Rest and InSpiration


michael-lashesI came downstairs after my shower yesterday—midmorning, post-workout—to find Michael lying on the couch, half-covered up by a throw and staring out at nothing. I had intended to take him to the basement and let him play with the multitude of toys there while I worked at the piano on edits for the last piece for my Easter collection for flute & piano. But it’s been a rough transition for him, going from morning preschool and afternoon nap to afternoon preschool and no nap at all. So instead, I laid down on the couch beside him and wrapped him up in my arms. “You tired, sweetie?”

“Yeah,” he said in his “forlorn” voice.

“You want to take a nap?”

An extended nod, there against my chest. Then an extended shake of the head. I laughed, and so did he.

I knew I should just cover him up with the throw, kiss his cheek, and go do my work. An unplanned nap? In the morning? This is a gift from God, wrapped in pretty paper and tied with a bow.

But I was sleepy, too, and he felt so good in my arms. And maybe, after all, the gift was a different one: the gift of stillness, one I could embrace—literally—or toss away in favor of an extra half hour of work time.

I closed my eyes, and we snuggled down in the quiet house. My brain treated me to a tour of all the things I could and should be doing, but I pretended it wasn’t talking, and the shrieking faded to a dull roar.

I love being snuggled up with a child in the moment when they go to sleep. The breathing changes. The body relaxes. I couldn’t sleep myself, but I laid there with his head on my arm, eyes closed, opening them every so often to look at those impossibly long lashes, then closing them again to rest in stillness.

And then, after a handful of minutes, inSpiration trickled through the synapses and sang me the solution to my editing quandary. Regretfully, I maneuvered his head off my arm and onto the couch pillow and went downstairs, knowing I’d probably solved the problem more quickly by NOT doing than I would have if I’d gone straight to the basement as planned.

And filled my heart in the process.

Growing Up Musical

Brass Band small

When kids grow up with musical parents…especially ones who lead a choir (“conduct” might be a wee bit too glamorous a word for either of us)…you get this…

…and you get this…

…which leads, most adorably to all, to a 4-year-old who says seriously, “Mom, look at my invisible trombone!” Which, when he is interrupted in playing to clean up random toys, he carefully places in its invisible case, closes its invisible clasps, and stands on its invisible end before doing as he’s told.


Being part of something bigger than me (reflections on music)


Photo by Jesse Kruger, via Flickr

Occasionally, someone asks me when I’m going to record an album. I always hesitate to answer, because even though I know I’m not a good enough singer to record an album, it seems kind of…ungracious…to contradict people who obviously think otherwise. But there’s another reaction that I never quite know how to explain—a deep, visceral recoil. I am a leader of community song and a facilitator of beautiful music. I am not a rock star—either in the literal or the metaphorical sense.

I haven’t always felt that way. When I was in school, it was a matter of extreme angst to me how much time I spent on piccolo or second flute instead of principal. I really craved those solos.

But gradually I realized I like playing second. There’s a different kind of intellectual and musical challenge involved in immersing yourself so deeply in someone else’s pitch and tone that you simply disappear. There’s magic in those moments, a thrill that I find much more satisfying than the stressful adrenaline rush of the spotlight.

Getting deeply involved in pastoral music really crystallized that. As a liturgical flute player, the goal is not to draw attention to myself, but to add color and beauty, to touch the heart and draw it closer to God. In that context, music serves the words—an idea that once made me grind my teeth. But now it seems inevitable and utterly right. Music makes it possible for words to imprint permanently on the soul without effort.

The last few weeks, I’ve been playing second flute on Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky (pronounced Nyevsky, in case you’re wondering) and fourth flute on Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. The last time I played the Symphony of Psalms, I was playing principal. After twenty-two years, my fingers can still trace the finger patterns of the solos. And yet it’s been at least as fulfilling this time around. Perhaps more so, because I can really feel that I am a part of the tapestry, a part of something much bigger than me.

See, the world of a novelist/feature writer is very isolated. Yes, you do interviews, you have critique partners and editors, and eventually you invite people into your world. But no one ever immerses themselves in your world as fully as you do. Not even other writers want to delve that deep with you.

Music is totally different. You may practice in isolation, but you can’t play the Symphony of Psalms by yourself. You need five flutes, five oboes, 3 bassoons and a contrabassoon, two pianos, harp, a huge array of brass, and low strings—and that’s before we mention the singers (and the conductor!). Music is defined by its communality. We all delve into the experience together, dependent upon each other. People who have never met can rehearse for a few hours and suddenly discover that they can match pitch and note lengths, sometimes without exchanging a single word to make it happen. Music communicates at a level so much more visceral, so much closer to the soul, than words alone.

I used to resent accompaniment parts. But these days I love them—even those ridiculous sustained notes, the ones where whole notes are tied together, followed by a whole note tied to a half note, and two halves tied over a bar line, and why are you even re-articulating the same note anyway?

You can see those dark "page turn" spots in the corner

You can see those dark “page turn” spots in the corner

I can see now the dimension and shape in those notes, and even if nobody in the audience notices the difference, they’ll feel it. I no longer mind playing in the mid-register where I know it’ll never carry over the orchestra, because I recognize I’m part of something so much bigger. I love that sense of being one puzzle piece in a beautiful picture. You could still see the picture if one piece is missing, but only when every piece is in place is the full beauty revealed.

And it’s bigger than our one performance, too. The Symphony of Psalms is a rental piece, so my part came into my hands bearing notes from the person who played it last—and dark spots at the bottom of each well-worn page, where countless fingers not so different from mine left their mark while turning pages on stages not so different from the one I’m using, surrounded by the same glorious sound.

Date night with NicholasBest of all was the fact that last night, when I arrived for the concert, I did not arrive alone. I had Nicholas with me, and we’d had a bona fide “date night” dinner at Taco Bell, just the two of us. He got to sit in the audience, with a real live, paid ticket. He got to come up afterward and go backstage with me. See the tight spiral staircase that accesses the catwalks. Go down the steep, narrow stairway to the dressing rooms beneath the stage. Meet and talk to Jane Bunnell, who sang the gorgeous “Field of the Dead” solo in Nevsky. (And his compliments to her were both effusive and unprompted, which was the coolest thing of all.)

Last night was one of those nights when I was reminded how big and beautiful and interconnected and, especially, how rich music has made my life. And getting to share it with one of my children—and this child, in particular? That made it a perfect night.

Music Memory


MO Theater 1994The spring of 1994 was a rough semester for me. It was my sophomore year in college, and in the fall semester, due to the convergence of a roommate who studied late into the night with the light on (causing me to sleep with my arms over my eyes, which made my neck & shoulder seize up) and clueless, focused practicing for a competition (which I won), I developed tendinitis and carpal tunnel. The spring semester was proving ground for figuring out how—and more fundamentally, if—I was going to be able to continue playing flute.

I spent most of that semester on piccolo, which I loathed, but got pretty good at, and truthfully it was less muscle stress so it was probably just as well. That semester also turned out to be the peak of my musical experiences in college & grad school, at least as far as repertoire. That was the semester we played both Scheherazade and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. (I got to play principal flute on that one. Wow, what a privilege.)

David Maslanka 1994

That’s me right behind his music stand, in the big skirt.

That was also the semester that David Maslanka came to campus. I played picc on his Third Symphony. (You can listen here, although that’s not us playing.)

This memory seems very close today, as Maslanka was in town again this week. I went to the university bands concert last night. Sitting again in that theater where I played opened up floodgates of memory. Looking down from the balcony and watching the drama that I used to be in the midst of, I got all emotional over ordinary things I haven’t forgotten, exactly, but that I almost never think about anymore. Things like tuning pitches (I’d forgotten it isn’t the oboe who gives that in the band). And the way the horn players turn their instruments over and over to clear out the spit when they have a long rest. I also saw things I never got to see before, because I was sitting in front. Maslanka’s music uses a staggering array of percussion, and watching the percussion players scurry from vibes to xylophone to glockenspiel in the space of six beats made me realize just how fabulous the percussion section in that wind ensemble must have been.

I remembered retreating to practice rooms to work pitch with another player on a section scored for two piccolos in perfect 5ths in the upper register. We wore earplugs. And on concert night, we nailed it. That part, anyway. I remembered the inspiration of having Maslanka there during rehearsals and wanting the concert to be absolutely amazing, and thinking it hadn’t been. I went up to him afterward and said, “I’m sorry, I don’t think that went very well.” He put a hand on my shoulder and regarded me with an amazed look as he said, “What concert were you just at?”

I started remembering things that went farther back, too. What it was like to to be dropped into this world, new and inexperienced. There are a lot of things they don’t tell you in advance, like when you’re in a band and the conductor comes on stage you stomp your feet as your welcome of applause, but in the orchestra you shuffle them instead. Why is that? I never knew, it was just something I learned on the fly. Other memories were painful, like the cringe of embarrassment I still feel when I remember how the conducting assistant asked us to check our name spelling on the personnel list on the wall, and since I was playing first I didn’t bother to look down the list, I only saw it wasn’t at the top, so I wrote it in, only to be told later that, duh, it’s in alphabetical order.

But most of all, I remembered what it is like to be in an ensemble like that, playing music of that caliber and emotional power. The way you are wholly in the moment and wholly aware of things happening in other parts of the stage, the way something magical can happen that lifts the entire experience to a transcendental level. I remembered another concert, when I wasn’t enjoying the music, so I told my parents not to bother coming. But that night something happened on the stage, something I hadn’t experienced in rehearsal. And as the last lingering note faded into silence, time seemed suspended. And into that silent eternity, my classmate, a bassoonist, whispered, “Wow.”

My life is crazy busy and I don’t often get a chance to dip back into the world I used to inhabit. This morning on the way to teach flute, I put on the cassette tape of that 1994 concert in the van, and Michael said, “Is that the band you used to live in?” Yes, sweetheart, I did live in that band.

Maslanka’s music reminds me that music can and should be a holy experience. Last night, the young man who plays trumpet in our church choir was on that stage, as well as a young lady with whom I played the hardest of my duets last spring. I was so grateful for the experience I knew they must have had this week, and I envied them the glorious beauty of what they were doing on that stage.

I started crying.

It was being moved by power of the music, but it was also the pang, the longing for what is gone. And oh, how I miss it. Oh, how I miss it.

What’s Up With My Babies This Week (a 7QT post)


1: Horse or Purple Unicorn

Julianna Easter sunday 2Almost every day, Julianna’s bus driver has a story to share about my daughter when I come to get her off the bus. Wednesday of this week, on the heels of Julianna’s first horseback riding lesson of the year, the story was this: “Julianna told us that she rode a purple unicorn. We couldn’t understand his name, though. We think ‘interval’?”

(For the record, the horse is a bay, and his name is Richard.)

2: How To Motivate A Slow Child

Every day, getting Julianna off the bus requires that I, her driver, the other kids, and whatever poor schmuck is stuck behind the stop sign wait while she stretches luxuriously, hugs every child on the bus, admires her reflection in the rearview mirror, and stumbles through some deeply exciting story that neither I nor anyone else can entirely decipher through her enthusiasm. Wednesday, though, my cousin and her family were waiting in the house, and I knew just how to get her moving. “Julianna, guess what? There’s a BABY in the house!”

Julianna was off the bus in ten seconds flat.

3: Duets

Childhood title-cropIt’s been another crazy week, as all of them are during Little League season. About the only claim to productivity I can make this week is that I self-published a set of flute duets for upper-middle-school and high school players, called “Childhood: Six Progressive Duets for Flute.” The great thing about duets is that students can learn them in full, including ensemble, with their teachers. I always hated playing duets where one person got the fun stuff and the other person was stuck with low notes and boring stuff, so I wrote these so the parts would trade back and forth. The titles give you an idea of the style: Night Lights, Swing Sets, Bike Riding, Afternoon Tea, Superheroes, and Roller Coasters. Know any flute players or music teachers who could use such a thing?😉

I rehearsed them yesterday with my undergrad flute teacher. He has always been a very supportive human being, but one can’t help but blossom when someone who’s had that kind of influence on you uses words like “delightful!” to describe your music.

4: Star Wars Artist

Alex has been growing as a baseball player this year, which is beautiful to see. He’s been catching quite a bit and pitching a little. However, my favorite Alex share-able right now is this, which tells so much about him:

TIE fighter spelling

(We told him he needed to stop drawing TIE fighters on his spelling tests until they start coming back perfect scores. But we hung the paper on the display wall, too!)

5: Good Sport

Nicholas gets a shout-out today for being an incredibly good sport. He’s glorying in being in baseball, and he has a maddening self-confidence in his own ability, especially given that he’s, yanno, in kindergarten. But he gets full marks and then some for spirit, not only at his games but his brother’s: he’s the loudest cheering section at Alex’s games by far. He does “Let’s go Pirates!” cheers and yells “Good job!” with a complete lack of self-consciousness that shows how big a heart he really has.

6: Speaker Extraordinaire

Good Friday

Michael? Michael is on summer break already. His preschool did a “circus” last week in which the kids introduced themselves before doing a trick. Michael’s trick was a balancing thing I can’t even describe, but the introduction was very revealing. He’s spent the second half of this school year in a speech-language classroom with other kids who have apraxia, but he progressed so quickly that his teachers finally began questioning whether he really does have apraxia. Michael’s introduction, that night, was way more clear and comprehensible than any other child, including the “peer models” who are there to model typically-developing skills to their classmates. Next year he will be in preschool as a peer model himself, but in a classroom right here in our neighborhood, which means we can ride bikes up there when the weather is decent.

7: Pickpocket

But I digress. The story I really wanted to tell about Michael is this:

Last week, we were walking back and forth across the street at the Little League complex, dropping Alex off, dropping Nicholas off, coming back to watch Alex catch, then going to watch the end of Nicholas’ game, and all coming back to finish the night back at Alex’s. As the last inning of Alex’s game was finally wrapping up, I started collecting the spread-out remains of dinner and entertainment in preparation for going home, and I felt in my pocket for my keys….and they weren’t there.

Including the key to the van, the only vehicle big enough to get the whole family home.

The friend I was sitting beside offered to keep an eye on the kids while I retraced my steps back and forth to find them. But just as I got off the bleachers I had this Holy Spirit moment that told me, “Check Michael’s coat.” That’s the only explanation I can give, because the impulse was so irrational and so strong. I mean, his coat pockets aren’t big enough to hold that rack of keys….

And yet there they were. Michael picked my pocket while I was watching the game.

7QT posts always get so wordy! But I hope I at least entertained you. Have a great long weekend, and head over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for more.

I Need Your Help!


Most of the time, I blog to inspire, to make you think or smile. Most of the time, I’m here to give to you.

But today, I need your help.

Childhood cover image-largeI’m starting down a new path this spring. At the request and under the direction of two flute-teacher friends, I have written a set of flute duets.

(I know–most of you aren’t musicians. Stick with me, here!)

The collection is titled “Childhood.” (Appropriate, don’t you think?) The individual duets are:

  • Night Lights
  • Swing Sets
  • Bike Riding
  • Afternoon Tea
  • Superheroes
  • Roller Coasters

The great thing about duets in general is that students can learn them in full with their teachers. They can practice ensemble–leadership, pitch, and phrasing–within the context of a weekly lesson, without having to find a pianist and schedule rehearsals.

The great thing about these duets is that they’re tuneful and fun, and the parts are equal–meaning there’s not one interesting part and one boring accompaniment. They’re constantly trading roles.

“Childhood” is available through J.W. Pepper, where you can listen to excerpts and view the music.

But the hardest thing about self-publishing is getting the word out. And that’s where you come in.

Now, I’m well aware that the vast majority of my readers aren’t musicians, but I’ll bet you know people who are: school music teachers, kids’ band directors, church musicians, parents of kids who play flute in band.

I need you to share!

Share this post. (I’m working on getting “share” buttons, but WordPress and I are having a breakdown in communication right now. I told it to display them, and it’s not. Beats me. I’ve asked support for help.)

Share the link to the music directly to Facebook, Twitter, email et al. (Here: I’ll even make it easy to cut and paste: )

And even easier: Here’s a Tweet you can use:

Flute-laughChildhood: Six progressive #duets for #flute. Tuneful, intermediate/upper-intermediate #music by @kathleenmbasi

I know this is outside the comfort zone for most of us–myself included. I would normally rather crawl in a hole than risk being big-headed and bragging. But I’m asking for your help, because I can’t do this without you. I don’t have fancy giveaways for motivation–just a sincere request for your help on a rainy Wednesday morning. Hey, what else do you have to do today?😉

Things I’m Loving Right Now



A Marginal Jew. This is a series of four books, actually, and I’m on the second. They are dense reading, with the end notes to each chapter taking more space than the text, and it is ponderous and takes real mental effort to get through. Yet the level of detail in Meier’s analysis brings to light connections I’ve never seen before in the Gospels. Brace yourself for some heresy.🙂 I’ve often felt like Jesus is kind of tiresome and deliberately obtuse in the way he talks (an impression that really is underscored this Easter, listening to the entire Last Supper discourse in John day after day after day after day). But as Meier sifts through history and context in order to determine what parts of things were actually said by Jesus, and which were later additions, he ends up distilling the essence of passages in a way that brings humor and emotion and exasperation to the front. It helps me see Jesus as, well, a real person.

The Language of Flowers. Just enchanting, and heartbreaking, and mesmerizing.


Love. This. Song.


Steel cut oats. (Thanks, Kelley!) With dark chocolate. Although I’m less than enamored of the way they overboil in the microwave.


Manual Mode on my Canon Rebel. The pictures have so much character. They’re often not worth much, while I’m learning, but I’m newly cognizant of just how bland and generic that “auto” setting I’ve been leaning on is. I went out to the Pinnacles again this week. The last time I went, it was still late winter, and I hadn’t started playing with manual yet when I took the pictures for that slide show. Here’s a sample of this week’s pictures.

Blog 1
Blog 3
Blog 5 Blog 6

Blog 2(Can you guess which ONE of the above pictures was taken with the camera’s auto settings?)

My new novel. I am in love. Is it naiveté to whisper in my head that I really, really think this might be The One, at long last? Or is that still second-draft talking, before I hit the “love-hate” stage? The above song is my theme song for this book. And I’m using the Pinnacles for a setting. I just feel like everything is coming together. If I could sit down and work on it all day, I would be a happy woman indeed. But it’s probably fresher and more efficient because I have to stop and think. Stare at your own words too long and you start to get in love with the sound of your own prose. Distance helps me ask questions that need asking.

There are my happy places for this mid-May Friday morning. What’s making you happy today?