I am very happy to introduce you our guest for May. She is a very special person who touches the lives of all who are lucky to get to know her. When you are around her, you can’t help but feel special. So today I would like to share a little bit of Claire Westlake with all of you. She shares a special story of the power of saying YES even though we really would rather say no… Welcome Claire as our guest blogger!
The Power of YES!
25 years ago I would have questioned your sanity had you told me I would be teaching piano as a career, managing a large organization and having Jon Schmidt of “The Piano Guys” staying in my home for a few days. It’s funny how life takes you through all of its’ twists and turns and where you finally end up. My life-changing moment occurred when I was asked to serve on the board of the Desert Valley Music Teachers’ Association.
I knew I needed to take my turn to serve as I had been given so much from this group, but I was already over-committed with family, church and studio responsibilities. Despite my doubts and with encouragement from the incoming President who was more overloaded than I, I decided to take the plunge. I knew I couldn’t always be a taker, I needed to be a giver. Little did I know how my life would unfold and how much I would learn in the process because of that first yes.
After I served that first year as Achievement Day Chairman I thought I had done my part. However, not only did I find that it was actually a two-year term, I also found out I was expecting our 5th child. Not wanting to let anyone down, I served the second year. Though I was crazy busy, I made it through with the help of my DVMTA friends and family. (I also learned how to delegate.) After a short break, I was asked again to serve on the board as Scholarship Chairman, a position I held for 14 years, having another child in the process to further make time management more interesting. Like so many of you, I think I could have made multi-tasking an Olympic event by the time I was finished with this chairmanship.
With each passing year I watched each President and board member continue to serve, always marveling at their energy and how they never complained. They had great knowledge and experience that they freely shared. I always considered it a privilege to rub shoulders with them. They became my heroes, my mentors, and my best friends, in short; the finest people I have ever had the opportunity to know.
After watching their example for years, how could I say no when one of my best friends asked me to be in charge of the duet ensemble when she took over as President? This position took far more time and effort than any position on the board, including that of President. Almost 600 kids, 57 teachers, 14 groups and two performances for two years in a row, was almost more than this small town girl could handle. On top of that, it was the 25th anniversary of our “Cavalcade of Rhythm” the second year of that term. I was asked to make a big celebration out of it, if it wasn’t big enough already, and invite a guest composer. In the past they had invited popular composers like Kevin Olson and Melody Bober to attend. Initially I laughed at my friend and told her no, that I didn’t have time to even consider it. Later that night, however, I had a very strong impression that I needed to do this for her and for the organization that had given so much to me. For years I had entered students in this great event, doing little to help, other than conducting a group. It was time to step up, especially after the women I had looked up to for so many years had set the example. I am so glad I did for what I was to learn in the next two years had a profound impact on the rest of my life.
This position took all of the organizational and creative powers my poor little brain could muster. I had to pick the music, write a script, choose conductors, type a program, sell ads, run rehearsals, get a stage crew, rent costumes, rent pianos, pick a theme, find a venue, decorate a stage, sell tickets, involve the local media, advertise and handle a million more details to make this into a great experience for everyone involved. No pressure. One by one, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, things began to fall into place, and I began to gain confidence that I could do this with the help of my friends. Whenever something went wrong, someone would step up and take care of things. By the end when all was said and done, I had perfect faith or confidence that everything would be taken care of, thanks to my volunteers. We became a well-oiled machine, we became as one. The first year was a success with our “Dynamic Duos.” The second year was going to be more of a challenge as we decided to invite Jon Schmidt to be our guest composer. This was before he joined “The Piano Guys.”
Our theme for the event was “Super Songwriters.” It was conceived before “Dynamic Duos” although it debuted a year later. We needed the extra year to iron out the details, such as arranging a few of Jon’s pieces into duets, getting his permission to do so, calendaring the event with Jon and so on. We wanted to showcase a few students and DVMTA teachers who were gifted composers and arrangers. We wanted to tell the world that kids can compose and to encourage more composition in our organization. Two students performed their original compositions for our pre-show. Additionally, we commissioned them to write a duet for one of the groups to perform. When Jon arrived for the dress rehearsal and heard his songs performed he was absolutely amazed! I will never forget his face. We had 25 pianos on stage, two kids at each piano performing his “Dumb Song” and “Waterfall.” The sound was amazing. Jon was speechless. I truly believed he was touched that we took the time to do this, that 50 kids could sound so good on the piano at the same time playing his music and that the kids were enjoying it so much!
It was a magical moment for me as well. All of that work was worth every hour I spent planning and preparing just to see the smiles on everyone’s face. It brought us much closer as an organization and motivated our students to practice. One of the highlights of my life was to have Jon stay in my home for two nights, have him eat dinner with my family, listen to him play on my piano and hear him tell stories. He also offered to do a private recital for my students. It was SO WORTH IT! All of this happened because of the great men and women that had my back. I truly came to have perfect faith in them.
Now after that, one would think I deserved a rest, that everything would come to an end, but shortly after the duet ensemble I was asked if I would be Vice-President for the next two years. I knew however, it was not just a two-year term. It was a six-year term! After you serve as Vice-President, you become the President for two years, then you get to serve on the board for two more years in an advisory position. I thought of my mentors who served as President before me and I said yes again. During this time I learned how to preside over a meeting, run and grow a non-profit organization with all its financial and legal obligations, motivate and inspire people, market and advertise, research areas of music and present it to our membership during our general meetings. It forced me to get out of my shell. All of those acquired skills were used in turn to grow my studio when my husband was laid off a few years ago during the economic downturn the country experienced.
Many groups and organizations found their numbers diminishing during this crazy economic time. I was worried that we would experience the same thing. I made sure the general meetings I planned as Vice-President were relevant, informative and interesting to the members that would attend. I tried to keep up with the latest ideas that were happening in the music education field to meet the needs of our teachers. We had several teachers retire and move but we were able to keep our numbers steady and even increase slightly due to our marketing efforts.
An organization such as DVMTA runs successfully only by the generosity of its unpaid volunteers. I discovered early that I had lucked into a very special group of teachers as they were always very supportive of me and of the other members. I grew to learn that this was a positive, nurturing environment, with no competitiveness nor politics, nor special agenda except that of empowering the teachers so they can in turn empower their students they had stewardship over. I liked how this made me feel, how it made me grow with knowledge and how it benefitted my studio and family. My abilities as a teacher grew in leaps and bounds as did the size of my studio. Additionally, I gained leadership, organizational, time-management, marketing, computer, social media, event planning and composition skills. I also learned how to keep my teaching fresh and fun while maintaining the highest of standards. Whatever service I gave, came back to me one hundred fold. Most of all I met and worked with the most wonderful, giving and caring people that I consider my dearest friends. Any measure of success I enjoy today is directly a result of being a member of DVMTA, the example that the members set for me and for my wonderful family that supported me. I would never change a minute of my experience being a member nor serving in DVMTA. All because I said yes that first time……….
Claire Westlake has over 30 years piano teaching experience and has a successful and thriving studio. She has been a member of Desert Valley Music Teachers’ Association (DVMTA) for 22 years and served as President from 2012-2014. She has also served as VP, Cavalcade of Rhythm Chair, Scholarship Chair, Achievement Day Chair and currently serving as the Social Media Chair. She is an accompanist and church music chairman and has served as a choir director. Claire is also an avid gardener, genealogist, mother of 6 and grandmother of 3.
Thank you Claire for being our guest blogger. I wanted to just take a moment and brag a little bit about Claire. Not only has she put a lot of time into volunteering for DVMTA, but she has done quite a lot to get DVMTA out in the social media circles. The DVMTA Facebook page, Pinterest page and Blog are among my favorites to visit. You can even find them on Instagram! Be sure to check them out!
DVMTA Facebook Page
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