Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Procrastinator's Movie Review: Whiplash


Release Date: October 15, 2014

Who was in that one again? Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

I can't remember the plot. A really good jazz drummer attends a conservatory and gets pulled into the top shelf jazz group with a conductor that will do anything to weed out the weak and bring out the best in the strong.

The review: I have to admit, I was really riding the emotional train on this movie. You hate Terrence Fletcher from the very first minute of the movie, and your hatred grows even more, and then you kind of understand him, but then you hate him, and then you find out he was lying when you had that moment of "understanding him," and then you're pleased because he got what he deserved, and then you think you understand him better than the first time, and then you HATE HIM WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, and then you actually do understand him. And then the movie's done.

That's pretty much the mindset of Andrew Niemann, the hotshot drummer played by Teller, as well. And by the end of the movie you're thankful for those moments of almost-levity, because if you were surfing on a wave of hatred for the entire movie you'd probably have to eat a pound of chocolate to make yourself feel better.

The idea is hard to grasp - you have to push someone past their breaking point to see if they can overcome and achieve the greatness you feel they have inside. This could have been a movie with any plot device at its base: basketball, writing, technology, etc. But since they chose jazz ensemble music, it hit me a little harder.

As a conductor, I have a reason to give my all in my music: I give it my all to serve my Savior. If I was a musician in the real world (as is the case in this movie) there has to be some other motivation to be the greatest and do the greatest work you can. It is an interesting, yet depressing thought.

However, the final piece at the very end of the movie was such a rush of adrenaline. The motivation was achieved horribly, but the triumph almost makes up for the horribleness. Almost.

MVP: They may have given the Oscar to Simmons, but Teller was the one that actually had to play the drums. I'm sure he didn't do all of it, but he did enough to earn my praise. So many actors "play" the instruments and I can always tell when they're not. Teller did it, and did it awesomely.

Blurb Musing Rating (out of five): Four bloody drum kits. (That's not a British swear word - they're literally bloody.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

I Can't Let It Go

This is a post for all you teachers.

We routinely have children that come and complain to us about things. Some things are understandable, and are dealt with accordingly. Some are ridiculous. ("She's looking at me weird!")

When those ridiculous complaints come to us, we might calmly mention that it's not a big deal and we'll keep our eye on it. If they don't stop, then we might have to resort to telling them "You can just let it go."

Or at least we used to be able to say that.

Thanks to that song from Frozen, a teacher's go-to phrase has now turned into an invitation for children to sing. As a music teacher I should be thrilled, but these random bursts of song usually come when other children are in a grumpy mood and just don't want to hear it.

Child can't get over a call made in four square.

Teacher: "Just let it go!"

Other children: "Let it gooooo, let it gooooo! Can't hold it back anymooooooore!"

Child gets in argument with another child and teacher takes care of it. Child still brings up the argument.

Teacher: "I took care of it - you can let it go!"

Other children: "Let it goooooo, let it goooooo! Turn away and slam the dooooooor!"

Children both claim an object and are playing tug-of-war.

Teacher: "One of you has to let it go!"

Other children: "Let it go! Let the storm rage oooooooooooooon! The cold never bothered me anyway."

Usually I try to adjust the wording a little bit so that they don't get inspired to break out their inner Elsa. But sometimes I'm not thinking and let the words tumble out of my mouth. I barely get time to realize my mistake when three or four kids break out into song.

If they do start and it's not during a class period, I usually let them sing the refrain and then tell them to stop. It's strange, though; many of them claim to dislike the movie, yet those are the ones that usually start singing the song!

I'm sure you have a similar story, whether you're a teacher, a parent, or know an adult who loves Disney movies and will pretty much sing anything when inspired. (Perhaps that's you yourself!) Just keep in mind to choose your words wisely, or face the threat of a snow song that will never let it go.


Sigh...not again...

Monday, March 16, 2015

No Bracket? No Problem

I am not doing an NCAA tournament bracket this year.

This might be the first time in 20 years that I haven't filled out a bracket - I've been filling them out since I was in the middle grades. Most of the time, my pick was Michigan, which meant they always disappointed me even more than usual.

But this year, after an entire season of not following college basketball, I decided that it wasn't worth it to make a bracket this year. I have a few reasons why.

I have no vested interest in any of the teams.

Michigan didn't make the cut. I can't name any players on any other team. All I know is that Kentucky is undefeated and Wisconsin is the Big Ten's hope of taking the championship.

Too much knowledge has failed me in the past, but this year a lack of knowledge is just making me care less.

It will allow me to enjoy the games more.

When it came to a close game in the opening rounds, I was usually on pins and needles, wondering if the team I picked would win. Now I will get to just sit back and enjoy the game for what it is, instead of worrying about how it's going to affect my bracket.

I get to live vicariously through other's pain and joy.

My students are each filling out a bracket and I'm monitoring their progress. Since these kids are 8-11 years old, they have even less knowledge of the season than I do! But that will make their brackets hilarious to follow. I've already entered some of their brackets in on a pool website, and some of them have picked 16-over-1 and have 12-seeds going to the Final Four. I chuckle at them now, but one of them will turn out to be right and I will feel like an idiot. But I will high-five them and cheer at their unexpected triumph.

I always get in a bad mood looking at my bracket. 

You'd think in 20 years I would have picked the champion once. But no matter how many times I picked Kansas (way too many) or that one time I picked Memphis when John Calipari was still there, they always lost and left my bracket with a lot of lines instead of circles. If I don't fill out a bracket, then I have nothing to be grumpy about! No matter what happens that first weekend, I'll stay cheerful.

So maybe next year I will fill out a bracket again and join the millions of fans that do. But this year I will sit back, relax, eat pizza, and just enjoy the games 100%. I don't need a piece of paper dictating my feelings and reactions. I'll just laugh at everyone else's pieces of paper and reactions! (Mwa ha ha.)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

High School Memories: Sports

I have reached the point in my life where high school was over 10 years ago. I now look at the high schoolers around me and can't believe that I did stuff that they are currently doing. I think, "Those whippersnappers!" but then realize that I did a lot of those same things.

So today I wrack my brain and think of some of my best memories of high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Michigan. Because why not?

High school began with Basketball.

Before I even set foot in an academic area of the school, I spent two weeks playing basketball. At that time, the state of Michigan had girls' basketball in the fall with boys' football, and volleyball was in the winter. I liked this a lot - acually, I still do - because girls' basketball didn't get overshadowed by boys' basketball.

I didn't make the team, but I volunteered to serve as the manager of the team. I wasn't too sure why I thought to volunteer, but I think it was from someone telling me over the summer that they were a manager of a team and still did all the stuff the team did. I really liked that idea, so that's what I did, too.

I am one of those people that, when taught to do something, can do it really well. So when they showed me the ropes of being basketball manager, I ran with it. Not only did I make sure the uniforms were washed and the waterbottles were filled; I laid out the uniforms by size and number and put ice in the waterbottles. I rebounded shots for the players and sometimes scrimmaged with them on slow Friday practices. I had Chapstick in my pocket and towels on my shoulder. It was the best job ever.

I followed my teammates through the teams, from the freshman team to the JV and finally to the Varsity. I never for one moment thought about not being the girls' basketball manager. It was just something I did - and I loved it!

My teammates appreciated me, too, which made the work even more rewarding. I wasn't just the stooge - I was their teammate. I joked around with them and became best friends with some of them, too. They said I was the best manager ever, at which I smiled, because for most of them I was the only manager they ever had.

And the team I was on was a great one - we won our conference my senior year went to the state quarterfinals my junior and senior years! The Varsity coach is retiring this year, and my years (and the one after) were the only times he went so far in the state playoffs. We were an amazing team.

Friday nights were Football nights.

I also had aspirations on helping with the football teams at MLS. Since I was young I had followed my dad around the football field during games, since he wasn't one to sit on a bleacher the whole game. I loved being at field level and hearing the calls and the crunches of players colliding. Even though I didn't have any interest in playing, I wanted to be involved.

In my freshman year, I volunteered to be the Water Girl for the JV team. I can't remember who I asked (it must have been the coach), but suddenly I was on the bus with a bunch of freshman and sophomore boys.

Super scary. They didn't care about me and didn't bother me, and eventually I got used to the man smell and cutoff shirts.

Aside from the bus trips, the football games were a blast. I filled up water and got to stand next to the players, trying to decipher what in the world they were saying to each other. I went on the field and picked up the tee after kickoffs and the block after extra points. I walked around with water, and guys would ask for some. It was a tedious first step into the big world of high school, but it did help.

Sophomore year I got bumped up to Varsity, which was even crazier. These guys weren't even in my class! I still got a kick out of it. But I wanted to go to the next level of being on the field. So my junior and senior years I volunteered to be the statistician with a friend of mine. It was even better than serving water and picking up tees. I no longer answered to the players, but got to focus on the game. It was the coolest. The best part was wandering down areas of the field where players were prohibited from going. I felt like I had a press pass or something.

I got a Varsity letter for being statistician - one of the few girls I know that had "football" on their letter jacket.

Softball - the player and the coach.

I didn't make the basketball team. I didn't make the volleyball team (though I really think I should have). I didn't make the school play. I was in a slump. Spring sports tryouts came along, and since I had softball experience (and didn't want to run the mile like I heard you had to do in Track), I tried out.

And I made it!

Imagine my shock when the coach told me I was on the team. After a year of cuts, I'd made the cut. And there was no freshman team - I was right on the JV squad!

It was a heck of a lot of work, but I'm so glad I did it. I learned a lot of great things thanks to the softball team.

In the winter we practiced in the gym, which stunk. By March everyone was craving to be outside in the grass, even though there was still snow out there. Games got cancelled due to cold weather. The sound of softballs hitting gloves and bats echoed through the gym instead of the sound of basketballs bouncing on the floor.

**Side note: Starting my junior year at 3:15 or so all the athletes (and others who wanted to) would gather in the gym for "circuit training." The coaches and experienced athletes would divide everyone into groups and for 2-3 minutes do a warmup activity like 5-dot or step-ups or wall sits (ugh! the worst!). It wasn't monitored closely, so you could be as hardcore or wimpy as you wanted. I really enjoyed this, because there were high schoolers from all walks of life that would do circuit training before their sports practice. Most days in the winter I would do circuit training, and then head to the weight room for an hour...more on that later. End side note.**

Eventually, though, the earth warmed and we made it onto the grass. And it was glorious. We did baserunning drills and pop fly drills and batting practice and situation plays. Although I got stuck in right field (I picked #6 because my dad told me Al Kaline had that number and played right field), I made the most of it. Between doubleheaders the moms would bring snacks and drinks and we would push aside whatever horrible sandwiches the cafeteria had sent along in favor of those snacks. On my birthday my mom brought Rice Krispie Treats and everyone thought I was the greatest. I learned the chants and only said the wrong thing once. It was way different from basketball, but still fun.

On one of the days where we were crushing the competition, I went to the plate and hit an inside the park home run! I wish I could go back to that moment and see where the ball had to go to allow a slowpoke like me to make it around the bases, but I did. My coach said I missed third base. No one noticed but her, so I didn't care. It was a home run!

Alas, it only lasted a season. The second year of JV tryouts I got cut from the team. However, the coach immediately offered me a position on their coaching staff. To which I responded, "...Huh?"

I knew about managers and water girls and statisticians, but I'd never heard of a student coach position. Apparently they thought I knew a lot about softball and wanted me to help with the drills and such. Although it didn't really thrill my dad, I was honored. They clearly saw something I hadn't seen before.

So I spent my sophomore year as the first base coach during games, trying desperately not to tell the girls the wrong instructions. I helped make batting lineups and pitching changes and got to talk a lot with the coaches.

When they asked me to do it again my junior year, I respectfully declined. I decided my spring sports path was taking me in a different direction.

The unexpectedly natural Track athlete.

Junior year the coach that had required running the mile had moved on to a different school, and I'd heard that it wasn't necessary for certain track athletes to run very much. That's when I decided to try track.

Back in grade school I had been decent at the shot put, placing in the inter-school track meets. I never was the best, but I knew I had some talent. At MLS, my best friends just so happened to be "weights" athletes that did both shot put and discus, so I decided to do those two events.

It was the most relaxing, fun time I'd ever had in a sport. Not only was I actually competing and practicing, I was good! In softball I was likely the last roster spot filled, and was always near the back of the lineup. Here, I was in the middle of the pack, which meant I had some talent.

The coach usually left us to our own devices while he worked with the runners, which was just fine for us. We'd do our own drills at our own pace, and spend winter in the weight room gaining muscle. We would joke around and practice our form.

**Side note: Though MLS didn't have a big weight room, I loved going there in the winter. They had squat machines and bench press and leg press and arm curls and everything. If I wasn't doing anything else, I would be there for an hour. The worst part was doing lunges down the hallway, but I did them anyway. Eventually there were a core group of girls that would do the weight room together. I wrote an article about it for the newspaper. It was just a great time! End side note**

A lot of our meets were cancelled or postponed, but when we did have a meet, we demolished the competition. My freshman year the team had won the state championship, and a few of the girls that had helped them win were in my class! We won the conference both years, too.

The best parts of track were the "weekend meets," which were invitationals. Instead of taking your whole team, you selected your top two or three (or sometimes more) for each event. Junior year I didn't go to any invitationals. But senior year, I suddenly was on the list!

I was shocked by this development. You mean I'm good enough to go to the weekend meets?! That was such a boost to my ego. Only the best track athletes went to those things, and I was one of them! I was able to bring a few points to the team, and we won a few of those invitationals. Because of my contribution, I got medals.

**Side note: if you had a letter jacket clanking with medals, you were an athlete. I always wanted to clink like some of my other athlete friends, so when I got my four medals in basketball - district and regional champions for 2 years - and my invitational medals from track, I made my mom sew them close together so I could clink down the hallway, too. It was one of those high school things that I adored. End side note.**

When the season wrapped up, we ended with a big party, and the coach gave out awards for MVP and the like. But one of the awards was for Most Improved, and I won the senior Most Improved award! The coach made it seem like it was expected, but it was totally unexpected to me. I was floored. Out of all the seniors (and there were a lot), I was deemed to have improved the most.

It was a great way to end my sports career at MLS.

As you can see, I did a lot with many different sports. I started out a weakling who got cut right away from the basketball team. But I matured over time and was versatile with my sports selections, even enjoying non-organized fitness like circuit training and weight room time. I may not have been a star athlete, but my love of sports gave me a lot of great high school sports memories.