Studio Humor

Students (both adults and children) say the darndest things! Here are some of the gems from my studio.

I teach needlework in addition to piano, and a number of my students have expressed interest in getting to know a needle, so I have held many sessions in my home.

Some weeks later, Jennifer, who was one of my most enthusiastic needleworkers (as well as a diligent and devoted piano student), arrived at her lesson with a friend in tow. "This is my cross stitch teacher," she told her buddy. "Oh, yes! She's also my piano teacher!"

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You probably have had students request "The Taco Bell Canon." The other day a student asked me for this piece in a way peculiar to California: she wanted to play the "The PacBell Canon."

Another informed me that she longed to played the "Moonlight Ensenada."

And along the same line, there's always someone who wishes to have the music to "Furry Leese."

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When we finish a piece of early music in my studio, we perform it "in style" with recorder, tambourine, and/or drum, enlisting the parent to flesh out the ensemble. The previous week Ryan had passed off a Spanish Renaissance piece, and we had performed it together.

At his next lesson he said, "Can we do "Ríu, Ríu, Chíu" right now?"

I asked, "And you want me to play the castanets again, right?"

He was emphatic: "Oh, no! I want you to play the tangerine!"

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I have a filing cabinet of folks songs and music of the masters that I've arranged over the years. When I go to the cabinet to select something, this is called "going shopping," and the student always trails along to give input. Rebecca and I were going shopping one day. As I pulled out the famous American folk song about the legume on the railroad track getting squished into peanut butter, I asked, "How about 'The Peanut Song'?" Rebecca, a kindergartner, was incredulous, horrified, and positively scandalized. Her eyes were as big as dinner plates as she whispered to me, "You mean there's a song about it?!"

It was all her mother and I could do to keep from bursting into laughter. Rebecca's mom mouthed to me that they had had a "birds and bees" talk earlier that morning.

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One of the earliest tasks my students undertake in ear-training is recognition of dissonance. This helps them determine whether something that "sounds funny" is supposed to be there or is a mistake. When I introduce the concept, we also talk about resolution of dissonance.

And, as yours may also, my students often "talk" to themselves while playing, counting aloud, clucking on the rests, and so on.

Hannah (sister of Rebecca) was playing a piece by Beethoven and was talking her way through it as I listened from across the studio. She came to a dissonance and muttered, "Dissonance," and, one note later, with satisfaction she pronounced, "Revolution!"

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In order to emphasize that rests are place-holders rather than silent non-entities, I have my students cluck their tongues or say, "Rest!" Steven conscientiously clucked on each rest, softly but still audibly during the recital. The audience had a hard time keeping a straight face but managed to do so. ....

Rebecca's cat had died recently, and she wanted another one. The family had looked, to no avail, at all the animal shelters and ads in the newspaper for kittens.

"Do you know where to get a kitten?" she inquired.

"No, sweetie, I don't," I told her, dog person that I am.

"Well, will you please find one for me?" she replied and then politely added, "In your spare time, I mean."

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When a mistake persists without correction, I draw a skull and crossbones at the point of the error. I was drawing one in blue in Karen's music, when she interrupted me to ask, "Why are you drawing a blueberry muffin in my music?"

Another student wanted to know how a picture of a mushroom brush was going to help him.

Obviously, that skull and crossbones strikes terror into their hearts!

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When I introduce ornaments, I start with the mordent. When I teach tricky counting combinations (such as triplets), I assign a word or a phrase. The three notes in a triplet become "straw-ber-ry," for example). The mordent is the first ornament I teach, and the helper phrase is "blow your nose."

Yes, I know it's silly, but students love it. Even adults will chuckle. And this approach really does help. Repercussions on a trill are "noo-dle" and the Nachschläge are "af-ter." So a trill with three repercussions, Nachschläge, and the following note is: "noo-dle noo-dle noo-dle af-ter lunch." I could go on, but you get the idea. Back to the story:

Lindsey came back the week after learning about mordents, and when I opened the book to the song that had them, I noticed bits of tissue taped on the page. All over the page. One above each mordent. "What's all this?" I asked her. Lindsey replied, "That's so you can blow your nose!" (Will it surprise you to learn that Lindsey is Karen's younger sister?)

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Here's another recital story, this one involving bows. I always teach this plus other stage techniques before a recital.

Chris, one of my very first students (oh, so many years ago!), remembered where to stand by using the bentside of the piano as a point of reference. At recital time, he stood very carefully in the place he had practiced. Unfortunately, the audience was sitting such that they saw his backside as he took his bow. Thankfully, no one laughed! (Now I point out that the student needs to face the audience, no matter where the student stands when we practice in the studio!)

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When looking over new music, I encourage students to look for patterns which will help them get a handle on the new piece much sooner. I also point out places where the technical exercises we do are being used.

I said to Brad, a beginner, "Do you see these triads?" He replied, "Yes," so I added, "Whenever you see a triad in new music you say 'hot dog!' because your hand already knows how to play them."

Later in the lesson, we were sight-reading a new piece. After each triad, Brad said, "Hot dog!" I was puzzled for a minute before I caught on.

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Laura's school was hosting an international education roundtable, and one of the attendees was the deposed king of Greece. At the next lesson, I asked after the conference and whether she had met the king.

She had met him.

Did he have intelligent things to say about education?

"Oh, yes! The king's cool!"

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David was playing a tricky passage in a Beethoven sonata, and his finger glanced an adjacent note hard enough to make it play along with the proper one. "Acciaccatura!" he called out.

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This one isn't from a student, but it's still funny.

When asked who was his favorite composer, my older son, Andy (then age 8) replied, "Gersh."

"Gersh?" I asked.

"You know," he explained. "In the car. When we play the tapes. You always ask which one we want to hear. I always want to hear the Gersh one because he's my favorite composer!"

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Jennifer brought in some vocal music for me to look at. It was a gift from her maiden great aunt on her mother's side. The text looked Czech, but I wasn't sure, so I asked, diplomatically, "Before they came to America, where did your family live?"

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Jennifer shrugged her shoulders, obviously not understanding my question. I tried again, hoping to get a clue from the aunt's last name but figuring Jennifer wouldn't know what her unmarried aunt's last name was, even though it would be the same as her maternal grandfather's. So I inquired, "Before she was married, what was your mother's name?"

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Jennifer looked at me as though I had taken leave of my senses. "It's Carolyn!" she responded. Then, looking at me out from under her furrowed eyebrows, she added, "You already knew that!" (Carolyn later confirmed that the text and the family heritage was, indeed, Czech.)

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Karen, she of the blueberry muffin, really wanted to pass off a song she'd been working on for a couple of weeks, but it didn't make the grade. We stopped to talk about what she could do to enhance her chances of succeeding. Wondering if some of the pearls of wisdom I'd imparted to her about how to improve her playing immediately had stuck, I prompted her, "In order to pass off this song, you should play it...," hoping she'd say, "...slower." Instead, she piped up with, "Again!"

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Dan was on a roll, passing off all his songs. After the third successful pass, he chose a sticker and put it on the pad of his right thumb. Of course, he would be unable to play the next song with a sticker on his thumb, so I asked him, "Why are you wearing a sticker on your thumb?"

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Full of confidence that he would pass off the next song (and all the others, too), he beamed and said, "I'm always prepared!"

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Background information: My beginners play "30 Seconds," which is a take-off on John Cage's famous piece "4 Minutes and 33 Seconds." It gives me a chance to talk about aleatory music and introduce the student to the idea that not all music has immutable boundaries. It's also a good exercise in detailed listening.

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Also, three or four months after beginning with me, a student tests the memory waters. I suggest he "pick an old song" and "memorize it." The idea is for the student to find how he memorizes music by leaving him to his own devices.

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I called for Jim's memory song, and he just sat there. I thought perhaps he hadn't heard my request, repeated myself, and waited for him to start playing something. He still sat there. About 5 seconds later, he grinned at me, and I knew I'd been had! "You're playing "30 Seconds," aren't you?"

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Often titles of pieces have words that children don't fully understand, such as "Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly." Another such Christmas song is "A Virgin Unspotted." I asked Eric if he knew what unspotted meant. "Oh, sure," he said. "That means nobody saw her!"

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Susan was sight-reading "O, Come, All Ye Faithful," and pointed to the round, open symbol at about F below the bass clef. "I don't know this note," she said. "It's awfully low." I responded, "That's not a note. That's the word O, as in "O, Come, All Ye Faithful." We had a good laugh.

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Meghan was selecting a sticker for a song she passed off and was mulling over her choices. As she did so, I muttered to myself, "I wonder why all those stickers have brown around the edge." I thought that was a strange color for a decorative border. "Those are cookies!" she informed me. "That's the dough on the edge, and they've all been decorated with icing!" Oh, yeah. Duh!

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Christmas this year seems to be spawning a lot of chuckles. Lindsey, my comedienne, was selecting a sticker from that same sheet. "I like that one, I sort of like that one, and, oh, I really don't like that one!" The last one seemed like a perfectly nice Christmas sticker to me. "Why not?" I asked. "Oh," she said, "I don't want a Christmas -moose-!" It was a reindeer! Ok, it -did- have antlers! Obviously, this set of stickers had its problems.

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Pete, a student who loves chocolate and knowing my own fondness for same, said to me, "You know that recent research has shown that eating chocolate before your meal dulls your appetite." This sounded too good to be true. "Really?" He replied, "Oh, yes." I was still skeptical, so he elaborated, "If you eat enough chocolate you won't want anything else to eat." Hah!

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I introduce my brand-new beginners to some basics of music notation (such as treble and bass clefs), so we can play card and board games. "Dani, what is this?" I inquired. "That's a trouble clef!" she announced, quite proud of herself for knowing the answer right away.

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Bob and I were discussing how to navigate on the page with the notation DC al Coda. After he had played through the piece, he observed, "This is a cool piece, especially Dakota!"

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My students and I often write 12-bar blues pieces. It's fun, it teaches structure, it applies what we've learned about triads, and it's very, very personalized. (Sometime I'll get a file up here about how I do this. It's formulaic, but it works well and is quick. Check on the pegagogy page for the link. I'll probably forget I mentioned it here. Remind me.)

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I talk about what a blues is when my kids first encounter such a piece. I've written a simple one without a name. I give an example such as, "I woke up this morning and discovered I didn't have any clean socks. I got the blues." The title would be "Dirty Sock Blues." I then ask them to name something that would make them very sad and put it in the same format; this would be title of the song. I expect things such as "My vacation's over. I got the blues." (The Vacation Blues) And "I forgot to study for my spelling test. I got the blues." (Spelling Test Blues) Scott, brother of Lindsey and Karen, allowed as how his example would be, "I woke up this morning and found my toothbrush in the toilet. I got the blues." So, his composition was titled "Toothbrush in the Toilet Blues." (I wonder what's in this family's genes?!)

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Dani, the trouble clef girl, and I were talking about wearing red, white, and blue during the day of remembrance for the 9/11 terrorist atrocity in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. She showed me where her colors were and asked where mine were. I replied, "I have on a blue shirt and red pants, but I don't have on much white except for this bracelet of white beads." She rejoined, "What about your hair?!", incredulous that I had overlooked the obvious!

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I have a fake Christmas tree. Some time about 1970, I looked out the window on the day following Christmas and saw all the trees piled up on the curb, mine included. It struck me that we all were wasting trees! I've never been one to waste anything, so I decided to get a fake tree the next Christmas. And I did ($24 at Sears, which was pretty expensive for a college student at the time). I've been using that same one ever since and always get compliments on it!

I was preparing to decorate the tree, but first I had to put it together and get the lights on. Decorating my tree is a 12-hour project and tedious in the extreme. It wouldn't be so bad if I weren't so picky. I put the lights on and then rearrange them. Room lights out, of course, so I can get a true idea of placement. When I put the ornaments on, I make sure no piano ornament is near another, that two red ornaments are not adjacent, and so forth. Of course, the shape of the ornament has to be right: a long one is needed to "fill" spaces between branches. And no two round ones side by side, either. And on and on.....and on!

So! The first step in assembling the tree is to put the very top together. It's a 3-pronged piece with the center piece higher. The treetop star goes on the center piece. If I wait until I have all the branches in place, I am not able to reach the top of the pole to put the star on because the tree is too wide. I can't reach it even if I stand on a stool, so I place the star on the 3-pronged piece, add the ornaments that go on the piece (the same every year - - that's easy, at least!), and put the piece on top of the pole before doing anything else.

This year, by the time I had the two-part "trunk" put together, the trunk straight in the tree stand (always a challenge!), the branch pieces sorted out on the floor by size, and the 3-pronged topper and star in place, I'd had enough for the day and would continue work on it the next day.

I'll bet you wonder where this story is going, aren't you? Well, Lisa came in for her lesson and off-handedly remarked, "I like your Christmas pole."

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Lindsey and I were talking about her piece when suddenly she interrupted herself with, "These shoes are getting too small!" I promised her I'd put this story on my page, as she checks it often. Here is it, Linds!

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Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you. On this day, the bear got me. Fatigue, perhaps, but -my- face was surely red! Scott (twin brother of guess who?) asked me how the sostenuto pedal works. I proceeded to show him but couldn't get the darned thing to work! Finally, Guess Who, who was waiting for her lesson, came to my rescue. "That's the soft pedal you're using!" Well, duh....

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And on another day: "Ok, Monica, let's hear your memory song." I began to rifle through her books, looking for the song she had chosen, to which she responded, "I don't need the music. I memorized it!" Duh again....

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Drew was attempting to pronounce Scheherazade and didn't get very far sounding it out: "Sh.....Shuh......" Finally he triumphed over the long word: "Schwarzenegger!"

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Jen was playing when we were surprised by an earthquake. Not large - - nothing fell off the walls - - but large enough that no one could mistake it. After we both had decided that the thing hadn't been that bad and we were safe, she said, "Playing Haydn is certainly a moving experience!"

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Geoy's lesson was ending, and we were deciding how many times he'd play a tricky little section of his piece at home every day. I said, "A biiiiiiig number," and before Geoy could reply, Chris, who was just arriving for his lesson, said, "Sixteen!"

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Katie wanted to give a special gift to her grandmother, who lives in Milwaukee. "I want to learn the song for her about the Minnesota state bird." Hmmm. I was stumped. "It's the loon. Don't you know that song?" Nothing was ringing a bell. Did she have any more details that could help me locate the score for her? "It's by W.C." W.C....W.C.... Who the heck is W.C.? "You know! That French guy!" You guessed it: she wanted "Clair de lune" by Claude Debussy.

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Another Lindsey story. She was playing something way too fast, so I directed her attention to the notation slow at the top of the piece. I asked how she should play, given that word of advice, prompting her, "Ssssllllll......." From her, I expected some response such as "slfast." Instead, I got, "Sloppy!"

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One of my early beginner songs is a series of Middle Cs, the last of which has an accent on it. The song is titled "Shark!" As an example of program music, I ask the student what is "happening" on the note with the accent on it. I usually get, "The shark bites someone" or "The shark eats a fish." Zack, son of a dentist, answered, "The shark lost a tooth."

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I asked Lupe what dolce meant, upon encountering it a Clementi sonatina. "Oh, I know! It's that milk stuff that you cook a long time and it gets kind of brown! My mom makes it at Christmas." Ok, dulce de leche is sort of close, inasmuch as it's also sweet.

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A few days later, I asked Bob what andante was, and he replied, "That's how you cook pasta."

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Dave, working on Scarlatti, came upon the term "articolato." Quoth he: "That's a green vegetable, and you pull off the leaves and dip them in butter. Right?"

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Hal repeatedly played F-sharp instead of the G-sharp shown in the music. When I pointed out the note he was playing was and F-sharp and not a G at all, he informed me that, yes, indeed, it was a G: a G-flat!

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Kathy and I were working in Leo Alfassy's Blues Hanon, creating new left-hand patterns. I scribbled them down on some staff paper for her for the short-term and told her I'd re-do them for her in my notation program so they were easier to read. I asked her to go online and download the freebie notation program (Notepad - - the starter form of Finale). I created the file and e-mailed it to her. The next week I asked her if she had been able to open the file. Yes, but it was just a bunch of jibberish. Really? Turns out she was trying to read it with Notepad, the text program!

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Ravi was working on Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," and we came on the "sordino" notation. I asked what that meant, and he jokingly allowed, "Something about sardines?" Naturally, I handed him the music dictionary!

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Lindsey strikes again! We were approaching St. Patrick's Day, and I offered her "Londonderry Air." She said, "You mean I'm going to play a song about somebody's backside?!"

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I thought I had heard everything when it came to interpretations of my skull and crossbones, but I was wrong. Hayden's interpretation probably takes the cake: a t-shirt riding on a skateboard! (The knobs on the ends of the crossed bones are the four wheels, you see, and somehow the blueberry muffin looked like a t-shirt.)

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Sometimes a student might have made a better choice of fingering. Lisa (she of the Christmas pole) was a case in point. "What finger might one have put on that note?" I asked when she had run out of fingers right after the downbeat of the phrase. She responded, "One would have put any one but that one."

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I know you are going to guess who's in this story. Lindsey was playing a four-page "fold-out" piece and was preparing to play the first note. "Why did the notes suddenly get smaller?" They're far away, Lindsey!

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Jared's newest song was "While By My Sheep," an old German carol. If the piece is somewhat obscure, I say a few words about it. "This is a song about the shepherds in the field, keeping their sheep safe. Later, they went to visit the Baby Jesus," I stated. "These were the shepherds who were waiting for the angels." Obviously, the shepherds weren't actually waiting because they didn't know the angels were coming. My error. To which Jared replied, "Did they come?" Two theological mistakes don't make a correct theological statement, but his mom and I shared a chortle.

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It's easy to guess a child's age (7) when the upper central incisors fall out. Maegan returned from vacation really unable to eat corn on the cob. "I see you lost your other front tooth," I said. "Yes!" Then she regaled me with a highly-detailed clinical discussion of just how it parted ways with her gums while she was taking a bath. "But then I lost it." Thinking she dropped it on the bathmat, I inquired, "Did the tooth fairy come, anyway?" Maegan responded, "Oh, yes. I just wrote a note and told her it had gone down the drain."

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Dave (he of "articolato = artichoke") hit the jackpot with several in the same lesson. Preparing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" for his upcoming annual solo recital, he came to a problem spot and he decided rhythms would be helpful. He then observed: "I got rhythms, I got rhythms....." This was followed by an exclamation that "ossia" was a reference to Handel's Messiah [rough correct pronunciation: O-see-uh; not OS-ee-uh]. And to round out the puns for the day, he asked whether "Doppio movimento" wasn't one of the Seven Dwarves? Oh...dear....

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Lindsey's studio humor contributions have been strangely quiescent, but she has not lost her touch. Looking at her plate during the recital reception, I said, You're eating only candy? "No," she assured me. "I had a cookie, too."

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Christina and I were looking at a new song, and I wanted to point out some fingering that would make it easier. "Put your thumb on this B," I suggested, pointing to the key. Dutifully, she put her thumb on the printed page, exactly on that B!

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As many teachers do, I show my students how to "make cool songs" just on the black notes. Olivia and I ran out of time one day, so I made a note on her assignment pad that we would be sure to get to it at the next lesson. As soon as we sat down on the bench the next week, she said, "Don't forget the black note invasion!" I was mystified. Invasion? What song could I possibly have assigned her with invasion in the title? It turns out she meant "black note improvisation"!

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Carolyn had mentioned that she wondered if she were getting arthritis in her right wrist. This evening she reported that she had given "The Raindrop Prelude" a little rest mid-week and was happy to report that she did not have the onset of arthritis. "I have Chopin in my wrist, not arthritis!"

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Julia, age 4, was having theological difficulties. I had my nativity up for Christmas, and she admired it. I said, "Where is Baby Jesus?" She pointed Him out. "And who's His mother?" She said, "Mary." I then asked who His father was? Julia piped up with, "Santa Claus!" Then came Easter, when Julia informed me that the Easter Bunny was Jesus' pet!

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copyright 1998-2013, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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