Getting In Touch With Your Inner Nerd

It just seemed like time to remind everyone about this.

The Happy Rock Way

happyrockonblackbgurinner nerd

This happened:
It was the last few minutes of the last period of the middle school day.  My seventh and eighth grade orchestra students were putting their instruments away.  One student, Aundrea, was still seated and putting her violin in the case while most of the rest were putting their instruments in storage or lining up to take them home.  Aundrea was a delight to have in class.  She worked hard on her music and had exceptional manners.  It was obvious that there were high expectations in her family.  On the other hand, she also had a purple streak in her hair, which was a little wild in a way that seemed to work for her, and a pierced eyebrow.   She seemed surprised when I told her that some of the sixth grade beginners who met her on their way out of orchestra were a little scared of her.   (I…

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Rock Your Corner

As usual, updated and refined. Rock on!

The Happy Rock Way

Happy Rock Your Corner

One of the pillars of the Happy Rock way is the concept that we are meant to let our lights shine wherever we are and however we can. I don’t usually say it that way. I just say, “Rock your corner of the world!” This may not be a geographical space in this day an age. It can be your corner of your family, your city, your school, or nowadays your online presence.  Make a difference in the world by making a difference wherever you are.

There are some famous people who do seem to rock the world. But it all starts with that space where you happen to be right now. Since Edward Lorenz coined the term Butterfly Effect it has in some fashion seeped into our group mind set. You can search “Butterfly Effect.” Lorenz contended that small things could have a big impact over time. The Butterfly…

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Is it the Destination or the Journey?

I cheaply posted this in a Facebook comment tonight. So I looked it over and decided there was more. Revised again…

The Happy Rock Way

[Big revision on 9/15/2015]

“It’s not the destination, but the journey.” I was checking on this quote because I have been thinking about it lately. It is a little hard to pin down because, it seems, the idea has become a part of human thought these days.  It is hard to tell who is quoting whom.

Perhaps it is stopping to smell the flowers.   Cliches aside, it really seems like it should be deeper than that, though flowers are nice.  (I know that this refers to taking time to appreciate beauty and not just flowers.  But still…)

It is not the journey, as such. Nor the flowers or works of art or  beautiful scenic vistas. Or even the great concerts and performances.  Or learning something new. I consider all of these things and more part of the fullness of this life I have been given.  All of those things have…

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Breathing for Focus and Relaxation – The Happy Rock Way

Candle Flame

Breathing for Focus as taught by Rob Reck at the SWOSU Band Camp

I am writing these instructions to provide a resource for students who have taken my Psychology of Performing Music class at the Southwestern Oklahoma State University Band Camp. We call it the SWOSU (pronounced Swazoo or Swoh-soo) Band Camp. The hope is that this will allow students to do even more with the breathing techniques we learn in class when they return home. I have had many wonderful students and I hear back from them about how they have used what they learned. (I relish this feedback. It is how I learn.) I have gotten request for written instructions as well as an audio or video to provide a guided “breathing” session. It seemed best to do the written instructions first.

For those who have not been in the class, I feel sure printed instructions may not be the best way to learn this. But a lot can be done with just the basics, and a second goal of this piece is to keep it simple. I wish everyone good fortune in learning to balance focus, relaxation, and positive energy by using some simple breathing techniques.

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First, a little about the science behind what we do. Some will want to skip down to the how-to section.

The principal behind a relaxing breath is to breath in and out as you count slowly and steadily.  A quick breath, even a deep quick breath, is of little value.   The rational behind this idea is the theory that breathing slowly and deeply at a measured speed turns off the Flight or Fight Response, first described by Walter Bradford Cannon. (You can do your own research about this response and the amygdala, the part of the brain that seems to trigger it.) The flight/fight response would be useful if you were actually needing to run away from physical danger (flight) or go into physical combat (fight). Otherwise it just adds stress to our modern life. It is not nearly so helpful when a person is getting ready to perform music or make a speech. Or, for that matter, take a high-stakes test. The flight fight reaction does not respond to verbal language. Telling yourself to “calm down” does not work. If someone tells you to “Calm Down!” it can make it worse. But, there is no way that you would  count and breath slowly (and deeply – deep is important) if there was a bear in your cave. And this incongruity (five syllables- Yay!) communicates with your lizard brain where flight=fight begins. In short, the theory is that the deep slow breath communicates with the inner brain to convince it to calm down.  While I may have taken liberties in simplifying this explanation, the point is that it works and does not require a long time to learn or any special skill.

I have seen it work countless times in my performance psychology classes and with individuals. There is research that shows that it works.  However, the point of this post is to get you to do your own research by doing your own counted breathing.

One last thought: People are different. Some do better with one breathing technique and some with another. This is fine. For most the third technique is the best. But if you like another one better you are not alone. Take what works best for you.

A word of warning: Do not perform an extended breathing exercise while driving or similar activities.  A breath or two to avoid road rage is fine.

The Basics of Counted Breathing:

Three variations in counted breathing with my names for them…

1. Two dimensional breath: Four counts in and four counts out. Some people are good with this one and do not need to proceed to the others. Breath deeply and slowly. And breathe smoothly. Make sure it takes all four counts to breath in and the entire four counts to breath out. It seems simple. It is simple. But it works. This is a “mindfulness” meditation. If you notice during your session that you aren’t actually counting your breath because your mind has wandered,  just easily move back to the counting and continue. This is true for all the variations.

Think at a slow speed: In, two, three, four and Out, two, three, four. But slowly!!!! Try two to five breaths and notice how the tension leaves your physical system each time you exhale.  Do this before you do a five to ten minute session as described below.

2. Triangle: Breath in for four counts, hold four counts, and out four counts. Everything else is the same. You are just gently hold your breath in this one. Once again, use all four counts for each step..

3. Square breath (my favorite): In four, hold our, out four, hold four, repeat.
For most people twenty minutes is more than enough. Sometimes if I have a big performance coming I will do more than that. People who have compromised lunh or heart function) should consider whether the “out four, hold four” section is right for them.

As an aside, counted breathing works a lot better when you are going to sleep than counting sheep….

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Many people get everything they need out of counted breathing without proceeding to the extended session described next.  That is fine.  The next section those who want a regular program of breathing to instill calmness and reduce stress generally.

I want to encourage you to explore this, but many positive benefits are available if you  haven’t gotten everything prepared for the session described below.

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What you will need:

A quiet place (at first) where you will not be interrupted. After you are an experienced “breather” you will be able to do this on the school bus, in the subway, on stage or back stage before a performance or in the hall waiting to be called in to play your solo or to audition. But initially you should begin in a comfortable quiet place.

Some way of timing your session. Sometimes people fall asleep unintentionally when they learn to calm themselves. (Counted breathing can be an effective drug free sleep aid.) You need a sound that will signal you that your session is over that is not truly alarming. There are timed meditation sessions on YouTube that start and end with the sound of meditation bells. It is not necessary to actually watch the video. These bells are an excellent traditional sound for easily ending a breathing session.  Some modern phone ring tones which are soothing also work well.

Some people use a soft metronome beat, especially at first. I did not, but it is OK if you find it helpful. Metronome apps can also be found online. Once a person gets a sense of the timing the exact speed of the breath is not important. You can define your own “slow” speed.  One beat per second (60 on the metronome) is a good place to start.  Some people do, however, prefer to keep the metronome going.   Experiment and learn what works best for you.

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Before you begin your first home meditation session

Sit or recline comfortably in a place where you will not be disturbed. Have the metronome and meditation timer handy if you intend to use one. It is also possible to have a friend help you count by counting the breath slowly. They can also serve as a timer. Comfortable clothing is good too, but is not required. A counted breath can be effective even when you are in an uncomfortable theater costume, choir robe, tuxedo, or marching band uniform. When you are doing a counted breath each segment of the breath will be four counts long. (For now.) Make sure to think about breathing in lots of air in a relaxed manner. Do not try to force a big breath in, but do think of filling up easily and naturally. Let your body figure out how to get the air in.

A word to the wise: During a timed session you may notice that you are nice and calm, but you have stopped counting and breathing deeply. This is a normal occurrence. Not only is it normal, it can be a good thing. When you notice the counting has gone you may also notice your mind is rather floating in a very good place. This feeling will, if you are laying down, lead to sleep. As soon as you notice it just return easily, effortlessly, and smoothly to your counted  breathing.

When you are through, rouse up slowly to give your mind time to transition from your relaxing breathing session to everyday life.

 

There are advanced techniques that go beyond what is here.   These are much better explained in a lesson or a live workshop rather than on paper.

I want to give a big thank you to who ever is sharing this in the UK.  It is nice to know that it is sparking some interest outside my circle.   

A Few Parting Thoughts – From My Last Concert Program

I wYouCanNeverHaveanted to address the audience at our last concert before I retired. I knew the concert was plenty long and the seats in our school gym were not the most comfortable.  Any more than the most brief necessary remarks seemed inappropriate. So I decided to write it all out and insert it into the concert program.   Oddly, some of the ideas have surfaced in other blog posts I have written since then. I was unaware of this until I re-read.

For the second year I am not getting ready for school at this time of year.   This seemed like a good time to share this with my blog readers. I usually edit, but this is clipped directly from the program file.  Feedback appreciated.

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To Students (current and former), Parents, Friends, Relatives, Colleagues, et al,

I have had a lot on my mind as my final year in Broken Arrow draws to a close. I decided it would be a good idea to write some things down rather than spending a long time telling you all about it. I do, however, reserve the right to save a few things to tell you later this evening.

I am so grateful for the love and support of so many people who have made it possible for me to do what I do. My student’s success rests directly on the efforts of so many people who have been their for our students, our school, and for me personally. A good teacher can become a great teacher when surrounded by people who share the same cause.

First, I would like to thank my wonderful family. They have tolerated having a music educator/performer/composer/arranger in the family all these years. Although we are all musical, having the Dad of the house involved in so many musical activities is, I think, especially challenging. Somehow through it all we have managed to raise two amazing children and even find some time for church work and for some travel. The dogs seem happy and healthy too. They have truly been the wind beneath my wings.

I would also like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to work with your children as they have passed through my program these past twelve years. There is no such thing as a perfect school system (or a perfect teacher) but we get a lot of things right here in Broken Arrow. Parents are a big part of this, both in support of their own children and in the school system. The people of Broken Arrow have high expectations of our school system and have been courageous and determined in their quest to insure the availability of a great education for their children.

This includes the support given at the ballot box. Our wonderful new orchestra room is a direct result of sacrifice by parents and, indeed, everyone in Broken Arrow. This room serves both band and orchestra students at Childers Middle School. Some people are very critical of schools these days. When public schools are doing well it is because the people of the community stay involved in a positive way to make sure that the local school does not go down the path to mediocrity. I had a student return to my orchestra after attending school in another district for a time. The first day back she said, “You know all those things teachers say about how good this school is compared to others? Well, it is true.” People of Broken Arrow must not take this for granted. This school system needs you and it will continue to need you long after your students graduate.

I have worked with eight different middle school principals in three middle schools here in Broken Arrow. On the whole, they have been awesome. The administrative team I now work with on a daily basis is top shelf. I really appreciate this. It is not always so. Early in my career I worked with a superintendent that was, after I left that school, arrested and convicted of embezzlement and arson. (No, really.) It is a breath of fresh air to work with administrators who truly care for teachers and students.

Teachers have been under increasing fire, it seems. A lot of times, when we have not been feeling the love, my fellow teachers have been there for each other. It makes a huge difference. I could say more about this, but I have a nice essay called “On Teachers” that is on my blog. (thehappyrockway.com.)

Now this may seem a little harsh, but someone needs to say it. We continually compete at auditions and contests with orchestras from other schools that are chock full of students who study privately. We have a good number of students who take up private lessons in high school, but by this time they are already behind the learning curve. The combination of individual lessons by a private teacher and playing in a school ensemble is powerful. Students benefit from the one-on-one attention, and they learn both musical and people skills by playing together with others. If students are having success in class lessons should be considered. You do not have to do what we do at our house. My son takes lessons in French Horn, piano, and voice. One or two will be fine. Congratulations if your child is already studying privately. Perhaps you could share the benefits of private instruction with others. Students who do not study privately are still valued orchestra members. But if you would like to provide this for your students be assured that lessons with a good teacher is worth the investment of time, money and gas for the car. In addition to lessons, there are summer opportunities for musical growth. Tulsafest is held at TCC. Summer strings is held right here in Broken Arrow and is an exceptional value.

Quality instruments are also important. A high quality instrument is a true musical and financial investment. Like financial investments, they can be kept for a long time and, in some cases, sold for more than their original cost.

Sadly, too many students who are really good at orchestra leave the program for other things where they do not have the same success. Or, even worse, for things that offer no challenge or growth. It is really hard to catch up after a year out of orchestra, even with lessons. This is a decision that can mean giving up a lifetime of music enjoyment. I have repeatedly seen average students who stick with an instrument become above average students, both musically and academically. I have seen above average students become academic superstars. The decision to keep playing is a little bigger than what to order at Braum’s after the concert. Watching this year after year has been so painful over the years. It is not about “my” orchestra, especially at this point. In fact, since it is not about me at this point, perhaps someone will listen.

I have also seen students leave orchestra to truly pursue excellence in another field. This is awesome. I always tell students who leave orchestra that I expect them to rock whatever they decide to do. One of my former students won a state individual golf championship. Two others paid for college with athletic scholarships, one in softball and one in soccer. So perhaps not everyone should stay in orchestra. But leave for a positive reason. I have had too many students come into my office over the years and literally cry because they wish they had stayed in.

I have one last recommendation for those involved in our orchestra program, regardless of the role they play. Orchestra is an amazing and great thing. Internationally it is the most common professional musical ensemble. Professional orchestras are found literally all over the world on all the inhabited continents. We actually have two professional orchestras here in Tulsa. My advice is this: Be your own kind of awesome. Orchestra offers a unique experience to students that makes it an important piece of the fine arts puzzle. This is a valid experience for students who intend to study music in college as well as those who play for fun. Orchestras make a great range of music. The instruments truly speak to people. If you try to out band the band or out choir the choir or out drama drama department it is a waste of time. We can stand proudly along side those other great organizations best by doing what we do and doing it very well. It is up to all of us, parents, students, orchestra teachers (and former teachers) to let people know about it.

Thanks to everyone for making my time here a great experience!

At this point I think I need to be quiet and let the music talk.

How to Make Things Get Worse – or Better: Learning to reduce self-inflicted problems.

Newly updated.

The Happy Rock Way

happyrockonblackmakingthingsbetter

Sometime during my tenure as a school music teacher I spent many hours listening to recordings of rehearsals with the conductor score in hand attempting to learn what needed to improve in a particular ensemble.  I began to notice something that happened yearly regardless of the ensemble.  It may have played out differently in a band than in a choir or string orchestra, but the underlying problem was the same.

Here is how it works in a string orchestra class.  A student realizes that something does not sound good.  Perhaps they are out of tune, or maybe it is their neighbor, but most likely it is the student who notices the bad sound that is out of tune.  In response, the student slows down their bow.   As a result, they are now still out of tune and also playing with a bad tone.  In their attempt to hide the problem…

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Getting In Touch With Your Inner Nerd

happyrockonblackbgurinner nerd

This happened:
It was the last few minutes of the last period of the middle school day.  My seventh and eighth grade orchestra students were putting their instruments away.  One student, Aundrea, was still seated and putting her violin in the case while most of the rest were putting their instruments in storage or lining up to take them home.  Aundrea was a delight to have in class.  She worked hard on her music and had exceptional manners.  It was obvious that there were high expectations in her family.  On the other hand, she also had a purple streak in her hair, which was a little wild in a way that seemed to work for her, and a pierced eyebrow.   She seemed surprised when I told her that some of the sixth grade beginners who met her on their way out of orchestra were a little scared of her.   (I knew they would get over it when they got to know her. This is indeed what happened.)  On this particular day, she said , actually and for true, “Mr. Reck, why are you so cool?”  This required some quick thinking, since no one had asked me that question before.  Never ever. I resisted the temptation to look around and see if she was talking to a cool person who had walked in the  room   I answered in all sincerity, “I am a huge nerd.  But I am good with it and that makes it cool.”

She responded, “That’s it! Let’s go tell the others!”  And she did.   I later thought it was odd that she didn’t say something else.  “Mr. Reck, you’re not a nerd.”  “…not a HUGE nerd…”  “No, Mr Reck, really why?”  Her actual reply would have been a great leap for many middle School students.  She took a giant step right there. It really is cool to be a nerd.  Being cool is basically about being comfortable being you, shortcomings and all.  If you happen to be a nerd you can get into a lot of trouble trying to be something else.  To bring it into better focus,  this also includes being able to own up to your mistakes rather than being convinced that you do not make any.  It is also incorrect (and narcissistic) to believe that you make do mistakes but that they are, of  course, the fault of other people.

At a Christmas party a parent told me that her daughter, after initially considering band as an elective, decided against it because, “that is a class all the nerds take.”  She seemed certain (and relieved)  that her daughter had avoided certain nerdness (possibly true) and that this was a good thing.  (Actually and for true she said that.  She truly acted relieved that her daughter had made the right choice for the right reason.)  Since that time things have changed some.   Thanks to a certain sitcom featuring a group of nerdy scientists and several movies featuring nerdy but lovable characters it is now somewhat more OK to be a nerd.  The definition of nerd seems to evolve over time.  On the other hand, being “cool” still is supposed to be good.

But there are still far too many students (and even some adults) who pretend to think that being a nerd is ok when they would much rather be one of the cool kids.  Being a nerd is just more OK for those who are not fortunate enough to be cool.  But nerds they remain.  They are not good with it.

Back in the fifties, jeans were not allowed in many schools. Young men wore slacks and dress shirts with leather dress shoes to school. Young women wore dresses or skirts.  A nerd, whether male or female, not only wore glasses, but had uncool frames that were taped together.  Nerds were not just unattractive, they were also somewhat uncoordinated and they severely lacked social skills.   Rick Moranis was cast as such a geeky nerd in both Ghostbusters (Louis Tully) and Little Shop of Horrors (Seymour).

(I leave out this paragraph when I am speaking to middle school students. If you share this with middle school students you have my permission to leave it out as well.)  I knew, as a realist, that some students in my orchestra class would be given a hard time about playing in orchestra from the social elite  of their school. Sometimes they would be called dorks, which is really the same thing.  Orchdorcks, specifically.   So I would have a part of a class session in beginning orchestra each year about being a nerd or not and exactly what that meant.  Sometimes we would even role play.    The idea was to vaccinate the students against those who would try to bully them by using the term “nerd” or any other manipulative term.

Most years I would have a special lesson in beginning orchestra on a day that was normally not very productive.  This could, for instance, be the day after a concert or a class that was shortened because of an assembly.   It was far enough into the year that students had figured out how things worked in middle school, more or less.   I would make two columns on the board.  (This started out as a chalk board and morphed into a white board over the years.  I left before it became a smart board in my room.)    One column was labeled “NERDS” and the other “COOL KIDS.”  One by one I would list things students did and asked them to put them in the Nerd or Cool Kids column on the board.  If I had a creative group I might ask them for suggestions.

I am sure you don’t need any help with this, but here are some of the terms and where they would invariably go:
Be on time to class every day (nerds)
Do inappropriate things with boyfriend or girlfriend (cool kids)
Sneak into parents liquor/get drunk (cool kids)
Treat teachers with respect (nerds)
Be on time to class every day (huge nerds!)
Cut class (cool kids)
Change clothes at school to wear things their parents did not know about (cool kids)
Play in band or orchestra (nerds)
For your information,  I never heard a student say that some of the things I listed of were so bad that cool kids did not do them.  Basically, these days a nerd is anyone who follows the rules, shows respect, and tries to make good grades.Those are all good things, last time I checked.   Even students who are socially well adjusted and have friends are still nerds by this definition.  Some parents do not understand this when they hear students talk about nerds and dorks.  Or geeks.

Now, the next step in the class presentation is not what you might think.  I avoided saying, “Oh dear, we do not want to be cool kids, do we?”  Because some middle school students are still working out their priorities.   I always asked them, “If you have children when you grow up, do you want them to be nerds or cool kids?   They pretty much all wanted their kids to be nerds after the true nature of a nerd had become apparent.

Now, to the adults who are reading this:  If you think that students would rarely quit an elective in which they were successful just because someone called them a nerd then you are sadly mistaken.  It is not possible to avoid this totally.  But preparing students for the bullying and harassment is helpful and sometimes deprives bullies of their greatest reward, their ability to manipulate other people.

After this discussion we would, time permitting, role play.   I would have one student be the bully and I would be the dork/nerd.   Some students were surprisingly good at this, which seemed to indicate that they could draw on their experiences with bullies.  One of my orchestra students was exceptional.   I later asked her privately if she had to deal with a lot of manipulation and head games and she answered in the affirmative.

Our game was simple.  The bully would come up to me and give me a hard time about being in orchestra. I would stand up tall and answer them firmly.
Bully:   Orchestra is a big nerd class.
Me:   (Standing tall and facing bully directly) Some of us like it.  A lot.

Bully:   You are a dork   Orchestra is for dorks.  (Laughs)
Me:  (Same body posture) ” You can have your opinion, but I like it and I don’t care if you don’t.”
Sometimes the class would actually clap.  Most students were quite speechless because I was so direct.  I would explain that if you spoke softly and looked at your shoes you would not get far.Bullies are often so used to people caving that they don’t know what to do if someone is more direct with them.

I also explained that sometimes if you act with confidence and assurance some bullies will pick another person rather than risk being verbally humiliated in public.

Some of you will have, of course, figured out that this is about more than just retaining students in the music program.   The ability to stand up for what is right is a life skill. But it does sometimes make a student a lot happier about taking a fine arts elective.

Be a nerd and be proud.   And pass on the secret.

As usual, I reserve the right to revise and extend this post.

Be Your Own Kind of Awesome!

I was discussing a situationhappyrockrockyourcorner at school once with someone who probably does not want to be identified here.  (I apologize for the mysterious nature of the opening, but I stole this person’s idea and I don’t want to pretend to take creative credit. And they would prefer I not use their name.)  There were two school organizations (names have been changed to protect everyone’s self esteem.)  So, let’s just say that the Future Bird Watchers Club had been a Big Deal for awhile and a lot of students came out for the meetings after school.  They had community projects and other chapters of the Future Bird Watchers Clubs all over the state were somewhat jealous.  In the same school the Future Architects had a small but loyal following.  FA members did well in school and they had actually had several alumni who were successful in the field of architecture, a fine record by any measure.

My friend and I had actually both made the same observation. The Future Architects had begun to try to attract the large numbers (like the Bird Watchers club) and do more high profile projects.    After awhile everyone could see, we guessed, that Future Architects leadership was trying to out-do the Bird Watchers Club by basically copying them in style and manner.  I allowed that I thought this was a mistake.  And my friend, agreeing, replied, “They should try to be their own kind of awesome.”

I was cool about it, but inwardly I was thinking, “That’s a great way of saying it.”  I could probably end this post right here.  Be your own kind of awesome!

Feel free to stop reading now.   But it seems like there is more to say.

I know many of us have tried to keep up with the next guy.  (OK, I have  done this. Is there anyone that has not? Perhaps some have escaped this.)  This seems to be a very human thing to do.   It is a waste of time, especially on the personal level. We always seem to know this when we see others do it.  I would imagine we know when we do it too if we take time to consider it. Emulating a successful person can be helpful, to be sure.  But you will have to attack life in your own way regardless of where you get your inspiration.

It is just a sad thing to watch when it happens.  During my teaching career it was at times oddly amusing when I saw middle school students repeatedly making the same mistakes year after year.  Middle School students will copy the wardrobe and hair style of the alpha males and females in their school.  Adults generally know that some clothing, makeup, and hair styles look good on one person but not on another.  So the fashions that work well for the alpha female make some of the other girls look a little foolish.  (Same for the guys, to a lesser degree.) Most people learn, eventually, that they are themselves and not someone else.   The Happy Rock Way is about learning this sooner and deeper.

My Aunt Esther was one of the most successful people I have ever known.  She was educated as a nurse, but her profession was co-managing a farm.  (Some call this profession “farmer’s wife”, but that really misses the point.)  Uncle Bill was in poor health with MS for many years of their marriage. They never had children.   But she achieved a level of personal contentment that I have rarely seen.   She seemed to have achieved true mastery of the world around her.

Having no children of her own, she borrowed her nieces and nephews to help  in the summer and managed their efforts with a skill that would impress any corporate manager.  We met at her house to divide her household goods on her passing, per the request in her will.  The executor, from the local bank, was surprised and relieved about the orderly way we developed to do this.  But Aunt Esther’s rules (we all knew them perfectly well) were still in effect.   We had a great time. And I truly appreciated her wisdom in causing us all of us to gather together at her place one last time.

Her farm was not luxurious and was somewhat run down.  The cousins speculated that it would not bring much when auctioned.  But, oh,  the natural beauty of this property, which was situated west of Enid on a hill over looking a series of spring-fed ponds, was astounding.  The string of ponds had once been a seventeen acre lake, but the earthen dam was in poor repair.  I was looking down on the ponds from the front yard of the farm house and watched a raft of ducks fly in and land feet first in the pond.   Just like in the nature video.   And I figured if the right person came to the auction that this beautiful location which really did not look like northwestern Oklahoma would fetch a premium.  And it did. But to my Aunt it was just home.

Aunt Esther seemed to fit in her world like a hand in a tight glove.  She was at peace in life and death.  She loved God.  She loved her family.  She was full of wise statements if you were paying attention.

Aunt Esther was her own kind of awesome.   She defined the terms of her success and her definition worked for her and for those around her.  I suppose an alcoholic could define success as being drunk as much as possible.  But that is not quite it.   When viewed in this manner, success is not about societies’ definition of wealth or power.  Success is taking your unique life, abilities, and experiences and rocking your corner of the world as only you can.

Sure, I know people that I from time have something in life that I would like to have.  It takes far too long to realize that I would NOT trade everything I have for everything they have.   And life is more about everything than it is about any one thing.  It is wonderfully complex and varied.  It is lying besides the still waters and walking through the valley of the shadow of death.   Life will teach you a few things if you are ready to move and learn and grow instead of getting stuck under the circumstances.

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A short note:
I seem to see a lot of people these days whose life has really come off the rails. Nothing is moving forward for them. College was supposed to happen. It didn’t. Family support seems to have disappeared. The love of a lifetime turned out not so be so. The college degree didn’t lead to the expected career. And more. For those who feel like they are indeed stuck, consider why this is so.  I have at times sought the counsel of others who I considered wise and helpful.   If this had not worked, I would have sought a professional counselor I could trust.   If if you are mired in a life that is not working please consider doing this. I have had some success as a friendly life coach. Contact me if you want. I have enough sense to tell someone when they really need to see a professional. I have one friend that calls the professional the “therapist” and me the “shrink.” Maybe it helps to have both. But do seek a way out of your dilemma.

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.” – Elbert Hubbard. Keep seeking and have faith.

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Now, some practical tips to go along with the pep talk.

Here is the best I can do to explain at this point in my life:  We must continually seek to be a better version of our unique selves.  If you are a Christian person you can consider the parable of the talents.   If not, you can just trust me that life is more fulfilling if you make the most of it.  This seems like a simple idea on the surface, and perhaps it is.  But if you accept the challenge you will find there are plenty of adventures to be had, as well as times of heartache.   You will, with the help of Providence, be on the road to becoming the unique and  awesome person you were meant to be.  You may not have riches or fame.  Or maybe you do.  But one thing you will have is a large sense of achievement and well-earned self respect. (Self respect is far more important than self-esteem.)  You will have done something no one else could do.  You will create something beautiful and unique.

Some of these things are going to require you to write some things down.  It is important  that you do some soul searching and decide what you can and want to do and how you can make that into a life.    This isn’t about right answers that will make everyone happy.  It is about assessing the life you have been given.  It is about deciding how to bring your best to the world in your own extraordinary and awesome way.  You will do some things that others can do better. But in the end no one will be able to do and be everything you can do and be as well as you.

1.   Take an inventory of things you can do well and that you like to do.  Make it a column.  Make three.  In the second column, put things that you can do well even though you don’t especially like doing them.   These are skills you have when you need them.  They may help you get where you want to go. But you may not want to get in a position that involves doing things you can do but don’t like and doing them all day long.   And make a third column of things that you really really don’t like to do and don’t do very well and would rather avoid when possible.  As you are exploring life, this list will help you recognize opportunities as they arrive.

You will discover new things.  As you confront life’s challenges you will also find that you actually grow in your ability to do some things. Things might move from one column to another.  (For me, keeping track of school fundraising money was a huge pain.  But I wanted to do as much of it for myself as possible after seeing teachers get in more trouble over the way they handled money than the way they taught.  My last teaching year our one fundraiser grossed over $ 14,000 and i accounted for all of it.)  Sometimes things seem to appear from nowhere. I have been playing and singing music since I was quite young, but I did not begin the study of the double bass until I was twenty one years old.  I had my first original choral composition performed when I was in my late twenties.   Your list will vary.  Of course.  Be prepared to surprise yourself.

I think is good to actually write this on paper.   You can edit it at any time.  If it is in ink just scratch it out and/or add to it.   As life goes on, some of the things will be more specific.  You could start with “I want to make a difference.”  This could grow into   “I want to be a teacher.”   This could grow into “I want to teach remedial reading to third graders in an inner-city school.” (Or not.)

2.  Be open to discovering new things about yourself and learning new skills.   It is Ok if some of them are fun and have nothing to do with your job.  It is OK if they do.   I had the opportunity to go to London to hear the premier one of my choral compositions.  A member of the choir offered me a place to stay.  Eva Heyman (a sister of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus) was a well seasoned citizen who had managed to leave Nazi Germany at the age of nine to escape the Holocaust who later became a nun.  She offered me a place in their London residence off Cavendish square.  (More about her amazing story here:  http://www.shcj.org/european/our-story/stories/eva-heymann/
In her eighth decade she had just picked up a new hobby, painting.  She showed  me a painting she had finished.   She had also just begun counseling AIDS patients, victims of a disease no one knew of when she was growing up.  Two big new things……  She was and is an inspiration.   From one of the video’s on the link above:  “Fear is destructive, but hope has immense power.”

3.  Learn how to work your own brain!   We all think and learn differently.  This is a little more challenging, but when you figure out the way you like to do things you will do better.  Consider this comparison of great composers.  Mozart, who had a phenomenal memory, would write music in his head while doing other things, like taking a walk in the woods.   He seems to have been able to edit and replay thing in his head and then play the whole thing back without writing it down.    Later he would write it down, perhaps while he was shooting billiards.   His original scores were very neat because he was finished with the piece before he ever put it to paper.   Beethoven, on the other hand, worked all of his ideas out on paper.   It is possible to get an incredible view of his creative process by examining the discarded ideas in his notebooks. (There is a very cool video about this by Leonard Bernstein.  He plays things from Beethoven’s notebooks and then shows what the discarded version sounds like when played by an orchestra.  It sound pretty good, until you hear the final version, which is amazing. It is really bad video quality, but here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yj2-G0RdiOI )   Then there was Chopin.  He seems to have written down thing that he played on the piano.  His fingers did the composing and then he wrote them down.

Which one was right?   They all were.  They had all figured out how to use their own brains.   I took a big step forward in my singing when I reminded myself that I had always sung for fun.  Not joy, but actual fun.   The more fun I try to have the better I sing.   For some, “just having fun” would be a performance disaster.   But it works for me. My brain. My way. You find yours!

4.  Remember to seek your own definition of success.  You get to do this.   Take advantage.   This is not about trying to do a very little and succeeding.  This is about attempting to do something awesome and succeeding.  But you get to decide how you are going to be awesome at each stage of life.

5. You should also review this other entry on my blog:
https://thehappyrockway.com/2014/12/03/rock-your-corner/

6. If you are non-verbal, try this awesome Pixar Short

Day and Night

That’s it for now.   I reserve, as usual, the right to revise and extend (or shorten) my remarks.

Six Skills of the Professional Encourager

happyrockonblackbgencourager

In the musical theater version of Camelot Arthur has a moment when he recalls something Merlin said to him when he was younger. Merlin, who has since been bewitched and is no longer available for counsel and guidance, mentioned the “Round Table.” In a bright moment of epiphany, Arthur realizes that he has somehow fulfilled a part of his destiny.

Destiny is an elusive thing. Sometimes (perhaps frequently) it is only easy to see in hindsight. Which begs the question as to whether it is destiny, or just what actually happened.

I prefer not to think of it as a Calvinistic predetermined destiny.  I  believe that we are a unique set of abilities and preferences the predispose us for things.  But we must decide what we do with what we have been given.

What would be an ideal life for one might be hell for another. In my life circle there are artists who can walk into a room, look around, leave, and then remember what everyone was wearing, where they were sitting, and probably what kind of mood they were in. I cannot do this. Not even close. Perhaps you can. I have my own set of uncommon abilities and so do you.  But this sort of visual memory escapes me. Some mundane things that others take for granted I can only do with great concentration if at all.  But I also have abilities that are unique that set me apart.  SO DO YOU!

Being an encourager is all about helping everyone we know to become better versions of themselves.  This is more challenging that you might think, because the natural inclination is to want everyone to be like us.

That is a lot of explaining about individual differences to set up a discussion of something that, at least in the world of the Happy Rock Way, everyone can do to some degree. And once they learn to do it some they can, with intentional effort, do it more and better. There are no tests, evaluations, certifications, or degree programs. Perhaps the best news is that there are no student loans. There will be some soul searching and perhaps even some false starts. Even some personal fails. In this sense, the pursuit of excellence is normal.  You can be an encourager.  And maybe even a professional.

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My Journey

Like King Arthur, I stumbled one day upon an idea. It wasn’t from Merlin. It was from a person I spoke to by chance in a coffee shop. At this point in my life my children were studying piano in a studio on 15th street in Tulsa. One of the lessons was forty five minutes long. I would go to the Utica Square Starbucks, get a cup of brewed coffee, and read a book. I rarely spoke to anyone. Almost never. I was in full introvert mode.

On this particular day, however, I had gotten my coffee and was heading to my seat when I saw a woman sitting in the corner. I am not one to see auras, but I had a moment of perception. This woman seemed to be having a bad day. I couldn’t really see a rain cloud over her head, but this sense that something was not going well was strong. There were a lot of good reasons to file that away and go on. She was a lot younger than I was. Some people are comfortable talking to people outside of their age group. (Teachers usually are.) Some are not. And if a person is having a bad day maybe they just want to deal with it. Something in my noggin told me to at least ask after her well-being. “Are you OK?” That seemed safe.

“This morning I went to a funeral at 10:00am for my bosses son. Died of a drug overdose. And it has gone downhill from there.” Man. I had no words of wisdom, except for to agree. That was bad. And I am not sure, but I think she was waiting for someone who was late.  My new friend’s name was Valerie.

I am not clear about everything we discussed in the next few minutes. I think I was actually in a conversational flow state. No, really. When you are in flow, no matter what the activity, individual details sometimes get lost. (Leonard Bernstein claimed he could not remember anything of his debut performance with the New York Philharmonic.  So this post is not as socially significant, but flow is flow wherever you experience it.) I asked her what she did. She said she was a singer/songwriter. Part of my brain was skeptical about this. I told it to shut up. She was having a bad enough day without me going into cynical musician mode. So I asked about it. She opened up her laptop and played a song she had written and recorded. And I mean, she had actually written it. As in every note she sang and played on her guitar was written out in musical notation that played back on the screen as I listened to the song. It was obvious that she had some uncommon skills and training. And she could sing. It was a song of raw passion and it showed. I had no trouble being appreciative.

The ice was shattered like a nerd’s ego after a prom date rejection. From that point on it seems like we had become instant old friends. We talked of life and what made it important. I told her I did a lot of things but my day job was teaching string orchestra to middle school students. I said that sometimes I didn’t feel like a teacher. I was more of an encourager. It was challenging work. People truly seem to understand that teaching is challenging work.

There were other things discussed, but this story can go on without them. About the same time I needed to head out the door for chauffeur duty here came her long awaited friend. I got introduced. Val said,  “This is Rob. He’s a Professional Encourager!”

“I never said I was ‘professional’.”

“You said you taught middle school……” (This was true.  Could not argue.)

I decided Valerie was right. I took it and ran with it. Since that moment, I have striven to be a Professional Encourager. It turns out that doing it well is challenging. In fact, I am not sure how well I do. I just know that I am always giving it a shot and I am reasonably sure that I am at least better than I was. It is all about being a ray of sunshine. Or, once again, attempting to be a ray of sunshine.

I have had some huge fails. It is hard to encourage someone unless you know something about their aspirations. And some people just aren’t ready to discuss this with someone they do not know. It can be easier with people you know some, but that really limits you. I have offered a couple of people a Happy Rock who reacted like I was offering them a wedgie. I just figure that is all about where they are and move on. All this just to say that it is OK to fail. The Happy Rock Way is to make mistakes and learn rather than make the the larger mistake of doing nothing out of fear of making a mistake. Which is a mistake. See?

Are there some things you can do to help improve your encouraging skills? Sure. Some are generally good advice, and some are especially good for Professional Encouragers. If you work on them until the become more of a habit, you will find that it gets easier. Your encouraging skills will improve.

And how do you make it a habit?  Just be intentional about your awareness of encouraging opportunities and give it a shot when it seems right.   After a while (Zig Ziglar always said it takes three weeks.  That seems about right.)

Here you go……

Six Habits of the Professional Encourager

1. Be sincere and have faith in people – In his famous book about How to Win Friends and Influence People, Norman Vincent Peale talks about the power of a sincere compliment. Anything less is cheap flattery. If you can personally believe and have faith in someone’s ability to do something with enough work and drive, then tell them so. If someone has a nice smile, mention it.  If your artist friend creates something moving and beautiful, whether it is a visual work or a performance, take some time to mention it. If your writer friend writes well, let them know. If a person seems like a light in a dark world, mention it.   And tell them why.

Much, perhaps most, of my success as a music teacher had to with having faith and believing that students could perform at a high level and keep improving.

Oddly, when I was sincerely disappointed in a student’s performance and progress it was uncanny how often I found out that they had a substance abuse issue. However faith and belief in a person works, it doesn’t work as well when chemical dependency is involved.  There are other spiritual and mental factors that can derail a person’s growth as well.   But keep trying.

2. Pay attention – In the story above I was fortunate enough to notice that something was bothering another human being. People are broadcasting stations for all manner of things if you are paying attention. You do not need to try to consciously analyze what you are getting from the person. Your brain is hard-wired to do this. Sometimes trying to figure it out makes it harder. There is a famous study in which pictures of facial expressions were shown all over the world. It turns out most facial expressions mean the same thing in all cultures all over our world. A smile does not mean sadness anywhere on our planet. So you are not just paying attention to the other person, you are calmly paying attention to what your inner voice is telling you about the other person.  Listen!

This positively made me a better teacher.

It takes some practice. Interpreting your own inner voice can be learned and improved.

When I began to get better at this I was horrified to learn that I had been chastising students for lack of interest or poor attitude when they were actually depressed, or sick, or any number of things that can cause a middle school student to withdraw. Instead of yelling at students to sit up and play their instrument right now I would often ask them to come talk to me so I could find out what was wrong. And oh, my, did I find out. Divorce. Drugs. Divorce and drugs. Mental, physical, and even sexual abuse. I heard all of it.  But more often it was just allergies or their dog was sick. Amazingly, once the students knew I was concerned for them they were more willing to work with me, even before their problem was solved.

You should also pay attention when you are actually encouraging. It is not helpful to encourage a person about their wonderful possibilities as an Olympic high jumper when they really want to play the oboe. Find out what they want or help them find out what they want. (Just like in acting class.)

3. Be persistent – In the words of Zig Ziglar, “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly.” That is, doing poorly until you learn how to do it well.

4. Have courage – If you are an introvert or not especially interactive, or if this is an idea that is new and different for you, you can still make progress. Learn how to do this in your own way. None of this advice concerns specific techniques. It is mostly about attitudes and personal values.

5. Be sensitive and sensible – This flows from Paying Attention. Suppose someone was to tell me that I dance “really well for a white guy.” It might be, I think, sincere though not accurate. I don’t dance well regardless of the frame of cultural reference. It would not be very encouraging. If the person does not react to some kindness in the manner you expect, then back off and reassess the situation.

6. Accept the emotions of others – If a person is sad, it is OK. I try to avoid saying, “Don’t be sad.” People have emotions for a reason. Accept them. Then maybe you can help them move on from there. It seems like I always have a friend or three going through a rough patch. I may try to cheer them up after I have accepted and affirmed who they are and how they feel. I can get upset at people for doing things. But I try to avoid getting upset at a person for how they feel. They feel how they feel. Now what do we do? Sometimes your acceptance of a person’s feelings will allow them to accept them too.  And then, if need be, move on from them.

7. Learn from your mistakes. This is, of course, truly the Happy Rock Way. Fail upward by learning. If you say something nice to someone and they throw it back in you face it is OK to keep trying. But see if you can’t think back and learn from the rejection. Maybe they weren’t ready to be encouraged that day. Figure it out. I am still learning. Lots.

Some final notes, warnings, and/or advanced concepts

There are some things I avoid in my encouraging.  I never, never, never tell anyone they are “smart”.   Suppose someone is or isn’t smart.  There is nothing you can do about “smart”.  So that implies that the person is just lucky and telling a person they are lucky may be accurate but it is not encouraging nor is it a compliment.   Praising anything that is beyond control can be received poorly.

Ask anyone who seems to be intelligent or who makes good grades if they are tired of people telling them they are smart.   Telling them they are smart or (no really) talented actually devalues the time, effort, and downright hard work they have done to get good grades or to excel in an art form.   In truth, the talent compliment is more likely to be viewed as good, but not always.  And the person who hears a compliment based on talent may assume that they do not have talent when they just need to get to work.

Here is a link to more information about this.  This may help you understand how to more effectively praise or encourage.

Praise Children for Effort, Not Intelligence

In the same manner, I am very careful about praising a person’s appearance.  Partly because we live in a world where comments on a persons look can easily cross a social line, but also because some people have the perception that beauty is something you have rather than something you earn or do.

Sometimes I will actually say, “Would it be appropriate to say that you are really looking great today?”   I have never gotten in trouble saying that, so far.   But I only do this when there is a high degree of mutual respect and understanding.

Here is a  thought.  For some people, looking good is actually a result of a lot of effort, preparation, and self-discipline. In addition, a lot of what we are predisposed to perceive as beauty is actually about looking healthy.  And keeping yourself in good healthy physical condition is not easy for most of us.   And knowing how to present yourself is important as well.   I am clueless about this but I have good advisers.

I am more likely to comment on the look a person has achieved, their use of color, or their fashion statement. In other words, something that they actually did instead of their luck or genetic makeup.  But take care to make sure the person knows that it is all about respect.

Now, if you are in a relationship it is different. I suspect you know this.  You know they are beautiful and you are going to say so.  They will love you for saying it even if they don’t agree with you.

But still be careful about telling your significant other they are smart.  Trust me on this, OK?

Ready, set, go!

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I reserve the right to revise and extend these points. If you feel like I have left something out or otherwise gone astray feel free to leave a comment. This is too important to leave as is.

I would also like to thank Valerie for giving permission to tell the story at the beginning of this piece.  Thank you Val!

Last revision 12/28/2015

Honestly, I was Just Minding My Own Business and Life Happened

LifeHappened

When I was in junior high school a new family joined our church, First Lutheran, in Muskogee, OK..  They quickly made friends with my parents and this friendship continued until recently between my Dad and his best friend, who both survived their wives.  (My Dad’s friend recently went on to his reward and rejoined his wife. It was surely like losing family members.)

My mom’s new best friend became my “other mother.” My other mother was originally from Shawnee, Oklahoma, had a degree in piano from Michigan (!), and was a first class musician.  Her “best of everything for my little girl” father bought her a Steinway piano which she allowed me to thump around on. I now know that she surely coached my mother in the care and feeding of a child who seemed to insist on being a musician.   She actually loaned me her box set of the Toscanini/NBC symphony recordings of the the Beethoven symphonies.   This was even more amazing because my record playing equipment was suspect….

I decided to listen to them in order, just because.   I remember thinking when I got to the scherzo movement of the fifth, hmmm he is still going dit dit dit dah, only in 3/4…..whoa there’s a fugue.  (Other Mother had explained fugues, being a fine organist as well.)   And then the most amazing crescendo into the fifth movement. I was on cloud nine.  To this day I can’t imagine what it must have been like hearing that crescendo at the premier.  It would have to make some sort of top ten list of crescendos. (Crescendo’s had not been around that long as these things go.)    For me it will always be a mountain top moment.

Sometime not long after I figured out that I was going to have to live a life of music.   It did not matter how well or if it worked out… It still doesn’t.  Which is a good thing, since I have not had a storybook musical life or career.  I have had to come to terms with being a really good example of myself and not a cultural icon.  Ah well.

I.just.could.not.imagine.doing.anything.else.

I know that some of my musician friends are thinking about crying as they consider this and some of my non-musician friends can make no sense of it at all. But,  to all of my former students, my family,  and my musical colleagues:  It was Beethoven’s fault.   And Mrs. James. And Mr. Yadon and Mr. Romine and Jerry Huffer and Terry Segress and Dr. James Jurrens.  Oh, and, bless his heart, Skip Klingman. And and and….  I am leaving others out.  (I hope you give them the credit for what I have done will and forgive ME when I have fallen short.)  Lots of teachers and friends helped me along the way. I thank God for each and every one of them.  They helped me learn to make music, to live, and to manage to live the artistic life while maintaining a semblance of sanity.   It has been a wild ride so far and I can’t see that this will change any time soon. Second star to the right and straight on till morning……  Who knows what adventure awaits?