Friday, March 24, 2017

Spring Has Finally Sprung

I know - some of you might be reading the title of this blog and thinking, "What is she talking about? This winter wasn't that bad! It almost seems like we've been in springtime since the beginning of February!"

Let's face it - winters are hard. There's cold, there's snow, there's ice, there's wind, there's darkness, and there's that unpleasant feeling of having your routine messed up thanks to some storm that has brewed up. 

But do you know what is worse than a harsh winter?

A mild winter. 

I have experienced a few mild winters in a row, and they are not fun. I was told last fall - my first fall back in Michigan in eight years - that this winter was going to be especially tough. The waters of Lake Michigan were especially warm in the fall, and that usually spells a lot of moisture for our area. 

There was a lot of moisture, but it was joined with warm weather from the south and was rain instead. 

The problem with mild winters is that it seems like spring, Easter, and baseball are close by, but instead they are incredibly far away.

The past few winters were tough, because even while I was enjoying weather in the 50s and 60s, that weather was not accompanied by the joy that summer was fast approaching. Rather, summer was almost as far away as it could be. There was still so much work to do.

Warm weather is nice in February, but usually it's accompanied by a nasty cold snap. Those are not pleasant at all. We are so excited to put away the sweaters and open the windows, but then we start to shiver and have to snap everything shut again.

That's not even mentioning how it affects the farmers and growers who rely on the frozen ground to keep the plants dormant and prep the soil for the proper growing cycle.

Once it actually gets to spring, we walk around with a sense of uncertainty, waiting for that freak blizzard or icy wind to blow through our light jackets.

I like normal winters and normal springs. In this environment we have, it is less and less likely that we will ever have that kind of normal. We just need to accept the weather given to us and prepare for everything. At this point, I'm ready to prepare for a hurricane on Lake Michigan.

Let's enjoy the emergence of spring. Let's also keep our winter boots out, because honestly? I'm sure there's a little more snow out there somewhere.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Big 3-0-0

I am presenting to you my 300th Blurb! How crazy is that? Thanks to So You Think You Can Dance recaps, wistful nostalgia, and daily breakdowns of the Olympic Games, I have made it to 300 articles on this site.

For me, this is something worth celebrating. Birthdays are just the start of another cycle around the sun, but this is a milestone! Who would have thought when I first started writing articles in the high school newspaper (which, to be honest, was more like a newsletter) that I would still be writing something other than field trip reminders, Spelling words, and hymn text that need to be memorized? Not me!

I do wish now that I had thought more seriously about going into journalism. I don't think it even crossed my radar as I considered careers. I thought of people that wrote newspaper articles as shady guys looking for the next big "scoop." I hadn't opened enough newspapers and magazines to see how a well-constructed, well-researched article was written.

Journalism would have been a really tough road. I've had droughts where I can't think about anything interesting to write, and to have that pressure while trying to make a deadline so I could get a paycheck would probably have been torture.

So now I'm doing writing as a hobby while I work at the job I was born to do: music, with teaching. With all the crazy options I could have chose, God wanted me to be at this place and doing this thing. Luckily, I still get to write.

I like to think that writing has opened up my creativity in music composition, as well. I have some pieces that are print-on-demand, but I'd love to get a book published sometime. I'm looking forward to the day when I am sitting in a church service and suddenly realize I am listening to something I composed!

I just reread my first official Blurb from September 9, 2010 about the Big Ten Conference adjustments. It's decent, but I like to think that 300 articles has made me improve my writing a bit. Throw in my stint on TouringPlans.com and my articles in Forward in Christ magazine, and I'm growing even more!

Will I ever quit and write full time? Probably not. As a matter of fact, I got a rejection email from a blog just a few weeks ago - those kinds of things keeps me humble. However, I'm not ruling out some writing or journalism classes in the future. I want to keep getting better and be able to branch out even more with my writing. That's probably how I'm able to continue my writing-every-day New Year's Resolution.

What is coming up for Blurb Musings? This summer I plan on chronicling my European trip, as well as another WELS Worship Conference. I'd like to try some more short stories and see how they float. There will be another Olympic Games in eleven months, and I still plan on daily updates for that! Whatever crazy idea sticks in my brain will probably blurt out onto the website eventually.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing. It is an honor to have people who are interested in what I have to say!

I am Claire Nat! I am a teacher and write for TouringPlans.com. I write about anything that interests me - mostly music, Olympics, and fandoms! Follow me @CeePipes or facebook.com/blurbmusings. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

New Year's Resolution Update

Back on January 1, I told you about my New Year's resolution. I made it my goal to write something every day of the year.

Typically, New Year's resolutions die out near the end of February for many people. They go gung-ho in the first month, but then it becomes too difficult to continue as the days and weeks wear on.

But here I am, still writing.

I'm not saying it's been easy. There have been a few times where I have been ready to go to bed and I think, "Shoot! I haven't written anything yet!" Or I will sit in front of my computer and think, "Shoot! My mind is a complete blank!" Or I finish writing something and think, "Shoot! This is terrible!"

However, there have been other days where I've known exactly about what I was going to write. Those are fun days.

This has been an interesting challenge for me, since many of my posts are here on the Blurb. It means people aren't just aware that I'm doing the challenge, but they're watching me do the challenge! It does put on a little pressure.

I have been using my short story journal to create some pretty unique, compact stories that probably won't evolve into anything. I tried things I've never tried before, like having animals be the main characters and creating a whole universe in just a paragraph description. When I told my students about my resolution, I told them I would write stories featuring them, and I did! Some where members in a band, one was going off to college, one got amnesia, and a couple were on a cruise, but I think all of them enjoyed listening to my tales of their fictional lives.

I've slowly but surely been writing a few longer stories as well. I'm also not sure those will evolve into anything, but the nice thing about this resolution is that I always have those established writing stories if I'm desperate.

On Sunday I wrote something musical for the first time this year. I am playing for church on Sunday and the worship coordinator wanted me to play a Getty/Getty/Townend song, "By Faith," on piano with a violin. But the violinist was hoping for a little more to play than just the melody. So I suggested I write her a descant. And I did! (And it was so much fun!)

The wheels still turn and I still write. Sometimes it's 1000 words and sometimes it's a few paragraphs of a blog that will need fine-tuning later. But it's something! It keeps my brain going and it makes me ponder ideas throughout the day. (By the way, I need to keep a notebook on me at all times so I can jot down random thoughts. So many articles could be written on the ideas that I've forgotten!)

And thus concludes my writing obligation for Tuesday, March 7! Only 299 more days of writing to go to finish this baby up!

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Procrastinator's Review: The People vs. OJ Simpson and OJ: Made in America

In the course of a week I watched two shows that premiered last year on FX and ESPN: The People vs. OJ Simpson and OJ: Made in America. The former was a fictionalized 10-part series by executive producer Ryan Murphy, and the latter was a 5-part documentary by filmmaker Ezra Edelman.

It was fascinating to watch because I remembered more than I thought I did. I was 10 years old during all of that chaos, and it was hard to not hear about the Bronco chase, the trial, the characters, and the verdict, even as a kid.

However, there's also the parts that I didn't understand then that are a bit clearer now, and I know that both television series helped educate me.

The basics were familiar: Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found dead in Nicole's home, OJ jumped in a white Ford Bronco and rode down a Los Angeles freeway while helicopters chronicled his every move, the trial took forever, he tried on gloves that didn't fit, Johnnie Cochran said "If it don't fit, you must acquit," and the clerk said "not guilty."

I was reminded of all of those things and introduced to even more in the FX series. I didn't know that the Kardashian family was so connected to the Simpson family. I didn't know anything about Mark Fuhrman. And I didn't know about the history of domestic violence in the Simpson household before the murders.

The People vs. OJ Simpson started out with real footage of the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots after the police responsible were found not guilty. I was surprised to see that those shots were how they opened up this series, but as I continued watching it was clear that the conflict between the LAPD and the LA African American community played a huge role in the OJ Simpson trial.

The trial was full of mistakes by the prosecution and the police. The criminologists and the detectives tainted the crime scene, the prosecution put Mark Fuhrman on the stand, and prosecutor Chris Darden asked OJ to try on the gloves. All three of these mistakes were capitalized on by the Dream Team defense and made the jury forget the prosecution's stance: OJ had beaten his wife for a long time and ended up killing her.

The actors who portrayed everybody in The People vs. OJ Simpson did an incredible job. Sarah Paulsen as Marcia Clark was my MVP, as well as Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran. (No wonder they both won Emmys.) After seeing those people portrayed as caricatures for so many years, it was great to see that they were intelligent, real people who had triumphs and missteps.

Some of those real people were interviewed for OJ: Made in America, like Marcia Clark and Mark Fuhrman. I was glad I watched both series back-to-back, because it showed what parts of the FX series had been fictionalized, and what parts - however shocking - had been real! Both were wonderful pieces of filmmaking, and generally didn't wander down the gratuitous path. (Although sometimes the FX series spent too much time on the Kardashian family - we get it! They're involved!)

It took me a while to finally watch both of them, but I'm glad I was able to finally do it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

An Instrument of Peace

Back in 2001 my high school concert choir started work on a piece called “Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace.” The original text is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, and is a prayer to God. In it, we ask God to use us as channels of His work.

The song quickly became of my favorites that I sang in the MLS Concert Choir – after all, it greatly featured the alto section! But the words stuck in my mind, especially because while I’d never heard them before that year, I can’t stop hearing them now.

If we were to look at this prayer with a law-gospel mindset, the prayer would probably end up on the chopping block. There is no mention of Jesus Christ and His saving work for our sins. Instead, it focuses on showing God’s love through how we act to others.

So can we as Christians use this prayer? Absolutely! When we sing these words as Christian women and men, we are asking God to have us reflect His love on others. The only way we can do that is if we already have that forgiveness of sins in our heart, brought to us through the Holy Spirit. When we do have that forgiveness, it’s all we can do not to shout it from the mountaintops and make sure everyone can hear it!

The prayer is a reminder to us that we want to reflect Jesus’ love through our actions. We bring light when we smile at strangers. We show love when we “like” or “share” positive Facebook messages instead of critical or inconsiderate ones. When things seem hopeless for a friend or colleague, we come in with messages of our Eternal Hope and invitations to hear that message further. And when a family member is crumbling, we don’t insult them or tell them to “get over it”; instead, we console and are that loving arm to help them up.

In this new year, we have already seen so many examples of a world divided and refusing to cooperate; of people who insult others’ beliefs and stances without seeking to understand; of children reflecting the unkind behaviors of their parents simply because they don’t know any better. May we pray this prayer, and be reminded of how we can reflect God’s love with words of kindness and understanding. Think about it: when we show kindness and understanding to our enemies now, aren’t they even more likely to be receptive of that message of God’s forgiveness later?

Let us thank God for the forgiveness He has given us through His Son. Then let us ask Him for the right way to reflect His love to all people here on earth.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Amen.”

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

My Musician Achilles' Heel

I have been playing a keyboard instrument since I was seven years old. I have been playing consistently ever since, starting with piano and moving to the organ. I play regularly for church services and I can accompany choirs, soloists, and instrumentalists.

Overall, people might say I'm a pretty decent organist and pianist. But what they don't know is my biggest problem. I have one issue that I've never been able to fix. Amidst all of the practice, practice, practice, I never practiced this, and now it's kind of rearing its ugly head.

My weakness?

I can't turn pages and play at the same time.

I never thought of this as a problem until I started seeing other experienced organists play. Instead of unfolding pages of copied music on the organ, they opened the book, started playing, and without breaking the rhythm of the song turned the page!

I see that and my jaw drops. How in the world did they do that? Do they stop time and turn the page? Do they have an imaginary friend who turns the page? Do they blow out with their mouths and curve the wind to turn one page at a time?

No - they simply learned how to do it when they were just starting out.

I didn't even realize that was a thing! When I find an organ piece that's three or more pages, I make a mental note that I need to make a copy of the third page and tape it to the other two. There are only two or three pieces that I can think of off the top of my head where the page turn is when only one hand is playing.

It was easy in the first ten years of playing. But when I started to jump up to the advanced level, the pieces just started getting longer, and suddenly I was making copies of four pages. Some books are starting to thicken up because I have to accordion out a bunch of pages to play a piece!

What's even worse? When I am accompanying a song with a choir, and I get the music complete with all the choral parts plus the instruments. As a result, I have ten pages of a song, but I can't fit ten pages on the piano! I end up copying, cutting, and pasting together only the keyboard part so I can put three pages up instead of ten. Of course, this means that if the choir somehow gets off or I get off, I am going to have a much harder time bringing everything back together because I don't have the full music in front of me.

When I attend major concerts or music conferences and those amazing organists read the music, they usually have a page turner there. When I accompanied in high school and college I was able to use a choir member to help me turn a page. But now it's hard to find a person in the congregation who is not only musically inclined, but also is there every time I play and is willing to help me out!

Believe me, I've tried to work on my page turns. But with all the coordinating skills required of an organist, throwing in another step is pretty impossible. I'm already struggling to have a conversation with someone or sing along with the hymn as I play, making one hand leave the organ to turn a page just seems too Herculean!

I'll work on it, but I can't promise anything. You might have to just deal with an awkward pause as I fumble to turn just one page of this piece.