Student Spotlight: “Far From the Home I Love”

Fiddler On The Roof

In all my years of voice lessons — beginning at the age of 12, all the way through college — I don’t remember singing any “pop” songs. My repertoire was made up of foreign language arias, art songs, and show tunes. And while I’m a lot more lenient with my own students’ repertoire choices than my teachers were with mine, I like to maintain a little bit of tradition (no pun intended).

It doesn’t get much more traditional than Fiddler on the Roof, where the song “Far From the Home I Love” comes from. Emma did a beautiful job singing this song, and even used it as an audition piece for the musical in which she was recently cast.

Though many of my students would be perfectly content singing Taylor Swift and Greyson Chance songs exclusively, I love that they humor me by balancing them out with songs that won’t be on the radio anytime soon. The best is when they end up actually enjoying those songs, which is usually the case!

Back to School Makes for Better Students

Riding the Bus

A funny thing happens when my students go back to school: they become more focused and dedicated musicians. Am I the only one who has noticed this?

Of course, that’s not to say my students are not focused and dedicated during the summer. But even I can admit that it’s easy to slack off a little bit in those three months, when life is just a little slower-paced and there are vacations and fun outdoor activities calling my name. There’s a definite transformation that takes place at the end of August, and I’m lovin’ it.

The link between school and improved performance at lessons is easy to understand. First of all, my students are back into a regular, structured routine. Practice time must now be built into their schedule, since they also have homework and extracurricular activities to squeeze in. I’m a lucky teacher in that most of my students’ parents are great about making sure practice is included in those tight schedules.

Secondly, the discipline my students learn at school is carried over to their lessons. They know that there are rewards (both intrinsic and extrinsic) for completing their schoolwork and performing to the best of their abilities in the classroom; they start to seek that same level of achievement musically, as well.

Third, I think there is also a little bit of peer competition at play (and I’m not complaining). Many of my students are classmates at school and know that they share the same piano or voice teacher. Now that they see each other on a regular basis, I know that they compare notes on which pieces they are practicing, how far along they are in their methods books, which Greyson Chance song they are singing, etc. I always stress to my students that everyone progresses at their own pace, but an extra boost of motivation is not a bad thing.

I know that most kids are under a lot of pressure when it comes to school and other activities, which is why I do all that I can to make music lessons an enjoyable experience. The fact that being back in school gives them that extra focus and dedication they need to continue increasing their skill level? Well that just makes my job even better, if that is even possible.

Friday Fave: A Fantastic First Week!

Thumbs Up ~ Fantastic First Week

After writing on Monday about my first day back to work (and official full-time self-employment), I was hoping today’s “Friday Fave” would be a celebration of a successful first week back. And guess what: it is!

I still have today’s lessons and music therapy sessions to go, but I’m optimistic that they will go just as smoothly as the previous four days. It has been such a relief to have students coming through the door exactly as scheduled — because as I’ve written about before, scheduling is the hardest part of running a studio and private practice.

But that hasn’t been the best part of the week. Not even close. Far and away, the best part has been seeing and hearing my students’ progress (mixed in with a few great excuses here and there).

Yesterday, for example, one of my piano students blew me away by playing “Hey Jude”. We had just started it at his last lesson before the break, and three weeks later (after working on it completely by himself), he gave a nearly flawless performance. Those are the moments that remind me just how lucky I am to do what I do.

Of course, there are still kinks to work out…like adjusting to having so much unscheduled time during the day. I’m working on a schedule that will help me use that time more productively, and I think next week I’ll have a better handle on it. It’s always tough to get right down to business after a long vacation, which is why I’m trying not to be too hard on myself ;)

How has your week been? I hope you are celebrating its fantastic-ness right along with me today. Here’s to an awesome Friday and a fabulous weekend!

One Step at a Time

Making it to the top

On Saturday, a few family members and I decided to climb a mountain in Colorado.  What we originally believed to be a 6-mile round trip hike turned out to be almost double that, but when we reached the top — as pictured above — all the sweat and achy muscles were worth it.

That last mile or so to the top, I kept telling myself, “Put one foot in front of the other.”  Instead of thinking about my goal as one monstrous task, I broke it down.  And knowing that as long as I could take another step, I could reach my goal, is the reason I made it to the peak.

This is not unlike the challenges that my students face, whether it’s a music therapy objective to meet or a challenging song to master.

Us music therapists know all too well that progress can be slow, but each milestone is something to be celebrated.  I’ve worked with some students on the same goals for years at a time, watching as they take baby steps along the way.  Some of my voice students spend months and months learning and refining a particular song, one phrase at a time.

But when the day comes that they can perform that skill or song, every last moment of frustration melts away as they stand at the top of their metaphorical mountain with a huge smile on their face.

What mountains have you and/or your own students conquered lately?

Giving Up Hope

Music Therapy at The Hope Institute

A little over four years ago, I began my professional career as a music therapist at The Hope Institute in Springfield, Illinois.  Although many of my new coworkers at Hope, a residential school for children with multiple disabilities, were unfamiliar with music therapy, they were amazingly supportive of me as I started developing the program.

At the same time, I was slowly growing a private practice.  After an 8-hour day at Hope, I hit the road as a traveling music therapist and voice/piano/guitar teacher, working with my students in their homes.  I did this 5 afternoons a week, for two years, until my husband and I moved into our new home and I opened a home studio.

Ten private students increased to 20, which eventually increased to 30.  I loved the work that I was doing at Hope, and I loved the work I was doing in my private practice.  Life was good.

But life was also exhausting.  When I added my church music job, elected IAMT officer position, and Listen & Learn to the mix, I sometimes marveled at the fact that I actually found time to sleep.  Oh yea…and then there was my husband and dog, with whom I was spending less and less time.

12-hour workdays were doable, at least for the time being.  But what would happen when Zach and I started a family?  And was it really good for my health to be this busy and stressed all the time?  I found myself asking these questions on a daily basis.

So what did I do?  I took on new students.  Over 20 of them, actually, totaling to 52 private students for the upcoming summer and fall sessions.

And then I made the scariest and most exciting decision of my entire life thus far: I gave notice of my resignation at The Hope Institute.

This moment, which I had been dreading, turned out to be like something out of a fairy tale.  My principal told me that I would be greatly missed, but that he completely understood my decision and supported it wholeheartedly.  And then upon my recommendation, Hope hired Karen, my wonderful intern who has been such a blessing to the music therapy program this year.

I am infinitely grateful to my colleagues and students for providing me with such an amazing, challenging, rewarding, overwhelming, fun, and educational experience these past four years.  My work at Hope not only gave me credibility in my community, but it also connected me with so many people who enriched my life and opened the door to countless opportunities.

I’m going to miss this place.  But as sad as I am to be leaving, I’m equally excited about this new chapter in my life.  Going full-time with my private practice will be a challenge, to be sure, but it will also allow me the flexibility and free time I’ve not had thus far in my career.

June 2 is my last official day at Hope.  I’m going to enjoy this final month to the fullest, and then prepare for what promises to be quite an exciting adventure.  I hope you’ll come along with me.

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