The Post “Game” Analysis

May 30, 2009

Some youth sports coaches talk about utilizing the “car ride home” as an opportunity for parents of youth athletes to instill some life lessons from the events of the game, to help process emotions and thoughts related to certain moments, and to develop a supportive and healthy parent-child relationship through their involvement in sports.

I like this approach, and have begun to think about ways that a healthy parent-child relationship in music can also be developed. I am blessed with a relatively healthy culture currently in my program, but I am all too aware of the dangers of a self-directed parent culture within an environment like this, based on my own experience and the experience of my teacher’s nearly four decades of working with parents of developing musicians. There seems to be an ugly side to the human ego, with parents engaging in manipulative and/or unproductive conversations comparing the progress of their children. If my goal is to develop better citizens and to leave something positive within the souls of the children who pass through my studio, I need to plant seeds within the parents’ minds also, and give them the tools, the knowledge, and the courage to speak openly and truthfully about their children’s learning. Not for the purpose of comparing rates of progress, but for the purpose of becoming more aware.

It’s a cultural tendency to try to measure your progress from the outside in. “How am I doing compared to others my age? How about compared to others who have been taking lessons for the same amount of time? Am I playing a harder piece than someone else? Did I score the winning goal? Did I miss the shot that could have won the game? Did I get into the better school? Did I get the more impressive job title?” The problem is, none of these questions measures the only relevant process – the one that occurs within yourself. It can’t be measured by comparing yourself to others. It can only be felt and known by meeting or exceeding the standards – hopefully high ones – that you set for yourself. We cannot know another person’s learning process. We can only support them from the sidelines. But no matter how many times I say this to others, I continue to encounter that human need to be “assured” by some outside measure that I cannot honestly provide.

So here is my first innovative attempt at doing something to address this. After each performance, I always make notes in my own mind of certain things that happened, and try to use those observations as learning for me to improve my teaching of each student. There isn’t always something “to do”, but there is always something to observe. I try to stay curious about how each of my students performs in a concert setting. What makes them nervous? What obstacles did they overcome in their journey of learning for this concert? What surprises revealed gaps in their preparation? What habits do they still need to change?

Today we had our Year End Recital, in which every student performs a solo piece of their choice. It’s interesting for me to notice which pieces the children select. Sometimes it is an old favorite, other times it is the newest piece in their repertoire. I am touched when a student selects something that is not necessarily brand new, but is something they enjoy playing well. In the setting of a “private” recital such as today’s – where we have an audience of families only – I am encouraged to see an otherwise shy, methodical student select a piece that is a “stretch” or somewhat of a risk, and prepare it to the very best of their ability. There is growth in every situation.

After today’s events, I feel a need to “recap” certain moments in order to be clear about the message of learning and the culture I am trying to promote in our community. This is the first time I’ve ever tried this, so there’s an equal chance that it’ll blow up or it’ll be received with open arms, but I’m going to try it anyway, since I have to learn and grow. My question to the parents is, how do you feel about all this insight and feedback? Is it too painful? Embarrassing? Or is it illuminating? Fascinating? If your child is one who received praise, do you sigh with relief, or wonder what could still be improved? Because the kind of community I want to build not only appreciates this kind of feedback when it is given, but comes back to ask for more. Praise and criticism are effective only when specific, so read on if you want to learn more…. Read the rest of this entry »


Watch this video NOW with your children

May 28, 2009

Michelle Obama’s speech at a London girls’ school on her recent visit in April 2009.

She talks about her working-class upbringing, and how her father “never complained about his struggles…he just got up a little earlier, and worked a little harder.”

Telling them that neither of her parents attended university, but rather provided herself and her older brother “all a kid really needs – love, strong values, and a belief that with a good education and a whole lot of hard work, there is nothing we could not do.”  She says to the assembled crowd, “The reason I’m standing here today is because of education.”

She recalls her first date with Barack Obama, where he invited her to attend a community meeting he had organized in Chicago. He reminded the group attending that night that “sometimes we settle for the world as it is, even when it doesn’t reflect our values and aspirations.”

She reminds the girls in that school, “You will write the story not only for yourselves, but for your generation, and for generations to come…Use your talents to create the world as it should be. We need strong, smart, confident, young women to take the reins. We know you can do it.”

Wow. We need more women like Michelle Obama speaking to young girls and parents in this world.

Walking through fire

May 21, 2009

Why do intelligent, highly educated, often well-compensated people with the best of intentions end up doing things that make no sense? In other words, how do we stray off our path? Good question. I believe it must happen gradually, in small ways and in small moments, but like a trickle of water that beats away at a large stone, the small things add up. We have to become aware of the small things in our lives. We have to be willing to look at ourselves and face what is there. And we need to do this with the knowledge that our essence is good. But we must choose to be better.

So much of our culture is set up to give us ways to do everything possible to mask the pain. We are so afraid of pain, and have avoided it so systematically and for so long, that we have also lost the ability to really feel pleasure. We have forgotten that pain is just a feeling – an impermanent sensation that we can identify and deal with – just like pleasure. Instead, we believe the myths – ever so popular and pervasive – that life can and should be only about maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain. We literally go to great lengths to avoid pain.

I’m going to return to my favorite reality TV show, The Biggest Loser. It’s definitely part of the American media machine, and the show’s producers know that it is ultimately about entertainment – hence the long, drawn-out finale and hype of the grand prize of $250,000. They’ve got to sell ads, after all. But I’m talking about the symbolism, the essence of what I see on that show. I see people whose physical bodies reflect a lifetime of avoiding pain. They’ve avoided exercise. They’ve avoided feeling certain emotions, and instead stuffed them by eating sweets, fats, or other food not because they were truly hungry but in order to avoid pain. These contestants’ genetic makeup and prolonged lifestyle of avoidance led to an extreme physical manifestation of their chronic avoidance of pain. The transformation process involves admitting to the pain, and then confronting it on a daily basis, and learning new knowledge that will be applied as a new pattern for dealing with the pain. What we see from the contestants’ bodies are “morbidly obese people”. What I see is a reflection of what is inside all of us, and what we must tame if we are to take ownership of our lives and live by the power of our own human spirit, instead of being a slave to our human tendencies. Yes, I believe that within each of us is the potential for both great beauty and the unthinkably grotesque. It is up to us to face our individual challenges and to influence those around us, in order to create the experience of our dreams. Read the rest of this entry »

“Please all, and you will please none”

May 19, 2009

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard fables…I’m not sure if they are still used at all in schools or preschools. This is one of Aesop’s Fables (reproduced below) that I remember from my childhood, and one that I have to remind myself of as I grow and learn as a leader. It’s easy to become a victim of one’s own success, and to become a slave to the very thing you’ve created. As I walk along the path of life, there will be many passers-by. It is my own voice that I must become finely attuned to, for the only life I can really save is my own.

The Man, The Boy and The Donkey

A Man and his son were once going with their Donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?”

So the Man put the Boy on the Donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.”

So the Man ordered his Boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.” Read the rest of this entry »

Next public performance: San Carlos Home Town Days

May 12, 2009

When: Sunday, May 17, at 2:30PM

Where: Stage #1, near the corner of Cedar Street and Arroyo Avenue, in San Carlos

For more information:

Come on down and join us as we “Celebrate Home” at the San Carlos Home Town Days festival. We’ll perform favorite violin music AND special country fiddle tunes to match the festivities.

The Music Within Us violinists, ages 3 to 10, will perform as an ensemble and share with you their passion for music and learning.

Come and be inspired, entertained, and enchanted!

Trusting the process

May 10, 2009

My parents recently came to visit me in California, and one of the things I asked them to do was to cook ten of my favorite childhood Chinese dishes while I videotaped the process. I have always wanted to write down the “how to’s” of these family food traditions, but recipes are just not the way we cook in our family. It’s all about using the senses – how something is supposed to look, smell, and feel at various stages of the cooking process. The final taste is something embedded in the memory, and you know right away if you’ve gotten it right or not.

Tonight I decided to try cooking one of those dishes myself, without my parents’ supervision, without their years of experience to guide me – only the videotaped clips of their hands doing this work several weeks ago. Read the rest of this entry »

The Biggest Loser = The Biggest Learner

May 6, 2009

I’m learning a lot about learning in my job as a teacher. I’m discovering how adept we humans are at finding the loopholes – ways to “meet the standard” by any means possible, without truly learning anything. I’ve been surrounded by a lot of “successful” people in my life, but by very few true learners. I realize that my goal in starting The Music Within Us was to create a community of learning. That means, a community of dedicated learners – both parents and children. Sometimes learning means acknowledging our failures and trying something different. Other times learning means celebrating successes and moving on as a different person. I would argue that our culture over-celebrates success, and under-recognizes the failures that support most success stories.

This is why I love NBC’s The Biggest Loser so much. For those of you who don’t know this about me, I am fascinated with this show. I literally well up with emotion when I see the transformations that occur over the course of the seventeen-week seasons. The producers of the show clearly know a lot about learning, and they continue to learn each season about what it takes for real humans to undergo total transformation. They are also clearly going for nothing short of miraculous, total inside-out metamorphosis. Morbid obesity is a reflection of so many of our society’s failures. It is visible, so it grabs our attention. It makes for good television, which is another central part of our culture. It’s the perfect medium to reach the audience it intends to inspire – the millions of sedentary “couch potatoes” who have succumbed to what is so easy to do in our culture. By that I mean, to go through life doing what is popular and easy to do. In order to even try out for the show, each of these contestants has reached a breaking point in their lives, and recognition of the need for profound change. They enter this process with a willingness and commitment that has yet to be put to the test.

The contestants on The Biggest Loser may seem very different from “the average person” because of the way they look physically. Those of us who do not have weight problems might say, “Boy I’m glad I never let myself go like that.” But we would be wrong to think so. These people are humans, like all of us. They happen to have the genetic and behavioral combination that causes all of their lack of discipline in their lives to manifest as extra weight on their physical bodies. When they are not in control of their habits, it shows up as weight gain. It’s visible to the world. And in America, image is everything. At least on television.

So what better way to put these people and their process on display than in a competitive reality TV series, where each week they compete to lose the most weight, with elimination of one player per week, and, at the end of the season, have one of them ultimately be crowned “The Biggest Loser”?

If this were merely a weight loss show, where we tuned in to watch interpersonal dramas and see the numbers on a scale each week, I would have no interest at all in the show. If it were about contestants pleasing a panel of judges or acting in outrageous attention-getting ways, I would also have no interest.

But The Biggest Loser is truly about total transformation and learning. Read the rest of this entry »