Serendipity and the Duo-pianists

Today is July 11, 2016.  It’s early evening here in Wisconsin, and I must get this posting published today — because today is a significant date for me.

Today was my sister Eleanor’s birthday.  She was my “big” sister, 3+ years older than me, and where Eleanor led, I followed.  Eleanor died in 1994; she was 58 years old.

One of the everyday activities of our growing up years was playing duets on the piano at home. Even In our early adulthood and middle years, whenever we were together with our young families, the kids would be playing board games somewhere in the house, and Eleanor and I would be at the piano playing duets.  We didn’t have a large repertoire of music from which to choose, but nevertheless we thoroughly enjoyed playing what we had — Erik Satie’s Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear, Brahms’ Waltzes, Opus 39, and Bizet’s Children’s Games.

Somewhere in the late 1990s, friend Melinda asked me in church one day if I would like to try to play some duets together. Yes!  Playing together started out to be once in a while and strictly for ourselves.  Then our time at the piano increased a little to include playing in church, and attending a monthly music group of nonprofessionals who played for each other.  A few years ago, we somewhat hesitantly decided to try working with a piano coach, a decision that turned out to be fantastic for our piano skills and musical understandings. We have been working with Jess ever since.  It was Jess who persuaded us to try two-piano works; we were pretty much hooked immediately as we launched into playing Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Haydn in a practice room in the School of Music on campus.  The opening theme is one of those pieces you can sit down and play decently without any preparation.  The sound was sublime.  Ultimately, Melinda purchased a second piano, rearranged her living and dining rooms, and voila (!), we have two small grand pianos at our disposal all the time.  As Ed says, this is like a gift to me and one which I appreciate dearly.

So where is serendipity in all this piano stuff?

Melinda’s birthday is the same date as my sister Eleanor’s — July 11.  Happy birthday Melinda and happy birthday Eleanor!


Occupation Haiku at Brenau University

In the fall of 2014, I did some postings on Haiku poetry and the way it grasps the essence of the everyday — in the moment, experiential, transparent meaning (no need for an explanation), reflecting everyday-ness, in the present tense.

My colleague Barbara Schell at Brenau University was taken with the thought of Haiku related to occupation.  She and a faculty member from the English Department developed a Haiku contest among students, complete with competition and awards. They held the contest again this past April, and the winning Haiku poems are shared here.

First place, Katelyn Rochford-Price

1.   Sucking life and milk,
Sucking sleep and money too–
My sweet parasite

Second Place:  Stephanie Bair

2.  Walking along here
No end in sight to the path
But light exists here!

Third Place:  Katharyn (Kacey) Reynolds

3.  Sunlight through curtains
Don’t want to get up just yet
Silent warm cocoon

Congratulations to these winners!  And let yourself feel the sweetness of that newborn baby in the first-place Haiku poem above!  


Wild Things in our Daily Lives

I looked out our kitchen window one morning and saw what looked like the front legs of a very large dog in the yard next door.  I went to another window to look more closely and was startled to see a doe standing there.  Very shortly thereafter, the doe ran off — leaping across the street out front, presumably on her way to find a place more wild than someone’s backyard.

We live fairly close to the 1200-acre UW-Arboretum and every so often we see creatures from “the wild” around the neighborhood:  a fox, wild turkeys, a baby ‘possum (in our window well), a ground hog (ugh), ducks, racoons, and — just that one time — a deer.

I felt a kind of thrill at seeing the doe that morning.  For those of us who live in urban settings, there is something about spotting a comparatively “wild” thing on our home territory that stirs excitement.  I told my deer tale to a number of people on that day. [And here I am, telling it again!]  My friend Melinda, wanting to share her moment with the wild things, posted a picture on Facebook of five wild turkeys that wandered into her yard one day last year. Our son and his family live in a nearby residential area on the edge of Madison and they tell us about turkeys and at least one fox walking through their back yard regularly.  Recently, a turkey roosted on their garage roof for the night, providing a new novel detail for their turkey tales.

Robert Macfarlane wrote a book about his journey to find the wild places that still exist in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales (The Wild Places, Penguin Books, 2007).  The book is beautifully written.  In the book, Macfarlane says this:  “Wildness . . . is an energy which blows through one’s being, causing the self to shift into new patterns, opening up alternative perceptions of life” (p. 209).  He searches back into ancient Chinese history to describe the more than 2,000 year old concept of a love for the wild.  He speaks of this love as a quality of aliveness, a “self-ablazeness.”  What a fantastic word!

One day, when I was still on faculty full-time, I was walking along University Avenue to get back to my office.  University Avenue is a very heavily used roadway that cuts right through the University campus.  It has a bus lane, two bike lanes and three auto lanes.  It’s always busy.  As I was walking, I suddenly heard a screeching of brakes and some commotion back behind me.  I turned around to look, and saw a car that had come to a halt sort of crosswise on the Avenue, blocking other cars from going through.  And then I saw what had prompted this driver to put himself in such a dangerous situation — a mother duck and her baby ducks were in the middle of University Avenue, making their way across the road, directly in front of the car.  It was a transformative moment, it seemed like everyone held their breath as the little family calmly went about getting across the street, up the curb and then finally heading toward the nearby lake.

ducks on roadway

These are the bits of wild things that come into the lives of those of us who live in urban settings.  For some people, it is not enough.  They buy a cottage on a lake up north to escape to during the summer days, anticipating refreshment for body and spirit.  One young family I know has a canvas yurt permanently located in Upper Michigan to which they retreat regularly.  Some people just go for drives or hikes in the country and others pull up their city roots and actually move to the country.

Aldo Leopold, a Wisconsin son and one of the world’s greatest naturalists, has said, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” (A Sand County Almanac (Oxford University Press, 1949, p. vii).  Maybe so.  But to live without any wild things would seem like a bleak and wanting existence.  Even though we are limited to “bits” of wildness in our urban settings, we do at least have occasional moments when our spirits are lifted and we feel “ablaze.”