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The Best Thing That Has Ever Happened…

This is the sound that changed my life.  Tonight I want to tell you about the man behind that piano, his life, his impact on my life and his legacy.

John was born in Syracuse, New York in 1949.  Although he has been playing the piano since age 5 he did not start formal training until he was 11.  His natural talent was evident as by the time he was 14, after only three years of training, he was offered his first professional gig.  Since that time he has held countless jobs as Church Organist, Choir Director, Accompanist and Teacher.  John continued his musical training through university and during his stay in the United States Air Force.

During this time one could say that John’s talent may well have saved his life as his stay in the Air Force coincided with the Vietnam War.  While countless young men were being sent overseas the Officers decided that John could be put to better use at home as a member of the Air Force band.  They also hired him to teach piano lessons to their children. 

In 1975, after the Vietnam War ended, John moved to Canada and toured through nights clubs in Niagara and Western New York with his band called “Sun.”  I think he always wanted to be a rock star but deep down he knew that he was destined to teach and share his love of music with the masses.  Consequently he took a job teaching piano and theory at the Ontario Conservatory of Music in 1977.  Eventually he decided to open his own music school in 1993.

This is when John came into my life.  I had been taking piano lessons for a couple of years, but my parents and I were unhappy with my progress and had begun looking for a new teacher.  My parents had heard John play many times at local restaurants and when they found out that he had opened his own school they knew that he should be my new teacher.  John agreed to take me on as one of his first students and herein began a lifelong relationship built on immense respect and a never-ending love of music.

John once told me that when he first met me he was immediately reminded of himself.  His exact words were “I saw myself.  I knew that you were born to do this and I knew that there was greatness in you.”  It is for that reason that John not only changed my life but changed who I was to become.  He didn’t teach me to be a piano player; he taught me to be a musician.

I’m 8 years old and I have enrolled in a national music competition.  My plan is to compete only on the piano but John has other ideas.  He talks me into joining a band that he has put together but what I don’t know is that he doesn’t want me to play the piano.  He wants me to sing…and there’s a catch.  All band members must compete in one solo category for whatever instrument they play in the band.  We pick a song and start practicing and I quickly decide that I don’t like this singing thing.  I argue and I cry and I try to quit but John never gives up.  He sees something that not even I can see.  My parents try to talk him out of it but he asks to be trusted…he tells them that I am more than just a pianist.  Weeks later we compete and we win and furthermore, I see what John sees.  I am more than just the girl at the piano.  I want to learn more.

This is the first lesson that John taught me.  I learned what it meant to be a musician…that a musician should always strive to be better and to learn more.  From that point on John made everything accessible to me…any instrument that I wanted to learn, every song that I wanted to play or sing.  Even though he was my piano teacher he wasn’t bothered by the fact that I was more interested in singing than in the piano.  He just offered himself up to be my accompanist.

It was at this point that there was a clear shift in my relationship with John.  I heard him tell someone once that he was honoured to be able to perform with me so often.  Can you believe that?  I was no one…just a kid and yet he was honoured to work with me.  He didn’t think of me as just his student or some kid…we were equals in his mind.  It was from this shift that I learned the next lesson: professionalism and respect.

John taught me that the most important thing that you can do as a performer is learn as much as you can because the more you understand, the more you can appreciate and if you don’t appreciate something you can’t respect it.  He feels that you should respect all music and all people involved in music in any manner, but more importantly you should respect your audience and above all else you should respect yourself.  You do this by being professional, by being prepared.  I learned this lesson the hard way.

I am twelve years old and am once again preparing for the annual national music competition that I have attended since I was 8.  This year, I have signed up to do a duet with my band mate Amanda but the competition date is quickly approaching and we still haven’t even picked a song.  My parents are concerned and speak to John about my being unprepared but instead of speaking to me and telling me to get going, he looks at my parents and tells them to ‘let me crash and burn.’  Those are his exact words.  He knows that you can’t force a twelve year old to practice but he also knows that I’m not like most twelve year olds.  He’s right.  Amanda and I drop out, but our names have already been printed in the program.  John and I have become quite well-known at this competition and everyone asks me why I’m not singing even though my name is printed.  I have no choice but to tell them the truth and I am mortified.

That was the first and last time that I ever went to a performance unprepared.  As always, John knew exactly what needed to happen for me to learn the lessons that really matter.  He had already instilled such a level of professionalism in me that he knew I would only show that level of disrespect once in my life and he knew that I would only truly understand his point if I experienced it.

From that point on I was always prepared, perhaps to the point of perfectionism and John came to expect perfection from me…at least I thought he did.  But once again, he proved the wiser.   

John invited me to sing at his church as he had done many times before.  I always accept.  I could never say no to him…he has bent over backwards to fit my schedule time and time again.  I performed last night and for the first time ever John sat on the sidelines and watched me accompany myself.  It went perfectly.  I am about to do the same song again this morning and I’m confident after last night.  Everything is moving along just fine when all of a sudden I completely forget the piano part.  I have no idea what the next note is.  I try to keep going, but I can’t.  Suddenly my mom appears and puts the music down in front of me and I pick up where I left off and finish the song.  As soon as it’s over I sit down in the pew and burst into tears… I have no idea what happened…I was ready.

After the service, a member of the congregation went up to John and asked him how he felt sitting there watching his student go through that.  This man who had taught me so much and who I thought would be so angry with me looked that person in the eye and said “well, now we know she’s not God.”  He had come to expect perfection because I had delivered it so many times in the past but he did not require it.  He required preparedness but preparedness didn’t guarantee perfection.  I was in his church, in front of his colleagues and I screwed up…he could have been disappointed but instead he taught me the single most important thing he could ever teach me: grace and humility.

He leads by example.  He is the picture of all that I have just mentioned; he is a true musician, a consummate professional and he embodies grace and humility.  He didn’t just teach me these things.  This is what he teaches all of his students.  He doesn’t care if you are the greatest pianist in the world.  He just wants more people to love music and while he’s teaching you that he’ll make you a better person if you let him.

Sadly, John was diagnosed with cancer in January of 2006 and passed away on July 14th of that year.  As I said (wrote) yesterday, I still miss him and wish he was here to offer some guidance.  

John was one of the truly great people on this earth and he was the most talented and skilled musician that I have ever met.  Though his life ended much too soon, he taught me more than I ever thought one person could.  The person may be gone but the music will always live on in the hearts of his thousands of students and his own foresight to record a CD that will be with us forever.  I will always have the sound that changed my life.      

~if you didn’t click on the links above, I suggest…nay, insist…that you do it now.  Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag and Debussy’s Clair de Lune.  You’re welcome.~

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Secret of Night…

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Selections from my journal last night – I shall call this ‘Musings of a sleepless mind.’

(Each page of the journal has a quote which I will also share here.  Some serve as the inspiration for the entry while others are merely incidental.)

1:45am“Life is something that happens when you can’t get to sleep.” Fran Lebowitz

I can’t decide if I’m more upset with you for not booking the  appointment or myself for letting you hurt me.  I keep wondering if I’ve made a huge mistake which is ridiculous as your current behaviour only proves my point.
You don’t appear to care about me, so why do I continue to care?
How many times will this happen to me?
All I ever did was give you everything I had…
I miss you…

2:05am – “I realize that from the cradle up I have been like the rest of the race–never quite sane in the night.” Mark Twain
(Am I even sane in the day?)

Anger is never just anger.  It’s always the secondary emotion.  The reaction.  The defence mechanism.  Anger almost always masks hurt.  Right now I’m angry.  I want to rip you a new one.  I want to scream at you until I have no breath left.  I want to smack you right in your oblivious face.

What I really want to do is cry, but you don’t deserve my tears…
Not anymore…

And that’s a damn shame.

2:27am – “The last refuge of the insomniac is a sense of superiority to the sleeping world.” Leonard Cohen
(Maybe if I could actually write something!)

It has been a very long time since I have felt this much self-doubt.  Usually I’m one of the most confident people I know (though apparently I’m actually cocky)… But you can only watch so many things fall apart before you start to question everything you know.
Paralysis will eventually take over for fear of making the wrong choice and totally screwing everything up…

… though I’m not sure that there’s much left to screw up…

2:35am – “I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers, or a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.” Frank Sinatra

I think I’m even scared to pray about it because I don’t even know what to pray for!  All I know is that I have no idea what happened to my life or where to go from here.

What does that prayer sound like?
Help?
Time machine please?
Do I pray for a job?
A plan?
A dream?
A miracle?
A husband? (Handsome and rich please…since I’m asking…)
My sanity?

I don’t even trust my ability to pray anymore…

2:50am“The average, healthy, welladjusted adult gets up at seven-thirty in the morning feeling just plain terrible.” Jean Kerr

I’ve been missing John lately.  I don’t know why but I think he would know what to say to help me find some clarity.  Or maybe it’s simply the lack of music in my world right now.  Or the fact that I just lost my mentor (rather, he turned out to be a sham.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain) has me pining for the one who was taken from me (us) far too soon.

Regardless of the reason – I sure do wish he was here…

~end musings~

I saw 3:30 before I simply gave up looking at the clock and Edith Piaf has never sounded more unpleasant than she did when my alarm sounded at 8.

(More on who John is and the story behind the hurt at a later date… But not the same day.  John deserves better than that.)

This week, Americans…

Okay, this title was a stretch.  I admit it.  Go ahead and put the word “readers” in the place of “Americans.”  It works!

If you haven’t caught the trend yet, every one of my entry titles is that of a song by Stephen Sondheim.  I’m a huge Musical Theatre geek and Sondheim is my favourite.  That being said, when I started this blog I decided to challenge myself to use only Sondheim titles.  So far, so good.  (kind of)

You should know that this is not a real post.  I have a real post and it’s going to be a doozy.  However, I have to take care of a few things in the real world before I share it here.  Wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise…

In the meantime, I thought I’d bring you some music.  Music is the language of my soul.  Is it one of the love languages?  No?  Well, it should be.  So today, I bring you Sara Bareilles, whom I shall henceforth refer to as “Writer of my life’s soundtrack.”  She truly should have won last night…

Head on over to YouTube and check these out.  If you don’t own these albums, you NEED to.  Life will be better.  Go now.  I’ll wait…

Done?

Good, right?  You’re welcome!

These two songs are duking it out for the title of “Theme Song for the Week”

Let the Rain because of this lyric: “I want to darken in the skies; open the floodgates up. I want to change my mind. I want to be enough. I want the water in my eyes. I want to cry until the end of time. I want to let the rain come down…”

Tread Water for this: “I’m getting weary waiting for the harbour lights to change.  I’ve forgotten what I do it for but I tread water just the same.  And I’ll never let this pair of hands forget to pull their weight; this burden may be more than I would like to bear but less than I can take.”

Prayers…

My church is about to embark on our annual 21 days of prayer and fasting.  I had never done anything like this prior to last year, but as one of (only) 2 worship leaders there I felt it important to lead by example.  I ended up having some life-altering epiphanies during that 21 days and would highly encourage everyone to engage in regular times of dedicated prayer and fasting – especially if you’re wrestling with a major decision.  

When visiting with the aforementioned friend yesterday, we were discussing the fast and I admitted that I had yet to determine what I would fast from this year.  I quickly rephrased, stating that I hadn’t yet prayed about it.  In fact, I haven’t prayed about much recently.

Let me be clear: I absolutely believe in the power of prayer.  It IS possible to clearly hear the audible voice of God in direct response to a question asked in prayer.  It IS possible to see your own life or the lives of others changed as a direct result of prayer.  It IS possible to find peace, healing and rest when you lay your burdens at the foot of the cross.  It IS possible to ask for and receive a miracle if you believe God for your requests.  Even (perhaps especially) the impossible ones.  

I know this to be true because I’ve experienced it.  All of it.  

I feel like I’ve spent the last 6+ months on my knees.  (Don’t even go there – it’s not that kind of blog!  I already told you I’m a worship leader!!)  I have prayed fervently, ceaselessly, with every ounce of faith that I had (or didn’t have at times) and I’m tired.  I’ve come to the point where I need to be praying for myself and I feel like I’m all out of prayers.

I know exactly what I’m supposed to pray into for the next 21 days.  It’s as plain as the nose on my face.  Side note: has it occurred to anyone else how ridiculous that expression is?  Think about it.  You can’t see your own nose unless you look in a mirror, so it’s not really all that clear.  It should be ‘it’s as plain as the back of your hand’ or something…

I lost my job.  I have NO idea what I’m doing with my life, but I’ve been presented with an opportunity to completely reevaluate things and make some huge changes.  I could do more of what I was doing, which I didn’t love.  I could go back to teaching, which I DO love, but the unreliable income makes it difficult to pay the bills.  I could go back to school and start all over.  I should pray about THIS.

But, you see…I don’t wanna!

Beyond the exhaustion, looming there in the darkness is fear.  Because I believe in the power of prayer…Because I know that I can hear God’s voice in direct response to the very questions I should be asking…Because I’m not sure I’m ready to know the answer.  So, like a petulant child I’ve stuck my fingers in my ears and I’m running around yelling “la, la, la, la, la I’m not listening!”

Like that same child who chooses to go to bed without supper rather than give in and eat their veggies, I’ve refused to even pray about how to fast.  It’s ridiculous and I’m aware of it.  Clearly this is one of those ‘do what I say, not what I do’ posts and proof positive of the veracity of the sub-title of this blog.

Ah, But Underneath…

“Today, I’m okay.  Tomorrow might be a different story.”

I’m sure that when you read that on Tuesday, at least one of you was out there screaming at me to keep my mouth shut. (mind shut?  fingers still?)  You were willing the word vacuum into action, just knowing that saying (or typing) such a thing would certainly doom me to be anything but okay on Wednesday.  If that was you, I have to tell you that you were sorely mistaken.  Wednesday was absolutely fine.

Friday.  Friday was the problem.  It hit me like a freight train…if a freight train was to silently sneak up on you like a looming cloud of sad.  Combined with a complete lack of motivation and a need for an endless supply of chocolate.  So, not really like a freight train at all.  I’ll get back to you when I come up with a better analogy.  (Should be the 4th of Never)

I spent my afternoon lounging around watching a marathon of Say Yes to the Dress: Bridesmaids (don’t judge!).  This really should have been completely safe: a show focusing on catty girls and crazy brides trying (mostly) hideous dresses.  The least likely show to tip the scales but then the owner of the store goes and announces to her staff that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and the flood gates opened.

I realized that regardless of how “okay” I am on any given day, the gravity of the situation and the full weight of my emotions is always right there, just beneath the surface.  It takes but a scratch to open the wound and it’s far from pretty when that happens.

I could have stayed home and wallowed the evening away, but instead I fought that desire and went out with a friend, knowing that she would accept me in any state, even the one where I resemble the mascot from the Mucinex commercials.  With that knowledge as my safety net, I decided I was better served to do my hair and makeup in the hopes that the “look better, feel better” theory would apply to me and head out the door.  I spent a good portion of the evening crying…from laughter over the most stupid things.  Yes, I realize that my picture accompanies the definition of “mood swing.”  Better that than melancholy, depressed, morose (or any other synonym) as far as I’m concerned.

There was a much more significant realization which carries rather large ramifications, but that would put me far over my promised 500(ish) word count and I won’t be known as the blogger who broke her promise only 3 posts in.  Also, I have to give you a reason to come back!  So, for now, I have a date with my pillow.

I bid you adieu.

You could drive a person crazy…

“How are you not falling apart?”

“Don’t you think it’s just too much?”

“You’re still smiling.  How is that possible?”

I’ve heard these questions countless times in the last few months.  “Darling, it’s a theme and variation.”  I completely understand why everyone asks.  I truly do.  I’ve asked myself those questions on a regular basis and I have one answer for all of them: Jesus.

There is, however, one variation to which I must object.  It goes like this: “I just don’t understand how you’re okay with all of this.”

Grandpa’s dead.  Grandma’s fighting (and winning, I should add).  Mom’s sick.  I’m unemployed.  I don’t see anything wrong with any of that.  Of course I’m okay with it.  Wouldn’t you be?  Unless you’re completely devoid of human emotion your answer will be ‘no.’  PSA: If your answer was yes, you might want to call a therapist and have that checked out.  Just sayin’

Let’s get one thing straight – I’m not okay with ANY of this.  I have feelings, you know!  I’m not a sociopath.  (Okay, I probably shouldn’t blog while watching Criminal Minds.  Sorry ’bout that.)

I’m not okay with it.  If we were in court, this would be the moment when I’d jump out of my seat and yell “Your Honour, I object!” (Law and Order’s a bad idea too…)  I’m not okay with it, but I am okay.  I’m okay because I’m at peace with it.  Again, it’s that Jesus thing.  I passionately object with every fibre of my being and I wish that I could change things, but I can’t.  I can’t control any of it, so I have to accept it.  Fighting it won’t do anything but waste my resources and THAT could drive a person crazy.  I’m a major control freak.  A total type A, but I refuse to be a hamster on a wheel.  I’m done with that.  Who actually wants to run without getting anywhere?  I’m pretty sure the hamster’s even smart enough to do something else if given the choice and I’d like to think that I’m smarter than a hamster.  At least, I sure hope so!  Gosh, how horrible would THAT be?

I have my faith, I have my relationship with God and (just as importantly) I have an incredible community of faith around me.  Recently, I asked a mentor of mine how I was supposed to get through this.  She responded in classic form with “Just put one foot in front of the other, breathe and lean on those of us who love you.”

I’m very clear on who those people are now as they have been invaluable to me in the last 6 months.  Without them I surely would have lost it by now.  (whatever IT is…is it like the proverbial they?)  What I know is that those people are tangible expressions of God’s intangible love for me and that…?  That makes me smile.  

Don’t get me wrong – I have my moments.  I’ve cried.  I’ve screamed.  I’ve slept a day away.  I’ve even had a panic attack.  I’m very much in touch with my emotions and processing what’s going on, but I’m not letting it destroy me.  Today, I’m okay.  Tomorrow might be a different story.  I don’t know yet and guess what?  I’m okay with that too!

Life doesn’t stop when we’re caught in the middle of one of the storms.  It just keeps rolling along.  So, it’s okay for us to do the same.  I can smile.  I can even laugh because God’s got this.  

A friend of mine posted this Joyce Meyer quote today which sums up exactly how I feel.  “It is perfectly okay for you to go ahead and enjoy your life while God is working on your problem.”  

He’s got this and He’s doing a much better job than I could ever do.

Don’t Laugh…

In a 6 month period, her grandfather had 2 massive strokes, was hospitalized for 3.5  months and ultimately passed away, her grandmother was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, her mother was diagnosed with not one, but two primary cancers (both in her lymph nodes) and she lost her job 12 days before Christmas.

I would like to tell you that you’ve just read a plot synopsis for what is clearly the most implausible movie of 2013.  I really would, but I can’t.  I can’t because that would be a lie.  It’s not a movie; it’s my life.  Ridiculous, right?

So, what do you do when the last 6 months of your life resembles the worst movie never made?  No no, not a nervous breakdown silly.  That would be far too predictable.  You start a blog!

I’m 28 years old, I’m single and I have absolutely no idea what I want to be when I grow up.  I’m pretty sure I’m having a quarter-life crisis, but that’s okay.  I’m just doing my best to discern (and follow) the path that God has laid out for me, stumbling all the while.

Now, you’re probably asking yourself why I would decide to publicly write about the aforementioned crisis and I can’t say I blame you.  However, that’s an interesting question with a very simple answer: I’m more than a little bit crazy!

I’ll give you a moment to run away now…

*insert Jeopardy theme song here*

You’re still here?  I’ve found my people!  I thought I was the only one…We must have tea.

Honestly, I’m doing this in the hopes that my ramblings might serve to provide hope, inspiration or even just a laugh to anyone else who’s still learning to dance in the rain.

Join me, won’t you?  Or don’t.  I can always just talk to myself.