Tuesday, December 30, 2008

After Christmas....

My musicians in their Christmas best.

Do you have any ideas how long it took to get a
photo with everyone and the dog looking?
Well, we put our Christmas decorations and gifts away a bit earlier than usual this year. My Christmas gifts are arriving today....new furniture (hurray!)!! All last week, I prayed that Haley wouldn't get sick because she had so many different performances.
So, she waited to catch a cold on Saturday. She was a bit hoarse yesterday but feeling a little better, so I am not sure whether she is getting better or whether it was the calm before an infection. For a child who was soooo sick during the first 3 years of her life, the last 3 have been not that bad with only a few stomach viruses and colds. So, I am knocking wood that she stays on that course and works her way through this one.
It will be nice to have a few days this week without anything scheduled in the evenings and I am looking forward to nothing at all to do on the 1st or on Saturday.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning Withdrawal???

For the past week and a half I have, for the most part, given the kids off of school due to a very busy week prior to Christmas and this week, trying to dig out from under the Christmas mess and reorganize to start the new year fresh since the kids are moving on to new books in many subjects. Newt has been doing SAT test prep, Dylan has been continuing his reading, and we have done some catching up on science and history with all the kids. Our usual schedule of subjects has been on hold though.

Now tonight, at 9pm, my Haley comes up to sit in the chair with me carrying a pile of workbook including math, reading, and vocabulary. "I want to do schoolwork!"

She is working her way through a math lesson as I am typing. She really is a motivated kid. This is the second time in the last week and a half she has taken is upon herself to do schoolwork. She is my child for whom "child-led learning" works like a charm.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tupperware containers...

Haley is a whole to parts learner. She learns an entire piece of music (actually entire CDs worth of music) on her own because she has a great ear and an amazing musical memory then she goes to Suzuki lessons with the next piece for her teacher to fix her bowings, change fingerings, add in dynamics and encourage more advanced musicality with bow control/tone/vibrato, etc...

Because Haley is talented, she knows what she wants to do with a piece of music (how it should sound) and will compromise certain things to get there like change her wrist position or fingering or bow any old way. This week her teacher told her that for kids who are not like Haley, it is easy to have a perfect wrist or proper bowings because they learn the piece one part at a time and are told how it should all be done.

Many times her teacher has told us that she feels like she is trying to fit Haley into a Tupperware container that is too small by slowing her down and making her fix technical issues.

Haley wants and is perfectly capable of playing each song but plays them at a much higher level once she has fixed all the technical problems. Luckily she doesn't seem to mind the changes or slowing down too much. She seems to easily incorporate the new things she is taught about a song so within a week or two each song is learned well enough to move on to the next only needed a week or two more practice to polish it up to performance level.

I appreciate her teacher's dedication to perfection. I see so many video clips on youtube or watch other children at Suzuki events playing the same songs as Haley but without the bow control/distribution, dynamics, and musicality. I often wonder whether these kids are taught properly and that is just the best they can play (the most they can get out of it) or whether their teacher didn't know to teach a more advanced way of playing the piece.

Anyway, I am just so glad we found this teacher and that her personality and Haley's work so well together. She made a comment once after we heard her daughter playing a very advanced piece that someday Haley will play that piece but that she will need a violin teacher to teach it to her (Haley's teacher teaches advanced viola). It made me wonder at what level/age that would happen but I didn't ask...don't think I really want to think about that just yet.

Consuming music...

Since the middle of October, Haley has learned about 20 new fiddle pieces (a few rather advanced). Some she learned at lessons, a couple at Next Gen Kids Sundays, and a few on her own. She taught herself about 20 Christmas songs and also finished up the last two songs in Suzuki Book 2, put on a Book 2 recital, and learned a little more than half of Book 3!

She is just consuming music at an amazing speed. All the while she has polished many of those songs in order to perform them at various Christmas concerts and performances. It is just amazing! I cannot believe how quickly she is moving at this point. Practice time during each day has been closer to 3 hours. She practices her Suzuki materials (scales/arpeggios, review pieces, and current pieces) for about 1-1.5 hours depending. She practices fiddle for about 45 min then practices with her brothers for performances for another 30-45 min. Even with all that practicing, she still picks up her violin to learn music on her own and/or sits at the piano and doodles for an hour at a time.

This weekend, while making cookies at Grammy's, she sat at the piano with music spread all around her picking out a two-handed version of Little Drummer Boy. The melody was rather easy once she figured out what key to start in and heard where the B flats needed to go with her ear and the left hand was rather repetitive but it was still impressive for a child who's never had a piano lesson.

Christmas musical...

This year, since we have given up taekwondo, the kids had time to participate in the church Christmas musical. Dylan was asked to play the part of a wise man and at first he declined but I could tell he really wanted to do it so I pressed him into it a bit. (He is at that age...not quite little boy but not quite teen where there is a fine line between cool and uncool.) The play is usually put on by the 3rd-6th graders but they asked Haley to play the part of "little child" so she had two quite long speaking parts and a solo (that just happened to be the same solo Newt sang when he was close to her age...they recycle plays every 6-7 years).

We attended practices every Monday and Wednesday night...not an easy task with our busy schedules but we managed. They kids learned it quickly...Haley knew everyone's parts after listening to the CD 2-3 times so was a great help to the director and other performers. LOL

I helped put together the costumes and trace/paint the scenery which ended up being more fun than I had anticipated.

Saturday morning they had a dress rehearsal and it was a little questionable as to how the play would go down because many of the children forgot their lines and many others were a bit wound up by the fun of costumes. But Sunday night they all did very well and the play went off without a hitch! Dylan sang and admitted he was glad he had done the play and that he'd really like to do it again next year. Haley took over the one small mic they had placed just for her rather than moving another up and down and she sang her little heart out in her most animated way which was absolutely adorable in her little angel costume. Her solo brought tears to many eyes. She has an amazing voice!

It was a fun night and I'm glad we were able to do it!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What a busy week...

This week has probably been our most busy musical week ever. Haley had lessons (fiddle then violin) during the day on Monday (a usual occurrence) followed by church musical practice for she and Dyl in the evening.

Tuesday all three kids played at the cafe on the request of the owner who was hosting a Christmas party for family and customers. They had a buffet dinner and cake. The little place was full of people so that there was hardly any walking room. My kids played Christmas music and a few favorite Celtic tunes. They received a lot in tips but decided to use the money to purchase Christmas gifts on the wish list of kids in a needy family. They were able to nearly fill the wishes for both kids (a 9yo girl and 11yo boy). The kids were so sad that almost everything on the list was something they take for granted that they will have like warm hat and gloves, warm pajamas, sweatpants, etc... They were also able to buy the little girl some play makeup and jewelry which Haley thought were necessities and had fun buying.

Wednesday night we were back at church musical practice. While the kids practiced, all of us mothers painted the scenery which was very fun. We ended up being there until 9:30pm trying to get it finished. We succeeded!

Thursday the kids wanted to do Open Mic Night at the coffeehouse. There weren't many performers so they were able to do a Christmas set and a Celtic set. They played a song with the woman hosting the night. Later she asked if Haley would be interested in playing violin to one of her songs when she records in January. The boys also performed La Bamba with a bass guitarist... Newt sang it! LOL

Friday was the busiest day of all. Haley had a concert with her violin teacher and a (very) few of her students at the retirement home they perform for once a month. There were only 3 violin students (Haley, a 15yo viola student, and a 4yo who only recently started lessons), 4 piano students (the accompanist's students), her teacher's 17yo dd (who Haley adores and idolizes), and the teacher. Haley played her newest Book 3 songs...Martini's Gavotte and Bach's Minuet in C. She played a violin duet of What Child Is This with her teacher's dd playing harmony then also played Jingle Bells and Hark the Herald into the Christmas Eve Reel. After everyone else played they ended the program with a Christmas medly played by all the big people and Haley. (I didn't even know Haley could play a few of the songs but she seemed to be doing just fine.)
After the concert, we rushed home to stuff in some dinner then head to Frank's studio. He had asked the kids to perform during his student's recital. They played in the middle of the program....6 songs (some Christmas and a few Celtic favorites). It was an amazing performance. There were a lot of people there and they all clapped along to the fast Celtic tunes. The clapping only increased Haley's concentration and showmanship. She was tapping and moving to the music, glancing back to smile at her brothers, and grinning to the crowd. The kids were playing the best I have ever heard them play together and it brought tears to my eyes watching those 3 amazing kids then remembering that they were...mine! At the end, they received a standing ovation from the crowd!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Snowball effect...

This month is a very busy month for us. The kids have many opportunities to perform, Haley has concerts to attend, plus Dyl and Haley are in the Christmas musical for church so have practices and rehearsals, etc... It seems that every week something is added to our calendar and I am astounded at how everything seems to snowball especially with the kids and their music.

It wasn't that long ago, April or May, when we saw a sign at the music store for the little local talent competition. Haley read it and insisted I sign her up. Dylan learned one of her songs so I thought it would be nice and a good motivator for him to play with her. That little competition started the kids' interest in playing music together and soon Newt wanted to get in on the performances as well.

In June, I just happened to take Haley and Dyl into the coffeehouse for some icecream while waiting for Newt's drum lesson to finish. I had no idea there was a stage in there until Dylan walked into the back and started talking to two men who were sitting at a table, one of whom happened to be the owner. Dylan had Haley's violin because it was too hot to leave it in the car and Haley had dropped her icecream so I handed the violin to Dylan while I cleaned it up. The owner asked about the violin and wanted to hear Haley play. From that little encounter came the offer to play at Open Mic Nights then more recently an invitation to play Christmas music for during the town's parade night followed by another invitation to play closer to Christmas since they had learned so many songs.

Haley had given her Book 1 concert at our church the end of March last year and our pastor's wife heard her play. At the end of the school year, she asked if Haley would like to do a concert for her school. Haley loves to perform anywhere, anytime so that was a no brainer. Because of that performance, Haley was also asked to perform at the Fall Festival for church. Since the boys had been playing with her at the coffeehouse, I asked if they could perform as well. They would have been so mad if I hadn't.

Playing at Louisa's Cafe led to meeting Frank which led to being asked to play at another fall festival the next town over. He recently asked them to play with his students in a couple weeks and would like to record them. I haven't called him to discuss that because I am not sure how I feel about it though the kids are all gung-ho. That fall festival also resulted in being asked to play on the local radio station. It took me a few months to call the woman who had given me her card but I did and everything is scheduled for after the holidays.

Everything has seemed to be an accident or as a result of something else. I haven't really gotten used to the idea and don't know exactly how I feel about it all or where it is all going. Since it seems to have a momentum of its own and the kids are enjoying it, I will just go along with it all and make choices as they come. Music is something I know very little about so I am trying to get used to parenting talented kids. Hopefully I won't make any huge mistakes as we go along.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Pondering questions...

Someone on a board I frequent was asking how we know if our children are working to their full potential? How we know they are as gifted as we think they are?

Here's my reply (I almost have to laugh at how calm I am about it all now that I have had a few years to adjust to Haley because just a few years ago, I agonized over the same issues.)....

I used to agonize over the same questions, especially when music professionals started suggesting that I take my almost 4yo dd to a music teacher who lived 5 hours away. I was thinking if she isn't that talented really, then I didn't need to use up so many family resources (time, money, etc...) to nurture her talent but if she was and I didn't nurture her, would I be able to live with that. I found another option but it was a tough few months until we found the option we could live with. For those few months, I agonized over whether or not making certain choices would limit her potential and had a real need to know what her potential was...something no one could possibly know since we don't have any crystal balls.

I have calmed down a lot since then and now have come to see that knowing how gifted my children are doesn't change what I am doing for them schoolwise (though I still don't know whether or not I would pour so much money into her music if she wasn't who she is). I teach each to their ability level...keeping them challenged but not frustrated. I would introduce them to the same things regardless of whether their IQ was 80 or 160 and just teach them as much as they could handle.

I had dd tested but not her older brothers but it was to help me get a handle on where her instructional level was since she was not a sequential learner. Knowing IQ level (potential) didn't help me at all but knowing where she was achievement-wise did give me a starting point and we experimented from there to find something that challenged her. I know where it becomes instructional (that "low simmer" another poster suggested) when she doesn't immediately know it. I tend to ramp things up slowly with her because she tends to be a perfectionist and it is easier not to frustrate her. I have found that providing her lots of options then following her lead has worked wonderfully. She still isn't a sequential learner and is all over the place level-wise but I have become more comfortable with it.

I have worked with children for 15 years...am a physical therapist for an early intervention program. I have learned through that work to never underestimate kids and what they might be capable of doing. I have worked with kids who doctors told parents at birth would never walk and talk who have ended up being ahead of age peers by their second birthday. I treat every child moving toward the next step, whatever that next step might be for them. I am always challenging them to do just slightly more than they thought they could do.

No one lives up to their "full potential." Scientists say that we all use only a minute percentage of our brain's capability. Time restrictions and resource limitations will always cause us to make choices. My goal for my kids is that they have the ability/option to go in whatever direction they chose when they are old enough and mature enough to make that decision. Learning isn't a race to me. They will be able to learn throughout adulthood. As long as they know how to learn and where to find answers, they will do well in whatever field they decide to pursue. In the meantime, I will simply challenge them everyday to do a little more than they thought they could do.

Christmas "Concert"

About 3 weeks ago, the owner of the coffeehouse where the kids often play "Open Mic" night asked if they would like to come in and play some Christmas music before and after the city's Christmas parade.

They didn't know any Christmas music at the time but were excited by the opportunity, so we said they could and they set to work learning some songs. They watched youtube videos and listened to CDs then came up with a songs they'd like to learn. For Haley, it was easy to pick out the melodies once she heard the songs. Newt just had to come up with a beat to a few of the faster songs which he did the last couple days before their show. Dylan did a combo of learning from watching others play on youtube, to coming up with chords on his own by listening to Haley play. I wasn't sure they would be able to put together enough music but they did and they sounded great together.

It wasn't a day when people were coming in to hear music, most simply dropped in to use the bathroom or get a cup of cocoa to warm up but many stopped in their tracks to watch the kids and a small number hung around to see them again after the parade. A few took pictures or video and one guy called someone on his cell then held it up so they could listen to them. The owner asked if they would like to come back to play again before Christmas. They played about 10 Christmas songs together then mixed in some Celtic music to make their "set" a little longer. The Celtic fiddle music was a bigger hit than the Christmas but it is Christmas time. Great job kids!