Tag Archives: music

Making Beethoven Proud

PLAYING PIANO 1

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.  -Eleanor Roosevelt

There are those who scoff at the notion of “having a dream;” at the idea of following your passion. They say it is a foolish waste of time. They are the ones who follow the safe path. And I am very sorry for those people; because a life worth living is so much more than taking the cautious route and steering clear of daring choices. It is challenging yourself to try new things and when people smirk and ask, “What makes you think you can do these things?” you simply answer, “What makes you think I can’t?”

My son, Brian, has had a dream since he was a kid to become a filmmaker. He made movies on a $25 Digital Blue video camera we bought him for Christmas one year. He and his younger brother, Peter, and their friend, Alex, would post signs around the neighborhood announcing casting auditions for their upcoming projects. These signs also promised concessions which Alex’s mother learned while driving down the street one day, catching sight of one of the signs. We laughed when she informed me about the concessions and wondered if they were just planning on raiding our pantries for half-empty boxes of stale crackers and a few rogue pieces of old Easter candy hidden behind cans of tomato sauce. There was never a real need to worry, though, because no one ever showed up for their auditions. Ever. That didn’t deter them, though. The boys just ended up playing several parts. Or twins – that option was always on the table. And I believe that someday, those kids from long ago who laughed at ours for thinking they could be anything special will regret not having been a part of those early dreams.

Brian did pursue his dream. He is a filmmaker. And an award-winning one at that. He is now in the process of shooting his thesis film for his MFA degree and this short film will blow you away. It is a story of perseverance. It is a story of overcoming adversity. And it is a story of choosing to see the beauty in our world when only darkness surrounds you. It is the story of a young music prodigy who must come to terms with a devastating loss suffered following a brutal assault. It is a story of the power of the human spirit to rise and conquer.

I am immensely proud of him and his beautiful talent. His short film, Making Beethoven Proud, is making this mama very proud. 😌

A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work.  -Colin Powell

 

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EXPLAIN YOURSELF!

 

I’ve heard this question or some variation of it more times than I can count on my fingers (and toes). And every time I hear it, I just think of Benjamin trying to answer questions about his future. Because when someone asks me a question like that, they’re not just curious – they want an explanation, dammit! Explain yourself! And the truth is that I can’t really explain it. My goals in life aren’t confined to a paycheck. A few weeks ago, an older fella (and by older, I mean forty-something) was asking me about my major. And, word for word, this is what he said:

“Well yeah I know you’re studying music, but, are you actually gonna DO something? I mean, you can’t make a living by playing music.”

In his mind, playing music isn’t actually doing something. It’s not a contribution to society. And he’s not alone. There are a whole lot of people who think the same thing. If I don’t have a business model or some smarty-pants math equation to back it up, I might as well just be a bum. I shook it off because I’ve heard that reaction countless times, but it actually is pretty insulting to me. You wanna know what I’m gonna do with my degree? Here, I’ll tell you:

I’m going to be happy for the rest of my life.

Music isn’t just something that I’m interested in. It’s not just something that I’m really good at. It’s not just something that makes me happy. It’s not even just something that I care deeply about. Simply put, music is a calling. Believe me, there have been times when I wanted to do anything but music. There have been times when I’ve flubbed rehearsals or auditions. My audition at Indiana University was a colossal flub. If music was something I was only interested in, I would’ve quit back in high school. I’ve never been able to get away from music because I’ve always been called back. Music is a calling.

I was in the Hawkeye Marching Band my sophomore year. The Hawkeye Drumline (HDL is what the cool people call it) does a 10-15 minute show of its own before the game. One time after an HDL show, some lady who was probably like 105 years old came up to me and said, “I just love watching the drums. It makes me so happy!” And that’s why this all makes sense to me.

I don’t just play music for myself. As much as I truly enjoy playing for myself, that’s not what I’ve been called to do. I play music because it makes people happy. I do what I do because this world would be a sad, sad place without music. I play music because my parents told me that I have a gift I can share. I play music because I would be tremendously miserable doing anything else. As Paul Simon puts it, “Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” I love music with all my heart and soul. So the next time someone sarcastically asks me, “What are you gonna do with THAT degree?” I’ll just say, “I’m gonna be happy for the rest of my life.”

 

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Once A Hawkeye…

IOWA HAWKEYE

So, my baby graduated from college, marking the end of a parenting era for us. Four up, four down. Four Hawkeyes. When I tell people that all of our kids attended the University of Iowa, they naturally wonder if my husband and I had also attended. And…no we hadn’t. We actually both went to Loyola University of Chicago. Iowa just sort of…happened. Continue reading

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The Partial Daisy

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How hard is too hard to push your kids?  Where is the line between letting them just be kids and insisting they be involved in activities?  When our oldest son, Mike, was young, we thought it was very important for him to participate in sports. It seemed only natural to sign him up for baseball and soccer every summer, spring, and fall.  As he grew older, he added basketball to his list.  At the same time, my husband and I wanted him to learn piano and drums and play in the school band, so that was just more to add to the calendar.  Of course, he also took swimming lessons every summer and attended tennis camps, as well as scouting.  He was going to be a well-rounded kid if it killed us. Continue reading

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Never Say Never…Or How I Came To Celebrate my Daughter’s Birthday

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“Your next one will be a girl.” I laughed and said, “I’m not brave enough to take that chance!” After all, that prediction was uttered by a superstitious woman from the old country, after studying the swirl of hair on my infant son’s head. Based on the direction of the swirl, she was quite confident in her assertion. I was most definitely going to have another child and it would most definitely be female. Based on the fact that I was holding my third son in my arms, I was quite confident that she was a certified loony. For one thing, another child was the furthest thing from my mind. I mean little Petey was only six months old. And, ummm….a girl?? Yeah, pretty sure that wasn’t gonna happen. I mean, I had boys. I was used to boys. I was a “boy mom”. Though there was a female presence in my family growing up (I did have a mother and a sister, after all), the male presence was far more overpowering – a dad and five brothers. I was a tomboy as a kid. Boys never intimidated me. I kind of knew how they worked. But a girl?? That was outside my comfort zone. Yes, I know I am a girl, but I was never really into girly things. I’d be a terrible girl mom. Of that I was sure.

So, that said…today my husband, my three sons and I celebrate my daughter’s twenty-second birthday. That’s right. Two and a half years after that fateful prediction, we welcomed little Mary Kathryn into the family. A few months before she made her grand entrance into the world (and before ultrasounds were routine procedures) a co-worker in my office casually asked to see my hands. Not sure of her reason for the strange request, I held out both hands for her to view. “You’re going to have a girl,” she announced. Wait. What? Yes, because I held my hands out palms down, she was able to determine that a pink bundle was on its way. Laughing it off, I later told my oldest son, Mike, about the prediction of a little sister. He was beside himself. “You did WHAT? How could you?” The sound of horror in his voice made me think that maybe I shouldn’t have been so reckless in my hand display. What madness had I unleashed?

I reassured him that silly superstitions were just that – silly and meaningless. But, I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure when, on November 6, 1994, after a relatively quick labor, the doctor announced, “We gotta girl!” Yikes. I tried to do all the things moms of girls do. I can remember trying to fix her hair in super cute ways before school (well, they were super cute in my head, anyway) but never achieving the desired look and ending with a slapped together ponytail and an apology, “I’m sorry Mary Kate. I’m not a very good girl mom.” And she’d try to soothe my failure with, “That’s okay” as she’d head through the school doors.

So, while it’s true that I might have been lacking in girl skills, she can’t deny that I equipped her with more important life skills at a young age, like when she was desperate to quit the rockestra band at school but wasn’t sure how because the band teacher simply would not allow it. She tried to explain to him that she was not quitting the whole band and that she had every intention of continuing band in high school. She has even gone on to pursue her Bachelor of Music degree in college, and is in her year senior year as a percussion performance major at the University of Iowa. But he would have none of it. I understood where he was coming from. You hate to allow a young kid to quit things when the going gets tough. Especially something like music, which is always hard, but important to keep at it if even a spark of talent shines through. But, quite honestly, after fourteen years with kids in the band, I was okay with her letting go of this particular commitment. She was desperate to find a solution. So, I told her after careful consideration, there was only one logical way this was gonna happen. She would have to fake her own death. “I can do that,” she confidently assured me.

Twenty-two years of having a girl and I still don’t think I’m a very good girl mom. We bond over trashy reality TV, terribly acted Lifetime Movies and true murder shows. She now knows what NOT to do to pull off the perfect murder. But, I think we both agree that being a little edgy is a heck of a lot more fun than getting the pigtails right. This is what she tweeted for MotherYOU TRIED

And our exchange on Facebook in response to that tweet:

Mary Kate Naughton: looooove yooouuuu 🙂

Marilyn Toner Naughton: Ahhhh, ain’t love grand?
Mary Kate Naughton: to be fair, you responded with “I hate you”
Yeah, I’d say we have a pretty awesome mother-daughter thing going on. Happy Birthday Mary Kate!! And ya know what? I’m glad Peter’s hair swirled just the right way and I held my hands out palms down.  🙂

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Mistaeks Happen…

BIG BROTHER SUPER HERO 2What perfect timing. In my almost twenty-nine years of mothering, I have joked more times than I can count about the role my children have played in my financial and emotional  ruin. Without kids, I’m sure I would have been a millionaire several times over by now. That was the plan, after all. I would have been living a life of ease, free from the stress of homework, finals, report cards, working concessions, fighting over practicing the piano, keeping track of schedules for football, track, baseball, basketball, volleyball, various summer camps, drum lessons, dreaded piano lessons, school plays, ACTs, college applications, the constant need for hair color, etc, etc. I can actually feel a headache coming on as I stroll down memory lane. But, of course the truth is that, as I’ve also said (maybe not as many times, admittedly), my kids are the best thing that ever happened to me. Yes, every heartache, every tear, every worry and fear, but also every belly laugh and every moment of beaming pride.

So here’s where the perfect timing comes in. As many of you know, my two youngest, Peter and Mary Kate, are both studying percussion performance in school. Peter paved the way in the Percussion Studio at the University of Iowa, and his little sister happily followed in his footsteps three years later. The one year they were together in Iowa City marked the first time siblings had ever studied and performed together in the studio. The head of the Percussion Department had some hesitation about the possible head-butting, rivalry and competition that could arise as a result of admitting siblings and during her audition, questioned Mary Kate about just how solid the relationship with her brother was. Her response was that they were very close and shared a love for music. Peter was her role model. He has since gone on to pursue his Master’s Degree in Percussion Performance at the University of Tennessee, but returned to Iowa City this weekend to perform in the Last Chance Percussion Ensemble Concert (so named because it is the last chance music students have to earn concert attendance credit before the end of the semester). This final concert of the year is open to interested alumni of the studio to perform alongside current members, including You-Know-Who (Baby Sister).

I texted Mary Kate last night to ask how the concert had gone and the following was our exchange that took place:

MK: I just played really bad at Last Chance. It took all my willpower not to cry afterwards. It was really only one mistake, but it was super noticeable and I was especially upset because I wanted to play well for Peter.

ME: Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry 😦  Did anyone say anything about it? Maybe it wasn’t really that bad.

MK: Everyone just said good job. I talked to Ben (her TA) and he said it was only one mistake and the rest was really good. He said I shouldn’t be upset. Pete thought it sounded good, so that makes me happy.

I then texted Peter to let him know how much his presence and kind words meant to her and this was our exchange:

PETE: Honestly, she played really well. Mistakes are much more noticeable when you’re the one playing. She shouldn’t get hung up on it. It was a good performance.

ME: Your approval means a lot to her. She wants you to be proud of her.

PETE: I am!! I thought she did a great job. And I saw her recital (which had been streamed live, two weeks ago) and she was awesome!

I thought Mary Kate’s desire to perform well for her brother was so sweet and his response that he is proud of her, even better. Both conversations were great, but ya know what the best part was? Peter’s response that it was just a mistake and usually the mistake is only noticeable to the one making it. And most importantly…that she shouldn’t get hung up on it. I mean…right??? A great piece of advice for us all.

So, nodding off to sleep last night, I felt pretty good. Life throws a heck of a lot of curve-balls your way. Things often don’t go as planned (my life as a millionaire, for example). But we can’t get hung up on it. You pick up where you left off and move on, and maybe no one will notice the mistakes.

Happy Mother’s Day and remember…don’t get hung up on the mistakes – on the ones we make as we muddle through parenting or on the ones our kids are bound to make as they struggle to make their way in life.

PS: The text messages above were edited for punctuation and spelling, in case anyone was wondering…

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Hey Music, What Have You Done For Me Lately?

 

MUSIC SYMBOLS

Why would anyone study music? I know these words have been uttered countless times by miserable high schoolers, forced to take a Music Appreciation class or participate in Band. I would venture to say that most kids who make up the various bands in school do so because:

1.  Mom and Dad are making them do it.

2. They have an interest in playing an instrument but have no plans to pursue music, because…HELLO… they plan to actually make money.

3. It’s a social outlet. These kids, by the way, are the thorns in the sides of band directors everywhere and the few kids (like my own) who take it seriously, because they NEVER practice. And…

4. They love music and want to live a life in music.

To those who fall into category #4, the following is not only understood, it is fully embraced. But it is to the rest of the school band population, as well as the population at large, who often question the sanity of someone who would choose to study music, that the following is addressed. Hopefully,  they will come to appreciate the complexity of music and, perhaps, understand the wonderfully rewarding answer my musician son gives when asked the question he’s heard over and over again: What are you going to do with that degree? Answer? “I’m going to be happy for the rest of my life.”

 

MUSIC FACT

MUSIC IS A SCIENCE

It is exact, specific; and it demands exact acoustics. A conductor’s full score is a chart, a graph which indicates frequencies, intensities, volume changes, melody, and harmony all at once and with the most exact control of time.

MUSIC IS MATHEMATICAL

It is rhythmically based on the subdivisions of time into fractions which must be done instantaneously, not worked out on paper.

MUSIC IS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE

Most of the terms are in Italian, German, or French; and the notation is certainly not English but a highly developed kind of shorthand that uses symbols to represent ideas. The semantics of music is the most complete and universal language.

MUSIC IS PHYSICAL EDUCATION

It requires fantastic coordination of fingers, hands, arms, lip, cheek, and facial muscles, in addition to extraordinary control of the abdominal, back, stomach, and chest muscles which respond instantly to the sound the ear hears and the mind interprets.

MUSIC IS ALL THESE THINGS, BUT MOST OF ALL, MUSIC IS ART

It allows a human being to take all these dry, technically boring to some (but difficult) techniques and use them to create emotion. That is one thing science cannot duplicate: humanism, feeling, emotion – call it what you will.

THAT IS WHY WE STUDY MUSIC!

Not because we expect you to major in music.

Not because we expect you to play or sing all your life (though you certainly can!)

Not so you can relax.

Not so you can have fun.

But so you will be human; so you will recognize beauty; so you will be sensitive; so you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world; so you will have something to cling to; so you will have more love, more compassion, more gentleness, more good – in short, more life.

Of what value will it be to make a prosperous living, unless you know how to live?






 

 

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