Thursday, July 15, 2010
Mauthausen (Austria) was the last concentration camp to be liberated during WWII in 1945. Upon arrival I could just feel the weight of being in such a place. The Holocaust has always been one of my favorite areas of study and it took a while for me to wrap my head around the fact that I was walking on the grounds of a former concentration camp. We watched a 45 minute film on this camp and it just made my stomach turn. Words cannot describe what went on there. Walking through the camp, I got to see the insides of the huts where the jews were kept and I was floored by how many people they fit into these tiny bunkbeds. It made me sick to think about how many people were sick, beaten, and murdered there. I also went through the cremetoriums and gas showers which I won't even go into detail about. The smell still lingered and I could see bullet holes in the walls. We have all learned about these camps in history books and in documentaries, but to be there and see it in color is a whole different story. Ended this night by getting on the wrong train, then getting caught in a lightening storm on the way home. Gloomy day if you ask me...I don't want to go into too much detail about this trip on blog because it is too dark, but if you wish to know more, just get ahold of me and I'd be willing to elighten you further...
On a lighter note, Sunday we got to see some really cool places! We all went to Schonbrun Palace and holy cow! Its HUGE. The gardens were beautiful and it had some of the biggest most eloaborate fountains I have ever seen. After this we went and got some amazing Eis at Tichy and headed for the cemetary! Never in a million years did I think I would ever get to see what I saw: the graves of Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert!!!! I was practically 10ft away from their dead bodies!! Again, another fact I had trouble grasping ;) We ended Erik's last night by exploring the nightlife of Vienna and finished with a rumba! It was such a blast but unfortunately missed the last U-bahn :( But this was just another opportunity for me to flag down a sweet mercedes taxi and have the experience of riding in a real car (which I am missing so dearly). We did make it home safe and sound though and hit the hay.
Overall, GREAT WEEKEND!! Im just waiting for all my tests this week to be overwith so I can spend a nice quiet weekend in the country with Jessica and our host family! I've been enjoying myself tremendously on this trip but honestly, I'm starting to get a little homesick. I think this has been the perfect length for a study abroad program. I've learned a ton and had some amazing experiences but I'm just about ready to see my friends and family. Love you guys and see you soon!!!
Sunday, July 11, 2010
The next morning I absolutely could not walk in my shoes so one of my professors took me on a bus into town to get some flip flops. I am eternally grateful to her because if it weren't for that heavenly pair of comfortable flip flops I probably would have died!!
Before lunch, we went to the house where Mozart lived! I still can't wrap my head around the fact that I'm visiting these composers' houses! I've been walking in the same halls and looking out the same windows as they did and it's mind-boggling! I loved being able to learn about his family and his relationship with them. I even got to see a handwritten letter from Mozart to his mother and from reading the translation, it sounds like they were very close and they all had a huge love for God which I found very cool :) My favorite part of this museum was seeing all the pianos he ha played on. They had 2 of his original pianos displayed. One was from when he was 8 years old (it was so cute with its tiny keys!) and one was from later in his life.
For lunch we had a very special guest! His name is Dankvart and he is one of three cello professors at the Mozarteum Universitat (one of the top music schools in Austria). He took us all to an authentic Italian restaraunt and I got the wonderful opportunity of sitting right across from him and hearing everything he had to say about his career in Austria and even heard about some great summer programs at the Mozarteum! This was such a blessing to hear another Austrian's point of view on music in Europe and, in addition, I made an AMAZING connection! I really hope to stay connected with professors I have met here and eventually come back to study more.
I will start off by saying I have never done so much walking in my entire life!! I also made the awful mistake of wearing a brand new pair of shoes and my feet definitely paid the ultimate price. Lesson learned. Aside from the pain I felt, I must confess that Salzburg is the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Even coming from one of the greenest states in North America, I was blown away by how perfect the landscape was! One of the first things we did upon arriving was make it to the top of the castle and OMG the view!!!!!! It seriously looked the the Land Before Time. The grass was all evenly colored and cut leading up into the insanely huge mountains. And running through all of this was the clearest river I have ever seen. It was truely magical! The river looked especially refreshing as we were treking through 85 degree weather...
We went through a museum in the castle and I have to admit that my favorite exhibit was the torture room!! All I can say is that I am glad to be living in the present day! The less "painful" devices on display were actually some creepy looking masks worn by liars and rumor-spreaders for purposes of embarassment. Some devices that stood out as especially excrutiating were a chair covered in spikes, the chastity belt, and a tool used to spread out certain openings in the body....OUCH!! And this chastity belt was NOT like the one seen on the Princess Bride. It only had 2 openings for "personal business" and lets just say that things went out but nothing was definitely going in. Thats my only comment ;)
After seeing the castle and museums inside, we went and got lunch and had some free time. Since I was worn out from all that walking, I just ended up relaxing at the hostel (which was nicer than most hotels I've been in) in the shade for a bit before eating an amazing Indian dinner!! In the evening though, I found enough endurance to go to a techno dance club right down the hill from where we were staying. Probably the best way to end a day in Salzburg!! At first, it was just a whole bunch of people standing around with drinks and cigarettes, I was honestly surprised that it took everyone so long to get up and dance! I thought Europeans were a little crazier than that ;) And those of you who know me, know that I love to dance and probably already know that I was the one to start things off. My friends were also really good dancers but people still just stood around and waited more! In the U.S., people usually gain more courage to get in and dance after seeing someone else go in, but it is different here! I met an Austrian girl and talked to her for a bit and inquired as to why people didn't want to dance! At first I thought we were just making fools of ourselves and people didn't want to dance with us, but to my surprise I found out that they are actually just very shy and don't think that they are good at dancing! She even said that we intimidated them with our American dancing skills and thats why they were too afraid to go in! Anyways I called it a night at about 1am (oh, BTW these things go until 7am!!!) and had one of the best nights sleep ever!
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Ok it's been a few days so I have a lot to cover, but I'll try not to overwhelm you :)
Sunday was definitely a deal breaker for me. I got the chance to experience two amazing and awe-inspiring performances!! Right off the bat I went to one of the many beautiful churches here and heard the Schubert mass in E-flat major performed by the church choir and orchestra. It is just so refreshing to sit in a church with mountain-high ceilings covered in paintings and statues of angels, and then to hear music that was originally composed to be played in this setting was just fa nominal! I was very impressed at how well these musicians performed seeing as they are only volunteers! The only thing that ruined the atmosphere was the organist. I can't even explain how horribly they destroyed to mood of the service!! During communion and postlude I swear on my dog's life it sounded like they took their forearms and slammed down all the keys at once! At first it just sounded like it was in a minor key with a lot of diminished triads (which I think is inappropriate for church anyways) but it modulated into some kind of horror film soundtrack! I wish you could have seen the look on some peoples faces! I'll tell you one thing, it would have made an awesome MasterCard commercial because it was PRICELESS.
Later this evening, my friend Cayla and I went to a Wagner opera at the Staatsoper (the main opera hall in Vienna previously managed by Mahler) and only spent 3 euros on a standing place ticket. Luck was on our side that night because the only 2 open seats in the house just happened to be right next to our music history professors! Our feet were already aching by the end of the first act (keep in mind this opera was 5 HOURS LONG) and we were about ready to leave but scored seats that would have cost us 70 euros! It was well worth it, I have never seen so much musical and technical quality in a performance in my life. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the 150 person pit orchestra was actually 2/3 of the Vienna Philharmonic!!! HOLY COW!!! No joke, I honestly had chills the whole time. Every section of the orchestra was so tight in their playing with each other and they just had the creamiest sound I have ever heard. Definitely an experience I will never forget. :)
Yesterday our music history professors took us out on an excursion to the house where Franz Schubert lived for the last part of his life and then died. Schubert is one of my favorite composers so this was quite a treat! The museum was smaller than the Mozart house but still had some really awesome stuff in there! They had his pair of glasses on display and his piano which he played for guests at his home!
And this is totally off topic but due to one of the German text boxes about an "earth closet" (bathroom), I learned where the word "crap" came from! HAHA I know, of all the things I am learning here, that is not one I expected! The reason this word "crap" came into existence was because the man who invented the toilet was Thomas Crapper! See, you really do learn something new every day :)
Lastly, I just had my second lesson yesterday afternoon and it ended up being 2 1/2 hours long!! And for only 40 euros! That's quite an amazing deal if you ask me :) I get this from my professor at Central W.U. but didn't expect to find the same genuine care for my progress here in Vienna. To be honest I had no clue what to expect but I am VERY happy with the teacher they paired me up with. I have never met an elderly man with so much energy and passion for teaching. I am so blessed by the fact that all he wants is for me to learn as much as I possibly can and become the best I can be. Like I have said before, the style and technique here almost contradict everything I've learned in the United States. It is good for me though to be able to learn multiple styles and approaches to playing cello. In the long run, if I ever have auditions in this area, I will know what they look for as opposed to if I were to have auditions in the US. The more flexible I am with style and technique the better. Not only so I can switch easily between the two depending on where I am, but I can take the best of both worlds and incorporate them into my solo playing.
On a more personal note, this experience as a whole so far has been improving me on a deeper level. Above all, my relationship with the Lord is what is most important to me. Back home, I find it so easy to put all my trust in God and to rely on Him for all my strength. I found it effortless because I was in a comfortable and familiar place surrounded by people who love and support me, but it's different here. I came into this knowing that it was going to be hard and that God was going to use this as a way to mold me and teach me more about who He is and what He really is capable of doing in my heart. Especially before my room mate Jessica got here, I was just thrown into this foreign country knowing no one and having not a clue where anything was. As soon as I got on that plane to Europe, that was God's way of taking my training wheels off and naturally, as any child does while learning to ride a bike, I freaked out. Not having much previous knowledge of my own that I could refer to or fall back on, I had to learn to give absolutely every thing to God, even things as simple as which U-bahn (subway) to ride. As the days go by, I learn how to trust Him with bigger and bigger things. For example, before my lesson yesterday I literally thought I was going to die. I was having the worst cramps and was about to pass out on the way to my teacher's house. I was running early so instead of calling and rescheduling, I sat down on a park bench and decided to just pray and put my health in His hands. As you have read, this definitely paid off. I not only made it to my lesson in good spirits, but it was the best lesson I have had since the beginning of summer! This is one thing I absolutely love about our Lord. You learn to trust Him and He blesses you beyond what you even asked for :) I feel like I'm getting the hang of this. I'm over the initial shock of the training wheels coming off and finally getting comfortable riding on 2 wheels. I can't wait to soar with God and see what tricks He will teach me ;)
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Anyways back on track. So these past couple days have been pretty full and I got to see a ton of cool places! One that immediately sticks out to me was the Staadtsoper (state opera house). We had a guided tour of the inside and besides being shocked by the beautiful art on the walls and detailed work of the rooms, I honest to God got to stand in the middle of one of Gustav Mahler's offices! The small piano he played on was also displayed in the room. Mahler used to be the general manager of this opera house so his face was plastered all over the place! After our tour, a friend and I went to the Doblinger Music shop. I swear I have never seen so much sheet music in one room in my life! If my self-control was anything less than great, I probably could have spent about a quarters worth of tuition in that store. They had everything you can think of! In addition to cello solo repertoire there were endless shelves of orchestral scores, chamber music, cello choir ensembles and excerpts. Well I managed to spend less than 100 euros and got some dinner before a performance in the church with the mummies ;) They performed Mozart's Coronation Mass and the acoustics of that church just made it finominal! Literally, the building remained ringing atleast 5 seconds after the choir cut off. I would DIE to be able to play some solo Bach in there :)
Today I also had my first lesson!! Even though I was not off to a good start (being lost AND late), it turned out to be an almost 2 hour lesson and I learned a ton! He just had me play for a while so he could see what he could do to help and then we went through all of the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations. He ended up giving me some exercises for left hand positions and we worked alot on bowing techniques in order to throw my sound further into an audiences direction. I had never seen a few of these tricks but they are very handy and make perfect sense!! It still astounds me how detailed and exact you must be with every single motion you make and how the slightest change can make the largest difference. Thats the blessing and curse with playing a stringed instrument. The more you improve, the more you realize how much further you have to go because the details just keep piling up. But on the bright side, you NEVER get bored ;)
Well I'm sure I'm missing some stuff out but I'm tired and thats all I can think of for now :) See ya next time! Auf Wiedersein and Gute Nacht!
Monday, June 21, 2010
So my friend (and violist) Jessica finally arrived and I'm having so much fun living with her! I showed her around Stephansplatz her first night and weve just been chilling with german monopoly and walking around the city when were not in class or practicing. So super exciting news, I finally met my private cello instructor!! At first I had no idea what to expect but now I know I couldn't be happier! His name is Joseph and is the cello professor at the Vienna Conservatory. I was really nervous while waiting for him to arrive at the office but even though he knows little englis, we hit it off very well! He is a very sweet elderly man with a smile that can light up a room (thats saying a lot for Austrians)! He even lent me one of his good cellos until another I rented from a shop comes in. I'll be working on the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations and Sonata no.2 in G minor by Beethoven! My first lesson is Saturday morning and I can't wait!!
Today was also very VERY special. My group and I went on a tour of the Figaro House! This is the famous house where Mozart had lived for 3 years (longest period of time he lived in any house) and composed The Marriage of Figaro, the six Haydn quartets, and a few piano concertos. I just couldn't get my head around the fact that I was walking the same hallways and looked out the same windows as this timeless composer! You can spend years studying the life of Mozart but to be in the city of Vienna and BE in his house was just an amazing experience and greatly contributed to everything else that I learned/reviewed. Just a breath-taking once-in-a-lifetime experince, I recommend it to EVERYONE, musician or not ;)
This evening we went to a 3 HOUR opera. I think that just expains itself!! I really enjoyed watching the orchestra and the actors but since it was all in german I didn't have the slightest clue of what was going on, but enjoyed it none the less. One really funny thing that happened, though, was one of the character required 2 actors. The first guy that was hired injured his knee so that he couldn't do any of the stage work and the second guy they hired lost his voice! So one guy acted/danced while the other stood at the edge of the stage and sung his part! It worked out ok but I'll tell you one thing, neither of those guys will probably get a job there again haha.
To make up for all of it Jessica, Cayla, Andreas and I went to a cafe afterwards and had some wine spritzers and gelato! And as if that weren't enough, there were tons of crazy german soccer fans running around Stephansplatz drink with their shirts off yelling victoriously. It was quite the scene, and they say Americans are the loud ones! Definitely not the case tonight haha :)
Just a side note, I know I said that I probably would never get used to the staring, well I lied. I find it kind of fun actually and I made it into a little bit of a game:) Instead of just avoiding the eyes of Austrians, I stare back! It is a little weird at first but I think its fun and I like to wait and see who can hod a stare the longest! You do need to be careful though. I quicky learned that there are just some people you DO NOT want to make eye contact with, and if its a guy (and youre a girl of course) who smiles and looks like hes about to approach you (and you dont want to be approached), THAT would be a good time to look away ;)
Alrighty well Im so glad I got the chance to catch you al up! Hope you enjoy reading these and there will be plenty more to come! It hasnt even been a full week and I feel already like so much has happened so Im just itching to see what else comes my way!
Auf Weidersein, Gute Nacht!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
I finally made it back after an hour and 30mins of walking and my friend Andreas called me to get together with him and a few other girls from the program in Stephansplatz. This is a very busy area of the city and very tourist-y but it was nice to sit out in the middle of the square with my first frankfurter (hot dogs with a slice of bread and dijon honey mustard) and bottle of beer! It is so weird to be allowed to drink alcohol here, and in public, too! I do not plan on abusing this privelage but it is another way of experiencing the Viennese culture. Besides, people here don't use alcohol as a way to get wasted (in most cases), but see it as a social thing to do. I actually agree more with the European policy on alcohol than I do the United States'. The drinking age starts at 16 and the driving age starts at 18. The reasoning behind this is that by the time drinkers reach driving age, they will be over the "getting wasted" stage and driving drunk becomes a lot less common here than it is in America. In addition, if someone here gets caught driving intoxicated, their drivers lisence is revoked for life. I say that would solve a lot of problems with deaths due to drunk driving in the United States.
Back on track here. As we were walking around Stephansplatz, there were a good handful of musicians on the street including a cellist!!This was quite the treat as he was playing some Vivaldi Sonatas with a recorded accompinament. I must say this guy was amazing! Its not very often (specially in the US) that you find street musicians at this level, his sound just made my heart melt! I think I was more consumed by the fact that I wanted to play his cello really REALLY badly! On top of it just having a gorgeous sound I haven't been able to practice the past couple days (due to not having my cello yet of course!) and it's been driving me nuts! I hope I don't suck by the time I have my lesson on Tuesday :)
Anyways, after having some authentic tirimisu from an Italian cafe on an outdoor patio, I headed back home and had a few good laughs with my host parents. They are a hoot! It's so nice to come back from an area with people who won't even so much as smile at you, to people you can just have a good time with :)
That was my day today, pretty laid back but I am super excited to start classes tomorrow!