Missing External Celebration

Last Updated on 2022-11-15 | Originally Posted on 2020-05-05


Although I could be confused about what day it is upon waking even in normal times, I’m pretty aware of what day of the week it is in general. Like everyone else, my driving schedule has little to do with work; it revolves more around grocery shopping and picking up my bread order for our local artisan boulangère. Perhaps I’m lucky that my workdays are similar to before: online instead of in-person piano lessons on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Plus, working at the church on Wednesday; yes, complying with social distancing including a maximum of four people in our fairly large sanctuary!

Continue reading “Missing External Celebration”

Brighten the Corner Where You Are

Last Updated on 2022-11-15 | Originally Posted on 2019-07-11


July 3, 2019 just wasn’t my day. I was having trouble getting the things done that I planned. My tendency is to try to do to much right before leaving for a vacation, even one lasting just a couple of days. I needed to complete the list that included doing the dishes, house cleaning, laundry, and mailing a birthday present to a friend in France. As a result, I ran out of time to salvage driving to Kansas City to see the Royals play and enjoy a fireworks show at Kauffman Stadium afterward.

Continue reading “Brighten the Corner Where You Are”

Small Action Big Impact

What small action makes a big impact? A review or a testimonial! Let me explain…

I visited Pryde’s Old Westport, a famous kitchen store in Kansas City. You have to look, but tucked away in a corner of the basement is a pie shop, open only three days a week. I asked at the kitchen store checkout if the pie shop was open. Fortunately, yes. However, it’s been a while since I’ve been there, and now it’s run by a new tenant, Ashleigh.

I curiously proceeded to the counter to place my advance order. The posted sign said that I had to order a minimum of two of the small pies, which are basically the size of a large hamburger. Ashleigh explained that these pies are baked in groups of four, so taking single orders makes it difficult. But she said yes anyway. And I’m so glad she did; the pie was so delicious. I thought briefly about how I could repay her kindness. And then it hit me, write a Google review!

If you’re more of a Facebook person, do it there instead! I wasn’t asked to write a review, but I knew it could make a difference, especially to a new business that is trying to build a following. It took me all of maybe two minutes. Weeks later, over 200 people have read my glowing review. I have since taken the time to write reviews for several other businesses where I’ve received exceptional service. Please understand – I rarely respond to those annoying requests for reviews, like the ones you get every time you stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant, or buy a third-party product on Amazon.com. However, if something sticks out as being exceptional, I try to do my part.

Here’s your call to action! Take one moment to review a great experience you’ve had on either Google or Facebook! And while you’re at it, if you would like to throw some praise my way, either for my teaching or performing, please add one that I can use on this Website. I will be so happy you did!

Posted 2018-09-10

Piano Teaching Philosophy

Last Updated on 2022-11-15 | Originally Posted on 2018-05-29


I have been asked about my piano teaching philosophy, so I created a written response. The caveat is that there’s only so much you can get from someone’s writing or even a conversation. When you’ve narrowed down your candidates, I strongly suggest seeing how a teacher teaches by scheduling a trial lesson. Both teacher and student should be comfortable before beginning what could be years of cooperative learning.

Continue reading “Piano Teaching Philosophy”

Give Yourself Permission To Stink


It’s said that perfectionists never get anything done. Despite that somewhat true saying, the expectation in music is that we aim for perfection. You’ve probably heard the expression for when we slightly miss the mark: “It’s close enough for government work.” Fortunately, there are enough folks who see that lie for what it is. As Sierra Teller Ornelas suggests in this article (h/t Kara Cutruzzula), give yourself permission to stink! Beware, she uses a more salty word for stink.

Trying the Violin

I took a class in violin as an undergraduate, which was offered for music education majors who didn’t play the instrument. For me, a performance major, it was just for kicks. However, I learned firsthand why it’s virtually impossible to learn violin as an adult. Drawing the bow to make a pleasing sound takes a long time, perhaps weeks or months of daily practice. It does for children as well, but fortunately, they don’t know (or care) how bad they sound, until they sound good.

Henry, a double-bassist down the hall in my dorm, reminded me in case I wasn’t sure. He demanded that I go down to the basement practice cells because the sound was that bad! I did finish out the semester, and I was able to play through the third position. Sometimes humbling experiences can be our best ones!

Adult Students

It’s probably no surprise that adult students are generally much less successful at following through with a commitment to learn piano than kids. I say generally because I currently have one adult student who understands the long-term commitment and has made the type of progress that’s self-reinforcing. Most adults, however, face a double whammy.

One, they have life obligations that children don’t have, and I think you have to overthink that career, family, or health concerns rank higher than pursuing a hobby. However, I think that’s only part of it. Two, they have done so many things well, but now they’re now faced with a challenge that can’t be overcome in a week, month, or even a year. It’s hard to survive the dip, as Seth Godin coined the term.

Beware of the 80% Plateau

I slipped that story in there as an example of what a beginning student goes through, from my first-hand adult experience. However, even when we’re good at what we do, it doesn’t mean that we don’t face obstacles getting through the 80% plateau. Briefly, it’s that place we arrive at after sufficient practice. The piece sounds pretty good overall, but there are places needing more work. More run-throughs won’t make a difference. It’s hard. It takes time to tear down those sections, try new fingerings and gestures, and practice slowly again. Then, we need to reassemble and reintegrate those passages into the piece.

Permission to Stink

Unless a piece is clearly below our level of accomplishment, it’s going to take time to learn well. The first performance of any new piece, or a full program of pieces, will likely be the worst. It will get better with repeated performances, more practice, and even after being put aside for weeks or months. I’m not saying that we should purposely stink! Ms. Ornelas explains this in her work as a television writer and producer:

You’re taught this insane work ethic, so if it’s not perfect, it’s garbage. And the way you actually create art is by making garbage first, and then getting better and better. And so giving yourself permission to suck is such a hard thing to do.

Sierra Teller Ornelas

Why Musicians Have Warm-Up Events

I just held a piano party for my piano studio. Some kids were trying out their pieces for an upcoming festival for the first time. Other kids were trying out pieces that they had just learned but had not perfected. I often learn new organ repertoire that I try out as preludes or postludes at my church job before I’d put them into a recital or play them for fellow organists. Musicians of all genres, even ones at the top of their field, try out their new material in front of small audiences before they go on tour to play for larger venues.

In Conclusion

Creative workers understand that their work will go through many iterations before it becomes good, much less great. Legendary salesman and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said basically the same thing decades ago: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly…until you can do it well.” Sounds like giving yourself permission to stink, right? And I’m sure plenty of sages have said similar things. As Ms. Ornelas said, “Make mistakes in front of as many people as you can.”

Last Updated 2021-11-03 | Originally Posted 2018-05-21

One Thank-You Note

One thank-you note. What made it special? It was the only one!

I recently agreed to take on a block of accompanying for juries at the University of Arkansas. Fourteen to be exact. For each student, there were two half-hour rehearsals, plus playing for the jury itself, about 8 to 10 minutes long. The pay was decent, and really there was no need for a special thank you other than the check I will eventually receive. However, one student S took the time to handwrite the thank-you note below. The stationery on which it was written was accordion folded with each of the letters from the words “thank you” represented.

I wish I could say I practiced the art of saying thank you, whether in written or email form, as often as I should. Cheers to S! She has this part of life down pat!

thank you note
A Special Thank You Note

Posted 2018-05-12

Find the Right Piano Teacher

Last Updated on 2023-01-20 | Originally Posted on 2018-04-18


Your best way to find a teacher is by word of mouth. Even if you’re newly moving into an area, find some friends in real life or network with others through a Facebook group to get some leads. Using a Google search can be helpful, but you’re more likely to find music schools than private teachers. Private teachers are usually better established and prefer to teach on their own versus sharing a cut of pay with a music school.

Continue reading “Find the Right Piano Teacher”

How to Respond

Are you ever at a loss for how to respond to a situation that has happened in your life? One of the most influential books I read, while I was a twenty-something, was The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. It isn’t a career advice book per se, but it has wonderful insights into how to be the best you can be in your work and personal life.

From time to time, I think back to quotes from that book to help me in a particular situation. They tend not to be the actual Seven Habits, as wonderful as they are, but nuggets of wisdom that are sprinkled throughout. I sometimes share the advice, whether or not it was welcome! Years ago, when I received a lame excuse from one of my high school choral scholars at St. Tim’s Episcopal Church, I would say “use your resourcefulness and initiative (R & I).”

Although that’s my favorite quote, that’s not what I was looking for in this situation. I luckily found the exact quote I needed through a Google search: “When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other.” In this particular case, I was at the far end of the stick, on the receiving end of someone else’s decision. It helped me to realize that I was in control of my reaction and that I could choose my own response. It is liberating to know that you have that freedom.

If you have never read this book, or realize it’s time to re-read it, please do so. And use your R & I to get it for free:

  • It may be on your bookshelf already.
  • Borrow it from your public library.
  • Do you have Amazon Prime? You can borrow one Kindle book per month. That’s something I just discovered!
Posted 2018-04-16

Energy Giving or Energy Draining?

I read this really inspiring advice from a Kara Cutruzzula, a blogger and freelance writer who publishes a simple thought each day via her newsletter. I’ve subscribed for a couple of weeks so far, and so far I’m really impressed. Kara addresses life as either energy giving or energy draining, though she uses a different word for draining!

Before you do anything today, ask yourself:

Is this about to be an energy-giving activity or an energy-sucking activity?

Applies to everything!

Pay attention to what—and who—is sucking the life out of you, and suddenly you’ll have so much more to give.

I thought about this in terms of my own life, and it really gave me a new perspective. One of my worst energy drains is found in open loops. When last checked, I had 104 items that were due today listed in my to do app. Many of these are either “waiting on someone else” to get back to me, or are those tiny errands that need to get done, but aren’t of utmost important. Somehow, grocery shopping gets done, but sending damaged items back to Amazon doesn’t!

I’d have to say that “waiting on someone else” is most frustrating, because it’s not always clear how or if I can close these loops. These can be things like:

  • Trying to convert a prospective piano student into an actual one. Lots of flakiness happens between the moment that you make an appointment to meet, either for an interview or first lesson, and the actual date/time it’s supposed to occur.
  • An idea that you’re gung-ho to try but you haven’t gotten a firm commitment from the decision maker required to make it happen.
  • Getting paid promptly for a gig or service that I’ve performed. It doesn’t seem to matter the amount or even how well I performed the task.

There are pretty much just three things to do: 1) follow up, 2) wait, or 3) drop it. I don’t have any great answers here, except that I have found that following up on a pre-set timetable seems to work best. There’s no need to worry during “wait” if I know that the next follow up will happen next week or next month. I’ve found that dropping things is healthy, since nothing in life is truly final, except life itself!

What are your energy giving and energy draining activities? How do you cope?

Posted 2018-04-02