The Creative Life – Day Four

The conference ended Saturday morning with a time of singing together, a few final thoughts from Michael Card, and lots of farewells and gathering of contact information before heading our separate ways. We were asked to fill out a survey about the conference. One of the questions was, “How have you seen God work in your life as a result of your time here?” My response sums up how I feel about the overall experience, “He has refreshed me through the beautiful setting; blessed me through the sweet and servant-hearted staff; encouraged me through the love and fellowship of the other attendees; humbled me through my weaknesses; and taught me through the rich teaching and example of the speakers/workshop instructors.”

with Phil Keaggywith Michael Card

I had no idea what to expect when I registered to attend The Creative Life conference, but it has honestly been a life-changing experience. Sometimes we don’t realize how small we’ve made the box in which we live until we have an experience that shakes us up and dumps us completely outside that box. Between the Pattern Play teaching intensive at the beginning of the month and this Creative Life conference toward the end, I feel like I’ve been duly shaken and dumped. 🙂

In its own way, each experience has left me with more questions than answers and forced me to think more deeply about my role as a musician and teacher. And yet, even as I’ve wrestled with difficult questions, and struggled to come up with answers for myself, I am so grateful for the opportunity to re-evaluate and refine my musical philosophies. I think that I have grown immensely through the process, and look forward to resuming lessons with my students – not with all the answers, but with a broader and more enriching set of tools that I can use to inspire and equip them for musical excellence and service.

Read more about The Creative Life: Intro | Day One | Day Two | Day Three

The Creative Life – Day Three

This morning I decided to get up extra early for a sunrise hike up the mountain to a spot overlooking the Garden of the Gods.


It was a beautiful morning, and so neat to look out over the sprawling Colorado Springs metropolis as the sun rose.


This is a shot looking behind me with the Garden of the Gods in the background.


The morning consisted of two workshop sessions where we had to choose from a list of five sessions, each one being presented by one of yesterday’s creativity panel members. It was a hard choice! In the end, I opted to go first to a session on The Psaltery Principle by Dr. Greg Cope. I had a chance to visit with Dr. Cope several times earlier in the conference and found him to be a wealth of insight on education and musical literacy. He has designed and built a line of easy-to-learn portable instruments to make music-making accessible to a larger percentage of the population.

His driving passion, however, is to encourage people to incorporate daily worship into their lives, much like King David expresses through his writings in the book of Psalms. In our session we spent some time reading and discussion some Scripture passages about worshiping God through music, then he gave us a crash course on the psaltery and the bowed lyre. It was so much fun, and I see incredible potential for utilizing instruments like this in the studio!

For the second workshop session, I decided to go to one by Ken Lewis on the role of a producer and a support musician. He emphasized the importance of listening, utilizing ambient sounds, and evaluating each scenario for maximum effectiveness. Then we spent the bulk of our time finding anything around the room that could be used to create sound, including some cool percussion instruments he brought along for the purpose, and recorded a multi-track piece by creating our sounds in time with a beat he provided. Some of the sounds used were: turning the lid of a white board marker, pouring water from one cup to another, crinkling a candy wrapper, tapping a piece of cardboard with a pen, plucking the inside of the mouth, and running a pencil along the side of an old radiator in the room.

After we each recorded our sounds into an audio editor, Ken masterfully mined out the best combinations, looped them, and strategically placed them to create a backup track that was pretty cool sounding! It was a fascinating group project, and one that got all of us thinking “outside the box” to notice and then harness the sounds all around us to create something new and fresh. Another fun studio project, I think!

Lunch was again followed by an afternoon of free time, and the evening was spent in a time of Community Presentations.

It was a long, but very meaningful time as one after another of the conference attendees got up to share to what Michael Card dubbed “a 100% affirming audience.” He said, “If you do something well, we will love you. But if you mess up or make a mistake, we’ll love you even more.” What a freeing concept that does wonders to encourage people to share and give of themselves without fear of judgment or rejection.

Some shared previously written songs; others shared new works created during their time at the conference; still others shared spontaneously as they felt moved to do so during the presentations. Michael Card, Phil Keaggy, and Ken Lewis graciously (and amazingly!) volunteered to accompany anyone at their request and easily improvised along with whatever original or arranged song the individual played for the group. In addition to being incredibly blessed by the experience, I was inspired anew to invest more time developing the skill of playing by ear and improvising at the piano.

It was very late by the time the last presentation was over, but somehow most of us still had a hard time pulling ourselves away to go back to our rooms and call it a night. The far-reaching impact of such an experience will probably never be fully known, but I know it’s already making a difference in my perspective of teaching music and how I view studio recitals/performance experiences…

The Creative Life – Day Two

Instead of staying in the castle, I opted to stay in one of the other lodges on the Glen Eyrie property. For one, I love getting outside and walking from place to place instead of being inside the same location all day. Plus, I’ve stayed in the castle before and it was less expensive to stay in one of the lodges.

My room in the Bighorn Lodge was lovely and spacious, and this is the view I woke up to out of my big picture window on Thursday morning.

As I made my way to the castle for breakfast, I was greeted by this friendly doe, who was already feasting on her morning fare. 🙂

Michael Card led the first session of the day on the topic of “Creativity as Servanthood.” He began by asking, “What are the implications of Jesus living a perfect life?” His response, “We can go to His life and find what we need. Everything He said was the perfect thing to have said.” Amazing thought!

The bulk of the talk centered on what Michael called “the radical reversal” of humility as the basis for exaltation and slavery as the basis for lordship. Jesus revealed the glory of God in His humility. This is most obvious in the way He performed miracles, where He seldom made a point to draw attention to Himself, but rather to point the individual to His Father. Michael also posited that creativity is only useful insomuch as it serves others. He concluded with two interesting points:

  1. We serve within the liberating confines of knowing who we are.
  2. We are called first to give ourselves, not what we think. We are not our gifts.

The other morning session was a creativity panel comprised of the following people: visual artists Michael and Teresa Carter, Michael Card, Phil Keaggy, Dr. Greg Cope, and Ken Lewis. For the hour and half allotted, anyone was invited to ask questions of one or more of the panel members and also offer their own thoughts or comments in response to questions posed by others. Here are a few quotes I captured that I thought were especially insightful and worth remembering:

“Productive artists aren’t afraid to produce insignificant works.” ~Teresa Carter (though I believe she was quoting another artist)

“Some of the best and most creative things come from very little.” ~Ken Lewis

“If you’re an artist, you will always be an artist.” ~Phil Keaggy

“Whether you’re right or wrong, I’m on your side. Especially when you’re wrong.” ~Michael Card (quoting something someone said to him as a young man that greatly impacted his life)

“Am I willing to be anonymous?” ~Teresa Carter

“Rests let the listener’s imagination fill in the blanks.” ~Ken Lewis

“You can’t say everything all the time.” ~Michael Card

“Your Worst Piece First” ~an assignment Michael Carter does with his art students to help them break out of their fear of creating a piece of artwork that won’t be good

After an alfresco lunch, we had the afternoon free to go hiking, take a nap, work on a project for the community presentations the following evening, or whatever else we felt like.

We re-joined the group for dinner and then a concert given by Phil Keaggy, Michael Card, and Ken Lewis. It was so fun to watch these guys make music together, improv on stage, laugh at their mistakes, and share their heart for praising the Lord! The last scheduled activity of the day was a “Star and Night Sky Party” at 9:30. Unfortunately, there was too much cloud cover to see the stars, so we just got our drinks at the on-site coffee shop and sat around the Carriage House courtyard talking and enjoying the refreshing night air.

The Creative Life – Day One

The first scheduled event of The Creative Life conference was dinner on Wednesday evening. I joined a table of other conference attendees and we enjoyed meeting one another and finding out what brought each of us to the conference. There was something familiar to me about the lady sitting across the table from me, but it wasn’t until she started sharing more about some of her current projects that it hit me who she was. After a couple questions we concluded that sure enough, she was Mary Jo Tate, the lady who interviewed me for a broadcast on Fun and Easy Musical Activities for Young Children.

How fun to discover that I sort of knew someone else at the conference after all! 🙂 Also, meeting various individuals at dinner was my first glimpse into all the incredibly fascinating people that were attending the conference.

After dinner, the program director welcomed us and shared that they had been praying for each of the conference attendees by name and had three specific things they were praying for each of us:

  1. That we would be well served by the Glen Eyrie staff.
  2. That we would meet deeply with God during our time there.
  3. That we would leave a different person, better equipped to impact others.

I was very touched by the fact that the staff had been praying for each of us by name and could feel an incredible sense of care from each one with whom I interacted during the conference.

The opening session by singer/songwriter/author/speaker Michael Card was a general introduction to creativity. One of his main points was that “the heart of creativity is listening.” He talked about how listening is one of the greatest expressions of love, and that the imagination is the bridge between our mind and our heart. He went on to explore briefly what we can learn about creativity from the life of Jesus and then give an overview of creativity in the Bible.

Creativity is all about giving yourself, not creating artifacts. This was a recurring theme throughout the conference. Michael summarized his message, saying that “the creative call is a call to fresh creation in response to loving God by listening to the Word, silence, and life…With hearts and minds reintegrated by the Spirit, we must respond to the call to creativity with fresh, new works.”

After he finished, the program director gave us a list of discussion questions to talk about with the others at our table. These are the questions posed:

  • Who are you? (Introductions)
  • Are you a head or a heart person?
  • Who are some biblical characters with whom you identify?
  • Describe a time when you were able to listen to the silence.
  • Is there something that God is asking you to create?

This was a wonderful way to quickly meet new people, get to know each other, and build relationships that have continued beyond the conference week. There were five of us at our table, all from different backgrounds, with differing beliefs and life experiences – which all made for a fascinating time of discussion.

The Creative Life

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, I had the incredible opportunity a week and a half ago to attend The Creative Life Conference.

Nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Glen Eyrie, the historic castle built by General Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs, now belongs to The Navigators and serves as a Christian conference and retreat. This served as the backdrop for our 4-day conference, and was the perfect place to find refreshment and inspiration in preparation for another year of teaching.

As you can imagine, pictures don’t do this place justice, but this is a glimpse of the castle in its serene setting. For the rest of the week I’ll be posting about each day of the conference so that hopefully you can experience a bit of the same inspiration as you launch your fall semester of teaching!

Take Note of this New Blog

Sheet Music Plus has recently launched a new blog called, Take Note. I’m always interested in finding out about new music blogs, but their special Music in Community series especially caught my attention. The first one highlights music teacher Candace Love and the free music school that she runs in San Jose, CA. A fascinating concept!

Take Note is looking for stories about other teachers who are helping the communities around them, and offers a $75 gift certificate to those who are featured in a post. I know there are tons of amazing stories out there, so thought I would pass this on for those interested in submitting a story!

A Couple Quick Images

Have you missed me?! 🙂 There are so many things I have been learning and working on that I want to post about – especially an amazing creative arts conference that I attended last week. (In fact, I’m planning to do a week-long series of posts on it next week, so stay tuned!) But for now, I wanted to share two quick images:

Music Matters Blog reader, Lorrie, sent me this photo from her studio. They are getting ready to launch the Go For the Gold! practice incentive theme this fall and she wanted to show me how she decorated her studio. I love it! It’s so exciting to hear about and see how others are using the themes in their studios, so if you have a picture you want to share, please send it my way!

And here’s a sneak preview of our new studio theme for this year. It’s still in final development, but I am so excited about incorporating some of the things I’ve learned this summer into the theme. I’ll be officially announcing it to my students at our annual September Surprise! in two weeks and then I’ll post a little more about it here. Can’t have any snooping students finding out the scoop ahead of time, you know? 🙂

Pattern Play Teaching Intensive Day 2

It has been a remarkable two days full of music-making, learning, growing, questioning, and thinking. Lots of thinking. I have greatly enjoyed sitting under the instruction of Akiko and Forrest. Even though it was stretching in a lot of ways, I know it is good for me to feel like a beginner and be forced to think more deeply about my approach to teaching. What are the musical ideals I have for my students? What do I value the most in their music education? I found myself pondering these questions a lot during last week’s Pursuit of Music piano camp with my students. And I am compelled to continue to ask these questions in light of the new things I have learned this week.

I am reminded of a saying I’ve heard numerous times: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there.” It is so important for those of us who are teaching to be intentional in every aspect of the way we run our studios, interact with the families, and plan and conduct lessons with our students. Why do you use a particular method series? For what purpose are you having students learn to play scales and arpeggios? What is the point of the repertoire piece that the student has been assigned to learn? Do I even know why I structure the lesson the way I do, or is it a mindless adherence to some unspoken protocol of what a piano lesson should look like?

As I alluded to yesterday, it’s a bit unnerving to have your entire pedagogical approach to music education challenged. But there’s also an excitement in considering the possibilities and potential that could be realized if you are willing to take the risk of trying something new. Wow. I kind of make it sound like I’m getting ready to try a new surgical procedure with life and death implications! I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, but there has been a good bit of psychological wrestling among pretty much all of us in the workshop these past two days as we try to reconcile the philosophies espoused by the Kinney’s with the way most of us have been trained to think about playing and teaching music.

I know I’ll be posting much more about this in the days ahead, but for now I thought I would share with you a brief overview of Forrest Kinney’s conclusion of our 2-day teaching intensive with his list of 17 musical ideals that he has for each of his students. Forrest said that the first thing he wants his students to be able to do is play freely at the piano,  improvise without a score or plan, play from a purely intuitive, non-theoretical state of mind. Then he went on to mention his remaining goals:

2. Improvise on tunes.
3. Improvise in a way that could be called “instant composition.”
4. Ability to improvise with others.
5. Arrange tunes by ear.
6. Arrange a tune in any style.
7. Arrange instantly with others.
8. Transpose into any key.
9. Read a lead sheet.
10. Compose/write musical essays.
11. Interpret notation with expressiveness.
12. Sightread well.
13. Strong memories.
14. Interpret musical scores with others.
15. Understand musical patterns (a.k.a. music theory).
16. Play with physical and psychological ease.
17. Love what they are doing.

I Finally Get It!

It took two and a half years and an 8-hour teaching intensive, but at the end of the Pattern Play workshop today I had an epiphany. The philosophy undergirding this series is not that improvisation is a skill to be worked on as part of the piano lesson, but rather that improvisation (or creativity at the piano) is the core from which every student can learn to become an accomplished musician. This is a huge distinction that requires a complete paradigm shift from the more common pedagogical model today where learning piano literature forms the core of the lesson. It’s something I definitely need to ponder more in depth.

As Forrest pointed out several times today, this improvisation-based model was the prevailing philosophy in music education for many years. The ability to express oneself creatively at the keyboard was the hallmark of a good piano [organ/harpsichord, etc.] player. In contrast with today’s frequent emphasis on improvising as a skill to draw upon when the notes of a piece are forgotten in performance, in the 17th and 18th centuries, a musician might have to resort to using printed music if he was incompetent at improvising. 🙂 Music was experienced, learned, and taught in a predominantly aural tradition.

Like most students today, our entire class at the Pattern Play workshop consisted of teachers who were trained in a predominantly visual tradition. Thus, the Kinney’s approach of having us take turns playing duet improvisations alternatively with each of them was more than a little frightening! But the variety of experiential learning, observation, and discussion proved to be very instructive for all of us. Tomorrow we will each be taking a turn playing the role of teacher as we introduce and teach our selected patterns to another student in the class. That increases the frightening factor by about 1,000%! 🙂 But I can see how it will be extremely helpful if we really aim to become more effective at implementing these principles with our own students. I’m excited to see what tomorrow holds!

Picture Highlights from Seattle

As I mentioned several weeks ago, I am thrilled to be attending several days of piano workshops here in the Seattle area! I arrived early enough yesterday morning that I was able to catch a bus downtown to explore the famous Pike Place Market and the Waterfront. It was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon, and I had a wonderful time. Here are a few picture highlights from the day:

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Today was the Chord Play workshop. It began at 10:00 this morning, and we launched right into a theory class on all-things chords and how to use them to arrange your own music at the piano. Forrest is an excellent teacher, making sure each person understands the concepts and providing time for us to practice implementing them with the pieces on the handouts.

We had a nice break for lunch, which gave us some time to get to know each other a little bit and share various teaching ideas. The afternoon flew by with an overview of select musical styles and how to apply them to lead sheet playing. I think it’s safe to say that Boogie Woogie was my weakest style! Here are a few picture highlights from today:

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I really enjoyed the class and feel like I have a lot of ideas to play with when I get home! But I am also looking forward to the Pattern Play classes tomorrow and Friday. Stay tuned for more updates!