DrumSensei

betwixt code and music

In Memoriam: Mark Mathew

(5 min read)

My bride Melissa and I arrived in California today. We flew into Orange County's John Wayne International Airport. After getting our nifty Toyota Corolla rental car, we headed directly to Newport Beach to hang out. My very favorite comedy show ever is "Arrested Development," so I was excited to maybe see the Original Bluth frozen banana stand in person. Spoiler alert: not one there! However, we did see three dolphins playing near the pier!

I have learned some fun facts about Cali on this visit.
  • The FM 101.1 radio station has some fantastic jams, just like the one in Dallas…except the Big D version is 100% orchestral music!
  • You can order a combo at Del Taco and get french fries…this is unheard of in TX!
  • California has mountains! Very cool to see this after spending most of my life in Dallas.

On to my Dad…

My dad Mark Mathew passed away on Easter 2017 as a result of several long-standing health issues. As a Christian man who spent a long time playing in worship bands, this was a great day to arrive in heaven!

The story of how my mom, Elizabeth "Denise" Stephens, and my dad met and became smitten with one another is surely a good one. However, I do not have a good timeline on this due to conflicting stories and partial tales through the years. Some of the information herein is from both mom and dad, as well as my mom's best friend from high school Valerie Chapman.

My mom was a student at Lloyd V. Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas when the two met. The magic between the two must have been spectacular because they were married on 9/27/1977 when my mom Denise was 16 years old and my dad was almost 21. When I pressed my mom's friend Valerie about how this came to be, Val said that my grand-parents must have acquiesced because they knew that Denise was going to get married to Mark with or without their approval. It was best to keep her close by and let the newlyweds live together with them in the Dallas suburb of Garland. Valerie also said, "Your parents were SO ready to go to CA, to Haight Ashbury, but I know your grandparents wanted her to finish school." My mom and dad were trying so hard to be good hippies!

mark-and-denise-2

Valerie goes on:

"Can you believe I remember what I wore at the wedding? I stood by your mom. Of course, I thought she was all grown up. Though she did seem to have a bit of an "old soul." I remember your dad as having an easy smile, an easy laugh, and a desire to make people feel comfortable/happy. He was a big man even at that young age, and he was kind. He played guitar and sang really well. They had a band for a while . . . with Tommy? Mainly just jamming in the garage, I think. I think they finally moved to CA (or did he go back without her?) and things spiraled down. I didn't stay real connected, because I'd gone off to college and was real wrapped up in my life there. What I do remember vividly was that when your parents were together, in the happy days, they loved each other very much. They were very connected, and seemed to have a real strong bond and understanding. Your mom was very supportive of him, in whatever way was needed… They did seem like soul mates at the time, and maybe your grandparents hoped there was a chance. …I can tell you that you came about out of a real, strong love. Your mom was excited about you. I bet you already knew that.
🙂

I know that they shared some great times. There are not many photographs from this time period, but the ones I have seen are full of smiles and good cheer. Something happened in Texas, and my dad took me to California to be near his parents in Buena Park. Or maybe they both went to California together. It gets fuzzy. In any case, things seemed to go downhill after they moved with me back to Cali.

mark-and-denise-1

My mom Denise passed away on Christmas Eve 2012 after a life-long struggle with co-dependence and addiction. My parents sure celebrate their Christian holidays in a strange way, eh? Some of the artifacts left behind by my mom included several photographs from her Photography class at Berkner High School and just other general photos. Some of my favorites are included here.

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April 1, 1977 in Dallas, TX - Dinner just before the first performance of Led Zeppelin's final North American tour
left to right: Kim, Val, Mark, and Denise


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March 1977 - photo credit: Denise Stephens


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February 17, 1977 - photo credit: Denise Stephens

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February 9, 1977 - photo credit: Denise Stephens

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February 7, 1977 - photo credit: Denise Stephens

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photo credit: Denise Stephens

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photo credit: Denise Stephens

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March 1977 - photo credit: Denise Stephens


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photo credit: Denise Stephens

Also among my mom's things from high school was a book of song lyrics. Imagine for a moment being a kid pre-internet. Knowing the lyrics to a song meant listening to it and writing the words down. Mom has hundreds of song lyrics in her journals, most from known artists, lots from her or her friends. Some of these song lyrics appear to be written by my dad. Well, the by-line reads "Mark King," but the last name is crossed out and replaced with "Mathew." Did my dad fancy a pseudonym?

As fun as it is to focus on the past, to consider where we come from, what those ancestors were doing when they were our age…we would do well to think about the legacy left behind by those who came before us. I am my dad's legacy. His other children—Stephen, Jennifer, Audrionna, Tyrene, Brittany, Tiffany—we are his legacy. His quick wit, his puns, his sense of creativity flow through his kids and grandkids to this very day. I truly regret not making more time to spend with my father while he was living, but the only thing to do now is honor his memory by spending time with the family we have left on earth. So much of my personality and traits come directly from my dad. I am so glad to be passing these great things down to my children, as well. Let's make him proud of us!

I will let my dad Mark have the last word here. This was the final message he ever sent me in Facebook Messenger, dated January 8, 2017, and I think it really sums everything up nicely, don't you?
Screenshot 2017-05-12 23.36.48

The Iron Yard in Review

or What I learned about me

As I sit and reflect over the last few months of my time at The Iron Yard-Austin, I can make some good observations about myself and my future path. Sure, I learned a lot of useful, technical knowledge, but I also had time alone to reflect and to immerse myself in my studies. Though challenging to mostly be away from my family, this turned out to be a great plan of action in this circumstance.

Mathew children on first day of school
Mathew children heading off to the first day of school - August 2015
(left to right) Stephen - 11th grade, Isaac - 7th grade, Olivia - pre-K, Alexis - 5th grade

I moved to Austin to live out of a suitcase, with the goal of returning to Dallas each weekend to see my family. This year, just like any other, I started school at the same time as my own children, but I would be in another city far from home. The Sunday before The Iron Yard August cohort began, I drove down to move into my friend Dave's spare bedroom. He is a good guy, and we go back a long ways. When I first began teaching my own groups, Dave was my constant percussion companion while he was an undergrad student at TCU, also working to get young people to achieve greatness each day. Over the years, I had Dave come up from Austin to help teach my groups for one week each summer. This was a nearly annual event for over a decade. I love Dave, and he is a good friend to many people for good reason. As a bonus, he is a superb cook who avoids red meat, so I tended to eat pretty well, too! I owe Dave in a big way!

While in Austin, I decided to reboot some personal habits. I am happy to report that I arose each day and made my bed immediately before doing anything else. This was a great way to start the day by accomplishing something. Hat tip to the incredible
Frank Troyka, who alerted me to this life hack when I worked with him at Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas. I also made it a habit to go to bed relatively early, usually between 10:00pm and 11:00pm. This helped me to get up pretty early. I know myself pretty well after all of these years, and, for me, working in the morning after a good night's sleep is very fruitful. Getting up early also let me enjoy some beautiful morning walks. I knew that this would be useful to offset the copious amounts of chair-sitting that programming entails. I was pretty solid at walking several times a week and getting to bed early. I reckon that this helped me to sustain great health and energy for my entire stay in Austin.

So where did I want to go when this training was to end? I had time to think about my other jobs I have had. What parts of the jobs did I like? What parts was I naturally good at and which were more outside of my comfort zone? I love that I have practiced public speaking (of a sort) for years. I have a good knack at talking to a group of people and finding some common ground. This was useful when interacting with teenagers or parents in a meeting. I think it helps that I genuinely like people and find it interesting to learn each person's story. Being around teenagers for all of those years was a great way to learn what would make them tick, which meant I could get to the heart of the matter much more easily with those students.

Working on a unified team was always fun for me, both as a student and a teacher. A group of people moving with velocity toward a common goal tends to have a greater journey and outcome than disparate individuals doing their own thing. Also, as an optimistic person, I enjoy being around a group that is positive and working hard. Surrounding myself with successful people tends to work out better. Like my uncle Ricky always told me, "You are who your friends are." That always sticks with me, and I hope my own children also learn such a useful thing from me!

Some jobs allowed me to maintain the website which were also fun times. I love making things. My mom was a gifted visual artist with a pen/pencil/writing utensil. I loved her art, and our family always encouraged her to pursue it as a career (which she steadfastly ignored; rock 'n roll to the bitter end, alas). The only art of hers that I still have is relegated to a few envelopes or birthday cards that she would hand-draw. I have that same desire and ability within me, but my goofy hands only work for typing and drumming. Hand-drawn art is just out of reach and always has been. As such, the front end developer's job is appealing because it combines logic and art. (I recently read that in the comments section of
a story on medium.com, and it certainly resonates with me.)

Olivia is glad to have Daddy back home
Olivia is happy to have her Daddy back home permanently - November 2015

Now the hard part begins. Learning about JavaScript and self-invoking functions and hoisting and prototypal inheritance was difficult, sure. However, I knew that every day I would get up and head to South Congress Avenue in Austin to get my learning on. Overall, I will work hard to keep a positive outlook. Leadership is all about influence. As a teacher, I was supremely aware of this and took that part very seriously. Moving forward now my path is less clear, so I will keep making my bed, going to bed somewhat early, learning code, going on walks, and trying to improve my skills...and keep my eyes open for chances to use my influence in a positive way.



An Important Question

A former student asks an important question

During this career-transition for me, I have aimed at sharing some of my insights and findings in this space. A little blurb and a link on Twitter and Facebook here and there lets me share this journey with people back home, and maybe some new friends and adventures will come out of it in the future.



About two weeks ago I posted a blurb on Facebook about a blog post, and consequently entertained a
great question from a former percussion student Cody Simmons that I taught about nine years ago:

Sensei! I have a question for you. How do you manage to keep your motivation up to learn coding and to pursue this new career path?


And this was my response:

Well, I really, really enjoy creating things. Music had gotten less about creating and more about repetition. It is somewhat necessary to stay focused and driven since I quit a job and have zero dollars of salary right now. That being said, there have definitely been a few days where I would rather watch Netflix and fart around doing nothing. The beauty of a course like the one I am taking is that there is little room for free time. Only coding. That is why they call it a coding bootcamp!


I stand by those words, but would like to dig a little deeper. As a teacher I used to shut down "what ifs" nearly immediately. I had a plan to execute for my rehearsals and traveling down those imaginary paths was generally not applicable to that plan. Outside of rehearsals, bring on the imaginative thinking. What if it was only me... no spouse or children? Would I still be motivated to pursue this path and stick with it? For me, it would be similar since I love learning new things. Discovering new things to learn or creating new things from scratch makes me a happy camper.

The added richness that my family brings to my life is immeasurable. I cannot imagine life without my wife, my son, my two daughters, and my brother. Thankfully, my wife is still working as an elementary teacher, but the sooner I get a job as a developer, the better. A lot of my motivation has to come from the necessity that I be able to help get the kids fed and clothed. As a result, the days where I want to feel lazy are hard to come by. More than that, something deep down is driving me to learn everything I can to put me in the best possible position to do work that results in greatness. That is not different from my teaching career, overall. I am always trying to "sharpen the saw," to paraphrase Stephen Covey.

Every day I should be the best possible version of myself. My years and years as a teacher gave me a sphere of influence that is not available in the same way. My students knew that I was not going to settle for anything less than their best effort. I really do miss that aspect of my leadership, for sure. In the future, those skills will be used in that way again in development projects or maybe to bring new developers into the fold.

Overall, I am excited about the future. I cannot yet imagine where this road will lead, but the potential exists for me to be involved in some fun projects working with great people. As long as I can continue to surround myself with smart, successful people, and I find myself in a place where continual learning is the normal way, then I will be living the dream!

The Iron Yard - Week 1

The Iron Yard - Week 1

Week 1 is finished! We made it through! We have sixteen Front-Enders in our class, and we have covered a lot of ground during the first week. We have learned how to use HTML, CSS, Sass, git, and the command line. We have made several layouts and reproduced two websites on our own. Very enlightening!

front-end-engineering-icon

Although I am an optimist and have a good outlook on things most days, there were several "throw my hands up in the air" moments this past week. Why doesn't padding work the correct way on a parent element in CSS?!! However, by and large I can see the bigger picture of really GETTING the material.

The hardest thing has been being in Austin away from my wife and four kids back in Dallas. The focused work and study time has been incredible and necessary, but the hugs and experiences I am missing cannot be made up later. Thankfully, Dallas is not too far away, so I was able to head home for the weekend. I have to keep my eye on the prize and get my skills to the level that a company will want to hire me to be a part of their team. As a former band director, I have a TON of soft skills ranging from leadership down to organization to communication to management (not the same as leadership!).

Now...let's see what Week 2 has in store. I hear that we dig into JavaScript, which is what I have mostly studied leading up to this point!

Switching Gears

Well, I am leaving the formal teaching profession to do something completely different. When all of my kiddos and so many friends across the state go back to school in late August, I will also start school. For 12 weeks I will be in an immersive program called The Iron Yard in Austin, Texas. This coding bootcamp is designed to teach me how to graduate with the skills to be a Front-End Developer, which is fancy-talk for someone who makes the parts of websites that everyone can see. When I come up for air around Thanksgiving, I will be taking my skills to a company where I can create cool things and make a difference in my community writ large. My hope is to continue to keep our family in the Dallas area, but we will have to see what happens!

A bit of history leading to this…

My first day of band was in August of 1987 at Sidney Lanier Elementary School in Dallas, Texas. I fell in love with being a musician and especially hitting things to make noise. I spent thousands of hours honing my skills and gaining mastery over various techniques and instruments in the percussion family.

Teaching came as a natural outgrowth of my passion for music learning and performance. Sharing my experiences with others, helping other people have a terrific musical journey, these are things that have been, and continue to be, important to me. So many of my students have been successful both in my presence and further down the road in their musical journey. The entire realm of music has blessed me through performance, teaching, and being around other fantastic humans for so many years. I am certainly thankful to all of my mentors and students and co-workers over the years.

Back to now … the last year has seen me becoming less satisfied with teaching and being around music. For a number of reasons, it stopped being as much fun for me. I was beginning to be annoyed just hearing music on the radio. Car drives were mostly silent. I found myself coming back to a question I had turned over in my mind for several years: "Should I do something else instead of teach music?" I tried unsuccessfully to switch environments to possibly re-create that love of teaching and music. My mind turned to other things.

As I searched through things that I enjoyed doing and learning about, I kept coming back to
computers. My uncle Ricky gave me an old TRS-80 computer when I was about nine or ten years old. The BASIC programming language was like Greek to me, but I continued to plug away at it and learned to make my way around the file system. Later in middle school I had "Computer Literacy" with Mr. Mulkey where we learned to turn the computer on and use the basic programs inside. I was always getting in trouble for being 20 steps ahead of the teacher. In high school I had Mr. Richards for "Computer Science I" where we learned Turbo PASCAL. (I also sat between my future wife and her best friend in this class - a cute distraction to my right!) In 12th grade my "Computer Science II" teacher was an angry lady who became a teacher from what seemed to me like necessity instead of passion. I lost my motivation as a student of computers and threw myself into the music studies that much more.

My music career has been wild - many schools in many types of communities and districts. Some of the best people I have ever known were co-workers at different schools. I have loved it! It has been a lot of fun to be a significant part of so many families' lives. My time spent as a member of the Troopers and Carolina Crown Drum & Bugle Corps was a blast. My time as a performer and conductor with ensembles performing at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) still means so much to me. I will always love music and teaching.

Special thanks to my amazing wife for continuing to support me through this crazy life. She continues to be a devoted and selfless person for our family's needs. My children are interested in coding and have been taking an interest in learning more and more. Like dad, they are endlessly curious about things, constantly reading books and learning. What a blessing to be able to learn new things each day! No matter what, they will be in band. Those are experiences that all children should have! Isaac is already working hard on his french horn skills. Alexis is still deciding which instrument will pick her at the end of this school year. Olivia runs around the house pretending to play every instrument!

You never know … maybe I find a new passion has been ignited that I enjoy and can get paid to do … or maybe I am clicking sticks in front of a drum line in a few years after all! I am always listening and trying to go the right way.

If you feel like supporting a future hacker/coder, then feel free to peruse my
Amazon wish list. Regardless, please drop me a line on Facebook or Twitter. Now, some percussion posts to get to…

And in this corner...

I am Mike Mathew and you have stumbled into my corner of the interwebs. Welcome!

In the case that you don't know me, please go find my
About page and learn more there. If I already know you, then we should probably talk more often. Please send a text that reads, "Hello, Michael!"

For a long, long while I have been meaning to get a space set up to make words appear on the internet.
Here it is.
It has finally arrived.
We have it now.

I foresee many posts forthcoming about both computer programming/coding and music/education and probably just life in general. I would very much appreciate any comments or correspondence you might care to share. As I become a worldwide internet sensation, I cannot guarantee a response in a timely manner. (Actually, I will probably be playing with my kids or reading a documentation file about something!)

I certainly do not purport to know all things, but I have a decent amount of wisdom and experience to share regarding some things. As a percussionist, I have some mastery over most of the domains. As a percussion teacher, I have a literal ton of experience across many skill levels and types of communities. As a coder/hacker, I am a unique wide-eyed newbie!

Let's get down to business. Next up is why I am switching careers…