In Memoriam (After the Fact)

I didn’t realize it until I checked Facebook (I’m terrible with remembering dates unless I write them down), but today is the 5th anniversary of my Grandma’s passing.

Her name was Susie Lewis and she was an incredible force in my life. I wish I had planned ahead and could write a longer, more coherent post than this, but instead, I will content myself with sharing some of the many things she did for me and the lessons she taught me.

Grandma was always my biggest fan as a musician. She owned the piano where I first learned notes (it’s still at my Grandpa’s house, sadly neglected as I live so far away). She always supported me in singing and playing piano, even though she could barely carry a tune. I was recently reminded of the lullaby she used to sing, so I know she wasn’t totally tone-deaf.

She always wanted to hear whatever I was working on at the piano, even if it was a little piece by an obscure composer. She actually paid for my piano lessons for several years when it was more difficult for my parents to do so.

Fun fact and quick sidebar: when I met my first real piano teacher, we quickly discovered that she had lived in the same small town where Grandma did. In fact, I think I remember hearing that my aunt baby-sat her kids a few times.

Grandma never missed a performance of mine, if she could help it. Because of her, my parents must have seen me in Les Miserables more than a dozen times over two productions. She was at every piano recital as far back as I can remember, and she spearheaded the receptions for both my high school and college recitals.

When I was very young, she convinced me to perform a simple arrangement of Crown Him With Many Crowns around Easter at her church. That was my first “public” solo performance. Over the next decade I would perform easily a dozen times there, everything from attempts at karaoke tracks of I Can Only Imagine (while my voice was changing and I had to sing most of the last half down the octave), to piano pieces. I think one summer in junior high I stayed with her for over a month and played something nearly every weekend.

I remember especially two performances in her honor, neither of them at a church. When I was in sixth grade (I think; I know my voice hadn’t changed yet), there was a Relay For Life planned in her small town. I got up and sang My Heart Will Go On which I had been working on with a voice teacher. My parents have the video—it’s precious. It’s the kind of performance that in high school I would have rolled my eyes at, but now I remember it fondly.

The second performance was while I was in college. My family planned a special event in her honor at a Louisiana Swashbucklers game (indoor football). Without telling her ahead of time, my cousins arranged for me to sing the National Anthem at the start of the game. I remember the look of pride and the hug she gave me when I came back afterward.

There are so many other performances I’m remembering now when she was in the audience, but I’ll leave it with those stories for now.

Music wasn’t the only thing Grandma supported me in. I went on so many trips with her, especially in the last few years of her life when she was driving to Baton Rouge regularly for chemotherapy treatments. It’s incredible to think about the fact that she did that for nearly a decade, traveling from across Louisiana, and later from Houston for treatments. She loved the doctor over there.

Grandma also went to Baylor with me for the first time after I became a student. For orientation weekend, we made a big loop from Houston to Waco, then to visit my great-grandmother in east Texas (I remember getting my first email from my roommate while we were there), then to Baton Rouge for another treatment.

She bought me my first laptop on that trip, which I used all through college. In fact, I still have it (I used it as recently as the school pop show last spring to run sound cues). She bought herself an identical laptop and learned how to operate the MacOS in her late 50s and early 60s. (She bought my second and current laptop as a gift for my college graduation, though she passed before making it to the ceremony.

The more I write this, the more memories bubble up. Rather than write them all down, I’m going to save some for stories. But I want to send off with some things that I only figured out tonight after seeing other family members’ reflections.

Until tonight, I didn’t recognize the incredible strength I saw from Grandma. I didn’t think about the level of commitment—determination—it took to fight the battle she fought for over a decade. She made it look effortless and we never felt she loved us any less, or that she had less time for the things she enjoyed. In fact, she seized on opportunities to try even more—family vacations, travel to see distant relatives, even summer camps.

So in short, here are the lessons I learned from my Grandma.

  • Keep your loved ones (both family and friends) close.

  • Once you’ve committed to a course of action, go for it.

  • Never give up. But be willing to change strategies in case of new developments.

  • Try new things. Explore the world!

  • Luck will help, but commitment and a good work ethic is what carries the day.

  • Encourage others to take pride in their accomplishments.

  • Life isn’t as complicated as it seems. Love, determination, and a cheerful heart will solve a lot. Then you can worry about the other stuff.

A Quick Note

I don't really have anything new to say today, so this post is here to keep my streak going as much as anything else.

But I've been doing some thinking about what's being posted here, and I have determined that as long as I have this blog posted on a site connected to my professional work, I need to keep the topics relevant to that.

So look for more posts on the subject of shows I'm working on, piano progress, teaching, or organ gigs.

This should be the last meta post for awhile.

Current Events

After writing for three days consistently, I'm starting to get a nice streak of writing posted here. I want to keep up posting daily for as long as possible. That inevitably means that posts like yesterday's meditation on connections aren't going to be possible daily.

So I figured I'd take today to briefly talk more practically about what I'm spending my time on and what I am pursuing these days.

Back to School

I have about a week and a half before I go back to school. This year, I will have my piano classes separated from each other, plus we are adding after-school rehearsal expectations once per week for the choir. So I'll be getting used to a slightly different work schedule than I've had in the past.

My piano classes will be more structured and more hands-on. I think I've pretty well decided what I want the focus of the class to be, and I'm really excited to begin implementing them.

Piano Work

I've spent a lot of time the last few days exploring new piano repertoire. I'm preparing for a college audition in the fall, so that is at the top of my list. In addition, I want to broaden my horizons in playing accompaniments for both classical and musical theatre styles.

To that end, I'm paging through my various songbooks, piano collections, and vocal scores. I'm discovering different pieces that I'm interested in playing, and finding more of them are approachable than I expected. I hope to post some videos at some point.

Experiencing the Arts

Since I got back from my vacation, I have been thinking more about how little time I spend absorbing artistic material. I spend all of my time working and directing, instead. I want to find an audience for my own work, but that also means I need to have an audience mindset sometimes. Plus I get to meet other artists and performers.

My plan going forward is to try to experience some new artistic work every week from here to the end of the year. Last week I saw a community theatre musical, this week I intend to go to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston for their free admission night. I also want to attend musical performances with venues such as Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Symphony. Watch for reviews and reflections here.

Reflecting and Writing

On the subject of reflecting, I intend to post at least a short post here every day, as a way of focusing my thoughts and reflecting on my experience. I want to improve my writing style, and record my experiences and perspectives. I want to engage with my readers.

To that end, I hope to actually incorporate pictures and video into these posts as well as words.

And finally,

The Woodlands Chamber Music Project

After an intense, but productive board meeting, I am excited to say that we have made the decision to forge ahead with The Woodlands Chamber Music Project. We will continue our monthly performance series, and we will incorporate as a legal nonprofit entity. I will post more information as it develops

Thank you as always to my friends and family for your support, and stay tuned for further developments!