The Monday After

This is always the busiest time of year. As school winds down, there are so many things planned. We’ve been in concert/recital mode on and off since mid-April, but the end of May and the beginning of June are always the most rushed.

After the weekend we just had, I’m taking today to just breathe. So instead of posting some of my fiction or writing a scathing takedown of something-or-other, I’m going to play proud mommy for a few minutes. Tune out if you don’t care about kids’ concerts and recitals. If you like that sort of thing, and if you don’t mind a bit of shameless bragging, then keep reading. Warning: You may encounter cuteness. Beware.

We kicked off our marathon weekend with a trip to jazz band competition. My son, who is in fifth grade, plays the saxophone in his school band. He played in the jazz band last year, which was a big deal because it’s a select group. This year, he was invited to play bass keyboard instead of saxophone. This is a great bunch of kids, and they work hard, practicing three days a week. I was amazed at what their teacher had them doing—he had these nine- and ten-year-old kids performing some complex skills. They even used mutes at one point, and were coordinated enough to unmute without breaking stride in the song.

They performed three selections, and this one was by far their best:

They’re the only elementary school, so they compete at the middle school level. We just learned that they placed first in their division. Way to go, kids!

We spent the rest of our weekend in rehearsal and performance for the annual dance recital. Some of you may remember that two years ago, we had to find a new dance studio home when the kids’ former one closed. I’ve said it before, but I’m so glad we made the choice we did. They’ve been very happy here, and I’m grateful to the teachers for their care and instruction. Like with jazz band, one thing I’ve been consistently amazed by is what they can get these young kids to do. My son’s tap class is ages 9-11, and they put on quite a show with their dance this year:

Sadly, there aren’t more students my son’s age taking ballet. The good news is, he had private lessons with his wonderful teacher (who came over from their former studio). He was a little nervous about his first solo, but he made it through. When he was finished, I met him backstage. He rushed at me and shouted, “I did it! I didn’t mess up! I did it!”

Finally, I think one of my favorite moments was seeing my daughter let go and just enjoy herself. She’s never been as sold on dance as my son, though she does say she likes classes and wants to keep going. But there’s a moment when you know that your kid has found a good fit. It’s not about her talent or the skill level of her class; it’s about how free she looked on stage and how much joy I saw reflected in her face.

If you’re interested in the rest of the weekend performances, you can check them out on my YouTube channel (or look at past performances on my other channel; Google weirdly separated my videos by email address).

Here they are in their costumes:

Come Fly with Me/Live It Up

Before the big show


Post-solo sibling love


The nerd and the rebel

We still have another concert, a mini-concert, an Irish dance recital, a Girl Scout bridging ceremony, and fifth grade graduation to attend. Mercifully, those are more spread out than this past weekend. At least I’ll have time to breathe in between.

How about you? What’s the end of the school year look like in your house?


So, long, Pete Seeger.

By Dan Tappan, via Wikimedia Commons

Not even a day after I said I was burned out and taking a break, and here I am again.  I did say I would write if I felt inspired, though, so I have a good excuse.

Today, I am sad.  Singer/songwriter Pete Seeger passed away at age 94.  For the first time, I actually cried at the loss of someone famous.  Not that I’ve never been sad about a celebrity’s death, but none have touched me in quite the same way.

I should say here that I didn’t actually know Pete, of course.  I know people who knew him, but I never met him personally.  But I grew up on his music, and I’m grateful that I did.

I’m a genuine product of the 1970s.  As most children do, I listened first to my parents’ music.  The Beach Boys and the Beatles were often on the stereo.  My dad didn’t often dance with me when I was little, but I remember him teaching me a few steps to the early rock ‘n’ roll tunes he loved.  Since I was the youngest sibling by quite a bit, I also heard my fair share of Pink Floyd, Rush, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, and Queen.  But it was my mother’s folk music I liked best of all.

By Fred Palumbo, via Wikimedia Commons

For as long as I can remember, I have had a physical response to Pete Seeger’s words and music.  I imagine what I feel is very much the effect contemporary church worship leaders often work far too hard to achieve.  I’ve never had a “mountain-top” spiritual experience when singing praise songs, but I sure have when I hear one of Pete’s tunes.

It’s not the complexity of the music or even Pete’s voice (which was, let’s be honest, middle-of-the-road).  It’s the something that just speaks right into my soul.  That sense of longing, of there being something better–and perhaps I can, in my humanity, bring that something better to fruition.

When my son was younger and I homeschooled both kids, we used to listen to all kinds of music together.  One of the first songs that made an impression on them was “Turn, Turn, Turn” (yes, I know the Byrds sang it; but it’s Pete Seeger’s song).  My son created elaborate interpretive living room dances to it, and he knew all the words before he was six years old.  I was delighted to be able to play more for him, and even more delighted by his enjoyment.  I am honored to have been given this gift by my mother, and I feel so fortunate to be able to pass it on to my children.  Perhaps one day, they will have children of their own with whom they can share it.

I kept my son home today because of the cold weather.  Later, the kids and I will fire up YouTube and find some of my favorite Pete Seeger songs.  We will listen, and we will talk.  We will speak of the legacy Pete has left and the future they can create and their place in the larger tapestry of the world.

There is a candle on my mantle, lit in loving memory of Pete Seeger for all he’s given us.  Thank, you Pete, with all my heart.  Thank you.

What a Weekend

It’s June, which means performance season when you have dancers.  We’ve made it through one recital, and we have one more to go.  The next one will be a little easier on us–they have dress rehearsal and the recital on the same day, and it’s short.  This past weekend was pretty intense.

We kicked off the weekend on Friday with my son’s jazz band competing about an hour away in a Festival of Bands.  They took the top spot in their category (middle and elementary school bands–they were the only elementary school) and had the third highest score of any school in the competition.  Considering the fact that they are mostly ages 10 and 11, with a few 9-year-olds like my son sprinkled in, it’s impressive that they held their own against kids as old as 18.  All that hard work paid off!  Congratulations to the school with the top spot, which turned out to be another high school in our county.

Here they are performing “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues.”  There’s a singleton soloist and then some pairs.  My son is in the second pair to solo.

My son’s band also received honors for best soloist, best woodwinds, and best rhythm section in their middle school category.

One of the good things that came out of all the busyness was confirmation that we made the right choice when we joined the kids’ new dance studio.  Both kids have had a wonderful year, and I could see on their faces how much they were enjoying themselves.  Off the stage, my kids have very different personalities.  Put them under the spotlight in front of an audience, though, and they’re both born performers.

I hate to say it, because I know I’m not supposed to have a preference, but I think my daughter’s ballet was my favorite of the dances they were in.  I suppose a small part of that may have been that it reminded me so much of something she might have done at their previous studio.  This video is from the dress rehearsal, and it’s not particularly high quality, but you should be able to get a sense of what the girls are doing.  Mine is the one who waves at the camera about a minute in.

At the recital, the girls were even better.  They all looked so happy and confident, pouring themselves into the dance.  Like I said, I’m glad we made this choice–watching them on stage, it finally felt like home.

My son and his class had their best performance with “Mr. Postman” (he was the postman, of course).  In similar fashion to my daughter’s class, they turned it up several notches at the recital.  My son caught my eye (I was right in front) at the beginning and gave me a huge, wicked grin.  He started flirting with the audience a little, giving these incredibly cheeky looks which would have been visible to about the first five rows.  They ate it up, which not only fueled him but his classmates as well.  It was priceless.

If you want to see any other videos from the weekend, you can visit my YouTube channel and watch the rest.  This weekend’s performances are tagged as Jazz Band and Dance.  Next weekend is the kids’ Irish dance recital.  If you’re local, come see them!  You can send me a message for the details.

If your family has participated in end-of-year performances, congratulations on all the hard work.  If you have upcoming recitals and concerts, I wish you the best.  I hope your experiences are as good as ours have been this year.

Notable News: Week of September 29-October 5, 2012

Lots of around-the-web goodness for you all today.  This week’s best posts are all over the map for content.  Enjoy!

1. Roger E. Olson on “Evangelical Inquisitions”

This timely post is spot-on about the way that some Christians like to play Doctrine Police with other Christians.  At our house, we call it doctrinal purity.  It’s the idea that there is one absolutely correct way to interpret Scripture and if you don’t do it that way, you are in error and must be disciplined.  I have to admit, I’m not fond of the term “evangelical” in this context.  This is not necessarily a hallmark of evangelicalism, only of extreme conservativism.  There are plenty of wonderful evangelicals who hold Scripture in high regard but don’t adhere to a strictly conservative reading.  Rachel Held Evans, Brian McLaren, and Mel White come to mind, for example.

Which brings me to…

2. Denny Burke is an idiot

Or at least he isn’t very kind to Christianity Today’s article on women to watch.  Instead of appreciating the diversity of women on the list, he goes off on how CT didn’t do enough to highlight the differences in belief about women’s roles.  Well, of course, Burke, you fool.  The point of the CT article was to honor Christian women and what they’re doing, not point out their doctrinal error (see above).  I don’t normally read the comments, but the first comment says, “Rachel Held Evans — what do you mean, ‘non-evangelical’?”  This got my attention, so I read on—only to discover a long, long discussion about whether Rachel Held Evans is or is not evangelical.  Because that’s the real point, of course.

And speaking of women…

3. Slacktivist shreds Kent Shaffer

Oh, Slacktivist.  You are so many, many kinds of awesome.  This post quotes Shaffer’s disgusting response to Christian women bloggers and links every single word to a blog written by a woman.  And in case you missed my mad tweeting about it, I’m on that list too!  (It’s in the last set of links, the final word “always.”)  I am honored to be counted among the likes of Alise Write, Andrea Cumbo, Grace, Kimberly Knight, Crystal St. Marie Lewis, and others.  Many thanks to my cousin for pointing this out to me, I would have missed it otherwise.  (And double points for this being posted on my birthday!)

4. If only

If only this were a sign that Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill were moving into the 21st century.  I agree with this woman’s points, but I doubt that her actual presentation at Mars Hill will be anything outside of the narrowly defined roles that church expects from women.  Still, nice to see another woman who doesn’t like women’s conferences.

5. On juggling

Shannon M. Howell says it nicely.  We all have a lot of plates to keep in the air.  If anyone figures it out, please email me.  I’ll get to your message sometime next month.

6. Boy Scouts of America are idiots too

And right here, folks, is exactly why my son is not a boy scout.  (Not that he is or isn’t gay, but I won’t give my money to an organization that actively discriminates against people who are non-het and non-religious.)  Keeping a hard-working kid from being awarded his Eagle Scout is just not cool, I don’t care what your policies are.  Seriously, BSA? Get a new hobby.  Also, if your kid is a scout, sorry, but I’m not buying your popcorn.

7. Jonathan Zeng: heartache and hope

This piece is beautifully written.  It breaks my heart that there is still such discrimination against people for who they are.  At the same time, Zeng captures the spirit of creativity and working out our pain.  I am reminded again of the importance of standing alongside people in the midst of trials.  I hope that we are teaching our children to do the same.

I hope you all have a great weekend, see you Monday for the next installment of 50 Shades!

The ethics of music

I want to hate Wagner.

I mean, his music can be tough to play and occasionally painful to sit through.  And, you know, there’s also that whole racism/antisemitism thing.

Which, for me, is a big deal.

Wagner doesn’t get a pass for having written some pretty decent music.  He wasn’t a nice man.  He had plenty of nasty things to say about how composers such as Mendelssohn were “bad” for Germany (Mendelssohn was Jewish).  Hitler was a fan of Wagner, which should tell you something right there.

So what, then, should we do with Wagner’s music?  Do we stop listening, on principle?  Do I refuse to play it when it’s on the program for one of my concerts?  Should opera houses stop performing his operas (especially the ones with overt antisemitic sentiments)?  Do his personal beliefs only matter if they aren’t apparent in his music, or if the music has no words and therefore one might not know if there are undertones?

The orchestra with which I play is performing the overture to Wagner’s opera Rienzi at our first concert this fall.  (The irony that we’re also performing a piece by Mendelssohn is not lost on me.)  Honestly, I’m torn.  I like the piece.  It’s fun to play, just the right degree of challenge for an amateur musician.  Musically, it’s good.  It’s one of Wagner’s earlier works, from an era of which I am particularly fond.  All in all, it’s an enjoyable experience.

Except for that nagging feeling of discomfort.

In truth, I don’t have the answers.  Part of me feels that I’m guilty of ignoring something important and participating in the marginalization of people.  I am quite sure that Wagner’s sensibilities won’t be a topic of conversation at the pre-concert lecture, which means that for many, his ideologies will remain unknown.  On the other hand, the man has been dead for nearly 130 years.  He isn’t here to continue to spout his opinions.  We can, perhaps, enjoy the music for itself at this point.

What do you think?  What are the ethics of appreciating art created by someone with harmful personal beliefs?

Notable News, Week of May 12-18

TIME Magazine, celebrity feminism, and Donna Summer.  It’s all in here!

1. TIME Magazine enrages us all

Even though the controversial issue of TIME Magazine came out last week, it’s still the center of the blogosphere.  Tons of women have weighed in on it, from a variety of perspectives.  What’s been awesome about the whole thing is that TIME intended to fan the flames of the Mommy Wars, but we moms (and women who aren’t moms, too) proved ourselves above such foolishness.  We came together spectacularly to support each other in our parenting styles.  Yeah, women!

Here are what I consider the best of the best in response to the TIME article:

  • Rachel Held Evans helps us laugh at ourselves and recognize that we are, indeed, enough just as we are.
  • Avital Norman Nathman gives us her take over at The Mamafesto.  In her first post, “Are YOU ‘Mom Enough’?”, she explains the artificial battle line TIME has drawn.  In the second, “Distraction”, she reminds us that we shouldn’t let TIME get away with distracting us from the very real parenting issues of post-natal leave, sick time, and health care for families.
  • The Radical Housewife encourages us to ponder the ways in which patriarchy has determined that none of us will ever be “mom enough.”
  • Over on Soulseeds, Meg Lawton tells us about her breastfeeding journey and why TIME’s sexualized image put her off.

2. The limitations of celebrity feminists

Check out this great article on the problems with women like Tina Fey who would limit our feminism “for our own good.”  Long, but worth the read.  It’s another take on the madonna/whore complex.

3. Donna Summer dies

She was only 63.

Music to Grit Your Teeth To

One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that people are really, really passionate about songs they hate.  They are, perhaps, even more passionate than about songs they love.  Over on Facebook, I posted, “Name a Christmas song you wish you would never hear again.”  I must say, I had some unexpected responses.

It should come as no surprise that the number one hated song was “Christmas Shoes.”  Since most of my friends are a lot wittier than I am, let me share their comments:

“That awful Christmas Shoes song. It makes me want to slit my wrists.”

“Please, please, PLEASE! Can we get rid of sappy Christmas Shoes!? We get it. It’s Christmas, and it’s sad.”

“The Christmas Shoes song needs to go. I’ll tell you—I work with the dying every day. Their kids are not out there buying shoes.”

“Another vote for Christmas Shoes. I change the station every time it comes on.”

“Christmas Shoes” tops my list as well.  It has all my personal criteria for a horrible song.  It’s too long, the tune is terrible, it features an urban legend as the plot, and it tries to suck you in by being sappy and sentimental.  It’s the musical version of fingernails on a blackboard.  When I hear it, I want to scream and smash things.

Other contenders for worst Christmas song:

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (second most hated; I agree.  Creepy, and why is the kid excited her mother is kissing someone that supposedly isn’t her dad?)

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (this one took third place)

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time

Baby It’s Cold Outside (two votes and a comparison to date rape)

Marshmallow World

Happy Holidays (For some reason, this conjures images of women in snowflake costumes.  Was that in a movie?)

Winter Wonderland

Jingle Bells

-Anything involving snow

Snoopy vs. the Red Baron (I had to look this one up.  Yes, it’s bad.)

-Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song (Okay, not a Christmas song exactly, but it gets a lot of radio time at this season.)

-Last year, a friend posted that he really, really hates Santa, Baby (Yep, nothing says Merry Christmas like rampant materialism.)

Besides “Christmas Shoes,” I’m throwing in votes for “I’m Getting Nuttin’ for Christmas” (any and all versions, but especially the original), “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” (Really, kid?  That’s all?), and those stupid barking dogs singing “Jingle Bells.”

Someday, perhaps someone will make a CD of all the songs people hate.  I’ll bet it will be a big seller, just for the novelty.  Feel free to chime in with your own bad Christmas song list.

Up next: The other side of Christmas music, the very best songs.