Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Ok, who is this kid? Music makes a difference.

As I posted previously, my son plays in the bell choir at our church.  It’s a good way for him to be part of a group, learn to take direction, and make music– one of his passions.  (I give great kudos to his hand bell choir director, who has learned how to work with my boy and been very patient. I bet he was a great band teacher and school administrator prior to retiring!)

The bell choir plays about 4 times per school year.  Usually, I am my busy self and it dawns on me the Saturday afternoon before the Sunday morning performance that my son needs to have his clothes, shoes, etc. ready.  More than once we’ve had to run out at the last minute to get him dress pants or shoes that fit.

This time, however, was different.

I reminded my son, “Hey, remember what tomorrow is?”

“What?” he replied.


“Oh yes!  Mr. F. wants us to wear green.”

“Yes, we are supposed to dress like it’s spring.”

“Oh.  Well, I don’t think you have anything green.”

“Yes, I do.  I am going to wear my Hawaiian shirt because it has green in it, my light brown pants, my brown dress socks, and my dress shoes.”

Waaaat???  Planning ahead?  My son?

After I recovered from the shock, I asked him, “Do you have those things ready?”

“I’ll go up right now and get it ready, Mom. OK?”  He ran upstairs to his room.

“Ok,” I replied. I had to sit down.  This was amazing.  I had this feeling of relief that I didn’t have to do it, but at the same time I felt a sadness that I wasn’t as needed. But mostly I was relieved.

A few minutes later, my son called from upstairs,

“Mom, I need to go out to get a new belt.”

“Why?” I called.

“Well, does my blue belt match my Hawaiian shirt?”

Okay, by this time I was about to faint because never has my boy cared about matching.  But I recovered quickly, and said, “Yes, the belt matches.  There is blue in your Hawaiian shirt, too.”

“But Mr. F says green.”

“I don’t think Mr. F. cares about your blue belt.  He said ‘spring,’ right?  Not just green.”

“Yes!  Okay, thanks, Mom.”


My boy proceeded to lay out all of his clothes, including his socks, shoes, and belt.  The next morning we were actually early for the dress rehearsal because he was ready in record time.  He even complimented someone at church on their shirt.

Double huh.

Music makes him want to prepare and get up in the morning. Music is helping him be independent.  I have hope that my husband and I may indeed be empty-nesters.  And that’s a good thing!

Shake shake shake… shake shake shake… shake your Bell…

I am sitting in the hallway talking with another mom and waiting for bell rehearsal to end when I hear my son arguing a little with the conductor.

“I do too shake,” my boy states.

“No, just the highest note shakes.”

“But my mom wrote in a shake for me in measure 46.” (I had written out his part for him, as he had trouble finding his notes in the regular music.)

In my defense, Mr. F.  said, “She probably thought it was a shake. It could look like that, but it’s not.”

“I have to let my mom know.”

“Okay, after rehear-”

“Mom, oh Mom!” he calls, running out the hallway.

“Yes, Philip?”

“You made a big mistake.  There is not a shake in measure 46.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I must have written that measure incorrectly.  I’ll fix it. Go back in now.”

He goes back in, a little smug that he got to catch me with a mistake, and a little sad, too.

Poor guy.  On the way to rehearsal, he told me how excited he was because he got to “shake his bell” in the Christmas song.

My mistake.  And he didn’t hesitate to let me know.

After rehearsal I went into to see –and  quickly correct– my mistake.  Mr. F taught me a little about bell music and how it is written, and then we proceeded to talk about Philip and how he was doing as a ringer.  Turns out that, although his wife is a retired special education teacher, and Mr. F is a vice principal at a local private high school (the disciplinarian!), this is his first experience having a kid with special needs in the bell choir… or any other setting. Neat thing was that I couldn’t really tell.  He’s doing a great job.  Philip loves bells, loves music, likes being part of the group.  Mr. F is firm but compassionate.  He has standards but knows what is critical and what is not.

Mr. F told me that he asked his wife for advice, and she referred him to me.  (Cool! ) Mr. F  is trying his best.  He is leading by example, too.   The other kids are starting to help Philip with his music and making sure that he knows what song they are rehearsing,  what measure they are on,  and what ringing technique to use.

It’s a great group for him.

I explained to Mr. F that Philip needs lots of repetition and that he will eventually understand the bell-ringing  policies and procedures (such as “no running out of rehearsal to tell mom she made a mistake.”) In fact, when he gets it he will not stray,because he is very procedure-oriented.  For example, he is learning to watch Mr. F and not the other ringers to know when to lift the bells in preparation to play.  Currently, Mr. F gives the signal, the other ringers lift their bells, and then Philip lifts his bells.  I’ll role-play this weekend, pretending to be Mr. F giving the “lift your bell” signal.  Then maybe on Sunday when they bell choir performs in worship,  he’ll lift his bells in unison with the other ringers.

On one hand, the bell lifting is not “critical,” as Mr. F says.  If Philip doesn’t start with the other kids, that’s okay because he “rests” the first two measures and knows his part by ear and can come in on time.  (Saaa-weeeet!)  On the other hand, it is a start for him to learn how to work with others and be part of a group, considering others and learning how to accept authority. Hopefully it’s one lesson that he’ll learn and generalize! 🙂

Super Suction Ears at Bell Rehearsal

My boy joined the church bell choir.

Actually, I signed him up.  But we won’t go there.

Anyhow, his first few practices have been interesting. His perfectionism is showing. I’ve noticed that he has to check all the bells, to make sure that they are indeed in the correct order up the scale.  He also is having trouble not being able to stop and correct his mistakes as the choir rehearses.

I can see him begin to twitch.

His answer to his perfectionistic anxiety: Be a clown.

One time he held his bell handles up to his ears, so that the bells were sticking out.  He said to the choir, “Look!  My super suction ears!”  Larry Boy, A.K.A. Larry the Cucumber, would be proud.

Another time he made a joke, but I was the only one who got it.  Wish I could remember it so I could share it.  Ah, well.

Bell choir will be a growing experience. The music, for the first time, is hard for him. He’s having trouble finding his individual notes amongst all the other notes.  Bell music looks totally different than piano music!  I didn’t want him to give up, so I wrote out his individual bell part on blank staff paper.  It had been forever– since my music major days at college– since I’d done that!

I had him practice that individual part on the piano, using his left pointer finger to play the A and his right pointer finger to play the B, while I conducted.

He was so happy, he giggled.

Then he said, “Look!  When I get to measure 72, I don’t play, I just stand here and cry. Boo hoo hoo hoo…”

He was taking the director’s cue– during the last three measures, he has no notes.  The director joked that all my son and another bell ringer had to do was stand there and be sad that they didn’t have anything to play.

I told my son that the director was joking, and that he shouldn’t really cry.

“But it’s fake.  I’m just pretending,” he replied.

“Yes, I know, but I don’t think Mr. F will be amused.”

“But it will make the other kids laugh!”

Yes, it will be an interesting time at bells. 

Name that note!

One of the best end of the year rituals at our elementary school is the talent show.

The first time Philip was in the talent show, I was nervous.  I thought he’d have stage fright– but not my boy!  He recited Green Eggs and Ham from memory and gave a great big bow at the end!

The next year, we PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization) moms gave a surprise performance for the kids.  We did a dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  (This year, one of the moms taught the dance to the Chorus and they did it at the spring concert!)

I didn’t stick around after our performance, which was first on the schedule, because I didn’t think that Philip was going to be in it, and Meg, being a kindergartener, wasn’t in it either.

That night I found out that he was indeed in the talent show– volunteered an hour before the show to dance to a song that his friend sang.  I was one mad mommy for missing it, and also kind of proud that he volunteered.

This year, he was in the talent show again.  He did two things.

For his first performance, he had help. His friend held up a piece of paper with a big letter written on it for all to see such as  “A”.  Then his friend went to the piano and played an “A.”  Philip would name the note, even though he could not see the keyboard.  Yes, my boy has perfect pitch! He did this 5-6 times, and wowed the audience! Then he went down to the piano to play “Creeping Crawling Spider,” which is his piano recital piece.

It is really neat for my son to have a unique ability that has a “wow” factor.  His friend will sing notes to him and ask him to name them. He’s glad to do it, unless his friend is off key.  Then he’ll say, “Sorry, that is not a note!”  I’m thinking it might be a good thing that he wasn’t in band this year.  The beginners’ being out of tune would have driven him absolutely nuts!

Parents, do your kids have any abilities with a “wow” factor?  Tell me all about it!  And if you have found a way to use it to their advantage, do tell!


I try very hard to have a non-distracting learning environment when I teach clarinet.  Each lesson day, I become an “investigator” and try to “sniff out” distractions and eliminate them. I make sure that all trash is thrown out, newspapers are in recycling, toys are put away, and books are on the shelves.   Since my students are on the autism spectrum, making my living room /office / music studio non-distracting is challenging, especially when I’ve changed things around.

My little musicians can sniff out change like little hounds.  They become little investigators, solving the mystery of why and how things are different.  They miss nothing.  They don’t rest until the mystery is solved.  Sometimes they are nostalgic, and reminisce about the good old days when that green notebook with the scribbling in the front cover was on the coffee table.

During our spring break, I made some changes in my living room.

I replaced an old desk and a pile of junk with bookcases.  I hung curtains over the bookcases to hide the clutter minimize distractions. I painted my small desk, which was drying in the garage on lesson day. The clutter supplies that were organized in my desk were hidden behind some folding screens.

Voila! Distractions, be gone!

I was satisfied. The room was conducive to learning the wonders of music and the magic of the clarinet.

Foiled again!

My students investigated the changes right away. B exclaimed, “Whoa, look what I missed! Where’s the desk?  Where’s that table?  What’s behind there?”  When D arrived, he said something like, “Hmmmm…. what do we have here? It’s blue.”  Each boy investigated the mystery of the hidden items behind all of the curtains and the folding screens before his lesson.

Just to show off his investigative prowess, D also discovered that my cordless phone was not where it belonged and proceeded to put it in its place. I shook my head in wonder that he knew my house well enough to do that.

I patiently let each boy investigate.  They needed to get past the distractions so they could learn.

B only took a couple of minutes. I explained that I was reorganizing because my living room was now also my office / music studio.  He was satisfied with that and said, “Let’s get this show on the road.”

D needed 10 minutes–a third of the lesson time!  I was watching the clock, but D would not be rushed.

Both boys had great lessons.  I was proud of both of them.

This just reminds me that I can’t pull anything past my little guys.  They are on me like white on rice.  And that’s okay.  I think that their attention serves, and will serve, them well. I know that once they do what they need to do, i.e., investigate, and feel secure in new surroundings, that they will work really hard for me.

It also reminds me that clutter can run, but it can’t hide. 🙂

A bad day at school

As I was preparing to teach clarinet lessons, I got a phone call from the mom of one of my students, D.  She told me that D had decided not to come to his lesson that day, and that he needed to speak to me.  So I waited for him to get on the phone.

“Hello, ” he grumbled.

Man, was he seething!

“Hey, D. What’s….”

“I have decided not to come to clarinet lesson today because I was very angry at school today.”

“You had a bad day at school today?”


“What happened?”

“I got angry and lost the entire RECESS!”

“Oh, wow,” I said.

“So I’m too angry to come to clarinet lessons today!”

“Ok.  Do you want to make it up another time?”

“YEAH.  Bye.”

His mom then talked to me again, and said that D was really upset, and wasn’t coming today.  She said that she also told him that if he was going to make that decision, he needed to be the one to call me.  He needed to be responsible.

I told her, “Good job Mom!  Good words, D!”

We’ll make up the lesson.

D is learning his boundaries.  D is learning to take responsibility for himself and his decisions. I am trying to teach all of my children this, as well.

Kids growing up to be responsible adults: that gives me hope!

Boy + Clary = Love

I just love teaching clarinet lessons.

My student B has been working very hard.  I am so proud.  His tone quality is vastly improving (his playing is sounding more like an instrument than an angry duck).  He plays  for at least 20 out of 30 minutes now, which is awesome– his stamina is increasing.

While he was putting his clarinet, or “Clary,” together, I did a 10-second “check in.”

“How was your week?”


“Have your been practicing?”

“Not really.”  Hmmmm.

“Do you still like playing the clarinet?”

“Yes!  I love Clary.”

“I’m glad.”

“Yep. Clary never disappoints.”

Awww.  A boy and his clarinet.

Isn’t it wonderful when we have something in our lives that we can count on that “never disappoints”?

For me, that which never disappoints is God.  I freely admit that I have my down times. I’ve yelled at God and wondered what the heck God is thinking.I believe that God has gotten me through a lot of “ick”. I’ve survived and become stronger.

That being said, I have to say that I am so thankful for music.  I can’t imagine life without it.  When I discovered the clarinet, I was hooked.  Being a musician and a clarinet player formed a huge part of my identity throughout junior high and high school.  In college, I majored in music and clarinet was my instrument.

Music has brought me joy.  I have mourned and celebrated through playing. However, I over did it. I played so much and was in (what I considered at the time) a competitive music school in college, that I got burned out.  My senior year of college I  dropped band and orchestra.  I joined choir where I could relax and have fun.  I still took clarinet lessons, as my degree required it.  At the end of my senior year, I played my senior clarinet recital, put “Clarissa” (my clarinet) on the shelf, and didn’t get her back out until much much later.

Now I am teaching music to others, and Clarissa is right by my side. Sometimes I need to take a break so I can once again fully enjoy playing.

At the end of our lesson, B said, “Let’s give Clary a round of applause!”  We clapped and cheered.

Clary never disappoints.  I’m  glad that B has found something that can potentially be an haven for him when the rest of life disappoints.  I hope that someday he will realize that he can count on himself, too– just by being true to himself, B will never disappoint, either.

Dolly Partner and a dream come true

A couple of years ago, we had a year of Dolly “Partner.” (That’s what Josh called her when he moved in with us.)

Dolly Partner Parton is one of Josh’s favorite artists.  He thinks she’s young.  He can’t believe she’s old enough to be his grandmother.

When he first moved in, we would hear him singing in the shower, “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, JOLEEEEEEEEEEENNNNNN…”

He would listen to Dolly “Partner” every chance he got.  He especially liked her song called “Joshua.”  “Coat of Many C0lors” was another favorite.  He looked for CD’s at used CD places and yard sales.  He hung CD covers on the wall so he could gaze at Ms. Partner.

He dreamed of going on vacation to… you guessed it… Dollywood!

So,  a couple of years ago, we had the year of Dolly Partner Parton.  Not only did we go to Dollywood (which was somewhat disappointing to my kid because she wasn’t actually living there), but we made sure he got to go to see Dolly live in concert! I saw the ad in the paper, plotted with my hubby, got up early on the day they went on sale to get great tickets online. Since we could only afford two tickets, only one parent could go.  But what mattered most was that Josh would get to see his Dolly Partner.

We were all excited when we told him about the live concert.  He called his bio mom, and told her, “Yes, I’m going to go get to see her– ALIVE! On the stage!”

Since I’ve never been a huge fan, my husband took Josh to the concert.  I regretted it later. I had no idea that she was an accomplished, well-rounded musician. My husband said I would have loved it (and he, being an introvert, would have loved to have quiet time at home).

Anyway, the guys dressed up and left early for dinner. My heart melted seeing them go out for a nice, dream-come-true-evening together. I waited up late that night. I wanted to hear about Josh’s time at the concert, especially since I was the mastermind behind it all (ahem).

Here is how our conversation went:

Me:  “How was it?”

Josh: “Fine.”

“What all did she play?  Did she sing your favorites?”

“Some of them.”

“Which ones?”

“I don’t remember.”


“Well, what was your favorite part about the concert?”

“It was kind of boring.  All I did was sit there.  But it was okay.  Thanks.”

And then he went to bed.

I sat there speechless.  His reaction was definitely either unexpectedly disappointing or unexpectedly funny.

I decided on the latter.

My husband told me that Josh really liked the concert, that Dolly could play a million different instruments, and that Josh really was tired.  He wasn’t used to being up that late.

The next day Josh told everyone who would listen about the concert.  He even said that his stepmom got the tickets and let him go with his dad, and that was really cool.

I learned that living joyfully and peacefully with others, especially those who have autism, usually means letting go of my expectations and accepting what is.  And I appreciate when others do the same for me.

Taking advantage of opportunities that come our way and accepting others for who they are– these things definitely lighten my life!

My stepson loves me and he wrote me a song

My stepson and I go back and forth between getting along famously and butting heads like you wouldn’t believe.

In music therapy, Josh wrote a song.  I framed it, and am looking for a place to hang it so that I can point to it when he tells me I’m “evil.” Mwa hahahahaha!

Before you read this, I want to acknowledge that some people have expressed “concern” that he calls me “stepmom” instead of “mom.”  Actually, since he has PDD-NOS / autism spectrum disorder, this is just his being honest.  It’s also a way for him to acknowledge me in a mom role without betraying his bio mom.  So it’s really ok, people!

Here’s my song.

Elizabeth’s Song

You are a loving Stepmom
Because you talk to me

I love you because you are
Loving, caring, kind, loyal, and a good cook.

You are a caring stepmom
because you are respectful and nice

I love you because you are
Loving, caring, kind, loyal, and a good cook.

You are a kind stepmom
because you listen to me

I love you because you are
Loving, caring, kind, loyal, and a good cook.

You are a loyal stepmom
because you are committed to the family

I love you because you are
Loving, caring, kind, loyal, and a good cook.

You are a good cook
Because you make awesome food

I love you because you are
Loving, caring, kind, loyal, and a good cook.

Clarinet Capers

“It’s okay, Clary, Daddy will be right back.”

These were the words spoken  by my 10-year-old clarinet student– I’ll call him B— when I told him we were going practice on the mouthpiece and not the entire instrument.

B seemed almost infatuated with the clarinet when he was thinking about what instrument to play.    He named each part of his clarinet: Mouthpiece =  “Reedy,” barrell =  “Barrelly,” upper joint =  “Pipey,” lower joint= “Pipel,” and bell= “Belly”.  I laughed at the last one, like a little kid (“Hee hee, Belly! Hee hee…”) but he wasn’t amused.

Together, the parts make up his beloved Clary.

I named my clarinet, too, when I was his age.  Her name is Clarissa.  Sometimes Clary and Clarissa play duets or even talk to one another between songs.

B really wants to learn the clarinet and looks forward to his lessons.  At first, I would meet him at the door.  When he saw me, he would run to me.  He was ready to get started. Now, if I’m not at the door, he bursts into my house full of expectation.  When he gets close to me, he still becomes a little shy, but quickly overcomes that.   “You can leave now, Dad,” he says. Pretty impressive for someone on the autism spectrum.

“Can we learn a new note today?  Can we do one of the trill keys?”

I reply, “First we’ll go over your lesson, and then we’ll learn something new.”

“Will I get a sticker?” he asks.

“Of course!”


And off we go.

Once my sticker book “disappeared” (which I eventually found in Philip’s room… B said I could “yell at Philip later”) and I frantically looked around for a new reward for B’s playing.  I spied the mini pumpkins, and handed him one.

“Really? Can I keep this?”

“Yep!” I responded.

By the end of the lesson, B earned three mini pumpkins.

“Wait until my dad sees this!!!” he exclaimed.

B is proud when he makes the “wall of fame” at school for practicing at least 5 times per week.  His latest note said, “Good progress!” over the holiday break.  Score!

I am amazed at B‘s excitement over his lessons.  I look forward to our time every week.  I see B growing in many ways– persistence, counting, breathing, hand-eye coordination, just to name a few.  Music is powerful!

I have learned from him, too– how to think on my feet, how to teach in a way he’ll understand, and how to relax and enjoy the wonder of the clarinet.

Here’s to more clarinet capers, and more music in our lives!