Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bull in a China Shop

One of Brent's favorite piano solos was called "Bull in a China Shop" by George Anson. Mrs. Trinkle was one smart piano teacher. Brent was a reluctant musician at best. But how could he resist a piano solo that encouraged some calculated banging around on the piano?

A few years ago, Brent told us: "Giving me piano lessons was kind of like throwing money down the drain."

I gave him an unqualified, "No, it wasn't!" And I still believe that, even though he probably hasn't touched a piano since he left the confines of Mrs. Trinkle's piano studio at her Preston farm house. He draws the same conclusion about his few years of mother-imposed voice lessons. (Wasn't I a mean mother, trying to instill a little music appreciation in my children?)
1997 piano recital - Jill and Brent with Mrs. Dorothy Trinkle, their piano teacher.
However, those music lessons probably helped Brent learn his trombone and Jill learn the clarinet in the school band. Research shows that music also helps students comprehend math, which is no small thing when half their genetic pool included a math-challenged mother. ACT scores for high school musicians are typically higher than their peers. 
A 2007 Harris Interactive Poll of working adults indicated that music education impacted five skill areas: ability to work toward common goals, striving for excellence in group settings, disciplined approach to solving problems, creative problem solving and flexibility in work situations.
Harris Interactive Poll, 2007
Sometimes I wonder why I continue accompanying at school. I especially wonder it on days like this one when we are at the Heart of the Plains League middle school music festival, and my nerves kick in. We'll be at the school by 6:30 and on the bus by 6:45 AM for the trip to Burrton. 

This is my 18th year accompanying for Stafford Schools. I don't have nearly as many accompaniments to play this year. But, for this Type A personality perfectionist, I still want to do my very best to accompany the students who've made the commitment to music this year. I certainly would prefer not to have an unintentional reenactment of "Bull in a China Shop."

I love music. That's why I do it. I certainly have no illusions that I am the most competent accompanist around. The paycheck I open each month doesn't come close to covering the gas it takes to drive to town, the interruption to the day or the investment of practice time at home that is never covered by a time sheet. So I look at my time at school as community service and a way to share my love of music with others.

Music isn't really about black notes on a white page. It isn't just about breathing correctly (though it certainly helps). You can know the right fingering to play a "C" or "D" on a trumpet or clarinet and still not truly make music.

True music is found in the crescendos and decrescendos. It's found in the pianissimo and the double forte. It's found in telling the story through song.

It's a story that's told at middle school music festivals ... and at high school regionals ... and in church choir lofts ... and singing in the shower or as you drive down a country road. 

And, even if those middle school musicians some day think that their time practicing for a solo was like throwing time straight down the drain, I hope they'll remember a piano player beside them who cared about them and cared about the music. 

Won't you say a little prayer for our middle school musicians today? (And one for Mr. Westbrook and me would be nice, too. Thanks, friends!)
Marc Chagall stained glass windows at the Art Institute of Chicago
Play the music, not the instrument.
~Author Unknown


  1. I know that some of those musicians will remember you fondly in years to come. Even now, almost 50 years later, I remember the woman who accompanied me at my 1st junior high music contest. Mrs. Longwood gave me confidence from the start & impressed me when she forgot the music, but was able to play it from memory along with me. Thanks for caring about the kids & the music.

  2. I hope so, Debora! It's a good thing I didn't forget my bag of music yesterday. There's no way I could do that! I'm lucky to hit most of the notes with the music in front of me! We had a good day, and I am proud of the students. Thanks to everyone for their prayers!