Over the years, I’ve pretty much settled into a mature person’s morning routine – wake up, get out of bed, make coffee and step outside to fetch the morning paper. Wherever I’ve been or have lived, I cannot now seem to do without my morning newspaper habit -the daily Washington Post. The rare time the paper delivery person misses my condo, it’s almost worse than if I were to misplace my smartphone! I won’t even consider practicing the piano or reading/replying to email until after I’ve had my morning fix. And yes, I am one of those curmudgeonly hold-outs that hasn’t yet migrated toward reading the news online. I like and need the feel of the actual paper, that smell of fresh newsprint, and the various sections, especially the Wednesday food section! Furthermore, I set aside those few rear editorial pages for my night-time reading – politically somewhat partial though it will usually be (since it’s the Washington Post), it never fails to fulfill two pre-bedtime functions –educate and intrigue me, while simultaneously helping me to nod off.
We all have rituals, and I find my own rituals becoming more and more predictable and cemented as I age – for better or worse. The sad thing though, is that in the last few years, I’ve begun to dread picking up my newspaper in the morning…seems the news isn’t so appealing these days, especially living in the nation’s capital, where it is an ever-present reality one cannot seem to escape. Lately, I’ve even begun to consider if the frequent depression from digesting the daily news might be something that makes me question the health of my daily habit. Gee, I really want to stay informed, but at what end? Sometimes the headlines make my stomach churn, and even go so far as to make me feel as though the world is on a precipice of something dangerous and irreversible…here’s hoping that is not the case. At times like these, I know I am lucky to have music in my life – for the obvious reasons, but also because of the healthy distraction, an outlet from the harsh realities of the real world that can haunt and worry. Sure, anyone can turn on the radio, cue up a CD or stream something to listen to – but for me, the act of sitting at the piano and delving into a remote world of sound, mood, structure, and depth of emotion is something that I feel very fortunate to possess, and grateful that it will be with me throughout my life. It is a balm in so many ways – healing for the soul, a reservoir of creativity, stimulation for the intellect, exercise for the digits and the brain, etc… One can read dozens of articles online about the many benefits of playing and studying a musical instrument.
I think about my students and how I often want to encourage and convince them of the great worth of a musical endeavor, especially when they gripe and complain about the technical challenges, finding time to practice, or those rare times when they seem close to wanting to quit/give up. I don’t want to lose any of the teenage piano students in my life– they offer me so much in return. Mentoring them is a real pleasure AND challenge at times – but they nourish my soul with their insight and ability, love and interest in music, sheer joy at the act of accomplishing a difficult passage in a piece – and then both the simultaneous thrill and terror of having to perform in public. I become quite attached to them, and feel a real sense of sadness and loss when they graduate – but excited and eager to welcome them back when they return for a lesson “check-in” later after they’re attending college. Then I really know I must have done something right! They also keep me humble and constantly educated as to what’s hip and now – plus the many new expressions Millennials use, which changes yearly. I try not to adapt too much of their slang – will appear like I’m trying too hard, and I detest expressions like “my bad”, so will never use that one. However, one expression that has for various reasons, stuck with me over the years is “don’t be a hater”. It’s kind of a generic, catch-all declaration (and thankfully one that has rarely been directed my way personally), yet I often seem to recall it precisely at the time I most need to…those times when it seems so easy to quickly judge someone or a situation. Instead, I often just pause, and ask myself point blank if I might need to take a step back and reframe my awareness (or lack of awareness) of a given presumption. I find it quite useful.
The mentors we have in life come in many shapes, sizes and ages – and at many different times when we need them….and perhaps more often when we think we don’t. At UUCC, I’ve had an extraordinary mentor for 30 years in Tom Benjamin. Sure, we don’t always agree on everything personal or musical, but he has been a significant influence on me in more ways than I can count or relay. I feel I have been quite fortunate, and his presence (and astute observations, coupled with years of lifetime experiences) will be with me even after he is no longer my direct supervisor at UUCC. 30 years is an extremely long tenure in church music, especially if you add/count his years prior to coming to UUCC when he served at the First Unitarian Church in Houston. I hope you will all plan to be present and come out to both celebrate and pay your respects on May 12th (both at the AM services and the afternoon party) to this wonderful man who has contributed SO much time, energy and dedication to building the great music program that is a large part of what makes UUCC uniquely special. We owe him a huge debt of gratitude.