Monday, September 28, 2015

Registering People to Vote

This past Saturday, I volunteered for the first time with the League of Women Voters and Team Dallas Votes. Along with another volunteer, I helped to register people to vote at a Half Price Books in Dallas (the large store on Northwest Highway). Though I rarely chose to talk about politics on my blog, voting is an issue I feel very passionate about. I'd like to encourage everyone to register to vote if you have not already, and to vote regularly--not just in Presidential elections, but in primaries, midterms, and even local school board elections.

Dismal Voter Participation in Texas

In the November 2014 elections in Texas, only 28% of eligible voters cast a ballot. That means that instead of a representative democracy, we have politicians who represent only a small fraction of the people of Texas. Only 61% of eligible voters are registered to vote, and the number is even more dismal for young people--only 43% of eligible 18-30 year-olds are registered to vote. No doubt, politicians would pay much more attention to the issues and struggles that this demographic faces, from student loan debt to underemployment, if they had to answer to them at the polls. But by and large, they don't.

Anyone can make a difference

Registering to vote is easy, and it does not require a photo ID (though in Texas you will need an ID when you go to vote). You can find the forms to fill out here, or you can pick them up at the Voter Registar's Office, the County Clerk's office, as well as libraries, government offices, and high schools. If you are already registered to vote, go vote! If you'd like to do more, I'd encourage anyone to get deputized and volunteer to register people to vote, just like I did. I had a good time talking to people about the importance of voting, and helping them fill out their forms. We had a good turnout at our table, and it felt great to make a difference. 

Too often people succumb to a type of despair when they look at our political system. It's always been this way, they'll say, nothing will ever change. Except that's wrong. Things change all the time; everything changes. The question is, will that change be for the better? As they say in Amnesty International, it's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. I know that as one person, it's unlikely any efforts I make will have a huge impact on our next election. But that doesn't mean it isn't important to make that effort, because when enough people want a change, change will happen.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Rocky Mountain National Park 2015

Here are some more pictures from our trip to Colorado. These are from Rocky Mountain National Park. We stayed in the Moraine Park campground, and did several day hikes. 
This is Nymph Lake, one of the lakes along the trail from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake. 
We stopped and had lunch by the beautiful Dream Lake.
Our destination: Emerald Lake. The breeze coming down the mountainside was just what we needed.
A marmot came out to say hello!
The marmot was super cute and didn't seem afraid of people at all.
There were tons of chipmunks all along the trail! 
We had a great time. Our sweet baby girl loved riding in her child carrier on Daddy's back.
The stars at night were spectacular, and we got to see the Milky Way and watch the Perseid meteor shower.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My First Non-Fiction Article in a Magazine

I'm happy to say that I wrote an article for the newest issue of Renaissance Magazine (#104). It's my first official publishing credit in a traditional market. I'm sure some people are wondering how I got an article accepted into a print magazine, so here's how the process works.

1. Write a Query/Pitch Letter 

When you write a novel, you don't write a query letter until your manuscript is written, edited, and polished. But writing non-fiction is the exact opposite. You start with a query letter on a potential topic, which you send to a magazine you think might be interested. I referred to this website while I was crafting my pitch, and there are tons of other sites for freelance writers that have other helpful tips. I chose a topic I'm familiar with and passionate about (Medieval Plainsong), as well as one that I knew would have plenty of good source material. The editor of Renaissance Magazine replied to my query with some helpful suggestions that he felt would make my article fit the magazine's audience. 

2. Research

Once my query was approved, I started researching my topic. Since I'm a musician who loves music history, I already had a few books with good information, but I also scoured my local library and bought another book on my kindle for more raw material. Depending on what your article is about, you may want to conduct interviews or reach out to experts for accurate information.

3. Write

Once I had enough information, I wrote outlined my ideas and started writing my article. I found the trickiest part was crafting an exciting opening hook. In this respect, writing non-fiction isn't so different than writing fiction; you still need gripping language. After all, you're still telling a story; it's just that this one happens to be true.

4. Edit

I edited my article careful and had multiple beta readers read it for me. They gave me plenty of good advice and helped me make sure my article didn't get too technical for a general audience. 

5.  Submit

One of the nice things about non-fiction is you know someone wants your article before you write it. In my case, the editor at Renaissance Magazine was very enthusiastic about my article when he read it, so I didn't have to make any major revisions. However, it's important to note that sometimes an editor might want you to change things, so be open-minded.

Renaissance Magazine is available at Barnes and Noble as well as online, if you'd like to check out the article I wrote, "Medieval Plainsong."

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Friday, September 18, 2015

Researching Music History

As a musician and music teacher, I love learning about music history. To me, understanding composers and their world helps me better express their music. Besides, music history is fascinating--it's full of interesting stories, vibrant people, and the deep pull music has had on people throughout the centuries. Since I'm a writer and a musician, I've written about music history quite a bit as well. In fact, I've recently contributed an article to Renaissance Magazine on Medieval Plainsong, and I'm working on another one. These articles required plenty of research, and much of it done in person in actual libraries instead of online. If you're also interested in researching music history, whether for an article or a term paper, here are some of the tips I've learned so far.

1. The Internet Has Limitations

It turns out that the editors at Wikipedia aren't nearly as interested in music history as I am. Articles on music history are often short and incomplete. Certainly, you can start with a google search on most topics, but don't count on getting any in-depth material. Instead, let google lead you to print sources and help you find books to read (even then, you should still make like Hermione and go to the library).

2. Ask the Experts

Music history professors are often pretty approachable. In fact, I once ran into one at a book store when I was researching an article. I asked her advice, and she pointed me to some excellent books that have proven very helpful. Even if you're not in school, as I'm not, you could reach out to local experts. Most professors have their email addresses online, and while they may be too busy to help you, they may also be thrilled to meet someone interested in their research. 

3. Listen to the Music

If you're researching Marin Marais' suites for viola de gamba, it's not enough to read about them--find a CD or look them up on Spotify and listen to them (ideally with a score in hand). Again, the internet can disappoint you (the people at Spotify or youtube are probably about as interested in music history as the editors of Wikipedia, maybe less so). However, many libraries (even standard public libraries) have CDs you can check out, and music libraries may have an extensive selection of classical, Medieval, and Renaissance CDs. Now, whenever I go to the library, I check out CDs as well as books. It's a free way to find great music to listen to, and helps my research.

4. Look at the Bibliography

Let's say you find a great article on 19th century trombones, but it just doesn't have all the information you need, and you don't know where to find more. Go to the end of the article, and check out it's bibliography, or the list of articles/books cited by the original article. Those are a great place to continue your research.

5. Go to the Library

When I was a graduate student, I had the opportunity to work in the music library at my school. One of the most useful parts of my training involved learning to use all the online library resources, from JSTOR to WorldCat. There's vast resources available in most academic libraries, and many of those are open to the public. 


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Chautauqua Park in Boulder, Colorado 2015

On our visit to Colorado, we went to the beautiful Chautauqua Park in Boulder. We had a great short hike, and my daughter loved it! 
View of the Flat Iron Mountains 
My sweet little girl running down the trail.
Toddler, Mountain 
Family Picture
Lovely Views 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Schedules, Organization, and Musicians

I'll confess, organizational skills are not my strong point. I'm a musician; I like being creative and spontaneous! But I have developed good self-discipline (thanks, years of practice!) and my fall schedule dissolves into chaos if I don't keep everything straight. So how do I do that, considering I have a large number of private students at several different schools, orchestra rehearsals and concerts, as well as my own family and personal events to keep track of?

1. Write It Down

It's one thing to remember someone's lesson time when you have a handful of students. But once you have over twenty students, it's not going to happen. Instead, I keep my students' relevant information and lesson times in a Google Drive spreadsheet. I use the spreadsheets to keep track of how many lessons a student has had, when their last payment was, and how to get in touch with their parents. I also note write down my schedule, including where I'm supposed to be at a particular time and name of the student I'm teaching. It's the only way I know to keep everything straight without going crazy. Of course, I make sure to back up my information, and if I know I won't have internet access, I often print a copy of my schedule to carry with me.

2. Set Reminders on Your Phone

I often use my iphone as a timer when I'm teaching. It helps me stay focused on the lesson, since I'm not looking at my phone or watch to check the time. You can also set reminders on most smart phones for important dates or times. The reminders help me remember what day my daughter has her check up, or what weekend I have orchestra rehearsals.

3. Save All Relevant Emails

I get quite a few emails from parents, orchestra directors, and other teachers filled with important information, like the dates of standardized tests or other occasions when students can't attend lessons. It can be easy to scan through these emails, then forget about them a few minutes later when the next important info email arrives. So I always keep them, and make an effort to revisit my email stockpile at night when I can log relevant info into my schedule.

4. Paypal

It's so much easier than constantly collecting check and cash from everyone. I've had parents hand me wads of cash to pay for lessons, which is nice, except at the end of the day when it's hard to remember who gave it to me (another reason I prefer to make notes of payments on my phone the second I receive them). Paypal allows parents to pay online at their convenience instead of remembering to send a check every Thursday and hoping their little violinist remembers to give it to me. Also, while it's rare that parents write me a bad check, that has happened. Paypal prevents awkward conversations about why the check they wrote me bounced.

5. Open Lines of Communication

Of course, for all of this to work, it's important that parents, students, and other teachers communicate with me regularly. If a student can't make their scheduled lesson, I want to know that. If a rehearsal time or location gets changed, I want to know right away. For this reason, I encourage parents to touch base with me regularly. I make a point to never check my messages or answer my phone during lessons so I can stay focused on the student in front of me, but I'm otherwise available, and I try to respond quickly to emails or texts from parents.    

By following these guidelines I've been able to stay on schedule and keep organized with relatively few mistakes. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Books I've Been Reading

I've been reading quite a bit this summer, but I haven't had time to write long reviews. Instead, I've decided to write a few words about each book. Each one is a great read, but in a very different way. 

1. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

As I mentioned in my review of her Doomsday Book, I've been re-discovering what a brilliant science fiction writer Connie Willis is. To Say Nothing of the Dog, while set in the same world as Doomsday Book, is a completely different style of book. It's a wild, hilarious ride with the manic energy of a Monty Python movie crossed with a George Bernard Shaw comedy of manners. And science fiction! I loved this book and can't recommend it enough. Besides, Princess Arjumand is now one of my new favorite literary cats.

2. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

I've been trying to read books outside my comfort zone. Besides, as a writer, I'm fascinated by what makes a writer like Gillian Flynn so successful. Thrillers aren't usually my cup of tea, but I decided to try reading "Sharp Objects." I certainly got caught up in the book--I read it in a couple of days. The story is compelling, and the main character is tough and vulnerable. I can't say this is my favorite book--it's extremely dark, and the ending felt unsatisfying. But it did keep me on the edge of my seat.

3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I love this movie so much, and I'd always wondered what the book was like. It has the zany energy and and high romance of the movie, but with some great funny moments and backstory that didn't make it into the film. The framing story, including information about the fictional country of Florin and the fictional author S. Morgenstern, is slightly different than in the movie, but still funny. I loved the idea that the author loved Morgenstern's imaginary classic because his father only read him the "good bits." I'd recommend this book to anyone who has a soft spot for the movie and likes their fantasy with a dose of comedy.

4. Burned Alive by Souad

I got this book as research for a fantasy novel I've been working on that's set in ancient Lebanon. Souad's story is a haunting portrayal of life in a tiny rural village where women have less value than goats or sheep. To some extant, her disfiguring burns are only a small part of her story--the final climatic attack on her after a lifetime of regular beatings and working like a slave. Souad's scattered memories paint a vivid picture of her village--one that's all the more haunting for the holes and gaps in her knowledge. If you're interested in understanding the Middle East or like reading dark non-fiction, this is a good book to read.  

5. Blackout by Connie Willis

Another book by Connie Willis! I can't stop reading her novels, because they're so good. This one has one of the most haunting portrayals of WWII that I've ever read. It captures the bravery and heroism of ordinary people in Great Britain at the start of the war, from the elderly sea-boat captain who pilots his battered old fishing vessel to rescue soldiers at Dunkirk, to the ordinary citizens of London who support each other during the Blitz. Willis' main characters, Oxford historians from future who become stuck in the war, show pluck and courage, as well as deep kindness for the people they encounter. Time-travelling historians aren't supposed to change the past, but have they?