8 Ways to Turn Your Infant Into a (Musical) Genius

I’m turning up my music nerd side today, big time.

You’ve been warned.

Participation in music makes people smarter. I’m not just saying this- they’ve proven it! Babies love music for a reason – it stimulates their brains. The earlier you can get your child learning and experiencing music, the easier it will be for them to develop more advanced musical skills in the future, and the smarter they will be. This is why scores and scores of people sign themselves up for mommy and me music classes like Musikgarten and Kindermusic almost straight out of the womb! These classes are fantastic and I love them. But, they can be cost-prohibitive. I want to give you a few ideas that will help your baby develop her musical intelligence without costing you a cent.

Disclaimer: Despite the title of this blog post, I am making no guarantees that by following some magic 8-step plan, your baby will be the next Mozart. I am, however, a professional musician, trained music educator, and new mom, who has been trying all sorts of music-related activities with my 7-month-old based on what I know about music and how it affects the brain! Probably, after I have more kids and they’re all grown up and I actually see what works and what’s pointless, I’ll read this blog entry and say, “What was I thinking?” But until then, I will wallow in my ignorance and spew out a whole slew of ideas that may or may not actually be effective. And of course, if you have done some things with your little one that you have found to be fun, post it in the comments section! This list is by no means exhaustive.

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First things first – let me explain WHY music makes people smarter. Studies like this one have shown, time and time again, how playing and making music creates new kinds of connections in the brain that other activities can’t create. For example, you’ve probably heard of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. The left brain is our verbal center, where we use logic, reason, and math. The right brain is our creative and artistic center, where we get our intuition. The two hemispheres are connected by a group of neurons called the corpus callosum. Although many day-to-day tasks in life mostly require the use of only one hemisphere at a time, you need a well-developed corpus callosum in order to do things like solve big problems, make decisions based on varied information, and anything else that might use both sides of your brain simultaneously. To use both sides at once, you need a well-developed corpus callosum so that the two hemispheres can communicate. As you might guess, making music is an activity that develops is set of neurons. In fact, research like this has shown that the corpus callosum is far more developed in musicians than in non-musicians. So, that’s one way that music makes a person smarter!

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If the neurological evidence wasn’t enough to convince you that your child should learn music, the practical evidence will surely win you over. People who participate in music as a child end up with bigger salaries as adults, regardless of their career choice. I’m not even kidding – here’s proof. They do better in school (partly because they’re smarter, as we’ve already discussed), are more likely to attend graduate school, gain all sorts of communication and collaboration skills, and end up making more money!

So, are you sold yet? Now, this post is mainly geared toward parents of babies, since I am one. Obviously, my little girl has a long road ahead of her before she is able to even begin to play an instrument, read notes, understand music theory, and all of those wonderful things I can’t wait to teach her. But even though she’s only a half of a year old, I can start getting her ready to understand music right now. Just like you wouldn’t send a kid to 2nd grade without knowing the alphabet and expect her to be reading chapter books by October, you can’t expect a grade-schooler to be able to learn music notation in 2 weeks of music class without having had any previous structured musical experience.

Readiness. It’s what makes the world go around.

(At least according to my music ed professors in college. If you went to school with me, you know EXACTLY who I mean. ūüôā

Music has two aspects: the rhythm side and the tonal side. In laymen’s terms, rhythm has to do with the beat and the pulse in the music, and the way the notes are timed in the big structure of things. Tonality has to do with the pitches, and how they relate to the center (key) as they make up the melody and the harmony and the accompaniment and all that stuff. In making your child ready to understand music, you have to treat rhythm and tonality separately. So, I’ve separated my activity ideas into those two categories – rhythm and tonality.

The good news is that people learn music the exact same way that they learn language. Babies start off learning a language by repeating back the little patterns they hear – “Ba ba ba” and “gooo gooo goo” etc. Soon, they start recognizing words (like their own name) and associating some of these syllables with actual meaning. For example, we’ve just gotten to the point where little Julia has started saying “Ma ma ma” when she is hungry. It is years later in the process when a child learns the symbols associated with the words they already know (letters and written words.) In the same way, learning music doesn’t start with learning the written notes on the staff – that “symbolic association” skill should come very last. Learning music starts as simply as hearing and feeling rhythmic and tonal patterns, and then (maybe) repeating them back. This might be as far as you can really get with a 7-month-old, but it’s vitally important in their musical development! So let’s face it. Julia is not ready to compose a symphony. BUT, here are some little things I can do with her to develop her corpus callosum and get her ready for the big stage one day:

A. RHYTHM

1. Keep a Steady Beat – This is the most important thing. Ever. Now (before age 1) is your window of opportunity to help your child learn to internalize a steady beat. They have to FEEL this beat, not just hear it. So, whenever there is music playing, bounce, tap, or move your baby to the beat. I’m not talking about the rhythm of the words, but the BEAT – the steady pulse that keeps going through the whole song. Put them on your lap or between your legs, and let the bouncing begin! I’m not kidding when I tell you that I started teaching Julia how to keep a steady beat before she was even born. When there was loud music that I knew she would hear in the womb (and my hands weren’t busy conducting or playing the piano), I would often tap my belly to the beat so that she would feel that dependable pulse upon which all rhythmic meters are based. Steady beat is that important, I tell you.

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2. Move, move, move! Music is supposed to move us – literally. Our bodies help our brains focus and make sense of what we hear. When we use our whole bodies, it is easier to “feel” the beat and the form of a song. So, dance with your baby! Move their arms and legs in time with the music!

3. Focus on the Form. As you are moving to the beat, think about the different parts of the song to which you’re listening. Is there a repeated phrase or melody? If so, do the same thing with your little one every time you get to that section. For example, if you’re bouncing along to the beat of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” wave her little hands in the air every time you get to “E-I-E-I-O.” Doing the same thing with her arms when she hears the same thing with her ears will help your child pick up on repeated patterns.

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4. Stick with classical and folk (children’s) music. I love pop songs, but most melodies written in the last 30 years have syncopated rhythms, so the accents in the words often don’t fall on the main beats. This can make it confusing for a child who is trying to feel a steady beat for the first time.

B. TONALITY

5. Match pitch – When your baby makes those super-cute natural vocalizations, try to find where she’s “singing” with your own voice! You may find yourself singing pretty high, but that’s okay – those tiny vocal chords make high pitches a lot easier than our grown-up ones do. When you’ve found the notes that your baby is making, try singing something up there. Even if it’s just a little “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” your baby will start discriminating between pitches, and be encouraged to keep making singing noises. This is how how all famous singers got their start, right? Your little one will start hearing the difference between high sounds and low sounds, and will begin picking up on some of those tonal patterns – the “words” that will eventually make up her tonal vocabulary.

6. Experiment with timbre. Everything makes a sound. Ever notice how babies are fascinated by anything that makes noise? That’s because their little ears are learning how to listen! Listening skills are vital to music and to life in general. As a parent, you can help your baby listen critically by letting her experience slight variations in sounds (we call this “timbre”). Give her a plastic bowl to tap with her hands, and show her how the sound changes ever so¬†subtly¬†when she hits another part of the bowl. Take the same toy and let her tap it against various objects around her – most likely, she’ll be fascinated. And by all means, let your kid bang on that piano! There’s no better way for her to experience tonality and timbre hands-on as she bangs up and down the keyboard. Go ahead and use words like “high” and “low,” “loud” and “soft” when you are talking to your baby through these activities.

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7. Sing to your baby! Do I even need to say this? It doesn’t matter if you are a professional opera singer or a self-proclaimed tone deaf…SING!!! All the time!!! First of all, the more you sing, the better YOU’LL get at singing. But more importantly, your baby needs you, the most important person in her life, to model the tonal and rhythmic patterns that make up the world of music. You talk to your baby so that she learns language, right? Well, you have to sing to your baby for her to learn music! Sing your favorite songs. Sing your mom’s favorite songs. Sing that commercial jingle that’s stuck in your head. Sing made-up songs. And you may find yourself singing the same things at certain points in your routine, and that’s good. Long before Julia could recognize the sentence “Let’s change your diaper,” she recognized the little song I sang every time we were at the changing table. Music can help your baby make sense of her world.

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8. Listen to repetitious music. Okay, maybe you’ll end up wishing to do something cruel and unusual to whatever sick person decided to put those ninety-nine bottles of pop on the wall. But by listening to music that has catchy, repetitious melodic elements, your baby will easily start picking up on the tonal patterns that make up western music. They learn the meaning of words by hearing them in all sorts of different sentences, right? Later, when those musical patterns show up in piano lessons or music class at school, your child will recognize them quickly because she will have been listening to them all her life! She’ll be READY. And it’s all about readiness, remember.

That’s all for now, folks, so let the commenting begin!¬†I’m sure you have some more ideas about how to develop your baby’s brain through music. So if you’ve tried something, and it was fun, leave a comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Back to “Work”

I’m a stay-at-home mom now.

But in my former life as a choral director, the annual spring Broadway musical was always my favorite time of year. I loved it because I didn’t have to be in charge of the whole thing (the Fine Arts director called all the shots), but as I was responsible for teaching the kids their songs, accompanying rehearsals, and playing piano in the pit orchestra, I got to be super-involved in seeing the students put their talents together in a production that was bigger than themselves. Plus, with my dad as the technical production director, I got to spend lots of (late-night) quality time with him!

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Last year’s show was Little Women, a 2005 Broadway musical based on the Louisa May Alcott book. We had an all-star cast, unreal set, phenomenal orchestra, and a real kite that flew magnificently (thanks to my dad).

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I had barely reached my second trimester by the time rehearsals were underway, and one particular afternoon practice session stands out in my memory. It was with some upper-classmen cast members who I’d been teaching since they were in middle school.

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We were doing the usual – ¬†drilling notes, learning parts, adding dynamics, etc, and the room was electric with excitement as the students were sharpening each others’ skills. I could hear the Lord making something truly special out of these little individual offerings of talent that were being put together! This was what I loved so much about this project each year! And oh, how I would miss doing this next year!

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That was when I lost it. No kidding. What started as a few tears in my eyes quickly escalated into full-blown sobbing in the ladies’ room. One of the girls came in to check on me and make sure I was okay, and when I returned to rehearsal, the kids asked (jokingly), “Were we that bad???” But I just didn’t want to leave! I knew that having a baby was wonderful and special and everyone said it would be “worth it,” but at the moment I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else besides that little choir room!

So, later that year when the Fine Arts director announced that she would also not be returning, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer to come back a few afternoons a week to help with the next year’s play. There would be a new choral director who would be technically in charge of the musical, but I’d be able to be involved as the vocal director. I’d get to be there working with my old kids for auditions, some rehearsals, the retreat, dress rehearsal week, and two or three adrenaline-rushing performances. And, somewhat importantly, I’d get paid a little.

Which brings me to this week, the official beginning of rehearsals!¬†Mr. Poole is able to watch our little girl on Fridays, and my mom covers Wednesdays. There was a bit of a transition for Julia, adjusting to being away from her mommy, and having a new schedule that allows me to be away from home for 3 hours twice a week. But what a thrill to be standing behind the piano in the choir room again! This year, we’re doing the revised and recently-revived “Godspell,” by Stephen Schwartz (who also wrote the music to “Wicked.”) Not only is it awesome because the libretto is based 100% on the book of Matthew, but I am SO loving the Glee-caliber vocals and the rock-style accompaniment. And I think the students are, too.

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It’s so fun being back in the saddle, just a few hours a week! I’m really lucky that I got to be a mommy and still keep the absolute best part of my job, which includes building relationships with students. After all, on May 3rd, Godspell will be over. But the relationships we’ve built along the way will last forever!

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My Gig Buddy

When Julia decided to refuse bottles – even bottles of breastmilk – at first, it was distressing to me. How was I going to live my life like a normal human being without ever being able to be away from my child for more than three hours? We tried everything – three or four different kinds of bottles, various nipples, warm milk, cold milk, Daddy giving it to her, in the chair, in the carseat, sleepy, awake…all with very limited success. There was crying, there was choking, there was spit-up everywhere, and in general, just complete protest against the fact that this was NOT WHAT I’M USED TO, MOM!!!

This photo documents the one occasion when she took two whole ounces without throwing a fit.

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I know that we could have pressed the issue and kept offering the bottle, but to make a long story short, it finally dawned on me that these few months when Julia would be exclusively nursing are such a tiny little blip in the big scheme of things. Everybody keeps saying, “Enjoy your baby! This time goes by so quickly!” And they’re right. These months are precious. If I can’t slow down my life enough to feed my child every three hours during the daytime, I have some idolatry issues to address in my life.

Sooooooo, this has meant that Julia often keeps me company during lessons, rehearsals, and gigs these days! I’ve learned how to teach piano, voice, and even guitar with her in the moby wrap (which I absolutely love,) and she is usually so entranced by the music that she stays pretty quiet. My private students are very patient with her, which is a blessing. Julia also comes along to church choir practice on Sunday mornings, and even attended a two-hour rehearsal for a performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony this week. (She spent most of the rehearsal quietly in the moby, with her little cheek resting on my chest and her eyes wide open, staring with great interest at the other singers in the alto section.) It gets tricky when we have long, three- or four-hour church choir rehearsals on Saturday mornings, when I have to be gone from home for longer than Julia can make it between feedings, and she can’t come along. Fortunately, the Lord gave me the best husband in the entire world. He delivers her to me during the break in the rehearsal, I’m able to feed her there at church, and then he takes her home again!

Today I was accompanying a former student for a college audition. Since the school was an hour away, I knew I couldn’t leave home, drive up there, warm up, play the audition, and make it home by the time Julia had to eat again, so, into the carseat she goes! My student’s mom was going to be on campus that day, and was able to watch her during the actual audition. Julia had a great time hanging out on the big college campus, as you can see. She decided to wear her most musical outfit so that she would fit in as much as possible with all those cool fine arts majors.

PBA audition Julia

After a great audition, my former student was accepted into the school as a music education major. I am so proud! As I’ve blogged about previously, I try not to evaluate my success as a teacher based on how many of my students become professional musicians. But it still makes me burst with excitement when one of them grows to love music so much that he or she decides to make a career of it! I’ve had a few former students major or minor in music, but this would be my first to actually strive to become an educator. Julia is proud of her, too!

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Caroling, caroling, through the…palm trees…

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Christmas caroling combines some of my very favorite things in the whole world: Christmas, singing, and making people happy. ¬†There is a group of alumni from the school where I teach who go around every Christmas, caroling at the homes of their former teachers. I was actually a recipient of this tradition my first year as a teacher, but¬†every year since then, I’ve ¬†been a participant. The group has evolved as older students have graduated college and moved away, and this year, with one exception, all 14 of the singers had actually been enrolled in my high school choir class at one point or another.

We always gather in the afternoon for practice (because, of course, we sing in 4 part harmony!), have a quick potluck dinner, and head out as soon as the sun is down to complete a 45-mile loop that hits up about 8 different homes. Julia enjoyed all of the attention and festivities, and even made it to the first 4 houses or so, before her fatigue was evident and Mr. Poole took her home. I really have the best husband in the world – he doesn’t even like singing, but he tagged along in a separate car, just so that when Julia got fussy, I could feed her one more time and then send them home!

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(That’s Julia in her caroling outfit with my dear friend and former choir mom, Mrs. K, who hosted our pre-caroling festivities.)

Anyway, things went along as planned, albeit with a fussy baby in the mix this year. We rehearsed a few additions to our repertoire, ate our lasagna, I fed Julia one last time, and we headed out. The fourth house on the list was that of our venerated Bible teacher and his four adorable kids. By this time, Julia was getting upset because she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t all cozy in her crib, and she wanted to go to bed. So, as the students sang a few extra songs at the Bible teacher’s house, I headed to my car to feed Julia again, hoping to settle her down and send her home with Mr. Poole.

Meanwhile, the kids were having fun talking with their old teacher in the front lawn, and they were racking their brains for some impressive selection they could throw together for him. “Let’s do the Hallelujah Chorus!” someone suggested.

The Hallelujah Chorus, or anything from Handel’s Messiah, is not easy. It was definitely not one of the songs in our carol books, and we had certainly not rehearsed it. There are parts that come in all over the place, it changes keys several times, and attempting it without a conductor or an orchestra is quite a feat for amateurs. However, it is the quintessential piece of standard choral literature, and so we had sung it almost every year that I taught high school choir. But there I was, stuck in my car with a nursing four-month-old, listening to this conversation unfold and unable to participate or help!

And then I realized, “Wow, right here is a test of everything I stood for as a choir director for six years. Will a rag-tag group of my former students, who were never all in the same group together, be able to recall and perform a difficult piece of literature that none of them had sung in years? Out of all of the music in the whole world, I would have hoped that the Hallelujah Chorus would be ingrained in their hearts the most, but I was about to experience a true-to-life test of the longevity of my musical instruction in these students’ lives.

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Different people have different philosophies of music education. To some, the ultimate goal is to see your students major in music in college, and go on to become professional singers and instrumentalists. For others, they seek after perfection in their performances with their ensembles, pushing their groups year after year to higher and harder musical standards. As a Christian, the purpose of everything I did as a choir teacher was to glorify God, and to teach my students to glorify God with their voices. This was my number one priority. In one sense, I could already see fruit of this goal – for goodness’ sake, here were a bunch of graduates out late on a Thursday night, blessing people’s souls by singing to them!

But if I had a number two priority as a teacher, it would not be to have students who were professional musicians, or even students who participated in their college choirs. My desire is that every student who came through my choir would become a person who truly appreciated good music. After all, it’s the people buying music and paying for concert tickets who will fund the future of music in the world, right? Part of appreciating music meant exposure to the bread and butter of choral repertoire. I suppose if my students could perform the Hallelujah Chorus from memory, unrehearsed, several years after being in my class, that would reveal whether I had been a successful choir teacher or not!

Well, it was not the most perfect rendition of Handel’s classic, but they made it all the way through to the very end, and it might have been the most meaningful performance I’d ever heard. I was close to tears, sitting there in my car, listening to my kiddos, now big grown-up college students, belting out those Hallelujahs with all of their hearts.

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“For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Halelujah!”

“The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ! And He shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!”

It was as if the Lord answered a little doubt I had in the back of my mind that night – the little doubt that said, “Did I finish the work I needed to complete as a choir teacher?”¬†I am so happy and fulfilled as a full-time mommy now, but every once in a while I wonder if I gave up too big of an opportunity to impact eternity during these stay-at-home years. But somehow, in those four minutes in somebody’s front lawn, I felt sure of two things: one, that I had had a significant musical impact in these students’ lives, and two, that my job was done.

I’d passed the test as a music teacher, so now I must face ahead to the newest chapter of my life, knowing that there are many tests to come!

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Julia’s First Piano

Today we celebrated Christmas with my parents, since we’ll be out of town with Mr. Poole’s family for Christmas this year. It was so great – we did a “dinner by the bite” style meal with my grandparents, where everyone just brought an appetizer-style dish that they love, and we shared everything. It was an eclectic but delicious meal, including chicken soup, asparagus, olives, wings, hummus, and mini cheesecakes.

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One of my favorite moments of the night happened when Mom, who was my piano teacher for the first 16 years of my life, pulled out an old Christmas duet book that dated some time in the 90s. It still had her little red pencil markings, and the stickers of achievement at the top of each page, earned when I had mastered each song. My mom doesn’t play the piano much any more, so it was SUCH a treat to plunk out some Jingle Bells with her!

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And of course, we exchanged gifts. Somehow, my sister had managed to send gifts for us all the way from southeast Asia, and we had some little presents for each other. It’s funny, the things that I get excited about these days. Flushable diaper liners? Woo-hoo!! Bring it on!

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But then, my parents pulled out the big surprise – a mini piano for Julia!!!

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I’ve been playing the piano as long as I can remember.

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And baby pianos run deep in our family. Here is my mother with the mini piano she got from her parents when she was two and a half:

Mom's baby piano

I’m pretty sure I was waaaayyy more excited than Julia was about this little musical instrument! The keys were a little out of tune, but matched the notes on the real piano, and the black keys even worked! It wasn’t long before Julia and I were playing our first duet.

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The fun times with my little mini me have just begun!

My special alarm clock

Who wouldn’t like waking up like this every morning?

I think Julia is a morning person. Just maybe. Because every morning, without fail, I hear this exuberant sound coming from her rocker:

“OOOOOO OHHHHHHH WWWOOOOWWWWW!”

This is one happy baby, folks. She sings to us to get us woken up, (long, drawn out vowels) and then proceeds to talk to us until we’re really awake (what you just saw in the video). If we don’t feed her within a half hour, she’ll start complaining. She’s got a good technique – because even if it’s 5 in the morning, we can’t help but crack up at her morning warm-ups! And we’re more likely to invite her into our bed for a morning snuggle rather than just try to plug her up with a pacifier and go back to snoozing.

This girl just likes to sing. Maybe she takes after her mama.

Gloria In Excelsis Deo

Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.

I LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!¬†Our Church choir put on our first concert of the Christmas season on Sunday night. We based the program on the above Gloria text and performed settings by Mozart, Haydn, Randol Alan Bass, and (most famously) Vivaldi. (You can watch the first movement of our Vivaldi Gloria performance¬†here.) It was SO MUCH FUN! Especially for me, now out of the daily choral-directing scene since becoming a full-time mom. If I can’t direct a choir, then singing in a choir is the next best thing!

Our choir consists of a dedicated group of amateurs. Dedicated, but amateur. Based on the repertoire chosen for concerts, however, one might be under the impression that our director thinks that we’re professionals. But time and again, no matter how difficult the music and how unprepared we may feel, when we put on our fancy black clothes, add real live professional soloists and instrumentalists, dim the lights, and pray super-hard right before going on stage, somehow it always comes together.

This is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed countless times as a musician. God takes a meager musical offering and without fail turns it into something magnificently beyond ourselves. And it’s no wonder – He invented music in order that we might glorify him! So when we do muster up all our talent and attempt something beyond our natural capabilities, and then we do succeed in making beautiful music, it is obvious that it had nothing to do with the performers and everything to do with God blessing his servants. And that is how God is most glorified – in our greatest weaknesses. You gotta love 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

So… My responsibilities last night involved a) conducting a selection from the Bach Christmas Oratorio, and b) singing one of the solo movements in the Vivaldi Gloria.

First let me tell you about responsibility a). I love conducting way too much. So I was pretty psyched when our director, who is a trumpet player, asked me to conduct so that he could play. This piece was scored for strings, trumpet, and baritone soloist, and in typical J.S. Bach fashion, had so much syncopation that I had to restrain myself from dancing off the podium. I was completely unfamiliar with the piece, though, so it was a little challenging for me to follow the soloist’s tempo changes in the sections where the singer can be more free. Also, I’m not as adept at directing an orchestra, which requires a baton. (In choral conducting, you just use your hands.) But I was still excited about dusting off my trusty Mollard baton and waving it at some instrumentalists.

And then, as I was exiting my car right before the concert, this happened:

Oh, my dear, beloved, beautiful, faithful, Curly Maple Mollard baton.

You carried me through college and six years as a music teacher. I remember well the day I met you. For years, I had passed the Mollard booth every January at the National Association for Music Educator’s convention and had considered buying one. And then, as a college freshman music education major, the time had finally come. I had waited all year to return to the baton booth to hand-select one that would fit me perfectly. I tried out so many that day, but you, my dear Curly Maple Mollard, called my name. We were instant friends. I toted you to and from rehearsal for years. Could you ever forget the first time that you helped me conduct Handel’s Messiah? I was nervous and shaky all over, but you, dear Mollard, remained firm and straight. I am so sorry that you had to perish in such an ignoble act of clumsiness on my part…would that I had paid the extra $8 for a carbon fiber shaft! You shall remain close to my heart forever.

The passing of my dearly beloved Curly Maple Mollard signified the end of an era in my life. I immediately assumed I would replace it, until I contemplated how often I actually would require my own baton in the years to come. And in researching current prices, I realized that with the same amount of money, I could buy those two Bumgenius 4.0 cloth diapers that I really wanted. A new baton? Or more diapers?

It’s finally hitting me that my life is completely, completely different.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Okay, enough mourning over my deceased baton. (In case you’re wondering, I was able to borrow one from our choir director, and I conducted the Bach imperfectly, but with great enthusiasm.) On to a discussion of the second of my two responsibilities at Sunday’s concert. That is, singing one of the solo movements in the Vivaldi Gloria.

I am not an opera singer.

That look says, “Heh, heh, here I am pretending to sing an aria! But I’d really rather be hiding behind the piano, belting out some Hillsong!”

I have a bachelor’s of music degree, but it’s in music education, with piano as my principal instrument. I can sing well enough to teach choir and try my hand at pop and contemporary music, but I don’t have that full, resonant, LOUD quality that makes it obvious when a pro takes the stage. I was honored that our director asked me to sing one of the solos, since we were paying professional singers from Florida Grand Opera to come and do some of the other solos, but it’s kind of intimidating to be in a situation when I’m compared with people who are really trained in that genre. Like our amazing local soprano celebrity, CJ, who makes the floodgates of heaven pour out upon the audience each time she opens her mouth. She is brilliant and beautiful and we are so lucky to have her in our little choir when she’s not touring the world as a colouratura.

That look says, “Here I am singing an aria that I was BORN to sing!”

So I did a bit of praying on my own before the concert. (I had to sneak in a feeding just minutes before we had to be on stage, so I had the perfect quiet space and time to spend with God as Julia was guzzling down her dinner.) I prayed that God would help me sing my aria better than I had ever sung it before, and that He would turn my unworthy vessel into something beautiful that could glorify Him in a special way.

I remember the first time I prayed that prayer! I was a fifth grader, and I had a little role in the school Christmas play.

My part involved a bunch of lines, and a solo near the end of the show. We had rehearsed for months and months and when the night came, all of a sudden, my voice was gone. I must have been getting a cold or something, because within hours of the opening curtain, the only thing coming out of my vocal folds was a squeak! The butterflies in my stomach regressed into squirmy worms, and when I thought life couldn’t get any worse, my wireless lapel microphone stopped working halfway through scene three. I was putting everything I had within me to yell out my lines, unamplified, into the 1500-seat auditorium, but all that came out was raspy croaking. I was heartbroken – the fake tears I was supposed to shed in scene six were real tears that night. And all I could think about was my solo at the end of the show. During one of the last scene changes, I remember praying with all of my heart, “Lord, please, please let my voice come back for my solo.” The time came, somebody gave me a handheld mic that worked, the intro started, and as I started singing, I remember realizing in amazement that God had answered my prayer. My voice was working. His strength had been made perfect in my weakness.

And again last night, God’s strength was made perfect in my weakness when it came to singing. Because even though my post-pregnancy belly could have used some additional abdominal support, and even though the harpsichord was off by three beats at the beginning, and even though my heartbeat was probably triple the tempo of the song, I suddenly remembered what I was singing:

“Domine Deus, Rex Coelestis, Deus Pater Omnipotens. Lord God, King of Heaven, God the Father Almighty.”

God the Father Almighty.

Out of all of the musicians who came to perform that night, I’m the one who got to sing about God being a parent.

If that doesn’t bring a smile to this little mama’s heart, I don’t know what does! How amazing it is that God lets us mere mortals experience a taste of what He is like when we get to be mothers and fathers of these little children that He loans to us. And what a blessing it is to me that as I love, hold, care for, and comfort little Julia, I can remember that God is a parent, too.

Maybe I sang well, maybe I didn’t, but I sure was filled with inexplicable joy on Sunday night. Glory to God in the Highest!