Mom of a Classical Music Major

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.

Martin Luther

We, as a family, knew from the time our son was in the fifth grade, music was his path.  The idea of architecture came up a few times, but when our son realized the amount of “art” required…well…let’s just say that he still harbors some resentment towards his grade in high school ceramics.

This is the kid who could have gone to any school, for any major, without paying anything.  He choose the path of his passion….classical music performance.  We are his parents.  We had to choose his junior year whether to encourage or discourage this path.  We knew the financial implications by allowing this path to unfold, but we also knew that where God leads you-the details work out.

So, why this blog today?  It’s somewhat about our son, but mostly about what’s it is like to be the mom…exactly what is involved in this path on his side, our side.  Some “lessons learned” to ” man, that was awesome.”

Band programs.  I cannot say enough about those directors that walked along-side our son from middle school to high school.  Encouraging his craft.  No, we did not live in what is called a “classical music” hub.  Certainly not for percussion.  There was no “youth orchestra” training program attached to a major symphony program.  It was simply our kiddo, with a passion, and band instructors that did all they could to help  him.

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Tenth grade, that’s when we started private instruction for his craft.  Tenth grade.  Oh, what rookies we were as parents!  We lived in our little bubble and had no idea that kids in this field were working as young as five years old in major cities. Eleventh grade: One day, while searching for something related to his craft, I came across some information for the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) for young performers.  A summer program for classical musicians in high school.  What?  Summer programs?  Not just a one or two week band camp?  Our son applied.  Sent in his recordings. (We go back to those on  occasion and laugh at our lack of experience in how to do those!) First acceptance came for the percussion workshop-we thought he had just won the music lottery.  Then he was accepted into the wind ensemble program.  Our son was going to Lenox, MA for the summer after his junior year.  To us, he was the most talented kid on the planet. Our world of music was contained to Arkansas and his success within the state.  Little did we know, this would be the summer that our kiddo truly found his calling…his place in this big world we live in.  Lenox, MA and BUTI would forever change this family.  (We won’t talk about the Mom putting her son solo on a plane to a land far-away and trusting folks who we had never met to take care of our son.)

This is the summer he met legends in his field.  The summer he learned exactly where he was in his craft and where he needed to be.  The summer he decided with certainty…classical performance for college and at the highest level he could obtain.  The next few  months were spent pouring over what this meant to the application process and selecting schools to focus on.  Yes, it’s his journey, but as any parent of a high level classical musician will tell you, the process is a family event.  (Especially at the incoming undergraduate level.)

Earlier deadlines, prescreen tapes (each school has their own requirements), essays, recommendation letters, rep lists……submit.  Wait.  Pray.  Please let him pass some of his prescreens.  December 1-mid January that first round was nerve-wracking!  Then the invites come to live auditions and you scramble to make flight and hotel arrangements and school excuses…(it is easier for graduate auditions to arrange around school-that comes in a bit!)…and then for undergraduate auditions, his process began at the end of January and ended the first week of March.  The “dream”, the “reach”, the “likely” and the “safety” on the list….and you pray for one acceptance with enough financial award to attend.  Unlike other undergraduate degrees, you are judged not just on your high school career, but on your performance on that ONE day….a bad day means a certain rejection.  A classical musician, no matter the level, can always have a “bad day.” The hands don’t work that day, or you have a cold or the room is too hot…pick from a list of a hundred possibilities.  One day determines your yes or no.  There’s no “repeat” or “can I come back tomorrow.”  Now, as an undergraduate applicant, odds are….a parent is there.  “There” meaning the lobby of the school your student is auditioning at.  Our daughter competed in pageants and I have to say…the nerves and stress for that were high for a parent..audition season…it’s far worse.  Sitting there, knowing your child’s hopes and dreams are all being judged by a panel of some of the greats in their craft….and all you can do is pray it’s a good audition day…that the practice…the hundreds of hours of practice…they show that day.  And then audition season is over and the wait begins again.  While other kiddos are announcing their schools and such….classical music performance kiddos and their parents…wait….April 1st as the typical “notification” date.  The packages are announced.  The rejections are announced.  Decision time.  May deadline.  Oh wait, did I fail to mention in all of this craziness, you are also doing prescreens and applications for summer music festivals?  Silly me!  So, add “Mom, I want to go back to BUTI this summer” to this craziness.  May comes…decision made, BUTI acceptance year two in (this time to the orchestra!), graduate from high school….leave for the summer for festival…start college as a classical music major.

As the time came near for our kiddo to venture off for college, most parents were beginning to suffer those “our kiddo is leaving ” pains.  For us, we had to deal with that his junior summer as he left for eight weeks to BUTI.  Now for a second summer.  Seeing him one time over the summer.  So, we didn’t experience those freshman parent blues…we had already been there, done that.  Thankful for that, as I am not sure we would have managed mentally sending him a plane ride away to a major metropolitan city for college.

Many have asked exactly what our kiddo does in college.  Well, take all the normal academic required classes, add in theory courses, music history courses, ensembles (three) and their practice times, percussion lessons, homework, eating (yes, our son schedules eating), and then typically 40+ hours of practice a week.  Then add in performances and well…you get the picture.  The  normal college experience does not apply to a classical music major.  So, this is the life and then senior year comes.  Guess what!!!!  You get to do all the craziness of your senior year of high school all over again…on steroids!!!  The parents, somehow, feel the exact same feelings as we did four years ago!  (A master’s degree is a  non-negotable in this field…especially classical percussion.)

This time, he has applied to seven schools for graduate work in classical percussion performance.  He passed all of his prescreens, so he will be live auditioning at seven schools over the course of five weeks.  Still maintaining his academics, his obligations musically to this college and preparing applications/screens for summer programs and contests.  New York, Boston, Rochester, Chicago, Houston….one of those towns will be his home in the fall.  He will know in April.  (Of course, this all dependent on him being accepted into at least one of the schools after auditions.)

What does a graduate prescreen look like you ask?  Here you go…and each school is different…and then each school requires different items for your live audition.

Snare Drum

  • Solo or etude
  • Prokofiev Lieutenant Kijé (mvt. I, reh. 1-2)
  • Rimsky-Korsakov Sheherezade (mvt IV, reh. P-R)

Marimba

  • Solo

Xylophone

  • Gershwin Porgy and Bess, Overture – opening
  • William Schuman Symphony #3, mm. 230-244

Tambourine

  • Dvorak Carnival, Overture – beginning to letter C

Timpani

  • Beethoven Symphony #9, mvt. I, mm.513 to the end
  • Strauss Burleske, beginning to mm. 20
  • Bartók Concerto for Orchestra, mvt. IV

And this would be the “lives” requirement:

Snare Drum

  • Two contrasting solos or etudes – one of them rudimental style
  • Prokofiev Lieutenant Kijé
  • Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, mvt. III, D-E
  • Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, mvt. IV, P-R
  • William Schuman Symphony #3, 2 before 145-165

Marimba

  • Solo work (3-5 minute portion)

Xylophone

  • Solo work (3-4 minute portion)
  • Gershwin Porgy and Bess, Overture
  • William Schuman Symphony #3, mm. 230-244
  • Kabalevsky Colas Breugnon, Overture
  • Messiaen Oiseaux Exotiques, #6-#7

Glockenspiel

  • Dukas Sorceror’s Apprentice

Cymbals

  • Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet
  • Rachmaninov Piano Concerto #2

Tambourine

  • Dvorak Carnival, Overture

Timpani

  • Solo work (3-4 minute portion)
  • Beethoven Symphony #1, mvt. III
  • Beethoven Symphony #9, mvt. I
  • Tchaikovsky Symphony #4, mvt. I, T-U
  • Strauss Burleske, opening
  • Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphosis, mvt. II
  • Bartók Concerto for Orchestra, mvt. IV

This is his passion.  This is his life.  This is our life.  A student in classical performance must have the full support of his parents…or it just won’t work.  The energy and financial investment is a family affair.  For example, in high school, every weekend of his junior and senior year, we drove either three hours to OKC or three hours to Conway for private lessons.  In college, we supported him as his attended the Aspen Music Festival for two summers.  This path is not an easy one and is honestly probably the hardest path of most any major.  Job security only comes with tenure and that only comes when you finally win a chair with a symphony.  Hopefully, you are also able to secure a position at a college as well.  With all that said, being the Mom of this kiddo has been priceless.  There has been no greater joy than watching him perform and seeing his entire person become the music he is playing.  In those moments, you just sit back and thank God for allowing this to be part of your story…and the story of your child.

What advice can I give to you parents out there in this journey early stages?  Invest in the best lessons you can find for your child.  Early.  But, it’s never too late to start.  Make sure they keep their grades up. Don’t burn musical bridges-the music world is small and very close-knit.  Summer festivals in high school.  BUTI, Eastern, Brevard, etc….they will pay back ten-fold.  Dream big in audition/application season, but also have a “safe” school that your child would gladly attend if the rest where either rejections or “no way can we afford that” situations.  And lastly, there is NOT one single path to the end result.  One school does not guarantee success.  Find the best teacher/program for your child in their craft.  It may not be at “the school”, but maybe one tier down.

As a parent, this path will cause you to eat Tums, pray your child does not end up on the corner of a major city street playing for donations, and smile when others tell you about their undergraduate senior landing a six figure job…while you pray after six years of school your child makes it to the final rounds of job auditions.  Yet…it’s the best gig for a parent ever.  Knowing your child followed their calling..even the midst of known adversity.  Priceless.

To the student…stop reading this…go practice!!!!

Sand In The Shoes…and the Empty Bedroom

Winter seems to prefer the days to go by like molasses on a cold, winter day….whereas Summer, well, it seems she prefers the days to go by so fast you can barely get the lid off of the sunscreen.  I’m not a fan of this time deal they have apparently worked out without my permission….but that’s a topic that probably needs to be left on the shelf…as Thumper’s Momma told him..if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.

I seriously must be one blessed gal this summer though…I mean..TWO trips to my favorite spot in the entire Universe-the beaches of South Walton.  I’ve got sand in my shoes! Y’all know the first trip was with my two favorite guys, but I just returned from the second trip after my favorite middle sis offered me a bed on their beach vacation!  (Y’all know this gesture puts her in the sister hall of fame..right?  I mean, seriously, that’s like telling a house dog they can go roll in whatever the choose to without any consequences…hearts a leapin’ for joy!!!)  Getting to hang out with my sis, her spouse and my most beautiful niece in the entire world…well…as the Discover commercial says…Awesomesauce!

South Walton Beach....I love you!

South Walton Beach….I love you!

I did nothing while on the beach…seriously…I have perfected the beach pose.  Sunscreen on, towel placed strategically on the chair so that it won’t inch down or fall off, sunglasses perched perfectly on the bridge of the nose, water bottle secured in the sand, sit…extend extremities, chair in the next to the lowest head position….and exhale.  Toss in the occasional fifteen step adventure mid-calf into the ocean…and well…that’s heaven on earth folks.  (Mid-Calf is my line in the sand where the ocean is concerned…I love her, I could watch her for hours…but y’all, one foot in and we become part of the food chain and I kinda like all my fingers and toes. Those of you who venture out deeper…hats off to your bravery!)  Once again, SWB did not disappoint.  Beautiful emerald green water, soft white sand, the sounds of the waves coming ashore…aaaahhhhhh…..BUT…..SWB….I did not care for the PURPLE flag on our last full day….nope…didn’t care for it…and folks, why is that TINY flag placed in a spot no veteran beach goer will even look?  I mean seriously….you have your tote on one arm….you are scouting out where your beach set-up is….and the ocean is calling your name over and over…and you are expected to look the opposite way towards the back of the beach for the flags for that day??  Nope..ain’t happening.  May I suggest folks walking the beach passing out flyers?  We could have died from a jellyfish!  A no brain creature of the sea…could have taken us all out!  Kinda hard to prevent certain calamity if the first time you see the flag is when you are packing up for the day!  Flyers people…or all those crazy planes and helicopters that fly across the shore could carry a banner reading, “DEATH UPON ENTERING WATER…DANGER.”  Really…cause how many of us are going to avoid the water with the wording “Dangerous Marine Life?”  You are so sitting there right now saying, “I laugh in the face of danger.”  My point exactly!

Before your eyes could blink, the beach was over…time to pack the bags and leave.  I do believe I enter a clinical state of depression each time I leave the beach.  Hmm…wonder if BCBS would pay for monthly beach trips if I could convince them that it was the only “drug” that would work to lift my mood? I do breathe better…..Hmm…..another blog for another day.  Anyhow….a trip over to Seaside/Watercolor/Seagrove to get a few t-shirts…..and..well….maybe a Lily Pulitzer dress…..hey..it was on sale…it fit..who am I to tell a dress she can’t come home with me when she’s so adorable???  And it was over….bye Florida….iPhone in hand on my Home-Away app seeing what the prices were for October.  Ok, maybe I have a problem.  Maybe I need an intervention…BUT…have you see that water?  Walked on that sand?

So, I land in Chicago..all depressed and all because I’m told you can’t live in a tent on the beach forever….walk up to my baggage claim and look up…NO JOKE…a sign for 30A and the Beaches of South Walton….I felt like Charlie Brown as Lucy pulled the football from him once again….clearly God was sending me a sign that I should just hop a plane and go right back.  Right?  That sign was for me….right?  Or was Chicago taunting me with my love, because I had been talking so poorly at her pitiful attempt at summer????  We may never know.

Today, I wake up in Chicagoland….to what I have put off for a week….the empty bedroom.  See, smart Kim was able to somehow go on a trip the same day her baby boy left for the Aspen Music Festival…not to be seen again until move in day at college….and not to be seen in Chicagoland until Thanksgiving.  I feel like Eeyore.  Left the beach….empty room…ugh.  Empty-nest joy obviously is just for birds…..cause I am not feeling it.  Don’t get me wrong..I am thrilled my baby boy has wings….thrilled…but I could have used another eighteen or so  years…just saying.  Our five week summer was not long enough…and well..next summer is the big “move to grad school” summer…and I’m just not wanting any part of this whole party.  I think I went wrong that day I let him take his first step…see…what are we thinking????  We teach them to walk and talk and be all independent and that’s what they go and do…and poof….they are off into the world.  Empty room.  I keep thinking I will change it out to my long dreamed about floral shabby chic oasis….but I wonder if that would be an obstacle to get him to return for visits????  Would a shabby chic room be enough of a reason for him to say..”Umm…I think I’m hanging at campus this break?”  He reads this blog, so I must insert the I LOVE YOU to the moon and back and I am so proud of you at this time.

My J with David from the CSO and one of J's teachers this summer....cool kid.

My J with David from the CSO and one of J’s teachers this summer….cool kid.

Life marches on……….now excuse me while I go look at Florida condo rates for well….can I leave today?  (PS…I love you Leebo and you know I can’t control myself where the beach is concerned.)

Easter and Recitals….and Empty Nest Blues

Easter 2015 brought the unexpected “time off” for a spur of the moment trek to Nashville to spend Easter with our youngest and my sister and her family.  As the parental unit tossed around the idea of making the trek…..the final decision was made by a comment I made.

“Our holiday events spent with our youngest are  numbered.  What would we have done differently had we known the last Christmas with our oldest…was in fact our last with just her?”

Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  

And with that, we were off.

As a mom, there is just something so calming when you are able to feed your baby boy.  (Always my baby boy.)  So, feed our baby boy, we did.  Burger Up has quickly become one of our favorites while in the Nashville area.  Once again, it did not disappoint.  Our youngest was able to get away on Saturday night and he spent the night in the hotel room with his parental unit.  Again, feeding-comfort..hearing your child breathe as they sleep-bliss.

We have not stopped doing the Easter basket, and I don’t expect that to stop until his future wife one day says-enough.  (PS-I would hope his future wife would know how much that meant to this Momma and she would encourage it!) Josh was able to have his bunny basket and as tradition has become…that included a movie and an iTunes card….I am a creature of habit.  My family knows that and has come to expect my “normal” and gets rather irritated when I deviate.

The Moore's and McClellan's

Easter Day was spent with my sister and her family.  We had just a wonderful time attending their home church, Grace Chapel in Franklin.  Y’all, this church has goose-bump worthy music.  Imagine my delight as our Easter special was “My Redeemer Lives” and it was sung live by none other than Nicole Mullens.  Let me just say this, she took the roof off that church and well….that was that.  If the service had ended right then, it would have been one incredible Easter service…but we were given a message that just put the cherry on top!  I love it when an artist is better live than recorded.  Nicole…hands down…see her live.  She will inspire you, challenge you…bless you with her gift.

Following church we then headed to the Moore home for an Easter feast.  There’s just something special about any holiday when you are surrounded by your family.  We are so grateful that we decided to make the last minute trek down and are thankful that God has blessed us with the health and finances so that we can make those spur of the moment trips.  I hope I remember that nail scarred cross that is now empty…today, and tomorrow.

Fast forward one week….and we were off again to Nashville for our Josh’s junior classical percussion recital.  Part of the requirements for graduation with a classical performance degree is that you perform a thirty minute recital your junior year and an hour long recital your senior year.  Josh has been preparing for months and it is a very important milestone in the classical performer’s educational career.  Per Joshua’s request, we did not record any of his pieces.  He will record those later in private.  We could not be more proud of this kid.  His talent, his work ethic, his determination and his desire to follow his passion and trust that God will handle the details regarding employment when the time comes…just so proud.  He surprised us with his incredible talent…we knew he was talented, but to see him perform graduate level works with such passion…one with his/the music.  Just incredible.  We felt so honored that his aunt, uncle, grandfather, sister and his uncle’s parents were in attendance along with SEVERAL of his friends and professors.  He was honored with a reception afterwards where Portillo’s Chocolate Cake and some Chicago Mix Popcorn where the stars of the room.  One more month of his junior year…a summer at the Aspen Music Festival….senior year and graduate school auditions..and well…his undergraduate career will be in the books.  Time is flying by…

Junior Recital

Time is flying by…which brings me to the empty nester portion of today’s blog….Joshua’s recital was the first time in almost five years that his sister, him, Lee and I have been together without babies or anyone else.  Just the four of us.  I did not number my days with my daughter…and I so wish I had.  They go by so quickly and soon it’s not just the parents.  It’s spouses, children, in-laws, that new extended family….life changes…and often before you are ready for that change…and it certainly changes without your permission.  We are so blessed by the babies our daughter has brought into this world…but there are days I sit and miss the four of us…..holiday events that you knew both kiddos would be there….time spent just hanging out doing nothing…just that special time of what was the original unit….but time marches on…and parents age, kiddos grow up….and those kiddos grab their own life.  Just sometimes, you wish you could go back and hang on.    The Original Unit

So…today…number your days.  Count each moment as a gift…..even the days where you question why you had kiddos in the first place….you will look back even on that day and smile.

And time….marches on.