Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pictures from Rome

My pictures from Rome are officially posted. They are in two 60-picture albums:

Part I


Part II


Monday, April 13, 2009

Holy Week(end)!

I had a rather eventful and somewhat spur-of-the-moment Holy Week(end). I was fully intending to stay in Florence, and maybe take a day trip on Friday or Saturday, but on Thursday I decided I was going to go to ROME with my friend Nirali and spend Friday AND Saturday in the nation’s capital.

This was, of course, my plan all along, but everyone told me I was crazy to go to Rome during Holy Week. Oh well, I did it anyway and it was a blast!

Nirali and I lived together in both Goddard Hall and Broome Street Dorm at NYU, so we know each other fairly well. Here, though, she lives off campus and I live on campus, and so we don’t see each other often enough for either of our likings! We made a pact to spend more time together, and I think this qualifies…
We caught the train Friday morning at 9:15 (we took the slow/cheap train) and got into Rome around 1:00 where we met up with some friends who were visiting from NYU: Paris. It’s their spring break. We checked into their hostel, and I since I came to Rome with no lodging plans (I like to live adventurously…) I asked if they had an open bed, which they luckily did. It was a bit expensive, but it was a nice hostel, and since we were getting up so early and I don’t have a phone, it was nice to just be staying at the same place.

We then proceeded to conquer Rome over the course of the next 30 hours. We saw basically everything there is to see, and walked ‘till our feet fell off. Friday was spent in the southwest part of the city and Saturday we did the Vatican and the northeast part of the city.

There are too many piazzas and cathedrals in Rome to name everything we saw (it’s quite a large city) but all of my pictures will be posted SOON.

I have to say, the Vatican City is very striking. And the museum was incredible. I can’t BELIEVE all the stuff they have in there! Of course the Sistine Chapel is at the end, and that’s the ultimate goal of everyone who’s there, but I was genuinely interested in all the stuff preceding it as well.

St. Peters Basilica was also incredibly beautiful. I can’t believe how ornate everything is…and these cathedrals are just so enormous…I personally think it’s a little intimidating, but I guess the whole “fear of God” thing is taken literally in that way…We saw Pope John Paul II’s grave site. People were kneeling and mourning all around it as though he had died last week…no one really likes the new Pope, so I hear…

It was cool to be there during the most celebrated time of the Christian calendar. The city is enormous, I think that was what I was most impressed by. They have a metro system, but…it’s only two lines, and honestly isn’t that helpful…
30 hours was more than enough, though, to see all of the city, and I was looking forward to being “home” in Florence for Easter.

Which was lovely. They pull out all the stops. I dressed up and went to mass at the Duomo at 11:00 am. There’s a tradition in Florence where oxen pull a cart into the middle of the piazza, and then a fake dove is sent out from the Duomo into the cart, and then the cart explodes into a massive fireworks display (the louder, the more prosperous the coming year will be, or so they say…). It was impressive! The mass was in Italian, so…that was interesting. The Duomo was packed, as was the city in general, but after church we walked around and enjoyed the 75 degree spring weather!

Yes, spring has officially sprung and it makes me want to do…NO work. Rome was sweltering at times. I’m getting tan though.

That was helped by TODAY’s journey to Cinque Terre (Five Lands) on the northwestern coast of Italy! In Italy Easter is called “Pasqua” and the day after Easter is a national holiday called “Pasquetta” (Little Easter) so we all planned to go to the coast! It is SO lovely. Basically, there are five small towns along the coast that are connected by national park trails that you hike to get from one to the next. And boy are they intense! LOTS of heavy-duty climbing and hills. We were all very sweaty and tired, and only really hiked between two of the “Terre” but…it’s really beautiful and the weather was perfect today. I took a few pictures, which can be seen here.

Being by the ocean always makes me nostalgic and miss home…I’m getting really ready to be done here, as amazing as this experience has been for me! It will be good to be home.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

An Eventful Weekend

This has been a weekend full of events and adventures!

Friday was one of the most beautiful days I’ve seen in Italy. We took the bus to the nearby town of Fiesole (which according to E.M. Forster in A Room With a View) is a must-see destination for the first glorious day of spring. The No. 7 bus takes you right up to the top of the hill to the north of Florence, where the tiny town of Fiesole rests overlooking the entire river valley in a gorgeous panorama.

We ate lunch at a little café with an open-air terrace looking over Florence. Good pizza. After that we explored the cathedral up there…there were monks and nuns wandering around…something important was happening that day, but who knows what. There’s a strong German influence in Fiesole, for some reason…lots of the signs are in German. There are also Roman ruins there on the hill, but we didn’t want to pay to go in…so we just looked through the fence.

If you follow this steep, narrow, cobble-stone hill you climb up to this park with an absolutely stunning view of what feels like must be the entirety of Tuscany. We stopped and took lots of pictures. There was a fairly large group of us…8 or so. Climbing higher, you reach the old San Francesco Monastery with a museum of lots of old religious artifacts. Very interesting. There was a place where you could climb up and see what the monk quarters were like. Basically they were tiny stone cells with a desk and a cot (if you were lucky). And a window (or rather a small square hole in the wall). Nothing like vows of poverty!

My nose got a little color that day, and I couldn’t be more happy about it. I am glad to be soaking in rays when I know friends and family at home are either having snow or rain…

Friday night I saw a magnificent concert at the beautiful Teatro della Pergola. Argentinean pianist Martha Argerich and her young protégé Lilya Zilberstein gave a concert entirely of two-piano works. For those who care to know, they played:

  • Mozart: Fantasia in F minor (KV 608) AND Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (KV 448)
  • Schumann: something…(I didn’t get a program because you have to pay for them…)
  • Shostakovitch: Concertino in A minor, op 94
  • Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn, op. 56b
  • Rachmaninoff: Suite No. 1, op. 5 “Fantaisie-Tableaux”

Martha Algerich is one of the fiercest, aggressive piano players I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible. And she’s 68!!! I can’t believe it. I read her wikipedia article and now I'm even more enthralled with her. Basically, we decided that she’s the Meryl Streep of the piano world, and she needs to be played in a movie by Meryl Streep someday, who I’m sure could master the German/Argentinean mix of an accent with no problem…

Italian audiences are funny. As I said, there were three encores. They wouldn’t stop clapping. Flowers were literally thrown from the box seats closest to the stage! I’ve never seen that in real life! People also stamp they’re feet during the applause. Many people around us were also conducting the concert as it went along…haha. They’re really into it. The theater itself was beautiful as well. I felt like I was in a time warp.

Saturday we took a field trip with our Italian class to the town of Pontassieve (literally “Bridge Sieve”) to see where the Italian high school students who visit US for “tandem” go to school. That was interesting. They go to a technical high school, so we saw a lot of math and science classrooms. Also their gym. And students taking a smoke break between classes.

We left the school and went up to an old castle (Castello del Trebbio) where they make some of the best wine in Tuscany. Barrels upon barrels deep under the castle and old bottles of wine that haven't been opened since the 1800s! They make olive oil as well, and we got to try some. It was delicious. At the castle there was another panoramic view of miles and miles of Tuscan countryside and vineyards surrounding the castle.

We explored briefly the town of Pontassieve which is a modest little town along the Sieve River (hence the name).

Saturday evening included an English mass at the Duomo for Palm Sunday (well, Saturday) and some homework (working on the Italian opera scenes I’m writing…)

Today I did more work, and relaxed. I got to skype with my parents for the first time in a couple of weeks. And that’s always nice, of course. A connection to the outside world, and to home…which I feel like I haven’t had enough of, lately…

I really only have 4 more of these, you know.

Weekends, that is.

I can’t decide if I’m happy or sad about that.

There’s still so much to see!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vienna - The Musical Mecca

My procrastination and negligence with this blog has reached an alarming height. I was officially called a “slacker” by one of my readers. So…the guilt has risen to the boiling point and I have to update.

While I technically should finish my entries about Spring Break in Greece (in an effort to keep this chronological), I am instead compelled to write about last weekend’s journey to see Emily in Vienna!

Last semester when I was applying for study abroad, I learned that my good high school friend Emily Bateman (who is now studying vocal performance at BYU’s School of Music) would be studying abroad in Vienna, Austria while I was in Italy! We knew that we simply had to meet up while we were both in Europe, and I didn’t need any more excuses to go to the musical motherland of Vienna.

As a musician (and particularly a composer) I felt like visiting Vienna was a rite of passage. Virtually every great composer from the Late Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods in music history (so, late 1600s-1800s) has lived, worked, and performed in Vienna. Consequently, the musical heritage of the city is intensely rich. Everywhere you turn you see the influence of music on this city. It is truly incredible.

I couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide than Emily. She’s been living there for months, and learning tons about the history of the city. We raced around town trying to squeeze in all the most important landmarks and sights, and I think we were pretty successful. The other fun part was that Emily’s mom, aunt, and grandmother were all in Vienna as well, visiting Emily and seeing her end-of-term performance with her opera group she is studying with.

There are 10 students studying in Vienna through BYU and most of them are part of the opera performance class. I got to see them rehearse and perform while I was there, and they are all very talented! It made me want to perform again…but also reminded me of how much I just love music (especially for the voice) in general.

Getting to and from Vienna was an adventure. I took an all-night train from Florence Thursday night to get to Vienna by 8:30 Friday morning. I…didn’t really sleep, as I was in a seat in a compartment with 6 other passengers, and they check your ticket so frequently…but I was revved and ready to see the city. The way home, I did the same thing, taking an overnight train Sunday to get into Florence by about 7:00 am on Monday morning…It was a bit crazy, but worth it, since I got to maximize my time in Vienna.

Friday night I saw an opera at the Staatsoper (State Opera House). That night’s production was Arabella by Richard Strauss. Not my favorite…BUT the tickets for stehplatz (standing room) were only FOUR EUROS. So…of course I had to take advantage of that. The singers were all quite good…but my feet and legs were in pain by the end of the 3 hour opera!

Saturday we went ALL over, including the Naschmarkt (open-air market and flee market with lots of really cool Austrian trinkets) and lots and lots of churched. That night I saw Emily’s performance, and they did scenes from some of my favorite operas (mostly because they are MOZART…) Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, and Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). They also did scenes from Rossini’s Il barbiere di siviglia (The Barber of Seville) and “The Flower Duet” from Delibes’ Lakme (one of the most beautiful duets ever composed…it’s used everywhere, and I’m sure you’d know it if you heard it).

Sunday morning we went to mass where the Vienna Boys Choir performs each week! They sang Schubert’s Mass in C Major, which I wasn’t familiar with but really really enjoyed. It revived my desire to one day write a mass…it’ll happen.

Sunday evening was lovely as well, as all the students meet at their program director's apartment and eat a home cooked meal (prepared by one of the students) and have class together. They are lucky to be studying with such an intimate group of students!

Also, all this opera lately has been extremely helpful because I am currently writing two scenes of an opera for the end-of-the-semester concert here in Florence. The libretto is entirely in Italian…so that has been an interesting challenge, but it’s so interesting how my musical vocabulary changes when I’m setting Italian text instead of English…we have several vocal performance majors here and musicians who will be performing it! It’s very exciting.

I took many pictures, of course, all of which can be found HERE on facebook. The captions (thanks mostly to Emily) will tell you more about what we did and everything we saw. I ate my first wienerschnitzel! And it was really quite good!

I was struck by the culture, architecture, and obviously the language and how different everything is from Italy. It was lovely, and the Baroque architecture of the buildings is very striking. But…I’ve really grown accustomed to living in a Renaissance city. Vienna has some modern buildings and there are touches of modernization here and there. They have a fully-integrated public transportation with many underground and above-ground trains, rail trains, and busses. Florence has…none of that. And I kind of like it that way!

The greatest news is that Emily and her whole group of students will be coming down to Florence in just a few weeks, and I will be here to return her favor and show all of them around! I can’t wait.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Big Fat Greek Spring Break

My Spring Break in Greece was fantastic! What an unbelievable trip, certainly one that I’ll never forget. We did so much and saw so much. The prospect of blogging about this entire week is extremely daunting. So, I will break it into sections and try to do the best that I can to sum it up.

First off, all of my 250 I’ve chosen to upload (out of about 350 taken…) can be seen HERE.

Getting to Greece was an adventure in itself. I woke up around 5:45 AM because I could hardly sleep from all the anticipation. I took the #25 Bus to Santa Maria Novella Train Station, where I met William and Alanna. We bought our train tickets and caught a 7:30 train to Pisa Airport. We arrived around 9:00 and got ourselves checked into our flight, which was quick because we had no baggage to check. We lived out of only our backpacks the whole week, which was fine.

We got through the incredibly lax security in a matter of minutes and were sitting at our departure gate roughly an hour before our flight was even boarding. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.

This was good, though, because it gave me an opportunity to practice my newly acquired skill of SOLVING A RUBIK’S CUBE! Yes, this is what I learned on my trip to Greece. We had a lot of spare time while traveling, etc. Thanks to the help of the cube-master William, I have now mastered the art of the Rubik’s Cube (although I need to work on my speed). That’s a cool thing to be able to say you can do, though, right?

We took a plane to Rome (about a 40 minute flight…) and had a 3 hour layover. We ate lunch and hung out in the terminal. Our flight was a little delayed getting out of Rome, but even so it’s only a 2 hour flight to Athens.

From the airport, we stalked up on a few toiletries, checked our email at the free internet kiosks, and withdrew some cash. Greece uses the Euro, which is nice.

They do not, however, use the Roman Alphabet…which I hadn’t really considered in our preparations for this trip.

None of us speak Greek, but luckily most Greeks speak English. It’s just easier to find yourself completely helpless because you can’t even recognize most of the letters, let alone understand the meaning of the words. But often they put the English translation right underneath, and this is a great place to discover which letters mean what.

We took the X95 Bus right from the Airport to Syntagma Square in the heart of the city (about an hour’s ride) and from there we took the subway to our hotel. The way tickets work here in Greece and Italy is very different from the US mentality. In New York, for instance, you HAVE to swipe your metro card to get in. Payment is mandatory and essentially unavoidable. Bus and metro tickets in the places I have been work differently. You buy your ticket at a ticket window, and then you have to “validate” it in a machine that makes the ticket “good” for a certain period of time.

However, there’s no one to check your ticket other than that. So…technically you don’t HAVE to buy a ticket…or validate it. However, if you’re caught (by the rare and random ticket-checker man) the fine is usually something like 60 times the price of the ticket. So that should discourage people from not buying and validating their tickets. Personally, I think these people have too much faith in people. I have NEVER bought a bus ticket in Florence, and never been checked or fined. I figure, by the time I actually AM checked, I’ll have ridden the bus more times than even the cost of the ticket…so I’m not too worried.

We slept Saturday night at the Hostel Aphrodite, run by Australians. We ran into a lot of Ausies in Greece…but more on that later…

We were famished and ate a late dinner in the bar downstairs at the hostel. The bartender was a red-haired girl from Australia who was fascinating…something about her was very guarded and mysterious, but she was fun. We all watched the old Disney movie Mighty Joe Young in the bar that night, which I hadn’t seen or even thought about in years…

We slept for a few hours before getting a wakeup call at 5:00 AM so we could head down to Piraeus Port to buy our ferry tickets to Santorini. But I think that’s enough for one post.

In more recent news: I saw The Reader last night at the Odeon Cinemas here (which shows American movies on certain days of the week). Kate Winslet won the Oscar for Best Actress this year for it. It was very…heavy, but moving. I suppose any movie related to the Holocaust isn’t typically a “pick-me-up” but I like drama, so I enjoyed it. Check it out if you still have the chance, although I’m sure it’s gone from the American movie theaters. I am so out of touch with American pop culture, it’s ridiculous…

Friday, March 6, 2009

Midterms, Spring Break, and a Haircut

Well, I officially survived midterms!

  • Monday: Music Theory
  • Tuesday: Italian Oral exam
  • Wednesday: (thankfully nothing but a composition lesson…)
  • Thursday: Italian Written, Aural Skills, Music History II

For my Italian oral exam I had to talk to my professor about a trip I took this semester (I told her about Switzerland)

My Aural Skills midterm included singing some atonal melodies and this rhythm sheet where you “sing” the rhythm written on the page (on “tah”) and clap another rhythm (like beats 1&2 or 2&3 or 3&4). That was individual. Then we did dictation as a group (where we write music that he plays on the piano…in various forms…).

We had that Music History essay due on Thursday on “the meaning of ‘Baroque’ as it applies to the music of the late 16th and 17th centuries. But for our in-class final we had to write ANOTHER essay on one of three topics, I chose the topic of comparing and contrasting the Baroque drama and music in Italy, France, and England. Woo! Exciting stuff! 

They say that study abroad courses are supposed to be a joke, and that they’re really easy, but honestly this is perhaps the most stressed I’ve felt about midterms in my college career. Maybe it’s because this is the first time that they’ve all really fallen on the same week. They’re always “supposed” to but professors I’ve had often do their own thing.

Now that midterms are over: SPRING BREAK IS HERE.

And I’m off to GREECE.

I’ll of course blog when I get back about all of it, but here’s a brief itinerary:

  • Saturday: Fly Pisa to Rome, fly Rome to Athens, sleep here.
  • Sunday/Monday: Ferry boat to the island of Santorini, staying here.
  • Tuesday/Wednesday: Ferry to the island of Paros, stay here.
  • Thursday/Friday: Ferry back to Athens, stay here.
  • Saturday: Fly home.

I’m travelling with my friends William Spinnato and Alanna Fox, whom I knew from choir back at NYU. Alanna’s roommate (also named Alanna, ironically…) will be joining us for our time in Athens at the end of the week. Several of my friends here are also going to Greece with touring companies (like how I went to Switzerland) and they will be in Athens at the end of the week as well. So there’s potential to hook up there.

One small anecdote before I leave for a week: today I had my first haircut in Italy! “Un taglio” (OON TAL-yo) it’s called in Italian. There’s a small barber shop at the bottom of the hill on Via Bolognese where I live. I looked up in my travel dictionary all the phrases it had about getting your haircut and I marched down there. It was a gorgeous day today (it rained all week during midterms…and now is mysteriously sunny and beautiful once they’re over…hmm…) and I managed to hold a fairly decent conversation with the barber about the weather. I told him I was a student at NYU studying here and that I was going to Greece tomorrow.

He was such a character! I suppose caricature is a more appropriate word, though. He was this old man with kind of wild, receding hair (funny that he’s a barber) and these large glasses that magnified his eyes considerably and made him look cartoonish. You could tell he LOVED cutting hair and had been doing it for years. The whole thing was a grand production it seemed…the way he glided around the chair and twirled his instruments. If anyone reading this has seen Toy Story 2 where the old man (from the Pixar short where he plays chess with himself) comes as a doll repairman…that’s what this guy reminded me of. It was well worth the € 14.50 and I’m sure I’ll be going back before I fly home in May.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sackbutts and Hurdy Gurdys

Thursdays are usually my “long” days because I have TWO lectures in the afternoon as opposed to just one, like I do Monday-Wednesday. They are also two classes that I dread…but then usually end up enjoying every week: Aural Skills IV and Music History II: Baroque and Classical Eras.

This past Thursday, however, I got a little reprieve, because my music history lecture was meeting downtown at the Galleria dell’Accademia (where David is) to see the Historical Musical Instruments Exhibit that is permanently housed there.

I marvel at the wealth of knowledge possessed by our instructor, Kate Bolton. She’s this fantastic British woman with an infectious accent (complete with hilarious little phrases) and that iconic, dry, British sense of humor I can’t get enough of. She also knows what seems to be an infinite amount of information about the era, the composers, their music, and (as we saw on Thursday) the instruments of the time.  She could rattle on forever about these things without looking at her notes once. It was fascinating.

You always see those ridiculous pictures in university pamphlets with the small groups of students at a museum or something, all gazing intently at their professor as (s)he points out some piece of art or a historical artifact and is explaining it...well, on Thursday, I was one of those people! It actually does happen in college. I remember thinking as we were going through the exhibit (this is SO "college" right now...)

Unfortunately for us, they closed early on Thursday (unbeknownst to us) and we were cut short. So we finished the rest of the lecture in a little café in Piazza San Marco.

The exhibit is very interesting. They have several period cellos, a “tenor viola”, many violins...harpsichords, pianofortes, and all sorts of instruments you’ve never seen or heard of before (like sackbutts and the hurdy gurdy). They have a collection of period wind and percussion instruments as well. The instruments of the day (in correlation with the "baroque" style of art focusing on grandeur and splendor) were often very ornate and works of art themselves. Many of the instruments were shaped to look like animals.

They have also digitally catalogued recordings of these instruments so you can hear what they sounded like. Apparently they give concerts every now and then on the instruments in the exhibit that are still playable. Mind you, these things are a minimum of 300 years old. But many instruments, particularly stringed instruments, improve in tone quality with age. This is why the few remaining Stradivarius string instruments from the early 18th century sell for millions of dollars. (A Russian collector recently bought a Stradivarius from 1718 for 9.5 million dollars…)

What’s been so interesting and exciting about this class is that all the music we are studying was composed HERE, or at least influenced by Italian composers of the age. Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Corelli all lived and worked here…the French composer Lully was actually born in Italy and changed his name when he moved to France…Handel, Purcell, and Bach were all heavily influenced by the Italian tradition. These composers would make a point of coming to Italy and spending time here just to learn how to do what was being created down here. And FLORENCE was THE birthplace of opera. The first operas ever performed in western history were performed right down the street. It’s incredible.

While I’m enjoying the class…I’m not enjoying the research paper we’ve been assigned that’s due on Thursday.  The prompt is to “discuss the term ‘Baroque’ focusing in particular on music.”

A bit, vague, I think.

I realize it’s been a little while since I’ve written a paper like this, and I’m out of practice. Or out of motivation. Or both. But I’ll hammer it out in the coming days. As with any history course…it’s a lot of raw facts we need to know. Our mid-term is the paper which is due, but also and IN-CLASS essay on Baroque vocal music.

I set to work on it today, Saturday, but the weather was SO GORGEOUS that I just had to take my work outside! My roommates and I set up camp on the soccer field in the middle of the olive grove on the estate, and we ate lunch and studied in the sunshine. It was in the 60s! I was in a short-sleeved shirt and more than comfortable! This is not good for studying students on the brink of midterms and Spring Break in one short week!

But that’s a topic for another day.