Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The beach

One of the very best things about spring and summer in Seattle (when it eventually arrives) is the ability to go to a number of gorgeous, scenic beaches within a stone's throw of almost wherever you are. They aren't the white sand, blue water beaches of postcards, but the ones I loved from growing up - rocky, rugged, and littered with driftwood. We are incredibly fortunate to live about two blocks from Discovery Park, which has within its borders one of the most beautiful and deserted beaches around. Part of the reason for this is that in order to park in the lot at the beach, you need to sign out a special pass at the visitor's center that is only available to people with small children, the disabled, and the elderly. Otherwise, in order to see this scenic beauty you need to hike about a mile from the nearest parking lot down a steep trail. That means that only about 8 people at a time have a pass, and the rest of the people walking through are there for part of their long walk, not really to lounge around. I discovered this little gem last summer, and we've already been there at least 5 times this spring. No people means that I can let the kids run without the constant policing of interactions with other kids, stealing of toys, throwing of sand....not that I mind doing that stuff, but sometimes it's nice to just sit and let kids be kids in the sand.

Today, the sun was just beginning to peek through the clouds around 11, and we decided that maybe today would be another good day to hop down to our favorite spot. We had nothing on the schedule and only time, so I left my phone at home and packed a lunch and the sand gear, and off we went. We parked and picked through the thin trails to the beach, down a steep bank and over the piles of driftwood and got ourselves set up by a log partially buried in the sand. Almost instantly, Sam and Caroline took two different approaches to enjoying their time, and I sat and observed.

Not far off to the left, a group of a few families had set up a tent and some chairs, and all their kids were down at the waterline throwing in rocks. Caroline saw them and clung to me, looking suspiciously at the group of strangers.

"Mommy, can I go play with those kids?" Sam asked excitedly. After I said he could, he was off like a shot down to the water.

"Hi, I'm Sam!" he said to the other kids, most of them a few years older than him. They all acknowledged him, and one of the kids popped off a shot into the water. "Nice one!" Sam said approvingly. The kid that threw the rock, looked appraisingly at Sam.

"You want to play with us?" he asked.


Meanwhile, Caroline had grabbed a bucket and toddled down to the water. She stood in silence, observing the waves as they lapped up onto the rocks. Then, she very carefully bent down, picked up one rock, turned it over in her hand, and placed it in her bucket. She plopped her bottom down on the wet rocks and continued her careful collecting.

I sat on my log, looking at my two kids. How different both of them are! Sam is outgoing, social, wants to fit in with interesting kids, and knows how. Caroline is an observer. She wants to get the lay of the land, and then, once she feels safe, is perfectly content to live in her own little world doing her own little things. She's funny, but you really have to earn the right to see that.

Both of them are going to have to learn to live out of their comfort zones at some point in time. Sam will have to learn to be alone with himself, and he'll eventually have to deal with kids that don't like him or want to play with him. Caroline will need to learn that we don't always get to be by ourselves as much as we'd like to be, and sometimes we have to learn to play well with others when we'd rather just sit and look at rocks (can you tell I can relate to that?).

Both of these personalities have their unique strengths and challenges. I'm so blessed that I get to help them uncover those.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My friendship with music

Part of my involvement in Choral Arts means that every few months or so I get a neat, new packet of choral music in the mail or over e-mail, most of which I'm unfamiliar with, and some of which is often entirely new music that has never, ever been sung before. It always feels a little like Christmas. I rip open the envelope or open the file and zip through it quickly to get a sense of it, see the composers, the divisi, the tempo markings, the languages. I'm always excited because I know that these pieces are going to become friends over the next few months and, even better, I'll get to sing them with friends.

I was describing recently to one of these friends what I love most about encountering new music and preparing for concerts, and it occurred to me how much all of these pieces I've encountered are like the people in my life. We all have friends who serve different purposes, just like all of the pieces we've sung over our lives. There are pieces that are old friends, perhaps with some history and baggage to them - emotional responses from the past, or fond memories of the people we've shared the experience of singing with. For me, many of those are standard rep pieces that I first sang in college or grad school - Mozart's or Faure's Requiem, for instance - that are old, revisited, and loved. A sub-category of this is the old friend that always seems to fit just right. No matter how much time has passed or how long it has been since you have last seen each other, there is something about that relationship that always just works, as if the passage of time and age means nothing. Whenever I pick up Widmung by Schubert it fits, even if I'm tired or haven't sung in a long time. Among these are also the fun friend, the one that you use to blow off some steam. Not really serious, but they know how to have a good time and are willing to take you along for the ride. We all need pieces and people in our lives for that, too.

There are pieces and people that you meet and go, "Meh. Not for me." Sometimes they just live there in your life, either by stagnancy or necessity. They exist on a continuum that seems to extend from decent to intolerable, and often there they stay. But every now and then they do something remarkable and rewarding - they totally surprise you. Suddenly, you hear the composer's intent and understand their soul through a small gesture or a performance, and it all changes. We had a piece like that on a recent concert. The piece in rehearsal seemed static and unchanging, and I'd gotten used to just singing it and doing what I was supposed to do in relation to it. And then we added the solo instrument to it and I heard it in an entirely new way. It touched something really deep in me, and I was in helpless tears by the end. What a huge surprise. I love that.

Then there are pieces you encounter, and you just know that they're going to be amazing, special, and unique. Something about it just clicks. You haven't even heard it with the rest of the parts yet, but you know when you do it's going to be great and it will keep getting better. You might have to work hard at it, but doing so will reveal more layers, and even after the performance is over you'll be looking forward to performing it again. I think one of the very first times I ever experienced this was singing Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms when I was in college. I remember thinking, "Yes! THIS is what making music is supposed to be about!" Every time I rehearsed it and during every performance I felt like more was revealed to me - there was always more to discover about it. When I was asked in my senior oral exams to name a choral piece that had influenced me and why, that was what I picked.

I think I realized in that moment that I would be chasing that feeling for the rest of my musical life. Isn't that what we want most in all our relationships?

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I have a scar on my chest that's about an inch long. I got it when I was in about the 1st grade when I was running from a friend and decided to hide behind a door and surprise her. I got gashed across the chest by the little thingy sticking out of the door by the doorknob, and, being a kid, I didn't apply a band-aid and went swimming. Bingo, scar.

I look at it now and it always strikes me as a little comical. That part of my body is now a good 2 feet above that part of the door now, and the yoga pose I'd have to do to get them together would probably put me in traction. But there it is.

Does one ever really outgrow something that scars you, or does it just grow along with you? Maybe it surprises you after the pain has passed, or even makes you laugh to think about how it would be impossible for it to ever happen again exactly that way. Life goes on, you grow up, maybe absentmindedly run your fingers over it on occasion just to remind yourself that it's a part of you.

I guess that's how life is sometimes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ten years

"This isn't a day to go to a bar. It's a day to go to church." - Chris Matthews

As we watched the news last night, both Mark and I came away a bit disturbed. The flag waving, screaming, wild-eyed frenzy seemed out of place among death, even the death of a monster, and we turned off the TV and went to bed shaking our heads.

Today, it's still on my mind, and I can't escape one fact: The age of the participants outside the White House and Ground Zero. For the most part, they were young people - college students and recent graduates. Ten years doesn't seem all that long ago to me. I was already an adult, living my life, aware of the danger in the world but still painfully reminded on September 11, 2001.

These kids, though.....they were between 7 and 12. Old enough to know what was going on, old enough to be frightened by the sudden possibilities in the world, but not old enough to have the skills to process what was going on. These kids, scared and confused, were sat down by their parents and told that a very bad man flew planes into a building and killed thousands of people. Did they ever really grow beyond that idea? It's not that it's not true, but when a child is suddenly and unfairly confronted by evil in the world, I'd imagine it would be easy to seek a simple explanation, and to make one focus point the repository for all of the evil that they saw. For a 10 year old, yeah, that's appropriate. But how about for a 20 year old? Did we adults fail them by not helping them grow into a more broad explanation of what happened? Did we stop talking about it right around the time they really needed us to start?

It made me a little sad to see all of the young faces waving flags and cheering outside the White House, but not because Bin Laden is dead. It made me sad for the world they were forced to come to age in, and who these young people have become because of it.