Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Year in Review

Nothing happened this year, either.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chicken Soup for the Soul

I haven't written a blog post for a while; writer's block, I suppose. I've been focusing my energy on organizing the music for the Generation of Youth for Christ conference, coming up just next week. I still feel somewhat overwhelmed with what needs to be done to get everything ready, but at the same time I'm not exactly sure what that is at this point; put out fires wherever they occur, I suppose, and see what happens when I get there. 

I really ought to get out of bed and get to work, but I felt compelled to finally write another blog post, lest my readers (whoever they are!) get discouraged that this blog hasn't been updated for so long that they quit checking it. Today's topic: emotions. 

The title of this blog evokes feelings of comfort food and nice puppy stories, but that's not what I have in mind. I was thinking today about the soul's emotions and how we care for them, compared to our physical weaknesses and how we care for them. I think that emotions are like a cold or a flu. It's inevitable that at times we may feel under the weather. If you're a fairly healthy person and do all the right things, it may be less often than otherwise. We are taught to eat healthy foods and avoid sugar and take our vitamins, dress warmly, get lots of exercise and rest, wash our hands regularly, and avoid getting close to people who are sick to avoid catching something. If we do these things, our chances for getting a cold may decrease, and we may be able to heal quicker and not lose as much productivity. However, I don't believe there's ever been a person on earth who has been so healthy and done all the right things so that they didn't ever have a day where they just felt icky and feverish and had a cough or sore throat and wanted to stay in bed. It's just the way things go. 

Likewise, our emotions can be controlled--and not controlled--in the same way. If we eat healthy foods and avoid sugar and take our vitamins, dress warmly, and get lots of exercise and rest, it helps to strengthen our minds as well as our bodies so that we can have clear minds to make good decisions and deal with things. Very importantly, we also ought to keep our hearts clean as well as our hands, and avoid contact with influences that will contaminate us. However, as colds, emotions and temptations do come into our minds without our consent; it's just part of life. 

I was listening to a sermon from Audioverse yesterday, and it mentioned that it's not our emotions that define us, it's what we choose to do with them. Too many times, people think that just because they feel something, that means they have to act on it, which is often times not the right decision. (I'm talking about the kind of emotions that could lead us to make the wrong decision, such as anger, unsanctified attraction, jealousy, despair, etc.) In this case, it helps to think of these emotions as a cold--do the best you can to get over it, but understand that you just have to let it go. And just like the times when you are lying in bed with at fever of 100 degrees and feel like you can't remember what it was like to be well and will never be healthy again, you just have to realize that with time, you'll be all back to normal again.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Sometimes I'm struck with how similar the method of studying the Bible is to studying music.

Take, for example, the Bach unaccompanied sonatas and partitas: if you're unfamiliar with them, they're nothing but a collection of enormous, overwhelming works for plain old solo violin, and they tend to sound similar. Even simple sounding. If you're a violinist and you're trying to play them, some movements are not technically terribly difficult to play (well, excluding all the fugues and the Chaccone, of course), but it doesn't take long to realize that if you actually want to play them in tune, they aren't as easy as they look. What I've found about the Bach unaccompanied works is that the more you dig into them, the more you realize is actually in there and how very challenging they are. Soon you find that it's a lifetime work.

The Bible is the same way. You can look at it on a shallow level and think you've pretty much got the hang of it. But the deeper you study it, the deeper you realize it is.

This led me to think about the technique of studying the Bible, something I've been wondering about and working on for a long time. It occurred to me that, since I teach the violin all day every day, perhaps there's something I can learn from learning an instrument like the violin.

The first thing I teach beginning violinists is technique. I don't hand them a violin and say, "Here's a concerto, figure it out and go play it." The first two or three months are spent practicing holding the violin and bow over and over and playing games to develop coordination, ear training, and general comfort with the instrument before the bow is even placed on the string to make a sound. The next step is "patterning," where the child's teacher and parent actually move the bow on the string for him, so the student can gradually develop the feeling of what it's like to move the bow, and what it should sound like. Eventually, after weeks of daily practice (often with tears), the student gets a turn once in a while to copy Mom's pattern. Then, after more time of developing the technique, the student is able to play one simple rhythm pattern--but play it much more beautifully than a student who has never been through this process could play the Mendelssohn concerto.

With the Suzuki method, while all of this technique is being developed physically, the student is constantly listening to the CD of the music he or she will be playing to internalize it in the same way language is listened to and internalized for every child. By the time the student is ready to play, he or she will know the music so well that it's a natural progression to just play the tune that's already in his or her head.

When the student gets advanced enough to play a longer piece, great care needs to be taken to encourage him to avoid playing through the entire piece once at top speed, then saying, "There, I did it, now I can stop practicing." We can all guess how much the student would improve from that type of practice! Yet it's so unnatural for a student to go slower, take a 4-6 note "nugget" to practice, and play it over and over and over to really understand it and make it so easy that it's impossible to play incorrectly. Parents and teachers are absolutely necessary for directing a young student to do this. When each difficulty is mastered, then the student can successfully play through the entire piece as beautifully as the recording she has been listening to. 

Sometimes in my Bible study I find myself doing the same thing as my Book 1 students studying the Bach minuets (yes, the same composer who wrote the enormous unaccompanied works). I read through, halfway thinking about what I'll eat for breakfast and what today's jogging route will be, and say "I've read it, I'm done." It would be so much better if I used the following method while studying:

1. Listen, or read, over and over. Really know how it goes.
2. Find a smaller passage to dig into--not the whole book at once.
3. Ask: What is the challenge in this passage? What questions can be answered?
4. What small "nugget" of information can I find to answer the question?
5. Am I willing to study that nugget and do whatever it takes to internalize it--to make it so easy that it's impossible to think incorrectly? How can I apply it to my life?
6. Now, going back over the larger passage and connecting it with other passages, how can I fit it into the bigger picture to make the whole thing hang together in a coherent way?

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.  (Heb. 5:12-14). Well, we're getting there. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Philosopher off duty

Why bother, when you can just hear this?

Thursday, September 11, 2008


For the wages of sin is death... Rom. 6:23

Could we compare that statement to this: the wages of unplugging a lamp is darkness?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Walking on eggshells

I've been on leave from the philosophizing business for a while, much to the disappointment of my dad. Well, it's a hard job to be a full-time philosopher. It's a risky business, and the inspiration has to hit you just right. I'm glad I don't make my money doing this. Actually, I can't imagine making money being a philosopher. Who would pay someone to think for them? I suppose inspiring someone to think for themselves might be worthy of payment. Of course, the kind of philosophizing done nowadays seems to lean toward the "it's all OK, there are no absolutes, right and wrong has been out of style for a while now, so do and think whatever you want, just as long as you don't actually make it look like you're stating a concrete truth" mode. Because, America, it's time for a change!

So, I'll give a report about my vacation. A few weeks ago, when my mom was here visiting, we took a day trip to Anacapa Island, one of the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California. The Channel Islands are known as "the Galapagos of North America" for the diversity of flora and fauna which has adapted to the islands and is not known to any other place, such as Torrey pines, tree sunflowers with a trunk, tiny foxes, etc. It was overcast the day we visited, thankfully, because there are no trees at all, only scrub. There are no beaches on Anacapa Island, it is one huge rock, looming out of the ocean. We had to climb the equivalent of several flights of stairs to get from our boat to the top of the island, because every edge of the island is massive cliffs plunging into the sea. The entire island is about one mile long, so you can walk back and forth on the whole thing within a few hours. And you'd see the same thing everywhere: scrub, these funny short tree sunflowers (which had dead blossoms at that time), and, oh, birds. Birds. Seagulls everywhere. And seagull poop. 

Another indigenous bird on the Channel Islands is the brown pelican. Our tour guide was careful to inform us that the other half of the island, about a quarter mile away and separated by a small isthmus, was off limits to all humans because it was a brown pelican rookery. We were told that the brown pelican population had been diminishing because of the pollution of DDT in past decades. Apparently the presence of DDT in the ocean's food chain affects the brown pelicans by causing the eggshells to become soft. These type of birds have the habit of standing on their eggs to incubate them, instead of sitting on them, so with the soft eggshells, the parents actually break their own eggs. Out of 500 or so eggs laid in this rookery one year, only one survived, we were told. 

Of course, this had caused widespread panic among environmentalists and brown pelican fans. DDT was outlawed, and vast amounts of money was spent to try to clean it up and establish safe havens for the poor creatures. My immediate thought was, why doesn't someone just try to teach the pelicans not to stand on their eggs? Which led me to wonder about something: We are told that life has changed and adapted over 5 billion years or whatnot, from the level of protozoa through frog and monkey and finally human. These changes have been a result of adaptation to surroundings, even to the point where not only will a given animal physically and genetically adapt to a challenge it faces, say, color to match its surrounding, but it actually has the capacity to change into another species. My question is: If a frog can, over time, transform itself into a bird to solve the problem of, say, wanting to catch flies which are higher than it can reach, why are humans so disturbed about the pelican and its eggshells? You would think, logically, that the evolutionists would be the first to say, "Who cares about DDT? Just give it time, and the pelicans will evolve to figure out not to stand on their eggshells. Then, eventually, they will turn into beavers." Creationists ought to be the ones to worry that what we're doing might mess up God's creations the way they were originally designed. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Quote of the day

"If I had a message, I would write it down and e-mail it to everybody. I would save a lot of paint that way." --Performance artist Laurie Anderson, when asked what the message is in her work

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

See ya!

I'll be back August 19. Until then, this is where I'll be: 

(the ocean below being Cape Cod)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Safari vs. Firefox

A lot of hype has surrounded the release of Firefox 3, I'm still not sure why. I downloaded it anyway. I used to love Firefox when my only alternative was Internet Explorer, but now that I have Safari on my Mac, I'm not sure. Is this my imagination, or has anyone else noticed a distinct difference in photo colors? I can't think of any other reason besides the browser. (Safari is on the left, Firefox on the right)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Value of a Human Life

Prayer meeting last night was led by my friend Angie's grandfather, who gave an inspiring and beautiful message about the value of a human life in God's eyes. It was a message we all ought to know, however, we often need reminders, especially when going through times of difficulty when we feel worthless. 

His message focused on the contrast of how humans often view our own worth, and the worth of other humans, compared to God's value placed on us. He reminded us of the many hundreds of thousands who were ruthlessly slaughtered in the last century as a result of the extremely low value placed on human life by vicious dictators. We must compare that to the infinite value God sees us as being worth, so much that He was willing to pay the infinite price of His death and being changed forever, for the benefit of every single human who ever lived, regardless of race, nationality, or intelligence.

"Look at how humans value each other. See the incredibly low value we have placed on humanity, and on individuals. What value do humans say that life is worth? But look to Jesus--look at the infinite price He paid for each of us! What did Jesus say that a human life is worth?"

A voice from one of our resident quick-wits arose from the back of the room in response:

"Many sparrows!"

Monday, May 26, 2008


Today was Memorial Day, and I went to a memorial service, as I mentioned in my last blog, for my friend Ardyce. I managed to get through most of it without too many tears, mostly just a few at the very end, the postlude, which was an LLBN videotape of part of a church service from a few years back when Ardyce played Schubert's "Prayer" (arranged from the Octet) and "The Holy City" during communion. I think I remember that day, because I remember one time she was playing and I think that was the dress she was wearing. She played very well, and looked beautiful and so full of life, as she did all the way up through the week she went to the hospital. The rest of the service was lovely--Joan Coggin did the life sketch, which was characteristically amusing but very reverent. Ardyce's grand-niece and I played a duet; I felt very honored that her brother asked me to play with her. (And it went well, much better than I played at Advent Hope the week before--thankfully! I was getting worried about myself!) The rest of the music was provided by the LLUC choir and orchestra. The orchestra was huge. Often we have trouble filling up the string sections, but there was a huge turnout today, even with the holiday. One of the violinists suggested we leave Ardyce's most recent regular chair empty in her memory (second chair second violins), which was a beautiful little tribute to her, but very sad. It was very, very strange to look over there to an empty chair and not see her--I still kind of keep expecting her to show up at the next rehearsal. 

Other than that, I attended two graduation parties and a going-away party this weekend. Fortunately, the honorees of both of the grad parties are staying in town. In fact, one of them, with his new bride-to-be, will be my neighbors! Tim and Sunny are moving in right behind me! Tim and I have been joking about listening to each other practice through the windows. He and Sunny will yell at me that my C#'s are out of tune, and I'll yell at them for not practicing enough. 

So that is life...graduations, moving away, memorial services...right now I'm feeling regret that I never got a picture of myself with Ardyce that I know of. I love photography, and I tend to get caught up in composition and lighting and scenery that I often forget to take pictures of people, and I absolutely hate pictures of myself, so I'm not one to go around asking everyone to take a picture of me with such-and-such. But maybe I should, because life is short. I'm also feeling regret that I never was able to thank Ardyce enough for her kindness to me since I've lived here, and I never got near returning even a portion of that kindness. Somehow time passes, and suddenly it's been months and months and we still haven't gotten around to having that big Sabbath lunch party, or going to check out that beach or trail with friends, or go camping, or throw a great party in someone's honor (also kudos to Melody for being such a great party host and fruit-design cake decorator!). 

Just some of my random stream-of-consciousness thoughts for tonight. Only two more weeks of school, then I get Mondays and Fridays off all summer! 

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tribute to Ardyce

Memorial Day will really be a memorial day for many of us here in Loma Linda, including myself. On Memorial Day we will celebrate the life of my dear friend Ardyce,* who sadly passed away last Friday after a short, unexpected illness. She had just turned 80. 

A short blog doesn't do justice to Ardyce's life of sharing and kindness that she showed to me and to all of her many (thousands of!) friends and family members. Ardyce was a violinist, teacher, former mayor of Loma Linda, general mover and shaker in the community, chair of the Loma Linda University Church vespers committee, loving wife, and adopted mother of not only a few "official" children but numerous "unofficial" ones. Since I would have no idea where to start with all of that, I'll just briefly share some of the many things she's done for me in the last 7 or so years that I've known her.

First of all, she was the person who got me here to Loma Linda. In 2001, when I was living with my parents in Dayton after finishing grad school, I was teaching violin lessons and playing in the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, but also wondering what was next--I knew that I didn't want to live in Dayton all of my life. Plus, my 2-year contract with the DPO was going to expire. I was contemplating the orchestral studies program at the Manhattan School of Music, which didn't turn out. At that time my family reconnected with Ardyce, whom my dad had been close friends with many, many years ago, through one of her family members who was living in Dayton at the time and went to church at Kettering with us. I met her when she came to visit, had some nice conversation, and later she gave my name to my now-coworkers as a prospective violin teacher here at the Academy. When they called, I decided that Southern California seemed like a great place to try out--nice work environment, mecca of Adventism, chance to meet lots of like-minded SDA young people, nice warm weather, and palm trees.

After I moved here, I stayed with Ardyce for a few days as she helped me find an apartment. Then she proceeded to introduce me to just about everyone I know--she knew a lot of people--including contacts for freelancing and a friend of hers who introduced me to Advent HOPE Sabbath School. So, through that, I could almost say that everyone I know here and everything I do here was thanks to her!

Besides that, her continuing friendship has sustained me during the last 6 years I've lived here. She invited me to be a member of the LLUC vespers committee, has taken me to concerts, and was always willing to have me over for chamber music night or Saturday night popcorn and Mexican Train dominoes, even after her husband passed away. 

Although I'm sad to see her go, I know she had a long, full, and purposeful life, and I'm glad that her final illness was a quick one. Apparently she was mostly asleep for the last few weeks since she went to the hospital, and finally just never woke up. I praise God that we do have hope for the resurrection, that people can fall asleep peacefully because they know that the next thing they'll see is the face of their Creator and Redeemer. 

*Because of excessive googling activity in the WWW, I have stopped publishing my friends' last names. But many of you know who I'm talking about anyway.

Hooded Orioles

Yesterday I had the pleasure of a visit from a couple of beautiful hooded orioles. At first I was wondering why an oversized goldfinch was drinking sugar water from the hummingbird feeder. It wasn't until the male, who is more orange and has a distinctive black mask and beard, arrived that I was able to identify them (the female, I believe it was--unless it was a juvenile--is lighter yellow all over except black patterns on the wings, very much like the smaller goldfinches). 

Here's the guy (this is not my picture, though)

 I hope they continue to come throughout the winter, they're so beautiful!

Friday, May 16, 2008

sadness is...

...taking the get-well card off the kitchen table where it's been sitting in a bag for a couple of weeks, waiting to go to its recipient, and filing it away in a drawer because you never got a chance to give it to her.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I haven't been writing many blog posts lately, probably simply due to writer's block. However, to keep Rachel happy, I'll try to be more consistent. 

Lately I've been thinking about motivation. Not just motivation to write in my blog (although that's part of it), but mostly in connection with music and practicing. Our string program has its biannual recital time coming up this weekend--starting with a 7-hour marathon of solo recitals on Sunday (yes, everyone has to play a solo), and the group class concert Monday evening--so I've been trying to prepare my students. They are all playing pieces that they've worked on previously, so they are fortunately not rushing to learn them at the last minute (well, most of them). Some of them, though, still haven't practiced much the last few weeks coming up to the recital, so this just makes me think about day-to-day motivators to practice. 

What motivates a child to practice an instrument? Their parents? Hopefully, at least in the beginning. I love working with parents who are creative and work with their children to help make practicing fun instead of just telling them to "do it" while they're at work. Eventually, though, teenage years set in, and they need a new form of motivation. Prizes and rewards? They really don't have anything to do with the end result--making music. My wish is for my students to be motivated by the music itself: to listen to Wieniawski's second violin concerto or an album of a famous young violinist's showpieces and say, "I want to play that someday, so I'd better go practice." Is this too idealistic? I felt that way when I was growing up, so it must be possible, but it seems to be rare. (Perhaps partly because not too many of my students actually listen to Wieniawski. Those who do seem to do better.)

Another form of motivation comes from peers. I guess this is one of the strongest motivators of teenagers. When I was growing up I had a good friend, Charles, who was so excited about violin that he shared that excitement with the rest of us, and was constantly introducing me to new pieces ("Here, you have to listen to this!"). (Charles, by the way, is now the concertmaster of the Portland [Maine] Symphony.) This kind of thing doesn't work as well coming from adults, even parents and cool violin teachers like me. We don't seem to have any kids like that in our program right now. Most of them will do their bare minimum of practice because they have to, or else. 

Well, these are just a few of my thoughts and dreams for my students. Any great suggestions are appreciated. And, come to think of it, I haven't gotten my violin out of its case yet today, either...time to get to work.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In the news

If you've read much of my blog, you may have noticed that unlike most blogs, I don't write much about current events or politics. This is mostly because I have very little interest in them. It's so hard to get the straight facts about what politicians are really doing or what they really believe, partly because the media is rather (rather?) selective in what is published, and partly because politicians are named so because they are political--meaning, they say pretty much what people want them to say, regardless of what they may really believe (if they've given it much thought anyway). Also, I'm not interested in my blog becoming a sound-off for the usual political discussions (hence the comment approval setting). 

However, as I was researching the Sermon on the Mount for Sabbath school study this week, I did a little googling to get some viewpoints, and found this extremely informative article here. I guess I haven't studied enough to really get the fine theological ramifications of Jesus' famous teaching. Better get to work. 

Speaking of news, my dad sent me a link to this article. Either it's a sick joke or the world really is getting grosser and grosser every day. Eww.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


I've been working on my Flickr photostream. Flickr is a site where you can download your pictures. That's about it. However, there are some really great photographers on there; not just everyone's vacation photos and snapshots of their friends (although there's plenty of that, too). I just dream that someday I'll be that good. I've gotten into photography a little more since I inherited my dad's Canon Rebel when he upgraded to the newer version. (People always ask me if I've also inherited his artistic talent. No, not for painting. Photography is as close as you're going to get.) I'm always seeking to improve my skills, so it's a constant work in progress. But if you'd like to see some of my pictures, click here.  (Leave me nice friendly comments.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jim Brown's Violin Shop and Pet Store

Today I took my bow to be rehaired at my favorite violin shop, Jim Brown in Claremont. It's not my favorite because they have the biggest or best selection (pretty decent for student instruments, but I wouldn't be able to find much for myself there), but because it is closer than LA, I enjoy window-shopping at the boutiques in the Claremont Village when I'm there anyway, there is a nice bakery/deli across the street for lunch, and most of all, because I enjoy chatting with Jim and his wife--they are the sweetest people. They have two grey-and-white cats that prowl around the shop, and lately they have acquired a cocker spaniel named Pepper as well. So here you are, in this violin shop, discussing rehairs and the latest technology in strings, with one cat on your lap, another one rubbing on your ankles, and a dog sprawled out upside down for you to pet.

I thought I'd try out a couple of bows and half size violins for a student while I was there, and just as I started playing, I heard the oddest sound. I have never heard a violin sound this terrible--like two different pitches, one terribly shrieky and out of tune. It stopped as soon as I stopped playing. Very quickly I realized that Pepper was singing along. Yes, the dog has the habit of howling (shrieking is a better word) along with the sound of violins. As a matter of fact, the second time I started playing, Pepper came right over to me, sat on my foot and leaned against my leg, raised his head high like a wolf, and sang blissfully away. We had a lovely duet going until Jim's wife finally took Pepper for a walk (he would go to the door and ring the bell that was hanging on the doorknob when he wanted out). I wished I had a video camera with me; that would have made the perfect YouTube moment. 

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hard things

I don't know why I'm suddenly inspired to write about hard things.

Maybe I'm trying to keep up with my weighty blog title (not that it's visible anymore because of the poppies; maybe I should put that on my list--how to make the title visible over the poppies?) Anyway, I don't feel like writing an essay, and I'll spare my readers from a poem ("Like a mushroom/floating over lime cataracts/on the brink of cowcatchers laden with pomegranates...")--I think I'll just write a list. 

Hard things (in no particular order)

1. Remembering a 3-digit number more than 10 minutes. (Those who say music helps math skills are crazy.)
2. Keeping cat hair off black pants.
3. Dealing with students' parents who yell when you can't give them the exact lesson time they want.
4. Keeping sugar from crystalizing when making caramel.
5. Realizing that he just plain doesn't care about you anymore.
6. Fingered octaves. (If you are not a violinist and don't know what this means, consider yourself lucky.)
7. Praying about certain things when you just don't want to.
8. Trying to keep from praying about certain things when you really, really want to.
9. Paganini caprices and Bach unaccompanied sonatas and partitas.
10. Living in this dark, lonely world when you would much rather be with Christ. 

What are the hard things in your life?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Right Arm of the Gospel

Found in an SDA church bulletin (I am not making this up):

Yoga, anyone?

Monday, February 11, 2008


Work is progressing fairly smoothly on programming for Restoration. Besides a few details to clean up, pretty much all of the music and other parts of the service are set. Among the musical treats you can look forward to will be a string quartet and a vocal ensemble from LLU, an orchestra for Sabbath, and a couple of small instrumental ensembles from Loma Linda Academy (ok, including yours truly; couldn't resist). The theme song will be "Come Holy Spirit" (#269), a nice two-liner to the tune of "Jesus The Very Thought of Thee." I chose it partly because of the words in the first verse:

Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours.

Thought it went pretty well with the theme, "Ignite." 

One thing I was worried about was obtaining the powerpoint slides for the words of the hymns. Writing slides for 4 or 5 songs for each of the 14 services seemed like a huge task, so I asked around to see if anyone had them already, and racked my brain trying to come up with some good options. Then my boss Adrian, displaying the excellent resourcefulness and leadership that makes him such a great director, suggested, "Why don't you search for them online?" I honestly had not thought of that. So I googled "sda hymns powerpoint" and came up with this. I will try to restrain myself from extolling the virtues of this resource until it's actually been tested in the meetings, but it sure looks like a good deal. It took one click and a minute or two to download the words from entire SDA hymnal on presentation-ready powerpoint, easy to use, for free. Somebody ought to give that guy a donation.

So, I'm hoping the Restoration meetings will go well and will be a blessing to the university and the community. I listened to a tiny bit of one of Matt Parra's sermons  and although I didn't get too far into it before I had to do something else, I will say that I do like his voice a lot. I have a suspicion we'll get a good turnout of young people this year. We'll have to take note of the gender demographic. 

Friday, February 08, 2008

Grading time

This week I've been writing grades for my students. Yes, you might think, why is a private violin teacher making grades for her students? It's not a school class, just an extracurricular activity, and any grades I make for them don't count for a thing, neither on their report cards nor transcripts nor anything. I've certainly never received grades from any of my violin teachers, nor have I really even heard of anyone else doing that exactly, although many music teachers use various incentives to motivate their students to practice.

I grade my students solely on how much time they spend practicing per week. Here's my reasoning behind it. I have quite a few students who are getting into middle school age, and they comprehend grades. (I don't grade my 5-year-olds, although I might give a sticker for practicing every day.) I think many of them could invest more in their work on the violin. Giving them a "report card" at the end of the quarter makes them feel like it's a class that they have to take seriously, just like math or reading. I like for my students to know what kind of standards I hold for practice. I don't make it very hard on them--I realize that violin lessons are more optional than math or reading, and that there are times when they have a lot of homework that has to get priority. I grade them according to how many minutes they practiced per week, so if they skip a day or two they can make up for it on another day. I calculate grades for the quarter by averaging out all the weeks in the quarter, so if they have a busy week they can make up for it in another week. I also let them include lesson time, group class (45 minutes every week), and whatever else they might do with their violins (play for church, impromptu recital for Grandma, etc.) as practice time. What this works out to is about 180 minutes a week for Book 1 level (about 30 minutes a day for 6 days), 225 minutes for Book 2, 300 minutes for Book 3, etc., to get an A+. I also grade myself at the Book 6+ level, just to be fair. 

Here are some observations I've made from the experiment so far: 

1. Most of my students get A's. Many of them get A+'s. They enjoy seeing A+ on their report cards, and so do their parents. 
2. Those who are progressing more quickly through the repertoire are the ones getting good grades. Those getting C's are not learning as many pieces as quickly. Hmm. 
3. I can usually predict who will get what grade. 
4. I can usually detect a pretty good correlation between how much practice time they report to me for the week and how prepared they are for that lesson. Also, hmm. 
5. Hopefully, some of these students and parents will understand better why I say the things I do in the lesson, and also why they are not progressing very quickly through the repertoire, when they see their grades at the end of the quarter. It helps keep them from being discouraged, thinking that they are not talented, but rather realize that it's mostly a matter of time invested. 
6. I feel as though I am less arbitrary when I understand what is going on with my students' practice at home. If I see that a student is struggling with practice, I can talk with them about how to manage their time wisely, how to organize practice, and so on. It also helps me decide if I should assign each student more or less work.
7. Considering the average grades my students have received, I feel as though my grading scale is fair (maybe even on the soft side). Parents seem to like it, and nobody has complained about it yet. 
8. Grading myself definitely helps motivate me to practice! I feel like I'm accountable to my students, as well as they are to me. I've gotten more done the last few months than I have for years!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Lynn Harrell lecture

Today my friend and coworker Theresa took me to a free lecture by the world-renowned cellist Lynn Harrell at the AFM building in Hollywood. It was a fun experience in many ways. First of all, Theresa and I commented that many of our friends from other states get excited when we tell them that we live in Southern California, and immediately say something like, "So you can go visit HOLLYWOOD!" Well, I can tell you that Hollywood itself is nothing glamorous. It's mostly graffiti-painted pawn shops with bars on all the windows and riff-raff hanging around outside, and places like that. Theresa and I wanted to take a picture of ourselves in front of Pete's Lube & Tune to say, "Look, we went out on the town, to Hollywood!"

The musicians' union building is no better. It's an excellent example of dilapidated midcentury boring architecture. The lecture was held in a large room, not even a recital hall. Theresa and I arrived early because we didn't know what the parking situation would be like (it turned out that the area was un-glamorously deserted on a Sunday afternoon, so we were able to park right in front of the building), so we got a seat on one of the front rows. Harrell strolled in about 20 minutes before the program was about to start, in khakis and a pullover sweater, and proceeded to warm up right there on the stage while the audience came in.  He spent the next two hours lecturing about how bow hold and left hand positions affect tone quality, and showed close-up pictures of many different hand positions on slides to go with it. Some interesting points he brought up were that you can actually play louder and stronger with the bow without making a crunching sound if you add more vibrato, and that left fingertip placement (whether on the bony tip or the fleshy side of the finger) influences sound a great deal. He also equated string instrument sound with vocal styles; for example, when he's playing French music he plays with narrower, faster vibrato to imitate the slightly "nasal" tone that the French language has. I was expecting him to play more, but it was mostly just a lecture. It was very interesting to us, though, and even though it was mostly cello-oriented there were some interesting points I'm excited to try out on the violin.

After the program Theresa took me to her favorite vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant in Rosemead or San Gabriel or something, where the wait staff didn't speak English. As usual, she ordered far too much food for us. We had very yummy noodle soup and curry soup and spring rolls; and also as usual, she jumped to pay the check and threw in some special Chinese New Year rice wraps for me to take home. I'm so blessed to have such a generous friend like Theresa. 

Monday, January 28, 2008


Today's observation: cats.

Why is it that it only took one time for my cat to associate the sound of pulling dental floss out of the container with a chance to play with string, yet after many, many repeated events he still does not associate climbing the screen door with the unpleasant effect of being squirted with the water bottle?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A daunting task

The race has officially begun. Now that the venue and dates are settled, I have 24 days to find people who will do special music, lead song service, play piano, lead prayer and read scripture, and otherwise help with assorted stagehand tasks for three entire weeks of Restoration meetings. Pray for me. No, don't just pray. Sign up. 

Monday, January 14, 2008

Blue cards

Over Christmas vacation, I had the opportunity to play a solo at the church where I grew up. Things always seem to change when you've been gone for a while (like the old saying, "you can't go home again")--most of my old academy buddies have long since moved away, the church has mostly new pastoral staff, and, as many larger SDA churches, the spiritual focus seems to have shifted too, away from the old-fashioned Biblical focus towards following the current worldly marketing trends. 

No matter how the trends in society change over time however, there will always be plenty of people in each church who have retained the spirit of simple, Christlike thoughtfulness. I received an envelope full of encouragement in the mail this week in the form of the good ol' "blue cards" I grew up with--made available in all of the pews and sent out by the church to other members and friends for encouragement. These are the kind of notes I always used to get whenever I played in church, starting from when I was about 13 years old. I collected a very large pile over the years; I think I still have most of them. They are among the inspirations that made me continue as a violinist. I thought that if the church members were blessed by my music, maybe there was a ministry for me in it. I was so excited to see that some of the very same people who sent me cards in the past were still sending them (I received about 8 of them this week). 

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Year's Resolution Blog

Happy new year to all! I have returned to sunny (not really) southern California after a lovely vacation to visit my parents in Ohio. It was such a wonderful break, to be able to relax and enjoy time with my family. (To my dad, who checks my blog regularly: hi dad! Thanks for the nice Christmas!) Highlights of my vacation included going to a very nice restaurant overlooking the Cincinnati skyline for my mother's birthday; visiting some old friends and their new babies as well as seeing my old colleagues in the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra at the New Year's Eve concert; not being able to find a single parking space at the mall the day after Christmas and giving up and going to Jungle Jim's instead (as close to an amusement park as a grocery store can be--actually well worth the trip if you are ever in the Dayton/Cincinnati area); getting a chance to play at my home church again after many years, and generally curling up by the fireplace with a soft blanket, a good book, and a Somali cat (couldn't resist adding the link). And of course, a delightful Christmas, as always.  When I returned, the weather tradition has continued: This is the sixth year I have gone back to Ohio for Christmas, and even before I moved here I have taken several trips with my family to visit southern California in late December-early January, and every single time the airplane lands in CA at this time of year, the weather is always the exact same in southern California as it was when I left it in Ohio. About 50 degrees and raining.

So, back to normal life, work (programming Restoration--please volunteer to do something!!!), a new year in Southern California, and the topic of my post. After a prayerful mental review of last year and previous years, here are the resolutions I wish to make for the new year:

1. Not to think about (dwell on) any tough times in the past few years.

2. Not to feel sorry for myself for any difficulties that may be going on in my life currently.

3. Not to worry about the future, but leave it in God's hands.

4. Oh yeah, and exercise more.

I hope that my friends with hold me accountable for my New Year's resolutions!