Monday, April 29, 2019

Music or No Music?

My husband, Carl, finds it strange that I don’t listen to music as a pastime, especially since I’ve been a musician my whole life. He fills every waking moment with music playing in the background while I prefer silence, especially when I’m writing.

Carl doesn’t understand why I don’t enjoy listening to music, and I can’t comprehend how he functions with constant auditory stimulation in his environment. Now that we’re retired and spending much time at home together, we’ve had to compromise on this diametrically opposed preference.

As a former educator, I’ve been curious about this phenomenon, wondering if it is related to individual learning styles, right-brain/left-brain functions or simply long-established habits. Carl claims he’s more productive when his “tunes” are playing. Yet, he doesn’t seem to notice what he’s listening to. For him, music acts as white noise blocking out other sounds that he might find distracting.

For me, music—particularly if it’s music I like—absorbs my full attention, making it hard for me to carry on a conversation or accomplish a task that requires concentration. For example, when we are cooking together, Carl likes to have music blaring in the kitchen, whether classical, blues, ’60s rock ’n roll, or Celtic. I, on the other hand, find it difficult to attend to the recipe because I start analyzing chord progressions, musical form, orchestrations, and meter. If it is choral music—my favorite—I become positively useless as a sous chef.

When I was a Musikgarten teacher, one of the most important skills I taught my young students was to be active listeners. I encouraged them to pay attention to the elements of music as they listened. Before playing a musical example for them, whether live or recorded, I would suggest something specific for the students’ focus, like a repeating melodic motif or rhythmic pattern. I might ask them to identify an instrument or the family of instruments or listen for the form of a piece, devising a characteristic dance movement for each section. I taught them conducting patterns to help them determine the meter. But the most effective means of response was through free movement, when they were encouraged to use their whole bodies. After they moved in response to the music, the children were able to identify whether it was quick or slow, light or strong, loud or quiet, smooth or jerky. With this method, they could relate to musical terms like legato/staccato, forte/piano, allegro/lento and others so that even four-year-old children connected with the concepts in a functional way.

I enjoy performing music, and I appreciate live concerts where I can focus on the musicians, instruments, and compositions, but I find background music to be an unwelcome distraction to my thoughts and an interruption of my tasks.

Carl’s premise is that because he doesn’t know enough about music theory to indulge the technical aspects of music, he simply lets it happen without analyzing why he likes or dislikes it. He compares it to my disinterest in science fiction, one of his favorite subjects. Since I’m not a scientist, I don’t understand enough about the technical aspects of spaceships, orbital mechanics, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics to know what’s real and what’s fiction. To me, one rocket launch looks the same as any other rocket launch. 

It would make an interesting research study. As for me, I require silence for my right brain to be productive. Thankfully, Carl’s office has a door I can close. 

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: UnrevealedThe Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website:; Facebook page: Her books are available through or

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Children as Teachers

In the forty-five years I spent teaching hundreds of children from preschool through high school, I learned more than I ever taught them.

With young children there is no need to guess. They are honest and guileless. They tell you exactly how they are feeling, and if not allowed to use words, they reveal their feelings through behavior.

Six-year-old Greg (not his real name) was disruptive, interrupted with smart-aleck comments, testing my boundaries at every turn. He was also bright and capable, but unproductive unless the attention focused solely on him. Outside the classroom, I noticed his mother seldom corrected him even when he was blatantly rude to her.

What Greg was trying to teach me was that his father was dying and his mother was distracted. As his life spun out of control, he desperately needed to express the fear and frustration he felt. Like all children, Greg sought stability and predictability in his shaky world. Rather than coddle Greg, I was strict with him, requiring him to behave as a class leader. He still acted out periodically, but he learned to expect a swift consequence. Greg flourished in that environment, and his classmates began not only to tolerate him but to include him. What did I learn from Greg? He taught me to look beyond outward behavior and reminded me that children will rise to the expectations placed upon them.

Seven-year-old James and his family had just emigrated to the United States from a South American country. His parents barely spoke English, but he and his younger sisters were picking up the language quickly. James, large for his age, acted macho, entering the classroom like the proverbial bull in a china shop. He was aggressive and clumsy, invading other children’s spaces and intimidating them.

James was trying to teach me that he didn’t feel confident in his abilities. Since he was afraid to try new things, he would play the clown, getting his classmates to laugh at his antics. It was his way of distracting others from his perceived failure.

I learned that James’ dad worked as a dishwasher in a local restaurant, earning minimum wage. The family lived in a trailer park with few amenities. Sometimes James and his sisters were dirty and smelly, causing other children to shun them. But his parents were dedicated to building a good life for their family in America. 

James' father assumed multiple menial jobs trying to earn enough to support his family. Finally, his odd-jobs efforts helped him build a successful landscaping business. Eventually, James’ mother began taking some college courses. Through hard work and determination, his parents were on their way to achieving the American dream for their children. After they moved to Florida, James called me to say he missed me. I missed him, too.

Marissa was a seventh grader when she joined my youth choir. She was shy, not wanting attention drawn to her. She also had a learning disability which made reading difficult for her. But I had to discover this for myself by looking past the chip on her shoulder. Marissa would become angry and combative when she felt embarrassed by her disability. She needed help to follow a musical score but was ashamed to ask for it, rejecting it when offered. Although the other kids weren’t unkind to her, she just didn’t fit in.

Marissa taught me that even though she rebuffed attention, she hungered for affirmation. She needed to feel that she was making a worthy contribution to the group. I began to look for ways to commend her, whether it was her singing posture or her ability to blend her voice with those around her. I established partnerships in the group, encouraging the pairs to support each other in any way their partner might need. Soon, Marissa was allowing her singing partner to help her put her music in order, find the right page, and follow the score. Marissa taught me that, to flourish, every child needs to feel included, valued, and productive.

The hundreds of children in my classes and choirs taught me so many valuable lessons. What a privilege it was to learn from them for nearly fifty years. 

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room, and I Want to Go Home. Website:; Facebook page: Her books are available from or

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Using Time Wisely

You’ve heard the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” I suppose that’s because busy people learn how to be efficient with their limited time. I’ve noticed the more time I have, the more I waste. When I’m the busiest, I seem to accomplish the most.

Last week, I was preparing for guests to stay with us for several days. I needed to dust, vacuum, and mop the whole house, scrub the bathrooms, clean out the refrigerator, sweep the garage, prepare the guest bedroom and bathroom with clean sheets and towels, buy groceries—okay, I don’t get credit for that since my husband does the grocery shopping—cook some meals to access quickly while they’re here, arrange tickets for sightseeing activities, etc. The list goes on. Amid all that, I participated in two critique-group sessions, edited a novel, and wrote three chapters of my memoir.

This week? Let’s just say I’ve been less productive.

I sit at the computer and go through the motions, but then I notice the birdfeeder outside the window. I should tell my husband it’s almost empty again. The cardinals are busy. I wonder if they have a nest nearby. What do cardinal eggs look like? I’ll do a Google search. There’s a picture. I didn’t know cardinal eggs were speckled. Fascinating! And cardinals often mate for life. Here’s an interesting article: "Fun Facts About Cardinals." It says the cardinal’s life span is about three years. Since they don’t migrate, we might see the same birds at our feeder year after year. Oh, there’s that pesky squirrel! We named him Fat Albert for obvious reasons. 

Okay, back to work. 

I can’t seem to concentrate, so I make a cup of coffee and try again. Wow! Just look at those redbuds across the street. They’re in full bloom. So pretty! Soon, the dogwoods will sprout blossoms. I love spring!

I haven’t heard from my grandsons in a couple weeks. I'll send a quick text to the older one and email the three younger ones. Just brief notes to let them know I’m thinking about them. 

Done. Now back to work.

Surely, I can write a sentence, just one sentence. Maybe if I take a walk, the exercise will energize and inspire me.

My thirty-minute walk turned into an hour, but it would have been rude to pass my neighbors and their dogs without stopping to chat. Right? Now I’m ready to churn out a chapter or two. Nope! Not happening. I’ll edit instead. Oops! Time for lunch.

With a full stomach, I’m ready for a productive afternoon, but first I should wash all those sheets and towels left behind by my guests. How can I concentrate with dirty laundry hanging over my head? Well, not literally hanging over my head. I do have a dryer.

At last, with the washer and dryer fully engaged, I can handle my overflowing inbox and get started on this week’s blog post. But I have a deadline to meet on editing that novel. Yes, I’d better finish that first.

Fun, fun, fun! How did I get so fortunate as to be paid for reading interesting novels? And it took only three hours to edit 20,000 words of a 65,000-word book. At this rate, I’ll be finished by dinner time.

The dryer stopped. I should fold those clothes before they wrinkle.

Cindy L. Freeman is the author of award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room, and I Want to Go Home. Website:; Facebook page: Her books are available through or