THE BAR MITZVAH AND THE BURNING BUSH(ES)

MUSICAL ESCAPADES

Occasionally I will write about a story from my past “club dating” days that left an indelible mark on my brain. For those not sure of the definition, club dating consists of playing at parties, weddings, bar & bat mitzvahs and any other special occasion that strolling strings are needed. In my true glory days in New York, I would play 300 or more of these a year. I came into contact with incredible situations and people on a regular basis. Some were glitzy and glamorous, others more simple but the common thread was that I was there to bring music into the lives of the attendees. I hope you enjoy reading about them!

 

THE BAR MITZVAH AND THE BURNING BUSH(ES)

As a violinist that specialized in fancy affairs, I often found myself playing at beautiful and very expensive parties. One such party was a particularly over-the-top Bar Mitzvah. This grand party took place at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. The grand ballroom was taken over by 13 year old kids and their decked out parents. After a solemn ceremony at a local temple, the bar mitzvah boy was whisked off to the Plaza for a kick ass party with his family and around 300 guests. It was a no holds barred type of affair. There were photo booths, party games, giant ice sculptures, food in massive abundance, a large band and a few strolling violins to flit from table to table taking requests from the past-puberty guests. I was one of those violinists. If you have played as many of these affairs as I have, you tend to become jaded by all of the opulence that surrounds you. Each week there were other tremendous parties and celebrations, each trying to top the other. So this was a run of the mill event in my mind. I had made it to the birthday cake candle lighting ceremony where the Bar Mitzvah boy lights 13 candles and dedicates each one to a significant person in his life. The cake in this instance was stunning and HUGE. It had clearly been an artistic endeavor by a gifted baker. It was fashioned into a mountain scene complete with gentle slopes, billowing white snowy frosting gliding down and it was topped with many plastic trees and skiers whipping down through those trees and bushes. It was colorful and very well done. Well, with one small oversight. You see, there were 13 large candles placed conspicuously onto the top of the cake so the bar mitzvah boy can light each one after his dedication. This particular mountainous cake was so high that our resident birthday boy was having a bit of trouble reaching the candles. Remember, at 13 you may be a man but puberty has not reached you yet so you are still pretty short!

He was moving right along and may have been at the 6th or 7th candle when he reached up with his “lighter candle” and stuck it straight into the ski mountain’s forest of plastic trees. WHOOSH! Boy did those trees go up fast. They were burning like someone poured gasoline on them. Then the bushes caught and a few unlucky downhill skiers went up as well. It was spectacular. I wish I had been able to capture the faces of the guests when this happened. It was like a Mel Brooks movie where everyone’s mouth is left wide open in shock, unable to move.

In any case, there were a few of the wait staff there and one, with a pitcher of water used to refill the water glasses on the tables. He came rushing up and tried to extinguish the cake fire, which by then was reaching new heights, shooting a couple of feet up in the air. He threw the remains of his pitcher onto the cake to no avail. This was an all out, unstoppable fire! It seemed like minutes but I am sure it was a matter of seconds when the maître de came rushing over with a fire extinguisher and sprayed the entire cake until the flames dissipated. People were gasping, laughing, crying, the whole gamut of emotions. I suppose the criers were the ones who had paid for the cake. Our bar mitzvah boy was standing there, still holding the lighter candle, staring in complete shock. When the smoke cleared, all that was left of this poor cake were globs of dripping frosting mixed in with toxic melted plastic trees and people. Sort of like a sickly melted painting by Edvard Munch (The Scream).

The cake was deftly whisked away into the kitchen and the party continued on. I believe the band played that Billy Joel song “We didn’t start the fire” to lighten up the mood. The raging fire was probably the highlight of the evening! I am sure that boy has a better bar mitzvah story to tell his kids than any of his friends. We talked about it for a month afterwards and I am positive that the guests did also.

I suppose I should thank that family now, about 20 years later for entertaining me while I was there to entertain them. The night ended with no other mishaps and I went home to prepare for the next event. I guess the lesson is that life goes on even if your birthday cake burns to the ground!

Please leave a comment! If you would like to contact me personally you may do so at Jeanniemorgenbesser@gmail.com or check out my website at http://www.bocaviolin.com

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The secret to maximizing your lessons

I am now going to share with you the most amazing secret that you will ever hear! The reason that your kid will be more successful than all of the other kids. The way to get more for your money than 98 percent of the other parents do. It is so simple that you will laugh at me and tell me that this is no secret. But, do you employ this method completely already? Remember, if you do, you are probably in that 2 percent so congratulations! Onward to the story.

I have 3 great kids. They are 21, 19 and 16. When they were young, I signed them up for tennis lessons. They all seemed to love the sport so I found the best coaches for each of them and entered into the world of what I call the “tennis shuffle”. Each week, we would pile into the car and drive the short distance to the local club for lessons. We were very lucky that there was a wonderful coach there that taught them the basics very well. Of course, because of the age differences, they were each in a different group so our lessons were not a simple affair. The juggling of each child at three different times and sometimes, different days was not fun. There were many times that dinner (takeout Chinese) was had on the table outside of the court. As time passed and they all began to show more enthusiasm and promise on the court, we outgrew our local club and ventured about 30 minutes away to a different club with other coaches and more advanced lessons. Also, we signed up for multiple times per week for the older kids. Now this is nothing special in terms of how we teach out children. Parents do it all of the time with many different sports, music and arts lessons. But as my children advanced, I often got remarks from other parents like “your kids are getting so good! They must be very talented!” I would thank them but I knew the secret to my three kids success. It wasn’t an unusual talent. They weren’t overly gifted. (Sorry guys, I love you all and think you are the smartest people out there!) So what was the difference between my kids and the others in their group? Simple.

We showed up. Every time. For everything that we paid for. Without exception. Week in, week out, we were there. In a group lesson of 4 children I would be able to count on the fact that at least 2 or three times in a 15 week period, my child would be getting a private lesson for the price of a group. And likely there were usually 2 or 3 students in the session but rarely all four. We received such a better value simply because I would not miss a lesson unless they were way too sick to go. It wasn’t their dedication. It was mine. And because of my dedication, they learned to be dedicated as well.

The benefit of this “showing up” is not just that you get what you pay for and maybe some better attention from your teacher. The value really comes from the consistency of each week being reminded of the proper techniques, the learning of new skills and not forgetting them because too much time has passed between lessons. Think about it. If you are taught any specific skill and then do not repeat it for two weeks, what will your chances of complete memory be? Pretty low, I bet. But the other scenario is that you learn a new skill then are reminded of that skill on a weekly basis, it will sink in and become part of your skill set.

Another danger of inconsistency is learning a skill and practicing it at home incorrectly for a longer period of time. Your teacher has to then break you of a bad habit, which is exponentially harder than coming back in a week to have your error corrected before it has had a chance to become a part of your technique.

As a private violin teacher in the South Florida area, I see this problem frequently. Even my most gifted students will not learn quickly if they begin to skip lessons. SHOW UP. Every week come to your lesson. If you haven’t practiced, do not cancel your lesson. That will just make it even worse. Begin again every week and you will give yourself a leg up from your peers. Why does this matter? Here is the end of the story :

After thousands of hours of lessons, endless driving and massive time spent waiting for my kids, we are now being paid back in the form of incredible college scholarships and all three have used their fine skills to teach others. They are paid handsomely for their knowledge while going through college and high school. This is also a lifelong skill that will be used to enrich their journey as they get older. There is no down side to showing up. My recommendation is to find an interest such as music lessons, a singular sport, art or any other skill that your child can become adept at during childhood. Sign them up and SHOW UP. You will not be disappointed and neither will they.

Please contact me at jeanniemorgenbesser@gmail.com or check out my website at www.bocaviolin.com

First blog post

Welcome to my blog site. Within these pages I hope to entertain and educate you. I have been playing the violin professionally and teaching for many years. My life has been enriched by music both spiritually, emotionally and financially. It is my hope that my readers will gain a true appreciation of the importance of music in their own lives and in the lives of their children and family as well. Thanks for taking the time to check me out!

LEARN A LITTLE LIVE A LITTLE BETTER

My Dad was 94 when he passed away. Three days before he died, he was teaching a singing lesson. Music was what kept him going, I am sure of it. He was an opera singer with the Chicago Opera Company in the days of Caruso and Gigli, Galli-Curci and Lily Pons. He married and had many children, settled into teaching more, performing less. I grew up listening to the voices of thousands as they came and went into our home music studio. Some were good, others not so much. The common thread of all the students, young and old was that singing made them happy. The 45 minutes of physical, emotional and even spiritual release that each person experienced during his or her lesson was life defining. Of course there were the usual kids whose parents made them come and sing. The budding “geniuses” that were sure to be the next stage sensations. But most of all, the children and adults really loved their lessons. I believe that it was a gift to sing. I remember hearing (I was always snooping around in the corners of the next room, listening in!) his students tell him often that this was the highlight of the week for them. Adults who had always dreamed of being more than what their work defined them as, teenagers who wanted to learn to rock out, they were all welcome. As the years passed, many of my siblings learned to play instruments or sing. My sister Pamela took over the “family business” and became the main vocal coach when my father slowed down and eventually passed on. My brother played guitar and became a beloved music educator who influenced thousands of young children over a thirty-year period. Other sisters became involved in the theater or the arts and I learned the violin.

Music has served us all well in many ways but as I get older, I realize the importance of studying and playing an instrument even into your very late years. As long as you can move a bit, you can still make playing and learning music a part of your life.

When you are a young child, I believe learning to play an instrument is an essential part of your education. It doesn’t matter what instrument you play. Although I am partial to the violin for obvious reasons, you can actually change your brain by playing any instrument! There is much research that indicates advancement in math skills for those that play and read music. To be able to become accomplished to even an intermediate degree will set a child on the path of great success. I have seen it over and over. My students are generally the highest achievers in other facets of their lives. Is it that the parents are watching over them more carefully and push them to be and do all that they can? Possibly but there is also more. When a child is introduced to a different way of thinking and expressing themselves such as through the gift of music, it will stretch their brain to think outside the standard box. The creative mind comes alive and problem solving also becomes easier. A private teacher is an essential part of their equation. The schools do what they can with limited resources and overcrowded classes but the one on one interaction of student to teacher is so important. Children will then learn to respect an adult, push themselves to achieve, schedule themselves to practice, and learn to interact on an adult level, the list goes on and on. And all before the age of 18!

As an adult the returns may be even greater. I find that learning new things seems to slow down significantly as you age. You become entrenched in daily life and your brain settles into a comfortable pattern, all cozy in its “regular routine”. The problem with this is that we need to keep that brain on its toes if we can hope to be sharp as we approach 90. There are, of course many ways to do this but I cannot think of a better way than learning a musical instrument. Or going back to an instrument that you played as a child and wished you’d not put aside. In my experience, my older students have to go through a learning curve that can sometimes be difficult. Once they break through, the light is turned on, cobwebs are gone and the brain is now going full force again! The time it takes to begin to get your brain in “fight mode” again differs from one to another. We all go at our own pace but with patience it could happen in 2 weeks, a month or two months. Also depends on how often you open the case and practice as well!

So when you are thinking about the next best thing to do for your child or yourself, go back to basics. Learn to play, sing, dance or paint. Find a great teacher that you respect. But delve into it with a passion and it will reward you for a lifetime.

You may email comments to Jeannie at Jeanniemorgenbesser@gmail.com