regardless of who the performer happened to be.

It was one of those bittersweet moments. I was awed and appreciative of an artistic offering that was made by the very same hands that were now gripping the steering wheel of our mini-van, physically and metaphorically steering our little family along. Yet at the same time I wondered if I still even had the capacity to play like that anymore. Aside from the problem of being technically rusty, I sometimes doubt whether I even have the mental capacity to concentrate on such fine-tuned artistic details. Becoming a great performer is all about doing the last 1%, that final polish that makes it magical. Where do you find the strength to worry about the last 1% of artistic polish if you don't even have the energy to do the first 10% of cleaning your bathrooms? Is it a shame that the same brain cells that were once occupied with analyzing the seven different deceptive cadences that Bach uses in his Toccata are now filled up with care instructions from the wash labels on all the pieces of laundry that get dirtied in my house every week?

But not to digress... it was a really good performance and I really enjoyed listening to it. And contrary to all expectations, the kids didn't complain about listening to it. Jared even seemed to think it was pretty cool. "Hey Jared," I called out to the back seat, "guess who is playing this?"

"I am."
"What?" he said. "You are the person playing that piano??!"
"Yep," I responded, "I played this back when you were a baby still inside my tummy. I used to practice the piano a lot back then, hours and hours a day."
"Wow, this is a cool song," he said, sounding impressed with his mother.

We pulled into the garage and he climbed up into the front seat of the car and sat, listening to the end of the piece with me. We listened to the final flourish in the dark after the garage light turned off.

"Do you still have the music to that, mom? Do you think you could still play that?"
"I would have to practice to be able to play like that again. Maybe I should start practicing the piano again. Hmmm... maybe I should have to practice the piano before I can watch TV, just like you." I teased.
"That's a good idea, mom," he said, seriously. "You should practice the piano and do your homework before you watch TV. But I guess grown-ups don't have homework, so maybe you can do your cleaning for your homework."
We gathered our stuff out of the car and went inside. Maybe I should get out the music to that Toccata sometime. After all, it is a good idea to practice before you watch TV.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Curses: A Rumination on Procrastination

I seem to keep getting behind with my updates. I start out with such good intentions and even get started, but I never quite seem to get it finished.... kind of like my laundry. Then I think that to write an update I need to catch up completely and it gets more and more overwhelming... kind of like my dishes. But I guess it's better to start somewhere than to never write another update because you're bemoaning how incomplete it will be.

So, let's go back a bit. Wayyyy back. A few days after my mom went back to California, my sister-in-law Leah came to visit with her three kids. Our house was at the tail end of a four-week, multi-city, multi-relative cross-country tour for them. They drove here from Austin, Texas (via San Antonio, Colorado, Salt Lake, Boise, etc.). So Leah has the distinction of being our very first post-move-in-help guest in our new house. During her stint in Portland we did 3 museums, 2 bakeries and Safari Sams in 3 days with 6 kids in tow.
Needless to say, by the end of the week- and maybe even before that- we were both exhausted. After hitting the children's museum and the science museum, by the time we went to the Evergreen Air Museum on the last day the kids were museum-ed out. Despite the fact that the museum housed the enormous flying boat "the spruce goose," the kids were unimpressed. So we left early, went to "the Spider-man park" (as Jared calls Sunset Park here in Sherwood), got Papa Murphy's and crashed. But overall, we and the kids had a great time and Jared and Camryn were THRILLED beyond belief to have their cousins come and visit.

We are starting to finally settle into our new house, despite most of our furniture still being in our old house. I have to admit that the transition has been a tough one for me, made all the worse by me feeling guilty that it has been tough for me. The move was very stressful and happened so quickly that I didn't really have a chance to say goodbye to the house, our neighbors, my curtains, etc. It took me a while to get over grieving for my old house (Alas for my curtains!! Alas for my play structure!! Alas for my well-chosen paint colors!! Alas for finally having everything decorated the way I want it!!). I compounded this by feeling guilty because I SHOULD feel so excited to be in a new house that is bigger and has lots more room. I SHOULD be feeling thrilled. I SHOULD be excited to be living with only part of my furniture and trying to go back to work on the old house with an infant in tow. Right??? But having sufficiently grieved for the loss of our old house, I'm starting to get settled in, getting to know the neighbors and excited about our new house. I even went out and started weeding the front yard (interrupted at intervals by random projectile spit-up from Jackson).

In the midst of all of this, one week at church the activities committee chair came up to me and said, "Karen, we'd like to utilize your talents to put together a number for the ward talent show. We were thinking maybe you could put together a broadway thing for the closing number." This sounded like a great diversion and a lot of fun, so of course- being the gullible person that I am-- I said yes. Only then did I ask when the talent show was. "A week from Saturday," she responded and then thanked me and went off to Sunday School. This wasn't exactly the leisurely 4-6 weeks I had had in mind.

Now the alert reader will point out that at this moment I should have immediately hunted her down and quickly retracted myself from this predicament. Two weeks in the middle of a move is not enough time to put together a broadway number. But, alas I did not. Undeterred, I went home and went through all of my broadway music to look for a number. Only then did I realize how ridiculous this was to try to do in the middle of a move. So my logical response was to simply procrastinate and mostly forget about it and hope that she would forget too.

On the Saturday of the talent show, Dave asked me, "Whatever happened to that broadway thing you were supposed to put together?" "Oh, I kind of forgot about it... I just really couldn't think of anything. But I haven't heard anything about it." Dave suggested that I might want to check to make sure that it wasn't still on the program, so I dutifully called the activities committee chair. "Hi," [yes, I know I sound lame, but I just moved so give me a break here] "you know that number that I was supposed to put together? Well, um, I couldn't really find anything and then I kind of forgot about it, so, yeah, um, I just wanted to make sure that you weren't planning on it." Dead silence on the other end. "You're not planning on it?" she queried, "but you're the closing number...." Now the alert reader would point out that this would be a good time to cut your losses, apologize profusely, accept your permanent future standing as a flake and move on with your life. "I'm so sorry," I said, "I'll work on getting something together right away." This really wasn't an opportune time for all of my mom's lectures about being dependable and doing what you say you are going to do to surface in my brain.

So this is how I ended up spending an entire Saturday writing an American Idol spoof skit. While Dave was off being useful moving stuff from our other house and setting up for the talent show, I wrote, casted, produced and starred in a skit for the closing number of the talent show. I got on the phone and got people who were willing to be our judges and Ryan Seacrest, wrote the script and found costumes for myself (I was playing three different auditioners).

The one and only run-through of this skit was scheduled at the church at 5:00pm. At 4:50 Dave had Jared and Camryn at Costco and I was home with Jackson, madly trying to finish the last changes to the script and print them out while I fed Jackson. I started packing a bottle and getting Jackson ready to go in the car and Jackson started to wail. He was just going to have to live with it because it was 3 minutes to 5:00. I grabbed the diaper bag, picked up a screaming Jackson and ran out the door and into the garage. I threw open the car door and... there were no seats in the van-- baby, car or otherwise. Dave had emptied it to move stuff from the other house and the seats were still sitting on the floor of the garage.

Do you ever have days when you secretly wish you were a swearing person? Before you get offended, please know that I do not usually use strong language beyond a vigorous "dang-it-all." Credit it either to my delicate and refined upbringing or the fact that despite acquiring a taste for many unique flavors in my youth, Antibacterial Dial was not one of them. But I have occasionally had days where a good "dang-it-all" just doesn't quite cut it. This was one of them. I completely skipped over my token "dang-it-all" and let out a loud, "CRAP!!! CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! CRAP! CRAP!!!" I am embarrassed to admit to dropping to such low levels of coarse vocabulary. Had I had more time to reflect, a better choice of vocabulary would have, "Oh EXTREME FRUSTRATION!" or maybe, "Oh the ill-fated combination of bad luck and poor planning!!" or even a simple, "BOY this stinks!" But, I let it out. And only then did I realize that my garage door was wide open and my new neighbors out on their driveway across the street were probably within earshot of my refined exclamation.

Despite the rough beginning, I did eventually make it to the run-through and the skit went really well. As I was playing the part of the "bad singer" and getting panned by the "judges", Camryn, who was sitting with the kids on the floor loudly piped up, "Mommy, I thought you were GREAT!!!" Overall, people enjoyed it and thought it was funny. However, one boy from the primary came up to me afterward and told me in all seriousness, "I thought you sang better than that."


Quotes of the week:

Me: "Jared, did you eat the toothpaste?" [He scratches his head and looks appropriately forgetful]. Jared: "Hmmm, I'm not sure I really remember... let me think.... I don't think any went down my throat."
Camryn: Why did our Grandmas choose to live in a different state from us? I miss them.
Me: Why don't you ask them that?
Camryn: I don't want to hurt their feelings.