From Belize...

In January 2017, I traveled to Belize City, Belize to work with the administration and the incredibly enthusiastic musicians of the National Youth Orchestra of Belize. I taught private lessons, coached the orchestra, and exchanged pedagogical ideas with students and faculty. Below you'll find a few excerpts from my travel journal.

The Caribbean (#nofilter) 

The Caribbean (#nofilter) 

Third World Country? //

So this is what it is, yet I am oddly at home...

sitting on a dirty couch, cigarette ash dusting the floor.

I am here to change, to move, to love, to explore

as the most raw reminders of what it is to be human

yell, "Hot Tamales," sleep on the street, 

flashing, now and then, a smile of gold and missing teeth. 

Funny how I am supposed to be the teacher here...

 

approaching Caye Caulker Island

approaching Caye Caulker Island

Ferry from Caye Caulker  //

The Creoles, The Taiwanese, The Children, the Canadian living in Colombia, 

their dark, light, speckled, sunburnt, sagging skins

are married by the tugging of heavy eye lids. 

But I could not sleep, fascinated by how the murmuring waves

match the heaving, helpless rhythm of our dormant bodies. 

 

Go Slow 

Go Slow 

Music for Social Sustainability

The rapid and far reaching changes to our physical planet and our global society in the past century have sparked an intense dialogue about sustainability. Discussions about sustainability tend to fall into physical/environmental contexts, however there is another element of sustainability which tends to fly under our radar: social sustainability. Social sustainability has to do with creating systems which make individuals feel whole within themselves beyond the basic human needs of food and shelter while allowing them to forge meaningful connections to those around them. It is social glue that holds healthy communities together in a state of peace. In my opinion, social sustainability it is an essential component of sustainability because people have to feel well in their inner world before they can think of reaching out to participate in physical/environmental sustainability efforts to care for the world around them.

My premise then begs the question: How do we achieve social sustainability? I propose that ensemble-based music education organizations, such as community orchestras, youth ensembles,  and group music lessons, are an essential part of making a community sustainable. This is because of a unique set of paradoxes music learning communities encompass that can then be applied to communities at large.  When we learn music we feel independent yet connected, confident yet humble, and hard at work while happy at play.

Engaging with music is individual yet binding. The connections made both internally and externally by listening to and making music are intensely personal. They trigger memories, they delve into our subconscious, and they help us to mitigate the stresses of complicated emotions. Listening to and making music are both acts of expression. The amazing thing about playing music in a group is that one the chance to express oneself by simultaneously listening and creating. As one plays in an orchestra, he/she is experiencing all of these individual responses internally,  yet he/she must always be listening to those around them. Musicians tend to form deep bonds with other musicians because the act of striving for beauty and individual fulfillment through music making is incredibly unifying. The more musician citizens a community holds the more listeners and expressers that community will have. Said community will be more sustainable because more people will feel whole and connected.

In a sustainable society, the teachers are learning and the learners are teaching. This is also true in music programs.  At any given point in musical training, one must take ownership of the skills he possesses by sharing them with fellow community members through teaching and performance. I observed this taking place during a small yet memorable moment while working with ROCmusic, Rochesters’ El Sistema program. A second year student helped a first year student make a bow hold before orchestra rehearsal. Though her skills on the instrument were still at an elementary level, she was able to help another student master basic skills before she went into her rehearsal, where her own skill set was expanded. Even the professional musician lives in tension between being confident and humble, as music is a subjective art form that tends to leave us always striving for refinement in our ability to perform, teach, and work with others. People who are exposed to this cycle of education through music programs will bring this experience to any work they do in the community at large. As a result, said community will have  leaders who assume their responsibility to keep learning and learners who utilize their ability to be leaders.

A productive society is one in which individuals recognize the balance between their rights and their responsibilities. These values are taught inherently through music education. One of the first lessons students of music learn is the importance of daily practice. That is, putting in consistent and deliberate work in order to solve problems. Making music in a group helps stress the importance of this responsibility to practice. Each member realizes that the practice benefits not only them, but the group as a whole. Everyone has the right to a good experience making music, but everyone also has the responsibility of individual practice in order to make that good experience happen. As a musician myself, I can attest to the fact that once this discipline of practice is learned, it is applied to all areas of life. Community music programs create a unique way to teach this discipline because all members of community music programs learn the value of consistent work and how it can benefit themselves and those around them.

Through music education initiatives, a world with healthier communities has the potential to emerge, as these initiatives train citizens to work, connect, listen, and lead.

Bridget working with the youth orchestra of the Hellenic Academy in Harare, Zimbabwe 2016

Bridget working with the youth orchestra of the Hellenic Academy in Harare, Zimbabwe 2016

A tour of the Philharmonie/Fulbright in Hamburg

4:04pm: Sitting on a (delayed) S-Bahn on my way to teach. Living in a big city certainly has its challenges. The public transportation is fantastic, and there are so many amazing things that I access in Berlin. However, sometimes it feels like it takes a long while to get anywhere. Also, delays…enough said. On the way to work...even better. I was disappointed today because I wanted to go to a (free) lunchtime concert at the Berlin Philharmonic. Even though I showed up fifteen minutes before the start time, they were not letting anyone else into the building because it was too full. Sad day.

Luckily, I was able to take a tour of the Philharmonie (includes the main concert hall and the smaller chamber music hall)  just a half hour after the concert start time. Because I was 45 minutes early for that, I was able to pick up one of the 20 tickets they sell each day. I learned so much about the building and its history. Since it is all fresh on my mind, here are some fascinating tidbits...

1. Hans Scharoun, the architect of the big hall, grew up in a harbor town in the north of Germany. Because of that, the building has many subtle nautical details, such as round windows and winding inside staircases. With a little imagination, the outside looks harbor-esque. Once you see it, you can’t not see it!

Small, colorful round windows in the Foyer of the Philharmonie

Small, colorful round windows in the Foyer of the Philharmonie

The outside of the Philharmonie

The outside of the Philharmonie

2. The architect paid extremely little mind to acoustical concerns. He was interested in influencing societal norms by building a space that acts as a stage, if you will, for all of the people in it (performers and audience members). Since the main purpose of this building is to bring people together to listen to music, he wanted to design a building which truly served that function. This was one of the first concert halls that was designed with the stage in the middle. Why? Because it makes the whole experience more organic. Think of how people tend to gather around street musicians…yep...a circle. This idea was met with a great deal of resistance. Luckily, Herbert von Karajan, the music director at the time, was a big supporter of this forward thinking design model. Thank goodness he was. It never ceases to amaze me how big ideas like this are met with so much resistance. Even after it was built, many chamber musicians cancelled their concerts in the Chamber Music Hall because they were too freaked out by the stage being at the level of the audience and by people looking at them from all sides. This was in the 1980s! Fun fact: The architect was also very against building VIP boxes because he was keen on the ideas of equality and democracy. To this day, the VIP boxes that were built in the large hall offer some of the poorest acoustics in the entire space! ha! 

3. The acoustics of the large hall were a struggle for a long time. One of the biggest problems was that the string sound was constantly swallowed. It was such an huge issue that various sound engineers and acoustics experts were brought in over the course of ten years to attempt to solve the problem. At some point during all of these visits,  Karajan wanted the strings to be seen better on his TV productions. To address that, the risers which elevate each semicircle of strings a bit more than the one before it were built. This made all the difference, and suddenly, the acoustical problem was solved by solving another problem entirely. This funny story speaks volumes to human nature and problem solving. TEN YEARS?

It was very sad I did not get to see this lunch concert today, but taking a closer look at the halls and learning about them was great. Plus, I got some tickets for upcoming shows in advance. Not all is (ever) lost. So much of living abroad is learning to be flexible. 

v. cool to be this close to the stage! 

v. cool to be this close to the stage! 

This past weekend, I went to Hamburg for the welcome conference hosted by the Fulbright Alumni Association. Most of the attendees were americans just arriving in Germany and germans just returning to Germany from America. So, exchanging stories and talking about cultural differences was a big part of the weekend. It is so important as a citizen of any country to listen to outside perspectives. America, our lack of widespread recycling is embarrassing! Other highlights of the conference included hearing a US diplomat give our keynote address, a fancy reception at the US consulate, a crazy dance party at the Hofbrau Haus, and taking a 'super selfie' with over 100 people. Thanks to all of the brilliant people I met, the beautiful scenery of the city, and the fall colors, Hamburg really won my heart. Here are just a few pictures taken by my awesome fellow Fulbrighter and welcome weekend roomie Gabe. If you want to be inspired, check out his design website.

The Alster, Hamburg

The Alster, Hamburg

German Playgrounds > American Playgrounds!

German Playgrounds > American Playgrounds!

Japanese Garden in Hamburg

Japanese Garden in Hamburg

Autumn walk in the park with hot coffee...heaven :-) 

Autumn walk in the park with hot coffee...heaven :-) 

It’s been a solid two months now since I have arrived. There was a really beautiful moment when I was on the bus home from Hamburg when I realized that well, I am starting to feel at home here, and, thanks to a great conference, I am beginning to formulate thoughts about what this whole Fulbright experience means to me...but more on that later. :-) Bis nächestes Mal!

Our future is not in the stars but in our own minds and hearts. Creative leadership and liberal education, which in fact go together, are the first requirements for a hopeful future for humankind.
— Senator J. William Fulbright

Cologne/Bonn/Orientation

10:26am: I am appreciating this slow, cloudy morning in Berlin.   Music: Samuel Barber, The Complete Songs

Der Blick aus meinem Fenster // The view from my window

Der Blick aus meinem Fenster // The view from my window

I spent the last few days off the grid in the small town of Wermelskirchen outside of Cologne. Here, we had our Fulbright orientation. The views were stunning, the food was great, and having the chance to get to know other Fulbright Scholars was inspiring. So many brilliant people with brilliant ideas!

Tagungshotel Maria in der Aue, where we stayed

Tagungshotel Maria in der Aue, where we stayed

Sunset silhouette of the mountains

Sunset silhouette of the mountains

Getting oriented

Getting oriented

Before and after that, I hung out in Colonge. Whatever budget I had for tourism I used to spontaneously hop on a train and visit the Beethoven Haus Museum in Bonn. I had no idea that Bonn (Beethoven’s birth place) was only a half hour train ride away. Walking through the house where Beethoven was born was surreal. To me, the most meaningful thing was getting to see his desk and one of his pianos. To think that the visible wear and tear on these things was made by Beethoven’s hands as he composed the music that still resonates in me today...

Alban Berg quartet playing Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 18 No. 1 (because everyone needs Beethoven in their life!) 

Cologne was nonetheless memorable. I find that doing this like going to the pharmacy to buy shampoo gives you just as much information about the culture of a city as visiting museums, just in a different way. My time there was also special because I got to meet up with some friends from Eastman. Crazy to think that three years ago we were all sitting in Deutsch 201 together, and now we are all living over here. Other ‘poor tourist’ highlights include a one Euro scoop of ice cream with Rosina while watching the way the sunlight hits the magnificent Kölner Dom as it sets, sitting at the train station with Rosina eating custard pretzels and watching two trains that we needed go by because we both acknowledged that enjoying breakfast and coffee was far more important than punctuality, listening to a pop up Klezmer band concert on the street…oh, and this guy.  Recorder is serious business in Germany. 

Me, Betsy, Rosina ESM in Köln

Me, Betsy, Rosina ESM in Köln

drool... (you would have missed three trains too!) 

drool... (you would have missed three trains too!) 

Ps. Barber songs still rolling, and 'The secrets of the Old' just came on. Any Eastman people reading this, throwback to that Aural Skills Exam...yeah.

Settling in and my Sitzsak

11:22 am: on the train from Berlin to Cologne (Köln) for my Fulbright Orientation. I love the feeling of sitting on a backwards facing seat on a moving vehicle. Sometimes, I feel the most at home when I am moving.

 

Learning a second language as a young adult is fascinating. It works so much for me and so much against me to be hyper aware of the progress I am making...and of all of the things I am lacking. Especially the things I am lacking. Every day I am getting more comfortable speaking and understanding many, many new voices. I have SO much studying to do in ways of expanding my vocabulary and making sure I am not making so many dumb pronunciation and grammar mistakes. But, I do have a few small victories to report:

 

  1. Completing a verbal survey by a concert usher in German at the Berliner Festspiele.
  2. Recognizing accents of people from Cologne on the train! 

 

The past week has been about relaxing and settling in before my assistantship officially starts next week. I have been taking advantage of my Monatskarte, which allows me unlimited train travel around the city and surrounding areas. I visited Berlin Wansee with a dear friend, tried out playing in a community orchestra in Charlottenburg, saw some great concerts, and went to a number of government offices to try and figure out my residence permit and registration (more on that later!, UGH). 

 

Program from my favorite concert thus far...Wolfgang Rihm was there in the audience, too! 

Program from my favorite concert thus far...Wolfgang Rihm was there in the audience, too! 

In an effort to furnish my bare-bones Zimmer (room), I claimed a SITZSAK on free your stuff Berlin, which is an awesome facebook page where people from all over the city post about things they either need or have to give away. I myself was not sure what a SITZSAK was going to be. Turns out it is a giant bean bag meets dog bed…for a bear. Anyways, after about an hour of convincing, Luc agreed to come with me to pick it up. Though reluctant at first, I can assure you that we had a great (read: unforgettable) time lugging this thing with us on a 35 minute journey that included walking, stairs, the U Bahn, and the Strassenbahn. :-) Guess I will be taking out the trash for the next few weeks...

First impressions of Erkner

11:11pm: Too many wishes. I just got back from the Eröffnungsfest der Deutsche Oper, which was a big season opening party with many free performances. For the record, the sound of a brass instrument 'petting zoo' is universal. Going to concerts in Europe is in many ways such a different experience than in America. Tonight, I especially noticed the lack of air conditioning and the way people began to hustle to find a good seat twenty minutes before the performance began. 

Earlier this week, I was able to visit Erkner, the small town on the outskirts of Berlin where I will be teaching. During my visit, I attended two staff meetings at the Carl Bechstein Gymnasium. I am very thankful that I will be experiencing life in both the big city and this small, quaint town.

The main train station (approx. 30 minutes from Berlin)

The main train station (approx. 30 minutes from Berlin)

Some things I already love about the Carl Bechstein Gymnasium:

1) NATURAL LIGHT Upon walking around I kept wondering why I felt so happy. Then, I realized I was not in a cave of fluorescent light. 

2) STUDENT ARTWORK everywhere. The pieces are actually matted and framed throughout the halls. It gives the space a very, clean, gallery-esque feeling.

3) WELCOMING COLLEAGUES I felt at home right away. (And, I was asked 'Trump or Hillary' four times within the first hour)

Carl Bechstein Gymnasium

Carl Bechstein Gymnasium

A typical classroom 

A typical classroom 

Student artwork

Student artwork

And, natürlich, my next stop after getting oriented at the Gymnasium was to find a coffee shop nearby. 

If you want a cold coffee in Germany, it comes with a scoop of ice cream in it. Not a bad deal!

If you want a cold coffee in Germany, it comes with a scoop of ice cream in it. Not a bad deal!

Throw Baaaaaach Thursday

5:37pm: September has crept in as it always does, but I've been holding on to the summer in my soul. I thought I'd use this Thursday as an opportunity to celebrate throw back...wait...throw Bach...throw Baaaaaach Thursday (see video) and tell you all about the two weeks I spent Northern England this summer participating in the Lakes Viola Retreat.  

The Lakes Viola Retreat is exactly what it sounds like: two weeks of nothing but studying viola in England's Lake District. This course was taught by Ivo Van der Werff, professor of viola at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and author of the fabulous book  A Notebook for Viola Players. Our schedule included two hours of technique class every day, a private lesson every other day, master classes, viola quartet rehearsals, a concert, and plenty of time to practice. It was the first time in a long time (if not ever) that I was able to give my full focus and attention to my viola playing. My identity as a musician is made of more than just the act of playing the viola, but playing the viola  is the core of my musical and artistic being. Taking part in this course was a good reminder that I need to constantly nurture this ability by refining my technique and thinking about new perspectives. The more I learn about viola, the more I learn about myself.

I took in so much from Professor Van der Werff and my own self-observation, but another big part of what I learned these two weeks came from my colleagues, which is spectacular. Violists are some of the greatest people in the world, if I don't say so myself. :-) We all lived together in a estate-turned-residental college named Higham Hall, a beautiful setting that inspired reflection and hard work. 

Since this college also operates as a bed and breakfast, eating was a big part of our day. Actually, I added it up and between the sit down (full english) breakfasts, coffee and tea times, lunches, and three course dinners...we spent four hours a day in the dining room. What a luxury. Meal times consisted of riveting conversation about all things viola, looking out the window at sheep, and trying to learn proper English table manners, which for me usually resulted in spilling food all over everything and myself, as pictured below.

What a bloody disgrace... (photo by Carey Skinner)

What a bloody disgrace... (photo by Carey Skinner)

We did take one day off from the course, in which we all hopped in the Hingham Hall Van (read: viola mobile) and spent the day walking in the hills, shopping and having proper afternoon tea in the village of Keswick, and watching a cricket match. British quota: met. Treating a day off like, well, a day off felt very nice, and it is something I will strive to do more in my life. 

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Streets of Keswick

Streets of Keswick

 One bit of advice from Ivo that I really took to heart is that improvement is like a spiral. As we grow, we return to the same issues and places in learning with different perspective, different things behind us, yet always more room to grow and re-evaluate. Sure, this relates directly to viola technique, but I'd argue that it is applicable to even more than that. Spiral away! 

Coming home

9:25am:  running on fumes...stayed up until six in the morning (yes, I went that kind of crazy) unpacking and cleaning my apartment.  I am back in Rochester, settled in, and ready for a new school year. The past two weeks have been a series of "coming home"'s for me, and it has all been exhilarating and exhausting. 

The concept of home is complicated for me. Because I feel at home in so many places, I also never feel completely at home. It is a blessing and a curse.

The first place I consider home in America is Houston, Texas, where I grew up. Or, the suburb, SPRANG (spring), to be exact. The first feeling of being home came right as I stepped off the plane: this unbelievable mixture of roasting and suffocating as you step into a 100+ degree jetway. Oh, Houston.  My dear friend Tanya picked me up at the airport and we drove straight to El Tiempo, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants. Everyone knows that good Mexican food is the cure for jet lag, right? For the record, I slept straight through the night.

Texas' ridiculousness always makes me feel at home. I mean, where else can you find a state-shaped cheese and cracker tray or a red solo cup the size of a flower pot?  

Modeled by Tanya!

Modeled by Tanya!

On a  more serious note, The Rothko Chapel is a special place in Houston where I always feel at home. Since visiting for the first time about three years ago, I have been making it habit to visit each time I am in Houston. To me, it is the most sacred of places to be still and reflect on spirituality. To anyone who will be in Houston, I highly recommend a visit. Here is a link to their website

Home number two is the Northern New Jersey/ New York City/Long Island area.  After being gone for so long, I was completely taken aback by that beautiful view of the Manhattan skyline as I was driving across the George Washington Bridge. I actually enjoyed sitting in traffic for two hours on the Cross Bronx expressway, and I smiled at the lady that cut me off and then gave me the finger. Welcome home! I only had the chance to go into the city for one evening, but it was just what I needed. I missed everything: the nasty smells, the paying $24.50 to park for 2 hours, etc. (well, not sure how much I actually missed that part...) I have countless memories of going into the city that date from early childhood until now. When I take a breath in NYC it feels as if I am breathing in the energy, the hustle and bustle, the impatience. It is actually a big part of my character...for better or for worse!

Long Island is where my Grandma/Grandpa and a handful of my aunts and uncles live. Arriving at Grandma's house and sleeping in a bed I've known since I was born was an amazing feeling after the months of travel. The bagels, the pizza, the beach..don't even get me started. I also got some dancing lessons from my younger cousins, who taught me how to "nae nae"...this was a sad sight to see. I think I'll stick to viola....

Binghamton, New York. Another home. I stopped by for a few hours during my drive up to Rochester to talk with my (other) Grandma and catch up with some more aunts/cousins. Even the nursing home where my grandma has been living for the past year or so has begun to feel like home, and I've come to really cherish the memories I've built sitting around in a circle with my grandma talking about anything from old times to jewelry to how the nurse's butt is too big. (love you, Granny!) 

 

And, at last, Rochester, my home for the past four years. Walking down Gibbs Street and looking at The Eastman School still makes my heart as happy as it did when I first arrived four years ago. I'm looking forward to Javas coffee, Sibley study sessions, sunny walks down Park Avenue, and some really incredible music making in the weeks ahead.

Sometimes I feel like a chaotic mess doing all of this running around, but I accept the fact that my restless heart won't let me stay still! It is my goal to find and create these feelings of home where ever I am...whether those feelings come from a taco, a traffic jam, or a smile on someone's face. I'm so excited for all of the new beginnings coming up in my life. In two weeks I will begin student teaching in the Webster and Penfield School Districts. I'll be done in December and after that..who KNOWS. I'm on the threshold of the most terrifying and exciting parts of my life.

(an aside: Yes, I will write more about Germany and the rest of the summer. I will be using Throw back Thursday to my advantage in the next few weeks!)

 

Here's to home... 

 

Wie geht's in Deutschland? [Freiburg Update #1]

11:49pm. It’s been a while…a while since I’ve blogged, a while since I’ve properly updated my website (eek), and holy moly I’ve already been in Germany for three and a half weeks?! Time to update my lovely readers on my life…

The month before I left for Germany was hectic to say the least. In the midst of packing/planning/preparing to leave, I drove back and forth to New York City from Rochester three times, and I was working many hours between wonderful jobs at Eastman Res Life and Student Life offices and at WXXI 91.5 radio station.   I knew that leaving Rochester/Eastman would be difficult, but I still wasn’t prepared for how sad I would feel in the days leading up to my departure.  But, as they say, I am very lucky to have such beautiful things/people in my life to make it so hard to leave! We had a really fun “see you later” party at Victoire the night before I left, and Ji-Yeon made me my final batch of Korean fried chicken afterwards circa 2am..a proper send-off for sure. And, of course, to me there are no real goodbyes. Music is such a small world, and I know I'll be crossing paths with all of my colleagues at Eastman many, many time in the future. But, will I be crying on graduation day when I'm not there will you all? Absolutely yes. 

So, on to Germany. My first week was filled with logistical (painful-but-necessary) tasks such as applying for my residence permit, opening a bank account, registering for school, and getting health insurance approval. Fun times, right? Not exactly…Oh, and throw in the jet lag and a splash of homesickness. It was not the ideal arrival, but it was life and I lived it! 

My home in Freiburg is a Studentenwohnheim, which is a cross between a dorm and an apartment (75% dorm). There are 15 people living on my floor, and we share a kitchen, living room, and bathroom. It is hectic and a bit dirty, but in my case, the benefits far outweigh drawbacks. As an exchange student, it is great to live with so many other people. My floor-mates have become some of my best friends, and they've helped me with everything from proof-reading emails to buying a bike! Six of the people on my floor are German, and I am the only American, so I get to practice speaking A LOT at home. Here are some insights into Wohnheim Life:

 

#1:  The amazing view from my window!

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#2 Benefit: Free German Lessons

 

 

#3 Cleaning out the freezer: “How old is this?! smells like cat food…”

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#4 Learning how to make Kartoffelpuffer (Potato Pancakes)

The Hochschule für Musik Freiburg is right around the corner from the Wohnheim, which is excellent. The school itself is beautiful; one of my favorite things is that nearly every classroom has big windows...plenty of sunlight and fresh air. The classes I’m taking are challenging. Mondays I go to a Kindergarten in the morning  for a Lehrpraxis, or teaching-practice course. There are three of us in the group. For now, I’m observing my two colleagues teach lessons, but by the end of the semester I’ll get a chance to teach a bit. After that, I have a contemporary music analysis course. I’ll be doing an analysis and presentation of Morton Feldman’s The Viola in my Life III in a few weeks…lots to do to prepare that one! Tuesdays, I have a Nordic Walking class in the morning. I signed up because I thought it’d be a fun, easy-going class, but boy was I wrong. The first day, the teacher lectured the group about how if we can’t speak sufficient german, we should drop because the technique is so detailed, etc. Needless to say, was a little more than slightly intimidated, but I decided to stay. I just have to laugh at myself when she repeats her instructions to me over and over and then eventually I get it…or not. After that I take a composition concept seminar. We have been talking about modern composition methods and how to incorporate some of them into teaching..way cool. Wednesdays I’ve got another education seminar about the Grundlagen, or Fundamentals, of teaching. Next, a seminar on teaching ear-training, and finally ending the day with Violin/Viola Methods (Pedagogy). Thursday, I have a small early childhood education discussion group. Fridays I’ve got a really neat seminar called “Heute gehn’n Wir ins Konzert.[Transaltion: Today, we’re going to a concert!] This seminar is all about outreach, educational concerts, and taking school groups to concerts. I really love this course, and one cool perk is that we are going to get to visit some Freiburger Barockorchester rehearsals...eeep! All of my classes are Seminar style, which means they are small, discussion-based courses. In addition to my classes, I am taking some viola lessons, playing chamber music, playing with the Freiburg Akademisches Orchestra, and I have a tandem language partner that I meet with once a week for a half hour of English and a half hour of German!

Hochschule für Musik Freiburg

Hochschule für Musik Freiburg

 

Everything I just wrote out seems like a lot, but in reality, I have plenty of free time to practice, exercise and relax. The weather here is out-of-this-world beautiful most days, so I really like to go hiking, swimming, or running. I’ve started training for the Rochester Half Marathon in September!! I’m currently able to run for an hour (10ish km), and I’m aiming to keep that time increasing. Running long distances is ridiculously easy in a place like this though because of the breathtaking scenery. Here are a few photos taken on my runs!

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Luckily, the Biergarten was closed otherwise we all know what would have happened...

Luckily, the Biergarten was closed otherwise we all know what would have happened...

 

Natürlich, the most challenging aspect of this whole experience has been the language barrier! I’ve had five semesters of german at Eastman, and I took two month-long language classes in Germany last summer. I’m understandable (for the most part), but I have LOADS to learn. All of my classs/lessons/rehearsals/everything is in German. Some days I come home feeling utterly defeated, but I am so thankful for the type of immersion I’m getting. I know that if I have the right amount of patience, (those of you who know me know how hard that can be!) I can learn quickly. I’ve set a small goal to speak at least once in every class...no matter how much of a fool I make of myself, and I do my best to avoid speaking English. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to that has moved to a new country or spent a significant part of their life abroad has shared their experiences about first few months and being a little clueless, not understanding much, etc. One one hand, I’m working as hard as I can to catch up and speak more fluently, but on the other hand, I’m enjoying this part of my life and trying to find the beauty in the challenges and the new-ness that is before me.  Plus, sometimes I really can't help but laugh at myself…for the “deer in the headlights” look I sometimes give my colleagues/professors in class when they ask me something…for accidentally setting off the basement fire alarm three times because I did not understand the sign that said “Swipe your ID before opening door...” for standing at the ATM for 15 minutes, holding up the line because I’m trying to do everything in German... for making up danglish words like “abilitat’ that actually don’t exist… It will only get better from here.

So, before I sign off I will share a few of my favorite German words/expressions I’ve learned thus far:

bedingslose Achtung- Condition-less attention

zeitgenössiche- Contemporary

Antippen- to tap

die Zuwendung- devotion

der Schlag- Pulse/beat. Schlagzeug is also percussion…how logical!

böse- evil, harmful, naughty

Last but not least,

“Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof-” Idiom meaning 'I understand nothing'. 

    ...relevant....

 

Why those who ca..(EVERYONE) should teach

My first experience teaching kids music is one of my life’s most poignant memories. I was 14 years old, and I was called in to help out with a workshop for middle school students. I worked with five students that were having a particularly rough time learning the Wohlfhart etude they needed to play for upcoming region orchestra auditions. During the two hours we had together, I employed the few teaching techniques I had up my sleeve: slowing down tempos, playing things in small sections, tuning carefully, making up games. Seeing the joy in the students as they started to understand music that had looked like printer vomit an hour before really sparked something in me. Their understanding became my passion, and I felt incredibly happy that I was able to help them realize their ability to succeed. As I was leaving the school, my mentor teacher slipped me an envelope containing a card and $50. I was in complete shock:“ I can get PAID to feel this HAPPY?!” Since that day, I’ve never once looked back on my decision to pursue teaching music as a career.

 Now, not everybody can be expected fall in love with teaching kids the way I did (I actually crave the sound of squeaky bows and quarter-tone twinkle twinkle little star). But, I do believe that it is essential for every musician to develop his or her ability as a teacher. Teaching is not just about helping kids play their instrument; we must learn to teach everyone around us about our passion for music. We are of a generation that has to think seriously about the longevity of our art form and how it needs to be presented in order to be sustainable. That means we need to cultivate music appreciation, and teaching is a powerful way to do just that.

 Passion for music is a gift; share it! As students and individuals that are passionate about our art, it is dangerously easy to get caught up in our ivory tower environments, swallowed by competition and stuck in our own minds, and we can actually lose sight of the value of what we do. When you teach, you can see your love for music manifesting outside of yourself and affecting another person. It is extremely gratifying to see this happen. We spend a massive amount of time focusing on what we have yet to learn, which is a good thing. Let me tell you though, it is nice to be around students who think you are a hero for playing hot cross buns successfully. It brings much-needed balance into the lives of people who are always striving.  

 Practically speaking, teaching makes you a better communicator. Sure, you know how to make a bow hand, but can you explain it to someone who has never done it before? Can you explain it in a different way to someone who thinks differently from you? Learning to verbally break down skills that are second-nature is a skill that requires practice. Once this skill is mastered, however, it gives you a deeper understanding and in many cases a profound re-understanding of the most basic components of playing your instrument. Additionally, in many teaching situations you’ll be writing a great deal: emails to parents, letters to students, grant proposals. All of this requires you to become a skilled writer and a powerful advocate for music. Lastly, when you teach, you become connected with your community. You’ll find yourself forming ties with the students’ various social circles: friends, parents, churches, etc.  All of these valuable connections lead to job opportunities not only in teaching, but also in performance and community engagement.

 My favorite thing about teaching is that is breeds passion for learning. I can’t tell you how much my teaching reflects itself in my daily practice. A few weeks ago, a high school student was talking to me about how impossible she felt it would be to learn her college audition repertoire. We looked at the music together, broke it down into small chunks, and set some goals time-wise. At the end of our session, there was a huge smile of relief on her face from just feeling like her task was doable. That night, while practicing the third movement of Der Schwanendreher, I started to feel overwhelmed- Guess what I did? The saying holds true: “In teaching others we teach ourselves.”  In teaching, you are simultaneously inspiring others while being inspired yourself, and that’s phenomenal. 

Wild

10:40. Sitting at work. Nothing like getting a call while out to dinner: "Hi, Bridget, I think you are supposed to work 20 minutes ago." So, my plans to play scales and attend my normal Sunday night Compline service were cancelled, and here I am.

I'm thankful for my roommate Ji-Yeon. Besides being an all around amazing listener, inspiring violinist, and exceptional fried chicken maker...I was in a bad mood last night, and she helped me convince us that we needed to go see a movie. We went to the Little Theater in Rochester. For $8 you get to sit in the most uncomfortable movie theater seats known to man, however, I'd go back any day for the cozy atmosphere, live jazz in the cafe, and sense of community. It was just what I needed. 

The Movie: We saw Wild. I read the book over my winter break, and my expectations for good books made movies are always pretty low. The movie was amazing though; I recommend it one hundred times over. The most meaningful parts of the book were brought to life on screen in an uncomplicated manner, the soundtrack was spot on, and the acting was phenomenal. 

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.
— Cheryl Strayed (Author of Wild)


"The History of Love"

11:24 pm. Winter Break is winding down, and as usual, I'm putting off the packing until the wee hours of the morning. I'm thrilled to be going back to Rochester for a few months, and I'm determined to cherish every moment.  For now, an excerpt from one of my favorite books that I've visited over the past few days: Nicole Krauss' The History of Love.

The string by Bridget

Strings by Bridget

So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days you can hear their chorus rushing past: IwasabeautifulgirlPleasedon’tgoItoobelievemybodyismadeofglassI’veneberlovedanyoneIthinkofmyselfasfunnyForgiveme...
There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations. Shy people carried a little bundle of string in their pockets, but people considered loudmouths had no less need for it, since those used to being overheard by everyone were often at a loss for how to make themselves heard by someone. The physical distance between two people using a string was often small sometimes the smaller the distance, the greater the need for the string.
The practice of attaching cups to the ends of the string came much later. Some say it is related to the irrepressible urge to press shells to our ears, to hear the still-surviving echo of the world’s first expression. Others say it was started by a man who held the end of a string that was unraveled across the ocean by a girl who left for America.
When the world grew bigger, and there wasn’t enough string to keep the things people wanted to say from disappearing into the vastness, the telephone was invented.
Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a persons’ silence.
— Nicole Krauss "The History of love"

The art of possibility

1:52a.m. I just dumped out the last half of my sweet tea into the sink. I love that stuff. But, I can't un-see what I saw through the drive-through window at Whataburger today: I watched this woman dump an ENTIRE BAG of white sugar into the canister. I think I could have gone my whole life without knowing, but alas. Halfway through that cup I began to feel a layer of sugar building up in my mouth. It was the end.

Anyhow, on a more philosophical note, since I've been home on break, I've been paging through some old favorite books. Ben Zander's The Art of Possibility is one of them, and it is also great inspiration for new years resolution #2. (see previous post.) I do not find this book to be one to read cover to cover; it is more fun to read the chapters sporadically, even flip open to a random page and read. I remember Mr. Zander talking about his book- he said his goal is for it to lie next to the bible in every hotel room...and I think that'd actually be a great thing for humanity.

My favorite moment: 

The risk the music invites us to take becomes a joyous adventure only when we stretch beyond our known capacities, while gladly affirming that we may fail. And if we make a mistake, we can mentally raise our arms and say “How fascinating!” and reroute our attention to the higher purpose at hand.
— Benjamin Zander

I was lucky enough to work with Maestro Ben Zander as part of the Texas All-State Symphony Orchestra my junior year of high school. We played Shostakovich's 5th symphony- it was one of the most transformative performances of my life. Mr. Zander's unbridled passion inspired me to take the kind of musical risks that left me hanging on that border between reality and fantasy, and I was not the only one. The whole orchestra was transformed, and the energy within that specific group of people is something I will cherish and remember forever. Specifically, one time in rehearsal, he asked us to be silent and reflect on the oboe solo in the 3rd movement. "How lonely..how utterly lonely," I thought to myself. It was strange, because lonely is a feeling that comes from within, yet Shostakovich had brought it outward. It was my first experience realizing this phenomenon. And that's just the thing about music, or any art really. It is mind-boggling to think that "lonely" can be embodied in an oboe solo. The beauty lies in the fact that Shostakovich created an expression of a universal human condition. Oppression and loneliness are a part of many lives, and when you listen to this oboe solo you feel oddly at peace because you are not alone in your suffering. The older I get and the more experiences I have, the more I realize how important it is to reflect on these milestone performances and to get in touch with the way my 16 year old self felt experiencing it all for the first time. 

Ben Zander and Bridget, 2010 All State/TMEA convention

Ben Zander and Bridget, 2010 All State/TMEA convention

I also really took Mr. Zander's "How fascinating" approach to failure to heart. Writing those words next to the grades on all my Pre-Cal tests for the rest of that year really did wonders for me... 

Midwest Clinic 2014

My winter break started with the Midwest Clinic in Chicago-It was the perfect balance of new ideas, practical tips, networking opportunities, inspiring performances, and eating WAY too much deep dish pizza.

I planned my schedule of clinics to focus on two areas- technology in the classroom and advocacy (for music in schools, that is).  There is so much to explore and learn in the realm of technology—it is overwhelming even to a 20-something. Two little teacher tips that really stuck with me were using airplane mode in rehearsals and using a large digital countdown timer before rehearsals. I think airplane mode is great- if everyone puts their phone on airplane mode before rehearsal and then they are instructed to put the phone on the floor in front of them, texting and “sneaking around” on phones will be prevented. The idea of using a timer before rehearsal starts is awesome for classroom management. If a room full of kids  knows that when the timer hits 0, rehearsal starts, they can then get quiet and begin tuning without a teacher or conductor waving hands, clapping, screaming, or any combination thereof.

At the convention I also played around with the smart music program for a while… I’ll write a blog on that one once I actually figure out how to use it!

 Most musicians are great about talking to other musicians about the importance of music-we all get it. It becomes difficult, however, to communicate the value of discovering oneself through music to people in other fields say..administrators, math teachers, gym coaches, etc. A very poignant point was brought up in multiple sessions about this issue:  if a music program is accessible to all students, it will be easier to defend. That means band/orchestra class cannot be reserved for those students who are able to afford nice instruments and private lessons. The whole issue really got me thinking about this question: How can my programs be accessible without sacrificing a high artistic standard? A challenge no doubt, but I don’t render it impossible. The responsibility here lies to the director- to build support for programs by seeking out grants and making meaningful connections with community organizations that have the potential to flex some financial muscle should the need present itself. 

 Oh, and I was absolutely in shock at the amazing performance of my former middle school, Doerre Intermediate. The intonation, bow control, elements of style, and musical maturity of this group really set a standard for excellence in music education. One thing they did that I fell in love with was this-  incorporate the school’s principal into the performance. Though she is not a trained musician, Ms. Cissy Saccomanno had the chance to play a solo piano part on a sort of “chopsticks concerto.” She tackled the part with poise and grace (and some stickers on the keys). It really touched me to see how proud she was of the school, the kids, and the program as a whole. There is no better way to build support from the administration than to make them a part of what you do. Bravo Doerre and all involved.

 The last treasure of this weekend that I’ll share is the brief conversation I had with Larry Livingston after his clinic. What an inspiring individual; someone whose career I aspire to. Hearing him speak  is medicinal, and it affirms my choice in life to exist doing such crazy things as teaching and playing music.

Learn to behold every moment of your life, not simply look at things

— Larry Livingston

 

In my spare time, I walked around the exhibit hall in awe of all of the vendors! I also got to brush up on some of my secondary instrument skills..like French horn! (ouch)