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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Sparkler] #1326364
12/16/09 02:26 AM
12/16/09 02:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Sparkler

At lesson today (after he said he could play it pretty well at home) he came undone when playing it for me, got stuck in a few places and couldn't continue.

Does he have another lesson with you before the recital? Or is there any way you can arrange to have him play for you again a few days before the recital? You can tell him that the only way you will let him play that piece at the recital is if he can play it for you three times without crashing.


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Frozenicicles] #1326366
12/16/09 02:27 AM
12/16/09 02:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Frozenicicles
I guess it wasn't worse in the way that my playing was worse, but rather the impression it left on the audience on myself (and my teacher). I was introduced as the "star" of the show. Thus, the audience expected to be treated to a pleasant performance. They wouldn't have such a high bar set when listening to a beginner and will be more forgiving and forgetful of a flub. I don't regret that I played either (although I'm sure my teacher did) because it has made me prepare much more carefully and rest sufficiently before a performance.

In the end, it's your recital. You have the right to deny him the performance if you feel that he's not ready. But as soon as he gets on the bench, it's outta your control. laugh


Frozenicicle, I have a similar story to relate. My piano professor was very excited for me to play at a recital where some piano bigshot was visiting that day. I was also introduced (privately) as the star student.

I had just performed that piece in my own recital a week prior to that, so I knew the piece like the back of my hand.

I sat down, played about 1/3rd of it, and completely went blank and could not remember what came next at all. This was the first and only time this has ever happened in my life.

I fumbled around a bit, ended on a chord best I could, bowed, left the stage and cried for days. blush So you see, I do have real empathy for a student going through this predicament.

I don't know what to do as the teacher. If this student was a child I would def not have allowed him to play at my recital. But if you're adult and you're really pushing to do this despite my advice, I suppose I could just allow it to be a learning experience?


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: jazzyprof] #1326367
12/16/09 02:29 AM
12/16/09 02:29 AM
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Originally Posted by jazzyprof
Originally Posted by Sparkler

At lesson today (after he said he could play it pretty well at home) he came undone when playing it for me, got stuck in a few places and couldn't continue.

Does he have another lesson with you before the recital? Or is there any way you can arrange to have him play for you again a few days before the recital?.....

There ain't no few days.
The thing is in a couple of days.

If it weren't for that, I'd agree totally with what you say.

Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Mark_C] #1326369
12/16/09 02:30 AM
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Originally Posted by MarkCannon
Pardon if I'm repeating something that basically got said elsewhere, but here's what I'd do (and btw I'm not a teacher but FWIW I'm a "helping professional"):

I'd tell him (now), you're not going to play this.

I'd say "As you know, I felt strongly this was a bad idea * and this shows that it's definitely so. If you play it at the recital, you'll embarrass me, but never mind about that ....you'll embarrass yourself and you'll feel awful. How about you forget about it, and let's talk about what we do from here....."

* [I'm assuming that was the case and that you did let him know it]


I think you're probably right, but this is really hard for me to do. I don't want to insult him, he's an adult after all and I've made my opinion on the matter as clear as I can, while still trying to be encouraging.

Sigh. I know you're thinking I'm going to regret this!

BTW, I'm not worried about my reputation, just about my student's confidence.


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Sparkler] #1326371
12/16/09 02:32 AM
12/16/09 02:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Sparkler
I think you're probably right, but this is really hard for me to do. I don't want to insult him.....

Sigh. I know you're thinking I'm going to regret this!....

Yes, and more than that.
I'm thinking that in a way, you're insulting him worse by letting him go ahead and have an embarrassing disaster.

As we've said, these kinds of things are just hard. And there's no way to know exactly where to draw the line.
But it's hard to imagine a clearer instance than this.

Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Mark_C] #1326372
12/16/09 02:35 AM
12/16/09 02:35 AM
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Originally Posted by MarkCannon
Originally Posted by Sparkler
I think you're probably right, but this is really hard for me to do. I don't want to insult him.....

Sigh. I know you're thinking I'm going to regret this!....

Yes, and more than that.
I'm thinking that in a way, you're insulting him worse by letting him go ahead and have an embarrassing disaster.

As we've said, these kinds of things are just hard. And there's no way to know exactly where to draw the line.
But it's hard to imagine a clearer instance than this.


Well then do you have any advice as to how to uninvite him to play at my recital, and have him uninvite his family to come hear him play? Like, any words that could come across better, etc?

Ugh!


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Sparkler] #1326376
12/16/09 02:44 AM
12/16/09 02:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Sparkler
....Well then do you have any advice as to how to uninvite him to play at my recital, and have him uninvite his family to come hear him play? Like, any words that could come across better, etc?.....

That's really hard because it depends on exactly what your "personality" is and what the "dynamics" of your interactions and relationship with him are. The way you go about it has to make sense in the context of those things. IMO those aspects often don't get taken into account enough when people give advice on such things; too often the advice is given as though there's the same answer for everyone and every such situation. There isn't.

Plus, it depends on whether there's something else he could play at this recital in a couple of days. You mentioned that you had suggested the possibility of some other version of the piece; maybe it's too late in the game to do anything like that at this point. But is there something else he could play?

Even if not, I think it would still be best to not "let" him go ahead as planned. How to do it? Since I think it depends on specifics that I can't possibly know (as per the above), I would just say, maybe look at the "script" that I wrote in my 1st post on here, and see if you can adapt and expand it to something that works for you. (I never meant that it should be said in those exact words.) Plus, let me emphasize these two basic points, which might seem sort of contradictory and that's why this is so hard: Be nice, but be firm. And, look like you know what you're talking about -- make yourself feel like you do -- and if need be, say that you know what you're talking about. And plan not to back off, no matter what.

P.S. If you decide you have no choice but to let him go ahead, I hope I'm wrong and he does great....

Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Mark_C] #1326383
12/16/09 03:02 AM
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MarkCannon,

Would it make a difference for you if you knew that this was a very very small recital (most ppl couldn't make it) and it's just in my home? I only have about 4 students coming this time, and their families. That's it. It's not like some recital hall with 50 people or anything.

I'm thinking through what to say to him.

I do have another option. I may call him and say, you need to come over on the day of recital for an extra 20 minute lesson. That will give me a) further assessment of his progress on the day of, and b) if he hasn't progressed enough for me to feel comfortable, then at least he'd be at my house already and we could talk through it in person, that would be better than me calling him up and sounding like I'm cold heartedly telling him he can't play at my recital after all.


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Sparkler] #1326385
12/16/09 03:09 AM
12/16/09 03:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Sparkler
.....Would it make a difference for you if you knew that this was a very very small recital (most ppl couldn't make it) and it's just in my home? I only have about 4 students coming this time, and their families.....

I pretty much assumed it was something like that. I figured it was going to be a little bigger but not much.

Let me amend it anyway. smile

The size of the event and audience don't exactly matter. What does matter is......perhaps to put it in a circular way, if you and he feel it doesn't matter if he screws up badly and embarrasses himself, then it doesn't matter, and it's OK.

And further, especially since it's a quite informal event, if y'all decide he should go ahead and play it as planned, I would at least do this (with his consent, but I'd push it to him):
Announce before he plays (nicely and with a smile) that he is still working on this and it's not really ready, but "he really really wants to play it for you, and please let's enjoy it with him." (Again, not necessarily in these exact words, I'm just giving a for-instance.)

Quote
I do have another option. I may call him and say, you need to come over on the day of recital for an extra 20 minute lesson. That will give me a) further assessment of his progress on the day of, and b) if he hasn't progressed enough for me to feel comfortable, then at least he'd be at my house already and we could talk through it in person, that would be better than me calling him up and sounding like I'm cold heartedly telling him he can't play at my recital after all.

That sounds great, whatever course you decide to take.

Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Mark_C] #1326393
12/16/09 03:43 AM
12/16/09 03:43 AM
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I want to put an opposite view here. Let him play it, just let him play it. It's only in your home, it's informal. You're his piano coach so you can't control everything about a student's performance, only your half. The other half is his and I think the audience sees that. If you have 3 students play well and one that is very obviously shaky or even a train wreck what will they think? Ah that piece was a bit hard, a bit underprepared... nice that she let him play anyway smile You'll be judged on the strengths of your majority of good players, not the outlier of the day.

The special conversation with your student can happen afterwards, maybe next lesson. For the sake of his confidence and continued participation it may be important to let him know that it doesnt matter very much to you that it flubbed (you may have to pretend!), but you hope that he will enjoy the next time, so let's pick an easier piece (wry smile..).

I sometimes have to really stop myself from saying things like "Oh dear, I cant imagine you'll be ready by friday, this is going to be so embarrassing, can't you hear that you are going to stand out...". I realise that in most informal situations, exams and even very low key competitions the student will learn way too much by participating to justify pulling out. I'm a perfectionist so I have to be stern with myself. Maybe try and put yourself in the "Isn't it great they're having a go (because it is!) frame of mind so you are not embarrassed on the night. If a train wreck unfolds, let him finish or not finish, applaud as politely as you would anyone and introduce the next piece.

Just one thing, suggest to him that just in case it goes wrong that he still has to bow afterwards, this will ease the tension for all. If he is smiling (tentatively!) even better. I really hope you both come through this with some knowledge and experience of use to you in you dual journey to his piano-dom.


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Canonie] #1326402
12/16/09 04:16 AM
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BTW......happy 109th birthday. smile

Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Sparkler] #1326408
12/16/09 05:23 AM
12/16/09 05:23 AM
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Let him decide whether to play. Recitals are not just performances. We learn through them. I'm thinking of three experiences as an adult student:
1. In my 2nd year I sustained an injury which affected my form indirectly so that I became wobbly. In the last few lessons my piece got worse each time and was horrid the last. Somehow days before the recital I found a way to control what was going wrong, and when I actually performed it, the piece went quite well.

Now here's the thing. I was scared to death, and when I walked on stage I did not know whether I would produce music or something garbled. This was violin so there might not even be recognizeable notes. The act of pushing through that fear was the most important thing for my growth afterward. Having pushed through a scary place gave me confidence for the future.

2. A year later I had played a piece well in rehearsals, but shortly before the recital I escaped being assaulted on the streets. I was numb with shock, and I struggled through the entire piece - it is painful to listen to. There has been no bad effect on my confidence. Additionally, I have survived playing a long piece quite badly, know what it's like, and that I can survive something like that.

3. There is a third piece that I was not allowed to perform. It was challenging, possibly a bit above my level, and my teacher was nervous about it. His cautiousness in lessons affected me in how I could play. I felt that when on stage I might be fine (or not). Being pulled out of the recital dasy before DID affect me, and rather badly. It was as if my teacher had pulled a supportive confidence in me. It affected me negatively for a long time.

Recitals are where we students learn to perform and about performance. Not every performance goes smoothly, and even professionals can bomb, or experience the jitters. If we are only allowed to go on stage when it is absolutely safe, then we don't learn to face these things, and that we can come out on the other side, having survived it. We learn from the less stellar ones. But also, you simply cannot protect us from everything. It's like the parent whose kid gets bruised knees.

If this gentleman is like me, and especially if this is his first recital, then not being allowed to perform in front of this small group might do more harm than going out and bombing. The thing is too that he knows that he is not on top of it - he is aware of his weaknesses - yet he wants to go ahead with it. He knows he might bomb. That takes some courage. If he is then not allowed to dare to try in front of this small group (no risk to teacher's reputation) that could be crushing. He is an aware adult, not a child. There is an inner thing going on when you know you are reaching beyond your grasp, wondering whether you should, pushing yourself in practising. Maybe deciding at the last minute that no, you are not ready after all. What happens when that is taken away from the student?

I agree it's a hard call. I am forever grateful that my teacher allowed me to go on stage that first time. There were about 200 people, not a few in the living room, so his reputation was also on the line.

Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: keystring] #1326423
12/16/09 06:28 AM
12/16/09 06:28 AM
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As a student I agree to Keystring.

One thing that might be to late now, but a good idea for the fututre, is to have the students play more than one piece. If the student has something simpler to play first it will, firstly warm him/her up, secondly give them confidence in that they do can play something even if that second piece breaks down.

If the student has a hard time realizing exactly in how bad shape a piece is, try recording it. It is always easier to hear what it sounds like when you are not busy playing.

I had my Christmas recital yesterday (flute), and played two safe Christmas carols and then "Ev'rybody wants to be a cat" as a duet. The last piece was decided on kind of late and has a lot of tricky rythms in it. I was worried about it and felt that there always was something going wrong when practising it. It did have potential to break down. When doing a runthrough before the recitial with my teacher we had to restart it a half dozen times because of problems at the beginning. So how did it go? Well, I wanted to atempt playing it since it swings so great and is so fun to play when things do go right. I did miss half a beat in one place, play one F instead of F sharp, and forgot about the dynamic in the very beginning, and stutter on two other notes if I recall correctly, but the overall impression was ok and swinging. I played through the mistakes kind of smoothly, and quickly corrected mishaps.

Three things made this turn out ok:

  • I had plenty of practice playing through mistakes (playing along to cd, duets, beginners' orchestra)
  • I was playing two other pieces I really knew inside and out.
  • The atmosphere was friendly and the focus was on sharing nice pieces with peers and friends.


Having many different performance opportunites, and for example a dress rehersal, is also a good idea.


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Basia C.] #1326427
12/16/09 07:28 AM
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Is my thought radical? - That the results do not matter, even if they do matter to some degree. Or, the process and what is learned matters the most.

One thing that strikes me is that teachers are forever talking about students who don't try, won't strive, and adults who don't dare put themselves out there for performing. Well, here is a student who is doing so. If he is aware of the risks, having heard himself flub so many times, and he is daring to try this, and you take this away from him in order to protect him, something may get crushed.

Imagine it from an adult student's point of view. He has been working on this for months, screwing up his courage, building up to it, and then the last minute it is yanked away. He will never know whether he could have done it. And if the teacher forbids you to perform, you have lost all control. Nothing is in your hands anymore. Sure, for the lazy student who didn't prepare - but for someone who has tried and wants to take the risk?

I disagree vehemently with the suggestion that he be told that if he can play it through 3 times in the last lesson, he will be allowed to play it in the recital. When you want to do something so badly, the fear of losing that chance is so great, that anxiety alone will cause you to mess up. This comes from a personal experience.

My other thought: It is ok to make mistakes. If we allow ourselves the possibility of making mistakes and failing from time to time, then we will make less mistakes, play less woodenly.

We're students. We are inexperienced and it is expected that we will flub here and there. "Embarrassment", as someone suggested, is only possible if the ego gets in the way. I think in part it's a matter of attitude. It may also depend on the personality of this man, why he is doing it, what is expectations are, and how he handles things. I don't think it's an easy decision.

Last edited by keystring; 12/16/09 08:20 AM.
Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: keystring] #1326429
12/16/09 07:43 AM
12/16/09 07:43 AM
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Are you letting him play with the music?
Since it's only 4 people, I would keep it very informal - maybe for his sake.
Have you worked in starting spots that he can skip ahead to, if he messes up, and has he practiced those?

Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: keystring] #1326436
12/16/09 08:34 AM
12/16/09 08:34 AM
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Originally Posted by keystring
... Having pushed through a scary place gave me confidence for the future....


I agree with this! - The most confidence building thing I did back in the day was a brief recital in front of a disinterested audience of 500 16-18yr olds when I was at school. I was playing stuff I knew well but still had potential for major screw-ups. There was a Chopin nocturn with a particular tricky run than I hit right 50% of the time (and train-wreck bad the other 50%) and one of the Gershwin preludes where wrong notes had a tendency to creep in. I knew my audience would be particularly scathing if there were obvious screw-ups (not a forgiving crowd at all) and I was *very* nervous. Years of endless exposure to orchestra and ensemble performances and audiences had not prepared me for this.

As it happened I *nailed* it and the audience, who I expected to be totaly dismissive of a skill and musical style they didnt care for or understand actually seemed really impressed. The boost to my confidence was HUGE.

Perhaps your studnet will conquer some demons at your recital? ...and if he doesnt, with only a handful of people around its not really a big deal is it? Just make light of a 'valiant attempt' or his 'ambitious repertoire choice'.


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: DadAgain] #1326453
12/16/09 09:16 AM
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Wow, I'm surprised at how many people said to pull him out.

To me, recitals are much more than presentation of perfect performances. That is why I spend a lot of time on bowing, on smiling after a performance no matter how many mistakes, on just getting up there. The whole process is educational, teaching each student something different.

In this case, I think allowing him to "fail" sends a stronger message than cutting him. Last year, I was in your situation, except my adult student was female. I used a lot of white-out on her piece, as we got closer and closer to the date. She was playing it pretty well ahead of time, but broke down at the recital. (The piece, not her.) I ended up going up to her and talking her through the piece.

People were generally amazed at her willingness to be vulnerable like that. And they were all especially proud of their own kids, who did better than the grown-up. None of them thought I was a bad teacher, because they all saw their own kids do well.

And at her next lesson, she conceded that she wanted something less challenging for the spring recital -- which she played perfectly. If I had cut her from the Christmas recital, she probably would have been convinced she could have done it, would resent me, and would have made the same mistakes the next time.

As for the original questions - I've had several students get stuck during recitals, and I handle them each differently, according to what I think will help them the most. This depends upon their personality, my experience with them, etc.

At the last recital, a student played O Holy Night from memory, and was doing great - as she'd done the past month or so. Then she stopped cold, and turned to find me with that "deer in the headlights" look. I smiled reassuringly, reached into my bag for my copy of her music, took it to her like it was no big deal, and she started over. Her parents were frustrated with her and me, and thought I should have made her fix it herself. Maybe I should have. But I knew she'd never stopped before, and seriously doubted her ability to fix it in a panic. (She is 8.)

Every other student who stumbled in that recital was left to deal with it themselves. I just felt she couldn't.


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Lollipop] #1326475
12/16/09 10:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Lollipop
Wow, I'm surprised at how many people said to pull him out.

To me, recitals are much more than presentation of perfect performances. That is why I spend a lot of time on bowing, on smiling after a performance no matter how many mistakes, on just getting up there. The whole process is educational, teaching each student something different.

In this case, I think allowing him to "fail" sends a stronger message than cutting him. Last year, I was in your situation, except my adult student was female. I used a lot of white-out on her piece, as we got closer and closer to the date. She was playing it pretty well ahead of time, but broke down at the recital. (The piece, not her.) I ended up going up to her and talking her through the piece.

People were generally amazed at her willingness to be vulnerable like that. And they were all especially proud of their own kids, who did better than the grown-up. None of them thought I was a bad teacher, because they all saw their own kids do well.

And at her next lesson, she conceded that she wanted something less challenging for the spring recital -- which she played perfectly. If I had cut her from the Christmas recital, she probably would have been convinced she could have done it, would resent me, and would have made the same mistakes the next time.

As for the original questions - I've had several students get stuck during recitals, and I handle them each differently, according to what I think will help them the most. This depends upon their personality, my experience with them, etc.

At the last recital, a student played O Holy Night from memory, and was doing great - as she'd done the past month or so. Then she stopped cold, and turned to find me with that "deer in the headlights" look. I smiled reassuringly, reached into my bag for my copy of her music, took it to her like it was no big deal, and she started over. Her parents were frustrated with her and me, and thought I should have made her fix it herself. Maybe I should have. But I knew she'd never stopped before, and seriously doubted her ability to fix it in a panic. (She is 8.)

Every other student who stumbled in that recital was left to deal with it themselves. I just felt she couldn't.


Lollipop, I appreciate your sharing of these experiences, they are exactly the type of thing I was needing - what to do in case he really does crash during the recital. Should I just let him work through it... get up and help him through it... or what.

Thank you for sharing about your students!


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Sparkler] #1326476
12/16/09 10:15 AM
12/16/09 10:15 AM
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Sparkler  Offline OP
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Thanks everybody for all your opinions.

Actually it wasn't "most" people that thought I should pull him out - just a couple of people.

I really appreciate all your thoughts about it as teachers and also as students.

Last night I decided to sleep on it, and I'm glad I did. I know this student well and I really think that I would bruise his ego and his confidence worse if I pulled him out. He knows the risks and he still seems bent on going for it, who am I to say no and squash that drive?

I don't care about my personal reputation, just so this is clear. My worry is not for me at all.

Now if anyone else has some solid suggestions on how to actually handle the situation if he does flub and stop during recital, please feel free to chime in as well.

My husband suggested, saying "Thanks, Student's Name" and then telling the brief story about how the same thing happened to me once, and maybe saying something funny about how I'm awesome, so if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone, and then move on quickly.

Not sure if I should belabor it by mentioning my story or by just saying thanks and moving on.

Any thoughts there?


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Re: What do I do if a student struggles & stops in recital? [Re: Mark_C] #1326477
12/16/09 10:15 AM
12/16/09 10:15 AM
Joined: Jul 2009
Posts: 177
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Sparkler Offline OP
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Sparkler  Offline OP
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Joined: Jul 2009
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Originally Posted by MarkCannon
BTW......happy 109th birthday. smile


Huh? Me? lol


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