Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thanks, Dad

Just like every year, I am preparing a Christmas concert for my ward. And, as usual, not many people show up or are willing to participate. After asking musicians and human beings who breathe to help out and join, I am often left with one member: myself. Okay, it's not that bad but the numbers of participants are pretty darn small. I don't know if my dad anticipated this when he taught us how to play different instruments, conduct and sing properly but he sure did a good job and has helped us more than he will ever know.
While teaching the choir today, I was playing the piano, conducting with my head, singing the solos, teaching the descants and making up different arrangements to make the music a bit more moving with my clarinet on one side and my violin on the other, ready to show them what the instrumental part will sound like. Am I bragging? Not about me, but about my dad. That man is so smart and so patient. He did so much for me that made me love every aspect of music. If it weren't for him, I would not have gone through all the schooling that I have. I think I would have graduated in generals and then called it good. But Nooo! I had to be trained in dance, voice, clarinet, piano, strings and then landed on voice with a clarinet scholarship in order to be at peace with my choices. I think it is because of my dad that I cannot play one instrument and be okay with it. If I ever run into a situation where someone needs a pianist and doesn't have one, I figure my time to learn. Same goes for strings, woodwinds, voice, etc. I haven't learned all the instruments but I'm working on it!
For Family Home Evening, we would sometimes pull out all these instruments and make up ways to play a certain song. Cari would play flute, Eddie on trumpet, Dad on sax (whichever one he wanted to play at that time), Jessi on piano, Mom singing alto (quietly in the background, thinking we couldn't hear her... so cute) and me on clarinet. These family home evening music sessions would literally go on for hours. Eventually, we learned to transpose and compose on the fly and learn to improv in order to make things work. By the time we were in high school, we were pretty darn nerdy and secretly loved it. Christmas was the greatest time for that because we would get out all the instruments and figure out ways to incorporate them. Not many people would be willing to participate in the Christmas concerts, so we Stewarts would compensate with the instrumentations. A few songs that were guaranteed to be performed were: Angels' Carol, Candlelight Carol, Away in A Manger, Angels We have Heard on High, Betelehemu, some Christmas medlies and Stille Nachte. After over twelve years of this, we have had a hard time being without it.
I no longer have daily practices with my brother and sisters and dad, nor do I stand in the living room and practice with the CD's while Dad is getting Sunday lunch ready. I've got the memories, though, and those are so special to me. A couple of years ago, I went with my family and a friend to the Sissel Christmas Concert in Salt Lake City, Utah. One song that was performed was Betelehmu, an African Christmas song that translates to 'Bethlehem.' I remember playing the congas for that piece, watching my dad conduct, hearing the soloists and exclamations from the choir members. I didn't say anything, but held my sister's hand who was sitting next to me with tears in my eyes, trying to hide them. I looked over and saw my sister doing the same thing. It was at that moment, without words, my sister and I shared all those memories of family and the birth of Jesus Christ. Later came away in a manger with the flute and oboe - something Cari and I played together every year. We just kept holding hands and, this time, we openly let the tears flow. It was a special time for the both of us - something we have grown to deeply appreciate and love.
Now, I'm grown and out of the house. Cari lives one city south and we will be helping each other with our own Christmas presentations. Both she and I are Choir Directors and know what to do as if we've been doing it for years. We have a lot of the same music, Cari has her flute, I have my clarinet and we will get together this week and rehearse. These are the times I live for. We will end the presentation with Stille Nachte - a family favorite. I will probably tear up while playing my clarinet, as I always do, remembering the birth of our Savior and how much I love playing music with my family. November and December are dear for me because floods of memories come back. I remember the birth, life and resurrection of Jesus Christ and how I shared that with my family and grew to love and live for it. I hope that, one day, I can somehow get with all of my brothers and sisters, gather around a piano while each one of us take up an instrument and play, and watch and listen to each other. It's amazing and I am so grateful that it has been introduced into my life almost 27 years ago.
With all that being said, I'd like you all to know that it's my dad who made it possible, who brought all that into The Stewart Family's life. If you grew up in Palmdale, served with me in Nauvoo, have gone to church with me, lived with me or hung out with me, you know what I'm talking about. :) Thanks, Dad.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Medieval People

I am sometimes asked what my biggest fear is. Some people would response with 'being alone,' 'speaking in public.' No, not me! There are two things that I am terrified of: Being attacked by a shark and Medieval People. Being attacked by a shark is self-explanatory--I just wouldn't want that to happen... at all! I usually have to explain the "Medieval People" one, though.

You see, there are a certain bit of people in this world who I think should go bag to Medieval Planet.. or wherever. Middle Earth? Hermoine? I'm not sure. ANYWAY, it's the scariest when they dress up for a Lord of The Rings or Star Wars opening night and hang out at the movie theatre two days before the first showing. They would rather have pointy ears and have a mermaid for a girlfriend than have a regular life. Forget about studying up on Obama or McCain when there are vampire books and 'Armored Lady' porn.

I remember the day this fear took hold of me. I was in a meeting in high school and a guy was sitting next to me. He had this sketch pad and was working on some of his pencil work and I noticed some of his drawings. He could have been a designer for Harry Potter--he was so creative! His dragons were pretty dang cool and his unicorns were outstanding. Then I saw it! The medieval porn. It was of this big-breasted woman with armor lingerie, hold a sword, ready to jump out of the drawing and pounce her nerdy creator. I started to scootch farther and farther away from that kid. I realized that dragons, pointy ears, capes and magic games go so much farther than sci-fi and fantasy books. It's a lifestyle of fantasy and a lifestyle of fantasy is dangerous, especially when it has to do with medieval people, running a muck with swords that they are too whimpy to carry in their lingerie armory.

Yes, I wanted to be a mermaid when I was a little girl and my favorite animal was a horse, wishing that pagasi and unicorns were real. Then I looked at my closet full of magic capes and Peter Pan skirts and realized that I needed to buy some t-shirts and tennis shoes and read something non-fiction. My colored tights are long-gone and my pointy wax ears have retired and am part of society. I wish Medieval People would come to the same conclusion that I have: You are all scary and weird.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Hope I Never Forget Today

I hope I never forget today, or, at least, that I have more days like this one. The guys and I went running our 18-miler today, up in Provo Canyon. First of all, it's late-September and, with the change in season, I was in awe, looking at how beautiful it all was. In addition to that, the weather was fantastic. Clouds would come rolling by, giving me a huge, cool shade and then drift away so that I could bask in the warm sun again and, throughout the run, it would get windy and rain a lot. It was so much fun! I kept putting on certain music when it would start raining to add to the moment (I highly suggest listening to Only One by Yellow Card when you hit your sixteenth mile, you're running under a roof of tree branches with leaves falling, wind blowing against you and rain cooling you off). Those moments were music video material, I swear! I wish I had a camera with me. I wish other people were there with me--we would have had so much fun together, running in the rain. I had a big smile on my face that I could not get rid of. I was enjoying the moment so much. I hope there are more days like today.

I am not a fan of running, I will admit. I like to run to stay in shape. I don't think it's fun, nor have I looked forward to any of our big Saturday morning runs in preparation for the marathon. I made a goal to run a marathon at the beginning of the year because I've always wanted to know if I could so I decided that I would. Now that I am pretty close, I figure that this one will be my first and last. I don't enjoy putting my body through pain but I do enjoy reaching my goals that I set.

To get my mnd off the pain, I sing. Yes, that's right, I sing while running. When no one is around, I sing as loud and long as possible. Today, there were a lot of Brian McKnight tunes that were perfect! When someone was coming up behind me or coming towards me, I just sang quieter and then went back up again. They probably thought I was crazy but that's how I roll.

Anyway, the part that I do love about running is the people I meet and get to know. I've talked with fellow runners on the track, talked about when their marathon is, how well they're doing, etc. I find out so much more than that, though. These people are so happy and excited to do this. I guess we're all doing the same thing--bettering ourselves, pushing ourselves and taking care of our bodies and just feeling great about it. Even when I hit mile seventeen, I was still smiling, saying 'Good Morning' to everyone and it came right back at me. There were so many who I saw several times that day. One man stopped me because we kept passing each other. He looked like he was in his 70's and eating a peach, happy as can be and told me that I need to stop following him around. Cute guy. Another was crazy-fit, running with me for a couple miles. He kept telling me to keep it up and would talk to me, telling me to stop and drink more water, just being way upbeat and friendly. I've never met him before on the track and he is just an example of the many great people I meet while running.

I just love being surrounded by people with the mentality of always pushing to become better and being happy and excited about it. I know their lives are hard and they struggle and get through trials but it's great to smile with them and just let it go.

One speech I love is by Will Smith. He was giving advice to children and he said that there are two very important things in life: Running and Reading. Running because you are always trying to go farther and ignore the voices in your head that tell you to stop or quit and continue to push through it. Reading because, in all history, there has been someone who has had your problems or worse and has written about it, so read and learn how to get through it. I totally agree. I guess that's one reason why I run even though I don't enjoy it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Be Cool Beans

I could be completely wrong and many may disagree with me but I'm gonna say it anyway: being a single adult in 2008 is tough. I date a lot but I've found that, when the guy and girl decide to be exclusive, it automatically becomes a hang-out, texting relationship. The old-fashioned courting and true chivalry have become extinct and just a story that our parents can relate to and understand. However, I've seen enough Jimmy Stewart films to know what I want (if you've seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, you'll know what I'm talking about).

I'll be honest when I say I believed that chivalry was completely gone when both my grandpa's died. Kinda depressing, I know. Sorry. But they were the ones who told me what kind of guy deserves me--the one that seems to not exist anymore. However, I think that every good girl deserves those kind of men. You know? The ones who resemble men like President Hinckley, Jimmy Stewart and our own dear grandfathers in attitude, respect and manners. Hey! If the guy looks like Ryan Reynolds, that's even better, but that's just my opinion. Maybe guys are saying the same thing about girls--that there aren't enough true ladies anymore, like Audrey Hepburn and Deanna Durbin (if anyone knows who that is).

I am frequently told that I am too picky but, in this day in age, ya dang right I'm being picky! I have every right and so does every other single person out there who is trying to be the best they can be. I'm not about to analyze how the guy walks or what kind of shampoo he uses but I will make sure that he's nice to me ALL the time without any alterior motives and that he is strong in what he believes in to be right. Why is that so hard to find? Hmmm... I'm almost 27 years old and I still don't have a concrete answer.

With all that being said, it's not really a concern for me because I am happy. I know that, if something goes wrong or I'm sad or depressed for whatever reasons, only I can change that. It would be the same even if I had a significant person in my life, so HEY! It's good times, either way. I'm happy because I want to be. So, to all those singles: Let's stay strong together, fight the good fight, be picky, work hard and be happy.

I will admit that life would be funner to share with a Forever Buddy but I'm not about to sit around and wait for someone awesome to decide to find me. Not only that, but, before, my happiness was dependent on when I had a boyfriend. It's been so long since I've had one of those that I accepted it could just be me for the rest of my life (some people would think that I am being ridiculous but it's a possibility, believe it or not) and I'm cool. I'm cool beans all the way.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thanks To Michelle & Everyone Like Her

Hello! I've finally started one of these things! Josh would be so proud.

I never really had time to sit and create one but, HEY!, I saw all my friends and family with the sweetest, most interesting and fun postings that I had to join in on the fun. ...But their fun seems more interesting than what I could come up with, so maybe I will just cut and paste from someone else's and hope that no one notices (even though I don't have kids, live in Vegas, nor am I married or graduated...). Awe gee! What can I write about? Dating? No way! Those are horrible times for anyone. Although, I do admit that it's nice to have tons of delicious left-overs in my fridge from previous dinner dates, instead of resorting to my cheese and rice meals.

Okay, so I am going to UVU as a voice major. My teachers don't know whether I am a true Soprano because I have such a thick voice, but they are not sure if I am a Mezzo Soprano or Alto because I can go higher and lower than those particular ranges. When my teacher was saying these things to me the first time, I was in shock. Me? I have a huge range? I have a good voice? Whadu!? If you were to go back to my earlier years, you would understand. Just to give you an example, I ran into a fellow choir member from Palmdale about a week ago. She asked me what I was doing in school and I started laughing and told her that I am in the Master Opera program at UVU. She started laughing and said, "How did that happen? Before, we would try to get you to sing on pitch!" And we're not talking about some crazy aria, she was referring to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Yeah, I was horrible.

I remember singing as loud as I could because, in my mind, I would sound just like the amazing vocalists if I sang louder. People would look at me in pain as I sang flat and thin. One of my dear friends, Michelle Goodman, told me to never stop singing, dancing or playing my music. If I loved it and it made me happy, do it, even when people said that I sounded awful. That meant so much to me because I wasn't one of those people who was 'born with it.' I struggled and worked hard. I remember one choir practice, Michelle told me to play this challenging organ piece and to "Just do it." As much as I would mess up, she would just laugh and tell me to play it again and again and again.... Even when there seemed to be no improvement, I took Michelle's advice and never stopped. I took voice lessons for four years, studied a few summers at BYU and participated in every music group I had the opportunity to go to. I know I'm sounding like a 'Has-Been' but I'm retracing my steps and I'm proud of what I went through. I was asked to play for the President of the United States when I was 16 years old, I played for a time with the Junior Los Angeles Philharmonic and, at the end of the year, my teacher sent my tape to someone in Julliard and I was then told that, basically, I made the cut to be accepted into Julliard. None of those things lasted. I didn't take any of those things further and I am grateful. I wouldn't have met and been through what I have if I chose those things. I wont go into detail but I think that I did what was right.

Well, it was a special time when I was with Michelle during a couple of her last weeks alive. I remember sitting in front of her on the living room floor of their Colorado home and thanking her for telling me never to stop doing what I loved and for being another big sister for me. I don't think I will ever forget the smile that she gave me, especially considering how tired, weak and in pain she was. I gave her a hug and a kiss goodbye and told her I would see her later. I told her that, because of her, I would never stop. One month later, her husband Eric came to me and said, "Michelle asked that you play the organ for her one last time." When I was playing, I did all I could not to mess up, to play with the chords and the phrases and "just do it." I don't know how it works but I would like to think that Michelle was behind me, telling to keep going, transpose, modulate and make it more beautiful.

With all that being said, I guess Michelle is one reason why I don't stop, even when it seems that I'm not improving. When times were hard, when I got hurt or found myself alone, I turned to music and dance. I don't know what I would have done without that special solace in my life. I'm now in the Master Works Chorale and I am going to audition for one of the Messiah Solos. If Michelle were alive, she would tell me to "just do it." I've got a scholarship for clarinet and I am the Ward Music Chairman and Ward Choir Director. I just can't seem to get enough anymore. And I doubt that I will ever stop keepin' on, thanks to those who taught me to do so.

So for all you readers out there, I would say to always encourage people to work hard and to never stop doing what they love. You never know whose life you're going to save.