Monthly Archives: February 2010

Punxsutawney Phil Has Nothing on My Lawn Mower

Two surefire signs that winter’s grip is slipping and spring is on final approach: The pitchers and catchers reported for spring training last Wednesday for the Mariners and I had to mow my lawn on Sunday.

While having nothing to do with the former, I must take some of the blame for the latter. Quite possibly the earliest I’ve ever broken out the lawn mower (we’re still a solid month away from the official first day of spring), it wasn’t due to any prowess at growing grass. Rather it was a combination of a very mild Pacific Northwest winter, some good time-release fertilizer, an opportunistic spate of sunshine and my inability to get one last good mowing in late last fall before the rain set in. So the lawn went dormant looking shagging and unkempt.

The recent spate of sunny weather woke the grass once more and it picked up where it left off, forcing the need to pull the mower out from under the ever-growing rubble of inline skates, Razor scooters, flat basketballs, Frisbees and other general garage detritus that accumulated over the past few months.

I’d love to take credit for my winterizing skills of draining the oil and gasoline from the mower before stowing it. But the reality is I did none of that, so it is a credit to the engineers of Toro that the old beast rumbled to life on just the second pull. No doubt my neighbors looked out their window at the crazy guy next door with the mower going in February. But I felt vindicated when later in the day, I could hear other mowers sputtering to life.

As a threat of implied punishment, I keep telling my 11-year-old that he will soon take on the task of lawn care. But the truth is I’m reluctant to give up the task. There is something inherently satisfying in turning a shaggy, disheveled looking lawn into a miniature Safeco Field using just a 15-inch wide mower. The smell of freshly cut grass and the green stains on my hands from emptying out the catcher bring back memories of youthful days when — though it was an assigned chore — cutting the lawn was a task I was always happy to do.

Lawn mowing can be at once both therapeutic and relaxing. There is no rush, yet there is always a very real and tangible end product to the task. Unlike working in the garden or toiling in flower beds, you can see your handiwork at the end of the day. Some years back, my wife discovered a new use for mowing the lawn. Being nine months and a day pregnant, she mowed “just to shake things up,” and it worked. She went into labor that night.

I mow — not to induce labor or create it — but because unlike any other activity around the house, it brings a sense of spring to the senses.

A Little Fanfare for the Secret That is PYO

There’s a well-kept secret in Gig Harbor that deserves a shout out for the good they provide the community.

Peninsula Youth Orchestra has been serving the region’s youth (From Tacoma to Port Orchard) providing stringed instrument opportunities since 1998. The organization started when a handful of dedicated volunteers wanted to meet a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by the school districts in either Peninsula or South Kitsap. Although the districts have band, there was no place for youth to learn and play orchestra-style music.

Thanks to PYO, this is no longer the case, as they take in students both experienced and brand new, providing musician development through four levels of experience and age groupings with a school-year program and a summer string camp.

PYO hosted its first official performance of the 2009-10 school year with its winter concert at Peninsula High School on Saturday, Jan. 30. This was the group’s first time in the high school auditorium as they have outgrown previous performance spaces. Executive Director Paula Vander Poel told the audience that the first years they were lucky to play to 50 people in the audience. Saturday’s crowd was in the hundreds.

For many of the participants (ranging in age from 8 to 18) this was their first time on a stage under the lights with an audience. Nerves may have been in high gear, but you wouldn’t have known it by the performance. All four groups: Debut, Encore, Junior and Youth orchestras each took the stage, demonstrating how they’ve grown from learning how to properly hold and play an instrument to playing complex, moving pieces.

The organization is funded through community support and a tuition-based program. Partial and full scholarships for some are made possible thanks to the donations of sponsors.

Music education, sadly, is being underserved in many communities across the country — and the current economic conditions of budget cuts and staff layoffs mean more music programs that have thus far survived still find themselves endangered. A national study released last year was among the first to quantify the music knowledge level of eighth-grade students and the data is disheartening, to say the least.

In the findings:

Only 57 percent of eighth-graders attended schools where music instruction was offered at least three or four times a week.

Eight percent attended schools where no music instruction was offered.

Just over one-third (34 percent) of eighth-graders participated in one or more musical activities in school.

Only 5 percent of students reported playing in an orchestra in school.

At a fundamental level, music provides a young mind a better understanding of both mathematics and science, as well as learning cooperation and discipline. At a deeper level, it reaches to the very core of being human — we are the only species that creates “music” beyond a need to communicate, but for the more ethereal sense of enjoyment and satisfaction. The creation of and listening to music is a uniquely human endeavor and one that crosses all socio-economic and cultural divides. We may all speak languages that are unintelligible to non-native ears, but anyone can appreciate the lyrical lilting sensibilities of a Mozart minuet or the captivating beat of a jungle drum in Zimbabwe.

Youth who participate in music programs show improved test scores, demonstrate high levels of problem-solving, and a significant number go on to higher education (see: The Importance of Music Education). We understand this, and yet music programs are routinely among the first to be cut from shrinking educational budgets. Why? The best I can figure is that a music program’s benefits cannot be quantified as easily as can a reading or science program. Although much like mathematics in its basic form and compositional structure, music’s real benefits are on an artistic plateau, not so easily defined and measured as they are felt and experienced.

Because music speaks to the soul more than to reason does not justify its elimination in our public schools. But until there is a fundamental shift in how we view our educational system, arts in general — and music in particular — will continue to be silenced for the sake of balancing budgets.

That’s why programs like PYO need and deserve the community’s recognition and appreciation for the quality of music education they provide the region’s youth.

Bravo PYO.