Sunday, November 20, 2011

The important questions

Grown-ups like numbers.  When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters.  They never ask:  "What does his voice sound like?"  "What games does he like best?"  "Does he collect butterflies?"  They ask:  "How old is he?"  "How many brothers does he have?"  "How much does he weigh?"  "How much money does his father make?"  Only then do they think they know him.  If you tell grown-ups, "I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof . . . ," they won't be able to imagine such a house.  You have to tell them, "I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs."  Then they exclaim, "What a pretty house!"

--Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How one person can make a difference

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.  --Alma 37:6

I have written before about the major impact seemingly small choices and experiences can make on one's life.  Likewise also is the impact of one person.  Though years and distance may separate us, I firmly believe that God has a purpose for every acquaintanceship we make. 

With that said, I want you to click on this link right now.  Just do it.  Take a look around, then come back.

Who is that?

I will tell you who he is.

Once upon a time, there were no piano videos to blog.  There was no dream of a music career.  There was just a very young Nathan, who, despite having a piano teacher sent from Heaven itself, struggled to find the spark and considered too many things more enjoyable than practicing.

But that young Nathan went to elementary school with a young Kevin Bluemel.  And Kevin was the piano guy.  At all the talent shows, he was the one to watch.  If it had anything to do with music, you just knew to go to him.  Like the rest of the school, I knew who he was.  And, as it did everyone else, it amazed me that someone as young as he could play the piano so well.

Fate stepped in when Kevin and I were put in the same class my fifth grade year.  We quickly became the best of friends, and as I got to know him better, so too did I get to know his music.  So, when I broke my leg later that winter, I recognized a song from Kevin's repertoire as it played on the radio during my ride to the hospital.  It was David Lanz's Spiral Dance (appropriate, considering I had just suffered a spiral fracture), and it brought me some comfort because it reminded me of my friend.       

I told him this, and during the first few days of my recovery, Kevin brought a couple of "get well" gifts--including a tape on which he had recorded himself playing Spiral Dance and about a dozen other songs by the same composer.  That music inspired me while I learned to walk again.  It inspired me after I healed.  And, it continued to inspire me even after Kevin and I went our separate ways in junior high.

Then, just before the start of ninth grade, I finally decided to do something about that inspiration . . . and I bought a piano book that contained several of the songs that were on that tape.  That's when the addiction began: that's when the piano became as much of a need for me as food or air.  All of a sudden I was practicing several hours each and every day--nothing was more enjoyable.  My piano lessons became jam sessions.  I sought out more opportunities to perform.  As time passed, confidence grew, and music became my life.  That book still sits in a high place among my most prized possessions; it is worn from much use, some pages torn, and other pages even stained with blood.

Those who know me, or have read my blog very much at all, will know where that passion has gone.  It is still very much alive.  I consider music to be my identity; to take it away would be like erasing my face, or removing my limbs.  I would be much different.  My life would lack so much color, so much feeling.  

And I doubt I would have ever discovered that passion for music--that identity--had I never known Kevin Bluemel.  I couldn't tell him until just recently what his talent meant to me; he didn't know it, but something so simple as just being himself and sharing his gift made such an impact on my life that my very identity was shaped for years to come.  I can never repay him.

Thus it is for all of us.  We will never know in this life who all we have touched, nor how deeply.  Sometimes, it's even the person we least expect.  There's no such thing as "nobody's watching"; there will always be someone who notices who you are, or how you act, or what you say.  Your talents and your personality are among the most powerful gifts you have, and very often without even being aware of them, you make a difference to somebody simply because you're there, doing what you do.  That's the point I'm trying to make with this post: one person can make a difference, and more often than not, that person is you.  I have named just one example here--but an example he most certainly is!

So, where is Kevin now?  I mentioned that we went our separate ways in junior high.  It wasn't like we meant for that, or anything; life just happened, and we both had our own paths to follow.

But I never forgot my old friend.  Years have passed, and I have often wondered where his music career was--not if it had taken off, because I always knew he would be successful.  Finally tired of wondering, I went on the search a few weeks ago.

And I'm pleased to say my friend is doing very well:

If you liked that, there's a newly remastered download of it available for free on Kevin's website.  While you're at it, check out his album, and keep an eye out for the release of his next album in 2012!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Of queens and talking flowers

The reading challenge is going well so far, and I'm pleased to report that I finished Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass this past week.  I know I quoted Lewis Carroll in last weekend's post, but I love his work so much that I'm going to quote him again.  And perhaps yet even more in the near future.  I find it no wonder anymore that even Thomas S. Monson quoted him in General Conference last year; Carroll's writing is just that good.

What I love so much about Carroll is all the morals he slips into his stories and dialogue.  As one character, the Duchess, explains in Chapter Nine of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

Indeed, it does.  And one particularly significant moral--an eternal truth--can be found in the second chapter of Through the Looking-Glass.  This book is loosely based on a game of chess, in which Alice desires to become a queen.  But it's not a short or an easy process:

For some minutes Alice stood without speaking, looking out in all directions over the country -- and a most curious country it was. There were a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook.

`I declare it's marked out just like a large chessboard!' Alice said at last. `There ought to be some men moving about somewhere -- and so there are!' She added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. `It's a great huge game of chess that's being played -- all over the world -- if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join -- though of course I should like to be a Queen, best.'

. . .

At the two-yard peg [the Red Queen] faced round, and said, `A pawn goes two squares in its first move, you know. So you'll go very quickly through the Third Square -- by railway, I should think -- and you'll find yourself in the Fourth Square in no time. Well, that square belongs to Tweedledum and Tweedledee -- the Fifth is mostly water -- the Sixth belongs to Humpty Dumpty -- But you make no remark?'

`I -- I didn't know I had to make one -- just then,' Alice faltered out.

`You should have said,' `"It's extremely kind of you to tell me all this" -- however, we'll suppose it said -- the Seventh Square is all forest -- however, one of the Knights will show you the way -- and in the Eighth Square we shall be Queens together, and it's all feasting and fun!' Alice got up and curtseyed, and sat down again.

At the next peg the Queen turned again, and this time she said, `Speak in French when you can't think of the English for a thing -- turn out your toes as you walk -- and remember who you are!' She did not wait for Alice to curtsey this time, but walked on quickly to the next peg, where she turned for a moment to say `good-bye,' and then hurried on to the last.

How it happened, Alice never knew, but exactly as she came to the last peg, she was gone. Whether she vanished into the air, or whether she ran quickly into the wood (`and she can run very fast!' thought Alice), there was no way of guessing, but she was gone, and Alice began to remember that she was a Pawn, and that it would soon be time for her to move.

Also from Chapter Two:

`How is it you can all talk so nicely?' Alice said, hoping to get it into a better temper by a compliment. `I've been in many gardens before, but none of the flowers could talk.'

`Put your hand down, and feel the ground,' said the Tiger-lily. `Then you'll know why.' 
Alice did so. `It's very hard,' she said, `but I don't see what that has to do with it.' 
`In most gardens,' the Tiger-lily said, `they make the beds too soft -- so that the flowers are always asleep.'

We have to move to get to the Eighth Square.  Remember who you are, and don't be afraid of the hard ground; we're not alone in this game.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy thoughts as the snow begins to fall

"Do you hear the snow against the window-panes, Kitty?  How nice and soft it sounds!  Just as if some one was kissing the window all over outside.  I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently?  And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, 'Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.'  And when they wake up in the summer, Kitty, they dress themselves all in green, and dance about--whenever the wind blows--oh, that's very pretty!" cried Alice, dropping the ball of worsted to clap her hands.

 --Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bucket list report: October 2011


Dress as the Phantom of the Opera and play the organ/piano part with an orchestra.


(Special thanks to my brother for shooting the video.  The cutoffs at the beginning and end weren't his fault, though; my camera went on the fritz in the moments leading to its battery's death.  To make it up to you, here's my favorite song about unfortunate situations in photography.) 


Monday, October 24, 2011

The Christmas Spirit

For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.  --D&C 25:12

Halloween is still a week away, but I'm feeling the Christmas Spirit right now.  

A common complaint I have heard in previous years is that someone hears Christmas music on the radio when the Christmas Season hasn't even arrived yet.  Heck, even in seminary back in the day, there were protests at the very suggestion of cracking open Hymns 201-215 before Thanksgiving.  

Today I ask, "Why?"

I can understand the argument that playing Christmas music year-round might somehow make it less "special" when December finally comes along.  It's a Christmas thing--I get that.  Fireworks are for the Fourth of July, hearts are for Valentine's Day.  But let's look at it this way: do we only think about the Savior at Christmas or Easter?  Does the Atonement become "less special" if we only apply it when taking the sacrament on Sunday?  

Of course, any of us could answer that; as followers of Christ, we praise and celebrate Him always.  We have covenanted to "always remember Him" (Moroni 4:3).  "Always" means all the time.

And when we get right down to it, the Spirit of Christmas is, indeed, the Spirit of Christ.  

I have to give credit to those people I know who do listen to Christmas music year-round, for whatever reason (for the longest time, I thought that was weird, but I turned out being wrong.  Way to be!).  Likewise, I also have to point out that it's okay if we're not singing Christmas hymns in church every Sunday (please, no).  I'm just expressing a thought I didn't really have until this weekend.  Up till now, I was always one who stubbornly locked away the carols on December 26th, and didn't let them out again until the day after Thanksgiving.  But I'm realizing now that maybe it's not such a terrible offense to go caroling when everyone else is Trick-or-Treating.

My stake had its first choir rehearsal last night for our Christmas program in December.  It was a beautiful evening, filled with uplifting music about the Savior.  And I finally understood then what a great idea it was to pull this choir together even before Halloween; by inviting the Spirit of Christmas into our hearts, what we were really doing was inviting the Spirit of Christ.  And that's something we need all year.

I like to sing hymns while I work.  It doesn't make the boxes I have to lift any lighter, or fewer in number, but I feel a difference in my own capacity because the hymns invite the Spirit and strengthen me, reminding me of the things that bring me the most joy.  Today I sang Christmas carols during my shift, and they had the same effect.  The song of my heart was a prayer unto God, and I received the blessing even as I labored.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Sacrifice

It's not my habit to regurgitate piano videos the same way I re-post pictures, but I've been digging up a bunch of old stuff recently and remembered how much I liked this video from clear back in high school.  I feel somewhat nostalgic with the turning of the seasons, and this song is one of those that perhaps best illustrates the feeling.  It's fall now, and there's a lot I like about this season.  Maybe I'll explore that theme sometime on the blog, but for now I'll let the music speak for me.

The Sacrifice
Michael Nyman

Friday, September 30, 2011


Hello, Blogosphere!  It's been a while since we've talked.  Don't expect to get much out of me tonight, though; I'm just here to say hi, let you know I'm still around . . . that sort of stuff.  Life's been busy.  Life's been good.  I hope to share some more thoughts with y'all soon.

For now I'm content to note that it's a lovely Friday night here in my corner of the Internet.  It's been a productive week.  I've worked hard, and now I'm enjoying a peaceful evening at home listening to the crickets chirp outside.  It feels good to relax, and one thing of which I've been reminded this week is that relaxing is best done after a longer period of not relaxing.

At least three years have passed since Friday has meant anything significant to me.  For two of those years, there technically was no actual "weekend."  Much of the day was available on Mondays to do reasonable weekend-y things (like shopping and playing), but anyone who's been on a mission might know that those aren't necessarily the most relaxing hours of the week (quite the opposite!).  Then for the third year, life was basically stuck in "weekend mode" all the time.  Granted, there were classes and plenty of other responsibilities that needed my care, but no such structure as would put too much difference between Saturday and, say, Wednesday. 

Finally re-joining the ranks of the employed recently has given me a lot of fresh insights, but perhaps the simplest is just how much I've come to appreciate there being a true difference between weekday and weekend.  It adds a new degree of color to my life that has been missing for a while, and I feel really good about it.  Being able to relax is something that came too easily for too long, so I love working hard and knowing I've earned a little bit of rest when that break comes.  Sounds like God had it right all along:

Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
  (Exodus 20:9-11; emphasis mine)

Here's to Fridays, and the weekends they represent.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Breakfast was already being cooked when I got up Saturday morning at Scout camp.  Some pieces of bacon had been dropped on the ground, but that test turned out to be one of the greatest moments of the campout as the boys remembered the eleventh commandment:


I wish there was a Scout badge for this.  One of the boys took those strips of bacon and cooked them over the fire... on rebar.  Coolest.  Thing.  Ever.

A little gritty, but you can't beat that smoky flavor!

Yes, I'm proud to say these boys are champions.  Even when I was concerned about doing stuff like going down the zip line because of my weight (I was just five pounds short of the limit), they sent me down anyway and took video... just in case.  Yee-haw!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Singing in the shower

Sometimes the answers we need the most are the ones we don't want to hear.

I wrote before about how a mission was like an entire, miniature lifespan.  An elder is "born" in his first area, forms relationships, gains experiences, and "dies" in his last area when it's time to go home.  But when you think about it, that missionary can also build something of a "career" in that mini life, much like an actual career in the real world.  Some are leaders.  Some are athletes.  Some are professional movers.  Some work in an office.  The list goes on, and each one of those jobs plays an important role in the healthy functioning of the mission as a whole--because, just as those years of missionary service form a parallel to the complete life cycle, so too does the whole group of missionaries become a complete society in and of itself.

As for me, my career in that society--the identity by which I was known throughout the mission--was music.  On Preparation Day, when everyone else was in the gym playing basketball, I was practicing on the chapel piano.  I played for all sorts of meetings, and never did keep track of all the special numbers I had the opportunity to accompany.  Whenever my sister (who also lived in my mission field) had the elders over for dinner, if they didn't recognize my name she would simply tell them I played the piano, and they knew who she was talking about.  What's more, in order to teach those elders who expressed a desire for piano lessons, rather than take away from our proselyting time, I spent a number of nights before bed writing a guide on basic piano methods and how to read music, then distributed copies.  

A sample page

So, yeah, without bragging . . . it was kind of my thing.  If only I had been paying attention!

I like to joke around with my Sunday School teachers.  A couple weeks ago I walked into class as everyone was making small talk about the coming semester, and I told them I had changed my major again.  "Oh!" they replied with playful grins.  "And what is it this week?"

There was truth in the joke, of course.  My habit had been to get excited about something, try it out, then discard it and start all over again.  Discovery by trial and error--just a bit more drawn out than I might have liked.  And that process led to somewhat of a crisis for me over the summer: one of those "swim or drown" moments that either defines someone's life or smothers it.

After spring semester I decided I wanted to go into public relations.  I thought it fit me well, and it encompassed some beliefs I held and activities I was already interested in anyway.  It just felt right; and after all the other fields of study I had tried, I thought for sure I had found my niche.  I was excited, and got started right away.

Everything was going well, but about halfway through the semester I started realizing something: I didn't belong in public relations.  It wasn't that I wasn't understanding what was being taught.  Actually, my teachers thought I had a real talent for this stuff.  But I noticed myself feeling a little more gloomy every day, and I didn't like what that spelled for my future in such a career.

Well, this was a problem.  I had already tried every major that really interested me, and now that I was second-guessing public relations, nothing was left.  There was no career that didn't absolutely depress me just by thinking about it.  It was time to swallow my pride and be honest with myself: I didn't have even the faintest idea what I wanted to do with my life.

This was a devastating revelation, and I was scared.  Sure, I might have been a good translator.  I probably could have done well in public relations or accounting, even.  I could have done it . . . but I wouldn't have been happy.  Yet at this point, what else could I do?  It seemed I would have to settle for misery.  I would certainly work a job I hated in order to support my family if it ever came to that, but would my depression at work rub off on those I loved?  What kind of man would that make me?  What would my family have to live with?  I was haunted by every dark question, and each one weighed more heavily on me than the one before it.

Let me put in a plug here for a wonderful book: Major Decisions, by Henry J. Eyring.  Please, if you have any doubts as to what you want to do with your life, read this one; it's well worth your time (and as far as educational advice goes, I can't think of anyone better to give it than an Eyring).  I am thoroughly convinced that God worked through this book to change my life, the exact same way He works through the scriptures.  I was looking for answers and not getting any, and then I remembered this book that I had bought during the final days of my mission.  So I popped it open one night and just sat on my bed with it until I couldn't read anymore.

That's when I found it: the insight that led to the game-changing play.  It essentially said (and forgive my sloppy paraphrase; it's much better in the book), "Consider what you think about in the shower--what you think about when you don't have to think about anything else.  That thought might be a good thing for you to pursue."

Well, okay, I thought.  I didn't really take it too seriously at first, but I started pondering.  And nothing really came for a few moments.  What do I think about when there's nothing else to think about?

When the answer finally came, I didn't like it.  It scared me about as much as had my original ignorance of what to do.  At first I was sure the exercise had backfired; that's almost what I really wanted to have happened.  Music?!  I thought.  I'm pretty sure everybody sings in the shower.  If they don't sing, they hum.  If they don't hum, they think the song.  No one escapes music when they're in the shower. 

But I quickly remembered the things that made the answer completely valid:  I live for music.  I can count all my true passions on one hand, and that's one of them.  I don't just sing in the shower--I analyze.  I plan.  I compose.  I conduct.  I dissect and augment.  There's an air piano in there with me, and I know where the keys are.  There's an orchestra, and sometimes I'm in the violin section, sometimes I'm at the piano, and sometimes I've got the baton.  The audience has the printed program in their hands, and I know what songs are on it and in which order.  I know who's playing the solo and when, I'm preparing to signal the drums to fade out, I'm waving the cello section into their melody. . . .

Music was the answer!  . . . But I didn't want it to be.  Throughout my life I had heard all about the downfalls of a music career, and I promised myself that I would never, ever, major in music.  If ever there was a time I wrestled with God, it would have been that night in July.  I was stuck in a corner, determined to get out.  And here I was, going back and forth with the Almighty.  I was not going to major in music.  But you see, the thing about God is He's a better wrestler than I am.  We stayed up together almost all that night playing our game, and in the end, He beat me.  He beat me good. 

But that's another thing about God: He's a good sport.  He shares His victories; when He wins, I win.  By the following morning, I was excited about majoring in music.  I was finally at peace.  I knew God was backing me up (because, after all, He did put me there in the first place).  And since then, He's just been teaching me more and more about what I'm getting into.  I do not regret the choices I made on the way here.  I'm grateful for what I've learned about business, finance, customer service, life insurance, and a myriad of other things in which I've dabbled.  Heck, even my (very) basic knowledge of the concepts of Arabic has helped me somewhat in my Gospel study and in my understanding of the other two languages I already speak.  All these things have been, and will continue to be, for my good.

But my dream now is to be a high school music teacher, and it feels amazing.  It's something I can think about and actually look forward to doing.  It fits so well; and when I tell people what I'm studying, they finally agree.  I definitely agree.  In other words . . . it's a real dream.  

So here I am now.  The new semester has started, and so has my new path.  All my classes are wonderful; I love being there, and I feel revitalized with every new lesson.  I love sitting in the front and trying everything.  My homework doesn't feel like homework, and I'm finally doing it because I actually want to.  In so many words, I'm right where I need to be, and I'm happy.

Sometimes it's the answers we don't want to hear.   

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Living Room

And why do they call this the Living Room?  It's the furniture:

Absolutely brilliant spot to hike up, find a seat, and watch the sunset.  Do it sometime!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dinosaurs and other weekend-y things

A weekend at Vernal, Dinosaur National Monument, Flaming Gorge, and the Hogle Zoo is a weekend well spent.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...