Saturday, December 19, 2009

Er ist ein Ros entsprungen

What a marvelous time it is here in Graz.

We had our first two full orchestra rehearsals yesterday and I had the joy of experiencing the truth that music really is the universal language. *insert eye roll* We've calculated that htere are no fewer than 16 countries represented and over half do not speak German as their first language (myself included), but the rehearsals are run in German. Nonetheless, we've been able to make sense of the music and the musical instructions. I think it's going to be a success. It will, however, be exhausting. We will spend 16 days in China, in 7 cities, including one in Mongolia and will do 12 or 13 concerts with rehearsals before every performance.

After the two rehearsals yesterday, my brain was absolutely fried. I took one year of German my last year in college and I'm racking my brain trying to pick out words I understand and piecing them together. So far it's been okay. I've only needed help a few times and either Christian or Petra, the second flutist, has been able to help me. But by the end of it all, even though the rehearsals were good and my solos were appreciated, I was so tired. So so tired.

We were able to unwind with some of Christian's friends as they were doing a Christmas movie marathon all day today. We joined them during our lunch break between rehearsals and had the most delicious meal and then we met up with them again after our rehearsals to watch Home Alone 2 and The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was so nice to turn my brain off a little -- especially because the movies were in English. Christian's friends, I hate to say, have been the most pleasant surprise. All of them are so talented and gifted and friendly. They are funny and welcoming and ... have fun, really. It has been a real delight to spend time with them. And we've had a party every night we've been here. It doesn't allow for much rest, but it does make for lots of memories.

When we returned to the apartment, leaving the marathon a few movies early, the four of us staying here in Christian's room (Christian, Michael, Julie and me) sang some Christmas carols in four-part harmony. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but it was delightful because I know that non of them will judge me. They love me truly, and so I can make a fool of myself missing my leaps of a third on the lowly alto part, which I so enjoy. We're going to "perform" Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" at our Christmas dinner tonight with Christian's friends.

In honor of that, I leave you with a photo from yesterday, compliments of Michael's amazing photography and the first verse (in German) of "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen."

Prost! (Cheers!)

Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, aus einer Wurzel zart,
Wie uns die Alten sungen, von Jesse kam die Art,

Und hat
ein Blumlein bracht mitten
im kalten Winter
Wohl zu der halben Nacht.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fix You

Here I am in Graz. In the kitchen. On Michael's computer, because mine has decided not to recognize the internet here. Fail. Graz, however, is a success. Yes!
The trip here was long, but went by quickly. The theme for the trip was "second try's a charm." Beautiful Jessica took me to the airport after a delightful stay with the Wilders. She took me to the terminal that was written on the ticket, but that, it turns out, was in fact not the terminal from which my flight was departing. So I lugged all my crap down through O'Hare and found the right terminal. Still ended up being about 45 minutes early for my flight. So I grabbed some Starbucks and watched the special airport news channel all about new airplanes coming out, the President's daily speech and a little Asian kid playing Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" on his ukulele and making up the words. His pitch is incredibly good. Look it up on YouTube.
Got to London fine. It was a smooth ride, full of movies -- Julie and Julia and Bolt and very little sleeping. I sat by a very large man, but it seems his heart was as big as his body. So that was okay.
When I got to London, I gathered my luggage at the Gatwick airport, got a bus to Heathrow and got off the bus at Terminal 5, which according to the woman at the desk, was the correct terminal. According to the airport, however, I needed Terminal 3. So I took a shuttle to Terminal 3 and of course went in at the opposite end of where my check-in desk was. By the time I arrived at the check-in, I was informed that I had to wait until 2 hours before my flight to check my bag. No problem. I sat down, read a book, almost fell asleep and THEN checked my bag before changing my money and continuing through security. No problems, except that my gate was still not assigned. So I sat in a big communal area and watched people, making up stories for them. I grabbed some Starbucks pasta salad and an iced chai. After first being forgotten about completely, I finally got my chai and was sorely disappointed by both the salad and the chai. The chai was made incorrectly and tasted terrible. It's a pretty difficult drink to mess up, but they did. The pasta salad was not delicious, but I figure it was also because I seem to have stopped eating recently. That's a different ball of wax.
Finally got on my flight, had a pleasant flight to Vienna ... not full, plenty of space, and fitfully slept. Probably making a fool of myself. Once in Vienna and having gathered my bags, I stumbled around trying to interpret signs and German to figure out how to get the train to Graz. I found some English speakers and they helped me out quite a bit. Except when it came down to it, they send me on the right train ... the wrong direction. Oops! I figured it out after a few stops and had to make up the time, except of course, I had nothing to do with that. So I rode it out, thinking I had an 8:30 train that would arrive in Graz at 10:30. The truth was, I was supposed to have an 8:00 train that arrived in Graz at 10:30. I missed it. So I had to take the 9:00 train and I thought I would arrive at 11:00, but in truth, I arrived at 11:30. I was a little concerned, but it turned out fine. Then we took a bus to Christian's place and here we are!
We had a party with Christian's roommate, neighbors and two of their friends and that was delightful. Sebastian is Christian's roommate, Oliver and Anna are his neighbors and Steffi and Lucas are their friends from Oliver's hometown in Austria. I also met Daniel, one of Christian's friends from church who came to visit, and arrived while I was napping. A little embarrassing, but I think this trip will be full of those, so I better knock my pride down from the beginning.
I think my German is better than I allow myself to think. I have been able to understand a little, but when I say "a little" I really mean a very little. Still, I consider it a feat. I'm pretty sure I'll learn and understand something if I just keep listening.
The food has been great. The fellowship has been wonderful. Julie just arrived and she and Michael are on their way out to a strings-only rehearsal (it's good to be an oboist). And I'm going to cut some vegetables to have ready for dinner tonight. More Strudel tonight followed by another Christmas party with a Christian fellowship with Phil and his roommate. Huzzah!

One of the most poignant moments for me thus far has been waiting for the bus to take me to Heathrow when Coldplay came up on my iPod. To hear Coldplay in the city where they're from was a good moment from me. It wasn't live, but it was something.

So in honor of that, today's song is the song I heard on my iPod.

Fix You

When you try your best, but you don't succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
And I...

Tears stream down on your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I...

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Chain

I've been listening to Ingrid Michaelson almost exclusively in recent days. I just seem to be in that mode, that mindset of bittersweet honesty. Plus her voice is incredible. The next few posts you see will probably reflect this.

I finished my novel on Monday. 50,055 words in a complete novel in 29 days. Officially declared a winner by Score! It was difficult. Not the most difficult thing I've ever done, but pretty intense. I learned some things from it I'm sure. But the first thing that comes to mind is

1. Writing a novel is difficult, but not impossible, even for a normal person like me.
2. When writers say their characters take on a life of their own, they're telling the truth. It really happened to me. I wouldn't know what I was going to type or what they were going to do, but then my fingers would start going and they would do and say things. It was marvelous and scary. And most of what came out was horrible, but as this is my first novel, I'm not that concerned about it. My friend Maggie pointed that out and it made me laugh. I said "It's complete crap." and she said "Well, it's your first novel." Like "Of course, it's just practice, you can't be good at everything the first time through." and implying that there will be other novels. I appreciated the reminder and encouragement.

That being said, I have started to think about other novels I want to right. One is a collection of modern-day Aesop's fables with one character consistent through all of them. Things like what to do once one has encountered the "blue screen of death" in computers or things like that. Mostly silly.
I also really want to write that novel about my family. I think it would be incredible.
So, I again open the invitation for anyone to join me on these ventures. Whether it's during actual Novel Writing month or outside of it.

And now with that being said, I received an email this morning from one of the official NaNoWriMo people about what to do from here and he emphasized the importance of continuing to write every day, as exercise, like practice as an athlete or musicians. You must continue to use your "writing muscles" if you want them to develop. So for the umpteenth time I'm going to promise to write in this blog more frequently, and I will probably fail at that again, but I will have good intentions.

So for today's installment of "Wibbles practices writing" I will tell the story of my Chicago audition a week ago.

The Grant Park Symphony Orchestra in Chicago, IL held auditions for principal oboe in Chicago on November 25th. The finals were on the 25th and the preliminaries, which they called semi-finals to make you feel better about the progress you had achieved by simply being granted an audition and showing up to it, were also on the 25th and the 24th if necessary. They were necessary. This means a lot of oboists auditioned for this one position. I had prepared for the audition fairly well, practicing almost consistently and always thoughtfully. I had a lesson with Betty Camus of the Cleveland Orchestra who gave me very good things to think about and tried to prepare me for the reality of auditioning -- this particular position has been open for the past several consecutive summers; that means this orchestra is not in the convenient habit of hiring the person who wins this audition ... expectations should be set low for the auditioner. Regardless, I decided I might actually have a chance to win the audition. After all, I was "qualified" ... my being granted an audition determined that, since "only qualified applicants need[ed] apply." Already that says something, right? About me? I'm qualified. Then I had good feedback from people who give good feedback only when warranted. I was feeling good. But as I started getting closer to the audition, I decided to lower my expectations a little more, so as not to disappoint myself too very much. I thought I'd settle for advancing to the finals, because that indeed seemed a reasonable goal. I went to Chicago early, because I have friends that I was staying with there, I like the city and it's the smart oboe thing to do ... so your reeds settle and adjust to the new climate, and if necessary you can make new ones. Let's get something straight: I don't make reeds ... I'm terrible at it (but that's not totally relevant). I practiced a few times while there. I hung out with my friends. I went to masterclasses of people I don't know and missed the portion with the person I did know. I did a trial audition for the people I was staying with because they're amazing musicians AND they love Jesus. Plus they are really good at Life. All of them. It's amazing. They've definitely been given more than their quota of awesome-at-life-ness. So I played for them and learned some important things ... I would NOT be playing the blue reed, and I had a problem starting my phrases. I'm fine once I get into them, it was just getting them started that was particularly problematic. Mrs. Awesome-at-Life helped me with this a little bit, coming up with some non-oboe theories which worked remarkably well for the oboe. Or for me, at least. But after I played for them, I lowered my expectations again, to not advancing, but merely playing as honestly and truly to myself as I could (which is probably actually raising my expectations, even though it feels like a compromise to the human musician in me). Then they prayed for me and I went to bed. I laid there for a little while, thinking about my scarf in the other room. That conversation with myself went a little something like this.

"My scarf is in the other room, where son-of-Mrs.-Awesome-at-Life is sleeping. That means I can't get it in the morning and I really want to wear it to my audition. Son is still awake right now, I could go get it. But if I did that, I would have to get out of bed. That is both cold, inconvenient and awkward, as I'm in a sleeping bag which makes a lot of noise when you move, and it is not easy to get out of. Maybe I can just sneakily get it in the morning when I leave. No, that would be rude and awkward, especially if Son were to wake up. It would all be over. I should get it now, it would only take a second and then I'd be on my way to sound sleep, which I need since I have to get up so early. No. I'll just leave it. I won't need it. I'll be fine, really. Okay."

Then somewhere after that I fell asleep finally. And I slept VERY soundly. My alarm went off and I only snoozed once, I think, before getting up nearly-obscenely early to shower and prepare for the audition. Everything there went fine. I returned to my bed to discover a text message from my coworker telling me she was praying for me and wishing me good luck. That was the beginning of God using every tool in his arsenal to tell me He loved me. I'm not even going to tell you all of what He did. But suffice it to say ... it was awesome. Definitely the best part of the day. Mrs. Awesome-at-Life took me to the train station with some hot tea in hand and there I waited ... a little longer than I was planning, because apparently I misread the train schedule. Then I got sad. Then I said "I left myself plenty of time and I can't do anything about it anymore." And I relaxed and listened to my iPod, going over one of my most beautiful excerpts to prepare and enjoying my hot tea.

Okay, this has gotten too long. I'll just bullet point the rest of the experience. (Today's lesson in writing: don't spend too long in establishing the setting.)

-- I got to the train station and almost walked the wrong direction, but because the crossing signs worked better to walk a different direction, I went that way -- totally God's providence and hand of direction -- literal direction.

-- I got a text message from my coworker again saying that they would still love me even if I got scared and threw up in my oboe. I laughed out loud.

-- When I got to the park, I didn't see a soul except a Hispanic groundskeeper who clearly didn't speak much English. I didn't know which door to go in and didn't want to dig in my bag for the paper, so I asked her. The conversation went like this:

me: "Hello. Do you work here?"
Hispanic Groundskeeper: "Yes."
[sweep, sweep]
me: "Do you know if there are auditions here today?"
HGk: "Yes."
me: "Which door do I need to go in for the auditions?"
HGk: "Yes."
me: "Ow-dish-eons. Today?"
HGk: "Now?"
me: "Yes! *point to building* which door? *make motions like opening a door*"
HGk: "This door unlocked probably."
[Leads me to a door. The door's locked.]
HGk: "I let you in."
[Takes key ... still on lanyard around her neck ... unlocks door and lets me in.]
Elated me: "Thank you so much! Have a good day!"

-- Then an almost angry tech guy gets mad at me for using the wrong door, but points to me where I need to go.

-- I check in and am assigned number 31. I look at the list of people for the day. I have heard of a handful, but not most. The day begins with number 24. That means there were 23 people who auditioned the previous day. I notice my friend Lindsay is supposed to audition as well. I figure it's over for me. That's fine, I've already re-established my expectations. Honesty. Honesty. Quality. Then I say to God. "Just don't let me be fine or mediocre. Make me extraordinary. Whether extraordinarily bad or extraordinarily good, just let it be extraordinary." He laughs.

-- I enter the group warm-up room. It's very quiet, except a few girls talking who already know each other.

-- I get some of my stuff out, but I can't decide how I want to do it. I get more texts messages from friends encouraging me. I tweet constantly because I'm bored and nervous. I've given up listening to my playlist of excerpts and opt for the playlist of songs I like and that make me happy "Go Time" it's called on my iPod. I start smiling and almost laughing out loud. Definitely bopping my head.

-- I look around at the room and see the other very oboey oboists and decide I don't want to be anything like them. I want to be me.

--I realize my identity is not in any way based or even associated with this audition and its results. Neither is my love of music. I am relaxed and ready.

-- I go to the audition private warm-up room. Everything sounds pretty good. I go to the pre-audition private warm-up room. Standby, I guess, where I learn the final audition list. I am sad. I have to play Brahms Violin Concerto. Of course.

-- I audition. It's fine. But I literally chuckle out loud when I walk into the very nice bandroom. In the middle of the giant room is a box of velvet curtains. I am not behind a screen, the panel is. They have boxed themselves in, in the middle of the room, by black velvet curtains all the way around. It's very funny looking. I laugh and relax. The audition is fine. Very honest to my playing. I am pleased. Although it was neither extraordinarily bad nor good ... that's a little disappointing, but the truth is I'd rather be honest and fine than extraordinarily bad -- because I can be proud of that in a good way, I don't have to settle for joking about how bad it was and "learning the hard way."

-- No one in my hour of auditions advances. Not surprised, but a little disappointed, I head back.

-- I have a marvelous experience in Starbucks on Madison Ave.

-- A homeless man gives me directions to the proper train station (because I tried to go into Union Station which is clearly unoperational as the woman on the recording keeps saying something that doesn't make any sense over and over again like "track 6. track 6. track 6.) he wants me to give him money. I only have a $5 and he's not going to get it. I instead give him the Cranberry Bliss Bar that I had gotten to celebrate my audition.

-- I find I have to wait 50 minutes for the next train back to where I'm going, so I get a mediocre bagel and enjoy my Italo Calvino book while watching people in the train station. One woman is either very angry or has terrets as she walks around cursing under her breath.

-- I get on the train. Have a marvelous ride back to my stop. Mrs. Awesome-at-Life picks me up and takes me back to the house. I prepare to stay for a few more hours waiting for Son to get home so I can say goodbye.

-- Son comes home a few hours early, because he decides to skip class ... since his teacher basically told him to ... Son comes in about ten minutes after Mrs. Awesome and I return.

-- I pack up and go home. Well pleased.

The best joke I got from God: I was walking to my private warm-up room and on my "Go Time" playlist comes the Queen song "Under Pressure." Never a more perfect time. Yes!

Sorry this is too long! But I enjoyed writing it!

The Chain
Ingrid Michaelson

The sky looks pissed
The wind talks back
My bones are shifting in my skin
And you, my love, are gone

My room seems wrong
The bed won't fit
I cannot seem to operate
And you, my love, are gone

So glide away on soapy heels
And promise not to promise anymore
And if you come around again
Then I will take, then I will take
The chain from off the door

I'll never say
"I'll never love"
But I don't say a lot of things
And you, my love, are gone

So glide away on soapy heels
And promise not to promise anymore
And if you come around again
Then I will take the chain from off the door

[begin really amazing section of round/looped recording with building instrumentation]