Dr. N.A.N.'s Blog

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

Archive for Travel

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

My favorite time of the year

Actually, summer is my favorite time of the year but this spring has certainly been wonderful. Several weeks after returning from my two week sojourn to Texas and Colorado, I now have some perspective on this trip. It was a really nice work vacation–I performed and taught and still had time to relax, admire the bluebonnets on many of my walks, eat a lot of sushi (and of course La Fogata hot sauce) and spend time with my parents.

I look forward to playing many more recitals in south Texas (including Christ Church and First Presbyterian Church) and even in Vail, Colorado at the Vail Interfaith Chapel.

I also enjoyed spending time with my sister while exploring Vail and Grand Junction.  Thanks to her job, she has amassed some amazing stories about life on the western slope of Colorado.

Back in Lincoln, I have returned to my practicing workbench. And when I’m not practicing, I’m probably planting, mowing, sewing, baking, teaching or dreaming…

Cowboys, longhorns and pico de gallo

In just a few days, I will be enveloped in the warmth we call San Antonio where I will give a masterclass and play a recital. I’m very excited for this trip because it has been a long time in planning–I can’t wait to meet the young students at the Musical Arts Center of San Antonio and hear them play! Many of them are preparing for auditions, festivals and competitions and I will have the honor of listening to the results of their hardwork.

I will also be presenting a recital under the auspices of Alamo Music Center. Since I am returning to my Texas roots, I decided that some cowboy music had to be part of the program.

And a visit to south Texas in the springtime wouldn’t be complete without some bluebonnet gazing and of course a trip to La Fogata (see my earlier post on this wonderful restaurant).

“Rock stars play guitars, hillbillys play banjos”

Such was the response to my query, “What is the difference between a guitar and a banjo?” from a young man in Oshkosh, Nebraska during “Piano-in-Tow”, Part Trois. Of course, his comment brought the house down and left me scrambling to recapture the students’ attention. I didn’t mind–it was just another memorable moment from my adventures with “Piano-in-Tow”. The Spring 2010 tour focused on schools and communities in the northwest corner of Nebraska as well as west central Nebraska. I logged more than 1000 miles in a rented van and a trailer named Lovely. My Yamaha C-7 was loaded and unloaded 16 times in 5 days but held its tune remarkably well.

Early morning unload in Bridgeport, Nebraska

Although my trusty piano mover would prefer that I just use a digital keyboard, it’s nice to know that the piano can withstand that much upheaval!

This tour had a profound effect on me not just because I met so many wonderful people and students but because I was reminded of why I go to the effort–“Piano-in-Tow” allows me to bring my passions for music and teaching TO the people.

Margaritaville

Ahhhhhh, back in the land of warmth and margaritas.  I love coming home.  For me, home is peaceful and warm–year round.  Home means really fresh tortillas, balmy temperatures, the world’s best salsa and the reassuring sound of my parents’ old clocks.

On this visit, I am really busy.  I am meeting with music students at the University of Texas at Austin to share with them my “Piano-in-Tow” experiences, giving an evening performance with Daniel Bernard Roumain for the 180 Group as well as a mid-day presentation at Sul Ross Middle School.  All of this activity will probably interfere with my visit to my favorite nursery–Hill Country African Violets.  HCAV has one of the biggest selections of African Violets that I have ever seen.  They have dedicated a very large greenhouse entirely to violets.  And, then of course, there are the rooms in another building where the proprietor propagates new plants…I will also miss the opportunity to visit the gravesite of a former colleague of my father’s.  Many years ago, we started a tradition of visiting this gentleman’s grave whenever I am in San Antonio.  Part of the tradition is to drive the old green Mercedes out to a cemetery just east of Boerne, TX.  Better than ketchupBetter than ketchup

I have promised several Nebraska friends that I will bring back jars of La Fogata’s Roasted Salsa.  As far as we are concerned, it is the best salsa available!  My mouth is watering just thinking about it…

A Florida tradition

Every summer, my family and I spend a week in the panhandle area of Florida. We have been coming to Fort Walton Beach for 30+ years to drink margaritas or mojitos or whatever the adult beverage du jour is, walk on the white sand beach and generally do nothing. Sometimes we get lucky and the weather is sunny throughout the week and sometimes we aren’t so lucky. Since we always come at the end of the summer, our visit coincides with the hurricane season. Perhaps not the best planning but it’s tradition.

Our holiday always includes a trip to Nick’s Fish Camp, an unassuming bar/restaurant on the edge of the Basin Bayou. Nick’s is home of the “fried-fried”. This term was coined by my long-time friend Randy A. when he was describing a particular dish at another favorite restaurant of mine in San Antonio. I think Nick’s motto should be: “If it ain’t fried, it ain’t worth eatin’”. Highlights of the menu include fried shrimp, fried oysters, fried fish, fried hush puppies and of course, the ubiquitous French fries. A side order of coleslaw is available. I think the coleslaw is Nick’s attempt to round out the food pyramid. Another food tradition that we observe in Florida is the seven-layer bar. My Aunt Joanna always favors me (and my sister) with a pan of these thunder-thigh confections during our visit. Imagine a multi-layer pan cookie with a graham cracker crust and chocolate, butterscotch, coconut, pecan and condensed milk heaped on top which is baked to a gooey treat.        

Another tradition that we enjoy is the company of guests that join us for the week. We have had friends visit from all over the country and world! Although the accomodations at this condo complex aren’t exactly Hotel de Crillon, we do offer the basics–cable tv, pool, laundry and pizza delivery. We rely on our guests to entertain us so if you come, be prepared to tell us stories, take us kite-flying, deep-sea fishing or anything else that will keep us occupied.

A Circumcision Parade

While still in Marrakech, my parents and I spent several hours going through the main Souk (Arabic market). We started off in the town square (or what I think was the town square) which comes alive around 6pm every night. The square itself was congested with people selling stuff. There were snake charmers, henna artists, junk dealers, pastry makers, penny whistle musicians—you name it. And although I loved being immersed in the frenetic energy created by so many people, I was happy to enter the more organized part of the market.

I still haven’t figured out if this part of the market was part of a building or just had a tarp for a roof but merchants offered their wares from booths. Each booth was probably no more than 10 feet wide and 15 feet long so accommodations were cramped. It seemed that each vendor specialized in one product or variations on a product. One gentleman was selling dates and raisins and dried figs –apparently, there are many varieties of dates and thus many different “price points”. I’m not a big fan of dates so I wasn’t overcome with emotion at the sight of them. However, when we came upon a booth selling Arabic pastries. I sensed a quiver of excitement emanate from my father. He had discovered a booth selling a rich selection of pastries (mostly fried, light dough, sweetened with honey) similar to the ones he used to eat as a little boy while living in Constantine, Algeria.

Between the two of us, I think we picked out one of each kind! What makes these pastries so unique is that they are made with no preservatives and sweetened only with honey. Some of them have nuts, others just fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. A lot of them have sesame seed paste or marzipan fillings. (My mouth is watering as I write this.) Typical of my father, he carefully doled these confections out over the next several days, not wanting them to disappear at the hands of others.
OK, so we finally made it through the Souk (not before we were given a half hour rug presentation by Mohammed, a master salesman) and found ourselves outside once again. Suddenly, we all hear this wonderful upbeat music coming from behind us accompanied by a lot of singing and clapping. We turned around to find a processional of musicians followed by a man and little boy on top of a horse that had been all decked out in equestrian finery. My mother asked our guide what was all the fuss about and Anas explained that this was a post-circumcision celebration for the little boy astride the horse. The man was his father and one of the woman on the ground was his mother. Apparently, the little boy (probably 3 years old) had been circumcised that morning and as was tradition, given his own little parade as the sun went down. Ouch.