Scripture Break 44

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Flower of the Day: Bower Vine

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The Lost Art of Handwriting

When I was a little girl, we all looked forward to second grade, because starting in January, we would begin the rite of passage known as “writing in cursive,” those elegant, flowing, sophisticated letters that we couldn’t yet even interpret. I attended a Catholic elementary school in the 1960s, and penmanship was a very important subject. We learned the Palmer method. From third grade on, we would be allowed to write with pens instead of pencils, but not ball-point pens; only fountain pens could be used.

Sadly, our earliest handwriting lessons were warmup exercises, such as practicing slanty lines and loops. It took so long to get to writing actual letters, and longer still to connecting them together into words. When we finally learned enough to write our own names, though, we were so proud. Especially me, though my achievement came later than others’, hindered by the length of my name: Andrea Rannertshauser.

Until high school, all of our assignments were handwritten in the required Palmer script. Heaven forbid we should get sloppy when tired; that would necessitate a rewrite. Our teachers had very high standards for us. Our handwriting had to be legible.

In high school we would learn how to type; from then on our assignments would be done on typewriter. I was never a good typist and had to employ correction tape to disguise my mistakes. Often I needed to retype papers that had too many corrections. This was 20 odd years before personal computers would become commonplace. I wrote my Master’s project on a manual typewriter.

And when we did research in the library, there were no photocopiers. If you wanted to copy information from a reference book, you had to do it by hand, preferably on index cards.

No computers or cell phones meant no email or texts; long distance phone calls were very expensive, so people wrote letters by hand (or typed them) and mailed them. The recipient would get it in a week’s time, and maybe in another week, you’d receive a reply. We oldsters had to be very patient when we were young.

Today, cursive is not taught in most elementary schools. The world is a different place at a different pace, with technology advancing so rapidly the educational system struggles to keep up. Something as archaic as handwriting had to make way for time in the computer lab starting in kindergarten. While children learn to print, by first grade they’re already starting to do assignments on computer. They don’t have as much practice with handwriting. When I was still teaching general elementary music, I sometimes could not decipher my 5th and 6th graders’ handwriting. They didn’t make their letters and numbers with care.

Back in the day, writing was taught at the same time as reading. You learned to recognize letters as you learned to write them. We couldn’t read cursive until we understood how the letters connected. That happened as we learned to write.

Students who don’t write cursive have difficulty reading it. That means soon there will be few people who know how to read historical documents made before printing was widespread—documents like the Declaration of Independence in its original, handwritten form. We’re losing two skills, handwriting and the reading of handwritten works.

Whenever I have to sign a document, people always comment that I have beautiful handwriting. Ironically, in school I got Cs in penmanship. But I always say, “Thank you. The nuns made sure I had good penmanship.” Their lessons stuck.

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Playing with Matches

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Wordless Wednesday: Prickly Pear

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John Philip Sousa, All-America Composer

When I taught elementary general music, one of the objectives for Grade 1 was to be able to recognize march music. So, of course, we practiced conducting in cut time, and marched to the music of John Philip Sousa. He was quite a character, and my students enjoyed hearing about his life.

Sousa was born on November 6, 1854, in Washington D.C., near the Marine barracks where his father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band. He was the third of ten children in the family. He grew up surrounded by military band music, and when he was six years old began music lessons, studying voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone, and alto horn.

John Philip loved adventure, and when he was 13, tried to run away and join the circus as a musician. His father intercepted him, and instead enlisted him in the Marine Band as an apprentice so he could keep an eye on him. (Can you believe he was allowed to do that? I doubt that would be allowed today. He must have had connections. John Philip’s rank during this time was “boy.”) He remained in the Marine Band until he was 21 (except for a hiatus of 6 months). In addition to his band training, he studied music theory and composition. During his enlistment, he wrote his first piece, Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes.

After his discharge from the Marines in 1875, Sousa began performing on violin, touring, and eventually conducting theater orchestras, including Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore on Broadway.

On December 30, 1879, Sousa married Jane Bellis. While on tour in St. Louis, Sousa received a telegram from the Marine Corps offering him the conductorship of the Marine Band; so the couple moved back to Washington D.C. in 1880. For the next 12 years, Sousa conducted the band known as The President’s Own, serving under Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Cleveland, Arthur, and Harrison. He raised performance expectations for the Band, threw away most of their music, transcribed orchestral pieces for them, and composed new marches.

Sousa resigned from the Marine Band in 1892 to organize his own civilian concert band. He continued to conduct, compose, and tour for the rest of his life, right up until his death on March 6, 1932.

John Philip Sousa wrote 136 military marches and is rightfully celebrated as the March King.

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Video of the Day: Making Easter Eggs the Ukrainian Way

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Video of the Week: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

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6 Strategies for Skill Building

To be skillful is to do something well. No one is born with skills; they are acquired through practice. The good news is that you can become more skillful at anything. The bad news is it’s going to take work. There are no shortcuts. But there are strategies:

  1. Focus on one skill at a time. Add another only after you’ve made progress on the first and know that you can maintain your pace.
  2. Lofty goals are good, but realize they will take time, as in years, even decades. Set realistic intermediate goals, and raise the bar as you go. You may want to be the best xylophone player in the world, but maybe start out by learning how to play smooth scales.
  3. If you can, take a class or private lessons. Go to workshops and conferences. If that’s not possible, you might be able to find some good lessons on YouTube for whatever skill you’re trying to learn.
  4. Find other people who can already do what you want to do, and cultivate them as friends. (Caveat: famous people probably will not want to be your friend, so do not stalk them.) Hang out where people who do what you want to do hang out. If you want to be an author, google writers groups in your zip code. If you want to be a comedian, look for open mike nights. Go and watch a few times, and see if you can talk to some of the participants. Ask them for advice, like how they come up with their material or handle stage fright.
  5. Practice is paramount. Every day is optimal. Even if you think you don’t have time except on weekends, try to get in some practice every day, even if it’s only a few minutes. Maybe there is one tricky passage in your dance routine. Do some stretches and try just that pattern ten times after dinner. Do that Monday through Friday, and when Saturday comes and you can really devote some time to it, it will be that much easier.
  6. Practice smart. If you want to draw people but the hands always look wonky, then just draw hands for a week or two. I once embroidered an angel, and her hair was supposed to be made of French knots. At the time, French knots were my least favorite stitch, and I always messed them up. But by the time I finished the angel’s hair, I’d made several hundred of them, and I could do them blindfolded.

It’s never too late to try something new and develop new skills. Don’t sell yourself short—practice.

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Everything’s Better Under a Tree

Everything’s Better Under a Tree

leafy arms raised to the sky
waving in the wind like fans at a sporting event
providing shade, cleaning the air, anchoring the landscaping
sheltering birds and squirrels and insects
sometimes flowering, possibly offering fruit or nuts
perhaps even entertaining the children with climbable limbs
or maybe a rope swing or even a treehouse:
prime real estate for the younger set, only occasionally visited 
by the elders who would rather 
sit below in lawn chairs or a hammock, preferably 
with a glass of iced tea or beer or maybe a cigarette
everything’s better under a tree
a gift created
by nature
that we
can use
to good
and indifference

© ARHuelsenbeck

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