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Tis’ the Season

Many of my friends on Facebook have been posting EE user cards (http://www.someecards.com/). The cards are a daily ‘funny’ that can be personally tailored to your own life. I saw one the other day that read: “Hooray it’s December! Oh wait… I’m a musician”.  I laughed and laughed, but to be honest… it hit a little close to home.

For those of you that support us creative/music type at this time of year, you have our eternal gratitude and thanks! We often hear that we move our audiences to tears, bring them joy, hope, love and peace. However, there are occasions that musicians must work very hard at not seeing our concertizing as merely a ‘job’. Often, we have rehearsed the music (both conductors and ensemble members alike) for months. If we are not at a rehearsal, we are in a concert. If we are not in a concert, we are practicing. If we are not practicing we hope we find some time to get some sleep. And for those who conduct/direct, we have the extra jobs of secured venues, contracting musicians, creating posters, making programs, researching translations, holding extra rehearsals for soloists, sorted out concert attire, managing decorations, writing press releases and disseminating marketing etc…. etc…. etc….. The list goes on and on.

In the the middle of our music bustle, many of us also desire to participate in the fun of the season.  It IS the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” after all! Musicians Christmas shop, cook, wrap, take our kids to see Santa and Christmas lights, decorate our homes and entertain (when there is time!). By the time you see us in a concert venue we are often wiped out from the holiday madness, and exhausted from our music preparations.

I admit, I’ve experienced a holiday ‘burn-out’ this year.  So I’ve been trying to find ways to invigorate the Christmas spirit. My children and I put up the tree, but I wasn’t really in the mood to put up the rest of the decorations. I turned on Christmas music. However, it made me think of the myriad of concerts I was responsible for this season, so I turned it off. I baked the family favorite “Candy Cane Christmas Brownies” and my husband baked Gingerbread Cookies… but who needs a few extra pounds on the scale? Perhaps my problem was the weather? It was an average of 80 degrees here in Phoenix from Thanksgiving until December 13th  … it just didn’t ‘feel’ like Christmas. So I thought to myself… what does Christmas feel like and what exactly am I missing?

In my pondering, I began to think about my childhood and a flood of Christmas memories came to the surface:

  • The glittering lights of my childhood Christmas tree.
  • A house visit from the ‘real’ Santa Claus.
  • How quiet my neighborhood became under a blanket of snow.
  • The smell and feel of cold crisp mountain winter air.
  • A real pine Christmas tree.
  • Endless hours of sledding down tall hills covered with snow.
  • Moon boots!
  • A homemade nativity pageant with my cousins under my grandmothers Christmas tree.
  • Wassail (Utah Style… mostly juice and Christmas spices).
  • An indoor wood-burning fire.
  • The Temple Square lights.
  • Putting our shoes out for Sinterklaas (my father is Dutch, so we celebrated that tradition).
  • Baking Julekake (My mother is Norwegian. It is a Norwegian Christmas bread).
  • My Grandma Stout’s beautiful tree and pretty Nativity set in angel hair.
  • My Grandma Zeeman’s extraordinary cooking in her remote country home.
  • A Christmas moon rising over the Wasatch Mountains at twilight.
  • The magic and mystery of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
  • The long drive back home after a joyful day visiting cousins and grandparents and falling asleep in the car.
  • The unquestioning belief and knowledge of the love my parents and grandparents had for me.
  • A child’s faith in the story of Jesus’ birth.

I’m sure that over time the distance of my childhood diminishes the reality of that time, and frames instead pictures of a cheerful age. My family lived anything but a charmed life, as we were very poor and my father scraped by paycheck to paycheck keeping all eight of his children fed and clothed. However, I’m grateful that I have precious and happy memories of my childhood Christmases, as it’s my path in finding the Christmas Spirit this year.

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Christmas as a baby.

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Christmas when I was 16 months old.

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Christmas with the cousins

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Christmas Pageant with the cousins.

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I think I’m about 3 here.

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After a Christmas music program at my church, with my father and sister Julia. 

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Christmas Dinner at Grandma Zeeman’s house with my brother Richard.

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One of my dad’s Barbershop quartets.

I have one more set set of childhood memories that cause me to remember Christmases of times past:

  • Church Christmas music programs.
  • Christmas piano recitals.
  • My fathers Barbershop Christmas concerts (and/or gigs).
  • My mother’s Christmas Concerts in the Mormon Tabernacle.
  • Christmas Caroling with my family.
  • School Holiday programs.
  • Performing in the musical ‘A Christmas Carol’.
  • My Christmas concerts with the Salt Lake Children’s Choir

At the discovery of these memories, all I really can do is chuckle. My adult self, suffering with Christmas concert ‘burn out’, is able to find joy, peace and happiness in my childhood memories of… CHRISTMAS CONCERTS!?!? hehe, oh yes, the joke is on me.

As of tonight (two days before Christmas) I have directed and produced eight major Holiday programs (including a Children’s Musical), and have sung in five Christmas Concerts all with six different choirs. Yes, I’m tired. But every one of those concerts held meaning and joy for many people who sought love, joy and peace in a world that often experiences far too much pain. When I analyze the joyful musical experiences I’ve had this season, I realize I live a blessed and fulfilling life. I am grateful that music is a considerable part of the way my family and I celebrate Christmas.

My Christmas wish is that my children too will have happy and lasting musical Christmas memories. Here are just a few musical moments in their lives that I cherish.

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Christmas Eve Services

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Allison’s Holiday Dance Program

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Allison Attending her first Phoenix Chorale Concert and meeting Charles Bruffy

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Benjamin singing in my Cholla Choir

May your 2012 Christmas Season be filled with joy, peace, happy memories, and most of all … Music!

Merry Christmas.

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My Mommy’s a Musician

I have decided to start a blog! This was not an easy decision, as I tend to be an intensely private person, only imparting my inner most thoughts with a very small circle of friends. By it’s nature a ‘blog’ implies that personal information is shared with many, and that concept has always scared me away. It’s not as if I am new to a public forums ‘about me,’ as I have a professional web page, and maintain a Facebook account. However, the way I use those mediums (as I believe many other do) is to 1- share professional information and 2- share random short musings about life. My public image is not a true reflection of who I am or my core philosophies. Rarely do I relate my inner most thoughts and feelings beyond my safe circle. Yet, recently I find that I desire to express my beliefs and experiences.

For the past four years, I have been working on a doctorate degree in Choral Conducting at Arizona State University. I am very happy to say that I am officially ABD (all but dissertation) as of this week and I’m very much looking forward to the end of this stage of my career. My educational journey has been everything from joyful, exquisite, and enlightening to painful, exhausting and at times even devastating. I know that I’ve grown as a teacher, a conductor, a singer, a researcher, and writer. I also have a much keener understanding of my own weaknesses, tendencies and self-defeating behaviors.

I have worked harder than I knew I was capable of, and my family has made enormous sacrifices. I constantly strive to be an active part of my children’s lives, including homework, hopes, dreams, laughter, struggles and activities for developing their talents and knowledge. I burn the candle at both ends knowing fully that I do not want to miss out on my children’s lives just because I am in an intense doctoral program. I pick them up from school daily, spent all afternoon with them for homework, activities, dinner and evening routines. The moment they are tucked away into bed I hit the books, and the papers, and the lesson planning, and the scores etc… But nothing comes without a cost and I have lived with heavy doses of mommy guilt for missing a myriad of ‘little things’ like field day, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, bedtime stories and sick days.

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Many people have asked me how I do it and tell me I appear as if I have it ‘all put together’, I have a ‘calm demeanor’, and that I’m ‘super organized’. Truthfully, I usually feel that I’m one step away from a major catastrophe, emotional breakdown or crisis. I’ve had significant trials over these past four years that have been, and will continue to be areas of perpetual worry.  However, through it all I have had one saving grace… my quiet majority.  My husband is my advocate, my motivator and my unyielding supporter. He, more than anyone, understands how important this degree is for my career, but more importantly for my well-being. I have always felt that I was ‘meant’ to be a musician and honestly… many of my best opportunities were the ones I did not seek, but quite literally ‘fell into my lap’. As I nourish these precious opportunities, my husband never fails to take on the role of ‘father extraordinaire’ (and I do mean laundry, dishes and making kids school lunches), and continually encourages me in my pursuits.

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Unfortunately, motherhood does not always match up with some of the more subtle expectations of a DMA degree. There were times I had to gracefully bow out and decline multiple events. Even though there might have been an ‘understanding’ for my obligations as a mother, it wasn’t always understood. I weathered many an awkward conversation or situation as I stood up for my belief in being a dependable, available and valuable parent. The often led to misunderstandings and unfortunate perceptions about who I am and what I stand for. I have been told that it will be an area in which I may continually struggle as I move forward in my career.

As late as just last week, I questioned why I am even doing this. There are so many negatives to this profession: working on late nights and weekends, ugly politics, hours and hours of score study and logistical planning, and the famous musicians decry of “ridiculously low wages.” It is a hard career to balance close friendships, family life and philanthropic work at church.  Nevertheless, the answer to myself is always the same, and it really is quite simple. I absolutely love what I do. I love making music. I love teaching. I love sharing the beauty of music both with those under my ‘baton’, as well as the audience in a live concert and those that may hear recordings in the future. I love how through music we can foster communication, relationships, and communities. I love how music is universal and doesn’t require a linguistic language to express a mood, or make a listeners arm hair stand up on end. I love to see people grow, change, improve and appreciate the art in the process of rehearsals and concerts. I love to help people feel good about themselves, their accomplishments and confident in their performance. Although I know I am meant to be in this profession, and I ‘need’ it as a part of my life, my participation in this career not about ‘me’. It is not about the ego, the exposure, or the reputation of the conductor. It is about the people, the humanity, and the sharing of all the joys, sorrows, love, and loss of our collective spirit.

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Has my schooling been worth it? For my personal growth and edification… absolutely! I wouldn’t trade the progress I have made for anything in the world. My journey on this path is only just starting, so I can’t say for sure if the degree is really worth it for my career. I certainly hope so! I can say this. It is important to me that my children see their mom as someone who sets a goals and attains them, as someone who knows their purpose, as someone who believes that the term ‘impossible’ is absurd, and as someone who doesn’t let anything stand in her way to achieve her dreams. Do I make my kids proud? I think my daughter answered that question tonight when she enthusiastically announced at the dinner table, “My mommy’s a musician! … a singer and a conductor!”

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