Dr. N.A.N.'s Blog

News, views, and how the world skews from San Antonio, Texas

Archive for my passions

Only a Musician

could appreciate this:


Last Friday, I was walking Carl Spencer around the neighborhood like I always do and we came across a garage sale. I immediately stopped and started  poking through the clutter. I didn’t see anything interesting so I decided to continue walking. But then, something caught my eye. Leaning against the garage was a double-length Manhasset Music Stand for $3.00!  To think I was the first person to recognize this amazing ganz medsea — WOW! I quickly handed over the $3 and whisked away my purchase. Now when friends come over to rehearse and make music, the floor doesn’t have to be littered with music! photo (9)

Creating a Musical Legacy

This past April, I gave a talk to the members of the San Antonio Music Teachers’ Association. The title of my address was “Creating a Musical Legacy”. Here is an excerpt:

Good morning!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk with you today. As an introduction, I would like to share a little of my background and how I came to San Antonio. For 16 years, I served on the piano faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. While there, I taught pianists at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, coached countless musical ensembles and advised hundreds of students in my role as academic advisor. I was also actively performing as a member of the Clinton-Narboni Piano Duo.  Our Duo enjoyed a great deal of success–we played concerts here in America as well as Europe and recorded four cds over the course of 5 years. As a solo artist, I have also played concerts around the country and abroad, recorded a cd featuring the solo piano works of Jean Françaix and recently participated in a teleconference with young students from the Coupland, Texas Independent School District. On that occasion, I talked about and played a set of variations by Beethoven.  By far, that was the most unusual performance I have given because the entire event was centered around a laptop!

I always knew that Nebraska was my temporary home. I had enjoyed many successes at UNL and in the Midwest but my heart belonged to Texas. In 2011, I decided it was time to move back to San Antonio. So, I put my LIncoln house on the market and started looking for employment down here. My official moving day was September 22nd, 2012, when my partner and I drove a large rental truck with all of my worldly possessions (including 2 grand pianos) 875 miles south.

The idea for this lecture came to me long before I was asked to speak for San Antonio Music Teachers’ Association. I have been thinking about my musical legacy ever since I turned 40 when I began taking stock in my accomplishments and my long list of goals yet to be fulfilled. As I mentioned, for many years, I enjoyed a very successful career with my former duo-piano partner but we eventually dissolved the partnership and I found myself struggling to find gigs. It was at that time that a friend of mine suggested I create my own performance opportunities by taking my piano out on the road. Sort of, “If the people can’t come to you, you come to the people.” And thus, “Piano-in-Tow” was born. The mission of “Piano-in-Tow” was to bring live, classical music to rural areas in Nebraska and surrounding states where access to live music was very limited. A major draw for audiences of “PiT” was the fact that I brought my own piano to concerts. Most towns and villages that I visited did not have a grand piano. They were lucky just to have an old, out-of-tune upright housed in the church basement!

Not only did “Piano-in-Tow” give me many opportunities to perform, it also helped me to reach and develop new audiences. As I’m sure you all know, classical music audiences have been dying for over the past several generations. As our world has become more technologically advanced, sitting and listening to unplugged music can’t compete with the allure of video games, twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

I would like to paint a picture for you of what “Piano-in-Tow looked like:  During four week-long trips between 2008-2010, I rented an 18-passenger van that I used to haul a friend’s homemade trailer housing my piano. This trailer was unique–it was very large and since it was meant to be a hunting trailer, my friend had painted the exterior in a camo-motif and named her “Just Lovely”!  With the help of my trusty piano mover and driver, I toured the Midwest playing and teaching in school gymnasiums, fellowship halls, libraries, even a barn turned museum! My audience members ranged from 5 to 90 years old.

One particular experience I won’t soon forget was in Ogallala, Nebraska. (For you geography buffs, Ogallala is about 280 miles west of Lincoln at the edge of the sandhills.) I was giving a performance presentation at the local K-12 school and was talking about American music. I asked the audience of young people if anybody knew the difference between a guitar and a banjo. The answer I was looking for was something about banjos having only 5 strings and guitars having six. Some young boy raised his hand and said,
“I know the difference between a banjo and a guitar– hillbillies play the banjo and rock stars play the guitar.”

Now you may be asking yourself what does “Piano-in-Tow” have to do with creating a musical legacy? The answer is simple–I figured if I was able to reach even just one person and ignite their interest in  classical music, than I had achieved my goal.

Although I have never thought of myself as a defender of musical culture, I have spent most of my life trying to create and sustain a reluctant public’s interest in classical music. Even with the success of “Piano-in-Tow”, I knew if I were to die tomorrow, my musical footprint would be small.  What else could I do to positively impact the world?

The ironic thing is that when I was younger, I didn’t view teaching and mentoring as part of my musical legacy. I guess I considered interactions with students just part of the job. But, as I was making plans to move to Texas, I realized I would be leaving behind a very important part of me. Although I had given a lot of myself to these students in Nebraska, I too, had benefited. These relationships had been mutually enriching. They allowed me to gain a better perspective on who I was and who I wanted to be as a musician and a teacher.  I also came to recognize that teaching wasn’t just about sharing musical ideas or solving technical problems. A good teacher must also be a part-time psychiatrist!

For most of the 16 years that I taught at UNL, my office was on the third floor of the music building. (I had been banished to the practice room floor the second year I was there.) The other piano faculty offices were all on the second floor. Of course, the second floor was much quieter than the third floor where all of the students spent most of their time. I discovered that in spite of all the noise and chaos on that top floor, there was an advantage to being housed up there–my studio was much more accessible to the students. If my door was open, I was almost never alone! Students would just saunter in, looking for conversation or chocolate or advice. These informal gatherings allowed me to develop nurturing relationships with students, both pianists and others. I still cherish many of the relationships that I forged while my door was open.

Did you think when you started teaching music that your job description might include teacher, mentor and therapist?  Successful teachers must first gain a student’s trust. We must be sensitive to body language and other subtle cues from our students. How else do you tailor your teaching style to your students’ individual learning styles? How else do you coax a student to express his or her innermost feelings to an audience of strangers? The privilege of teaching carries with it an enormous responsibility. As teachers, we have the opportunity to be a tremendous positive or negative influence on our students.

As an example, my first “serious” teacher was very influential on my musical development. At the time, I didn’t recognize this because she was a task-master and could be downright mean. There were times that I dreaded my piano lessons. For an 11-year old struggling with her own identity, learning how to play the piano could be very painful. Some of my other teachers were even more unkind, sometimes bordering on cruel. These interactions I experienced shaped my resolution as a teacher to always be kind, to never lose my patience and give encouragement even for the smallest accomplishments.

We as teachers have the unique opportunity to ignite and hopefully sustain our students’ interest in the arts. We must take this responsibility seriously because how else will we save classical music from becoming a dinosaur?

I challenge all of you to examine what is important to you about teaching music. I realize that not every student comes to his or her lesson willingly! But even those students can learn something because studying music has many side benefits.

It is so easy to focus on the problems we encounter during lessons but what we need to keep in mind are the benefits that our students gain beyond the musical proficiency itself.

  • Students learn discipline and patience.
  • They learn to accept criticism.
  • They learn the importance of setting goals.
  • They  develop problem-solving skills.
  • And, as many studies have shown, playing music opens the mind to all kinds of learning.

As music teachers, we are the mentors and cultural ambassadors for our art. I believe that that is the legacy we must all share in creating.

I would like to leave you with a quote from a parable by La Fontaine called “La Laboreur et ses Enfants“. My father used to recite this to me at the end of every one of our phone conversations while I was a doctoral student at Peabody.

Travaillez,  prenez de la peine:

C’est le fonds qui manque le moins.

Roughly translated it means:

Work hard, take the initiative,

Your foundation is just the beginning.Image

Spaghettification and other buckyball-like discoveries

My stalwart road manager having a moment...

My stalwart road manager having a moment...

When I submitted my application for the Layman Fund Grant, I included in my project description a list of benefits that could come of “Piano-in-Tow”.  This list included blogging, media coverage and the possibility of an interview with a stray dog.  Well, I didn’t meet any stray dogs during the tour but I did meet some wonderful folk that I would like to mention.  The first person is Heath.

Heath and Penny hawking "Piano-in-Tow" memorabiliaHeath and Penny hawking “Piano-in-Tow” memorabilia

He was the muscle behind Dietz’s Music House piano moving services.  A little background–Heath is a musician by trade who loves cats, physics, books and is currently building a car in his living room.  Heath provided a great deal of comic relief throughout the tour including teaching us about spaghettification.  Who would have thunk?

Then there was Paul H. and his wife Lori and their children–they were the main organizers of my presentations in both Petersburg and Albion and all of them contributed to a very well-organized event.  I will not forget their hospitality nor their enthusiastic commitment to the arts!

And then there is Janet R.

Janet and me

Janet and me

who has been studying with me for over 10 years, driving the 100+ miles from Albion to Lincoln once-a-month.  She met us at Boone Central Middle School in Petersburg (12 miles north of Albion) to attend “PiT” and introduced me to the students.  Her introduction included little-known facts about me such as my love for cats, cycling and reading!  Janet’s words meant a great deal to me.

This is what "Piano-in-Tow" is all about.

This is what it's all about.

Last but not least there were the kids.  Wow!

Students at Columbus Middle School

Students at Columbus Middle School

So many of them enthusiastic about the piano, the music and me.  Two questions they asked at every stop (and sometimes more than once at each stop!) were–“How many hours a day do you practice?”  And, the ubiquitous question, “How old are you?”  I narrowly skirted this last one…


More students at Columbus Middle School

Finally back home where the follow-up details never seem to end.  And, then of course, there is the spring “Piano-in-Tow” tour to start planning.  Sigh.

One of my best moments...

One of my best moments...

Deborah Reinhardt, 1951-2007

Deborah ReinhardtMaybe there really is something to the adage “only the good die young.” I just learned about the recent death in a car accident of one of the founding members of The Cat House here in Lincoln, Nebraska. Deborah Reinhardt was one of the key movers in TCH when it was first started back in 1999. She eventually moved to Chico, California to join the music education faculty at Chico State University but her contributions continue to be felt to this day.
Not only did I know her through The Cat House, I also had the pleasure of working alongside her at the University of Nebraska. Deb was an extraordinarily talented and intelligent person. She was an expert in the Dalcroze method of music instructions, as well as a beautiful needleworker, vocalist, pianist, gardener, baker and lover of kitties.

No task was ever too big or too difficult for Deb. She could lay carpet, strip furniture, roof a house and guide a classroom full of students. She was even a winner on Jeopardy! many years ago. I was in awe of her intelligence.
Deb Reinhardt will be sadly missed by The Cat House community. Her needlework still hangs here in Lincoln, and her contribution of ideas and enthusiasm to our organization will never be forgotten.
Deb’s death is the third loss to The Cat House of wonderful volunteers who died too young. Evette McPherson and Linda Vavrus were two other very committed members of our organization who passed away too soon. This kind of tragedy always inspires a renewal of my dedication to TCH. If you haven’t already, please visit our website: http://www.thecathouse.org. It is truly an amazing group dedicated to the welfare of cats and kittens!

Driving in Neutral

stick shift

A former beau used to chide me for driving on “fumes”. For me, it was all about getting the maximum number of miles out of one tank of gas—you have to realize that in the early ‘80s, I was driving a 1976 (or so) four-door, light blue Peugeot 504 that looked pretty rugged.  It had a steering wheel on it the size of one of those exercise balls people roll around on. This was obviously before power steering. It was a four-on-the-floor with well over 85,000 miles behind it.

I actually learned about gas conservation back in the seventies when my father would drive me around town in our vintage 1970 Mercedes 280SE (yes, he still  has the care and it still runs!)

M-B 280SE 1970

At the time, we were living in Colorado Springs, in a neighborhood located on the side of a mountain. Thus, a good outing for him was to put the car in neutral after backing out of the driveway and letting the car coast down our street, slight pause at the stop sign and then left and down for several more blocks. He was especially pleased if he could make it out of our neighborhood and onto a major thoroughfare without ever putting the car in gear.

This driving strategy has stuck with me. If you drive with me in the city, you will notice that I have multiple sections of any route planned so that I may take advantage of the hills. I have it worked out so that I can throw the car into neutral and coast for at least several blocks on any given drive. I’m especially proud of my route home from the east or northeast side of town. Once I hit the top of 25th st., I pop the car in neutral and let her coast down to my alley. If the planets are aligned, I can turn right into the alley without stopping and continue coasting up to my garage door. I know that I should buy a lottery ticket when I can have the garage door open just in time to pull the car in. I don’t think anyone should have to pay more than $.60/gallon for gas…

An odd life

resize_img.jpgThis will be short because I have to go to bed and get up early tomorrow.   Something I loathe especially when it is dark outside and just 19 degrees above zero.  But, I do it because I love my part-time job at All Feline Hospital.

You might ask: What am I,  a musician with limited experience outside of academia,  doing working for a vet’s office?  I’m not sure. I do know that I was a client long before I became an employee at AFH and never really considered working or even volunteering there because of the regular heartbreak.  After certain events in my life, I needed to bring in more cash.  So, I asked my friend/owner/veterinarian Dr. Rebecca Arnold if she needed any help in her feline-only clinic. She was very kind to offer me a part-time job doing whatever.

Since starting work there, I have learned how to work the front desk, the back desk, answer the phones, hassle people for money, send them to collections if necessary and a whole host of other interesting things. I learned quickly that I could also satiate some of my lifelong fascination with medicine, only on smaller creatures.  This job has helped me develop my speaking skills, my interpersonal relationships, my ability to “count a drawer” and many other things. It has also allowed me to witness first class veterinary care up close and personal. What will I do if I ever move away? How will I find a good doctor for my furry children? The other part of this situation is that I really like ALL my co-workers. Each one of them brings something unique to their job and even in the worst of times, can make me laugh or forget my troubles. I know I will never replace this kind of working environment. So, everytime I go into work I am in a good mood. Can you imagine actually liking your job?

More Songs About Buildings and Food

Berthillon PARIS — Today, I was able to spend some “me” time along the rue Saint Louis en l’Isle. This street is part of one of the islands in the Seine, sort of in the middle of the city. I came to know this street (and the island) when my family and I used to rent an apartment here. To me, this street has some of the most amazing shops in Paris. The best ice cream and sorbet can be found at Berthillon, whose primary location is on the island. Even in the middle of winter, you will find a line that circles around the block–people patiently waiting to buy some of their amazing confections. (Perhaps akin to the line outside of Target when Wiis became available.)La charlotteA little further down, there is a tea room called La Charlotte de l’Isle. The owner is a chocolate artist of the first order. When you walk in, you are greeted by the rich smell of dark chocolate. She makes all kinds of figurines, cakes, cookies, and other structures from chocolate. Occasionally, she’ll add in candied fruit or almonds. The reason for my visit today was to pick-up a pièce monter for a party. I learned that pièce monter means something that is built in stages. So, the creation was tall, with each “floor” made from almond cookie dough rolled thin, baked and then molded to form half cylinders. The occasional section was dipped in chocolate. (If I were faced with a “last meal”, a pièce monter would be my request!) Besides ordering a piece of pièce, we frequently will stop in for chocolat chaud. This hot chocolate is NOT made from Nestlés powder — instead, our hostess melts chunks of chocolate with cream or half and half, and then serves it with a side of water.Also along this street is my favorite jewelry store. Thelma isn’t a store where you would go to buy a diamond, but a lot of the jewelry is handmade with crystals and other semi-previous stones. Without fail, I visit the shop once per trip to Paris and inevitably I buy something.If you keep walking down the street, it opens up into a bridge that connects the two islands. Cross the bridge and you are at the back of Notre Dame. Today, the tour line was too long so I just stood outside and took some pictures. I did go into another church (much smaller and less ornate) along the same street to light a candle. Similar to visiting Thelma, I always try to visit one church to light a candle. Thought it’s gotten to be such an expensive habit that I no longer light a candle for everyone on my prayer list– one has to suffice.