Congratulations to my Graduating Niece the All Star Musician

My 17-year-old niece Rachel McKinzie is a gifted flutist and the fact that my musical skills are limited makes me all the more in admiration of her talent.

Rachel star flutist

Rachel star flutist

She started playing flute in second grade. Then she studies the viola for 2 years in Australia. Back in the states in 7th grade, Rachel began private lessons on flute, her primary instrument. She became the 4th chair and invested in a new pearl flute with a solid silver body and discovered her true gift. In 8th grade, she also began playing alto sax in the jazz band. Then she added piccolo, which she explained, “is basically a flute pitched an octave higher and easier to hear in ensemble because it is a more piercing sound,”

Next she added saxophone to her repertoire. Whereas I may have inherited my father’s gift of coordination to perform any sport easily, Rachel inherited her mom and dad’s musical gene. She can imitate any tone or pitch, and read notes that to me looked like stick figures dancing on lines.

In high school, she was chosen to play piccolo in the top ensemble. As a sophomore she auditioned for the prestigious Cleveland Youth Symphony (CYWS) and made it into the piccolo group one, while continuing private flute lessons and playing jazz sax for Shaker Heights Marching Band.

Rachel and brother Mark - Shaker Heights marching band

Rachel and brother Mark – Shaker Heights marching band

Though more reserved by nature, at a young age she daringly auditioned for Cleveland symphony and orchestras and band and found the courage to perform in churches and halls packed with people in front of the discerning ears of judges.

When she discusses music her blue eyes sparkle with enthusiasm. The musical lingo sounds like a foreign language to me, but she graciously answers questions and explains terminology I should have learned in primary school. Her long fingers dance across the solid silver keys of her new flute. She has the ability to purse her full lips on the instrument to recreate an exact sound.  If God created a physique perfect for wind instruments, surely my niece has it.

“It’s highly technical – roll of keys, turn head, adjust posture, stand relaxed but straight, as if a string is pulling your head and spine into alignment,” Rachel explained patiently. “Flute is harder than the tuba because only half of the amount of air enters the instrument, so you have to breath more.”

In her senior year she earned the place of  first chair flute for the school orchestra and jazz sax in marching band.

“The role of first chair is to make sure your section is playing technically correct,” she told me, “which is not easy because if the sound isn’t perfect, you make people come early before school to practice.”

Listening to her talk I thought how much mastering an instrument is like playing a sport. Discipline. Drive. Practice. Precision. Teamwork. A musician, too, enters the zone especially when performing.

Like an athlete, Rachel practices daily primarily on flute, beginning each 45-minute session with warm up exercises.

“I have to be careful not to play too much piccolo because the embouchement is different on flute and I don’t want to it to interfere with muscle memory.”

As my niece and I watched the Olympics together last August, I asked if there were parallels between the skill of playing a musical instrument to an performing as an athlete.

“It’s nowhere near as physically taxing, but mentally every bit as challenging. It demands so much concentration and focus not to be distracted by the audience.”

“There isn’t a music buzz like runner’s high,” Rachel explained, “but when I play a technically difficult piece I have a sense of accomplishment.”

“For me the success of my practice is determined by whether or not I like what I hear. If it doesn’t sound good to me, if I can’t find the sweet spot, then it is harder to keep going.”

It reminded me of streak shooting in basketball, when releasing the ball, muscle memory took over on the jump shot making it almost effortless.

Whereas Rachel loves the performances, she finds the audition the scariest because there is no accompaniment. Yet throughout her career, she regularly tested her skills against the best in state competitions like the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs where she has always received highest ratings.

As the MVP of every musical award, Rachel, graduated with honors and will attend Butler on scholarship.

Mom passing on the love of music to the next generation

Mom passing on the love of music to the next generation

Like most students, Rachel had a long inventory of tasks to fulfill her senior year: college applications, personal statement, service projects, academic deadlines, marching band. And at the top of her “to do list” – practice flute -where she will continue to leave her mark on the world, one note at a time.

Exquisite.

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Shaker Heights Band Gets Down

Shaker Heights – only place in the USA where as many fans come to see the high school marching band as well as the football team

Football was my first love, but I’ll be the first to admit America can be a bit over the top when it comes to ball games. It’s nice to know there is one place on the planet where the drawing card is not just the football team itself, but the band playing in the halftime performance.

The Shaker Heights school system in the Greater Cleveland area emphasizes the arts and education, and is the rare place where spectators attend the ritual fall weekend game to admire both the band and the ball club.Read more

Christmas Eve – A Night of Reflection

We are all born free.

Where ever you live, whatever your religious convictions, political affiliation, national background take a moment for reflection.

Peace be with you.

Pass it on.

A New Holiday Song to Lighten the Heart

As the holiday frenzy escalates, and we scurry around gift buying, package wrapping, card writing, and cookie baking, I harbor a secret vice to help keep my sanity.   I listen to Christmas music behind closed doors. Why on the sly? Because ironically my bah humbug French husband, a businessman, hates anything commercialized. Consequently I have to curtail my childlike enthusiasm for Christmas, to birthdays to Halloween to a minimum.

But you can bet your booty, as soon as my husband steps out the door, I let the sleigh bells ring, flutes trill, trumpets blare and drums pa rum pum pum pum. I never tire of the old favorites like Silent Night, my grandfather’s favorite, or Oh Tannenbaum and Il Est Né Le Divin Enfant, which remind me of Christmas pasts in Germany and France. The music evokes memories of childhood, family and friends, warm hearths and open hearts.

Though I love the classics, it is always inspiring to add new melodies to the season’s mix.  With the holiday magic of modern times, this Christmas gift arrived via Internet from my blogging buddy in Chicago aka The Self-Righteous Housewife http://theselfrighteoushousewife.blogspot.com/.  Thanks Judy for sharing your friend’s, Christmas Tide’s Coming Soon by Daniel Fergus and Andrew Lidgus with Kelly Longmire at vocal.

This piece, too beautiful to keep secret, was surely composed to go global.  Even the Frenchman gave it the thumbs up!

Enjoy!

 

 

A Fond Farewell to Summer

On a steamy night in Chicago at the end of August, a symphony of crickets and katydids announce summer’s end.  In a blink the hazy, lazy barefoot days of summer are over. Gone are morning sleep-ins, afternoon swims and evening backyard barbeques. School started with its frenzy of class lists, timetable changes, book buying, shoe tying and out-the-door-flying.

And I am back in the land of cheese and chocolate.  From my back patio as the last rays of Indian summer sunshine shimmer over the white-peaked hood of Mt. Blanc, the end of the season melancholy hits me.

So how about a non-toxic, calorie-free pick me up? Nobody blasts away the blues better than the American saxophonist Grover Washington Jr’s window-shaking, horn blowing.  R.I.P. Grover, your music lives on.

Thank you to the father of the smooth jazz genre for lifting up our spirits with the sounds of seventies. For a bit of nostalgia, kick back to a time when it was safe for children to play in the street after dusk, when neighbors helped raise all the kids in the hood and « drive by » was no more harmful than a McDonald’s lunch run.

TGIF from Switzerland!

Sending sunshine in a song!

Summer Song from the album Live at the Bijou (1977)

« Sing that Summer Song,
soon it will gone,
get that fever now,
come we’ll show you how,
sing it in the street »

A Tribute to Michael Jackson – the Tormented Genius

I am dancing around the house to Michael Jackson’s HIStory CD and reminiscing about his life. The World wants to “Rock with You” Michael, as you made your journey from one dimension to another. A year ago on 25 June 2009, just days before his world comeback tour, Michael Jackson, age 50, died of cardiac arrest in his home. It stunned the universe. As if the boy who never grew up could ever grow old and perish. The radio blares Billie Jean and Beat It, the TV shows Michael in concert moonwalking across our living rooms and into our hearts. Michael, the child prodigy, won over everyone regardless of color, nationality, age, and economic level. Since the age of five he entered the music scene as singer with Jackson Five, Michael has fascinated all of us with his artistry as King of Pop.

As part of the baby boomer generation, I grew up with MJ. Every time I hear his songs, I relive the turbulent seventies, a time of social change at the heels of Civil Rights Movement and Viet Nam War, at the height of the Cold War and just before collapse of the Berlin Wall. Michael broke the color barrier in music and went on to become the first African American superstar, before Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Michael became a cultural icon. But he was a tortured genius. As a child star robbed of childhood, Michael never grew up. He epitomizes the identity crisis in each of us…androgynous, neither black nor white, a Peter Pan Man trapped in boyhood. Though he sold over 800 million albums, earning wealth and fame with one record breaking hit after another, his personal life was in shambles and filled with solitude. He lost his fortunes in court fighting to acquit his name. Yet one has to wonder. How many adults lived in A Neverland Estate filled with carousel rides and roller coasters and play hide n seek and engage in water fights to unwind?

A cute kid became a great looking guy, but Michael never liked his reflection and endured endless rounds of plastic surgery and skin blanching. But whereas Michael preferred his sculpted pointed chin and compact nose on paste-colored face, to the rest of the world he looked like a ghostly freak show. Yet we all did our best to overlook Wacko Jacko’s eccentricity and forget his transgression, because we love his beat. Like his songs eluded was he Black or White, this Man in the Mirror?

Across all four corners of globe, from NYC to Los Angeles, Paris to London to Beijing to Moscow fans gathered spontaneously to light candles, sing chorus lines, and dance in the streets.How could someone so loved, died so lonely? Rest in peace, Michael. In the end you defied time, immortalized forever in the sounds you left behind. Thriller, Bad, Scream, I listen to his hits and as if drinking from the fountain of youth, I am magically propelled into the past, remaining ever the adolescent too.