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Our Pirate Island Survivor Party for our GFG (Good Friends Group)

January 20, 2011

Our teens have a group of friends that are rotating the host duties for monthly gatherings.  Our first one was a pirate themed party with tons of cool games, stunts and jokes.  Everyone had a great time.  Kids took turns blowing fire out of their mouths, searching for a real cow eye in a bowl of glop, shaving pirates faces with a sword, and constructing island forts — oh and eating and drinking ale and pirate food.  The Pirates of the Caribbean music in the background and the intrepid teens who dressed in costumes rounded out the entertainment.  For a list of games, etc, post a comment.


The table decor: and antique chest and other props

Our team won!



Chinese mothers are superior . . . at climbing the wrong ladder

January 14, 2011

Too many of us spend our lives and energy climbing the ladder of success, only to find that it was leaning on the wrong wall.

I do think the Amy Chua, the author of “The Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother”  makes some spot-on observations such as “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it,” and “hard work produces accomplishment, which produces confidence and yet more accomplishment”. For the Chinese mother, self-confidence comes from skill-attainment, not from praise.

As a mother of seven children who all play at least one musical instrument at very high levels, (some kids play four instruments), and who has been somewhat of a “Chinese Mother” in the past, I want to share some of my insights.

In my younger years, I, too, was probably mean at times in order to gain the compliance I thought was necessary. I think if you asked my kids to comment, they would have some rather frank and painful memories about practicing.

But in the last few years, I have seen the greater wisdom of living ones life based on principles of Real Love –which is a term that encompasses charity, or godly love. So my methods have changed. Sure, there are days that I practice for four hours with my six-year old at the piano.  But instead of employing threats, scolding, anger, and generating tears, as I have in the past at times, I use the motivational strategies on this blog.  Of the four hours spent at the piano, perhaps two are spend jumping rope, playing “Go Fish”, or Chutes and Ladders.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from my 25-year old son, home from violin performance studies at Rice University, who observed my practice regimen with my youngest daughter over a few weeks.  He said, “You practice with her like crazy, but she never cries!”  (Okay, the implications of that remark are pretty devastating!).  But that is my goal with my little Abigail.

Parents CAN inspire great achievement without employing painful strategies which tell the child they are not loved unconditionally.  (Please go to Dr. Greg Baer’s website for a complete explanation of Real Love vs. Imitation Love)

Personally, I think the Chinese Mother approach to child-rearing might result in some really high-achieving children, but I am very concerned with the ramifications which are much more important than sending your kid to Yale:

  • This child rearing style is based on the exchange of imitation love:” If you perform well, I will give you my approval and love.  If you don’t perform well, I will withdraw my approval (and love).”  Even though adults can (try) to make the distinction between a person’s actions and the person themselves, that sort of sophisticated emotional gymnastics is beyond nearly all children.  What they hear is “I’m not lovable for myself. I’m only lovable if I perform well.” That message is dangerous. Sure, it might motivate a lot of children to get on the treadmill of achievement and run for dear life, they will always feel like “something is missing” when they grow up.  They will feel empty and afraid. This is an unresearched and unexamined result of this child rearing style, but I am convinced that the effects are epidemic and devastating, nonetheless. Fear and emptiness are almost a hallmark of modern civilization.
  • Having said this about motivating with “conditional love”, I am not implying that we should not encourage and support our childrens’ achievement. But our challenge as parents is to motivate in ways that never call into question our unconditional love for that child. Hopefully, we can say, “I will always love you no matter what. If you are acting badly, I will love you.  If you are a lousy student or musician or athlete, I will love you. If you reject the religion of your upbringing, I will love you. Now, let’s talk about what you will have to do to open the most important opportunities in your life in the next 500 years. . .”  The ideal is to motivate with gentleness, persuasion, the pure love of Christ–not fear, shame, or withdrawing of love.
  • Unfortunately, using manipulations like imitation love (praise, anger, etc) DO seem to work in the short-run. We often get outward compliance quickly. So we use tactics because it appears that they are “successful”. And we might be tired, exhausted, etc, ourselves and we just want to get a result as fast as possible.  But the underlying message of conditional love is so powerful, and so devastating, that I am convinced that we must only use such tactics in a bona-fide emergency. In those cases, our children will probably understand the situation and not take the words personally—or at least they will be able to process it later and not feel a withdrawal of love.
  • Of course, we as parents need to do some soul searching to understand why we would “push” our children into certain achievements.  In my opinion, we often desire our children to fulfill our unmet needs for love, both real and imitation.  Maybe we push them so that our parents or peers will praise us and think highly of us. Yuck. Or so that they will make lots of money. Yuck (if it is just to consume it on their lusts). But if we can help our children to see that we can all contribute to the welfare of a Zion-type of society—that would be a more worthy motivation for achievement, in my opinion.  Nothing in that scenario would conflict with the teachings of Christ and His prophets.  In fact, think about it, if service were our prime motivator (not other forms of imitation love) our work would seldom become a conflict with our families and serving the Lord.  Since we don’t have an inordinate need to fill a gaping hole of love by stuffing in tons of imitation love, we could probably keep a fairly balanced work/family life.

In conclusion, I’m glad that Amy Chua’s book has opened a discussion about parenting and children’s educational achievement. I sincerely hope that we can take the good things that she advocates, and develop more loving, productive methods of motivation than have occurred in the past.

My son, Robert Landes, wins a full scholarship for grad school in violin performance!

January 8, 2011

Robert Landes

He has attended Brigham Young University on full scholarship during his entire career there, and now moves on to Rice University in Houston–one of the top tier music schools in the nation. He will study with Segei Luca and Chao Lin on the violin until he auditions for a position as a concertmaster in a professional symphony. Congratulations, Robert!

Robert spent significant amounts of time being homeschooled as a child. This gave him the time to pursue his violin studies.

My daughter, Amelia Landes Murdock wins major art scholarship competition!

November 19, 2009

See her stuff at the Art Renewal Center website.  This is a worldwide scholarship and very competitive.  She is among the youngest of the winners also.  Congratulations, Amelia.

You guys thought I was kidding when I said all my kids are outstanding, huh? Sorry. Please excuse the brag.  I just had to.

If I had a magic wand, what I’d do to make symphonies more family-friendly

November 18, 2009

Parents are always looking for fun things to do with their children, and if it could educate or acculturate them at the same time, so much the better.  If youngsters have a great time at the symphony, the chances increase that they will value  classical music. So what are some ways that the symphony could create a “kids night out”?

  • Perform in an outdoor venue where families can spread out a blanket under the stars. Shoot fireworks afterward.
  • Have the musicians stroll through the audience before the performance and let the children touch the instrument and see it played up close. (So, you don’t want grimy hands on your Strad? Take a beater fiddle for the hands-on demo, right?)
  • Have the instrumentalists stroll through the audience while the performance occurs.
  • Have drawings for prizes, throw candy into the audience, have kids ask the musicians for tunes from the audience at intermission.
  • Have children audition to perform as the “warm-up” act and “intermission” act.
  • Perform some music the children know from movies.
  • Have a Halloween concert where everyone dresses in costume (even the musicians). Have a costume parade with the symphony playing in the background. Award prizes for great outfits. Play some spooky music. For one piece, turn out all the lights and have the orchestra play in only a black lit stage–eerie and glowing.
  • Develop a routine where two musicians get into a fight and they get into a slow-motion fight with strobe-lights and pretend to break their instruments, etc. All the while the symphony plays on.
  • Show some old keystone cops movies or silent Charlie Chaplin and have the symphony play as background music.
  • Have a few dance soloists perform in front of the symphony in interesting costumes.
  • A Mime could also develop a routine to some music.
  • Play games with music in the background like “pass the balls until the music stops”. Everyone with a ball when the music stops gets a little candy.  Repeat ad nauseum.
  • Other activities could include: calling volunteers from the audience to play “Name that Tune” for small prizes,
  • Have a professional story teller tell a story with the symphony performing illustrative snippets in the background.
  • Have the symphony play something like “Peter and the Wolf” and have the audience participate with sounds for each animal and Peter. Or some other piece that has a definite story to it.
  • Ask an older child volunteer to come and direct the symphony in any fashion he wants: Loud or Soft, Fast or Slow, Play or rest.  The piece should be something that everyone knows.
  • Develop a slapstick routine that one of the musicians or conductor can perform during a serious piece.  The musician could arrive late, tune-up during a rest, blow his nose, trip and fall, lose his music and try to play off someone else’s music, begin singing like a drunk sailor, he turns around and the back of his tux etc. Remember the PDQ Bach act? (Peter Schickle) Children would love it.
  • Encourage the children to clap in time during a particularly rhythmic piece.
  • Have an applause-ometer that the audience tries to break by clapping and yelling loudly.
  • Have someone dress-up as a composer from the past and answer questions from the audience about their lives and their work. Then play one of their pieces.
  • Have coordinated themes of music and include multimedia presentations that correlate:
    • Space–the Final Frontier:
      • Get a Planetarium to create a show using “The Planets” by Gustav Holst
      • Themes and visuals from Star Wars, Star Trek, Close Encounters, 2001 a Space Odessy, other Movies
      • Have a couple of telescopes set up so kids can see Venus or the Moon up close
      • Show Carl Sagan’s animated video of our place in the universe with music in the background.
      • Give prize for best “alien” costume.
      • Everybody that attends gets a free glow-in the dark star to stick on themselves.
    • Wild West
      • Play “The Cowboys”, Rodeo, The Magnificent Seven, Billy the Kid, “Rawhide”, “Lone Ranger”, High Chaparral, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Have Some fiddlers come and play
      • Visuals of Rodeos and Ranch life
      • Stage a fake gunfight
      • Have a cowboy come in a do some roping tricks with his lariat
      • Give a prize for best cowboy costume
      • Have a cowboy or cowgirl ride their horses to the front of the stage and have the horses perform some simple tricks or a routine where the horse seems to be answering questions.
    • Patriotic
    • Fairy Tales
    • Music from Around the World
    • Dinosaurs: Could you have this take place in a Dino Museum??
    • Carnival of Animals
    • Walt Disney Movies
    • Wonders of Nature: This would need IMAX type visuals

    Here’s an interesting site with the top 100 classical pieces based on current pop culture.These are just a few fun ideas that would really make the symphony an entertaining place for families–especially if they could be comfortable having snacks, wiggling  and playing games.

A few ideas on how to save Classical Music from the ash heap of history

November 16, 2009

As I’ve said in another post, Classical Music needs a great PR campaign if it is to stand a chance of survival.  It seems to me that the entire industry is pretty fatalistic about the future–cynical and resigned about things like market share, concert attendance, etc. News stories of the a world renowned violinist playing in a New York Subway on a Stradivarius— and being almost totally ignored, only confirms the almost Apocalyptic view of the major players.

So, what to do? Do we “go softly into that good night”?

No, but if Classical Music is going to be revived in the public consciousness, somebody better bring out a giant defibrillator soon.

Here’s some suggestions:

  • Organize into a national consortium to pool resources and execute unified goals
  • Consider using other successful models as a template: American Idol and/or professional sports come to mind
    • American Idol is obvious and has been used to some extent in the classical venue. But the idea of giving a huge prize and having a national search for talent is compelling.
    • Professional Sports is more obtuse, but still a possibility. Could competition play a role in local symphonies on a number of different levels? Auditions can be promoted like draft picks, the composition of the orchestra could be debated and fantasized about, a “world series” could be staged, and an all-star orchestra could give special concerts. (The musicians union would have to be agreeable. That is a whole ‘nother post!) Promotion strategies could be aimed at creating a fan-base that identifies the “hometown” symphony as clearly as the hometown baseball team. The chance of success would rest on finding the nugget of suspenseful conflict and staging it like a contest. Everyone is drawn to a good fight, right?
  • Grow the fans from the ground up.  If a person grows up with something, they usually identify with it later in adult life.
    • At Birth: Give a free CD or I-tunes album to every family with a newborn. Promote the benefits of classical music for infant development and serenity.
    • Teach day-care centers about using classical music in the children’s daily routine and supply with a CD or Itune account.
    • Coordinate with producers of entertainment media to supply classical music at a really reasonable cost–just to get our foot back in the door. These could include: Video games, cartoons, education materials, toy manufacturers for embedding, and of course, movies aimed at children.
    • Use existing research linking children’s intellect and social skills with learning to play a musical instrument to get music back into the primary schools. Without music by second grade, the upper levels will never perform exceptionally. Get instruments donated and high school or college musicians to help teach groups of children Suzuki method.
    • Sponsor research on children’s behavior which shows that children behave better with classical music in the background. Use these findings to push for classical music to be piped into schools (hallways and classrooms) and buses. Start with the primary grades and inch upward into middle school and finally high schools.
    • Create and sponsor school competitions for classical music knowledge which would combine “Name that Tune”, “Jeopardy”, and actual student performances.  (Students perform any of a set repertoire of pieces under pressure.) The music teams go to meets and competitions just like gymnasts or debaters.
    • Help to sponsor scholarship competitions (Similar to pageants) for both young men and young women based on classical music performances, service, knowledge, and background.  Have statewide competitions feed into a national competition.  Then a worldwide competition.
    • Encourage professional classical musicians to create interesting programs they can take into schools. Use humor! See Ingudsman and Joo.
    • Create a curriculum for high schools that shows how classical music can be a promoter of cutting edge causes:
      • Symphony No. 1 by Daniel Bukvich (In Memoriam Dresden 1945) (I wish this were a better performance. I went to one at a college that both terrified me and brought me to tears–all in a matter of five memorable minutes)
      • The Cellist from Sarajevo Vedran Smailovic
      • The cellist of Serajevo
      • He courageously played during sniper shooting to honor the fallen

      • Encourage TV shows and movies about classical musicians of the past and present. Also inspiring stories of people who go into the ghetto or third world to teach children to play classically.
      • Have dance classes in school (social and individual) that use classical music for at least some of their music to perform with.
      • Make classical music concerts much more fun and interactive.  Create symphony events for parents and children that are really entertaining. Really. See my post on this subject.
      • Stop trying to shove the avant garde stuff down the throats of the civilian population. Keep it in the ivory towers where it belongs. (Oh, except the Bombing of Dresden Symphony. . .I guess there are exceptions. Sigh)
  • Associate classical music with romance in the public mind.  Romance is a powerful motivator for teens and adults. So many people are tiring of blatant sex and want some romance instead. OK, so many WOMEN are tired of blatant sex and want some romance instead. But that’s half the population.
  • Associate classical music with fantasy. Ditto for drama. You could have so many cool concert ideas!!!  That will be another post. . .
  • I think I would seriously consider always having a big screen visual behind any concert performance.  People now require interesting visuals at all times or they start texting.
  • Play up the Hollywood connection with classical music and the movies. That is the one remaining lifeline to current popular culture that classical music maintains.  Grow it and exploit it.
  • Stop being so territorial about visual recordings of professional symphonies.  You guys are shooting yourselves in the foot by not sharing your image and music to generate interest worldwide.
  • Create a new model of funding for the arts that is not based on wealthy donors. When your fan base is expanded by appealing to youngsters, classical music will be much more self-sustaining.
  • Write and perform more classical music for kids.  “A child’s guide to the Symphony” and “Peter and the Wolf” just don’t cut it. It would be interesting to perform pieces that used to be played with the “Tom and Jerry” cartoons and show the cartoons on a big screen.
  • Why did Disney cut the Disney Youth Orchestra summer program? That was super cool.
  • Develop summer music camps in empty schools or churches. These could be tons of fun and profitable.
  • Charter schools/magnet schools emphasizing performing arts or classical music. (I know there are a few of these already)

Be careful what you wish for. . .

November 16, 2009

In our family, there are certain words and phrases that you will seldom if ever hear.

“I can’t!”

“I’m trying!”

“It’s not fair!”

“I’m never going to be able to do it!”

“This is too hard!”

“I hate this!”

“This is stupid, why do I have to do it?”

“I have to do it.” (Ok, we hear that one more than I would like)

These are all examples of negative programming or negative self-talk, but they are so endemic in our culture, that we don’t notice the destructive effects that they create. We just accept the collateral damage as if it is not just inevitable, but indeed, a normal part of life. It isn’t.

As a student of psychology I was fascinated by how powerful the human brain is. For instance, did you know that the fact of skin allergies is suggestible by the brain? (You thought they were inherited! OK, the tendency probably is. . .)  It is a documented fact that people with multiple personalities will react biologically to substances on their skin depending on what personality they are in at the time. If personality A is allergic to cats–the patient’s skin will break out if she holds a cat while in personality A. But if personality B is NOT allergic to cats, the patient will not react adversely to cats.  How’s that for suggestibility?

How we program our brains is probably one of the most important things that we do. How we teach our children to program their minds is probably a close second.

With my art students, a very common strategy they use to deal with angst, is to indulge in negative self talk.  Some of the following are very common sentiments: “I can’t draw (fill in the blank–faces, hands, horses, bananas)!”  “This is stupid!”  “This is hard!” “I’m trying!” “I’ll never figure it out!” “I can’t do it!”

I know a family with really outstanding kids whose mother says something like this when she hears any negative self-talk: “Don’t say that or your brain will believe it. Can you think of a positive way to express the same idea?”

This idea of programming our minds, rather than passively being victim to the whims of emotions or actions of others is a very liberating concept.  One way we program our minds is to choose our words carefully, as it affects our mindset greatly.

Instead of : “I can’t!” replace it with “I’m just learning” or “I’m going to succeed if I don’t quit.”

Instead of: “I hate this!” replace it with ” I’m frustrated, but that’s temporary.”

Instead of: “I have to do that” replace it with “I choose to do that” or “I get to do that”.

Instead of: “Work hard on that” replace it with “Play around with it” or “Do what it takes” or “Fix that”

Instead of : “That’s super hard” replace it with “That’s an awesome challenge” or “If it doesn’t kill me, it makes me stronger!” “It’s easy if you do it a little at a time”.

Instead of: “It’s not fair!” replace it with “Nobody said life is fair. Life is an opportunity.”

Instead of: “I’m trying!” replace it with “I’m in the middle of doing it”.

Instead of: “I’m dead” replace it with “I need a recharge of my batteries”.

Instead of: “That’s just the way I am” replace it with “My character can become whatever I want”.

Do you get it? There is always a positive, more inspiring way to express whatever feeling/sentiment that you may have. These positive options will make all the difference between success and failure.  A dream may be a wish your heart makes, but succeeding  is a function of the thoughts your mind makes.

Listen carefully to the speech patterns and thoughts conveyed by friends and family  You might find that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to setting up obstacles to our own success! You will find that the most successful humans (Not necessarily financially–I mean success as a human being) are those who have programmed their minds positively.