Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Best Years of My Life

The best years of my life? That's a hard question. Here are the options:

My pre-school years were the best years of my life.

Sure, I was born four weeks early and had to spend a week in the hospital getting into fighting shape, but I was born to a great family! I had an older brother that loved having me around, and we lived in a great area. My parents moved us to another great area in Michigan just a few months later, which was even better! Now I was closer to my extended family, who all loved me and wanted to hold me.

And what could make it better? A little sister! A little baby sister that my brother and I fawned over. Someone that we spoke up for and did everything for, even when we probably should have been letting her do it herself. I got to spend all day every day with my mother, and my father was home for short periods throughout every day so I got to see him too! I got to go to work with Dad sometimes, and I'd spin in his spinny chair and crawl under the church pews.

Yup, before I went to school, I was having the best years of my life.

Or...

My elementary school years were the best years of my life.

Before school started, I was stuck at home ALL. THE. TIME. Now that I was in school, I got to go with my big brother and have a backpack and take a lunch in a really cool cartoon lunchbox! I learned how to read and devoured book after book after book. My family added a baby brother - the cutest baby on the face of the earth, mind you - but I didn't have to hear him cry all the time because I was at school!

I got to play sports, and I loved volleyball and basketball! We were really good, too - we almost won the volleyball championship once! I started learning how to play piano, and "Freight Train" was the best piano song of all time. I learned how to ride a bike and I learned the route from home to the library so I could go whenever I wanted and get a backpack full of books!

I got to sing solos in school plays, got really good grades, played tons of "Oregon Trail" on the computer, and had really good friends - including my little sister! My mom showed what a good musician was all about, so I joined the Junior Bell Choir and Senior Choir as soon as I could!

The local sports teams started winning championships when I was in elementary school: Michigan won the 1997 National Championship in football, the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 1997 and 1998. I started watching ESPN and SportsCenter became my favorite show. My Dad took me to sports games and taught me everything he knew. Though I loved sports, I still watched a lot of Arthur and Magic School Bus in the mornings, followed by Rugrats, Doug, Animaniacs, and Tiny Toons in the afternoons.

Plus, Star Wars came back, and my Dad took me to see it in the theaters...at 4:00 a.m! On a school night!

Yup, my elementary school years were the best years of my life.

Or...

My high school years were the best years of my life.

Ever since I can remember, my parents talked all about Michigan Lutheran Seminary. We went to football games and concerts, and I loved making the trip up the highway to that big campus.

So as soon as I graduated from elementary school, I was ready to hitchhike up to Saginaw! And those years did not disappoint.

As soon as I got there, I became the manager of the girls' basketball team. I stuck with that job my whole high school career - freshman team, JV team, and Varsity team for two years. I never regretted that decision, because I made my closest high school friends and had some incredible experiences. Our team went to the state quarterfinals both years of Varsity, and we won the conference! The team had more superfans than the men's team, and they followed us all over the state, packing the gyms with more visitors than home fans!

I got to be in both spring sports - softball for two years (once year as a STUDENT COACH - something that I'd never seen before!), and then track for two years, where I improved in my skills so quickly that I got to go to some of the weekend meets and get medals!

Oh, and did I mention I also was the watergirl for the football team - one year of JV and one year of Varsity - before becoming their statistician with my best friend and roommate? I got a letter in football!

Not only did I do a ton of sports, I also got to be in two musicals and the first MLS Children's Theater production EVER! In one of the musicals I got a solo! I really liked being behind-the-scenes, too.

And let's not forget the choirs. I was in Concert Choir and we went on tour all the way down to Florida, and then we went east to Pennsylvania. I saw so many amazing sights on those tours! We sang some beautiful songs, and I was asked to be a STUDENT CONDUCTOR for two pieces when our director couldn't be with us on our senior tour. That was when I realized what I wanted to do when I grew up!

My grades were pretty good, too. I really enjoyed my professors and learned a lot of stuff. During the last two years I was there parts of the school were remodeled and I got to use the new additions my senior year. They were so awesome!

My first year my big brother took me under his wing and we hung out all the time! We even had regular Wednesday walks to the local comic book shop and we would talk about everything! Then my last two years my sister was there, and it was so great watching her play volleyball and be in the plays and musicals!

I got to play organ all four years - you usually have to wait till sophomore year to start organ! I got to play in morning chapel a ton of times, and accompanied a few choirs. And when I graduated, I got to play the final hymn in the graduation service.

Yup, I loved high school. Those were the best years of my life.

Or...

My college years were the best years of my life.

High school was just the beginning. College was amazing. I had a car on campus and could drive anywhere, from Mankato to Minneapolis and all the way to Wisconsin if I wanted to see my Grama! I loved driving all night to get back home, and see Chicago in the dead of night.

The campus was so much bigger than MLS! Their fitness center was HUGE! I was there all the time, and loved every minute of it. I kind of had to, because the cafeteria was also awesome, and a lot of times they would have peppermint bon-bon ice cream (AKA mint chip) and I would always get a cone. In my fifth year they had late-night caf hours, and you could get chicken strips whenever you wanted!

I learned so much in those five years. My education classes gave me a good start in what to expect as a teacher, but it was my hours in real classrooms that let me see what teaching was like. I loved my student teaching experience.

But I had a double major, and all the music knowledge I gained there was incredible. I didn't think I could learn any more about music, and then I did! I got my first conducting baton, and got to direct the College Choir for my Advanced Conducting class! I got to spend a whole semester doing the music at a church and school, and I had two hours every DAY when I could practice organ!

I still stayed involved in drama - I acted in a musical, a Shakespearean outdoor production, and a Children's Theater weekend before becoming the producer of a Reader's Theater event. I met so many amazing and talented people in those years.

I also met my lifelong friends in those years. We hung out all the time! I was roommates with one of them for two years, and the only reason we didn't stay roommates after that was because we both became RAs. The five of us went on trips, camped, went to the orchestra, and cheered each other on in whatever we were doing! I'm still friends with all of them today.

I got to be in the College Choir for four out my five years. I got to accompany the choir twice and go on four tours, covering the western US, the midwest, and Mexico! The host families we stayed with were incredible, and we would be served so much amazing food. The pieces we sang brought my choral experience to a whole other level.

I really became outgoing in college, and was confident in so many things. Those were the best years of my life.

Or...

My twenties are the best years of my life.

I thought I was good at stuff in college. And then I got better at them after I left. Take organ playing. I was only starting to scratch the surface of my abilities in college. Now I am playing large pieces with confidence. I can put together difficult pieces in a shorter amount of time. I am being asked to play for large weddings on large organs.

My conducting skills have also improved. I've conducted Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" as well as a 50-person choir for a Reformation service and a couple of Advent concerts. I have organized countless church services and choir pieces. I would have freaked out with that much responsibility in college!

I have my own place, and I have two cats that love me to bits. I can take vacations to wherever I want, and I have! I've visited Walt Disney World five times in five years and made a part-time career blogging about it. I've spent time in China and the Czech Republic. I've been able to fly around the country and support my family as they take on new endeavors.

I have made new friends and kept the old ones close to me, as well. I've learned how to be a better friend, and can't believe people were friends with me when I had no social skills and probably said some pretty stupid things to them.

I've learned how to be a better teacher, too. I've learned to appreciate my coworkers and ask them for advice. I've learned how to communicate better with teachers and students, and I know that I still have a lot to learn about teaching.

All the stuff I learned from birth on up till college made me who I am today. So without a doubt, these years are the best years of my life. I'm going to try to enjoy them as much as I can. And when I'm feeling down, I'm going to come back and read this article and realize all the blessings God has given me in life, and thank Him as much as I can for all that he's done, and all he will do for me in the future!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Procrastinator's Movie Review: Non-Stop

Non-Stop

Release Date: February 28, 2014

Who was in that one again? Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery

I can't remember the plot. A US Air Marshal (Neeson) goes on a trans-Atlantic flight to London and someone texts him, saying he'll kill one person every 20 minutes if 150 million dollars isn't put into an account. Unfortunately for the Marshal, all signs point to him being responsible for these problems.

The review: It takes a lot for me to watch a movie at home, start to finish, without picking up my tablet or computer and browsing. I don't lose any plot points because I kind of already know what's going on.

Not in this movie. I stayed focused on it from start to finish, and I still was second-guessing who the hijacker was. Was it Neeson's character? The stewardess? The other Marshal? The cop? The redhead? This is definitely not a predictable movie. Great action, not too much gore, and very much a thrill. I love thrillers.

MVP: I'll give it to the screenwriter, who makes the audience change their minds over and over again about the responsible party.

Blurb Musing Rating (out of five): Four and-a-half transatlantic flights. If you haven't seen it, you should! (Unless you don't like flying in the first place.)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Listen, Perform, Conduct - A Game!

If you have ever participated in a teenage sleepover - or at least surfed on the Internet for random, stupid things - you have probably come across the game that I am going to tweak a bit today. The game has been known for its many forms (some of which I can't type here), but the basic premise is that you're offered three people, and you have to decide which one you'll marry, which one you'd date, and which one you'd kill.

This can be a very difficult game for some people, especially because one of the choices has a very negative result. If you have three people that you like, how can you choose the one you'd kill?

Let's be rational here for a second: you'll never kill this person - and it's highly unlikely that you'd marry or date the other two (especially if they're celebrities). But why don't we take this game and play it to my strengths?

Namely, a music game?

I came up with this when I was flying back from Minneapolis and a great weekend with my family. My downloaded episode of Doctor Who wouldn't play, and so I put on my iPod and listened to some music for the brief flight home to Denver. One of my favorite songs came up, and I imagined myself at the podium, conducting the whole thing from start to finish.

Another piece came up, and I realized I couldn't imagine myself conducting it. I would never have the talent to perform it, either. The only way I could really enjoy the piece was if I was listening to it.

And thus, my new game - "Listen, Perform, Conduct" - was born.

I'll take three pieces each time and categorize them. Are your opinions different? Be sure to tell me below. Give me more music suggestions on my Facebook page, facebook.com/blurbmusings, too.

Listen
"Bolero" by Maurice Ravel

I have actually heard this piece performed live by the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, and I have never had my breath taken away by a piece like I did for this. The slow, deliberate pace set by the snare drum and the soft, passionate notes played by the instruments draws you in, and then before you know it, the whole feel has changed to this rolling, thundering piece while still playing the same themes over and over again! I would watch this piece performed over and over and over again. It's way too much fun to sit back and feel the crescendo and acceleration pound over you!


Perform
"Us" by Regina Spektor

The year after I left MLC, I watched video a group perform "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay at the Winter Carnival Talent Show - and they had all the instruments, including the drum, piano, and strings. I thought it was so awesome that they were able to replicate the piece so well, even with the difficult arrangement.

After that, I started picking certain songs on my playlists and arranging them for the MLC stage, and this was one of the easiest. On one side, the piano. In the middle, the string group. And on the right, the singer. I don't really mind which part I would perform, but I will say that I do enjoy singing this song in the car, especially because it's in my range.

Too bad my college days are over.


Perform
"Medley: I Saw Three Ships/Joy to the World" by Michael W. Smith

This is the one that I was listening to on the plane. As a matter of fact, I listened to it twice. I could almost feel the conductor's baton in my hand. I know I'm not a symphonic conductor, but you wouldn't need to ask me twice to conduct this piece. 

There is so much to this piece. The crescendo is huge! Then the Celtic woodwinds come in softly! Then the piano rolls on! Then the piece blows open! 

Is it sad I want to do this at a WELS Worship Conference sometime, with the Lutheran Ceili Orchestra and an orchestra of Lutheran musicians? It would be so much fun.

(PS. I know it's Christmas. I just listened to a couple things. Still not full-time.)

Any suggestions for pieces I should categorize in my new game? Comment below and let me know - I'm sure it will be a struggle to find a place for each piece!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

All the World's A Stage for This Family

This weekend marks the end of an era in my family. We are all gathering in Minnesota to watch the youngest member of our family in the final musical performance of his school career.

Musicals have always been a huge part of my family's life. We were raised to love musical theater and saw many touring productions that came through Detroit. While our mother can be credited for passing down her singing and acting talent that she used when she was growing up, our father gave us our passion for musicals. He never acted in his life, but he has known and loved musicals since he was a kid, and that love has not waned.

Viewing Musical Theater

The earliest musical I can remember loving was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Other musicals that I was aware of, like Oklahoma! and The Music Man and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers were from thirty or forty years earlier, and Joseph seemed like a new-fangled kind of musical (even though it actually was born in the 1970s). My parents bought the CD that had Donny Osmond as Joseph, and the four of us learned it all. We would stage performances in our living room, blast the CD, and sing along with songs like "Jacob and Sons," "Go Go Go Joseph," and "Song of the King."

To our complete surprise, our parents surprised the three oldest children - myself and my sister and older brother - with tickets to see Osmond as Joseph at the Masonic Temple Theater. It was my first professional musical, and it was colorful and beautiful and awesome. We got to dress up in our fancy church clothes, we got to be in Detroit after dark, and we got to stay up late!

Other highlights of my musical theater upbringing include traveling to Toronto to see their long-running production of The Phantom of the Opera, going into hostile territory to see Beauty and the Beast (and by "hostile territory," I meant "MSU campus"), and seeing my favorite musical of all time - Les Miserables - from the second row, watching the spit spew from the actors' mouths.

Our love didn't just stop at live musical theater. Lately we've made sure to see many of the movie adaptations, too. One of my favorite movies of all time is Mary Poppins. My sister saw Hairspray in the theater an uncountable amount of times (6? 7? More?). My dad saw Les Miserables just as many times. We already have plans to see Into the Woods once we're all together at Christmas.

Speaking of Into the Woods...

Being in Musical Theater

We did a lot of little musicals in grade school - most of which featured a big blue songbook named Psalty. It gave us plenty of experience in acting and singing - and for me, experience in losing out on roles. I remember one year when I was stuck with a chorus role while my brother and sister had main speaking parts. I was pretty bummed.

However, the following year we did The Pied Piper, which was probably the most ambitious grade school musical we ever did. It was during my brother's 8th grade year, and he was the one who donned the tights of the Pied Piper. We had a fancy backdrop, props, costumes, and spotlights! Better yet, I got a speaking role and a solo. My first solo! "A rat! A rat! I saw a horrid rat!"

My brother continued the acting in high school, where he was in the chorus of 42nd Street his freshman year, followed by the role of the butler Franz in The Sound of Music his junior year. I also enjoyed high school musicals (no, not that one - well, yes, that one, but not right now), being in the Whoverville chorus (and the NYC Star-To-Be) in Annie my sophomore year, followed by the chorus in Annie Get Your Gun my senior year. When I was a senior, my sister was a sophomore, and she was tapped to play Dolly Tate a week before the premiere because the original Dolly got in a car accident and was out of commission for a few weeks. She did an amazing job.

In the fall of 2003, I was a freshman in college and my older brother was a senior. He was the director of the fall musical, Into the Woods, which I'd never heard of but quickly grew to love. I auditioned, and was chosen from the directorial staff (there were five people in that committee!) to play three minor roles: Cindrella's mother, the Giantess, and Little Red Riding Hood's Granny. While the production had its challenges, I had an absolute ball. The entire production was student-run, and it was really cool to see my brother in a role of authority. I learned a lot about productions from those months.

As our college was putting on the production, my alma mater was doing the same musical a week after us, and my sister was chosen to be Cinderella! Their production was far different from ours, since they had a lot more adults chipping in with costumes and sets and props. But the overall ideas of the musical was still the same. My sister also did theater in college, performing in Bye Bye Birdie before trying her own hand at directing the winter play her senior year and acting in Children's Theater.

But the musical bug had been successfully passed to our little brother. He acted productions like Guys and Dolls in high school and She Loves Me in college. When they decided to do Singin' in the Rain his sophomore year, he was set on being Cosmo Brown...and he was!

Ten years after my older brother directed Into the Woods, the college decided to do it again...and my little brother was the director this time around. While I wasn't able to be there in person, I heard they did a great job.

Finally, we come to this year. The college is doing The Music Man, and my brother is one of the scene-stealers as he is in the barbershop quartet. My parents and siblings will all be there to look back at our past musical productions with fondness and close this era in our acting careers.