17 February 2010

Tacoma at 6 months

Decided not to wait till my next life to play piano; always loved Brahms' Op 118 Intermezzo in A; tried arranging it for guitar duet 30 years ago (David Leisner read through it with me then); but now I am actually playing it (still under tempo) on our grand! This instrument (on loan from St Leo's, Tacoma) is nowhere near as nice as the Estonia we left behind (on loan to St Paul's, Gloucester), so I look forward to a reunion with the latter someday. While there will always be music written for keyboard that finds a new life on guitar, I will henceforth explore the option of learning first to play on piano pieces I would be tempted to transcribe. Now I remember my German grandmother [Brahms being her favorite] trying to instruct me, when I was about 12; but it being her idea, and me not yet having developed a taste for classical music, I resisted. Apparently, doing it "my way" meant putting off piano till mid-life, with the added impetus of needing keyboard skills to vie for choral director jobs. Even my first guitar teacher, Jack, encouraged me to learn piano. I also had to overcome taking on something that my wife [both first and second] would always do better than I.

My last two recitals went well. When I attended a recital at the Antique Sandwich Co. before, only those of us seated near the stage were giving our full attention. But when I played there two weeks back, I was pleased to be the focus of a full house. The Wright Park Conservatory, last Sunday, only seats a few; but a lot of flowers heard me [see photos at my profile page]. The Mandolin Cafe (where I played 12/22) did not turn out to be a good place for classical guitar, but a couple who heard me there returned for the subsequent programs.

Have had some long-term substitute teaching jobs [8 days in Puyallup, 5 in University Place] that allowed me to build rapport with students [most classes met daily] and a relationship with their music teacher (even if just by phone). Although the work is unpredictable, I appreciate the freedom substitute work affords. I can show up, leave my mark, but not be responsible for the ongoing upkeep of each program. Two sisters (5 & 6) just showed me -- at the conclusion of an Ash Wednesday service -- the "To Stop the Train" round with all the moves, as learned from their older sister who learned it from me in school [kind of like the spread of a virus!] One day I'm a choral director, another day orchestra, band or general music for primary grades. I usually give all students a classical guitar demo at the end of class -- which may yield some private students, but I mostly do it to increase the audience for my instrument. I can't take it personally when I don't hear again from some music teachers, as they may simply have used up their sick days. And it's probably for the best I am not working full-time every week, so I have time to clean house, practice and write this.

All it feels like I've done for Haiti, so far, is to re-write the last verse of Harriet Tubman in the arrangement I taught to choirs at Stahl Jr High. I know the coming years will bring many opportunities to assist Haitians, though. One of a number of powerful stories I've heard since the earthquake concerned a former St Leo's parishioner (a recent college graduate) who successfully evacuated all the children from the orphanage where she worked, but did not make it out herself. The social justice coordinator at St Leo's is going to be selling my CDs as a fundraiser for church ministries and he's also arranged for me to play to guests at the soup kitchen.

I don't see how one can call it Winter here. We stayed at the National Parks Inn on Christmas Night for a White Christmas, but down here around Puget Sound the grass has remained green. The sun appears rarely enough that you can't help but smile when it does; and while that may not be as severe as the snow and freezing temps you have out East, I suppose the reappearance of the sun is what we most look forward to about Spring in the NW. We have a spectacular old-growth [500-year-old trees in many cases] forest in Point Defiance Park (a mile from our house), highlighted with luminescent lichens. As Toby and I were exploring a stream in a ravine there yesterday, I kept asking myself how could there possibly be no mosquitoes. What you don't see, however, is the lead and arsenic contamination of the soil, the legacy of the infamous smelter that locals speak of.

Had two rainy get-aways in the past month. Monica and I drove to Port Townsend, staying at a cozy B&B in this self-conscious National Register of Historic Places town -- the closest we've felt to Cape Ann in a while. Then I went to an RC Men's Workshop on Vashon Island (which we view from our home). It's great to be back in touch with the Re-evaluation Counseling community, even if none of the faces are familiar -- my first overnight workshop in over a decade.

Nat (who turns 21 this month) has been enjoying being a student at Tacoma Community College, which has lifted his spirits considerably. He has also been hitting the pavement to find a job. Noah (17) has still been missing much school due to illness; we haven't been so far able to figure why his immune system functions so poorly. Please keep them both in your prayers.

That's it for now. Thanks for sticking with me this long. With each passing month in the NW, I seek to make myself a more versatile musician (music educator) and a more loving person . . . with a good ways yet to go.

Peace be with you, Jeffry