Saturday, September 13, 2014

Teaching violin lessons

I am back teaching violin lessons. I can't say that I have been very successful as a violin teacher through the last few years.  I have had a handful of students - a brother and sister in Texas, we traded violin lessons for horse riding lessons in Indiana, the daughter of a close friend here in Iowa and now my two students:  a young woman from church and Colleen. I tried teaching Emily, but that didn't end well.  My Texas students changed to the cello and then quit.  My Indiana students moved to Idaho.  My first student in Iowa quit.

This time I was determined to do a better job and started reading online about different methods for teaching new students.  My mom was my first teacher and taught using the Suzuki method.  I can remember practicing my footwork and holding my cracker jacks box under my chin before I started on the twinkles.  My mom taught another boy my age named Eli, who was my friend, and I went to Suzuki camp in the summer in Nampa.  I can remember signing a very large birthday card for Dr Suzuki, performing the Suzuki songs from book 1 and 2 on stage at the Nazerene College, trying to learn to juggle, panda power bow grip, catching butterflies with my friend Nathan and his sister in the park, and loving to play the violin.

There is apparently a lot of angry debate about the merits and damage done by the Suzuki method.  From my own experience, I have good memories associated with learning to play this way.  When I was twelve I got a new teacher in Boise. I learned a lot about technique, how to read music, played etudes, probably better songs, but violin became more of an obsession than a love affair.  I practiced after school in a practice room at the new center for the arts downtown.  I was in three orchestras: chamber, string, and youth symphony.  I tried competing in a few solo competitions, but was so nervous that in one competition I switched songs randomly in the middle.  Luckily my pianist was amazing and jumped right with me without missing more than a note.  I was so nervous that I felt like Renne from The Soloist. My fingers felt slow and fat, my ear acutely aware of all of the errors that crescendoed exponentially as I played.

In college, my teacher was a superb musician, but not a good teacher and his goal was to break me before building me up in his image - his words at our final lesson.  By the end of the first year, I never wanted to play again and was moved to the very back of the second violin section in the BYU symphony.  I started playing again on my mission and never really recovered from the almost complete breakdown during college.

So, when I was thinking about how I want to teach, and how I wanted to continue to learn, I am not sure that any method my teacher's used is what I wanted to do.  I like much of the music and playing of Mark O'Connor, but man that guy hates the Suzuki method.  His books are set up well for young students.  I never have been sold on the songs and I like many of the fiddle songs better.  Quite honestly I don't care about many of the points that bother Mr. O'Connor about whether Suzuki was a fraudulent teacher that exaggerated his academic and musical background to promote his teaching methodology and books.  I wanted to teach music so that my students and I loved to play.  That is what I remember so fondly about Suzuki violin.

I bought O'Connor's book and the cd, but then my plans were thrown out the window when I had my first lesson with my new student.  She already had played the songs in the first O'Connor book and book one suzuki.  She had taken lessons from a highschool student.  She played well by ear, but couldn't read music, had a list of technique improvements to make, and most importantly was committed to play this at her cousin's wedding in just a few months, unaccompanied and on the violin, but otherwise just like this:

I decided then that it didn't matter what songs we played, but that we would try to use them to build technique as we go.  This means, I have let her choose most of the songs we work on, and then I reserve the right to add additional material to teach technique and expand her musical exposure. I have learned through this that youtube is a treasure trove.  There are a ton of inventive and creative folks that are recording themselves in backrooms and posting them to youtube. Some of them even have sheet music posted online as well.  If you are interested I have posted lesson materials to a new blog:

Colleen is starting as well, but from the very beginning.  We will be working out of O'Connor's book and the Suzuki books for now, until she has mastered the basics and then I think we will try listening to recordings and surfing youtube together to see what else to add.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Monday, August 04, 2014

Emily's first job

Emily has been pollinating this summer at Monsanto.  It is fun to see her working with the other kids.  It has been a fun pollinating season.  She works with another crew, but I will ever be her proud father.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Nighthawk chick in the corn field

This year, as we started pollinating, there were four nighthawks flying above our second planting.  I spooked the female when I was pulling outcrosses in the doubled haploids.  I kept an eye out for their nest, but didn't find it right away.  One of the guys working with me found one of the eggs up near the front, right near the path between rows.  One egg was smashed, by some ignorant pollinator probably.  There was no nest, no pile of feathers or arrangement to identify the nest, just the camouflaged egg and mother.  I put flagging tape around those rows to keep people from stepping on the egg.  The mother would be there in the morning and flew nervously overhead as we worked in the corn.  The crew leader told the kids that if they stepped on any eggs or chicks they were fired.  Kidding, kind of. 

After 21 days, the chick hatched!  This totally made my day. We gathered the kids around and each took a peek at the tiny fluffball as it stumbled around the corn stubble.  It must have hatched early Saturday morning, and was already walking around by 7:30 AM.  We widened the protected area and everyone was very careful to not step on the tiny chick.  

For perspective, the shootcap - the white paper in the picture, is two inches wide.  The egg was small and the chick was a little more than an inch long.  

The mother was not buzzing us like normal - they make a whirring, almost mechanical sound when they dive, but as we were pulling out of the field around lunchtime I saw her circling the field. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

"And the Mountains Echoed" review

I bought this book in the airport while waiting for yet another delayed flight out of Denver.  We planned to fly home from Boise through Denver, but our plane was late coming to Boise and by the time we were in the air the wind and storms were bad enough in Denver that we were not able to land.  This was not good because, as the flight attendant told me and the panicky woman next to me - the plane had not fueled up in Boise and we only had 20 minutes left of fuel.  The pilot announced after that that we would be in a holding pattern for more than 30 minutes and that we were going to try and land at another airport.  The panicking woman next to me was really panicking now that she did the math that we needed to be in the air 10 minutes longer than we had fuel.

Luckily, the plane landed in safely in Wyoming at a tiny airport and after waiting for three hours we finally made it to Denver, two hours after the last flight to Des Moines.  We waited in line until 1:00 AM trying to get a hotel or a flight, but gave up and slept in a cubicle next to the central food court.  That morning I checked in with customer service and got us on a 9 AM flight to Des Moines, which was immediately delayed until 11:30 AM.  Angry and frustrated, I told the girls I would buy them books.

Above the science fiction section was a stack of "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini. I couldn't reach them, but the bit of the cover looked interesting.  I asked the tall guy standing next to me if he could get me one down.  It wasn't what I expected.  It wasn't Sci-Fi for one thing.  It started with a story about a poor man whose child is stolen by an evil djinn.  He tracks the djinn down to find that his child is alive and happy, but has forgotten him.  The djinn makes a deal with him to erase his memory of the lost child.  Then it jumps to a father walking to town pulling his two children in a wagon.  It is told from the perspective of the older brother who has raised his little sister since his mother died.  His father remarried, but it fell upon the brother to care for his sister.  His family is extremely poor and they are going to visit their cousin that works for a rich man in town as his driver.  What the boy doesn't know is that the rich family and his father have made a deal to adopt his little sister.  The rest of the book tells the story of the echoes of this act forward through to the present time.  Each section is from the perspective of a different character.  Some are directly related to the family, other's affected by them in unexpected ways.

I loved this book.  I could not put it down, even though it made me cry on the plane.  I was so absorbed in the book that I didn't think about the people around me, until the flight attendant tenderly patted me on the shoulder as she walked by.  But, it was OK.  I was coming back from visiting my family - we had a funeral for my father and a reunion to celebrate the 90th birthday of my grandmother and this book was exactly what I needed as I reflected on the echoes of my father and my grandmother through our generations, my family, and my life. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remembering Gary Gardunia

I debated what I should write here about this, if anything.  What do you do when someone dies now?  Do you post it on facebook, write it on a blog?  In the past the only option was a notice in the paper, but I don't know where this should go, or who to tell besides my Mom and my brothers and my sister.  I didn't know what to do with anyone's condolences, because as much as I loved my father my feelings are complicated by all that has happened over the years. However, I don't know how else to let the world know.  I don't want to forget or have my father be forgotten.

Early Monday morning, the medical examiner from Hawaii called me.  The police had found my father's body in his tiny, dirty apartment in Honolulu.  He was sorry to inform me that my father had passed away.  I didn't know what to say.  He was sorry for my loss.  So today I mourn three men, the father I lost so long ago, the man that left us and I hated, and this man in Hawaii that had my brother's voice.

In many of my memories of my father, he is asleep.  Asleep watching TV, falling asleep in church and then getting up for the closing prayer and blessing the food, being quiet playing inside because Dad was sleeping.  He worked swing shift at physical plant at Ricks College, cleaned chimneys, was a part time plumber, handyman, store clerk, cook at Big Boy or near the end at a pizza shop. I can remember going with him while he worked on plumbing under someone's house to look for salamanders.  I can remember him cleaning chimneys for a chocolate cake, or helping a neighbor with their cows in exchange for some milk.  He made things around the house and yard - flagstone fireplace area, a metal shoerack that could poke your eye out, a sheet metal slide that had a sharp edge that could cut your pants if you didn't lift your butt just right.

That man would talk to anyone, anytime.  If you went to the store with him, it could take all day.  He would run into someone in the store, usually a stranger, and talk for hours.  I went back to visit Teton before my mission and met some of his old friends and heard a lot about Gary and the times he went hunting with them or helped them. He was kind, hard-working, and would do anything he could to help other people.

That man disappeared long ago.  When he went to open a pizza restaurant in Utah, he was unprepared for the investment it would require.  After only a few short weeks, he was forced to close up.  But, instead of coming back home to Teton, he went to Nevada to work in the mines.  I can remember driving to visit in the middle of a June blizzard in our broken down van.  He was staying with my Aunt Sandra and Johnny.  We watched Star Trek, and talked awkwardly with this man with my father's face.  We went home, sold our house, and moved to Boise where my Mom could finish school.  She had been going to Ricks and graduated with her associates and then worked at Me and Stan's in Rexburg.  But without help from Dad we had to move and Boise was close to family.

We only saw or heard from him a few times after that.  He didn't send money, probably because he didn't have any.  One of the last visits I can remember seeing him carrying a six pack of beer.  There was pornography in his truck.  He talked about living with this old Indian on the reservation in Nevada.  After that he totally disappeared.  I guess he sent letters that one time, awkwardly written and neurotic.  He called once as well.  He told my brother he was coming home for Christmas.  I told him he was a liar and he hung up and never called again.

I hated that man.  The many hours I saw my mom work and study to try and hold our family together stoked that fire.  I don't think I saw her sleep during that time.  She was up studying when I went to bed.  She slept in the living room of our apartment and was awake before 5 when I started my paper route.

Other people filled in the gaps.  I went to father and son campouts with men from the ward.  We learned the hard way that Deseret hand soap was a foul smelling green bar and that the Deseret orange drink was better than Tang.  So many people helped us out.  My aunt gave us a car when the van finally died in the middle of an intersection.  My grandmother helped with the bills.  People from church brought us to activities, looked out for us, and helped pay the rent, brought us food from the Bishop's storehouse.  Br. Hall helped me rebuild mailboxes when I forgot to set the parking brake and my car rolled down the hill, destroying mail boxes, someone's garage, and ruining any chances I had with Lisa Meyers.  Bro. Field was my friend and confident.  He tried to reconcile my brother and I and made us sing "Let us oft speak kind words to each other."  Bro. Phillips comforted me after I screwed up in yet another church basketball game and I swore would never play again.  Bishop Lyndstrom was there when I needed to talk and I envied his family so much. My orchestra teacher bought me tickets to see "Phantom of the Opera"  and bought me a school year book. My English teacher loaned me her typewriter to do my homework.  My violin teacher arranged for me to have a practice room. I told my girlfriend that all I wanted to be in life was someone not like my Dad.

Life went on.  We graduated from school, went on missions, got married, had kids, got jobs, and moved around the country.  We talked to my Mom on the phone and didn't think too much about Dad.  Except that I googled him sometimes, often actually.   The Salvation Army tracked him down to Georgia for me once, but he was only there for a short time in a shelter.  I could see he had moved around the Southwest.  Creditors called trying to collect on a hip and knee replacement.  At some point he moved to Hawaii, he got a job and for a brief time child support was garnished from his wages.  The caseworker told me he would send a message to my Dad.  We sent letters, but I don't know that he got them.  He changed jobs or lost that job, and the money stopped.

Six or seven years ago, he was in the hospital and a friend of his decided to look us up.  She sent my sister Anna his cell number and some of us called him and talked to him.  I was amazed to hear his voice.  He sounded just like my older brother.  He tried to talk to us about the past, but his memories clashed with ours. He was the injured party that had been rejected and told not to come back.  It was hard to be so angry with this rambling old man.

I changed jobs and for work went to Hawaii once or twice a year.  Each time I met him at a restaurant and bought him lunch or dinner.  I never went to his apartment.  His friend Bill was there the first time and told me my father was Baha'i now and they went to the same church.  He told me bits about his life in Hawaii.  He seemed interested in my growing family.  One time I helped him set up his computer and showed him my siblings blogs and pictures on facebook.  But, he was a stranger.  I didn't recognize him the first time.  The waitress pointed him out to me.  He was a regular.  She knew him better than me.

He didn't always pay his cell bills and often changed numbers.  Sometimes he would remember to call and give me his new number, but not usually.  Sometimes I called his friend Bill and he would give it to me.  I didn't call often.  Once I found out he had been in the hospital for months after having a stroke. He never told me.  Sometimes we had good conversations and I felt like I was getting to know him.  Other times he told crazy stories about the places in New Mexico where he saw the UFOs come down and when he did peyote with his Indian friends on the reservation.  He was paranoid about people sometimes.  His memories about the divorce and all the circumstances were always at odds with what I remember.

Then the medical examiner called.  I can't say that I really knew him well.  His landlord was surprised he had kids.  He had known him for 7 years and he never mentioned us.  His parents passed away years ago and he was estranged from the rest of his family.  I don't know who else mourns his passing.  If you knew him, send us his stories, because of the three men that I remember as my father I don't know which one was really him. I can't trust my own memories tainted with my own tall tales, anger, and regret.

Farewell, Gary Gardunia.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Orcutt Family Reunion

Please pass the word on to any other Orcutt relatives or friends of Shirley Orcutt.

We have reserved the LDS chapel at 1500 Smith Ave, Nampa ID for July 5th.

Please invite all of the descendants, friends and relatives of Shirley Orcutt to celebrate her 90th Birthday.  Grandma has insisted on providing the food and needs a headcount by June 1st.  Please email me or respond by facebook.

10:00 - meet and greet - I would like to have a photo display projected on one wall and we can congregate outside if it is nice or inside the gym if it is raining.
11:00 - Kickball or softball game?
12:00 - lunch, cake, ice cream.
1:00 - ?  Ideas?

Things to bring:
Memories of family
All of your kids

Who to invite:
Family and friends of the Orcutt family