This has been quite a week for me, on a personal level.  It’s like I’ve been facing the culmination of months – and years – of pondering, deliberating, questioning, and even scoffing. I’m going to keep the details annoyingly vague.  Suffice it to say that I am experiencing a little more hope and beauty lately than I have for quite some time.

As I continue to work through and organize my thoughts, I thought I would share some with you – specifically those that involve the power of creativity.


As Nathan and I continue to develop this whole Arts at the Aviary thing – the weekly gathering, the events, the philosophy – I have taken it upon myself to regularly make choices that are in line with what we value and are so desiring to see other people do with their lives.

Here are two examples.

1. Try something new = I’m trying acting. We believe it is good to try your hand at a variety of creative experiences, especially ones that are unfamiliar to you.  For me, this has meant slowly making the jump (if it is possible to slowly jump, I would be the one to do it) into doing some drama work and improv activities.

2. Develop your skills = I’ve started organ lessons!  I’m not sure how much skill I even acquired during my one semester of lesson about 7 years ago, but the important thing is, my organ shoes are seeing the light of day.  Actually, the important thing is that I am actively pursuing something that I want to have back in my life.

Adults do the darndest things

As a piano teacher, I have been focusing primarily on teaching adult students.  It only makes sense that I be an adult student so that I can have a better understanding of my students’ experiences. Adults have a lot going against them when it comes to taking music lessons.  They have a whole lifetime of expectations to crumple and ignore in order to maintain a positive and constructive demeanor through the process. Adults also have a lot of responsibilities and interruptions.

I ache for adult learners who are, it seems, constantly batting at feelings of shame. Shame for not practicing.  Shame for not practicing the right things.  Shame for making mistakes.  Shame for feeling nervous. Shame for taking so long to start taking lessons.


And then I started lessons.

It’s hard. Hard to not beat myself up. I want to be a good student.  I want to learn well.  I want to be my teacher’s favorite (admit it, who doesn’t?).  I want success.  Ah – success – one of my favorite words.

What is Success?

Everyone has his/her own reason for pursuing creative endeavors.  And everyone has to decide how to measure whether or not the process is successful.  This is where a good teacher is invaluable. One of my conducting colleagues at the University of Minnesota said something that has continually rung through my mind as I pursue various teaching (and parenting) avenues.

“Success breeds success.”

Thank you Heather Mestad. So true.  Little successes lead to more little successes lead to bigger success lead to more bigger success. (Please don’t make me diagram that sentence, mom. :))

What, then, is “success”? For the most part, the students I have worked with are pursuing lessons as a means toward enriching their lives.  Competitions and auditions have not been a part of my teaching career yet, and, frankly, I’m not eager to get involved.  I try to help my students to focus more on the process than the product.

Here are some of the ways that I am definingsuccessfor my organ playing.

  1. Success is – Practicing at least one time between lessons (Keep in mind, I have to go all the way to church to practice, so it’s kind of a big commitment.)
  2. Success is – Learning about the organ (Holy cow – those things are complicated!)
  3. Success is – Feeling satisfied with how I play a hymn (There is nothing like getting to the last chord and thinking, “Wow, that was really nice.”)
  4. Success is – Improving my articulation or accuracy to the extent that my teacher notices the improvement (Fortunately I have a teacher who will indeed comment on such.)
  5. Success is – Being confident with my choice of settings for a particular song (It’s so darn intimidating!)
  6. Success is – Adding some variations to the pedal passages and chords (Hello Dr. Shockley’s keyboard skills.)
  7. Success is – Putting everything back the way I found it after a practice session ( 🙂 – partly a joke…yet there is sort of a code of etiquette that I should respect.)

I’m sure I will be elaborating on that list as I go along with these lessons.  Notice that the objectives are not very concrete and measurable.  I was trained as a music therapist and know all about evidence-based practice, but you know what? – Sometimes it’s important to keep your expectations loose.  Experiencing the therapeutic properties of music – or any art – is something that anyone can do at any time.  Professional music therapists or art therapists can help to take the experience to another level addressing a myriad of non-musical goals, but it doesn’t always have to be that complicated.

What does success mean to you?

Whether you share the answers here or not, aks yourself the following:

What are some really positive creative experiences that I have had?

Why did I like them?

How do I want art to be a part of my life?

What would make me feel really satisfied, creatively?

If my co-worker mentioned wanting to start taking violin lessons again, would I encourage her? Why or why not?

Do I encourage myself in the same way?

Keep thinking about these things.  If you really want to increase your daily beauty and creativity experience, you can.

Happy Arting!



  1. Success is –

By Naomi Bird

Wife of tenor Nathan Bird, pianist, organist, former music therapist, writer, tea-drinker, mom of two mini-sopranos and two mini-tenors, and learner of loving the arts.


  1. Lovely thoughts, dear! I couldn’t agree more – I’m currently trying my hand at mandolin, and hoping to experience some bluegrass. Maybe I should bring THAT to your AatA night?? How fun!

    A thought to add to your observations on adult learners and trying new things: it takes courage. You have to risk that you might not like it, or you might not be great at it, but it’s worth trying things in order to discover what you DO love and are good at. In the end, this brings joy.

    1. Courage indeed. so true.
      Mandolin – totally! I just tried commenting on your post about folk music, but I think I closed the page before it all loaded.
      I know – we should work up an organ and mandolin duet. Now I’m pretty sure THAT would be a first.

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