The Perpetual Gift of Music

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ~ Plato
melanieguycello
by Pete Ferguson
It is 6:20 in the morning. I sit here typing on my computer listening to a very passionate rendition of “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saëns from the Carnival of the Animals collection played by my 15-year old son Mark on the cello. In the background I can hear my daughter’s flute, but cannot pick up the tune.
Mark has much ground to travel before he is at Yo Yo Ma’s level, but I can feel his desire to play this most soulful piece with passion and a desire to be true to the piece.
At 5:00 I was awakened by the piano. Too lost in the world between dream and reality, I do not recall what he was playing, but it is the best way to start the morning slowly and at my own pace.
In another 30 minutes I will hear my two younger daughters duo practice – both sitting on the piano bench with Ashley facing forward playing the piano and and Abbie facing the opposite direction playing violin.
AbbieAshleyPractice2014
Abbie and Ashley do not play the same piece, in fact they will not even be playing at the same tempo. Quite remarkable as I am too easily distracted to attempt a similar feat.
This gift of a gradual wakeup only happens during the week.
As I lay in bed last Saturday morning at 7:40 am to a silent house I realized how much I will miss all of this in 20 years when my yet-unborn daughter will likely move out to pursue her life’s passions with her older brothers and sisters having long since moved out.
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
My love for music began early. My father was a translator for university music departments traveling to Asia and so we would be invited to preparatory performances. I cannot recall the exact moment the spark ignited, but it has burned ever since. I started violin in third grade and piano I believe in fifth. Unfortunately I lacked the discipline to advance forward and when we moved at age 13, I put down the violin and have not yet taken it back up again although I play the piano from time to time.
As I watched the Super Bowl last week, with men in their 30s heading towards retirement (and many of them with physical injuries), it struck me that my children – if they continue the pursuit of music – will just be warming up in their 30s.
And I realize that like the Olympic flame, music is a gift that continues to be shared with others wanting to listen, wanting to also learn to play, or wanting to compose anew. And what a wonderful gift to enjoy.
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Where Do I Begin?

There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting. ~ Buddah

MilesCello

by Pete Ferguson

Yesterday a friend reached out on Facebook on seeing Miles (turns 3 in June) with his mini “viola-cello” and asked how we know when it is time to start a child with an instrument. My answer was that when they can’t walk by the piano without playing a few notes – or another instrument – after several months, it is probably time to test the waters.

MilesPiano

For Miles, he stops by every instrument each morning and plays with it for a few minutes. He gets out music (upside down) and puts it on the piano and pretends to give a concert, then expects applause.

AshleyHarp

When Ashley (7) had continuously badgered us for almost 18 months, we finally gave in and got her a harp.

Abbie Violin

Abbie (now 9) wanted to play violin for several years.

Mark Cello

Mark and Amber were different. They were in the right place at the right time and the opportunity presented itself. Before Mark, everyone started playing piano at age 4-5 and taking formal lessons after lessons with Stephanie caused too much drama. Mark wanted to play piano for orchestra, they didn’t really need a pianist, but asked how he felt about cello and two hours later he had a cello rented and started practicing.

AmberFlute

No one lives long enough to learn everything they need to learn starting from scratch. To be successful, we absolutely, positively have to find people who have already paid the price to learn the things that we need to learn to achieve our goals. ~ Brian Tracy

Amber’s friend played flute and we are good friends with the teacher. And it happened about that quick.

Two points to bring up here – our environment lends itself to our children picking up music and dance. We watch movies and DVDs of both. We attend concerts and recitals. So our kids are naturally inclined to gravitate towards that direction. Long before we had a big screen tv and theater, we had a large piano and Steph started each child in the womb listening to her play.

You just have to keep on doing what you do. It’s the lesson I get from my husband; he just says, Keep going. Start by starting. ~ Meryl Streep

The second point is that we continually foster that environment. My parents did the same, having us attend many performances with the BYU philharmonic, Young Ambassadors, and other groups – and it obviously stuck.

Transitioning out of instruments into talents in general, how will you develop a new talent if you are not immersed in it, spend time talking to others who have paved the way, and spend time cultivating it daily? Answer: you probably won’t!

So if you want to start a garden, start watching gardening shows. If you want to write a book, join an online forum of budding and established authors (48days.net) and start writing a blog. If you want to become a better cook, sign up at the community college (some grocery stores, like Macey’s in Utah, give free lessons once a week and you get to eat too) for a class and watch the Food Network.

Girls Limo II

We live in such an amazing time. You can either sit on your couch and play video games all day or you can YouTube how a rocket is made.

With Google I’m starting to burn out on knowing the answer to everything. People in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless. ~ Doug Coupland

Go and get started on something today! (Or continue to foster something you’ve already begun)

IMG_1088Utah Youth Symphony (Junior Orchestra) practice.

 

If It’s Not Hard – You’re Not Practicing

Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect. ~ Vince Lombardi

by Pete Ferguson

My kids are all very into music. Each plays the piano, and then another instrument (except two-year-old Miles who plays everything …)

Whenever a new piece is assigned by our very masterful teachers, it is really hard for our kids to adjust. They have fallen into a rut of ease with the previous pieces they have played almost to memory – but what they haven’t remembered is how hard it used to be.

We were discussing it on Sunday as we were winding down for bed. Mark had just been given a particularly challenging piece for cello which requires jumping from string to string within a bow movement as well as jumping all over the fingerboard.

I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it. ~ Ray Bradbury

I told Mark that if Steph and I went to the gym every day and used the one-pound weights we might feel really good about ourselves, but we’d get bored quickly and we certainly wouldn’t gain much muscle in traditional lifting.

And so it is with life. At work I’ve stretched far, been outside of my comfort zone, and felt unsure about where things were going. But then as I look back on my successes, I see that the lessons were learned and progress has been made.

This will be my 181st blog since May of last year. Over the summer there were many days I thought about quitting. With only 18 people viewing, I felt it wasn’t worth the time and effort. And it was uncomfortable throwing myself out there.

But then several of the 18 people approached me and thanked me. So it was worth it to them … good enough for me.

I don’t know if I practiced more than anybody, but I sure practiced enough. I still wonder if somebody -somewhere -was practicing more than me. ~ Larry Bird

Now writing comes with considerable ease – which means it is time to do something that will push my comfort zone again. I am thinking that it is time to put together the most read and commented blogs into a book form, then edit it together into one collection.

Work is crazy busy, and I need to continue with my commitment of four blogs a week, so it is outside of the comfort zone for sure. Then there is the “what if no one wants to buy it” and all of the other self-doubt that can be demoralizing.

But on top of writing this blog, I just helped a friend edit a book, so I’m feeling a bit bold.

The most popular blog so far, hands down? Ironically: “Why it is Time to Man (or Woman) Up!

So I guess it is time for me to Man Up and get going! My brother works for a well-known publisher and has been writing a novel and just signed on a literary agent. I think it would be fun to compete a bit. He will be going the traditional route, with the might of a publisher behind him as well as his experience in the business. I will be self-publishing on Amazon but you are part of a crowd who has stumbled upon my writing, found a commonality, and continue to read and subscribe – thanks by the way!

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

~ Neale Donald Walsch

Okay, now I’m out of my comfort zone and realizing that by writing here, I’ve just committed. I’ll need to put a date on that commitment shortly and timeline of what needs to happen to get there.

What is outside of your comfort zone that needs a gentle nudge? Post it for the world to see!

Determination

We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort. ~ Jesse Owens

by Pete Ferguson

A question from a family member:

This week we toured a local music studio to learn about piano lessons.  My daughter is pretty excited, but my husband is a bit weary.  He is worried about putting a lot of cash flow into something that she could potentially want to quit in the near future.  He is also concerned that we will end up in fights about practicing.  Any friendly advice out there?  I think that she has a love for music that should be developed, but I also see his point.

My first inclination is to tell her to definitely not do it! If both she and her husband are not 100% dedicated to move through the continual struggle, it will be a money drain.

In our experience (my wife has been teaching piano lessons off and on since she was a teenager), most kids are going to want to quit lessons after the honeymoon of initial excitement wears off. Depending on the family, this can be six months or six days.

Just like going back to school is always exciting until the first big project or load of homework is due.

Developing the Arts (Music, Dance, Painting, etc.) is a discipline, it is not just a fun hobby.

fattiesI have been an aspiring gym rat for many years now. I’m always amazed at how busy the gym is the first week and a half in January, May, and September. But very quickly, the newfound love of working out succumbs to the desire to nestle in a nice warm bed at 5 am. Today I see familiar faces, the dedicated few who have been coming religiously for a long time.

In blogging, I’ve also seen many start with great enthusiasm, talking about all the things they mean to write about and what they will accomplish. But cranking out material week after week takes its toll, and I have visited many stagnant blogs. They had great material and images – I’ve borrowed both and credited them back to the source – but then one, then two years passed with little to no new material.

Believe me, I’ve about killed off this blog many times. But then I get an encouraging note, or I view my stats and see that in a 24-hour period I’ve had visitors from all over the world. And it keeps me going.

The key to determination is to focus on what you are moving towards!

We found this out by accident prior to me getting more into daily study of success principles. We took our kids to a very small concert with a then unknown name, John Schmidt.

Schmidt

Mark had been wanting to quit piano and had been a real bear when it came to practice. The next day he was improvising all day long and stopped at the piano each time he was in the same room and played for fun.

We were on to something big! He now had a tangible goal.

Several years later he saw the YouTube video of Steven Sharp Nelson playing a cello with a light saber and he was hooked again.

With a new diet, if you do not have a definite goal of what you want to look like or do to motivate you, eventually you are just hungry and grumpy. You have to become a member of the fitness tribe. Hiring a coach or trainer is a great step. Putting together a band of friends who are going to ask you why you weren’t there one day is the next step.

You have to find enough

reasons to want to be in a new orbit.

You must defy your gravity.

header-musicWe receive a lot of compliments about how “talented” our children are at this point in dance and music. It certainly did not happen overnight. There have been many tears of frustration and some fighting over not wanting to practice. And Mark is now practicing almost three hours a day with piano and cello but has a long way to go to get into Juilliard, his new dream.

It is also a considerable financial investment. Notice I use the word investment, not cost. Anything that is a cost has a short shelf-life and little value. We are up to $17K in instrument rentals and purchases. We are now paying over $400 a month for piano, cello, violin, flute, and dance lessons.

But when I sit in the audience and see my children perform, it is worth every penny!

More Ferguson Family videos on YouTube.

Be Yourself

Self confidence comes from understanding who you are – and embracing the power of it. Dare to be something no one else can be – be yourself.

by Pete Ferguson

I’m finding that the key to raising children is helping them find out who they are. I have five kids – and five very unique personalities.

Some traits are similar. All play the piano. Some traits are very different – as a second instrument so far we have cello, flute, and violin with an aspiring harpist. Miles has yet to declare his second instrument – but he’s only two. Maybe drums …

Finding power with being yourself is liberating. It helps clarify your purpose. It helps the very rewarding experience of exploring what you are capable of becoming.

What story do you have yet to write?

 

Perfection in the Making

A good musician will practice until he stops making mistakes. A great musician practices until he can no longer make mistakes. ~ Robert Marsden

by Pete Ferguson

Last week I shared that my 14-year-old son has aspirations to get into The Juilliard School to further advance his career as a cellist and study to become a luthier to build and create stringed  instruments.

He is starting to realize that floating a dream is easy, but grabbing the oars to move forward on that dream is a lot of hard work.

While Mark currently plays seven days a week, he only spends about 45 minutes a day in deliberate or deep practice for the cello and 30 minutes M-F on the piano. The additional ten hours a week are with an orchestra in group practice.

To move to excellence, he is going to need a lot more. At least 2-3 hours a day of deliberate practice is what is recommended from the conductor of the Utah Youth Junior Symphony.

Virtually every psychological study that investigates expert “performers” – from chess grandmasters to concert pianists to brain surgeons – concludes that what separates these individuals from their peers is the amount of “deliberate practice” they are willing to endure. If there is an innate difference between Yo Yo Ma and a mediocre cellist, or between Tiger Woods and your golfing uncle, it is a willingness to practice, and not an innate aptitude for the cello or the 9 iron. ~  Jonah Lehrer

Michael Jordan was the first one on the court and the last one off. The Beatles cut their teeth playing through the entire night at a club – night after night.

Excellence in any area isn’t achieved by mere interest alone. Nor can it be achieved through having the best equipment. What separates the legends from the casual observers is the amount of time spent in deliberate practice.

Learn: What is your lifelong dream? What are you doing today to work towards that dream?

Act: Unfortunately, there is no substitute for time and effort. What action plans have you already initiated? What additional actions can you take to move you to excellence?

Share: Learn from those who are at a mastery level you want to achieve and ignore those who tell you it will be too hard or that you are not capable. Unless you are trying to play professional football at age 45, you likely have a good shot at what you want to achieve. Regardless, I hope you will have fun and gain new knowledge along the way.

The Joy in Accomplishing Goals

Setting goals is a quick rush. Working to accomplish them is, well, work. But accomplishing them is very rewarding.

by Pete Ferguson

This past weekend I was able to check off a bucket list item for my kids. If you are much of a YouTube fan, you are likely aware of “The Piano Guys.”  Their most recent hit, “Cello Wars,” is a fun version of Star Wars played on cello multiple times by the same person, Steven Sharp Nelson.

Steven is not your average cellist. He has brought old school bowing to new heights and is the only cellist of which I’m aware of to date who also plays the base drum while playing the cello.

My son Mark is a budding cellist. He has been playing for about three years – playing piano for over eight – and was just accepted to in the Junior Utah Youth Symphony.

If you recall one of my earlier posts about setting goals and accomplishing them by Monday at 5:00 pm, meeting Steven was one of our family goals that I took action on months ago when I got online, researched his schedule, and realized we could likely meet him in Midway Utah at the Lyceum Music Festival.

The evening was perfect. We had been running around all day and racked up serious mileage on my wife’s car. We got home just in time to change clothes, hop into my car, and drive 78 more miles to make it to the concert with only a minute or two to spare.

My 9-year-old daughter, Abbie, summed up the experience as we walked onto the lawn where they were holding the concert and we found ourselves ten yards from where Steven was waiting.

“I never thought I would see him with my own eyes,” said Abbie.

The concert was great, we saw him play a cello with a light saber (plastic, lasers would of course cut through the strings) along with a number of other pop and traditional pieces.

As the sun settled into the surrounding mountains and the concert drew to a close, my kids grabbed their programs and ran to get into line. Steven was very graceful and encouraging to Mark. He dubbed Abbie “Ms. Freckles” and forgave Amber for choosing the flute over a stringed instrument.

On the way home I called both Hilton and Marriott and we found a hotel to stay in using my points after a quick dinner at Wendy’s. These are rocking chair moments. That night is something I’m sure Mark, Amber, and Abbie will always remember. I certainly will.

Setting goals is a quick rush. Working to accomplish them is, well, work. But accomplishing them is very rewarding.

As we head into Fall and school time in the Northern Hemisphere, what are your goals? For my friends in Australia and the Philippines, the seasons change for you as well, what will you do to make them worth it?

Learn: What goals have you written down for 2012? Pick one today and set a deadline if you haven’t already. Go backwards from the deadline until today. What must happen to accomplish the task today and next Monday?

Act: If you can, try to stay a week ahead on your goal timelines. It will allow you some wiggle room and give you a greater sense of accomplishment.

Share: Blog, get online and read other blogs about your goal. Or write in your journal and share with someone close.