Day 6: The Leadership of Indigenous People

Today is Monday, Tanna, and this particular Monday is an observed national holiday. Like many things taken for granted when I was a child, there is considerable contention surrounding this second Monday in October.

Long recognized as “Columbus Day,” it celebrates the historic voyage by Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. His destination was the far east and he gambled they would not sail off the edge of the world. And he was right. Earth is spherical. However, it’s much larger than he conjectured. He assumed he’d landed in India, when in reality, he anchored his ship in a cove off a Caribbean Island, the one we recognize today as Cuba.

But, in my school days, we all learned, “Columbus discovered America.”

The irony of this misleading historical fake fact is that he, himself, never set foot anywhere on the North American continent. He gets credit for discovery, however, even though the islands and the continents of the western hemisphere were occupied already by well-established cultures of native people.

Those he met at the end of his voyage must surely be residents of India, he reasoned. And so, though they were already known to each other by many other names, the First Peoples of North America came to be known as Indians.

This misappropriation became ludicrous in my mind the year I actually visited India and met genuine Indians. Since then, I resist the notion to call our indigenous nations by that term. Ojibway, Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, Kaw, Ponca, Apache, Lakota, Arapahoe, Tlingit, Haida, Hopi, Navajo (to name but a few)—each group formed its own nation with its own economy, culture, and government. The influx of Europeans ignored the autonomy of natives. European arrogance and entitlement have led to centuries of conflict and bloodshed.

Today there is a movement to recognize the dignity of the remaining indigenous populations, not only here, but indigenous people around the world. And that traditional holiday celebrating Columbus is now recognized in many hearts, and a few states and municipalities, as Indigenous People Day.

Our recognition and respect go far beyond one day, though. As the plight of our planet grows ever more dire, indigenous people raise their cry of dissention—and many others join them. Books on the native ways are available. Panels of indigenous leaders offer international online seminars in which the panelists share thoughts, concerns, ideas, and suggestions for moving forward.

I am listening. Perhaps in your day, Tanna, the Columbus celebrations will have retreated to a distant corner, like a demoralized dog, head down and tail between its legs.

Native peoples on every continent lead the way in our infant efforts to bind ourselves intimately with the natural world. Thomas Berry recognized this in his writings. “We have even forgotten our primordial capacity for language at the elementary level of song and dance.” He went on to point out how native Americans revere our wild neighbors through their musical and chanting ceremonies.

“One of the significant historical roles of the primal people of the world,” Berry wrote in The Dream of the Earth, “is to call the entire civilized world back to a more authentic mode of being. [Native peoples] are emerging as one of our surest guides into a viable future.”

Tanna, I struggle for words to describe what’s in my heart when Berry refers to native music from the wild places. One panel I experienced during the heat of this COVID summer included indigenous women of all ages, and from varied locations in the western hemisphere. The Ecuadorian woman, Patricia Gualinga, mentioned how the meetings her people hold always start with music, to create harmony, and that all participants—male or female, young or old—are treated with the same respect and consideration. All are equal in their councils.

Strangely, this draws my mind to our District 79 state representative race. Ken White, the man challenging the conservative incumbent, is a musician. He shows up at campaign events with a guitar strapped to his shoulders. And I think to myself, It wouldn’t hurt to bring a little music to ease the tension in our statehouse.

Happy Indigenous People Day, Tanna! I hope that in your time, it is without question or contention the focus of an October holiday. To the leaders of the people so long abused by our national and state policies, I say, “Lead on. It’s your turn now.”

And I truly hope they help us find the way back to a thriving relationship with the natural world.

Pardon me now, as I head off on my own private walk in celebration of Indigenous People Day, an effort publicized online as the Rising Hearts Run/Walk, located anywhere on Turtle Island.

With enduring love,

Your Seventh Generation Grandmother

Launching a New Book

The year I completed my examinations process to become a registered piano technician, a New Yorker named Ben Treuhaft attended the national piano convention. Treuhaft campaigned through the nineties for donations of pianos, repair parts, and technician service to upgrade the condition of Cuba’s musical instruments. He made a plea at the convention for help with the project called “Send a Piana to Havana.” After the Soviet Union pulled out of Cuba, people and their instruments suffered due to the lack of supplies for all kinds of pursuits.

I contacted Mr. Treuhaft to offer help. Several months later, he brought a beautiful and talented Cuban pianist on tour across the country and she played an amazing concert here, at the local college. The sample CD of her recordings that arrived with promotional material for the tour has remained a favorite disc in my collection. Her appearance in my hometown planted the seed which 20 years later has blossomed into the fictional suspense novel Sonata of Elsie Lenore.

I’ve been asked to officially launch Elsie Lenore at a county-wide monster piano concert February 9. The quadrennial event serves as a fund-raiser for music scholarships at Cowley College. The invitation to make Sonata of Elsie Lenore part of the 2020 Keyboard Duet Festival surpasses anything I could have dreamed. Even better, we’ll have another professional Cuban pianist joining the county’s piano students at this event.

Last year at this time, I was scrambling to prepare for a big adventure to Cuba. I made lists of things to bring, sorted clothing and supplies, checked everything multiple times, and packed my bags. The first week of March, I joined a group of strangers from across the US in Miami and we toured Cuba together. The day before I left, I posted a short note to my Facebook page.

“Getting ready for a big adventure! Nail-biting nervous to be heading out with a group of soon-to-be friends on an educational and good-will mission trip to Cuba. Yes, Cuba. Down there south of Miami. I hear it’s a unique and fantastic experience.”

A number of people responded on the post itself with excitement and encouragement, but I also received a private message from a piano technician colleague in Wichita. “I hope you have time for two friends to meet you in Cuba,” he wrote. “One is a technician involved with our donations of pianos to Cuba project. The other is coming to WSU next fall for graduate study in organ and piano.”

This opportunity iced the cake. Cuba’s musical contributions to the world stage are legendary and I was, after all, heading to Cuba to learn more about its music, its musicians, and its pianists in particular. Within two hours David Pérez Martinez emailed me. Together we worked through language barriers (I speak very little Spanish), as well as phone and internet systems with vastly different procedures. The evening of March 11, 2019, we met in person on the grounds of Hotel Nacional in Havana for a delightful visit at a table overlooking the Malécon Boulevard and the Atlantic beyond. Employed professionally as a pianist and harpsichordist in Havana, David was in process of pursuing further training in organ performance. He had applied to a few universities in the US, including Wichita State University.

Five months later, David arrived at Eisenhower National Airport, WSU having offered him the best situation.

It has been thrilling to return hospitality to this son of a nation that offered exemplary hospitality to me last March, and to keep up with his graduate studies and performances at WSU. His unparalleled joy at the keys warms the heart and provides inspiration to students of all ages here in Cowley County.

Mark your calendars: February 9, 2020, 6:00 p.m., Brown Theatre at Cowley College, 125 South 2nd, Arkansas City, Kansas. It will be a spectacular event!

(Note: This post published in the 20th minute of the 20th hour of the 20th day of the year 2020!)

Love to Read? Love Pianos? This one is for you.

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I love pianos. I spend uncounted hours working with pianos, playing them, tuning, fixing, and re-building them, and teaching others how to play. As an invention of humanity, a fine piano ranks somewhere in the top ten. In my mind, it is #1. The brand new Sundrop Sonata, my novel of suspense featuring pianos and a piano tuner in rural Kansas, is now available on Amazon, as digital or a print book.

I invite you to be one of the first to read Sundrop Sonata. Early readers rave about its plot and pace.

“I am hooked to your story! Read till 1AM last night, then came in really late to work today, not putting the story down. I rather gobbled it up.”

“I downloaded your book Sundrop Sonata this afternoon and just finished it. Excellent!”

“Loved your book! Lots of great plot twists.”

“Last night I finished reading Sundrop Sonata.  It’s wonderful and I was so sorry to have it end.”

“Hold onto your seat!”

You may order a digital or a print copy of Sundrop Sonata through Amazon.   If you think others would enjoy it, write a short review on Amazon.

 

Thanks and happy reading!

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First book event for Sundrop Sonata will be Friday, April 15 5:00 – 7:00 pm at Gallery 1001, 10th and Main, Winfield, Kansas.

 

Ten Reasons to Choose a Piano Over an Electronic Keyboard

 

IMG_0015A few years ago, after several inquiries about my recommendations, I came up with this  list about the advantages of a genuine piano over one of the newer electronic versions.

It’s a bit inaccurate to call electronic keyboards pianos. By definition, pianos have felt-covered hammers and steel strings. (Pi-a-no: a stringed percussion instrument having steel wires that sound when struck by felt-covered hammers operated from a keyboard.–Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) Electronic keyboards (aka digital pianos) lack these definitive items. They are keyboard instruments similar in some ways to pianos, like organs, harpsichords, clavichords, and virginals, but they are different in nature from pianos.

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Why Choose a Genuine Piano?

  1. Musically: digital keyboards are limited musically to what the “programmer” put into its computer programs. Pianos can deliver a full range of musical expression depending on the pianist’s abilities. Keyboards have difficulty producing expression, color, and tone.
  2. Aesthetically: A properly maintained piano in a home adds sophistication. It is a work of art. Electronic keyboards have a less-sophisticated plastic look.
  3. Financially: With proper maintenance, pianos can last a few generations. Few products in today’s world can make such a claim. Digital keyboards are designed to need replacement every few years. Which is the better investment?
  4. Practically: Pianos will work even in a power outage. Their mechanisms are physical rather than electronic. They also need no amplification. Their sound waves are magnified by the built-in soundboard.
  5. Authentically: A piano’s action mechanism allows the pianist to control dynamics and tone color. Though some higher-priced keyboards may have touch sensitivity that attempts to imitate a piano, most do not. Lack of touch control on a keyboard is a big issue for skilled fingers and feet. Pedal usage on a digital keyboard, if available, differs greatly from genuine pianos.
  6. Skill Mastery: Pianos have capabilities and range necessary to play music of all kinds. Some skills can only be learned on a genuine piano. For example: Students who have practiced on a piano, who transfer fortissimo power to a keyboard can watch the digital version scoot across the floor under their practiced blows.
  7. Physically: The development of skills such as eye-hand coordination, fine motor skills, and full body involvement in musical expression is limited in a digital version to what was programmed into the computer by programmers who may or may not have been musicians.
  8. Personally: It is rare for a student who starts on a digital keyboard “to see if they like it” to progress very far in piano study. Serious students need the best piano they can afford in order to minimize frustration. Some piano teachers will not teach students beyond beginner levels who don’t use genuine pianos for home practice.
  9. Emotionally: Piano owners fall in love with their instruments in a way that is unseen with digital keyboard owners. Love your piano; it will love you back.
  10. Spiritually: Under the practiced hands of a skilled pianist, a piano can “come alive.”

I can now add another reason. Electronic keyboards lack the intrigue of an acoustic piano. I cannot imagine making a plastic, computerized keyboard instrument an integral part of a suspense novel, like I did the genuine pianos in Sundrop Sonata. If you are like  me and love the real thing, you  might enjoy reading the story of Isabel Woods as she discovers disturbing things in some of her neighbors’ pianos.

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Sundrop Sonata–A Novel of Suspense by Ann Christine Fell. Available now as an electronic book at Amazon.com.

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Sundrop Sonata

I’m excited that my long-awaited and much anticipated suspense novel Sundrop Sonata is now available on Amazon.com as a Kindle e-book. The print version will soon follow.

Sundrop Sonata Cover

 

What’s it about?

            With her passion for helping people, piano tuner Isabel Woods loves her job – but passion can be a dangerous thing. Reluctantly agreeing to harbor a client’s autistic daughter, Izzy’s good intentions unexpectedly expose her own family to a murderous fiend with a chilling agenda. Human trafficking and bio-terrorism are no longer just buzz words from the nightly news. For Izzy, they have become terrifying and real. As the deadly Sundrop Sonata begins to play, Izzy has one chance to save the people and the country she loves armed with nothing more than courage, intelligence, and her esoteric knowledge of pianos.

Early readers, men and women alike, rave about the plot and pace of Sundrop Sonata. From one reader: “I am hooked to your story! Read till 1 AM last night, then came in really late to work today, not putting the story down. I rather gobbled it up.”

Another: “I was caught up in this page-turner. The cliff-hanging chapter endings may well keep you reading long after the bedside lamp should have been extinguished.”

I can offer you good Entertainment, a refreshing Escape from gritty reality, and Encouragement to stick to your principles in everyday dealings, for it could matter very much. If you need a diversion, check it out. Then let me know what you think in a comment here, or a review on Amazon. Happy reading!

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What is a Piano Lesson?

 
Recital 2012
Recital 2012

I like to think that anyone who works in a leadership or teaching role with young people is in the business of making memories. In addition to helping our students develop skills, we provide experiences that we hope will make good memories for the rest of their lives. Exactly how does this happen in a piano lesson? Last week’s spring recital reminded me once again the real reasons to teach. Have you ever wondered exactly what parents receive for the lesson tuition paid to a piano teacher?

Certainly, we teach the elements of music.  From melody and harmony, to rhythm, tempo, dynamics and music theory, we share an international form of communication with our students.  Music notation is one of few things that is consistent worldwide. The notes our students learn will be the very same as those learned all around the world.

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We teach techniques specific to mastery of our favorite instrument, the piano.   With keyboard choreography (otherwise known as fingering) and articulation styles, we teach young fingers to dance on the keys. We help them coordinate foot pedaling techniques to achieve desired musical effects.   But we teach so much more than this.  A piano lesson is really a small lesson in life.  We cover personality traits like dedication, commitment, perseverance and concentration.  We help students learn the value of repetition in the mastery of a difficult task.  (Play it again.  And again.  And yet again.)  We help students learn the value of being flexible, and the satisfaction of a job well done.  Nothing else can top that feeling.

We share other tidbits about life too.   In just a minute or two at the beginning or end of a lesson, I have explained my collection of instruments from around the world, or my collection of rocks and how they were formed.  I have discussed the direction of earth’s rotation with students and tiptoed with them to a nest of baby bunnies in my garden. I have even, on occasion, shared my favorite remedy for hiccups.

In return, the students share things with me as well.  Through our weekly meetings, we come to know each other well. We develop a relationship that has the potential to become a lifelong friendship.  After all, how many other teachers stick by their students season after season, year after year?

I hear about family celebrations.  I know where families head for summer vacations, or for the holidays.  I know who’s coming to visit and how long they will stay.  I know what is planned for birthdays.  I hear about good days at school, and bad days as well.  I hear about contests won.  And contests lost.  I receive invitations to participate in the lives of my students.  I am invited to school performances, church functions, and community performances.  I am invited to participate in school fundraisers, youth club fundraisers, and symphony fundraisers.

I have helped prepare students to perform at weddings; I hold their hands as they deal with the loss of a grandparent—sometimes even the tragic loss of a close friend.

So, sure, we piano teachers serve as teachers.  We teach music and the skills needed to play a piano.  But relationships with our students, over the years, hold so much more—teacher, coach, cheerleader, confidante, and friend.  For me there is no greater reward.

Recital 2013: The calm before the storm.
Recital 2013: The calm before the storm.

 

Recital 2013. Photo by Carl Shultz.
Recital 2013.  Creating memories. Photo by Carl Shultz.

 

A Letter From My Mother

I’m convinced that one of the hardest things to do is to switch piano teachers during the formative years. It’s hard on a student. And it’s hard for the new teacher to assess prior skills and develop a rapport with a transfer student. I know this from both a student’s and a teacher’s viewpoint. Recently I stumbled across a letter from my own mother. She wrote in response to a long epistle I had penned as a teenager. I waxed eloquent in my plea to stop my own private study in piano after we moved to a new community. Her letter smacked with impact. I could have written it to my own daughter a few years ago. Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I remember Mother with love. Here are her timeless words, from another time and another place.

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Dear Daughter,

Last evening while thinking about the situation, I felt your father and I should no longer ask you to take lessons on the piano and resolved to discuss this with him. Upon reading your letter to us this morning, I wondered if your thought waves had influenced my thoughts. If you change your mind at any future date, please let us know; I had hoped that your experience with lessons under an inexperienced person would not preclude all future lessons. But in any case, do return to playing the piano for your own pleasure (and mine) and don’t hold a grudge against Chopin.

There’s little that I can say but to caution you that while you feel you are an adult, you still have much growing and learning to do. You have many “do-it-yourself” interests but I’m sure that after an initial learning stage you may find it wise to turn to someone more skilled or knowledgeable in that interest in order to keep improving. Try to keep an open mind. There are many things or ideas to which you have not been exposed.  In the meantime, we should all keep learning and improving in the fields of religion, music, writing, drawing, painting, speaking and personal development. No matter what one’s vocation, life will be richer and more complete because of these experiences.

Yes, darling, we are biased parents—biased in favor of our daughters. But we’re conscious that we have failed you in many ways. We love all of you very much and are proud of you.

Love always, Mother