A Little Thunder From Vierne

Will is preparing for three organ auditions at three different schools in the next few weeks. He wrote some things for recently for school about why organ was such a passion in his life, and I thought I would share it.

stroberts1I began piano and violin lessons at age five, percussion when I was twelve, and finally organ before my freshman year of high school. I have spent hours daily practicing one instrument or another for almost 10 years now. I didn’t particularly enjoy the piano, violin or percussion, but when I began playing the organ, I was instantly hooked. In fact, I was so enthralled with it that I quit both violin and percussion soon after, so I could give more time to my new favorite instrument. 3 ½ years later, my passion for the organ has only grown.
Thanks to my background in piano, the learning curve into the organ was not difficult. My teacher, Sister Mary Jane Wagner, is an excellent organist who studied in Europe with some of the world’s greatest organ names, including Flor Peeters and Jean Langlais. In my early days of playing, she provided me a solid technical foundation by demanding excellence in rhythm, articulation, and musical details. She never allowed sloppiness or shortcuts in fingering or pedaling—her attention to detail allowed me to progress very quickly into more difficult repertoire, and instilled in me a clean, exciting style of playing.
After only a year of lessons, I was presented with my first performing opportunities. Sister Mary Jane had me play several pieces at a weekly concert in October 2011. This performance taught me many lessons about mental preparation for playing—I learned (the hard way) that forgetting to change from dress shoes to organ shoes can lead to trouble in playing the pedals. In January 2012, I also played a joint concert with Mr. John Weissrock at Gesu Parish—performing on the 115 rank Schantz organ, one of the finest in the Midwest. It was a truly memorable experience.
In January of 2012, Sister Mary Jane told me about a position at a local Lutheran Church—I played about 36 Sunday morning services there throughout 2012, experience that truly transformed my playing. Suddenly, I was forced to have new preludes, postludes, offering pieces, liturgy and hymns ready every week. I became adept at mastering pieces quickly, accompanying a congregation, and acting in a professional manner throughout that year of habitual performance.
In March of 2013, I participated in the American Guild of Organists’ RCYO Competition.willsenior14 It was my first experience playing in competition, and it was incredibly good for me. I had to make appropriate registrations for my pieces on an unfamiliar organ in a limited amount of time, and be ready to perform after only a few hours of preparation on that organ. Although I finished 3rd of the 3 contestants, I got high scores from the 3 judges in the competition, and great insights from all of them.
To me, there is nothing quite as exhilarating, satisfying, or profoundly communicative as playing the pipe organ. From the moment I first played an organ, I knew it was the instrument my soul most resonated with—that it reflected who I am better than anything else.”
~Will Schlueter
Here’s a little clip of Will at Gesu Parish this last week playing a movement of  Louis Vierne’s First Symphony, a piece he is playing for auditions. The clip is only three minutes, but it expresses the full power and excitement of the instrument Will loves!

Never Miss a Sunrise

Emily came running into my bedroom one morning yelling, “Mama, quick, come look!” She was so intense she scared me. I thought something was wrong outside.  She lifted my window shade and pointed. “Look at that!”

The rising sun had turned the eastern sky the most unbelievable color of peach against the faint blue. “Isn’t it GORGEOUS?” she cried.

I would have missed it entirely. How many times has that child pulled me over to the window to see the moon shining down on us in all its different phases, something I would have never noticed either. Thank God above for children who never miss a sunrise or a sunset and whose sense of wonder is still intact.

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone. ~ George Eliot





A Little Harpist

Notes from the Basement

I post a lot of music on here, because it is such a part of my life. Last night I realized how long it had been since I’d touched an organ. I play piano, but had not played the organ since I had a small one of my Grandma’s in my living room when the kids were much younger. I used to play hymns at night and found it very restful.

Last night, I sat down at Will’s digital Hauptwerk organ in the basement and decided to play a few hymns and songs. After enjoying myself thoroughly, I asked Will if he would give me lessons. He agreed good-naturedly with a grin. (It’s funny that roles are reversed as I used to help him when he began piano!)

It’s a very healing and joyful thing to make music of your own, no matter how humble. Taking music lessons as a child may not always produce a grand musician, but it can be a source of great personal enjoyment, and I think music in the home is a very lovely thing for children. Emmy sat on the bench next to me, amused that I was playing her “Bubba’s” organ. (Will’s nickname is “Bubba” to Em.) Then I asked if she would like to sing some of her Bible songs. She belted out her favorite, pleased to have my organ accompaniment.

Here is a lovely rendition of the first song I played on the organ in many years last night. The video features a harp and a voice singing the (Swedish) gospel song, Day by Day. The words are on the screen. I love it when they put up the words!


Children and Anxiety

BW portrait of sad crying little boy covers his face with handsEmmy let a helium balloon go by accident and for days, she has been concerned about it. “Will it be OK, Mama?” she asked me repeatedly. “Will the birds see it and bring it back to me?”

Each day she has asked about the balloon in various touching ways. “Does it miss me?” “Is it on the moon by now?”

It was a source of anxiety to her that her balloon friend had been lost somewhere up in the air.

I remember being a child and being anxious. I had a doll named Sally who got lost at a park in Indiana once. It was a real emotional crisis. A doll is a real baby in the mind of a little girl, and the fact that my baby was somewhere out there without me to watch over her was very upsetting.

Storms frighten Emmy a great deal. Storms terrified me as a girl also. I remember what it was like to be scared, and I do my best to provide comfort to my little daughter when she’s frightened.

Anxiety doesn’t always fade as you get older. As adults, we learn better how to deal with it, or in some cases, hide it, but it is a very real problem, particularly in this world where so much is going wrong. From experience, I can tell you that nobody will ever talk you out of being anxious.Ridicule makes it worse. The response of siblings to a brother or sister’s anxiety during childhood is important. Most kids know that if they have an inordinate fear of something, it can be embarrassing. Having someone point out your fear or mock it, or laugh at it, rather than support you, can be devastating. Nobody chooses to be afraid or anxious. Some children are more anxious than others, and it’s built into their personalities. Parents need to immediately stop any ridicule by siblings and point out how heartless it really is.

Parents need to be attune to anxious children, especially when there is more than one child in the family. Something that does not phase one child can be a terrible experience for another. Observant parents will see this and try to provide comfort and help to the anxious child.

Another thing that does not help is forcing a child to do something that frightens them. I remember coming close to being forced on to an indoor roller coaster ride at an amusement park once. The thought was terrifying. Only the intervention of an understanding person prevented what would have been a traumatic experience for me.

There is much about adult conversation that can create anxiety in children. I overheard a conversation once where the premature death of a man in his early 40′s had occurred. “People are dying in their 40′s more and more now,” said the adult. The words sank into my heart and as my own mom was in her early 40′s, those words terrified me. A little caution around children goes a long way. (And the apocalyptic headlines are another thing to avoid around children. We have no idea the impact of our conversational topics on small ears. They have no larger perspective to deal with these things like adults do.)

There’s obviously a time when anxious children need to be encouraged to try things and launch out. It’s a fine line sometimes between encouraging a child to do something and forcing an issue to their detriment. But if we don’t try to encourage our children to overcome anxiety, fear can become a jail cell. But only the child can come to the point of readiness to overcome fear. You can’t force it.

A steady offering of opportunities and positive talk goes a long way. Children who have anxiety problems need someone in their lives to say, “You can do it! I know you can. You let me know if you’d like to try it.” If they do succeed at something hard for them, it goes without saying that they should get a big high five!

Emily and I talked about what makes thunder so loud. She put her own spin on it and reassured her daddy the other night that the thunder was just “clouds bumping into each other.” We have a specific spot in the house (our “thunder chair”) where we go when it storms out. She literally trembles she gets so frightened. In her mind, that chair is a safe place where we can talk about comforting things while the storm rolls by overhead.

We all need a safe place in our minds. Adults know that terrible things do happen. But having someone to talk to and understand, without negative judgment, is what we all need sometimes. It’s a safe port in the storm of life.

Emily learned this song at preschool (as I did years ago in my Lutheran kindergarten), and she likes to sing it to herself. She learned all 3 stanzas. I once heard a military pilot recount singing this to himself as he flew combat missions. What a comfort to know this in our “age of anxiety.”

I am Jesus’ little lamb,
Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need, and well provides me,
Loves me every day the same,
Even calls me by my name.

Day by day, at home, away,
Jesus is my Staff and Stay.
When I hunger, Jesus feeds me,
Into pleasant pastures leads me;
When I thirst, He bids me go
Where the quiet waters flow.

Who so happy as I am,
Even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended,
By His angel host attended,
He shall fold me to His breast,
There within His arms to rest.

The Faith of a Child

emmyrose“Let’s pray, Mama.”

It is a precious thing to see the spiritual life of a young child develop. As I watch our youngest grow in body and mind, I’m reminded again of the sacred trust we have as parents to guide our children’s souls.

Emily has learned to pray. She likes to pray and is very quick to remind me to do so when I set her meals in front of her.

Her favorite is, “O give thanks to the Lord for He is good. For His mercy endures forEVER! AMEN!”

I was suffering from one of my bad headaches the other day and she laid a soft hand of concern on mine. “Would you like me to pray for you, Mama?”

And she did. She knows that when she is sick, I hold her face in my hands and ask for God’s help. Now she does it for others.

The smallest thing will cause her conversation to move God-ward. The evening of Valentine’s Day, she found me in my reading chair, fresh tears on her cheeks.

pinkroses“Mama, I wanted to hold a flower, but Bubba (Will) said no, I can’t touch them.”

Will hadn’t meant any harm, but he thought I wouldn’t want her touching one of the roses from my Valentine’s bouquet.

So I let her have one of the velvety pink beauties to admire.

She felt the petals, rubbed them on her cheek, commenting on how “lovely” it felt. (I told her that is what her little ears felt like when she was brand new!) She sniffed the flower, then had me sniff it. She asked about the leaves and the little veins in the leaves. She noticed the color of the stem and asked what it was called. A leaf fell off the rose and she asked if she could glue it on some paper.

Then she began asking about the growth of the flower and whether it would still grow. Then she said, “Who made this flower?”

“God made it, Emmy,” I answered, looking into the exquisite center of that pink rose.

“Yes, God made it. God made everything. He made the sun and moon and stars…” Her list of things went on and on.

Then she stopped suddenly and smiled, remembering something I taught her a few months ago.

“We can’t see God, but he can ALWAYS see us.”

In her preschool mind, things were being ordered. An invisible God who has done visible things in His creation.

Mary, Emmy’s sister who is 17, picked up the flower and commented, “I had a question on my test, and it asked how we know there is a God. I wrote that even though we can’t see God, we can see the evidence for His existence everywhere.”

“Amen,” I said.

“AMEN!” shouted little sister.

When children rise up, when they lie down at night, when they eat breakfast, when they admire something in nature, in the van on the way to school, morning and noon and night, we can point our children to God. (Deuteronomy 6)

To put it in Emmy’s phrasing, “O give thanks to the Lord, for his mercy endures forEVER!” AMEN!”

(Note: the rose photos were taken by Mary a couple of years ago. She has a great eye for photography.)

Children’s Bedtime Reading Disappearing

According to an article yesterday in the UK’s DailyMail, declining attention spans in children are doing away with bedtime reading in some homes.

Technology is destroying the ability of children to concentrate for any length of time. This shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us. I sat in a doctor’s waiting room alone where the TV set had been left on. Some cartoon channel was on, top volume. There is no other way to describe it but as an aural and visual assault. The scene changes were so fast I do not know how any child could even keep up with the nonsense going on. Screaming, pounding music, bizarrely drawn cartoon characters. It looked like something Franz Kafka would have come up with for television.

Attention span? None required. That is not to mention the iPhone use, the tablets for tots, TV, the DVD’s and YouTube videos. Kids are pointing and clicking and touch-screening their way into a digital hell where no thought is allowed to linger for more than a second.

I despise what this is doing to children. According to several published studies, it is changing the actual wiring of their brains. How do you undo this damage once it occurs?

I was blessed to be raised with a mother who valued books. She read to us from the time we were small. There was no TV in the house when we were little. Any ability I have to concentrate was fostered in those early years of story time and discussion about what we had read. We didn’t read trash, either. The classic children’s stories beginning with books like The Little Engine that Could opened up not only language, but character concepts like perseverance, kindness, empathy, and so forth.

Reading to children has to begin early. Having watched all six of my children, two of which came from orphanages in Eastern Europe, I can say that if a child is not read to early, a window will close in their minds. Our daughter from a Romanian orphanage came as a toddler, and she loved nothing more than sitting in her jammies with her brother William, one on each side of me, as we read and read and read. The pictures stimulated her mind, and her new language, English, was developed through hearing it. I believe that reading time together each night helped her tremendously to adapt to English. She did so well that she learned to read at age 5 on the exact same track as our biological son, William.

It’s a commitment to read. Years later, I am reading to our little 3-year-old daughter the same classic children’s books all over again.. We are currently reading the series of Edith and Little Bear books. She adores these stories. Dare Wright, a photographer, took a doll and 2 stuffed bears and posed them doing all kinds of things, and then wrote stories around those beautiful black and white photos. Edith and Little Bear have all kinds of adventures. The stories teach forgiveness, consequences for not obeying, kindness and many other things in the context of the stories. Published in the late 50′s and early 60′s, they are great books for little ones! Many libraries still have them. I bought some used copies online in case they go out of print.

Some nights I am nearly too tired to read at all. But having Emmy’s sweet-scented head under my chin as she eagerly turns the page is such a precious time that I make every effort to do so.

Our Bible stories are the most important. Emily is learning foundational things about God. Her Aunt Marilyn gave her a Bible story book from Concordia Publishing with gorgeous illustrations. We are really just beginning the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s love for us. Reading time is also a teaching time. I can’t afford to miss that with our little girl.

I don’t intend to buy technology any time soon for Emily Frances. I don’t care about computer tablets and such for her. She will use technology fast enough. As Will said, the more advanced technology gets, the more user friendly and easier it becomes to learn. She will pick up what she needs later, just as William and Mary have done. For now, she is developing the priceless ability to think deeply. She needs to be able to appraise the worth of ideas. She needs an imagination. She needs internal quiet to grow emotionally and spiritually. Reading time each night, I believe, is a crucial part of making that happen.

“Read it to me, Mama!”

Emmy is only now becoming really interested in books. She’s nearing the age of 3, and with language development on track and with her growing mind full of questions, she is now able to follow a plot line as she scrutinizes every picture.

Last night after her teeth were brushed and her pj’s were on, I told her I had some books I wanted to show her. I went downstairs and found my hardbound copy of Velveteen Rabbit, Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and a couple others.

She was waiting for me in our reading chair in my bedroom, blanket over her knees. “Whatcha got, Mama?” she asked eagerly when I came in the room.

One glimpse of the Velveteen Rabbit immediately drew her in. “Read it to me, Mama?” she asked.

She knew I would. We also started on page one of A Child’s Garden of Verses. The copy I have has the adorable, color illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa. (There are so many beautiful editions of this book with great illustrators that it’s hard to pick the one I love best, but Jessie Wilcox Smith is another one of my favorite illustrators, and not just for A  Child’s Garden of Verses!)

So we read Windy Nights, Bed in Summer, Whole Duty of Children, and At the Seaside. At this age, reading is sometimes slow going, as children have so many questions. I remember back with Charlie and Sammy on each side of me, and then years later, Will and Mary on each side that even a short book would take a long time to get through – why, what is that, what’s he gonna do, Mama? All of these questions need an answer when you’re 3!

The most popular book right now at our home is The Three Little Pigs, or as Emmy calls it, “The Big Red Wolf.” I’m not sure where the “red” came from, but she can’t read that one enough. She is outraged, every time, when the “big red wolf” huffs and puffs and blows the houses down. She spends time lamenting the ruined little houses and that naughty wolf’s destruction. I softened the story line somewhat so that the little pigs didn’t get eaten up. I figure there’s time enough for reality. But I did not go so far as one liberal version of the book from the library where the Big Bad Wolf ends up hopping out of the stew pot and running off, presumably to terrorize other little pigs down the road. (What a perfect example of liberal thinking. Let the murderous guy loose, don’t put an end to him. Let some other community deal with him! But I digress.)

I just tell Emily that the wolf falls into the hot and boiling pot and “that’s the end of him.” No elaboration is needed at this stage. It’s enough to satisfy the basic justice instincts in the heart of a 3-year-old. The Bad Wolf needed stopping, and he got stopped. (Children are basically conservatives…)

I want to tell you about a beautiful gift Emily received from Tom’s Aunt Marilyn. When Aunt Kris was here, she brought the most beautiful Bible story book I have yet seen. I had just been thinking about buying a new one, as the old edition of Egermeier’s Bible Stories from my own childhood has lost its cover, suffers from a cracked binding, and the illustrations are very faded. Kris brought this beautiful new book on her last visit, and I was so glad to receive it.

It’s called, The Story Bible, and it’s published by Concordia Publishing House. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful. I still remember the illustrations from childhood in Egermeier’s when they were new and vibrantly colored. I can still see Daniel in the Lion’s Den in his golden robe and the fierce looking lions whose mouths were closed by an angel.

I’m looking forward to many hours with Emily reading the Story of all stories, the account of God’s sovereign hand down through history, the story of His love.

There is no more happy place in this world for me than my reading chair with a child’s sweet smelling head under my chin, exploring the beautiful books of childhood. I have a dining room bookcase full of books that I hope Emily will love as much as I did!

Mothers and Sons – A Few Thoughts

Sons make a unique imprint on your heart, and maybe, mothers do that for their sons also. I threw out the subject of mothers and sons over dinner the other night.

“What do you think mothers bring to sons?”, I asked Will.

“I don’t think you can generalize,” he responded. “Each mom is a distinct personality and so is each son. The same mom might bring something different to each son, depending on his own outlook.”

As we talked, however, he conceded that mothers, in general, do bring things to their sons that are distinctly their contributions as mothers. For example, it is a fact that a good mother will care for the health and comfort of her children, whatever their age. It’s called nurturing. Adolescent boys, wanting to cut any last apron strings, sometimes airily dismiss the reminders about things like eating fruit and vegetables and getting enough sleep, but, for example, Will was happy enough to devour the giant sub sandwich I brought him at school when he forgot his lunch one day. Nurturing moms come in handy even for teen boys sometimes!

About that cutting the apron strings issue, it’s an important one. I once read an essay by Nathan Wilson entitled, “Raising Poofters.” It had a profound effect on me. The essay addressed the subject of mothers and sons in a homeschool setting in particular, and it hit me right between the eyes. I didn’t want to raise a “poofter” (wimp) and excess mothering with boys can do just that. Because Moms are hardwired to protect children from harm, they can also squash initiative and create an unhealthy fear of risk taking. Some boys have powerful enough personalities to keep overprotective moms in their place, but others do not. That’s one reason dads are so important. They balance moms out.

Will came home one year from the EAA Airventure flight show held annually in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Tom loves aviation and used to go stunt flying with his pilot friend. Will was only about 6 years old that year and came home with his gap tooth smile lit up. “I went flying all by myself!” he announced.

I looked wonderingly at the father of the household standing in the door.

“He went on the Young Eagles flight experience in a little Cessna,” Tom reported cheerfully.

“Whaaa??” My BABY up in the air with a stranger? My son, thousands of feet up in the air with a complete STRANGER?!

Will kept looking right at me, smiling his big smile, so I had to smile back.

I gave him a big hug. “Awesome!” was all I could say.

Will proudly handed over the photos of him climbing into the plane with the pilot. Overprotective mom got put in her place that day. Sons need wings, and they sometimes arrive sooner than we’d like.

What sons bring to mothers is a post in itself. I could write a book on the subject. Before I had a daughter, I didn’t even think I wanted anything but sons. I love so much about little boys. They tend not to hold grudges, they have their spats, clear the air and carry on. They are sometimes grubby, but always, always interesting.

Little boy memories fill my mind. Legos and Big Wheels, wet hair slicked over from their baths, wrestling matches in the living room, Hotwheels car shows with Tom who would spend hours with them racing their cars on the wood floor of the living room, Super Soakers, violin and piano lessons and snow forts and G.I. Joe dangling from the upstairs window and the ceiling fan in the kitchen (with the fan on), Sam’s many trips to the library and so many other things.

Each son is a precious gift no matter where he is in his life. I am thankful for all four of my sons. My oldest called me the other day with a piece of good news. He didn’t realize how flattered I was that he would call and share it with me. It told me that maybe, just maybe, I had brought something good to his life also, and that he knew he could always count on my interest and concern.

When I read of how brave soldiers who had fallen at Normandy sometimes, in their delirium, called for their mothers, it showed me the lifelong impact a mother’s love has. What I hope my sons have gotten from me, despite all of my mistakes, is the bedrock knowledge that they were and are loved for who they are. If they have that, I have done my job.