Tag Archives: Music

Don’t Cry Out Loud – learn how to hide your feelings

“There’s no need to get emotional” and “Crying won’t solve anything” are both things that have been said to me on various occasions, almost as if “being emotional” is a crime, but, what’s so criminal about being emotional? Why is “being emotional” a bad thing?

In some cultures when there is a grief situation or when somebody dies, people cry openly, in fact there are professional mourners brought in as “wailers”. We western people find this very disturbing. In fact we find open displays of emotion hard to deal with. When we go to something like a funeral where people are upset, the sight of upset people makes us upset.

I have attended, in a professional capacity, where I have played the organ, the funerals of many people that I don’t know, or that I don’t know very well. I have often been quite touched by the emotions displayed by such people that I may not personally know, yet I’ve picked up on the feelings of that person for their mother, for their husband – and sometimes when the grieving person has been overwhelmed, when they have been making a speech or a eulogy and their voice cracks, or they tear up, and everybody is very uncomfortable, but I and many others are sitting in the pews of the church and just willing them to continue on. And you are not wanting them to cry because you do not want them to be upset, but here is the question. Do you not want them to be upset for them, or do you not want them to be upset for you? Because we don’t like to see that, because we don’t deal with it very easily in the Western world. Despite our discomfort, however, crying is actually good for you! Actually, crying releases endorphins. Crying does actually make you feel better.

Little children – babies – have very few ways of reacting. It is said that when you have a small baby and you are a new parent and your baby cries, it is their only way of communicating and you need to go through a list, as a frustrated new parent, of six possible things.baby-boy-crying-photo-420x420-ts-56570356

Is the baby wet, is the baby cold, is the baby hot, is the baby hungry, or is the baby tired? Once you have gone about trouble-shooting all those issues, and you’ve tried to fix them all and the baby is still unhappy, you just simply go through all of them again. Sooner or later, you fix one of those things and eventually the baby will calm down and stop crying. (For the sharp eyed who noticed my “list” only had 5 things, from memory Number 6 to offer Baby was simply “Comfort”).

A small child falls over – they will immediately cry. As a child gets a little older, they tend to learn guile. I remember some years ago sitting with a friend in the Botanic Gardens in Adelaide enjoying a beautiful sunny day, and there was a young boy of about three who was dawdling along not that far behind his parents.Toddler

The child tripped over a rough piece of ground and fell over flat on his face, and I just naturally got up, ready to rescue the child if he was hurt. The boy just actually lay there, on his tummy for a moment, and I was waiting for the wail to come up of the possibly injured child. There was this moment’s hesitation. The kid actually put his head up, looked around for an audience, then saw that his mother had just realised he had fallen a few steps behind, and turned around to look. Only when he saw he had her attention, then did he let out a theatrical yell. And it was nearly comical that it was almost as if, had there not been an audience, he wouldn’t have bothered crying.

When I’m overwhelmed, very unhappy or depressed, I have a number of things that I do to try and keep myself going. Some would call it “self-medicating” I guess. None of them are overly dangerous, but I realise there’s a list of things that I tend to commonly do when I’m in a difficult stage. That I do to try and buck myself up, or assist me to cope, and perhaps they have some medicinal effect, perhaps they just have some psychological effect. But I find that in a period of real stress I tend to do these things:

  • I eat high sugar foods such as doughnuts and frozen coke
  • I drink more coffee – the caffeine hit keeps me going
  • I succumb to “Fast Food” such as Hungry Jacks

More positively (or what may possibly win approval from my ever-patient GP)

  • I take myself out to nice places, such as sitting by the beach, importantly in isolation, so I am alone with my thoughts. And so I can reflect, so I can think. If need be, so I can display emotion, so I can cry and nobody can be concerned or can criticise.
  • I spend time with people who are important to me and I feel I can confide in, that I feel will listen including, as the quiz show used to say: “Phone a friend”.
  • I have been known to just go off to a quiet place, even sit in my car, and have a good, old fashioned howl.

And simply the release of emotion is something which I have found extremely therapeutic and I wonder, if more people did that, if we might have fewer people that are actually resorting to ultimately much more harmful drugs and alcohol overuse.

Yet we are afraid of emotion and, strangely, people are valued and praised for “not being emotional”. Women, especially in the business world, or in positions of power, are almost expected to  be aloof, such as Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly in “the Devil Wears Prada “ (2006)  Meryl Devil wears PradaForty years earlier, 1964’s “My Fair Lady” asked “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”

Yet those people are the very people who I find, not so much that they don’t have emotion, but that the emotions I see are coldness, cruelty, lack of feeling, lack of empathy, narcissism, wanting to have their own way, not being interested in other people and valuing right, might and power over the feelings of others. And not seeming to allow themselves to feel passion or joy – if they actually do have those things within them. Not valuing good.

Because emotion isn’t all negative emotion.

If you can’t allow yourself to feel, if you can’t allow yourself to feel at all, yes, you may avoid somewhat the danger of the depths of despair, but you also dull the exhilaration of passion and joy.

Around five years ago, we needed Passports for our children. I attempted to take their photographs myself. They were used to the “say cheese” variety of look, but this time I exhorted them not to smile. My daughter immediately assumed a very glum expression. “Too much” I exclaimed. She tried to look slightly happier, but to still not smile. This proved quite difficult and soon she was giggling, then laughing out loud. Before too long I had the perfect, most natural, happy photograph – although totally unsuitable for the passport regulations. Passport Photo Best

As we discovered, it is not easy to turn on and off one’s emotion or even expression like the proverbial “performing seal”.

Did the song have it right, with the advice “Don’t cry out loud”? As a younger person it was one of my favourite songs and I guess because as a kid and as a consumer and an owner of 100 books by Enid Blyton (inherited from my Mother and my Aunts) I was a bit of a fan of the “run away to the circus” concept, and the notion of “dancing high upon the wire” was something that I always aspired to.

Having the dream, living the dream. And if you failed, you hadn’t failed to try.

And have I failed in my life? Sure. I’ve failed plenty of times. But have I failed to try?

No, I still try, try again. There are plenty of things that I haven’t achieved, and there are plenty of things which I would still like to achieve. But have I completely let go of the possibility of the dream? No. Because the day that I completely let go of “The Dream”, I may as well let go altogether.

And maybe the things that I haven’t achieved…and I don’t want to be a horrible “stage mother” here…what I haven’t achieved for myself, perhaps I can achieve as a parent, by having my kids achieve their potential. But not in some wish-fulfilling “My Dreams” or “My Unfulfilled things” on them, but by helping them achieve their own dreams, and their passions.

So, despite being one of the least sporting people on the planet, but having a skilled son, having him achieve his sporting dreams, as a cricketer,as a hockey player – even if this means I become (much to my amusement) a “Hockey Mum”, that is something which I can work towards.

Having a creative daughter who authors wonderful stories? Who sings delightfully? Who revels in Fandom? Who adores books? These things are her passions. If I can help her follow her passions, I have succeeded as a parent.

But these things are passions, they are dreams, they are emotions. They are not “nothing”. They are not squashing people from being people. They are not having no passion. And we are certainly not celebrating people that do not display emotion.

Does someone who does not display emotion actually not have emotion? It’s actually a very interesting question. I would say that someone who does not display emotion doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have emotion, it more means they have suppressed it that far that it is actually quite unhealthy.

And again: we are scared of emotion, we are scared of people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, because we see them as uncontrollable – we like to control things. And certain people who I’ve had friction with are people who want to control me, and I’m not someone who wants to be controlled. And I admit to reacting to people who want to control me, and I guess I do not show my best side in those instances, and they may not see the best in me.

People who bring out the best in me are those who give me some room to wriggle and some room to grow, and encourage and support me, not people who try to kick me when I’m down, and try and put me in a box and try and stifle any essence which is me.In the Box

And the person that is me is the person that has emotion and passion.

You kill that, and you kill me.

So, “Don’t cry out loud?”? That’s not me.

 

“Don’t cry out loud” Is that something we should aspire to do? No. I don’t believe that is so.

I think we should all recognise that “scratch I and I’ll bleed” but also “build me up, and I will soar”.

Do not be afraid to cry. Sometimes crying is necessary. Crying is honest.

When I need to cry – let me cry.

When you need to cry, let me be your shoulder.

But also – Stand with me and we’ll be joyful. I will celebrate life with you.

There is always darkness before the dawn.

But the dawn will come.

Beach Dawn

 

 

Knowing me, knowing you

It was suggested to me recently that I’m having an “Identity Crisis”. I guess that is one more thing to add to my extensive list of “Issues”.

know-002This came about because I was having another wail about Church People just seeing me as “The Pastor’s Wife”. This variation on my 25-year old long-running theme was a specific gripe, due to me feeling taken advantage of over a current issue, too convoluted to relate here, but one aspect being playing Pipe Organ in Church five out of six consecutive weeks. Which I actually enjoy doing. But, while at the same time, there had been some question raised over my qualifications and skills as an organist. The irony of the confluence of these two things was not lost on me.

I have reflected before on how we go through life being identified, I feel, in relation to other people and other things. Which is natural. Someone’s child. Someone’s sister or brother.

As a student at a particular school.

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Hilary,Kylie, Frances, Caroline in “Die Musiker Studio” days

As a member of a sports team or club perhaps. Or, at a Music or Ballet school on the weekend.

Then, later, as someone’s husband or wife. Then parent of our child or children. By the job that we do.

But to what extent is our identity just “ME”?

My long-ago, long-term Piano Teacher’s wife, Beryl Kimber Leske, an eternal matchmaker, was extremely excited, a img500quarter-century ago now,  when she discovered I was engaged and wearing a diamond ring. One of her first questions was “What does he play?” I explained my fiancé was a “Nice Lutheran boy” (I thought this might go down well, as the Leskes also have Lutheran connections). She was a little taken aback to learn that Neil was not a musician per se (although he does sing well). But then she brightened, stating “Ah, well, every Performer needs an Audience”.  She had assigned a Role for him that, in her world, worked.

On Thursday of this week I did the closest thing to “Work” that I have since I resigned from my school teaching position in September 2016. My daughter’s violin teacher had asked me to assist at a “Strings Day of Excellence” at the local High School where she teaches. This involved the resident String Orchestra of the host High School, plus invited String Students from five nearby Primary Schools.  The purpose of the day appeared to be twofold. Firstly, to give the younger students the opportunity to participate in a larger, more proficient group of musicians, and to inspire them to continue studying by seeing and experiencing where they might be in a few years’ time. And secondly, as a PR exercise by the High School to showcase their Performing Arts options – because they would be looking to recruit students from these Primary Schools.

I arrived early to an assembly hall already set up with 150 chairs and music stands, a few staff getting ready, and a handful of High Schoolers. A few “early birds” – anxious small uniformed children – started trickling in with parents in tow. After checking the plan for the morning, I amused myself how quickly I unconsciously slipped into “Meet and Greet” mode, as the trickle of visiting Primary children became a flood. “Good Morning!” “Welcome!” “How lovely to see you” “Please unpack your instrument over there”. And then “Let me help you tune your violin”. I looked up and realised a queue had formed in front of me of a dozen children all waiting for me to help tune their instruments.

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In the middle of all this, a harried looking woman approached me and stated: “I’m one of the other String Teachers”. And then, in an irritated tone: “Nobody told me what time I had to be here, or what I was supposed to do”.

“I’m just borrowed for the day” I volunteered brightly, and carried on tuning fractional-sized violins, violas and cellos. There was something resentful in the other teacher’s tone, which I deliberately did not pick up on. I noticed, however, that neither did she instinctively start another “tuning station” which would have prepared the children more quickly. She simply disappeared in a frustrated huff.

I’m sure we all have “Family Folklore”, those little stories which our parents and Grandparents love to tell of times gone by, as some type example or thing to remember. In our family there was one such tale of a relative who consulted her mother about her current boyfriend. Who she found perfect in very way. Except one.

She was concerned that “John” was not very much of a self-starter where domestic things were concerned. That he did not seem to notice that a table needed to be set or that dishes could be washed. That she was worried that if they were married, she would shoulder all of these things herself.

Her wise mother thought for a moment, and then counselled her. “There are two types of people in this life. Those who “see the need and do”’ and those who need to be asked. Perhaps your young man just does not “see” and you need to “ask”. “Try it”

So her daughter tried this tactic. “John, would you please set the table for me?” “Certainly, dear” and he would immediately leap up and do it. A more helpful, loving and giving person you could not wish for than John. Her mother was right. John just did not “See”.

I have long wondered if this is partly typical of men of this era (“John” is now in his 80’s) – those who were children during World War II and grew up in a time when male/female roles were much more defined such that males were typically “Breadwinners” and females “Homemakers”, so there was an assumption that certain things were “women’s work”. Because I have noted this same lack of domesticity in other men of a similar age.

However, it’s not necessarily restricted to senior folk – “Generation Y” appear to have many, if not enhanced of these tendencies – the ability to be in a room totally oblivious to the fact that others are busily working or things need to be done. “Millennials” – according to one expert – are accused of being lazy, self-involved, cosseted, politically apathetic narcissists, who aren’t able to function without a smartphone and who live in a state of perpetual adolescence, incapable of commitment.

But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

All that said, I believe that being such a person, one in the “See the need and do”’ category, transcends Gender and Age.

It is a way of thinking. In the much bigger picture – A way of defining yourself.

Because I think I have finally got a handle on this “Identity” thing.

(Hallelujah! say long-suffering friends).

I am the See-the-need-and-do person.

I am the Whatever-it-takes person.

I am the Above-and-beyond person (which was the “Theme” of my previous school the first few years I worked there.)

above-beyond

For years, my Facebook “About Me” section has included a statement I wrote some years ago, in reaction to someone who had been quite dismissive and negative when I had suggested trying something more challenging than had previously been attempted in a certain situation. I had found her attitude really frustrating. and it had prompted me coining the statement:

Kylie warns those who say:
“It’s too hard and it can’t be done”, I consider that a challenge and I WILL PROVE YOU WRONG!!

I also found the following quote, printed it out in an attractive font and hung it on the Office wall, where it stayed for some years:

Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly. (Robert H. Schuller)

The last – now five – months of being “Gainfully Unemployed” have also been a time of considerable reflection and soul searching for me, much of which has been personally difficult.

And trying to rationalise and compact so much down to try and work out what, ultimately matters about it all.

Spending seven years of your life going, yes, “Above and Beyond” in a place, working closely with particular people, establishing relationships, building something substantial (in the case of the Strings Program) and aiding in the growth generally of something that is meaningful to you (the Music Department of a school), having the opportunity to impact the lives of young people.

On a personal basis, coming to the “Big Smoke” from a small, regional town where you have built up a life for yourself, including a network of supportive friends, and having to start again from nothing. For the first two or three years counting only three people as friends on the Gold Coast. This sprawling, soul-less, artificial, fake, somewhat seedy place. And two of the three “counted as friends” people being colleagues at the school.

So, over seven years, the school is not just a place you go to, punch the time clock for your allotted hours and leave.

It is Family. It is Community.

And what is “My Role” “My Job”?

Interestingly, I never had a printed Job Description. I was employed as “Instrumental Teacher”. And so, I made the role my own. Whatever needed doing, I did it. So did, at the time, my colleagues. Amongst things my former colleagues did … costumes for Primary Musicals – sourced in lunchbreaks. Sets? Paint them yourself. Christmas Carols to be sung? (as related previously) – throw a choir together. The students have never heard a Symphony Orchestra play?  Research and organise a Group Excursion and put them on a bus to Brisbane. As my Mum used to say “If you want something done properly, do it yourself”.

One year I was drafted into playing Lead Piano in the High School Musical 10 days before Opening Night, in response to an S.O.S. from the High School Music Teacher. “Kylie – I need you. Please help”. I dropped everything and learned the entire score – eighteen complete songs –  for “Aladdin” in one weekend.

Whatever it takes.

However, this exact same approach has got me “into hot water” repeatedly. I have a long history of rarely sticking to my “Job Description” (when I have actually had one). 23 years ago I assisted a hardworking small business owner in England with his accounts and paperwork, including some letter writing and legal work as, English  being his second language, he had got into arrears with some payments and was very stressed and concerned about losing his business. [I was actually employed to sell accessories at 40 pounds cash per week.]

Later, I had a part-time job as coffee-maker and telephone-answerer for a Graphic Design Company in North London. By the time I left there for Australia, the Director had indulged me by calling me his P.A. (which does look good on my C.V.)

Where people have wanted to “pigeon-hole” me and required me to “stay in my box” and “do what you are supposed to do” I guess I have literally felt boxed in. Sometimes their attitude is couched in terms of apparent concern for my welfare – suggesting I should not overwork or overstretch myself – that there are other people who can/should be/are actually employed to do those additional tasks which are “not your job”.

But what is often missed is that much of what I actually enjoy doing is not in the “Job Description”. And one of the things that frustrated me mightily last year was, when I stopped, by request, doing things I was not “supposed” to do, many of these were not picked up by other staff, by anyone – they just ceased altogether.

And – witness the lady at Thursday’s Workshop – I seem to have an innate ability to Irritate people by simply existing. By just diving in and doing what needs to be done. She at least appeared to be put out that she did not know who I was, yet I was doing obstensively “her job”. Yet, importantly, I noticed that she allowed her pique to come to the fore. Instead of taking over, or taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude and setting up beside me – after all, why can’t we work TOGETHER in life – she chose to take offense.

Amusingly. my ACTUAL role for the day was “Designated Pianist”. AND I was slightly late for the first part of the rehearsal (for the role I was actually hired to play) due to the fact I was busy tuning literally one hundred instruments – something this lady was skilled and able to do. And which was actually her role (probably). But it was not me, but her attitude which prevented her from fully assuming it.

matter-mindFortunately, the organiser of the Workshop, my daughter’s teacher, who had invited me to participate, was the exact opposite. She appreciated all my assistance and thanked me for “pitching in” and helping out wherever needed.

At the risk of sounding like some religious group (and Mr. Google tells me there are a number with this exact name) there comes a point where we all need to step forward in faith.

To stop looking behind ourselves, second-guessing and mistrusting.

To realise that the exact same qualities we have which make one person love and appreciate us, may make another resent and even hate us.

And perhaps true Maturity is finally being able to be content with that.

This is the year that my contemporaries and I reach “Round-number” birthdays, and already some are asking how I might celebrate it. Well, I’m not really intending to. Because there are plenty of people who have walked this earth longer than I have, have achieved more than I have, who have contributed more than I have.

Equally, there are many who have fallen by the wayside, whether that being simply not achieving their potential, or they are staring into some mid-life crisis or have suffered ill health or pain, anxiety, or depression. Or perhaps have tried to deal with life’s complexities, its ups and downs with the use of medications or alcohol or drugs or other therapies.

None of us are perfect and none of us are getting any younger.

This week I came across a handful of letter copies I had written home during my early efforts at word-processing when I first moved to England twenty-five years ago. Including quite lot of “life advice” to a younger friend was I pseudo “Big Sister” to. Reading it now, in some ways I seemed wiser then than I seem to be now.

But equally, I think perhaps I have learned the odd thing in the past quarter century.

And this month, perhaps I’m a little closer to learning Who I Am.

pooh-and-piglet

Don’t Stop Believing

I joke that my children are on “January Avoidance” and are in no hurry to pick up their textbooks and update their uniform items, because that will mean that the glorious long summer holidays are drawing to a close. That the reality of starting a new school year, of responsibility, of work, of schedules, of daily grind, is nearly upon them.

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Within a matter of days all my former colleagues will return for “Staff week”. Something that has been part of my life at this one school for the past 8 Januaries. Those few days where the staff get together, the week before the students return, in preparation of a new school year ahead.

Where the staff children grumble at the necessity of a couple of days of “Vacation Care”.

A few days of preparation, of planning. Of fresh beginnings, of a meeting of old and new.

The calm before the storm.

The juggernaut about to begin.

But this coming week, this year, I will not be there.

It’s a freedom I want, but then it’s a freedom I don’t want.

Because it means I don’t belong, that I am no longer part of it. That is the practical truth.

In the bigger picture of the heart, what it feels is that I am not needed, not wanted. It is still a bitter pill to swallow. The circle of life continues, but suddenly my place in it, where I fit, is less clear.

We all need a purpose, a reason to do what we do. An incentive to get out of bed in the morning. Self-help empires have been founded on this concept. In Christian circles, writer Rick Warren purpose-drivenhas made a fortune from his book “The Purpose Driven Life”, which has spawned sequels, courses and programs all looking at what the point of our existences may be – how the little cogs in the various wheels might fit together.

What is the point of it all?

Nobody’s life is plain sailing, and it is naïve to believe it will be so. And it is well documented that periods of adversity and failure have helped shaped many who have gone on to better and greater things. Because, ultimately, they have risen above their critics and still followed their dreams.

I too, have had a varied life with some incredible successes and highs, especially in years past, but some real bumps in the road along the way as well.

your-plan

And I know all too well about having a sense of purpose. And positives being “Just around the corner”. And “Good things come to those who wait”.

However, these past 12-15 months have been possibly amongst the most consistently bruising I have experienced. A hallmark being that, try as I might, issues I faced were ultimately not resolved and the solution was to finally admit defeat. However this lack of closure and critical lack of “success” has led to something more profoundly personal which, although time has dulled, I cannot fundamentally shake.

Here is the problem.

All the Optimism. The “Glass Half Full”. The “You can be anything you want to be”. The “Work hard and you can achieve the sky”.

I essentially know this stuff.

I have read it.

I have studied it.

I have counselled other people about it.

I have written about it.

Bolstered the confidence of dozens of students.

Given numerous “Pep talks.”

And convinced other people of it.

But now I struggle to believe it.

As Natalie Imbruglia, an artist of my era, sung in her heart-rending ballad “Torn”:

I’m all out of faith, this is how I feel: Nothing’s fine, I’m torn

 

As often happens, despite I describe myself as “A Reluctant Pastor’s wife”, a Scripture reference floats into my head. Today Hebrews 11:1 comes to mind. It says: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.

“Confidence” “Assurance”. Terms I used to use when writing reams of Instrumental Music reports to encourage students in my care.

But as an adult, where does that confidence, that assurance come from? Most of us, without realising it, receive some positive feedback from other people in our lives – from our families, from our friends, from our colleagues. We receive a sense of satisfaction from what we achieve, on a daily, weekly basis. We can look back and see evidence – hopefully – of what we have done and achieved. This feeds into our confidence, assurance, and sense of worth.

Many years ago when we lived in Borehamwood, North London, our first parish was a small church on a large piece of green.

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St. Paul’s, Borehamwood, 1993. No need to mow when there was snow.

This entailed a great deal of mowing – the grass had a water course underneath it and some of it was quite lush. In all, the mowing was a 5 hour task. Although arduous, I used to quite enjoy it. In part, because it was measurable achievement. You could stop part-way and see visually what you had (and had not) accomplished. I would think back on this in later times – especially when I had two preschool children  – when it was possible to be constantly busy parenting and juggling all manner of things, but seemingly with nothing to show for it.

These past months – much as I can find plentiful things to enjoy about being “Gainfully Unemployed” – there is still a double-sided ache.

One is the lack of purpose.

The other – just like when you put your fist in a basin of water and then withdraw it – and you can’t see that it was there at all – is whether I even made much of a difference (in my years at the school). As the juggernaut continues on without me…. was what I thought I contributed actually wanted?

Was there a point to any of it?

How do we cling onto faith and hope? How do we maintain confidence in ourselves and what we might have to offer, a sense of worth, even, when outside evidence appears to be telling us otherwise?

In the last couple of years I have reconnected with a handful of people from the past – “Old Friends” if you will – after not communicating with each other, and certainly not seeing each other in person for ten, fifteen or more years. In November 2014,  I attended, in Adelaide, my 30 year school reunion which was a typically formal catch-up and opportunity to see where the years had taken a number of people.

But, for me, the greatest impact was to see again two significant teachers, and have the opportunity to thank them for the influence they had on my younger life, and let them know how important they had been to me.

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With favourite teachers, logically a generation older ( but who have barely aged) Ray Clark and Kevin Seipolt

More recently I have met up with other individuals, including, this month, a girlfriend who I went to Primary School with. I am certain I attended Sue’s brother’s 21st Birthday, but not sure we have seen each other since about 1990 – that’s a good 26 years.

When contemplating meeting up with somebody after more than half your lifetime apart, female vanity kicks in and I guess you are acutely aware of things like being a few pounds heavier and having changed your hairstyle. But when the meeting actually happened, the conversation flowed easily and the time together just flew by. It seemed impossible, sitting on my back patio, that Sue and I had not seen each other for longer in our lives than the ages we were when we were last together. And we made plans to certainly not leave it so long before getting together again.

There is something special about someone who knows you from long ago, and perhaps the fact that they DID know you as a “bright young thing” before life hit, that their clearer memory and “knowledge” of you is still at a younger, more vital, perhaps more openly more successful, higher achieving time, when your lives were all ahead of you and optimistic and full of potential. Their view of you transports you back in time and enables you to see in yourself the person that you once were – and still are – beneath the layers of the intervening time.

Equally I have made two recent visits – in October and January down to Victoria, where I have spent time with my relatives – Aunts/Uncles/Cousins, and people dear to me from various walks of life where I previously lived in Ararat. (200km west of Melbourne).

In this most recent visit I shared the Joy of a friend’s country wedding where the Bride was joined by her own family, including her four sisters who had all flown in from points Interstate and Overseas.

Being surrounded by “Old Friends” who know me well, by family – relatives –  who have known me all my life, and, back here, by newer friends who also care and understand, has made, for me, all the difference. When someone else refuses to give up on you, even if you seem ready to give up on yourself, the other person’s affirmation can renew you, make you reassess what you think about yourself, and lead you to see yourself more as the other person sees you.

I have been humbled and honoured by people who have stood by me, spent time, listened, talked, laughed with me, cried with me, allowed me to vent, made plans, talked me into things, assured me that things are Okay, assured me that I am Okay.

And for those who have made me feel appreciated, and needed, and valued, especially at times when I have felt none of those things, I Thank You.

Although we are already a fortnight into January, 2017 is still in its Infancy.

May I charge you all: to hug your family members closely and often. Tell your friends how important they are to you. Verbalise to your colleagues when they have done something right – and praise them for it. Be quick to commend, and slow to criticise, rather than the other way around.

Be a little warmer, be a little kinder, be a little gentler with each other.

And with yourselves as well.

As Fox Mulder would say:

I Want to Believe.

i-want-to-believe

 

Homeward Bound

To what extent does what you do, define who you are?

Variations on this theme have been swirling around in my head in recent times, and, serendipity being as it is; I seem to have come across this same question in various forms in the lives of others as well. [And it is one to which I will return on another occasion].

But for now, I’ll stick to the “up close and personal” as it were.

As most of you are aware, three weeks ago I resigned from a position I had held for nearly 8 years, in a school I support, working with students I love, which had been fulfilling and positive for the majority of that time. It has been a huge step.

While I recognise that, for many reasons, the time had come for me to move on, actually NOT being intrinsically involved with a place and a group of people, which has been such a major part of my life is something very difficult for me to reconcile. I looked at my son the other day and it sunk in, that he is now eleven and we moved to the Gold Coast when he was three. I have been part of that one workplace, and it part of me, for the majority of his life.

My husband had the view, and expressed it on a number of occasions that  “the school pays you for three days a week and you work for them for seven” which was largely true. Because, for the first many years we were short-staffed in our department and essentially three part-time people ran it as a team, with many additional hours of work in our own time. Because, if we had not done so, we could not possibly have achieved the growth and success which we did. But the important thing is that we did so largely willingly and cheerfully, and it was always for the students and the school and the joy of the music making. Sometimes the sheer enjoyment of it made it all worthwhile. It was never “All About Me”. I didn’t do it for the Greater Glory Of Kylie.

And I think the people close to me, the people who mattered, understood that. Although of course I received satisfaction from what was achieved and certainly from being part of the students’ lives, and building them up and inspiring them to achieve something approximating what they were capable of.

So, a fortnight ago now, Term 4 started, and all the students and staff went back to school, but it isn’t “my school” and “my job” any longer. So this reality wouldn’t be too stark and smack me in the face on a daily basis, I decided to be proactive and create for myself, as Diana, Princess of Wales once famously said, some “Time and Space”.

So, I saw my kids off to school, and got on a plane.

The last two weeks I have explored being “Gainfully Unemployed” down in Victoria, taking respite from my life, based at the home of my beautiful cousin. It really was the best thing I could have done, because it removed me from my normal environment, while still having me surrounded by family. But also providing genuine quiet and reflection time, because the household where I stayed all went off to work early, leaving me in what must be one of the world’s quietest homes, with the only sounds an unevenly ticking clock and the occasional snore from an elderly diminutive dog.

Without giving it too much conscious thought I then took a weekend side trip to Ararat, 200km West of Melbourne, the Regional town where I previously lived for 5 years. This was either an extremely good or a very bad idea, as from the first minute I arrived, Ararat people embraced me as if they had seen me the previous week, rather than 8 years before.

p1070416One by one, friendships were picked up and even some quite personal things confided (for example I heard the sad tale of some departed horses in the first half hour). Now, far from being depressing, I actually felt quite honoured, that after this length of time, my girlfriend would still feel the strength of connection to share things of importance to her.

And so it continued over the time I was there. All the adults seemed identical to when I had seen them last, although the children were a jolt…. While logically I realise that my daughter’s friends I had last seen aged 6 would now also be 14, in my minds eye they remained frozen as youngsters. I was unprepared for the parade of beautiful teenagers and young women all now able to look me in the eye.

Why potentially “a very bad idea?” Well, it struck me that I felt considerably more “at home” in Ararat, a place I had left for the Gold Coast 8 years before, than in many ways I feel in the place that IS now home, and has been for that intervening time. That I had more friends there (and had kept in contact with many) than I had in Queensland. And, what hit me hardest, was that my Ararat connections were quite broad.

Even amongst those who I met up with last weekend were: Members of the Ararat City Band (in which I once played the Trombone badly), delightful Local Doctor and his wife, Semi-retired couple who had been James’ carers and their daughter, a number from the Mothers of Pre-schoolers Group (from when James was a Baby), Former Workmates, and Church folk…and I didn’t make a point of chasing down everyone I knew. (In fact, I had forgotten how long it takes to do something in Ararat like pop out for a paper, because you spontaneously RUN INTO people you know – and this happened despite 8 years away!)

In contrast, up on the Gold Coast, I realised that everybody I count as a friend is either connected with the church congregation (and most are more acquaintances than friends) or the link is with the school.

And it’s not “My School” any more.

So I’ve had a lot of well meaning people ask, “What are you going to do next”.

And my genuine answer is: “I honestly have no idea”.

I know I need to stop. To re-focus. To take stock.

To rediscover –

To what extent do I define who I am by what I do?

Because I do define myself as a Musician.

But to what extent has the Musician become buried under layers of teacher and parent over the last dozen years? (And I count my time in Ararat amongst that).

And, although I seem to have some skills in teaching music, I have never pretended to be the most skilled Strings teacher in the world. But what I hope I have brought to my work is a sense of desire, of passion, of “You can do it” of Inspiration to my students. Even if they have lacked in technique or theory or practise skills or drilling in scales. All of which some teachers may have insisted they study to a greater extent than I largely have. But my first priority has been, in recent years, to help the students “Catch the fire” of music, to be motivated, to want to do it, to “join the revolution”. Knowing the fingering for E flat minor can come later, in my book.

So, what next?

I usually try to avoid “Naming names” in Serendipity but as I once devoted an entire Blog entry to my teenage “Bestie” Margie [“Old Friends”] I trust she’ll indulge and forgive me for dropping her in it once again.

about_mlb-cp
The Blonde Violinist who is NOT “the Pastor’s wife”

As perfect timing would have it, the exact day I flew into Melbourne to escape from my life, Margie also got on a plane in her current home base of Perth, also heading to Melbourne. She is contracted by Opera Victoria for the orchestra of Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” which is currently in Rehearsal, the massive undertaking of which will eventually be performed at the Arts Centre, Melbourne between 21 November and 16 December 2016.

Margie and I are only two months apart in age, both blonde, and were very much contemporaries in our younger days, learning violin from the same teachers and participating in Adelaide’s Secondary Schools Orchestra, State and National Music Camps and the Australian Youth Orchestra together. Our first official “Paid gig” was the same – second violin in the State Opera of South Australia’s production of “Don Giovanni”. I well remember how amazing it was, after years and hundreds of hours as School and Uni students rehearsing in orchestras on a “voluntary “ basis to be handed an envelope containing a pay cheque (and they were proper cheques in those days) for that first “Three Hour Call”.

Not long afterwards our paths diverged, as Margie took on professional work with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, then later Tasmanian, Melbourne and West Australian Symphony Orchestras amongst much other high-level performing.

As I had been doing some teaching, I returned to Uni and took a further year to complete a Graduate Diploma in Education (which proved over the years to be a smart move).

Subsequently, I did a variety of “Stuff” including, yes, some pretty cool music-making in Cambridge and other British locations, but later quite a bit of “this and that” as we moved frequently due to my husband’s Pastoring and I worked in retail, and administration, and did periods of nothing much, and eventually produced two beautiful children.

All the while Margie has been the dazzling performer, and I guess she has always been, for me, somewhat of my personal benchmark of “How it could have been” or my own “Sliding Doors” movie plot. Because I believe that I had, at least at one stage, the potential to be the same type of professional musician (maybe not of quite the same calibre), had I chosen to pursue that life course.

But the important point is, that I did not choose the lifestyle. I also recognised early on, that with my Husband’s vocation as a Pastor, it was never going to work if I had to have the dazzling career, which needed to always come first.

Imagine the scenario. Pastor gets called out at midnight to dying Parishioner in hospital. Me: “Sorry dear, you’ll need to mind the kids, I have to be at the Opera House”.

But this has been a choice on my part.

And so, I have come to realise, the music-making, teaching, planning, brain-storming, organising, all of those things that I have undertaken in the last however many years, have been me finding situations where I have found a way to use whatever skills and talents I may possess in a positive way.

And it has dawned on me, unfortunately this past week or so in a rather crash-bang-wallop sort of way, was that the reason I was so happy at my only-just-categorised-as-previous job for the first half-dozen years was that I found a niche where I could use those gifts. And, ironically, the fact that the Instrumental Music Department was short-staffed for a school of its size, that much of the time it was all-hands-to-the-pump, that I pursued much outside of my unwritten job description, ironically these were the very things on which I thrived.

And during those years we achieved much, much, more than, by rights, should have been possible. But we did so, with our hearts in the right place, and verve and passion, and if necessary dragging those kids up by the bootstraps, to prove to them just what they could achieve.

We worked tirelessly to build programmes up. For example, in the case of Strings, I started with only two girls who played cello reluctantly, to this year having 20 Cellists enrolled, so we could successfully make a case to employ a Specialist Teacher, having a full day’s available teaching load. And that (the employment of a Cellist Specialist Colleague) has been a marvellous boost for the school and the students.

Back in 2009, I took only 9 proficient students to the Gold Coast Eisteddfod, the oldest aged 12, mainly violins. Recently we took a full String Orchestra of 46 Students.

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Finally, staffing has been expanded to get closer to what is really required for a school the size that it is. But there is still much more to be done. The phrase “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” has been uttered a few times. Those “giants” toiled long and hard to put in place what is there to this point.

But there is no time for complacency because there are now more “hands”. We achieved what we did with a lot of hard work. And if we didn’t know exactly how to do something, we learnt. And perhaps we didn’t always get it right. But we gave it out best effort. And I think we can be proud of what we achieved. Now it is up to others to carry on and respect, not betray, that legacy.

Returning, however, to my original question.

To what extent does what you do define who you are?

To what extent does what I do define who I am?

Is a teacher without anyone to teach still a teacher?

Is a performer who does not perform still a performer?

Granted, if you have children, you are always a parent, but once your children grow and walk and talk and dress themselves, your hands-on role diminishes.

My husband is organised and can shop and cook and iron and taxi the children around. Which he has demonstrated very capably this fortnight while I have been absent.

So, then.

If I don’t teach, If I don’t perform, if my kids are pretty well independent, if my house is cleaned by somebody else, if it not strictly necessary for me to cook and shop and iron…

Then, am I really needed?

Okay, do not panic here…I am not reaching for the vodka bottle (although people in Melbourne did seem to place a glass of wine into my hand on a regular basis – I wasn’t sure if that suggested a certain look on my face but I’m told its “A Victorian thing”)…

Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile reflection that even after two weeks away and having taken quite a lot of personal strides, I’m still pretty vulnerable and not out of the woods yet.

Proving, as if there was really any doubt, that I have left something that was not “Just a job” to me. And perhaps demonstrating a poor life balance beforehand. But one that might prove more difficult to rebalance than for some. Because it’s not like your Bank branch closes and you transfer to doing the same work the next week in another bank branch. I invested a lot, perhaps too much, in that school. Now I am reaping the “reward” of that… because leaving it has left a much bigger void than it might have for somebody else.

In a way I feel “homeless”. I have been a guest of extremely generous relatives and friends in Victoria, but I know I basically went to “escape” and I can’t hide forever. I felt scarily at home in Ararat despite not having being there for 8 years and so embraced by people there, I felt I could walk back in as if I had never been away.

In contrast, although the Gold Coast is “Home” I don’t feel as if I have very much to “Come Home” to. Even the majority of my Gold Coast friends are connected with the School, although there are significant people who, although the initial link was through the school, did some time ago cross that invisible line from acquaintances to friends.

It was, [and is], for me, still a pretty stark picture.

For someone who realises she needs a purpose in life.

All of this weighed pretty heavily on my heart while in Melbourne. Then two significant things occurred to help focus my thinking.

One wise friend counselled: Take time. Do things which make you feel better. Sit on a beach. Drink Coffee. Eat Ice-cream. But don’t take too long. Then pick yourself up. “Fake it ‘til you make it”

“Go where you are needed”.

The evening of the same day I had this conversation; I received a message from a musician friend telling me of a vacancy for one day a week’s String Teaching in a local school. She wanted to know whether I would be interested before putting me in contact with the school. This was no ordinary vacancy, however – it had come about in the most tragic of circumstances.

A family had been on vacation, in the recent September School holidays in New Zealand. They had been involved in an horrific car accident. The woman was seriously injured, her 9 year daughter injured also, but not so badly. But distressingly her husband and two sons, aged 12 and 14 all died.

It was this lady, a violist in the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, who had been teaching part-time in a local school. Still in hospital in New Zealand, she is unable to return and complete the year. The school thought that at this late stage they would be unlikely to find somebody suitable to take on her students.

So here I was. Having vowed I needed a break. That I was not ready. I was out of energy. That I needed time before I committed myself to anything. That I was, in a sense, grieving.

I realised very quickly that this teacher, this wife and mother, was suffering the worst grief imaginable. And her students needed a teacher under very difficult circumstances.

“Go where you are needed”.

Up on the 34th floor of an apartment block in Southbank, Central Melbourne, I gained some further insight into “How the other half lives” – with the knowledge that a number of my former orchestral contemporaries are currently rehearsing Wagner’s Ring Cycle around the corner.

Much as I could grow accustomed to this (some more of that “But for the Grace of God go I”), as I sipped my “G and T” on the balcony with Margie, one of my best friends, I was reminded of a home and three very important people in Queensland where I ultimately belong.

Two very special young blondes and one loving, faithful husband.

Yesterday I flew home.

tiger

Today I started my part-time, (possibly temporary) new teaching role.

And, ironically, despite having taught on and off for many years, I have worked for the State Government System in South Australia and in London, in Private Music Schools, in Local State Schools and Catholic Colleges in Victoria and, most recently, for schools aligned with the (more Pentecostal) Australian Christian Churches. But I have never worked for the Lutherans.

Until now.

Despite I am a “Born and Bred” Lutheran.

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So, in the strangest way, in this sense too, I have “Come Home”.

It’s only a small first step, but more is sure to follow.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 says: 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally

Sometimes I wonder if I am just the wrong age. Many of the people dearest to me are ten or even twenty chronological years older than me (or, in the case of my Mother-in-law, 30 years older).  Yet we share an affinity, things in common, a wavelength if you like, where those years on paper are completely irrelevant.

My tastes in some things “officially” belong to a bygone age – for example I joined a Facebook group called “I’m fed up with bad church music”, which has a membership of some thousands of mainly church organists across the world. Its central tenet is a prejudice against the rather benign Christian ditty “Shine, Jesus, Shine” (which I actually don’t mind), yet I find myself in agreement with much of what is expressed by its participants.

shine-jesus-shine

One of my many obscure personal theories is that the popular music we are most familiar with, is that which receives constant airplay in our early teens. For me, that was Abba and local efforts Sherbet, AC/DC, and the ubiquitous John Farnham. Therefore, along with the fact that my own teenage years were devoted to many hours of homework and studying classical piano and violin, I have very little knowledge and understanding of popular music.

Once I stayed for the Easter long weekend with delightful cousins who have, in contrast, a very extensive collection of vinyl LP’s and a keen understanding of DECENT popular music. And, yes, are ten years older than I, so, therefore, blessed to be born into a more quality era of popular music. My relatives took me in, and even gave me “Homework”, a detailed listing of what I should listen to over the four days to improve my musical education.  There was, as you would expect, an album each from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but also some musicians I had never, at that time, even heard of, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane.

This I did, and I still remember, to this day, some of the songs I was introduced to, and it has certainly helped broaden my horizons. Also on that same weekend I saw the newly released film “Dirty Dancing” with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in the cinema.

dirty-dancing

How time flies. I can remember that Easter, and its significance to me, as if it were yesterday.

Something else that I learnt on catch-up from from my older former boyfriends [with co-incidentally British connections] and then later my actual British husband and the English people I lived amongst for seven years, was an appreciation of British Drama and Comedy. So much more gentle and subtle than the offerings on television here, of both the Australian and American variety.

Although we had been fed, via our ABC, a steady diet of British fare, I had never got my head around “Monty Python”. But I needed to learn about it when my, again, slightly older mates at Uni would quote odd passages from it, and then fall about laughing. One-liners about Dead Parrots and Spanish Inquisitions and Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life.

“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” – the closing song from “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”. Which I guess I “shouldn’t” watch because it’s considered to be blasphemous by some, and I am, after all, a Pastor’s wife. But, as y’all know, I am not really good at conforming to stereotypes, and I definitely have issues with the concept of “SHOULD”.

So, yes, I have seen the film.

always-look

And right now I am trying to embrace the sentiment of that closing song.

Again, as a teenager, I was a keen reader. One of my favourite books was “Pollyanna”, by Eleanor H. Porter, now considered a classic. pollyannaIt would be seen as quite old-fashioned now, I’m sure, with its dated language and somewhat quaint concepts. The story of an orphaned missionary’s daughter trying to find something to be “glad about” in everyday life, even when things were tough, and attempting to spread that concept amongst those in her community.

She quoted from her late father that there were apparently eight hundred times in the Bible where God exhorted us to be glad and rejoice. So he must have wanted us to do it. Like “Shout for Joy” “Be Glad in the Lord”. “Rejoice in the Lord always”. “Sing to the Lord a new Song”. Her mission was to try and find SOMETHING to “be glad” about in each situation, no matter how bleak it may seem.

To find the proverbial “Silver Lining” in every cloud.

Readers of “Serendipity” will know that I have had my difficulties this year. But that I have done my best to work through them. That, despite a horror start to the year (detailed in “It was the Best of times, it was the Worst of times”), I came to the conclusion, then, that: “My work at the school is not done”.

Sadly, now it is.

I have done everything in my power to make things work. But I have come to the end of the road. Much as it grieves me, it is time to move on.

Sometimes letting go is indeed better than holding on.

holding-on

These past few weeks have been very strange for me, with a number of huge contrasts and seeming coincidences (or out-workings of the power of Serendipity, if you prefer).

I had written to a composer acquaintance in Britain, Peter Martin, asking for suggestions for repertoire to teach my Year 4’s and 5’s, as previously we had used his fabulous compositions to great effect. He wrote back with a list of suggestions. Then, curiously, within days, I received a second email with the rather obscure query – was the term “Down under” – used by Brits to describe Australians – seen as offensive at all? Oh no, I wrote back, if anything we see it as humorous.

Before too long, I discovered the reason for this question. Peter had composed a brand new suite of pieces for Beginner Strings called “String Street Down Under” – all with titles inspired by Queensland place names (such as Hayman Island Hop) and dedicated:

 

My Grade 4 Beginners were very excited to try it out, especially when they understood that they were the first people in the world to ever play the music.

And then, when I got home, there was a beautiful bunch of flowers waiting, which had been delivered, from an esteemed friend overseas thanking me for my assistance with a project we had been working on together.

On the very same day, two different men, on two different continents, send me messages to say I am appreciated and valued.

And then, while doing some filing at home, I coincidentally came across a good-wishes-for-the-future message from my revered Year 11 Maths teacher (a small pink card kept for 33 years).

AND, stored with it, something I had not even seen for 25 years – a thin, white piece of paper folded multiple times.

When I carefully unfolded it I found it was the list of “Good reasons” I had challenged [now husband] Neil to provide for why I should go with him to New Zealand to meet his parents way back in 1990. (Knowing full well I would need to convince my own Mum of the same).

Being just as “bolshie” then as I am now, I had suggested ten good reasons should be the aim, but the handwritten list stopped at 8.

[But I remember the verbalised Number 9 – which I gave Double points – and the rest, as they say,  is history.]

Meanwhile, some local problems loomed on the horizon, and other doors seemed to be closing.

Very strange times indeed.

And then, in a further piece of happenstance, in a “Downloads” folder I didn’t even know existed on my computer, I found an image of a significant day I had previously reflected on.

November 2009 at Pacific Fair Shopping Centre. The day two colleagues and I took a bunch of students, an Electric Piano and a String Quartet, sang some carols with the odd Violin Descant, won a cash prize, and made good on our promise to the kids to reward them for their efforts. On the way back to the Bus stop, went to McDonalds and bought NINETY ice-creams.

november-09-pac-fair

With the passage of time, my many 2009 Year 7 students who participated on this occasion Graduated in 2014, and are now in the workforce or well into their University courses. One Year 11 student of mine from this period has completed a degree and teaching diploma, and has now come full circle, teaching at the same school where she was a student! I posted the photo to Facebook this week, as I have kept in touch with a few former students. Soon comments came flooding in, not only from them, but from their former classmates – names and faces from the past, ghosts of my past.  “I remember this day! Such great memories!” “This was such a fun time” “Oh, my, wow, I remember this”, “Best memories, remember it like it was yesterday”.

Then 12 year olds who are now 19 year olds.

But no longer children but adults. They have moved on.

And so must I.

I described this cluster of rather serendipitous and confusing events and messages to a wise and trusted friend, and mused:

“What is the universe trying to tell me?”

His response: “Be quiet and listen”.

The Bible relates the story, in 1 Kings 19, of the prophet Elijah fleeing the evil Jezebel, who had essentially “put out a contract” on him. He literally ran for his life and hid in a cave in the mountains.

 Verse 9 picks up the tale:

The word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

14 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

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Sometimes when things are very bleak in our lives, it is easy to wallow in despair and even depression, to feel that nobody cares, that no-one understands, and, yes, to feel “I am the only one left” When you feel little sympathy or understanding, its easy to take that a step further and feel persecuted, literally “now they are trying to kill me too”.

But did God leave Elijah sitting wallowing in his cave? No, he did not. God sought him out. And gave him some quite miraculous signs that he was not alone – a powerful wind, an earthquake and a fire. But then God spoke, not in those dramatic ways, but in a whisper.

One of my favourite traditional hymns is “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”

Here are the last two verses. I wonder if they may even reference Elijah?

4 Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

 5 Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!

O still, small voice of calm!

A gentle whisper

“Be quiet and listen”

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“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there L.P. Hartley

Endnote: Main Photograph is of my daughter Cassie and her friend Jenn singing “I know him so well” from “Chess”, the first lines being:

Nothing is so good it lasts eternally, Perfect situations must go wrong, But this has never yet prevented me, Wanting far too much for far too long…

 

Nothin’ is really wrong, Feelin’ like I don’t belong

It is no secret that I have have struggled to be happy these past months.

It worries me, because I am not this person.

Sure I have my moments, but I usually manage to to turn around and see the brighter side of life, to find the underlying positives, even joy. I went back and read some of my previous “Serendipity” Blog entries the other day, and was quite taken with the apparent wisdom of my own previous thoughts and advice (to whoever reads it), not so long ago. I’m not sure I could have written something like “Make me a channel of your peace” or “Joyful Joyful” with such optimism in recent times.

One colleague observed last month: “I don’t remember ever seeing you so unhappy, my friend. Even on a bad day you still laughed”

Another friend gave me a lot of food for thought. Suggested I needed to change focus from what was troubling me, and look for other, perhaps greener pastures. Different horizons. Including this advice:

“Do what you enjoy doing”

So I made a list. Here goes:

“DO WHAT YOU ENJOY DOING” (in no particular order)

  • Playing Music
  • Making Music
  • Planning
  • Plotting
  • Brainstorming
  • Writing
  • Making things happen
  • Making the impossible, possible
  • Giving service to God in time and talents
  • Making other people happy
  • Solving the problems of the world
  • Being a friend, loving others
  • Spending time/communicating with those I feel an affinity with
  • Sharing Knowledge
  • Sharing Experience
  • Teaching my children and other people’s children that they can do anything, be anything if they set their hearts on it and work towards it
  •  Never giving up

When I read back my list I realised a central problem.

“Here’s the thing” (as they say in America). A lot of my list is bound up with, at its best complexion, what I have done within my school role, at certain junctures.

But, in fairness, and importantly, it hasn’t been a constant the whole 7+ years I have been at the school.

A staff member friend there last year described me as “Being Relational” …. not one of my terms, but she observed that I worked best achieving things in combination with others.

And looking back, certain combinations of people and circumstance have made for more or less activity and achievement at certain times. For example, the first and second year I was at the school, three of us in combination fired up all the planning.

Then, on top of the usual range of school things, we did 5 Aged Care concerts and established a Monthly series of performances in the School Library called “Munch with Music” complete with chocolate biscuits.

At the end of one year we threw together a 90-piece choir and took them to a local Shopping Mall on the Wednesday of the last week of school for a Christmas Carols Competition.  (We simply said – who wants to come and sing? If you do good, we’ll buy you an ice-cream). So we had a NINETY voice “scratch” choir – combination of Upper Primary and High – at a time when there were no official High School Choirs at the school. The Shopping Centre Judges said we were the best of all the school choirs (and the only ones who brought their own Electric Piano and String Quartet), and awarded us a cash prize. We went to the Food Court on the way to the bus back and bought 90 soft serves at McDonalds. It was a blast. Kids talked about it for years afterwards. That is what we do this for.

.Choir cp

In the years since, there has been much growth and success. I’ve challenged and pushed my own Strings kids in various directions – from teaching them the famous “Albinoni Adagio” note by note, to having a great time with the theme to “Game of Thrones” with Electric Violins and Percussion (while carefully calling it by the title of the piece – “Ice and Fire”, so as not to affront anyone wary of the “R” rating of the series). Recently I have started a brand new program at our second campus where I am teaching an entire Year 4 class. In the first few lessons I convinced them that reading music was easy and gave them a history lesson about Guido de Arezzo. We are having a lot of fun together.

Amongst my file of Choral Music stamped “Please Return to Marryatville High School” (Oops) is a faded photocopy of “Rainy Days and Mondays”. Funnily enough, I like Mondays, probably because for many years, Monday has been my day off, but otherwise the song’s sentiment speaks pretty well with my feelings these past 6 months.

“Rainy Days And Mondays”
Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothing ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around
Nothing to do but frown
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down.

What I’ve got they used to call the blues
Nothin’ is really wrong
Feelin’ like I don’t belong
Walkin’ around
Some kind of lonely clown
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. 

That there has been just enough change that nothing seems to fit. And that I don’t feel like I belong so much anymore.

Yet, we have some wonderful new people. New music staff teaching Voice, Woodwind, Piano, Brass, Cello, Percussion, Guitar. All with skills and talents and experience and knowledge and musicality to bring and share.

So the question is, where is my place in all this? Do I just take my proverbial Bat and Ball and go home? Or do I step back and try to give it time and try to see if there is a place where I might fit?

Another of my favourite pieces of literature is “Desiderata” (Latin: “desired things”), a 1927 prose poem by American writer Max Ehrmann.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore, be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” [Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”]

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Finally, the school semester is at an end and and we have three weeks of holidays. Three weeks to step back and reflect. And reflecting I have done.

I have decided I am so fed up with it all, so fed up with being unhappy, and so fed up with being this miserable person that I don’t want to be. I need to try and regain some equilibrium. The issues I have had this year have taken on far too significant a place in my life. It reminds me of a senior lady I know who sadly suffers with “macular degeneration” who describes having a “blind spot” in the middle of her vision, and only seeing clearly around the edges. Certain problems have become front and centre of my vision and it has gone on for far too long. I have taken steps to try to solve some of these issues, and will continue to attempt resolution through “proper channels” as far as this is possible.

Otherwise I need to take a deep breath and say to myself:SuckItPricess_SilverPurple

 

(Which I saw printed on a “hoodie” jacket in a shop yesterday and was tempted to buy it, but figured I could not “get away” with wearing it, lest I offend too many people).

 

I also realised I need to practice the words of the Serenity prayer further:

Serenity-prayer

Especially the “Accept the things I Cannot Change” part.

I’ve been more than usually reflective and, in the words of the song, what has been bugging me, feeling downright miserable when “Nothin’ is really wrong”. Although I can identify specific recent matters, the consequences on my well-being have been far-reaching. Finally, I think I have realised one central issue. It is that I desperately miss former Boss Lindsay and colleague Claire. Most importantly as people in my life, but then also the close team approach we had to working together, where I was part of everything, included and valued.

What I have recognised is that, as in many aspects of life, the changes in my workplace situation involves aspects of loss, and loss invokes grief. And quite often grief in one situation triggers reaction to grief in situations past, especially where that grief was possibly unresolved.

I have cried more these past few months than in a L-O-N-G time. In contrast, I prided myself that I, the openly emotional one in my “family of origin” managed to hold it together over my Mum’s death in October 2011. I volunteered to read the lengthy Obituary in a packed church, as the last thing I felt I could do for her. Despite my cousin insisting on being “backup”, she stayed in the pew, and I got through the whole thing without wavering.

I didn’t cry for my Mum for a whole year.

So, having been so teary in recent times  over much more minor things does seem irrational and almost unfair. But perhaps I am in some strange way balancing the scales. And I have now been grieving and mourning also for more important things, too, that I “should” have done in times past (although I strongly dislike the word “should”).

And things are looking brighter.

Within this period of time there was one real beacon of light. Our beautiful daughter Cassandra confirmed the vows made on her behalf at her baptism 14 years ago.

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11th August, 2002. With three “Fairy Godmothers” Stacey, Helen and Miriam.

 

 

 

I only realised, actually, when the occasion of her Confirmation was one week beforehand because my husband assumed that, when he said that it was on “Trinity Sunday” that I knew when that was! Despite the short notice, I tried to make it a bit of special occasion and it was lovely that two of her Godmothers were able to attend, as well as a good friend who had played the organ at her baptism (who then played the last Confirmation hymn with me). We also sang the same setting of the same psalm which had been used on her baptism day. I also managed to rustle up lunch afterwards at a local Surf club overlooking the water, including folk who had some important positive impact on Cassie’s life.

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The confirmation day was indeed very healing for me, and also did remind me, that perhaps it has been a mistake to have so much of my “things that make me happy” list centred on a workplace, and people within it.

And that in the same way I gathered up Cassie’s Godmother Miriam and her family (and other special guests Helen and Deon), for that Sunday, I need to make more effort to spend time with such people.

The problem is that other significant people in my life are scattered by geography, or time, or separated by death, and the more I dwell on what has, or who has, made me happy in the past, the more I end up focusing on what I have lost or grieve for, rather than counting my blessings now. Which isn’t helping much.

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My Grandmother Myrtle and her twin brothers Cyril and Frank.

One last thought.

I’m told my “Passion” for what I do “can be misinterpreted” by some or “can overwhelm people”

Why would this be? Because passion really is not valued?

I guess because being ordinary is easier. Is less threatening.

Is it so bad to be a passionate person? To want more? To want to embrace something outside of the mundane, the everyday? To not just go through the motions of life? To live, to love, to be loved? To be wanted? To be needed? To contribute something more, to create, to achieve, to inspire?

Perhaps so.

Well, I might be officially middle-aged, but I’m not ready to give up just yet.

So now I need some new plans, new directions.

Any suggestions?

42
[Just threw this in because this is my Blog Number 42]

The Pearl of Great Value

I guess most people have favourite quotes and poems and posters which adorn their walls, some faded copies from years ago.  A favourite of Music Teachers is one which is entitled “This is why I teach Music”:

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and lists a number of “nots” before concluding:

But so you will be human, so you will recognise beauty, so you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world”.

They are pretty profound words, aren’t they? If we consider my field of Instrumental Music, it is an optional activity conducted, in our case, up at the top of the High school, by a collection of completely part-time staff. Fitted in around an otherwise crowded school curriculum. With no curriculum time allocated to it at all – rather, the program runs by withdrawing the students from other classes, with Bands/Ensembles taking place before school, after school and in break times. And we are by no means unique – this is quite a common pattern in Australian schools.

Yet…. “an infinite beyond this world”?

Last week finally saw the long-awaited visit of Dr. Quinton Morris, Professor of Violin from Seattle University, to the school where I teach, as part of his BREAKTHROUGH World Tour. (Finally! exclaims anyone who knows me, as I have been negotiating with him and his agents since October 2014, and God knows how much I have wittered on about him and his potential tour, which has been a long time in the planning). The Mum of one of my students asked me recently how this had come to fruition. My answer…”a combination of Coincidence, Determination, and Persistence”.

Well, after all those months, years, of emails, phone calls, Skype conversations, finally the day came when Dr. Morris and I were to meet in person. The arrangement was that I would meet him at his accommodation and take him and his pianist Ashley Hribar (they had not worked together for a few years) to a quiet local place to rehearse. I had with me (by agreement) two talented students who were to receive some coaching on their violin concertos while also at the rehearsal venue.

I left the girls in the car and approached the door of the motel. The concierge seemed pretty inept with his computer trying to find the room number, so I peeked through the glass entrance doors myself. Two familiar looking figures were sitting on the lounges. I went in and one stood up, grinned broadly, stepped forward, enquired “Kylie?” and enveloped me in a warm hug of greeting. I grinned. This was going to be fine. This Professor was not going to stand on too much ceremony.

The taller, serious looking one, I instead offered a handshake, and soon we were all piling into my car, off to the rehearsal venue and chatting like old friends. It didn’t hurt that I discovered that Ashley, Quinton’s pianist, shared a number of common people in my hometown  Adelaide, and we had also attended the same High School. What a small word is Music.

After tutoring the two students and their own private rehearsal together, I dropped the two professionals back to their motel.

So far, so good. What lovely, engaging, people. But the next day, I figured, would be the killer.

So, Thursday dawned. And it certainly was “A killer”

My actual day started like this:

I was at school before 7.30am. I subcontracted moving Music Stands to Bandmaster Eddie and Junior Band Members including my son James. I organised the original sheet music. I began photocopying the Music booklets for the Students.  (I shouldn’t have left this to the last day, but I wanted it done carefully, and a certain way including the page turns, and stupidly I thought it would take less time than it did, but then of course I was missing a vital page, ran out of paper and jammed the copier….). Met Quinton and Ashley 8.30am. Got them settled for their sound-check and rehearsal. Met and settled students from our school. Met and settled students from other schools. Met and introduced Staff from other schools. Kept all the visitors supervised and calm until Quinton and Ashley had completed their rehearsal. Got all Kids organised. Helped with initial tuning of instruments.

[The Students were officially registered and badged by another staff member, which was good, and Morning Tea administered by a Departmental Member, which was also good, but then these staff returned to their regular duties at the other end of the school]

Supervised 50 students running around, while coordinating the three Strings Specialists I had invited from other schools, and Quinton and Ashley (from Overseas and Interstate). Instructed all the visiting Staff on the intricacies of the plan for the day in the midst of this. Abandoned them all for the initial Q and A session while I went to fix the photocopier and complete the assembly of the music booklets necessary for the first orchestra session.

Moved the piano on the stage. Set up the stage with chairs and music stands. Marshalled the students on to the stage. Organised seating positions. Introduced personnel. Handed out the Hot-off-the –press Booklets. Commenced Orchestra Rehearsal.

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And that only gets us to 11.00am.

Although I started the day with optimism, the Sheet Music Booklet hold-up flustered me, so I was basically on catch-up until 11.00am. After morning tea I essentially left Quinton in charge of the 50 kids, and  I was worried that everyone would be looking for me. I abandoned my admin. task half-done, and returned to the auditorium, but I need not have been concerned. He had them “eating out of his hand”. The introductory session – which I had envisaged simply as a quick “hello” took nearly an hour, as he held them spell-bound, and had many a student on the microphone drawing out their own thoughts in front of their peers.

I had to smile as this Professor from 12,000 kilometres away elicited practise tips from our youngest Orchestra member, 9-year old Amy, who suggested that dedicated practise might inspire a shopping trip with treats from Mum. And the visiting Strings teachers were nodding in silent thanks as he extolled the virtues of using a Metronome – not only owning one but actually using it – to keep the beat and “Keep yourself honest”. Being reassured that he and the other visiting staff had everything in hand, I took a deep breath, and concentrated on finishing off what needed to be done.

So, by the time the kids were tuned up and played their first note at 11.00am, I could finally relax and focus on what we were there for – the Music, and the Musicianship of this man who had come half way across the world to share himself with us –   Dr. Quinton Morris.

He has been everything I had hoped for, and more.

When we assembled the student orchestra on stage, they were quickly into rehearsing without fuss (which is rare) and he was soon drawing out tiny details, like which part of the bow to use in the Cello rhythms. Suddenly they were playing with panache and finesse (even though the piece was “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, not Mozart.)

Concert Workshop 160505 31

The day continued through, with the students alternating between whole–orchestra rehearsals and sectionals (smaller groups) with the visiting teachers until 2.30pm. Then about half of the kids stayed (we handed them over to our Youth leaders for a few hours), food was served at 5.30pm, then the day’s culmination – the BREAKTHROUGH concert commenced at 7pm.

It was only through God’s guiding hand and providence that there were no disasters.

These we did have, of the minor variety –broken violin strings and forgotten books and jammed photocopiers, literally kept me running around, and begging favours from my Admin. friends at the front end of the school where we were situated.

The Evening performance came across very well in both halves. The students sat in the audience in the first section and listened and soaked in Quinton and his pianist Ashley’s exquisite playing, and Quinton talking and presenting. The students played themselves extremely well in the second half. A standout was the Vivaldi Double Violin Concerto with King’s Year 7 student Lauren as one soloist, partnering Quinton himself as the other, taken at a cracking pace. Incredible on little more than an hour’s intensive rehearsal.

During the first half, I had the rare experience of actually sitting in the audience with friends, as I was not needed to supervise students (as I usually do). I was simply exhausted from all the planning and preparations, plus being on my feet all day. I needed to will myself to concentrate and make sure I fully took in what, after all, was the purpose of the exercise.

As I sat and listened, and allowed myself to be immersed in the beauty of Quinton and Ashley’s playing, for some reason I just kept thinking of the Biblical parable of “The Pearl of Great Value” (the man who sold everything he had, to purchase the perfect pearl) and it weighed on my mind.

That this concept encapsulated my whole issue over bringing this man (Dr. Morris) to town, and my fight for his visit to go ahead.

The project had such a long “lead time”, (coming up for two years) that, in the meantime, our local staff and structure has changed, and some who were enthusiastic about the plans and were working on them with me initially, are no longer part of the Music Department. And under the new structure, the current staff have different priorities, and it has been my strong suspicion that others (in the current setup) couldn’t really see the value in his visit, and may well have cancelled it, had not commitments been made and contracts signed. I have long suspected that some staff saw it as “Kylie’s pet project” and to some extent went along with it to humour me.

Indeed, part way through the very busy Thursday of the Student Workshop, as I hurried around, three ladies, school staff members, were standing together on our main walkway underneath, as it happened, a poster of Dr. Morris.

Poster Walkway

One asked me how it was all going, prefacing her friendly enquiry with the observation “Your Man’s here, isn’t he?”

“My Man” ?

And, what overwhelmed me at the end of Thursday evening’s performance, was that, in this man, Dr. Quinton Morris, in what he had inspired our kids to do in just a few hours, our King’s Kids – Gold Coast Kids – here we had a “Pearl of Great Value” and some could see it, some, it seemed, could not.

I had parents come up to me at the concert’s Interval, brimming over with how incredible it was to have a musician of such stature at our school. One Mum (her boy plays 3rd violin, so, although keen, is one of the lesser experienced) had come to pick her child up at 2.30pm to take him home for a rest, then come back in the evening, and he said: “No Mum, please leave me here and just come back yourself, I don’t want to miss one minute of this day”. This same Mum emailed me a few days later to say that her son was so inspired he had been playing his violin non-stop all weekend.

My own 13-year-old daughter (who also plays violin) said she had a wonderful day, that Dr. Morris had been inspiring, and funny, and exciting. That her only complaint was that her back hurt because she rarely sat still for that long.

On Friday, Quinton used as the central theme of the Staff Development day: VALUE.

Well, he could not have chosen a topic which spoke more to me, professionally and personally, currently, than that (especially with my previous reflection just the night before) …

At one stage he asked all participants to take paper and pen and look within themselves, and write a few notes.

So then, each person in turn was asked to share their thoughts with the group regarding VALUE – do we feel valued? How do we show each other we are valued? How do our students know that they are valued? Is what we are doing of value?

Quinton’s secondary issue was how teaching and all forms of education (and life in general) had become increasingly complex.

How we are all bowed down in layers of side issues and what he chose to call ‘fluff’. But if we really wanted to be successful we needed to return to the “Harvard Method” of two words:

Plan … Execute.

Yes, just these two. Plan…Execute.

Again, I couldn’t help thinking of all of the ‘fluff’ for me in so many facets of my life over these past months. All my various worries and anxieties and issues which have kept me “oh so busy” while the “main path” has been diverted from, many many times.

Perfectionist that I am, it was also easy to think of all the things I would have done differently for this very project. With different people. Under different circumstances.

And how that the school auditorium should, by rights, have been full to the brim of people sharing this music and artistic expertise, to be part of this inspiration, and to see how fired up the students were. I suggested this to Dr. Morris himself.

He turned on me…

“Who are you disappointed for?” he demanded. “Is this all about YOU?”.

I was a bit taken aback. I agreed it was not.

“Is it all about me?” he continued. I didn’t answer that one.

“Well”, he said. “Don’t be offended for me. I am not offended. I gave up being offended years ago. Three people in an audience or Carnegie Hall – it’s all the same to me”.

Carnegie Hall

“Who did we do it for?” (I liked the term “we” …) he again demanded.

“We did it for the kids” I answered.

“Well, did they get anything out of it” he asked? I readily admitted that they certainly did.

“Well, then, we achieved our objectives” he stated firmly.

Here Endeth the “Pep Talk” from the Professor. What a special man.

Taking this on board, I concluded that Dr. Morris’s residency did indeed fulfil the vision and goals and aims I (and my original collaborators) originally had for it, which was to benefit the students.

  • to expose them to high level musicians
  • to give them the chance to work with, to be inspired by, to be excited by a person of Dr. Morris’ musical calibre
  • to take them, even for a few hours, or a day, out of the ordinary into the extraordinary, and to give them a glimpse of what they are capable of.

 

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Matthew 13:45-46 says:

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

And you may also recognise these words by Stephen Grellet, a prominent French-born American Quaker missionary:

 I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

Quinton Morris: Thank you for passing through our corner of the world.

You have touched our young people. You have touched my colleagues. Most of all you have touched me.

You are indeed a Pearl of Great Value.

 

Author’s Note: Express permission has been sought from, and given by, parents of featured students in these images for the photographs to be included.

Photo Credits: Mal Rawlings.