Heroic

When I first performed this symphony, I was in the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra. I was 15, and it was like an initiation rite: now I too would be able to say I’d played “Eroica”. The title was one of the attractions: Italian, exotic, even a little naughty if you think there might be supposed to be a “t” in the middle. I imagined I heard Boromir blowing his great horn in the 2nd movement. And of course there are the mythic stories about this symphony: Beethoven’s tearing up its dedication to Napoleon in protest, the Boston Symphony’s last-minute performance of the Funeral March in the face of unthinkable tragedy.

The second time I performed this symphony, I was an adult blogger on violinist.com. It was a whirlwind-quick festival over Christmas vacation, with a young, creative—heroic—conductor as the inspiration. I dusted off the old memories and was surprised and pleased at how well it all came back.

The third time I performed this symphony . . . well, I haven’t gotten there yet. We have 3 more rehearsals, which, if you think about it, isn’t that many. Yet, I still feel like I’m the muddy middle of things. I’m doing okay with respect to getting basic rhythm, intonation, and dynamics, and with re-awakening the muscle memory, but I’m still . . . struggling.

Back in my old orchestra, I was the concertmaster. I didn’t always mention that; in fact I usually just talked about “the orchestra I play in . . . “ unless it was a situation where I thought it would help me, or the orchestra, such as when I was dealing with publicity or finding a concert venue for orchestra-associated chamber groups. Then, I was the concertmaster, I was in charge, I was the one to deal with. I had the support of the conductor. I practiced my music, I tried my best to standardize the bowings, I served on the Board of Directors. I stood in front of the group and asked for the tuning A to start the concert. None of this stopped me from feeling like an impostor sometimes. Since I had never been to music school, since I had quit the violin twice, and since it was a non-audition volunteer group, I hadn’t earned the position the way most people do. I believe I did earn it over time, as a steady, conscientious presence who believed in and came to love the orchestra like a family. But I didn’t wear the mantle lightly, and sometimes I felt a little guilty enjoying it. After all those teenage years spent kicking around the back of county, state, and youth orchestras, and of turning the concertmaster’s pages in high school, a dream that I hadn’t even realized I’d been nurturing, came true in middle age.

And now it’s over.

During my time as concertmaster, I thought I was appropriately deferential to the conductor, and appropriately considerate of suggestions from the rest of the section (and other sections). I was small-c-conservative and mostly stuck to the printed bowings and took passages “as it comes” unless I had a good reason to do otherwise. Once I figured out a bowing I stuck with it and played it the same way from rehearsal to rehearsal, again, unless I had a good reason to do otherwise, and then the change was announced. My leadership style, if I could be said to have one at all, was not in-your-face, not heroic. I didn’t have strong musical opinions because I really didn’t think I had the right to have them.

Well, apparently, I was wrong about that and probably other things too. There’s nothing like the back of a first violin section to bring out the opinionatedness in all of us. For example, I have to admit, sheepishly, that I do not follow someone else’s bowings very well. For 7 years I’ve been used to doing what I want and expecting everyone else to follow me. And when I look up, I expect to see the conductor’s smiling face, not someone else’s bow going the opposite direction from mine. I find myself grumbling silently—up bow? There? WTF, are you kidding me? Oh, yeah, ok, that’s fine. Oops. I’ve been making liberal use of my pencil—and its eraser—in rehearsal.

In Eroica, though, my opinionatedness seems to focus on something different: interpretation. I remember now that I did have a policy as concertmaster that was not universally loved. I always told my section to play chords divisi, the notes divided up between two players on a stand, unless it was explicitly marked “non-div” or unless the conductor said otherwise. This started as a carryover from high school and youth orchestra days, but I still agree with it in principle. I think that symphonic chords, at least when played by a non-professional orchestra, sound better when played divisi: cleaner, better in tune, more together, and less crunchy, because players each only have 1-2 notes to worry about, but all notes are heard in the audience. Playing chords divisi also works to prevent a phenomenon that I personally dislike (and here is my opinionatedness again rearing its ugly head): violinist showoffy-ness. But in the current performance, not only are we supposed to play all the chords non-divisi, but he’s having us do a lot of down-bow retakes, another technique that I prefer to use sparingly.

I want to stop grumbling, even silently. I’m new here and I know it’s not my place to grumble. But I still don’t like the heaviness that these techniques bring to the piece. The concertmaster says it’s what Beethoven would have wanted, a reason I fully respect, if true. But is it true? How can we know?

Beethoven’s Eroica might be the most talked- and written-about symphony in the history of classical music. I did a little internet research and I found a number of cool things that made writing this blog take a long time but didn’t answer my question: 1. The Eroica Riddle: Did Napoleon Remain Beethoven’s Hero; Beethoven’s taking away the dedication to Napoleon may have been motivated more by practical and financial reasons, than by democratic disillusionment with a self-proclaimed emperor. 2. Norman Bates listened to Eroica in the Hitchcock movie, “Psycho;” and 3. The opening chords in Eroica can be, and have been, played many different ways, from short to long to bright to deep, at different tempos and even with different pitches, if you include historical recordings.

This last project, in particular, drives the point home that everyone has an opinion, they’re all different, and maybe that’s actually part of the fun. So this is mine. Yes, the Eroica ushered in a new symphonic era. It was unique, and revolutionary. It threw off shackles, and Prometheus became unbound. But it didn’t completely lose touch with its classical roots, either. Underneath the unexpected chord changes and rich orchestrations, there is still a framework that connects it with Mozart, Haydn, and those who came before. There is still room for lightness, even delicacy, in the Eroica. There are always going to be the myths, and there is always going to be someone who comes along and points out that it is really more complicated. Than that.

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Oh no! Not a Weight-loss Blog Post!

I got on the scale this morning, and saw the lowest number I have seen in many years. Now to be fair, some of those years I didn’t own a scale, and didn’t weigh myself. So I’ll just arbitrarily pick a date that makes the number look good: it was the lowest number since the summer of 2012, when I quit my job as a project manager to make a career move into science education.

That summer I also joined a gym that was close to my house in Belmont. I didn’t stay with that gym, for reasons I write about here in this sermon, but I do remember the first meeting with the director. I had to get on a scale, which at the time I didn’t do except at the doctor’s office, and I was horrified at what I saw. I tried to justify it in my mind all kinds of ways: I was wearing clothes when I was weighed. I didn’t look that fat! It even crossed my mind that maybe the gym director had loaded the scale somehow to convince me that I needed to sign up RIGHT NOW for their pricey 6-month weight-loss package. I was really annoyed with this woman and willing to believe the worst about her, although she was probably just trying to do her job. Because I really didn’t want to have to think about weight loss. I just wanted a place to exercise.

I’m aware that I’m privileged in being able to have this attitude toward weight loss–the attitude that as a blog topic, it’s boring; that as something to care about in life it ranks far below things like health and family and freedom from disease and persecution; that owning a scale and weighing myself was a chore and a drag on my psychological well being that I just didn’t need; and that weight-loss goals were for other people but not me. I know many people working on weight loss are fighting the good fight for their health and against cultural fat-shaming, especially of women. If you’re fighting that fight, I salute you, stand with you, and wish you well. That’s not where my head was. Rather, I felt like I, a woman who was basically happy with her body already, was being told to climb aboard a bandwagon I wanted no part of. I felt like I was being shamed for not sharing an already unhealthy cultural obsession with weight loss.

But the fact remained that one of the major reasons I had retired from that job was that I was not coping very well with its stresses. I went out for lunches and drinks with co-workers and I ordered liberally from menus. I also kept bags of trail mix at my desk that I would polish off in an afternoon. Even now I feel a familiar feeling rise up when I’m sitting at my desk and some unwelcome interruption or anxiety-provoking change of plans occurs, and I want to reach for something to put in my mouth to distract me from that feeling, or to put that feeling away. These days I know that that feeling is probably fleeting, and if not, can be equally well assuaged by some tea or sparkling water as by half a bag of Trader Joe’s Tempting Trail Mix or a glass of Pinot Grigio, but back then, I didn’t know that, didn’t believe it.

Flamingo It has been 3 years and more than 3000 miles. I still miss the coworkers I had lunch and wine with, but I don’t miss the constant scheduling and rescheduling challenges, the almost-but-not-quite-missed deadlines, and the anxiety and stress all that created. When I quit the gym after my 6-week trial period was up, I told the director that following the program felt like a stressful job. I had just left a situation with goals and deadlines, and I didn’t want to jump back into more of the same. Some people thrive on that type of lifestyle. Some people need it. I’m not one of those people. I’ve already written a little about my kind of exercise. I don’t live at that apartment complex with a pool anymore, and I haven’t been swimming for about a month now. My left eye, especially, seems happy to be away from the goggles and chlorinated water. I have started walking in my new neighborhood instead. I walk around and look for landscaping ideas (flamingoes, anyone?) and listen to orchestra music on my phone.

If my little bathroom scale that I bought at Target is to be believed, I now weigh about 17 pounds less than I did at that gym session 3 years ago. Losing 6 pounds a year isn’t going to get me any book contracts or transformation testimonials, but it is an encouraging trend. I’ll be 50 this year, and at my age people tend to be talking about a few extra pounds creeping up on them every year, rather than the opposite. If I lost another 6 pounds I’d be at an ideal weight for my height and body type. Weight loss can be slow and steady and so subtle you hardly notice it unless you make it a point of doing so. It doesn’t have to be this big scary annoying stressful thing.

Farmville Inspiration

Way back in 2009, soon after another blogger on violinist.com invited me to join Facebook, and I joined, I used to play Farmville. Since I no longer do so, I feel like I can admit it now, like I’m in recovery. Other people apparently have the same idea: “still exist” is one of the top google autocompletes for “Does Farmville . . .”

Even then, I knew the game was taking time and energy from more important things, things like practicing my instrument, socializing, even work. That’s why I am semi-serious when I characterize it as an addiction: it wasn’t trivial to stop playing Farmville, even when it was demonstrably interfering with my life. I was finally able to stop when I analyzed what I was getting (or thought I was getting) out of the game: spatial and temporal organization, order, and cleanliness.

I realized with a shock that my farm was prettier, better organized, and more peaceful and relaxing to be in than my real-life house.  My farm had become my happy place, my retreat from everyday anxiety. I also realized that I had made it this way, intentionally or not.

I was a little embarrassed by this realization, but it also gave me hope. My farm was actually pretty nice, and I had made it that way. If I could do that with a cheesy Farmville farm, I could also do it in a real house. I deleted the app and started to work on organizing my real house. It was a work in progress, until we moved this summer, but I did feel more connected to our old house once I started focusing and working on it rather than the virtual version. It had become such a part of me, I was sad to leave it.

I’ve had a similar virtual/reality tension between writing and music for the past 9 years. Most of the time, they’ve been correlated: more blogging, more practicing. The same traits that keep me blogging–curiosity, creativity, analysis, enjoyment, being a glutton for punishment (just kidding)–also keep me practicing.

But here in this new house, this new life, this new orchestra, they are starting to de-couple. Why? Because I’m trying to write more, and differently. When I started my violin blog it was pretty stream-of-consciousness. I just wrote down whatever was in my mind, without much planning or even much editing. I’d notice other people with writing schedules and I’d think, “eh, too much work. I’ll just write when I feel like it.”

Then I wrote a novel during NaNoWriMo a few years ago. Now I feel like I’m almost there, almost ready to declare it finished and send it to an editor, maybe try to publish it. But I’m not getting myself over that hump. I also felt like I wanted to blog about more than violin, so I started this blog here on Word Press. All of the sudden I feel like I have too many writing commitments.

Practicing the violin, too, is getting more complicated. My new orchestra is at a slightly higher level, musically, than my former orchestra. I mean no disrespect to my former orchestra, and I picked my current orchestra in large part due to perceived similarities in concert cycle and repertoire to that group. Maybe it’s just that it’s unfamiliar, I’m not sure. All I know is that everything seems to be moving quickly and I don’t want to be left behind. But every day the clock moves too fast and I want to pull it backwards. I still haven’t practiced yet today, for example.

I want to get back to that sweet spot, that Farmville inspiration, where I can take the creativity nurtured in a virtual medium and carry it into real life.

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Pluto’s Heart

Sunday was my husband’s and my 18th wedding anniversary. It was our first anniversary in California, but otherwise there is nothing particularly special about the number. It snuck up on us a bit, leaving us to make plans at the second-last minute. One of the nice things my husband planned to do was come to church with me.

I have gone to church regularly since becoming a Unitarian-Universalist as an adult. In fact, the first UU church I ever joined was in California, Neighborhood Church in Pasadena. The UU churches here aren’t the direct Bostonian heirs of Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Ellery Channing. I’m not going to walk into a Messiah sing here and find myself sitting next to one of Hosea Ballou‘s violin-playing relatives (this really happened to me in back in Massachusetts). Out here, churches appear to be closer to the 6th UU source, Earth-Centered traditions. I’d been in a spiritual wilderness before I joined Neighborhood Church, and what I most remember about it now are the redwoods it was nestled in. I felt peace there among those trees, and welcome, and protection, and most importantly, relief from pressure, judgement, competition, and the need to be socially “on” at all times. The trees had been there long before all that, and would be there long after all that was gone. Although I wouldn’t have used this language at the time, the trees accepted my inner introvert, and I was grateful.

My husband and I were married in a UU church a year and a half later, but he’s generally not a churchgoer. Born and raised in Germany, he and his father formally resigned from the state church. Both my husband and I have PhDs in scientific disciplines (he, computer science; I, neuroscience) and both of us carry a strong skepticism towards fundamentalist religion and unscientific thinking. I found this outlook compatible with Unitarian-Universalism, he did not. I also found I wanted, and needed, the community of other seekers I found at a UU church, and he did not. After we were married, I continued to go to church almost every Sunday, and he did not.

Perhaps surprisingly, this has worked okay for 18 years. He comes to church occasionally, to see me and/or the kids play music or celebrate a milestone. I like it when he comes. Sometimes when he’s not there, during a service I will stand holding a hymnal by myself, and look around at whole families, families in which both parents are there every week singing from a shared hymnal, a little wistfully. But then I remember an alternative that proved unworkable: having a significant other who was a true believer in a religious orthodoxy that was more important to him than my feelings or experiences were. Having a significant other who needed me to change my beliefs in order for the relationship to work. I know how painful that was, because I lived it. I can’t turn around now and do that to someone else, certainly not someone I love. I turn back to my hymnal, and keep singing by myself.

So this week when my husband wanted to come to church on our anniversary, I hoped it would be a good service. The church that I’ve started attending here is promising. The people are all quite friendly and I enjoy the minister’s sermons. Plus, outside of the church, there are redwoods.

plutodogThis week’s sermon was about Pluto, called “Pluto’s Demotion and Religious Devotion.” Before we left Boston we went to see a big exhibit at the Museum of Science about Pluto. It was right when the New Horizons flyby was happening, and I remember the pictures that came back, especially the one with the heart. My college classmate, Kenneth Chang, a New York Times science reporter, covered it. In fact, my Facebook feed was full of people giving Pluto some love. But a sermon about Pluto? The fifth UU source (in a tie with the 6th source for my favorite): Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit. They get points for taking on this potentially scientific topic in the first place.

backinmyday_fullpicSo, I’m sorry to say that I was a little disappointed in the sermon. It started out strong, pointing out that at first, before Copernicus and telescopes, there were 7 planets: the sun, the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. These were what human observers could see with the naked eye. Earth wasn’t on the list, since it was thought to be in the center. What follows is an old, familiar story: scientists find out new facts, perspectives shift. Earth and humans move further and further away from the center of things. This trajectory encapsulates what I’ve learned over the years about the “conflict between science and religion:” when religious people talk about it, it is assumed to be self-evident that this de-centralizing of humanity is a Bad Thing. When scientific people talk about it, it seems to be generally assumed and self-evident that this de-centralizing of humanity is a Good Thing. I find these assumptions can get in the way of productive conversations and greater understanding. I’d like to have a conversation about the topic in a way that doesn’t insult my intellect or condescend to my sensibilities, in order to understand why Darwin had to defend the “grandeur in this view of life.”

I rarely have such an opportunity, and I didn’t get one this Sunday morning. Instead, I was told what’s wrong with scientism and what’s right about humility. Perhaps the minister was trying to get at the second half of the 5th source, the warning against “idolatries of the mind and spirit.” I agree there about the virtues of humility, but scientism is another story. I looked up this AAAS blog, “What is Scientism?” afterwards, because I had forgotten what the word meant. I never heard it during my scientific training, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a scientist use it. While the author of the blog, Thomas Burnett, gives a thorough history of the word scientism and claims that it is a strange but useful word, I don’t find his arguments convincing. For example, Burnett simply assumes that statements from scientists such as, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” (from Carl Sagan), or “We can be proud as a species because, having discovered that we are alone, we owe the gods very little” (from E.O. Wilson) are self-evidently alienating and bullying without ever explaining why he thinks so. The point of view expressed in the sermon was similar: science is just another way of looking at the world with no more validity than any other and to say otherwise is scientism (another Bad Thing), lacking in appropriate humility. The changes in the accepted number of planets, in Pluto’s status in particular, and people’s reactions to those changes, were cited as evidence for this claim.

wonkaSorry, but I’m still not buying it. It’s not because I don’t believe that everyone, including scientists, is biased. And it’s not because I believe that scientists are better people than non-scientists. The minister cited a number of examples of biases affecting both beliefs and behavior in the case of Pluto. I found these examples interesting and informative. I didn’t know, for example, that Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, was a UU. And I hadn’t thought of it before, but he was also the only American to have discovered a planet. As an American UU, sure, I’m proud of Clyde Tombaugh, and want to remain so. Back when I was in 6th grade, I learned that my very elegant mother just sat upon nine pins. I don’t like that one as much since I’ve become a mother myself, but my delight at imagining puffed-up authority figures being skewered is still alive and well. So yeah, I see these biases in my own thinking and in that of my tribe. I wish Pluto was still a planet. But crying scientism still seems like a strange response.

The problem for me with the “scientism” critique is that people who like to use the word seem not to understand what science is. Like Willy Wonka in the meme, perhaps they think “science” is some anthropomorphic entity that has a will of its own and can say things. Or they think that because scientists, like all humans, are biased and imperfect, the scientific method itself shares the same biases and imperfections, just writ large–the sum of all the flaws of its practitioners. But that’s not it at all. The second half of the 5th source says that the results of science are a warning against, not a feeder of, idolatries of the mind and spirit.

As we were driving home, my husband pointed out that the Pluto debate turns on definitions, not on science, and I agree completely. The word planet has been given a new definition several times in history, but that hasn’t changed the objective nature of what Pluto is or the scientific method by which Pluto is being studied. The newest definition includes 1. the shape of the object (that it has to be massive enough to be round) and 2. that it has to clear its neighborhood of other objects. This new definition excludes Pluto from planethood, much to many people’s disappointment. But not all. DumpedMeFor a gleeful salvo from the anti-planet camp, read Mike Brown’s book, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. Brown is the Caltech astronomer who discovered Eris, another dwarf planet that is larger than Pluto. His discovery started the astronomy community down the road to “demoting” Pluto and ruining it for the rest of us who liked our 9 planets and our quaint motherly mnemonics.

Well, you could look at it that way. Or you could look at it as Brown does: as a new, exciting discovery about the universe. In this view, we haven’t lost Pluto, we’ve gained Eris, and Ceres, Haumea and Makemake, and a whole Kuiper belt full of strange and wonderful objects. “Praise him for showing us that stargazing, far from being a dead science, is a living, changing wonder,” says Benjamin Wallace about Mike Brown. And Mike Brown still loves Pluto.

If this had been my sermon, I would have focused on the wonders and new worlds that new scientific knowledge and changing definitions can open up to all of us. As UUs, we could even bring in for discussion the changes in definitions of other important words and concepts in response to new knowledge. Maybe it’s that I had marriage on my mind that anniversary day, because I kept expecting the minister to mention it. The most recent change in the definition of that word and concept, marriage, to include same-sex couples, has delighted many people (including me) but has also caused controversy and hurt on a scale far larger than anything Pluto has to offer. The analogy isn’t perfect, but to me there is a strong parallel in how both definitions, of planets and of marriage, have evolved to be more precise, and also to take into account facts about the universe that were not previously known or understood.

According to Burnett, the definition of scientism given to us by historian Richard G. Olson, “efforts to extend scientific ideas, methods, practices, and attitudes to matters of human social and political concern,” is so broad as to be “virtually useless.” I disagree. Rather, efforts to extend scientific ideas, methods, practices, and attitudes to matters of human social and political concern are exactly what what we are engaging in and should be doing more of. Definitions sometimes change and evolve because of a traditional scientist working formally in a laboratory. But they also change and evolve when the status quo isn’t working for someone, somewhere, who may or may not be a formally trained scientist. Trained scientists or not, these folks make an observation (or have that observation thrust upon them by circumstance) and formulate a hypothesis about a better way, gather evidence in support of their hypothesis in the form of empirical observations and experiments, including lived experience, and then try to convince others on the basis of that evidence. Definitions change and evolve because of these people’s hard work in bending the moral arc of the universe towards justice.

The opposite of arrogance and idolatry, coping with these changes in definitions has taught us humility in the face of what we did, and still do, not know.

PlutoHeart

Nova Vista

One of the things I miss most about my life in Belmont is the Philharmonic Society of Arlington. I was the creator and admin of the group’s Facebook page, so I can recite this by heart: “The Philharmonic Society of Arlington, Inc., established in 1933, consists of three performing groups, The Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra, The Arlington-Belmont Chorale, and The Arlington-Belmont Chamber Chorus.” Yes, you read that right: 1933, which makes it older than many professional symphony orchestras. The orchestra performed a mix of old favorites and premieres by local, living composers. We also provided playing opportunities for a diversity of musicians, from adult starters and re-starters, to professional music teachers, to up-and-coming Young Artists’ Competition winners.

I don’t feel up to recapping the last 8 years of my time there right here right now, but I blogged about a lot of it while it was happening, from the first rehearsal, to becoming concertmaster, to my first real solo with an orchestra in the Tchiakovsky “Mozartiana” suite, my stand partner who became a chamber music partner and one of my best friends, a fond farewell to a beloved senior conductor, and finally a new start with a fresh face on the podium.

I don’t think it really sank in until this morning, though–until I shed a few tears here at the computer–that that chapter of my life is over. Tonight, the Arlington Philharmonic Orchestra has the first rehearsal of its 82nd season, and it will be without me.

When I told people that I was moving, I got plenty of recommendations for orchestras–so many, in fact, that I wasn’t sure what to do with them all. I felt overwhelmed. Many of the recommendations centered on the conductor, which I understand, since the tone that the conductor sets is very important. Names I don’t know, don’t recognize . . . I can google them and find out how many awards they’ve won and where they’ve studied, I can see which orchestras have recorded CDs, who has the best reviews, and who has the most professional-looking website. I can see where they rehearse and how far that is from my house. But none of that was helping.

Way back when we were first talking about moving, I just looked on the web for orchestras that rehearsed in the general area of Mountain View and Sunnyvale. I found one called the Nova Vista Symphony. I liked the name immediately: I pictured standing on a mountain and looking out into one of the many valleys around here with their green (or brown) rolling hills. I also liked the fact that they played with a chorale sometimes and had a Young Artists’ Competition. They had the right number of concerts–not too many, not too few–and a mix of repertoire, both familiar and new, with different types of challenges. The website said they had auditions, and when I inquired I was told I should prepare 1 fast piece, 1 slow piece, and a 2-octave scale. I took this seriously and started preparing. I figured a 3-octave scale would be fine too.

Not sure which instrument I wanted to play, I thought about viola again. I brought my viola with me on the plane and shipped my violin, because I couldn’t carry on both instruments. I practiced the viola in the guest apartment we were staying in while we waited for our furniture to arrive so we could move into the house. I played the 3rd movement to the Anton Stamitz viola concerto in D, and recorded it for the Adult Starter and Restarter Facebook group. I wrote about my viola as a cherished object for a blogfest that I was trying out. I met up with a buddy from the Facebook group, and we tried to play some chamber music, as well as sight-read the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia and the Barber Adagio in his large fencing studio in Redwood City with You Tube accompaniment projected on the wall.

The furniture, and the violin, finally arrived, and life kept accelerating. Our kids started school already on August 17. My daughter was asked to switch to viola in school orchestra and she has taken up the challenge. She needed a viola to practice at home, and so I loaned her mine. I also volunteered to be an assistant soccer coach to get my 12-yo son a spot on a team. Team practice schedules reduced the number of hours available for violin and viola, and conflicted with rehearsals of the South Bay Philharmonic, another group I had been considering, Through all of this, I heard no more about an audition, until last week. I got an email from the personnel manager of the Nova Vista Symphony saying that I had enough experience they didn’t need to audition me, and the first rehearsal was a week from then, i.e. last night. They included a list of the repertoire, which included both the William Tell Overture, and Eroica, two of my favorite pieces of all time.

I could interpret this in different ways–after all, not everyone wants to always be playing old favorites that they’ve played before–but in this time and place, it felt right. In this strange and wonderful and horrible season where everything is slippery, and is changing too fast, and I’m grieving one too many losses and goodbyes, it felt like coming home to see and hear and be part of these pieces again. I brought my violin and my little folding stand, and parked it there in the back of the firsts, shook the rust out of my fingers, and said hello to my old friends.

EGBOPP: taking soccer-mom-hood to a new level

In the past, I have referred to myself ironically as a “soccer mom.” Both my kids have played soccer, and one of them still does.

I say ironically, though, because it’s not a natural fit for me. Growing up, I never played any team sports. I was 2 years ahead of my school classmates and graduated high school when I was 16. I’m also old enough that there weren’t as many opportunities for girls to play youth sports back then. When talking, or even thinking, about why I didn’t play team sports, I tend to emphasize those aspects of the experience–that I was younger and smaller than everyone else, that there was sexism–with the fond hope in the back of my mind that if I had grown up in a different time or place, things might have been different for me too.

But that’s debatable. Furthermore, the past is the past. We’ll never know whether I could have successfully played a team sport as a kid. All I have is now. When I was in my mid-20’s, in graduate school, I went skiing in Lake Tahoe. I remember riding up the ski lift with a woman who told me that she was there because, for her 50th birthday, she had learned to ski. I also remember thinking something like, “wow, good for her, she’s still doing new things and putting herself out there at such an advanced age!” Well, I apologize now for any internal condescension I might have felt. Because here I am now, a few months before my own 50th birthday, learning to play soccer.

Before the move to CA, I felt I needed to make sure that my 12-year-old son had some activities outside of school when he got here. He played soccer in Belmont so I looked online for a soccer team. I found a couple: AYSO region 45 in Mountain View, and a private competitive league. Of those, AYSO seemed to be the most like what we were used to: a reasonably priced, recreational town league that competes with neighboring towns and has boys and girls divisions. And, just like back in Belmont, it was run by a small number of super-dedicated and amazing volunteers who had way too much to do. Furthermore, registration was already over and my son was on the wait list. I emailed the competitive team and let them know we were interested. But then, a few weeks later, I got a familiar-sounding email from AYSO: “Help, we need coaches!” And if you agree to coach, your child is guaranteed a spot on a team. I decided to do it.

Fast Forward a few months, and practices have started. My son’s team has bright yellow uniforms and is called the Wasps. I’m an Assistant Coach under a British Head Coach, Coach David, who likes to use words that sound like they are straight out of Harry Potter: striker, sweeper, stopper, keeper. (In Belmont, we just called the players forwards, midfielders, and defenders.) And he’s very experienced. Which is good, because our team has two assistant coaches, both of us moms with kids on the team, neither of us with soccer experience.

There are two major ways in which my soccer experience has been different here so far. The first is that individual teams have to paint the fields.

What?

Field-painting machine
Insert spray can and roll with it!

You mean fields don’t just magically paint themselves? Oh, right, this isn’t Quidditch. You use one of these little machines, put in a spray can, and follow the lines that someone else (hopefully) laid down last week. When I got to the field, there were still some people playing, but they understood what we needed to do, and let us have at it: three parents rolling these carts around in the fading twilight. One of the coaches on the field who didn’t know me even took the trouble to thank me for doing this, and he reminded me to be sure to paint the penalty spot. “That often gets forgotten!” It was fun. And it gives you a better idea of where all the lines are and how far they are from each other. I will also note that the school where this field is, which my son does not attend, is within walking distance of our house. Unlike the school he does attend. Such is the crazy school districting in CA.

The other aspect that is different from what I did before is the training classes. In Belmont I assisted too, and I got occasional emails about the existence of coaching classes but no one checked up if I took them or not, and I decided that I was too busy. Here, if you volunteer it’s required that you sign up and take a training class appropriate to your level. There was one on Labor Day weekend. When I signed up it seemed very far away, and “it’ll be good for me,” I thought. But as Labor Day approached, I got nervous. “Any plans for Labor Day weekend?” people were asking. “Uh . . . yeah.”

The weekend dawned and it soon became “so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Or maybe an EGBOPP. That was one of the many acronyms that they gave us so that we could remember equally many lists: lists of attacking principles, defending principles, mission statement, vision statement, red cards, yellow cards, laws of the game. It was a little like being back in high school. I even made flash cards, because there was a test at the end.

I chose to highlight that particular acronym here, because that is the acronym for the AYSO philosophies, which I think are worth memorizing, and repeating: Everybody Plays, Good Sportsmanship, Balanced Teams, Open Registration, Positive Coaching, and Player Development.

I support all of those philosophies and think they apply equally well to other youth sports and activities. So it’s an organization I’m proud to support and be involved with. I hope keeping these philosophies in mind can help me be a better educator wherever I am involved with youth. This is not the impression I had of most youth sports/activities when I was growing up. Everybody plays? Player Development for all players, even the less talented? Not really. Some things do appear to have changed for the better.