Small Groups with Big Hearts

Last Friday night, 134 people gathered in a room in our local public library for the sole purpose of sharing music with each other. Most of these were students, along with parents, grandparents, and community members who maybe were surprised to hear live music floating through the air at an otherwise quiet public library.

Mr. Band Director will tell you that this might be the best teaching he’s ever done—when he stands back and doesn’t teach at all: these Friday night monthly gigs at the library are the result of his initiative to get kids playing in small groups, completely self-led. Many of the students playing found their own music (or wrote their own!), set up rehearsal time, and are completely autonomous.

What I see at each of these small concerts are musicians taking risks, showing their vulnerability by performing some of their own work, and displaying how much communication can be relayed without a single word. I see students who stand up and introduce their groups, their faces flush with nervousness from public speaking, only to immediately look more relaxed when their instrument is in hand. I see tall, lanky boys go to their grandmothers in the audience, leaning over to kiss their cheek as Grandma grins proudly, holding his face in her hands. I see little sisters watching their older siblings, and I wonder if they are imagining their future selves up in front.

How it started

A few years ago, my husband, decided that if he wanted his students to continue including music in their lives beyond high school and college, he would have to show them a different way of using their skill than just in a large group of musicians like a concert band or marching band. It’s much easier to participate in band when it’s a class during your scheduled day in school, but as adults, how can you find time to fit music into your life, especially if your career is in a non music-related field?

One of the first small groups he developed was our own boys: He took Clark, a bass player, and Ben, a guitar player, to our local homeless shelter on Saturday nights. Later, they added in our third son, Reese, who plays cajon, a small Peruvian hand drum. Those Saturday nights were magical. My four guys, plus a rotating cast of friends would play instruments, reading charts they’d pull up on the internet. They’d play classic rock like Beatles or Eagles. The guests would join in with singing. Soon, the Saturday night jam sessions became a routine, and each night ended with one of the guests always singing Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” Another guest, Rich, turned out to be a gifted guitar player. Someone would bring a guitar each week for him to play, and for an hour or two, Rich’s face looked less drawn and tired as he poured himself into the music.

Mr. Band Director is a huge fan of synergy and mutually beneficial situations, so he started looking up literature that could be used for small chamber ensembles from musicians in his larger bands. From there, small groups began practicing on their own, all working towards “gigs.” These groups would go to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, churches. To make a game of it, he made it into a challenge.

Read about his 100 Gig Challenge here.

These young musicians are why I will argue loudly to anyone who disparages “kids these days.” The kids I know are talented and hard-working. They want to be part of something that has purpose. They want a better world. They want to have ownership over authentic experiences. They want to challenge others and be challenged.

When you don’t have time for a break

Tips for Taking 10-Minute Mini Vacations

I saw a meme this week about making this a “No”vember—saying no to too much, therefore saying no to stress and overwhelm. Buying our small house was our way of saying “no” to a crippling mortgage bill, and our family has said “no” to overconsumption and keeping up with the Joneses. But, the idea of an actual “No” vember just doesn’t seem possible. The rhythm of our life as a Library Marketer, a High School Band Director, two active kids living at home and two more active adult children living nearby means that November is filled with play rehearsals, band rehearsals, performance after performance, on top of all our regular events and commitments. I mean, these are all things we enjoy doing. It’s just … there’s so much of it all at once.

And I’m just talking about November. I’m not letting myself think about December yet.

I figure this is as good a time as any to remind myself, and you, my dear readers, that it’s these times when you don’t have time to take a break that it’s most important to take a break!

Sure, you want to pack your bags and hop on the nearest plane and leave everything behind. But that’s going to have to wait until later, when things calm down. Right now, break your “vacation” into chunks. Ten minute chunks. You have ten minutes, don’t you?


1. Soak your feet
I have a bag of scented epsom salts in my linen closet. Use a clean tub big enough to fit both your feet and make the water as hot as you can stand it. The steam, combined with the luxurious warmth, plus the aroma of the scent (my favorite is peppermint, but lavender is lovely, too) can take your mind away from it all for a few moments. Don’t forget to have a fluffy towel and some lotion nearby!

2. Make a cup of tea
And don’t use just any cup, either. Put the tea in a proper china cup, or use your favorite mug. It should be pretty to look at and feel good in your hands. Hold the cup with both hands. Breathe deeply and sip slowly!

3. Do ONE THING, start to finish
This is something I struggle with—multitasking! I usually have something in the oven, a load in the washer, the vacuum out, and I’m trying to do everything at the same time. If I’m on my laptop, I routinely have 20 tabs open. Shake it up: pick ONE THING, then do it. Start it, then finish it, all in one sitting. I’m always surprised at how accomplished I feel when I do this, instead of my normal routine of starting 50 projects and finishing none of them.

4. Make a list. Use a good pen.
Do you love lists? I do! I make at least one every day. (I probably love them too much.) I’ve found making shorter lists get better results. Think about (maybe while you sip your tea?) three things that are a priority today. Write them down. Oh, and always use a good pen. I love gel pens, or Sharpie pens. I love my fountain pen the most, but not for lists. The fountain pen is for writing letters.

5. Write a letter
Or a note, or just a postcard. It feels good to let someone else know you’re thinking of them. It doesn’t even have to be their birthday.

6. Go for a walk
My dog makes sure I stick to this routine, but of course, you can take a walk alone, too. Skip the earbuds and listen to the sounds in your neighborhood. Take deep breaths, too. When I’m at work, I try at least once a day to walk through the building to hand deliver something or ask someone a question in person instead of sending an email. Gets the blood flowing, and gets you in touch with your surroundings!

7. Set a timer and take a cat nap
I admit, sometimes my catnaps turn into mega-naps. Because, well, naps. I live for them! But even just putting your feet up, laying back and closing your eyes for 10 minutes can recharge you. Don’t use the time to worry or plan or check email. Just be. And if you find that hard to do, play some soothing music to keep your mind focused.

How do you treat yourself to a mini-vacation? Share in the comments!