Travels, Tangents, & Tribulations (with some Libations)

a chapbook of wanders and wonders

Toledo: the stair-master of Europa

Posted on 21 April, 2012

Once upon a time, in a little old town called Munich, there was a singer who was desolate, poor, and had three days to waste before flying back to the US of A. Along comes a magical maiden from Toledo–her name was Vicki. Sound familiar from previous bloggage? Vicki and I got along incredibly well as travel buddies in Munich, and we kept in touch through the wonders of facebook ever since then. When I told her I was coming to Madrid, she immediately said, “Well you have to visit Toledo, too.” So I took the twenty minute train-ride from Madrid to Toledo on Saturday afternoon to join her.

Vicki is very lucky, as her apartment sits in the heart of the walled city of Toledo, although this meant an uphill climb from the train station. I willingly abandoned my heels for the day and a night I stayed with her, as Toledo’s roads are not only hilly but also cobble-stoned. Our first evening we attempted to cook an Italian meal with homemade pasta sauce, endless noodles, garlic bread (big emphasis on the garlic), salad, and strawberries. This was fairly successful, minus a lot of burnt garlic because I forgot just how powerful European stove tops are

note: when cooking abroad in Europa, chances are you need less power/heat than you need. Far better to start small and build your way up.

A ton of American television shows are popular with the youth culture in Spain. Some I understand like Friends, Gilmore Girls, The Simpsons–these are shows that the Germans like, too. However, a lot of shows that most Americans consider trash and/or guilty pleasures, the Spanish LOVE. These include but are not limited to: Jersey Shore, Dance Moms (roughly translated as “I Want To Dance, Mom!”), 16 and pregnant, and Toddlers and Tiaras. According to Vicki, a lot of Spaniards wonder if that’s what American culture is really like, and it’s a tough to answer–we do, as a culture, thrive on spectacle, but one would hope there is enough sanity to outweigh the truly crazy.

Vicki and I planned our route around the city early in the morning. Toledo is not a big city–in fact, as we proved with our day trip, one can really cover the altstadt (which is within the walls) in a day. If you take a look at the map, you can follow our route easily. I will offer a caveat that the city is very, very hilly. As I discovered upon my arrival, Toledo runs all uphill, and I can only compare it to a stair-master. Your buns will get the workout of a lifetime, so just be prepared with comfortable shoes that have good traction.

We started on Paseo de Recaredo, which is probably the flattest road in Toledo, and we went counter-clockwise. Our first big landmark was Puente de San Martin which is the old bridge that links the walled city of Toledo to the West. The bridge was completed sometime in the 14th century. The view of the countryside was picturesque.

scenic view from Puente de San Martin

scenic view from Puente de San Martin

We then proceeded to San Juan de los Reyes. The monastery here is not only beautiful but also fairly unique–well worth a couple euros. Firstly, inside the church was impressive enough–the walls were ornately carved, and there were some beautiful paintings on display. The construction on the monastery was started mid 15th century and completed/dedicated early 16th century. The real highlight is the cloisters. Fragrant orange trees grow there, and the whole area was so well kept. I couldn’t help but think that this was something out of Brian Jacque’s Redwall Abbey.

The cloisters at the monastry

The cloisters at the monastery

Additionally, up on the second story, you can see all these incredible gargoyle animals that surround the inner walls of the cloisters. These are not the typical grotesque gothic creatures but well-crafted, identifiable animals like horses, lizards, and monkeys.

Further down the road, we visited Santa María la Blanca, which is a former synagogue now-turned museum. Dating back to the 12th century, it is said to be the oldest still-standing synagogue in Europe. The museum displayed some vibrant, impressionistic paintings and drawings along with the history–all in Spanish. All held symbolic meanings within the depicted images, and all had some sort of of Hebrew.

Can you spot Yahweh, his people, and the angel bearing Yahweh's blessing?

I didn’t comment on this before when writing about Madrid, but even in places where tourism is highly prevalent, very little English is spoken or written for the sake of the tourists. It was very frustrating navigating my way around Madrid, because although I am fairly tri-lingual, Spanish is not one of my languages, and there was a lot that I didn’t understand when reading plaques or bulletins. Thankfully, Vicki readily translated anything I had a question about. She commented also that Spain is trying very hard to become more tourist-friendly, but it’s a slow effort. The transition is hard for a country that was closed off to the world under dictatorship in the 20th century. Even more so, this is hard for a country that takes so much pride in its language and its various dialects. Everyone wants their language to be preserved. However as much as I hate to admit it, English is the international language, and tourism is the best way to help Spain’s economy. To have better tourism, a country needs to be accessible to other cultures, too.

Our route then took us further into the city where we had a marzipan break. I don’t think many people know this about me, even my own friends, but I am obsessed with marzipan. Ever since I was a small child, I have been known to eat marzipan until I was sick to my stomach. Living in Salzburg, I used to buy a small marzipan candy daily (a great way to gain weight). Here in Toledo, they also specialize in marzipan. In case anyone wants to know about the history of marzipan, its varieties, why it is not almond paste, etc., go here. The big difference from an eating perspective is that Spanish marzipan is sweeter and smoother–almost dough-like or rolled in with dough and baked. German marzipan is grittier and not as sweet. To be honest, I prefer the German marzipan, but that may be because they like to combine it with chocolate.

Revitalized by our sugar high, we proceeded to Iglesia de los Jesuitas, aka the church of the Jesuits. This is a newer church in Toledo built in the 18th century. Inside it is not nearly as elaborate as the Cathedral or the monastery; however, the paintings are very notable and striking against the white walls of the church. Additionally, the church had a spectacular view from the tower. We had to climb some questionably-safe stairs, but the view–especially with the azure skies–made for some great photos.

A view to behold

The impressive overlook of Toledo from the top of the tower.

We decided to forgo the El Greco museum, but Vicki strongly recommended we pay a couple euro to see perhaps one of El Greco’s finest works, The Burial of Count Orgaz. It is a huge mural up-close, and it is a great representation of the Italian/Byzantine fusion that El Greco masterfully crafted his artwork around. You may be asking, “who is this dude?” And I may respond, “check here.”

Burial of Count Orgaz

From there, we headed to Alcázar, which is a giant stone fortification at the highest point in Toledo. The museum there covers anything and everything a military fanatic could want. Vicki and I agreed that had it not been for free admittance on Sundays, we probably would not have gone. It was exponentially frustrating finding our way around the museum when the map was poorly marked, the guides not helpful, and the signage conflicting. On the plus side, seeing all the armor was very cool. The exhibit was very similar to the one at the Palacio Real except much more extensive. If a person wanted to see the whole museum, it could take several hours; however, Vicki and I saw what we wanted to in about fifty minutes and spent another thirty minutes trying to find an exit.

We ended the day at the Cathedral which is the masterpiece of Toledo. It is immense; I think I spent about an hour and a half touring the Cathedral on my own and taking in all the detail from the magnificent stained glass windows to the two organ consoles to the resplendent gold altar–and that is just in the center of the church. The church has a small museum with paintings from the Renaissance including more El Greco works, and there are even larger cloisters outside with soaring archways that frame time-worn murals.

Walking outside near the cloisters

As exceptional as the construction and artistry is at the Cathedral, I have no idea how the congregation manages to focus on prayer. If it were me, I would be distracted by a dozen new things every single Sunday looking around from the pews.

To have one last hurrah together, Vikki came back with me to Madrid and stayed with me at AdrianaLia’s apartment. We went out to Mercado de San Miguel for a light supper, and then tried to go to sleep early as we intended to go to Museo del Prado the next morning. This was not to pass, firstly because we both overslept by several hours, but secondly because the line for the Prado was over an hour and a half long just to get into the building. We quickly did some re-thinking and map-checking, and we decided on Museo Reina Sofia, another art museum very close to the Prado. As wonderful as the Prado is said to be, I found the Reina Sofia highly satisfying. There is a lot of modern art which reminds me strongly of the High Museum in Atlanta. Additionally, they have some of my favorite Salvador Dali and Picasso works, including Guernica. Once again my student ID came in handy, and both Vikki and I got in for FREE. In my opinion, even if you find modern art confusing, frustrating, and/or pointless, for the price of FREE (or a little more should you not have your student ID) the museum is worth a visit to see and learn more about Spanish art which we do not have a lot of floating around in the US. In fact I think the High probably has the best Picasso exhibit on display right now.

I have yet to understand the photography rules in Spain, because while every other location in Europe that I have visited has strict no camera–even without flash–rules, every single custodian seemed to turn a blind eye to people taking pictures left and right, with and without flash, in Reina Sofia. Out of respect, from one artist to a lot of dead ones, I opted not to take photographs and bought a book instead. I would recommend likewise to other tourists. If you really like the painting, then buy a postcard and then keep it, send it, scan it, but be respectful of the artist (dead or alive) and support the museum. Reina Sofia does have a large amount of their exhibits posted online, should anyone want a look-thru.

In two hours, we only made it through about a third of the museum before I had to go back and pack for my flight and Vikki had to take the train back to Toledo. Goodbyes and departures were hurried and blurred; everything went as planned. I finally arrived in Stuttgart around 10PM on Monday, March 12th.

End note: Vicki is perhaps the best tour guide in Toledo. Should you need a reliable, charming guide or translator, she is available!

Madrid: do you want paella with that?

Posted on 9 April, 2012

After having perhaps one of the top three most idiotic accidents in my life, the rest of my flight was uneventful, and I woke up only once to see the snowy peaks of the alps.

Vicodin: the assist that every traveler wished she had on international flights to help ease the time change.

Arriving at the airport in Madrid, I received some pretty fantastic news—I was accepted to both CoOPERATIVE and BASOTI, two of my other potential summer programs.  My parents and I had a lot of on-going heartfelt conversations (despite the time difference) about my options and what was a good (and financially feasible) plan.  Ultimately, I decided to stick with my plan of attending SongFest in June, and then attend CoOPERAtive in July.

It was a little weird making summer plans at the beginning of March, particularly as the weather in Madrid already felt like summer; every day had a high of at least 70 degrees F.  Beware—or, “bewirey,” as a group of Spaniards told me before we broke down the language barrier a bit—the temperatures do drop drastically at night, and you will sorely regret not hauling that jacket with you throughout the day when it’s nighttime and you realize you’re about to spend the next six hours in the freezing cold.

I made this chilling discovery when my voice prof and I left for the music school where she currently sings, after I dropped my luggage off at the apartment and very quickly threw on a clean dress.  The music school used to be a small palace at some point, so it is filled with antiquity and grandeur.  The practice rooms themselves are far, far nicer anything I’ve ever worked in before.
An example of one of the very grand lesson studios.

A friend of my prof made a very charming tour guide showing us around the school, and then I attended a studio recital at the school’s theatre.  Take a look around—a pretty darn impressive place to sing for undergrads. Acoustics were pretty good, too, thanks to wood floors.  The recital had a mix of students, though the program progressed least to most advanced.  There were some students who had a lovely color and timbre but technical issues; others, frankly I could have done without hearing.  Vocal pedagogy in the States is so much different in Europe.  And frankly, if you have a good sound, most opera houses could give a flip as to whether or not your technique was good, provided it was a sound that brought in the money.

Afterwards, we went out for an early dinner at 9:30PM.  Yes, an early dinner.  Most people don’t eat dinner until around 11PM.  The culture in Spain is unlike any European culture I’ve experienced before.  Nobody is really up and moving until noon.  The day proceeds to build momentum from there.  By 11PM at night, everyone is out and discussing dinner.  AdrianaLia and I didn’t discuss so much as look down an alley and say, “oh look, a Cuban restaurant!” and proceed to indulge in a pitcher of sangria, a plate full of plantains, and delicious pork and beef.
How delicious does this look?

The next morning I woke up at a reasonable (by Spanish standards) 10:30AM so that I could see some of the city before voice lessons.  AdrianaLia lives very centrally in Madrid right by Teatro Real.  Near the Teatro is the Puerta del Sol which is a very busy place for tourists and locals alike, as it is filled with shopping and a wide variety of food.   When looking around the city from the center of the Plaza, it’s hard to know where to look first.  Everything about Madrid is grandiose and demands attention.  In a lot of ways, Madrid is like the unedited version of Wien.  It’s like the Spaniards said, well Austria’s nice, but now let’s make Madrid FIERCE.  The buildings are massive, and each looks like there is some fantastical history behind it.  And when one goes inside, there is no end to the detail from stained glass to rich fabrics to ornate wood-working.

The metro system is fairly easy to navigate, particularly in comparison to some of the more complicated metros in Germany.  One can access the metro at Plaza del Sol (which is a central hub for train switches) or directly at the Opera house.  For my time in Madrid, I used the metro to get to my voice lessons because it was faster and also to save my poor feet.

An open letter to all those women and men who fancy themselves fancier in heels: All the women in Madrid wear heels every day–and they work ‘em across the sidewalks, cobblestones, gravel roads, and up and down slick marble steps. Should you want to attempt this feat with your feet, let me caution that you will need an endless supply of bandaids, heavy-duty gel-cushions, and decent arch support from the get-go.

I brought ONE pair of heeled boots with me–my trusty Fryes (as seen here with Sir Woolliam).  Those boots are the prettiest, sturdiest, best-fitting boots I could ask for, but even they made my feet sore after several hours of walking!  I learned this my first day when I went strolling through the picturesque Parque del Retiro.

Retiro is the largest public park in Madrid, and frankly it’s the largest park I’ve ever been to.  It is so big that there is a giant public fountain and lake, and one can rent a row boat and go out on the lake.  Another Wien comparison–I was very much reminded of Schoenbrunn which is a day trip (even a two-day trip!) in and of itself.  There is even a glass palace, just like Schoenbrunn. Peek inside the glass palace.

These comparisons shouldn’t be too surprising considering the Hapsburg Dynasty.  Anyone remember that?  K.  Brief history lesson.   The Hapsburg Dynasty existed in both Spain and Austria.  Back in the 16th century, Ferdinand I was the bro of Charles V of  Spain.  Charlie told Ferdi, yo I got this little ol’ place called Austria.  It’s kinda quaint.  Want it?  And so Ferdi took it.  And this meant Ferdi got the Holy Roman Empire when Charlie died.  Ferdi’s son was Maximilian II, and he became the next Holy Roman Emperor, AND he built Schoenbrunn.  How cool is that, y’all?

After a somewhat brisk stroll through the park, I hurried via metro to get to my first voice lesson.  There are some very nice practice rooms for rent in Madrid!  I managed to snag one near Moncloa with a baby grand piano, full length mirror, and hard wood floors for twelve euros an hour (two hours a day over three days= 72 euros.  Even converted to USD, this is a better deal than what I have found in the States, especially given the quality of everything). The first day with AdrianaLia, we covered some of my older rep, as I was still jet-lagged and recovering from a very heavy month of singing in February. We focused mostly on diction, and I now have a cheat-sheet of Spanish diction aligned with composer, style of piece, and/or regional dialect. It was a lot to take in, but I was able to really clean up my De Falla and Rodrigo pieces; I now want to take one (or two) to Songfest and get some master class feed-back.

So much singing had made both me and AdrianaLia hungry (food is a really common theme in Madrid), so we went next door to a small restaurant/bar. As it was 6PM, we ate with everybody’s grandparents in Madrid. There I had my first encounter with paella. What is paella? Delish rice with saffron and seafood medley. Fresh seafood is easy to come by and fairly cheap, and we also indulged in some calamari (possibly my favorite food ever). We also had Chorizo which is very salty and savory–in my opinion it needs some kind of starch with it like rice.

A long walk home (in heels, of course) on top of all that food meant a sound night of sleep–too much sleep. It was a bit of a mad dash to make it to my next voice lesson in the morning. In day two of lessons, we worked on new songs from De Falla and from Obradors. Obradors wrote some pretty darn beautiful stuff, like this little ditty I worked on

Note: Everyone should listen to and love Diana Damrau.

The lesson then called for a shopping excursion, since I had nothing to carry my books around in–the accident before I left for Spain side-tracked me… so I bought a new Purificación García handbag. I realize I have always been a “stuff-the-wallet-in-a-boot” kind of gal, but the soft supple Spanish leather so beautifully crafted and in a perfect shade of blue? AND the fact I got 15% off thanks to my American passport? Why not? It also looks stunning with my Pikeur breeches when I’m out at the barn being fancy with opera scores and grooming ponies on the same day.

Ladies, take note: El Corte Ingles is an incredible store. Go there should you want to buy any European designer items.

With new purse in hand, I went to visit the Palacio Real for the rest of the afternoon. Like Schoenbrunn, it really does require several hours to see the whole thing. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed (although for anyone who lives near me, I do have a guidebook that has some stunning photos of all the rooms). Judging just from the front, though, I think you can get an idea for how extravagant the palace is.

I think perhaps my favorite part of the tour was seeing the music room that displayed some stunning examples of Stradivarius with ornate detail. According to the guide, they are still loaned out on active performance today. My second favorite part, hands down, was the armory. One can see all the armor both equines and humans adorned for battle, and it was a lot. Hard to believe a person or horse could move with so much metal on their backs! All the armor was clearly custom-made to the individual–easy to separate the men from the boys, literally.

The Basilico, which is directly across from the Palacio was closed for the afternoon, so I took a brief siesta at the apartment before AdrianaLia and I headed out for the night. We did plenty of window-browsing and shopping, and I took care of some birthday/bribe/offering shopping. Just in case anyone thought original football jerseys were cheaper in Europe, they aren’t. However, the hand-painted fans are stunning, and the jewelry from Toledo (should you not get to Toledo) is a good price. We wandered through Plaza Mayor before coming to el mercado del San Miguel.

While I enjoyed all the other food eaten so far, this is by far the most delicious, best-priced food in Madrid. You can easily eat a different meal every night for two weeks. The set-up is like a market with a standing bar; there is some seating, but don’t expect to get it. Food is sold tapas-style, so you can get as much or as little as you want, and it is a lot of fun to sample everything. Everything is fresh, and what you see is what you get. A caveat, though, if you can’t deal with crowds and loud noise, this may not be the place for you.
San Miguel

Since we didn’t get home until 3AM (I’d worked up some stamina over the last few days to stay out late), it was a difficult morning to be up and vocalizing by 9AM for my last lesson. We reviewed everything learned from Rodrigo, De Falla, and Obradors, once again paying specific attention to diction. All in all, I had four new pieces and three refined ones. Not too shabby for a few days workshop. Spanish rep is not something covered all that often in the States. I was very lucky to be exposed to it as an undergrad and to have a teacher fluent in both the language and the song repertoire. For those who want to hear more Spanish art song, let me recommend Victoria de los Angeles who is a famed 20th century soprano; she sang a very large amount of Spanish art song. For singers I strongly recommend to explore Spanish rep for themselves! There truly is something for everyone, and that Spanish “flare” can make an incredible encore or competition piece.

Wanna see more pics from my time in Madrid and read even more commentary? Check out my photo page.

A Note From the Erstwhile Editor (in case you were wondering)

Posted on 11 March, 2012

In my mind leaving at 3:30 for a 40 minute drive to the airport for a 6:30 flight with herself already checked in and boarding pass printed is plenty of time. At 3:30, as she packs the last few items in her necessities bag, she opens the door under the bathroom sink and somehow lodges a long splinter of wood deep under fingernail. With a howl of pain she jerked back breaking off whatever tip there might have been for me to grab with tweezers. The pain is constant and excruciating, and I cannot get it out although I can clearly see it under the nail. 30 minutes are wasted because I think I know where an Urgent Care Center is. I give up, hand her a bag of ice, finish throwing stuff in her carry-on, and head for the airport at 4:10. I make a frantic phone call to Jeff who uses the wonders of technology to tell me that yes, indeed, there is an urgent care place at the airport. Meanwhile, I am playing word games with Liz to take her mind off her pain which is making her nauseous.

We make it to the Lufhansa desk at 5:05. Her face is streaked with tears, and I am trying to look in control. With perfect German calmness we are told that she cannot check her bag unless she is ready to go through security, and they will be closing the counter at 5:30 (no need to say promptly, this is Lufthansa). We leave the suitcase and rush to the third floor of the Atrium. Fortunately, the nurse heard the hysterical tone in my voice and the sobs from Liz when the receptionist said no one could see us until we had filled out paperwork. Time is now 5:14. The doctor is cool, calm, collected, and competent—but can’t get the splinter out. He decides to numb the finger so he can dig deeper under the nail. One shot at the bottom knuckle, another halfway up, another on the side. Time is now 5:22. She still has feeling in the tip of her finger. 5:25—I make the call hoping she can find a doctor in Frankfurt. She runs ahead of me back to the desk downstairs. 5:29—she checks her bag in. She still has to go through security and make the hike to her concourse. The Lufthansa attendant is not at all optimistic that she will make the boarding call. Oh no–her backpack is in the exam room. She books it
back up to the Urgent Care Center. Attendant is shaking her head at me. I follow her at a much slower pace. When I get there, the doctor has given her at least another five injections, sliced open her fingernail, pried it up, and gotten the splinter out. Now it gets really chaotic because it’s about 5:47. He wants to dress the finger and then write a prescription for antibiotics. I take over dressing duties (and do a really pathetic job). She grabs her backpack, some extra gauze and band-aids, her carry-on and heads for the security line. I wait for the drugs, grab them, pay the bill, and run to security (6:01) where she has just gotten to the head of the line and throw her the antibiotics (and some vicodin!). She makes her plane.

‘I only know how to say, “por favor, la manta en el caballo” and “se muerde”; the former doesn’t help me at all, and I dread the situation where the latter would be used’

Posted on 5 March, 2012

If you know I am flying to Germany, skip this.  If you didn’t know I was leaving the country, start here.  If you didn’t know I was living at home maybe you need to  go back to my blog from the summer).  If you’re one of my parents who was a little confused on when I was actually leaving, see the following:

Mom, Dad–I get it. I know you are ready to throw the lavish parties and FINALLY convert my room to that dreamy private reading room you’ve always wanted as soon as I get my sorry goodie-two-shoes behind out of the country, but give me a couple days.

That all said, I thought I’d combine my pre-trip note with some FAQs.

1) Wait you’re going out of the country?  Why?

Yes, because I auditioned on a lark back in October for the Junges Stuttgarter Bach Ensemble at the Bach Akademie in Stuttgart, Germany. We’re doing the Bach B minor Mass, with which I have a love-hate relationship more complicated than with any man that’s ever been in my life. Let me go ahead and gush that it’s all-expenses paid plus stipend–basically I get to be alive for another month provided I sing prettily and smartly and don’t wander off anywhere. This is all going on during Bachwoche, which is awesome to say out-loud. Or cough up a hairball; the phrase kind of lends itself to that purpose, too.

2) Are you still going to be employed when you come back?

So far my awesome boss-man conductor Ray Chenault and his lovely wife have been incredibly supportive, and I finished summer program auditions end of Feb as well as a couple of gigs on my schedule. The plan for me come April when I’m done in Italy is to literally walk off the plane when I come back to the USofA and go sing the Maundy Thursday service.

3) Wait I thought you were going to Germany?

I am. But, the JSB ensemble gets to go on tour in Italy after Bachwoche. And actually, because of my little stipend, I get to go over to Madrid for a few days before the real work begins. My fabulous undergrad voice teacher, AdrianaLia Moutz, is currently on Fulbright in Madrid, and she offered to host me at her apartment as well as give a “mini” Zarzuela (that’s Spanish artsong, for those wanting to continue their Opera 101 education) course. With luck and labor, I’ll be adding a few new pieces to my Spanish rep which I love to sing.

4) You speak a lot of languages, but do you know any Spanish?

See rambling title.

5) What is the time frame for all of this again?

So I am flying Lufthansa from Atlanta on Tuesday evening of March 6th to Frankfurt and then from Frankfurt to Madrid. Tentatively, I am supposed to arrive in Frankfurt on Wednesday March 7th at 9:40AM; then I arrive in Madrid at 3:45PM. After hoopla in Spain, I fly out of Madrid via Air Berlin at 5:20PM on March 12th, have a brief lay-over at Palma Mallorca, then arrive in Stuttgart at 10:50PM. Rehearsals start the next the day. To be honest, I am still trying to figure out S-bahn/U-bahn schedules to get to the hotel as quickly as possible so I don’t wake-up my roommate from Hong-Kong when I move in. I also plan to sleep a ton during the day on the 12th.

On Sunday April 1st I will fly Lufthansa out of Naples at 6:05AM (SHOOT ME) to Frankfurt. At 12:10PM I leave Frankfurt for Atlanta International, and I arrive home Sunday April 1st at 4:25PM.

6) I heard you still couldn’t find your suitcase?

Sheesh I’m a soprano. I’m lucky if I find my opening pitch and don’t get distracted by the tenors. And incidentally, it has, at long last, been found.

7) What are you doing with that ferociously cute, out-of-this-world quirky puppy of yours while you’re gone?

The somewhat pathetic puppy with the, “oh gad” look on his face in the above photo will be looked after by my parentals. When my mom leaves to chaperon a bunch of highschoolers in France for a couple weeks, it’ll just be my dad.

8) Umm… is that a good idea? Considering this is the man who forgot to feed you for an entire day when your mom was out of town?

We’ll find out, won’t we. I know for a fact that Bobby the puppy will get to sleep on my parents’ tempurpedic bed while I’m gone, which is the most sinfully comfortable bed I have ever flopped on top of.

9) Will you bring me something back?

Probably not. Be pleasantly surprised if I do.

10) Where are you going in Italy?

Off the top of my head, Naples, Bologna, Siena–all cities I did not visit on my previous two trips to Italy, so I am most excited.

11) Will your Credit Union finally let cardholders use their debit and credit cards in Germany?!

NO because they are stupider than the dodo birds and not nearly as cute. They actually put more restrictions in place on all card members after my mother–the woman that makes people realize that Dante should have included a circle in hell of Lutheran women crowding around unfortunate sinners saying, “Well, I guess if you don’t want tuna casserole for lunch now, you can have it for dinner”–raised holy hell in the manager’s office for me being stranded in the middle of Flughafen-Muenchen with no money source and no warning of having no money source. Now my card gets frozen–in the States, mind–every time I make an online purchase farther than Montana.

I tried to apply for a spankin’ new credit card at another bank, but I ave no credit history since I never took out loans for school. No credit history, no credit card. So now I have a credit card through The Bank of Dad, which is actually scarier to deal with than the actual bank. But at least now I can have some source of money abroad.

11) What’s the best way to contact you if you win a free pony?

As soon as I have a definite address of where I’m living, I’ll post it on the contact page (see above). I also have a Spanish number and a German number (and a German voicemail, as some may have noticed). If you call my American cellphone with important news like I won a pony or got a really awesome gig, I’ll get it immediately through my voicemail and be able to holler back thanks to the wonders of Skype and Google Voice. I do plan to invest in an internet usb stick as soon as I find the best deal in Europa/Deutschland, and when that happens, email is best.


Because the Akademie basically runs my life 7AM-7PM, do not expect immediate replies, let alone replies within 24hours. This also means that my Skpe times are minimal. Not to mention, when paying for internet in Europe, they do it like the phone companies here, charging you for every little piece of data. Skpe utilizes a massive amount of data. I think I would rather spend my data watching Gloria in all her glory on Modern Family (she bears a striking resemblance in looks and mannerisms to my own dear Colombian voice teacher in undergrad).

12) Did you update your blog or something?

Yay I’m glad you noticed! I took some time to research new blogging options, from getting a tumblr to templates to website hosting. Because I do blog entries only once a week when abroad, and also because I am more of an essayist than a post-it-noter, I wanted the blog to have a better flow to it. The way it is now is how I envisioned my blog being way back when I started it.

Essentially, it reads as a highly interactive newsletter with organized paragraphs, pictures, links, and cultural commentary. The format and content is sophisticated, yes, but at the same time the presentation is simple, clean, and well-intentioned. I want to be able to communicate with everyone I know, not just my music major friends (every time someone writes a // 5th, Bach kills a kitten) or my horse friends (dudes I am SO getting another pair of Pikeurs while abroad!!) or my parents (I mean, I’m alive, what do you mean “what else is new”) or more normal people (I am beyond excited for The Hunger Games, and I am praying I might be able to see it while abroad). If you want to read something the whole way through on the site, it reads smoothly; if you’d rather pick and choose, the organization is such that it’s no biggie if you don’t want to hear me gush over a well-played Bach cello concerto or which players from Real Madrid are good looking AND good footballers.

The Final Note (was a high C)

Posted on 16 August, 2011

The last week in Salzburg felt no different than any other week for me. A number of people were feeling the homesickness. Others were dreading/anticipating the start of school so soon. And others still were staying on in Europe. I was in the latter category–and still trying to figure out plans.

Originally I was going to Berlin and then to Wolfsburg to see

FC Bayern-Muenchen - Wolfsburg am Samstag

FC Bayern-Muenchen - Wolfsburg am Samstag

HOWEVS, I was having to wait ’til the last moment to buy my Fussballspiele ticket anyways due to incurring medical expenses on a “weepy eye” for more than 48 hours… so there were no tickets left for either Wolfsburg or Bayern Muenchen. Ganz ganz traurig. So then I thought, well, maybe I’ll just go to Berlin. Then my flight changed around…. THUS. Finally, I decided to stay in Salzburg an extra day and night and then head back to Muenchen.

In Salzburg, all of us had final preparations for unser letzte Deutsche Pruefung and our split-over-two-days final concert. Final concert part I on Tuesday consisted of all those singing solos. Final concert part II on Wednesday consisted of all those singing opera scenes. Tuesday’s concert was truly wonderful; to hear the progress everyone had made from day one in the program was exciting and heart-warming. According to Konrad, someone had been commenting on the competition and rivalry in being in a voice program (beit summer or conservatory). Personally, I didn’t find this at all. This may be because I was living so far away from the college with my host family, but normally, as those of y’all who know me know, I am fairly competitive. I work hard, I win. I work hard, I don’t win, someone gets booted from behind. Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of this boot. Not only did I never have a reason to boot anyone but I also truly never felt any kind of rivalry–quite the opposite. Certainly, there were people who did not get along with each other. But for the most part, everyone cared about the progress and success of everyone else, musically and otherwise. Was there drama? Yeah sure–there were a bunch of divas. Was there gossip? Of course–that’s a normal fixture in any voice program. But there was a healthy sense of community with the program that I found pleasantly surprising. Seeing how well all the teachers and coaches got along, too, made me love the program more than ever.

My last lesson with Prof. Wise would have been really sad, if not for the fact I feel sure I am going to see her again soon. In fact, I’ll make sure I see her again soon. The progress I made with her I felt was significant. My onsets are better, the muscles are gradually becoming more responsive to supporting the breath so the voice could be on the breath, and she has given me such invaluable exercises and tools to work with so I can continue to hone my skills. I feel much more confident that I am doing what I need to be doing, beit in a practice room or on stage. Additionally, her poise, sincerity, and thoroughness are reflected in her teaching as well as in her character. She knew when to push me but also when to stop before I was wound too tight. Receiving praise from her was always well-deserved. I hope beyond hope that the next time she hears me sing, I will have progressed even further with my technique and can show off effortlessly all we worked on this summer. She did say she didn’t see how I could not exceed, not with how hard I work. That I will take to heart–and then go and sing some more.

Wednesday, day after final concert part I and a slight hoo-rah that night, we woke up bright and early to take our German final. This was not bad at all in comparison to the exams I’ve had to take at Centre. No random essays on welfare, the environment, or some abstract topic of your choice auf Deutsch. Nor did the speakers on the listening section speak at brink-neck speed, nor did I encounter a grammar section that I had to stare at for twenty minutes because I was thinking in French in preparation for a quiz after German. Instead, the exam was straight forward and concluded with a brief description of your favorite memory in Salzburg–obviously, Fussball-Donnerstags and winning two liters of beer off Austrian men over how many states in the United States. This, needless to say, amused my teacher.

In reward for our diligent efforts, we got to meet the famous, incredible, quite delightful in person–Renee Fleming. It was a rather awe-inspiring half hour for us as we listened to her speak about her career, what she did to prepare for a concert, what it was like balancing a family and a career, what she would have told her 20 year old self (study your languages!). This meeting was on the tails of Monday’s meet and greet with Alek Shrader, who played Ferando in this year’s production of Cosi Fan Tutte at the Festspiele. Additionally, some of you may know Alek Shrader from the Met Talent Search where he a) decided to learn “Mes Amis” from La Fille du Regiment on the spot but then also b) sang nine/neun/neuf high C’s. Fairly impressive. He is also incredibly good looking (yes, go back and click the picture) as well as being very down to earth–even going so far as to thank Doninzetti for “doing him a solid” by writing that piece of music.

Back to Renee, she was gracious enough to let us have a group picture with her. She was one of the first opera singers I was exposed to, and I vividly remember hearing her American Arias CD for the first time. As a kid, I hated listening to any singer that I thought I sounded better than (actually I still think that). Renee Fleming’s American Arias album shut me up and made me listen. Her interpretation of “Monica’s Waltz” is still by far one of the best recordings ever.

Renee Fleming mit allen Studenten

Renee Fleming mit allen Studenten

Moving onto Wednesday night, part II of the concert was held at the Augustiner Keller. This was possibly the greatest idea ever, because first you have opera, then you have Apful Struedel, and then you have beer. Lots and lots of the best beer in Salzburg. In my personal opinion, the opera scenes overall were a success, and we had a good crowd. Somewhat frustratingly for me, Die Feldermaus went worse for me than normal while La Fille du Regiment peaked. I just never got by breath under me for the first round of singing. It was a bummer, because the other day we had had a brilliant rehearsal, but you know I remember having one teacher say to me you should always practice to the point where you leave your best in the practice room. I guess I did just that.

A public thank you to Francois for covering my sorry soprano behind on the top of page two, first system, where I’m not entirely sure what I did to screw that rhythm, once again in an entirely new place where I hadn’t had a problem yet. Probably forgot a dotted quarter (again). At least I looked nice in a gown.

Oh, to part is such sweet sorrow

Oh, to part is such sweet sorrow

For the second round as Marie, I got to wear cowboy boots. Nothing ever goes wrong in cowboy boots, and I had a dress that twirled.

Marie et Tonio

Marie et Tonio

Both of those photos are credited to Lisa Hoeller, my German teacher here in Salzburg. Lisa is awesome! I’m so glad to have made a new friend in Austria.

Lisa und ich

Lisa und ich

Singing in front of an audience always motivates a performer. Singing in front of family and friends simply inspires. Looking out from the stage, I could see my host family (even Lisa and Laura came) and Anna with her family. Lisa blowing me kisses when all was said and done was a touching moment. Yeah, I had by far the most awesome host family. Lisa, Laura, Anna, her brother, and I ran around after the concert. Stairs were particularly entertaining for the kids that night (beats me, I just watch).

Lizzy, Laura, Anna, Lisa, und Peter

Lizzy, Laura, Anna, Lisa, und Peter

We drained one keg of Augustiner beer, so we then moved onto a second keg. This we did not finish, despite best efforts. Drinking songs were sung, jazz piano played, and good Fussball conversation had. I enjoyed being able to chat with the German teachers one last time. The rest of the night–to summarize–was like a Saturday night at Centre College, but with further walking back to the dorm and better beer.

Thursday shall be known as, “recovery and pack day,” in addition to, “letzte Fussball-Donnerstag.” The last pickup game was a good one–four on three with terrific weather, albeit the lake was frigid. Never have I been so happy to be a girl when jumping into cold water. My sympathies to you guys, guys. Lots of friends, Two restaurants, multiple beers, and two ham and cheese toast sandwiches with mayo and ketchup (even though I hate mayo) at 2AM later, Martin and I made it home on bikes in time to have meaningful life conversation until 4AM. This meant that, getting up at 8AM Friday morning, I had eight hours of sleep in forty-eight hours time–along with six liters of beer.

An open letter to Centre College: Thank you for teaching me to work hard, party hard, and still make it to class the next day, somehow passing exams with seemingly little sleep, a headache that might as well be a person hitting me with an anvil, and an odor distinctly requiring a shower. You have obviously prepared me well for the real world. Prost.

I volunteered to babysit Lisa and Laura that morning so that Martin and Martina could go to a Mozart Matinee concert, and we had loads of fun, particularly with making paper boats out of all of my extra copies of French art song and arias (Ha. haha. I get such a kick out of this. Hahahahahaha) and sailing them in the pool.

On Saturday, I paired up with a US native who had been living in Spain for a few years. She was a delightfully surprising perfect travel buddy. We visited both the BMV Museum and BMV Welt. Alright, ladies, even if you aren’t crazy like me and don’t like cars, it’s a lot of fun. At BMW Welt, for starters, you can sit in practically any car or motorcycle you want and just imagine yourself living the luxury life. Even moreso, you can then test drive the car of your dreams. Also, there is a lot of nifty displays that explain the scientific wonders of “German Engineering.” The museum took me by surprise even more because not only was there fabulous history to be learned but also a fantastic display of “Art Cars”–cars that were designed by artists. We spent the afternoon at Olympiapark, watching a Redbull event on the lake while eating a picnic and then going on the Ferris Wheel to get a better look at the old stadium. Because this is a holiday weekend throughout Germany and Austria, it was a packed crowd from families to hippies to tourists like ourselves. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect (Just check out the photos).

Sunday was a very late start for me, as I slept 13 hours, ate food, slept more, typed more, and finally was inspired to go see the Bayern-Muenchen Stadium with the Swedish girl staying in our hostel room. We were four minutes too late to get in, and I discovered that I can’t really argue in German very well–yet. We did, however, get some nice pics of the outside of the stadium which is extraordinary, in my opinion. We took the U6 towards Odenplatz where there’s a) Starbucks and b) beautiful gardens and enjoyed dinner our dinner of sushi and noodles before heading back to the Hostel.

Alianz Arena

Alianz Arena

And so now, dear reader, I find myself at the end of my trip and you find yourself at the end of this blog. Sad for both, oder? Thanks to my editor for keeping my blog entries in line. Vielen Dank to my friends for first actually reading this blog (some after I growled at them) and then saying they liked it (possibly because I did growl at them). I hope this blog will remain a good resource as travel aid, summer voice program review, and cultural enlightenment.

I think there are only two loose ends to tie up.

The first–dating back to a question in my first Salzburg entry–is yes and yes.

The second–I finally did hit my one true and good high C. I had been warming up and practicing my technique most thoroughly–trying to feel the necessary space, breath support, lightness, etc. I was getting close, and I had been doing wall squats to try and release more tension in my upper body. Finally I went to stand and as I hit “mi” to “do,” Konrad walked in the room scaring the living daylights out of me as well as a vibrating, resonating, crystal-clear high C that had no tension or control to it whatsoever. I was so excited of course I had to tell Prof. Wise. She and I both agree, if I can’t have Konrad, then I need to find another man to scare me on a daily basis so I can continue to refine my technique and build an outstanding upper register.

So I would like to announce that, yes, I will be taking applications on men willing to scare me/take me by surprise (as much as I can’t stand surprises) on a regular basis during vocal warm-ups. It should be noted this is a position of notable risk, as the occasional cowboy boot may be booted, Mozart score hurled, or punch thrown directly at the one surprising. Payment will be in baked goods or smoothies. Useful spoken foreign language preferred, just in case diction coaching is ever needed.

‘Es gibt zwei-und-fuenfzig Staaten in der USA’ ‘Nein.’ ‘Wie weisst du das?’ ‘Ich komme aus der USA…’

Posted on 14 August, 2011

For Americans and Europeans alike, let’s quick have a little history and geography lesson. According to the wonders of Wikipedia, there are, indeed, FIFTY/fuenzig/cinquante/limapuluh in the United States of a America. You might be curious to name all of them, so in that case, read this. On the American flag, there are thirteen stripes for the thirteen original colonies, and then there are fifty stars on the flag. Puerto Rico is NOT an American state. Washington DC is also NOT an American state.

So moral of this story is, should you care to win multiple beers off Austrian Men (danke, Wolfie, Robert, und Sandy), it’s safe to bet on how many states are in the USA.

Coming back from Vienna to Salzburg was like something out of Inception where you’re snapped out of one dream back into another dream. So in the Salzburger dream state, music hit hard and fast.

In opera scenes rehearsal, we were all off music and onto staging. In lessons, we were working on repertoire for the final concert. Since I was in opera scenes, I didn’t have to have a solo piece for the final concert. This freed up time to work on a lot of technique with Prof. Wise. Specifically, we worked on legato line i.e. “breaking Liz of her baroque technique tendencies and staying on the breath 24/7,” sotto voce, and freeing up my high C and higher. As Pat Wise and coach Thomas Enman pointed out to me, there ain’t no question that I have the range. But it’s matter of releasing everything and staying on the breath. My motivation to improve technique was driven further after a six-page cut to one opera scene and the reassignment of a final note in the other (both decisions understandable and out of my control–no qualms with anyone but myself!). Prof. Wise helped tremendously with learning the line the register changes in Roselinda’s part. She also worked a lot with me on Apres une Reve and pushed me to feel what it’s like to end a piece still having air to spare–it’s an incredible feeling.

The only thing I can think to compare a singer being on the breath and using it efficiently is a potter at the wheel. Having also done this art as well, let me tell you, balancing and molding a large mound of clay upwards and elegantly is no easy feat. But one the clay is centered (just like when the voice is on the breath), the artist has infinite liberty to shape the clay up and down, wider or narrower, creating shapes and designs all by finessed feeling at the fingertips. And so a singer feels and sculpts her breath to create the colors and timbres that build a (no pun intended) breath-taking piece of music.

My coaching with Tom Enman was super, too. Because of all the opera scene rehearsals, I had missed a ton of masterclass and could only be there for snippets at a time before going to warmup or go to rehearsal. I had heard a snippet of his English diction masterclass, and I was eager for his feedback on the English in Die Fledermaus. Consistency of the vowel sounds and using the mouth “efficiently” were his big points. This came up especially with my French, as well. Who wants to chew French diction? ew. Not me. Pass the merlot, bitte baby.

This week I also (finally!) got to put my festspiele tickets to work. On Tuesday, I got to see the incredible Mitsuko Uchida live in concert. I had heard her play some piece or other on NPR’s Performance Today, but never had I heard her live. At the start of the concert, we had standing tickets far, far above from the stage at Haus fuer Mozart. Truly, we had a bird’s eye view of everything. The look from above gave us an interesting perspective, though, because when she started her program (all Schubert), we could see and feel the electricity of her hands across the Steinway’s keys. During intermission, a friend of mine got ambitious and had counted seats in the front so that we could see and hear Schubert’s Sonata in B flat Major up close and personal. I somewhat half-heartedly said sure, why don’t we try and move up past the ushers. Somehow, God and every other musical figure was smiling upon us because we got past the ushers, we had center seats in the third row, and we were enveloped in the lusciousness of Uchida’s playing. Definitely a moment I will never forget. There is a moment in that Sonata where the line just seems to be an out-of-body experience and one can simply meditate on Schubert’s melody.

One of the wonderful things about the Festspiele is that every night, they have a giant screening of an opera. Sometimes it’s current, sometimes it’s old. Nevertheless, it’s usually always a good production, and people turn up in masses to watch. As one of my voice studio mates and I discovered, you can’t really deter a passionate Austrian opera-goer. No really, it doesn’t matter if there is severe lightening and thunder and everything else is being buffeted around you, when you here Rolando Villazon singing in the 2008 Salzburger Festspeile production of Romeo et Juliette, really, how could you leave? And so we toughed out the weather, with ice cream and ponchos provided by ORF, and enjoyed us some opera–with a hundred plus other opera fanatics.

ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk) is a wonderful thing here in Austria. It’s the equivalent of NPR, except more powerful and with way better funding/resources to make culture and opera more accessible to the public. They are the ones that are responsible for the giant screenings by the Dom, and they also regularly broadcast operas, ballet, and philharmonic productions on TV with primetime coverage–not like obscure night or daylight hours. So one can catch the afternoon Fussballspiele and then flip channels to see Renee Fleming. Cool, oder?

I had an interesting discussion about TV with my host mother when we had a “girls’ night” with rattlers (beer with limonade–actually a lot better than what one may think). In the US, we have no problem exposing our kids to violence. It’s not uncommon to see four year olds with toy guns pretending to be cowboys and shooting at imaginary enemies. By age eleven many kids have some kind of electronic gaming device with a handful of violent (albeit perhaps not bloody/gore-filled) games. Yet heaven forbid little Timmy sees an exposed breast, even in artwork. Here in Austria/Germany, the censoring is reversed. Nudity and sexuality are more openly expressed and accepted. German men have no problem stripping at the public lake to go for a swim–even with the lone Fussballspielerin; women get tan everywhere… both location-wise and physically…; little kids run around in their birthday suits. Warum nicht? There is no shame. However, violence–in particular exposure to children–is strictly regulated. The children are not even allowed to watch commercials that hint at violence. Actually not even many if any of the commercials have violent themes. Any visual media covering violence in the news is saved for after kids’ bedtime.

Apart from keeping up with German class, watching the news each night also significantly helped me keep up and better comprehend spoken German. Usually the news broadcasters are quick but very clear and articulate with their German, and there are also pictures from the news which helps. A lot of American TV shows like Sponge Bob, Gilmore Girls, and The Simpsons are broadcast in German. It’s a little strange at first, I must say. Sometimes the humor we have in the US doesn’t translate so well in German. Nevertheless, the American shows are extremely popular here! In particular Die Simpsons. Feel free to watch a little!

After a week of hard work and lots of singing, I did finally get adventurous and go out for a night in Salzburg. In some ways it reminds me of Danville because while the alcohol does flow, you have limited options of where you can go. Dancing is not too big. However, somewhat surprisingly, Irish pubs are. O’Mallys has been a huge hit with all of the participants here, especially for Thursday Karaoke nights (which I never attended because of pickup soccer. Take your pick, I did). Like I said earlier when in Bavaria, beer is served in large quantities and cheaply. It’s not uncommon to have two or three liters of beer for about ten euros (depending on where you go). By far the best, albeit most expensive beer I had was at the Augustiner Keller. It’s a nutty, full-flavored rich beer that tastes good with most anything. Thank you, parentals, for teaching me that should I choose to drink, I should drink the best stuff possible.

All the girls gather 'round Cameron, one of the tenors, for a night out on the town.

All the girls gather 'round Cameron, one of the tenors, for a night out on the town.

Sunday was by far the most musical day I could have asked for in Salzburg. To start off the day, the local community band went around in a tractor-pulled wagon playing “oom pa-pa” tunes at the crack of dawn. It was a rather startling wake-up call for me, I admit it. There should be some law about tuba playing before 8AM. Lisa and Laura loved it, of course, and at least the music made sure I was awake and wouldn’t be late for… wait for it… Renee Fleming‘s dress rehearsal with the Weiner Philharmoniker. Those from Centre may recall we had the pleasure of listening to Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic at Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts in conjunction with the World Equestrian Games held in Lexington, Kentucky. Side note–this was the first time WEG had ever been held outside a European nation. I never thought I would hear the Weiner Philharmoniker live twice in one year. Then to hear Renee Fleming live singing Strauss? Simply incredibly. She was only marking, but her voice was liquid gold. And she looked far better than when I had last seem photos of her in 2007. The Philharmoniker then played through Strauss’ Alpine Symphonie which I had never heard before then. Don’t know why I haven’t paid more attention to Strauss, but when I come back to the states, I’m going to listen to more.

After an incredible morning, one of the tenors from the program and I went and got schnitzel at St. Peter’s Stift keller (where last I had tried Knockerl) and then headed to back to Haus fuer Mozart to try and get one more ticket for Cosi. The original plan–I get a better ticket for Cosi than what I had, then give my old ticket to Andrew (the tenor I was with). What actually happened: I sweet-talked one of the scalpers, and with luck and time on our side, we got two 300 euro tickets for 40 euro each. The seats were incredible–center balcony in the second row. The production of Cosi Fan Tutte was an interesting take. At first, I wasn’t sure if I would like it simply because the overture and introduction of characters started off with Don Alfonso and Despina cast as dark angels, complete with wings. However, as the production went on, the wings disappeared, the singing was magnificent, and I could appreciate the ideas the dirigent (director) had. I liked especially that he had a clear vision of the ambiguous ending of the opera and that he went ahead and made some of his own definite decisions for Despina (who in other productions isn’t always given too much characterization). Check it out for yourself!

And I am sorry to say, there are no pictures for this week. Part of this is because–and a public apology to my father about this–I lost the charger for the camera batteries. I think I may have left it in Wien. So any more pictures I have, they have been taken on other people’s cameras but with my SD card. Apologies once again, Dad. I hope all the links in this entry make up for the lack of photos!

‘Ich schlafe mit einem riesigen Wels.’ ‘Wirklich?’ ‘Ja… fuer jetzt.’

Posted on 1 August, 2011

To go ahead and clear the air–yes, I do sleep with a giant catfish. His name is Calvin, and he’s five feet long. He’s also a pillow (a comfortable one at that). This is just what happens when you live on your own. The nights are too quiet, the cushions on the couch aren’t supporting your back enough to watch TV, so you head to your neighborhood Bass Pro Shop and invest in a giant fish.

Week III of Salzburg was only a half-week, really, as then we had our travel weekend Friday through Sunday. The plague had hit hard and fast, and so numbers were thinning for master class and for opera scenes. I ended up subbing last minute in master class by whipping out Bach BWV 51 and singing through “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” for the first time since senior recital–and you know it could have been worse. It’s funny how when we break from something for awhile and then come back with fresh eyes, it doesn’t seem as menacing as it once did. That’s actually a frequent occurrence with music. The other frequent occurrence is when you go look back at an old piece, start singing it, and discover all the terrible bad habits you originally learned with the song still in tact–and then you have the joy of breaking the whole song down and putting it back together.

The Geistbergers were on their family holiday in Italy, so Anna and I held down the fort–sort of. We first managed to break a cabinet door, a glass, and spend close to an hour trying all three TV remotes before figuring out how to turn on the damn thing. Men of the house to not change across cultures. Here is all this high tech stuff, and a man insists, “oh it’s so easy to use, really, you can’t mess it up, you just have to press z then y then x and then only touch z for this blah blah blah blah.” Not to plead woman, but sorry. That is not straightforward. There are universal remotes for a reason–as Anna and I eventually discovered, one of the remotes was indeed universal. Oops…

And for the record, it should be known that yes, one can make American chocolate pie in Oetsereich. Whouldathunk, I know, but I made it work. And it was quite tasty! I was so thrilled people ate it. Heck, one accompanist was practically licking the casserole dish I served it in. The pan problem is that normally the only circular pans the Austrians have are spring form pans–not needed for making pie. So I ended up going with a casserole dish that had the perfect depth for pie. With luck, I’ll be baking it again as it was such a hit. Anna also made apfulstruedel a couple days later which was heavenly. That is a smell in the kitchen I am going to miss a lot.

But apart from these slight setbacks, we had a blast. On Tuesday we went to the circus. Neither of us had been since we were small children, and we were hesitant that what we once thought was funny wouldn’t be any more. This was not the case, however. Circus Roncalli was much more like a traditional circus that one might read about in Water For Elephants except fewer animals. In fact, there were only horses–beautifully kept and beautifully trained horses, actually. Four stunning black Friesians and four shimmering white Arabians The horseman even rode one of the Freisans in a dressage saddle and schooled some nice piaffe/passage work and well as tempis. The clowns were hysterical, and the acrobatic acts made our jaws drop. Comedy never ceases to amaze me. Laughter breaks so many boundaries, be they cultural or linguistic. Even though Anna’s and my conversations were a German/English hybrid, both of us still could laugh and relate to the same comic acts we saw before us. I think for me, though, the really wonderful part of the evening was hearing the live musicians as they filled in the background music so seamlessly. Amusingly, albeit not too surprisingly, a lot of the music they covered originally came from Opera. One of the clowns even broke out into some Figaro for an act. It was a great evening for laughs and ice cream.

Ice creamwas also a popular theme for Week III in Salzburg. For those who haven’t been to Europe and eaten ice cream, truly the plane ticket is worth the ice cream. It is rich, creamy, natural, and explodes with flavor in one’s mouth as good ice cream should. Our German teacher, Lisa (she’s the same age as I am. Funny, no?), took our German class on a walking day and made a special stop for ice cream. Here’s a small sampling of some of the flavors readily available at a good European ice cream stand: hazelnut, chocolate, vanilla, yogurt, yogurt with berries, chocolate with chilli, nutella, cookie dough, mango, orange citrus, pistachio, banana, dolce du leche, strawberry, raspberry, and poppyseed. I ended up getting yogurt, chocolate with chilli, and berry. mmmm lecker!

We had our German midterm, which could have been worse. However, I truly managed to put myself at a disadvantage by studying French the night before instead of German. Now, I know that you, dear reader, are going, “Liz. Really? Really Liz?” And to that I say, “Next time you have to sing a nine minute French piece and are trying to learn everything in a crunch so as not to disappoint your French major partner or your French coach since you seem to be the only one qui ne parler ou chanter pas a francais (oh mon dieu), try it out and let me know what happens.” Anywho, I got what I’ve always gotten on German exams–mid 80, go figure. But, more importantly, my French diction improved lightyears over night and is now deemed passable.

Continuing with the French theme, I had a fantastic one-on-one coaching with Francois this week. He is definitely my new-found favorite person, apart from Prof. Wise and a certain German teacher. Not only is he a remarkable pianist and accompanist, but he’s very clever with his insight–not to mention, he’s incredibly patient with my silliness. The latter, of course, goes a long way with me and typically results in pie. All the aforementioned things considered, I am now seriously looking at Crane at Potsdam SUNY. If the caliber of teachers and coaches is even a fraction as brilliant as Francois, I would be so fortunate to study there. IU and Prof. Wise are still on my radar as well, though, as they have been for awhile.

For those who weren’t dying of the plague on Wednesday, our tall, dark, and handsome German teacher served as (a remarkably, unbelievably patient) fearless leader and somehow managed to herd thirty or so voice majors to and from Hellbrunn–a medal worthy feat, let me tell you. Hellbrunn is quite a nifty little palace. The actual palace is quite small, but the gardens are incredibly beautiful. Just check out the view. Additionally, it is known for its “water games,” which are, more precisely, jokes around the schloss that involve water. All the water around Hellbrunn has natural pressure; therefore, the emperor used it to create little amusements like the trick table which soaks everyone’s pants when they sit down. Or even more impressively, how about power an organ?

This was a long walking day, and once again, we had people not wear the appropriate shoes. Heels and mountains: folks, just don’t do it. For those of us who did have reasonable footwear, though, we climbed further up one of the hills/low mountains and snapped some breathtaking shots. We also got to see the first opera stage which was exceptionally cool. We (the singers) even took a whack at singing on it! Check out my pictures to get a glimpse.

To finish off the week before Vienna, we had our midterm concert where everyone had to sing one German Lied. Francois accompanied me beautifully on Schubert’s “Suleika I.” Take a listen for yourself.

Suleika I by F. Schubert

It’s been wonderful to hear and see the growth in other singers here, as well as hear my own. It’s the small victories in lessons or the five minutes of stage time that keep singers going and going and going. I’m slowly finding a few new friends to stay in touch with after Salzburg (I don’t even want to think about “after Salzburg”) and even chatting more with the teachers (who are ganz cool, wirklich). Shame it’s all going so quickly. But these are the lessons being abroad and travel teaches. The rug is constantly being pulled from under our feet; new people and scenes flicker in and out of our lives. A sagacious coach said to me that there’s a saying auf Deutsch that we will always meet one person at least twice in our lives. After that, fate leaves it to us to make it more than that.

‘Der, Die, oder Das, Liz?’

Posted on 29 July, 2011

The second week of Salzburg has definitely been a “dig your heels in and sing” week. All of us are required to perform one German Lied for our midterm concert in the third week, so that has been weighing on all of the musicians here. Pianists are scrambling and trading pieces; professors keep double checking their students rep; students… well they just keep singing whatever they’re supposed to be singing. And then they sing a little more just to be safe. And then they decide last minute to switch pieces; therefore, more chaos ensues. Daily Master Classes are a big part of the program here, and they are a great way for singers to try out new repertoire as well as polish older pieces. Additionally, a number of us singers are involved in Opera scenes, so that’s been another thing to finagle with everyone’s schedules. Now go ahead and add on individual practice time as well. And the opening of the Salzburger Musikfestspiele. Oh, and maybe German homework, if anyone gets inspired.

So all that being said, I could go into gross detail about vocal technique, the art of perfect practice, and the subtleties and profanities that go along with French diction (thank you, Ellen Rissinger of “The Diction Police” for kicking my sorry sweet little Deutsch behind in our coachings for La Fille du Regiment). Instead, I thought I’d do soundbites with commentary of everything I’m doing. That way, those who have no idea what the heck is going on can listen to pretty music, those who have a vague notion of what’s going on can learn, and those who know me and my voice (hi, Dr. Wanda, if you’re creeping. Figured you needed a shout-out as my teacher this upcoming Fall) can tsk tsk and chuckle and go, “THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN TELLING THAT CHILD TO DO FOR MONTHS.”

NOTE: Everything with these recordings is best heard with headphones–sorry, folks, my recorder is pretty nifty and high tech, but volume is not its specialty.

So let’s start with voice lessons. As y’all know, I get to have my lessons in this space here. I have two lessons, twice weekly, on Monday and Wednesday mornings. We spend maybe 20-30 minute on warm-up and technique, depending, then devote the other half hour to running entire pieces with the accompanist as we sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly. Here’s a clip from one of my lessons here with Prof. Wise who is at Indiana University.

Lesson with Pat Wise

Next, we have coachings. Each singer gets one coaching per week with one of the amazing coaches we have here. This week, I got to work with the brilliant Dr. Moteki from University of Colorado in Boulder. We took apart my piece for the midterm concert, Suleika I by Schubert, and put it back together for our hour coaching, and it was so impeccably thorough. Truly, one of the best and most efficient coachings I’ve ever had–just listen for yourself!

Moteki coaching

Daily master class is a lot of fun because a) you get to sing in front of everyone b) you get feedback from another person other than your teacher c) you get to hear other people and learn a lot just by listening. I was fortunate to sing in one of the first master classes on German diction with Dr. Hardenbergh, who is also our fearless leader of this summer program. She is sweet, smart, and spicy. Her greatest asset (as you’ll soon here) is her ability to communicate effectively yet positively about music and pedagogy.


And so now we get to opera scenes. If there is one thing that I really got out of the music program at Centre, it’s collaboration with others, and how everyone needs to put their best foot forward and step up to the plate in order to feel the music–and ultimately, have the audience feel the music, too. For Die Fledermaus, I get to work with two other delightfully comic people. From the get go we started getting down with our sassy, silly selves, and our coach, the rather magnificent yet still silly Frenchman Francois Germain, even joined in the laughs. Granted, this was the first time all four of us had seen the music, but here’s a taste of what we’re working on.

coaching fledermaus with Francois

What else has been going on apart from music music music? Well, how about more music and festivities from the Salzburger Musikfestspiele? We have had some serious cold and wet weather here–so much so that I was forced to go shopping at H&M and buy new sweaters and tees (oh, how distressing that outing was, I’m sure all you ladies can imagine). Despite the wind and the rain, we got our divas on! Saturday night, my hot date (a Ms. Hughes) and I decided to attend the Fackeltanzen (torch dance) as well as try traditional Salzburger Knockerl–otherwise known as the “boob dessert.” We staked out our spots and listened to the military band perform before the Fackeltanzen. The music, the military horses, all the brass instrumentation–it was fantastic. The great thing about the set-up for this event is that there was a giant projection screen so that everyone could see what was happening from on the ground and from above (arial shots). The torch dance was also quite cool, and they had some incredible still shots depicting the patterns that the dancers’ torches created throughout the dancing.


The delish Salzburger Knockerl

We had a full-day excursion on Sunday to Salzkammergut (aka the lake district), despite the fact it rained non-stop. However, my Northface earned its keep. Kept me warm, dry, and well. Never have I been so in love with an article of clothing (apart from my new Pikeur breeches). We did a sort of circular route, starting in Salzburg and then going to Mondsee, Wolfgangsee (3.5k up in the mountains), and then finally reaching Hallstadt. There were some issues with appropriate attire, footwear, and weather-preparedness. I found myself in the latter category and ended up buying the most expensive umbrella in my life. Word to the wise–just always carry an umbrella in Salzburg. Nevertheless, rain could not dampen my spirits. There is a significant chance my enthusiasm for everything was borderline obnoxious; however, perhaps such exuberance was needed to balance any complaints about the weather, the walk, etc–and there was quite a bit of that.

The climax of my boundless energy came when I had 18 minutes to get up and down the side of the mountain (hill? I don’t know. It was steep and went up up and up) in order to stand on a rickity bridge over a waterfall. The path was quite similar to the Palisades’ “Stairway to Hell Heaven,” except much rainier, slicker, and involving a much quicker speed. Oh and then getting back down again, let’s not forget that. It was, in my opinion, worth it. The view over the city and the land was breathtaking. Additionally, the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment–even though this was only a small endeavor–was much needed.

Being with this many singers over an extended period of time has proven trying for me. Most who read this blog know me as an outgoing, buoyant, potentially too loquacious yet mostly harmless person. This is not the case when placed in a room with twenty other young women who have similar personality structures. My theory is that in the opera world, to be a star, one must have that “it” factor; that large and sparkling personality that sets them apart yet draws everyone to her. With any conservatory or summer program, there is an overwhelming amount of the “it” factor. So much so that it can raise the temperature and start fires. The challenge then becomes not how to prevent the fire but rather stay cool through it all and come out on top, preferably unscathed. These life lessons in Salzburg are proving just as educational as the German and singing lessons.

The other two beasts that classically trained singers conquer

Posted on 29 July, 2011

This will be a short and sweet entry while I wait for the really heavy duty media files to finish uploading on the other entry (whew).

So there are two other big components to being a classically trained singer.

The first is Oratorio. Oratorio is a lot like opera–there is an orchestra; there are choruses; there are soloists. Even music-wise there are arias and recitative aplenty. However, while opera has a theatre element to it, oratorio does not. Oratorio content is generally religious and draws its inspiration from holy scripture. Thus when oratorio is performed, there is no staging; singers tend to be more upright and solemn in order to best present the work.

Think you don’t know an oratorio? Think again. Handel was a champ and wrote a bunch of them, including The Messiah. The above is one aria from that oratorio. As a sidenote, this is the incredible soprano Barbara Bonney. I cannot recommend her enough to those just dipping their feet into opera. She has a voice that will make you want to lay stretched out on the grass and contemplate nothing but clouds, leaves, and a slight breeze.

Of course, the best known oratorio chorus piece is this one… sung by silent monks, no less. Enjoy!

Now the final, most complex stuff that we singers tackle is Art Song. Now art song comes in many different varieties, for many different voices. There’s Italian art song, French art song, English art song, Spanish art song, German art song–the last is most important to me, as that is what my summer program covers specifically. German art song is known as Lieder, which some of y’all may recognize as the German word for “songs.” Art song is very comparable to poetry. A good poem will utilize words to create a textured text that evokes not only images but also emotions and keeps the reader’s attention from beginning to end. Art song does the same. A good composer utilizes both the singer’s voice and the keyboard accompaniment to make the subject of the song come alive. Additionally, text choice plays an important role. Where do most of these texts come from? Well anything remotely poetic and with a steady iambic pentameter makes for great material. Shakespeare, Goethe, any old folk song that’s been around for years–this is where brilliant art song is harvested.

Franz Schubert was notoriously good at composing art song (or more appropriately, Lieder, since he was German). The example I’m going to play needs some listening to. For starters, the text, which is as follows:

In einem Bächlein helle,
In a bright little brook
Da schoß in froher Eil
there shot in merry haste
Die launische Forelle
a capricious trout:
Vorüber wie ein Pfeil.
past it shot like an arrow.
Ich stand an dem Gestade
I stood upon the shore
Und sah in süßer Ruh
and watched in sweet peace
Des muntern Fischleins Bade
the cheery fish’s bath
Im klaren Bächlein zu.
in the clear little brook.

Ein Fischer mit der Rute
A fisher with his rod
Wohl an dem Ufer stand,
stood at the water-side,
Und sah’s mit kaltem Blute,
and watched with cold blood
Wie sich das Fischlein wand.
as the fish swam about.
So lang dem Wasser Helle,
So long as the clearness of the water
So dacht ich, nicht gebricht,
remained intact, I thought,
So fängt er die Forelle
he would not be able to capture the trout
Mit seiner Angel nicht.
with his fishing rod.

Doch endlich ward dem Diebe
But finally the thief grew weary
Die Zeit zu lang. Er macht
of waiting. He stirred up
Das Bächlein tückisch trübe,
the brook and made it muddy,
Und eh ich es gedacht,
and before I realized it,
So zuckte seine Rute,
his fishing rod was twitching:
Das Fischlein zappelt dran,
the fish was squirming there,

Und ich mit regem Blute
and with raging blood I
Sah die Betrogene an.
gazed at the betrayed fish.
Die ihr am goldenen Quelle
At the golden fountain
Der sicheren Jugend weilt,
of youth, you linger so confidently;

Denkt doch an die Forelle,
But think of the trout,
Seht ihr Gefahr, so eilt!
and if you see danger, flee!
Meist fehlt ihr nur aus Mangel
Mostly it is from lack
der Klugheit, Mädchen, seht
of cleverness that maidens
Verführer mit der Angel!
miss the angling seducers.
Sonst blutet ihr zu spät!
So beware! otherwise you may bleed too late!

OK, so there is the poem, German and English. Now when listening to the song, note how the singer’s voice changes color to add more dramatic effect to a certain phrase or even an entire verse. And listen to the accompaniment–it moves so quickly and lithely like a trout in a stream, as the poem describes.

Die Forelle aka “The Trout”

That’s just brushing the surface of art song, but, hopefully between this and opera 101 y’all have a slightly better understanding of what all I get to sing about. It’s a lot of fun!

Salzburg: Yes, McDonald’s hamburgers do taste better here.

Posted on 19 July, 2011

One whole week in Salzburg feels a little too surreal.  Schedules, students, songs, and schnitzel are falling into place, and so now all that’s left is to sing, drink, and be merry.  
Being on a bus to Salzburg with a bunch of singers was comparable to being on a bus with a bunch of teammates for an abnormally long period of time when everyone is tired, hungry, and trying to be polite without exhausting themselves further.  In other words, those of us who didn’t fall asleep with in the first ten minutes on the bus had just about had it after ten minutes.  Upon arriving in Oestereich (aka Austria), a petite, extremely enthusiastic woman ran up to me with open arms.  Of course, the one time when I can totally bust out my Deutsch and sound cool, I am at a loss for words [Editor’s note: a rare occurrence indeed] and struggling with luggage.  It should be noted that I was one of the light packers for this trip, and I had at least 80lbs of luggage total.  
My host mother, Martina, was more than gracious to bear with my bumbling German  (and bumbling luggage).  Her daughters, Laura (age 6) and Lisa (age 3), were also in attendance as was the daughter of a close family friend, Anna (age 16).  Anna is ganz cool, and it was incredibly refreshing to talk to someone who wasn’t musically involved.  She and I are planning a party week when the Geistbergers (my host fam) are on family vacation in Italia.  By “party,” I mean we’ll probably bust out the itunes, strudel, and a soccer ball.  
Martina and her husband Martin (cute, no?) have been extraordinarily welcoming, as have the two kids.  In fact Laura has graciously lent me her Disney Princess book auf Deutsch to improve my German.  Laura gets a kick out of the fact that she knows more German than I do, so pop quizzes in Liz’s room have become popular.  These consist of Laura walking in, picking up and object, asking “Was ist das?” and if I don’t know, I get a “Nein!  Das ist [insert the correct German title]”  Lisa has taken a shine to mein Handy (aka cellphone) because it has games like a piano, a pitchpipe, a hippo that flies through the air, and painting.  So she’ll typically come in my room when the sun is up saying “Handy Spielen, bitte.”  
Life in an Austrian household is, understandably, very different from the typical American household.  In America, we are very informal to the point of almost being sloppy or even rude by international standards.  Here, even kids understand that if a person’s door is closed, it’s not to opened.  And when entering a room, acknowledgments must be made to other people in that room.  Water is precious and never wasted, so say goodbye to those luxury fifteen minute hot showers.  And at the dinner table, one doesn’t pile heaps of food on a plate—take only as much as one can eat, but never more.  
And I know that to a lot of people, what I’ve just written seems really silly, and you’re thinking, “Well DUH, Liz, I’d never do that.  My parents brought me up right.”  And I say, that’s chill man, but, even so–as much as I pride myself on Southern upbringing I know I have been guilty of some of these.  You know, walk into a room, get something, overlook the parental in the room, walk out.  Or how about that one night when I completely forgot about world hunger could only think of myself as I pigged out on a giant container of frozen yogurt and literally growled at anyone who tried to take it away.  So just something to consider next time abroad.  We need more ambassadors for POLITE American tourists.  We also need more frozen yogurt, but, that’s another issue entirely.
Austria’s clean energy campaign is also significantly different from America’s–mainly because it’s a) in place and b) extraordinarily effective.  As I mentioned in Manners 101, water conservation has importance.  The tap water here is exceptionally good.  Why?  Go look at any body of water in the area–perfectly clean and clear.  Might as well fill up your cup at the river–but don’t, the river is actually pretty dangerous because of strong currents.  Thus far, my family and every other native resident I’ve encountered is very conscientious about there water usage, even with hand washing.  The greatest novelty and challenge I’ve been faced with here, though, is toilet flushing.  Yes, ew, gross, what the heck could be so difficult about flushing a toilet?  But with toilets here, a person has total control over the amount of water used in flushing the toilet (why waste more water than necessary?).  The appropriate amount of leverage on the usually button levers is an art form, as is knowing when to stop the giant WOOSH of water.   I myself have been overzealous with the initial flush only to find myself unable to stop the water.  This then leads me to hop up and down, simultaneously shouting out silent curses and prayers while I try not to waste any more water than I already have.  Truly, it’s an art form, folks.  
Public transit, like in Muenchen, is amazing.  Here, buses reign supreme. But these aren’t just any buses–these are electric buses.  Throughout the Strasse (aka streets), there are a bunch of wires hanging above.  Take a look at the photo below.

From Salzburg Week I

See the wires?  The buses run nearly 24/7 and are always on schedule; consequently, I have been motivated to be more on time, lest I miss my bus and have to wait another ten minutes.   Who knows, by the time I’m back in the states I might actually be ten minutes early to most engagements [Editor’s note : pigs do not have wings].
If you checked out the fahrplan (the map with all the bus lines), I live right near Theodorstrasse.  Every day, I take Bus 7 down near Baerenwirt and then walk the rest of the way to school.  Salzburg is a walking city.  If people aren’t riding public transit or their bikes (it’s also very bike-friendly), then they walk.  Fingers crossed, I will walk enough to work off all the beer I’ve been drinking on a fairly regular basis.  In fact, the owners of the Irish pub two doors down from school know me by my first name and will chat me up as I walk to lunch, inquiring if I’ll be by for Happy Hour.  
Truly though, I swear I have done more than drink beer.  I’ve also been drinking some Irish whiskey, thank you certain person I know with a well-stocked liquor cabinet for introducing me to the stuff.  More seriously, alcohol here is a part of daily life and even the sixteen year olds are mature about it.  It’s not like Beerfest where everyone drinks for the sake of getting drunk.  Admittedly, I’m currently visiting when a lot of the university students are on vacation, so surely they have some frat house moments, but yeah.  Enjoy a good beer.  Oh and most Austrians mock American beers ruthlessly–can’t say I blame them after my beer encounters here in Europe.
School overlooks the river, and although we have limited practice space (mainly because lessons are going on a lot), we have super nice facilities at our disposal.  Just check out where I get to have my lessons twice-weekly!  I am incredibly fortunate and blessed to be working with the incredible Patricia Wise.  She is very energetic, demanding, and invested both in her students and in their music.  I am striving to meet and surpass her expectations for me, and admittedly, she has high ones for each person in her studio.  My faculty audition was a bit “deer in headlights,” but I rebounded in opera scene auditions with a strong and sassy Despina (who nearly fell flat on her face last few measures of music due to a faulty ankle).  The sagacious faculty overseeing auditions gave me the roles of Marie from La Fille du Regiment and Rosalinde from Die Fledermaus.  Wanna see the two scenes I get to perform?  Watch the vids below–they even have English subtitles!

Also, I hope y’all checked out Florez in the above vid.  If not, go stare more at him.  Or google him with his shirt off.

So far, we’ve had two brief walking tours to acquaint ourselves with the city.  The first tour we got a better idea of where things were–Billa (the local grocer), ATM, Apotheke (pharmacy), etc.  The second tour we learned where some of the more famous places in Salzburg are, like where Mozart lived, Getreidegasse (the shopping street), various places where The Sound of Music was filmed.
Hopefully y’all will check out my photos, because they narrate themselves.  Mirabel Gardens has probably been my favorite site thus far.  The flowers and fountains are simply breathtaking–more so than Linderhof, I think.  And the smell is incredibly, especially from the rose bushes.  Truly, it’s a landscapers dream, and I only wish I had ariel photos.  
Also, I had two breakdowns this past week.  The first was that yes, finally I gave into pastries and ate Torte–at Cafe Thomaselli, no less.  And oh the tears of joy and shame that were shed at eating that rich goodness.  The second breakdown was that after eating Torte, I found the tackstore in Salzburg and got the most beautiful Pikeur breeches.  As posted on facebook:

An open letter to my new Pikeur breeches–I’m as smitten with you as I am with the insanely good looking German prof here. You’re possibly the best thing that has come into my life recently, and I have no intention of ever letting you go. You’ve also converted me to full seat breeches, since you manage to compliment my backside way too perfectly. And you’re far better than any American brand I could have gotten.

Let’s go ahead and mention this German Prof.  I don’t care if he reads this blog, as probably every single lady and tenor that has attended Salzburg College has fallen for him.  He is a beautiful man.  Tall, dark, and handsome, but then add a little more handsome with those eyes.  More towards the refined yet softly sculpted David that Donatello so delicately crafted.  He speaks German clearer than most in Salzburg.  He speaks better English than a majority of the population in Kentucky.  He likes football (the real kind. Not the American kind) and likes the outdoors.  He thinks I’m funny, or at least he’s laughed at my remarks a number of times now.  And wait for it–he plays cello.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is what it takes to see Liz smitten to the point that when asked a question in German, she responds in German, but with an answer that is entirely unrelated to the question.  He is the talk of all the sopranos and a few tenors, and they all have the same question–is he single and straight?  To find out the answer, stay tuned for next week’s blog entry.  I am determined to find out by asking him myself–although I will possibly need a drink afterwards (and/or before), and I will sure as heck need a prayer beforehand for my cheeks not to turn red as roses.
German class itself is fine and dandy.  I’m in IntermediateII with six other girls, and we all have different strengths.  I can speak well enough and I’m a strong writer, but I’ll be the first to admit my comprehension can be off the mark.  Part of that is because of the accent in Austria.  Just like we have different dialects and accents in the states, so do the Germanic speaking countries, and Austria is the South.  Of course, the only thing to do to improve is practice, practice, practice, and then listen to a lot more German.  My host family had a BBQ with friends on Sunday afternoon that I was invited to, and although there was plenty that was lost on me, slowly but surely the extended exposure to constant German dialect is helping my German.  That has been the most frustrating part of the trip–the fact that I want to be more comfortable with German conversation, but it’s a slow process (much like singing).  
Sunday morning I attended mass at the Dom, which is the cathedral in Salzburg.  It is, by far, the most impressive cathedral I have ever been in, and I have been in a lot of cathedrals in Italy, Greece, USA, Britain, and Ireland.  And the organ– well ok, my organ playing friends and family, it’s all that and more.  The Dom organ was built in 1703 by Josef Christoph Egedacher.  And more impressive, there are twice-weekly organ recitals.  Here’s a taste of what it sounded like.  I hope I will be able to get more interior pics of the entire pipe set up–it is simply vast and massive. Dom Organ
Check out the sound of the boys choir at the Dom.  Truly, I had goose bumps when I heard the Hosanna.  As a singer, I’ve always joked that I am affiliated with whatever church is paying me to sing.  Sometimes this attitude leads me to forget just what an important role music plays in enriching spirituality and leading one’s faith closer to God.  At mass, I got that reminder.  
The best and fondest memory I have of my first week in Salzburg was coming home Thursday after school, cranky from waiting around for a practice room and then having a not-too-good practice session, and having my host father invited me to a game of pickup soccer after he saw my wide-eyed enthusiasm at the soccer ball in his hands.  We took bikes, and it was fairly evident that I hadn’t ridden a bike in six years, but hey–it’s for the love of football.  
The weather was perfect–low 70s with some misty rain.  We played three on three, and while I was the only girl and hadn’t played for a few months, it could have been worse.  After two hours of playing football with the alps as our backdrop, we jumped in the lake next to the field to cool off and swim around in.  After that, Martin and I quick hopped back to the house to change and met up with his friend Robert (one of our players) for drinks and to finish watching the fussball match (Salzburg won, btw).  
Now, as stated at the very beginning of this entry, things are settling down into a routine.  I am still trying to feel out my place at my host family’s residence–it’s difficult.  On one level, I’m a guest; on another, I’m here longer than a few days so I have some kind of role in the family.  This upcoming week, though, the real work–the actual singing and learning–begins in earnest.  
And yes, despite my better judgment, I must hang my head and confess that I did eat at a McDonald’s here in Austria. However, the burgers are infinitely better because of the strict government policy that real meat—from Austria—with no chemical additives be used  So what exactly is going into American burgers at McDonald’s?  Frankly, my dear, I think we’d do better not to know.