Category Archives: Music

This Was My Brain…


… last night. See, I had a dream. And it was seriously messed up. It was pretty disturbing. Like, beyond disturbing. For some reason I was back playing oboe – all of a sudden, at my current age with kids, fam and all that – and auditioning for summer programs. That was a beatdown. Forget about my old nemesis, extreme performance anxiety. For some reason this particular summer program was located in Big D and had an interview component to the audition process.

Yuck. Throw in the fact that I was, um, at least a decade (and that’s putting it mildly) older than the other applicants. I don’t even remember the playing part of this weird dream audition. But apparently it was good enough, because I got in.

Fast forward to The Night of The Big Concert. I met the Spouse and minions for early dinner across town. (? why didn’t they just bring me dinner?) I’d asked them to bring my concert attire with them and decided to change in the bathroom. This was a bad idea. For two very important reasons. First – I’d asked them to bring one of my OLD concert dresses. Like, from my Former Life as a Musician. Before I had kids. That’s bad enough, right? Wrong. Second – apparently I hadn’t tried it on before asking them to bring it to me.

Of course it didn’t fit. But you know what? I made that sucker fit. And headed back across town with a tight deadline.

And then it hit. Traffic. Awful, horrific traffic. Gridlocked. The kind of traffic that makes it impossible to get more than a mile every fifteen minutes. I was stuck. Panicked. Performance anxiety? That was nothing compared to my normal Type A anal-retentiveness about time – magnified ad infinitum by the stupid traffic situation. Finally made it to the concert hall – just had to park the car.

There were no parking spaces in the parking garage or on any surrounding streets. None. Zip. Zero. It’s a miracle I didn’t pop the already-strained seams on that dress hyperventilating while running for it to make it on time.

Didn’t happen. I was late. By five minutes. Had to wait outside the concert hall for the first piece to finish. And then had to walk past the Spouse and minions – seated in the front row – up to the stage to explain to my section leader why I was late.

He wasn’t having it. Yelled and belittled me as only a true musician-egoist can. Dismissed me. Totally. Told me to forget it and go home, then proceeded to ignore me while I dragged my sausage-casing black taffeta self back to the car. Oh, and I’d forgotten where I put the car in my delirium – and hadn’t remembered to snap the ‘Find My Car’ app on. Seriously. I was a blubbering, sniffling mess in that stupid dress and heels, limping up and down parking ramps.

Now, if you’re still reading, you’re thinking one of two things. Either – she’s crazy, or – that is some wild kind of messed-up stuff going on in her head.

You’re probably right either way. But here’s the catch:

I DID get stuck in horrible traffic on my way home last night. In fact, it took two hours to drive my normal 21 miles. Ridiculous. And I was late to the minions’ Cub Scout thingy because of it. So that almost makes this dream a sensible reaction, right? Right. At least that’s what I thought.

Until I mentioned it to my boss. Not all of it, just the fact that I dreamed about getting stuck in traffic and panicking about it. She freaked out, asking me if I feel trapped in my current work environment. Turns out she’s big on dream analysis. So of course I had to be curious and Google around.

You ready for what I found? It’s creepy. Sure you’re ready? Ok, I warned you… Here’s what Google dream analysis had to say:

“Gridlocked traffic could represent a feeling that things in some aspect of your life are bogged down, or it could represent your state of mind when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

“Walking, driving, or any form of traveling can represent: The passage of time, or making progress or moving forward in life, or moving along your life path.

“Being stuck can represent: feeling unable to make progress or make changes in your life, feeling stuck in a certain situation, possibly an awkward one, or feeling that you’re “stuck in a rut” somehow.

“Playing a musical instrument can mean that you have something to express or say, or you have a need for a creative outlet.

“Performing for others can represent: the idea of attention focused on you, or of your or your efforts being noticed or highlighted, a feeling of self-consciousness, of being observed, or of being especially concerned about others’ opinions about you. Some possible meanings include: an actual, expected, or imagined audition, feeling evaluated, judged, or “put on the spot” by others, applying for a job, university, etc., wanting approval from others, being tested, or trying to make a certain impression on others.

Dang. If that doesn’t hit all the nails smack dab on the head. Huh.

As a matter of fact, I am frustrated. Feeling stuck. Knowing the long-term goals but caught in the day-to-day vicious circle of routines. Creative? Um, hello? This whole writing thing? Check. Attention? Yeah, that’s been lacking lately.
Everything in that stupid dream analysis web site is dead on.

Scary, huh? But it sure does make me think.

Now I’ve gotta do something about it.

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Filed under Dreams, Hobbies, Music, working moms, writing

It’s a Party – and I’m Not There

It’s that week again. The ONE week of the year that makes me miss teaching, and specifically miss teaching music, more than any other.

Music Educators’ Convention Week.

While that may sound like a snoozefest to some, I read an old Funky Winkerbean comic the other day that describes it best. Ready?

‘It’s like Spring Break for band directors.’

And not just band directors. Choir, orchestra and elementary music teachers converge by the thousands. From all over Texas. From out of state. It’s huge. There are not one, but TWO huge exhibit halls full of enough instruments and sheet music to bonfire New York – as well as enough fundraising cookies, sausages, candies and chocolates to feed a small country. Seriously. You can just walk the exhibits and eat samples all day without spending a dime. I’ve done it.

And then there are the workshops. Pick and choose from hundreds on any topic from How to Get the Snotnosed Kid With an Attitude Problem to Love Music to Fundraising 101 to Folk Dances from Outer Mongolia. Seriously. And each one of them is led by an expert in the field, recorded for future reference and most actually have door prizes. Good ones. Score!

And the concerts! Invited groups from all over the state. All levels from elementary choir to university orchestra. Winners of the state Honor Band contests. Usually a professional group or two. And to top off the weekend, the All-State ensembles’ concerts. AND MOST OF THESE ARE FREE!! What more could a total music geek ask for?

I’ll tell you. I wanna go. The Spouse headed out this morning and I’m seriously green. So jealous I could spit. Not because I miss the tantrums, the puke, the public school schedule and issues with helicopter parents.

I miss the camaraderie. The networking. The sheer possibility of professional learning and personal brain-stretching that I always experienced at Convention. The idea that a group of grown adults actually gather on a Thursday night for two hours’ worth of folk dancing – for the fun of it – makes my music-historian-geek start to drool. I mean it.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that all of this musical loveliness takes place in San Antonio? On the Riverwalk?

That’s where the Spring Break part comes in. Because in the midst of all the professional inspiration, you can walk steps to any one of the plethora of amazing restaurants and shops nearby. Take a break. Eat fabulous food. Hang out with old college friends, new acquaintances and colleagues. Network. And of course head down to Swig or Durty Nellie’s for some live music and/or a beverage if you’re so inclined. And the funniest part? You can spot all of the band directors a mile away – something about the briefcase, name badge and Dockers combo.

Can you tell I miss it? The idea of being kid-free with the Spouse, away from home, in San Antonio and getting professional inspiration all in one? Heaven. Nirvana. Whatever you want to call it.

But is it enough to make me want to go back there? To go back to teaching public school music to groups of up to 60 youngsters at once? No.

But I’m thinking a nice private school gig would suit me just fine. Now I just need to fit that into my day job and writing schedule.

What about you? What inspires you personally and professionally?

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Filed under Arts Education, Careers, Music, Music teachers, Performing Arts, Personal growth, Uncategorized

A Lovely Day

There was a rare happening at Casa Bell over the weekend.

A Day to Myself.

Yes, really. An entire day, all to myself. All of the boys were off to visit family a couple of hours away and I was pretty much told that I needed rest and relaxation. So I stayed home. Well, not really at home…

See, I have this problem. When I get time to myself (rarely) I can’t decide what to do with it. There are too many options. I have a whole list of things that I enjoy doing around town that aren’t always entirely family-friendly. So on the rare occasion that I get time, it’s hard to pick just one or two things to do. And that usually results in me getting frustrated, staying home and putting in a DVD.

Not this time. It was Museum District Day. Aha! A plan! I think I spent most of last week planning my day. Started off by getting a haircut. For those of you who know me, it’s totally not about the actual haircut. It’s about the shampoo. I will gladly pay someone else to wash my hair, massage my head – wash, rinse, repeat – any time, any day. For me, it’s better than a massage. Seriously. And this lady didn’t disappoint.

Next stop – Rothko Chapel. One of those places I’ve always wanted to go but just haven’t. Life always seems to get in the way of places like this. Outside I found a tiny bit of serenity in the midst of inner-loop Houston:

What else could I do? I spent some time meditating, relaxing and enjoying the gorgeous fall weather – and the surprising quiet of Montrose… But I couldn’t linger – I had a purpose. Inside the chapel a percussion recital waited, so I headed in for some music therapy. I have to be honest – I really tried. I did. I’m ashamed to admit this as a musician, but the piece was just not to my taste. Twenty-five minutes of aleatoric chime patterns had me fidgeting and trying to slow my brain down. It didn’t work. But I immersed myself in a new experience and gave it a go.

Next stop was the Lawndale Art Center. The awesome mural I discovered in February has been replaced by some kind of pop art collage. Interesting – it reminds me of 50’s B-films in a way…

Spent some time among the art, enjoying the space and watching some kids create with sidewalk chalk on the pavement outside. Made a quick stop at the Contemporary Craft Center’s garden for some more reflection and then headed home.

I actually took a nap! An uninterrupted nap in a quiet house! Bliss! That gave me some much-needed energy to finish up some mundane errands, including a trip to Randall’s to pick up a few ingredients for dinner. Being alone, that meant trying a new recipe involving many things green. I found this recipe courtesy of Anthology magazine. Since it basically contains five of my favorite things – potatoes, garlic, green beans, cilantro, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, I dove in. Less than thirty minutes later, this was the result:



Heaven in a bowl. Honest. And to top off my lovely day, a movie that I’ve been dying to see since I first heard about it last year just happened to be playing on TV.

Really interesting, and surprisingly ‘normal’ for a Cronenberg film. Guess he couldn’t go too crazy since it basically tells a true story. And Michael Fassbender just might give James Bond a run for his money in my book…

A perfect day. And the best part was that by the end of it, I was missing my guys and ready for them to come home!


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Filed under Cooking, Film, Meditation, Music, Self-care


I’ve been a music-lover/musician for most of my life. Admittedly the ‘musician’ part has slipped recently. I’ve channeled my energies into more of the ‘active listener’ role over the last few years. And as a musician I was mostly a performer. But my real love has always (secretly) been music history, analysis, research, etc. The composition and arranging part of it is my husband’s passion. I’m always amazed at his abilities – he can listen to anything and write it out, harmonize it and turn it into a performance piece. He should go into business full-time. Really. He dabbles at the moment, but he should really do more of it. He’s also been known to compose original stuff – which is something I thought I’d never do – until…

My recent obsession has been the Hunger Games books. I know, I know – I’m a bit late to the party. Seemingly everyone I know has already read them. But when I picked up the first one last week I couldn’t put it down. Literally. For a good 2-3 days that’s all I did. And I’ve almost finished the third book.

If you know the books, then you know the song ‘The Hanging Tree.’ The books only give the lyrics and hint at the harmonies sung by the birds in the woods. It’s a haunting song – and the other day I woke up with the first three notes of a melody stuck in my head. I can’t shake it. But my Type-A-ness wants to make any attempt I make at writing it out historically accurate.

How can I possibly be historically accurate in writing a melody for a fictional song that occurs in the context of a fictional future? Let me explain. In my music-teacher days I had the privilege of spending three summers in the most grueling, agonizing, musically and intellectually inspiring experiences of my life. From 8-5 every day I was stretched, molded, brainwashed and challenged in lesson planning, sight-singing, musical analysis, conducting (take that, Phil Clements!), folk music research and choral performance. The last was one of the more agonizing given that I am an oboe player, not a singer. Well, the requirement of playing three piano parts (yes, on piano) while singing a fourth was definitely the worst, given that my piano skills are abysmal on a good day. But I loved every minute of it! One of the long-term effects was a fascination with and interest in folk music research. And this leads back to ‘The Hanging Tree.’

See, one of the proponents of my training is that any musical performance must be not only musically, but historically accurate. The Hunger Games’ Katniss, who sings the song as learned from her father (in true folk tradition) has lived her whole life in District 12. We are told that ‘in old times’ District 12 was part of a region called Appalachia. And Appalachia has a rich folk song tradition going back to the original Anglo immigrants. So it makes sense to me that any version of the melody must have some of those characteristics. Of course.

I’m excited. I have a project!! I’ve dug out all of my materials and resources to research music in the Appalachian tradition, analyze common elements, etc. Because my goal here is to compose (yes, me! compose!) an authentic ‘futuristic’ Appalachian folk melody. I can’t even tell you how overwhelmed and driven I am at the idea! Especially since YouTube has a few arrangements that other people have written for the song – and they are so ignorant of the region’s rich musical tradition it’s embarrassing. Plus they’re bad.

So that’s my goal for the week. And if I’m really lucky, my extremely-gifted spouse will agree to harmonize and arrange it for me. I’ll keep you posted!

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Filed under Arranging, Composition, Folk Music, Hunger Games, Music