31 July 2007

stuck in a large, bell-filled tower for an hour

To continue in the vein of bad publicity for the carillon, a family gets stuck at a carillon for an hour because of a habitually dysfunctional elevator! Not that I would have had any problems in the same situation (I am always looking for excuses to get stuck at a carillon), and fortunately the former news has been superseded by the dedication of Moser Tower on Sunday, but still... you have to feel sorry for this family being pointed towards the interior ladder as an alternative exit down which they could somehow take their 20-month-old child.

The most memorable part of the article is its description of the belfry as "a large, bell-filled tower in Washington Park." Sounds like a diseased architectural tumor.

29 July 2007

The Big Concert

My most important carillon recital since my diploma recital in Mechelen is tomorrow, and I am nervous because I know I'm just barely on the verge of being prepared--as I was for that recital. I will perform some of the most beautiful and difficult repertoire I have, including the second performance of Paul Coleman's complete acoustic Tiffany Sketches (the European premiere having occurred today in Brussels), and possibly multiple good carillonneurs will be listening. If this goes well, I'll be on my way to a three-important-concert roll with Berea and EROI lined up next.

I'm frustrated because, as last year before my recital, I haven't access to decent recording equipment. I realize now that for Christmas I should have asked fo a pocket digital recorder, because I am on the verge of going out and buying one in the afternoon. Why are musicians here so badly equipped to record? Even the carillon school has nothing besides a cassette or DAT (I forget which) recorder that's been kaput for years. And of course it's here that I sound best (the only exception perhaps being in Lier, but in any case, I don't find myself often in Belgium).

My concert in Brussels went as well as it could go on such a heavy instrument, though in retrospect I didn't have to program those pianistic pieces for a carillon that's nearly impossible to play with flat hands in the lower register. The Beethoven worked surprisingly well, and although the overtones made a ruckus in the playing cabin, Paul Takahashi said the timbre was practically relaxing on the ground. I seem to have missed befriending a kindred soul while I was living in Belgium last year; I knew we were both organ and carillon students of Joris Verdin and Geert D'hollander respectively, but I didn't realize we were also both cycling spelunkers, incurable sweet tooths, insomniac artists, insatiable travelers, fascinated by everything from early English keyboard repertoire to middle eastern and eastern music (although he knows far, far more about the latter than I probably ever will in my life), and that we are similar in less tangible ways as well. He owns a fair number of instruments, some exotic, as well as the piano of my dreams: an early 20th century Steinway grand. It was so beautiful to play and made it so natural to play beautifully; if I had such a treasure, I would return immediately to playing the piano and never stop. The Kawai at home hasn't this effect on me. Clearly I am still destined to find my way to a Steinway grand (in addition, now, to a yacht etc.)

A beautiful full yellow moon was hanging over the skyline as the train took me back to Mechelen, strains of "Hide and Seek" whispering in my ears. How long has it been since I really noticed the moon? The downtown Rochester skyline obscures or disguises it.

Sleep now. Rehearsal from 11:30 to 12:30 tomorrow. Must figure out how to work everything out on the 40-ton carillon of St. Rombouts in that hour. Wish me luck.

25 July 2007

Day 2: the names of houses

The Three Halfwit Men
It's my first full day in the Netherlands, and I'm rediscovering part of Middelburg's charm: its houses generally have names painted gracefully over their doorways. Some of these names are very peculiar. Would you really want to live in a home affectionately known as "The Three Halfwit Men"? Or am I mistaken in my translation?

23 July 2007

Tonight I play my first concert in Belgium since last year, and it's probably my most important concert--how do you ignore 28 tons of bronze? Way to start out a tour. Antwerp, here I come. Please love me, and don't rain too much.

22 July 2007

Cultuurcentrum Mechelen has a stack of 70-page glossy color catalogs of 2007-8 cultural events just sitting there for the taking in the foyer of the Beiaardschool. Flip one open to p. 65 to find a 10-lesson breakdance course in September and October. The positive glut of culture in this little town amazes me, but what's more, some of it is edgier than the grey heads crowding the coffee houses would suggest. Who takes these courses? I suppose the only way to meet them in Mechelen is to take the course. Because there doesn't seem to be a hangout or a scene.

terug in Mechelen

I first caught glimpse of Sint-Romboutstoren set against one of the most beautiful post-storm sunsets I'd ever seen over the city. Although one wonders if it was just such lighting that gave the Maneblussers their name. In the night, Mechelen greeted me with fireworks. I could stand right under them with my ears plugged, still hearing the ooohs and aahs of the Mechelaars around me. (Oh wait, was it the national holiday?) Sint-Romboutstoren was as magnificent as ever; I was nearly overwhelmed standing at the foot of it, as I have always been. It has a monumentality in its incompleteness and white stone that even its completed sister, the OLV-Kathedraaltoren, lacks. Again the tower looked to catch fire. Is it not funny that the two cities I've occupied this year in Europe are both home to Maneblussers who tried to extinguish the conflagrations in their towers, only to find that the towers were backlit by a foggy moon? Perhaps citizens the world over who love their carillons react this way.

After shopping at the GB in Sint-Katelijne-Waver, which to my amazement now stocks rice milk, and picking up some homegrown produce by bicycle, I made some fresh pasta sauce and then took off for the Beiaardschool. It soon became clear that the iMac G4 in the archive could not be updated because it could not download any executables at all -- thanks to WatchGuard HTTP proxy, courtesy of the municipal ISP. Grrr. I was really pleased to find, however, that I did not mind practicing on the attic's Clavion practice keyboard at all--it is a Ferrari in comparison to Rochester's. This in contrast to last year, when I usually opted not to practice at all than play that maladjusted thing. Why doesn't somebody adjust it?

I was just getting to the Beethoven piano concerto transcription in preparation for my terrifying concert in Antwerp when I found myself so physically exhausted that I could hardly move. After forcing myself to play through it once, I packed my things--and realized I'd been practicing since 16:00, and it was now 20:30. Even as a full-time carillon student, four hours had been my limit, although I wasn't this exhausted afterwards. Still, it was rewarding to realize that with a decent instrument, I could practice for hours without even noticing the passage of time. Perhaps the environment also helped. There are few distractions, and the rooms are spacious (in contrast to the UR practice pod), relatively comfortable, and have windows and honest-to-god sunlight.

With the house mostly to myself, I've had great fun taking over the kitchen and in fact the entire first floor. It's almost as luxurious as occupying an entire condominium on Memorial Drive in Cambridge. And for the first time, I'm riding a hybrid that's closer to a road bike than to its mountain counterpart. The wheels are bigger than Lucky's, and the bike is quite light. In other words, I'm zipping along with ease at record speeds. Although zipping over cobblestones is more unpleasant than ever.

21 July 2007

Rotterdam 2007: City of Architecture

I love Rotterdam. After quite a costly ticket and lots of hurrying, I made it to the Netherlands Photomuseum and didn't regret a single cent or drop of sweat. And the Nederlands Architectuur Institut finally brought Le Corbusier's posthumous Eglise Saint-Pierre in Firminy, France to my attention. Not quite on the posthumous scale of the Sagrada Familia, but still damn cool. Anyone want to make a pilgrimage with me? Or a Paul Rudolph road trip?

I took home a new favorite Dutch photographer from the Fotomuseum, Aart Klein. Yet another reason to avoid the photography shelves at De Slegte... this could be very dangerous.

Aart Klein

20 July 2007

old news

Generation Me by Jean TwengeThis study "showing" that Americans have difficulty understanding the point of view of others is just about the least scientific study I have ever read and the biggest jump in reasoning I've seen in a while, but it is amusing. They cite no research linking spatial perception to "understanding others," nor do they use a control group to isolate whether there is a different between the spatial perception of Asians versus say, Europeans or Russians (another "collectivist" group). The sample is hardly large enough to compensate for the many racial backgrounds that constitute "Americans," nor do they seem to have inquired into whether the Asians tested were raised with collectivist or individualist values or whether they were American-born or naturalized. There's no use bringing this study down further, and perhaps the journalist is equally guilty of inaccurate and oversimplified reporting, but it is funny to see people trying to demonstrate "old news" scientifically. It's not funny that this kind of joke happens at UChicago.

19 July 2007

Rocky het Klokkie

COMPAGNIE AARDBEINot only is Jan Verheyen playing an insane number of concerts this summer after taking a year off from work to focus on carillon, but also he's up to no good recruiting child minions for the bells with Rocky het Klokkie. I had no idea he was a theater guy.

making the Zeeland news again

Lydia Mordkovitch and her family are here, and boy can her pre-teen daughters play the violin. Oh boy.

18 July 2007


Everyone loves the idea of two Portuguese carillon-playing sisters giving duet concerts. They definitely have the recipe for success. Let's see if we can get the carillon into the Democrat and Chronicle again during the school year...

12 July 2007

small change is way expensive

It will cost Belgium EUR 162.9 million to mint 90 million 1- and 2-cent coins at EUR 1.81 apiece. All because consumers don't want to bother with pennies and yet retailers refuse to round their prices. This explains the total lack of small change I've been getting at stores since I arrived in the Netherlands. The clerks all just round up. Strange.

Let us carillonneurs hope this rescue operation is never necessary in our towers.

10 July 2007


Fun word of the day: Heckelphone.

Teaching this morning was tremendously rewarding; it's something to which I can see myself happily devoting a lot of time, tiring as it is. Being a performer is one thing; you can change a life or two by giving a truly splendid performance, but being a teacher means changing lives in a cumulative way, giving people not an external experience of your performance but an internal experience of their own development, of progress from which they can develop further. I was practically jumping for joy at the end of my first lesson because the student had played the final variation of his piece so persuasively, despite his troubles with some of the earlier variations. But perhaps by the third lesson I had tired out, or perhaps my lack of harpsichord training was haunting me again. I had plenty to say about Lerinckx, about Japanese easy listening piano music, and now thanks to my organ training much too much to say about Bach, but I hadn't a clue how to play a Couperin harpsichord piece on carillon, especially not to a very musical but technically rudimentary student. I must make time for harpsichord if I am ever to teach keyboard instruments.

Somehow I ended up doing the same rhythmic exercise for Kees van Eersel's carillon improvisation workshop as I did last year. So be it -- the experience was better, but still challenging. And afterwards I finally enjoyed my favorite soft ice cream (though it wasn't quite as good as I remembered it -- different flavor, perhaps) and made it back just in time for the student recital, which sounded surprisingly good from the ground. I played Paul Coleman's piece to a positive reception, but as Geert advised, the noise of the city called for shorter rests in the first sketch. Tiffany Sketches 1 and 2 sound so foreign to me on a heavy carillon; I must to develop a new conception of it before playing it in Mechelen. Thank goodness Jo will be in Russia.

Bernard Winsemius' concert on the Duyschot/Müller organ (1706) in the Lutherse Kerk was variously fabulous and uneventful. Sweelinck and Butler passed me by; but his renditions of Buxtehude's "Praeludium in g" (BuxWV 163) and in particular the "Klaglied" BuxWV 76 on the death of his father were gripping. Winsemius achieves expressivity without expression so much as delivering the notes precisely as they are [meant to be] and allowing them to speak for themselves. But two long capriccios in a row are just plain bad programming. I already have a limited tolerance for the genre. I met the church organist afterwards and saw the instrument (which I hope I can play later) and tried to talk to Winsemius, but he was again difficult. The person I meet never seems to match the hilarious character of his students' impressions. But he gets extra credit for having ridden his bicycle to the concert. Dutchmen...

Apparently the Graduate School of Music may become a reality in August/September after all. European higher education is so... delightfully unpredictable.

09 July 2007

towards a definition of photography

I have finally found a definition of photography as art that satisfies me:

“One might compare the art of photography to the act of pointing. It must be true that some of us point to more interesting facts, events, circumstances, and configurations than others... The talented practitioner of the new discipline would perform with a special grace, sense of timing, narrative sweep, and wit, thus endowing the act not merely with intelligence, but with that quality of formal rigor that identifies a work of art, so that we would be uncertain, when remembering the adventure of the tour, how much our pleasure and sense of enlargement had come from the things pointed to and how much from a pattern created by the pointer.”

MoMA photography curator John Szarkowski helped elevate photography to the status of art in the 20th century (thank goodness). He passed away on Saturday. What he describes is just what I mean to do with my photography -- to point. There are things I tend to point at that probably constitute a pattern and could comprise a tour. A good photography book certainly gives me the feeling of having been on a very specific tour dense with meaning.

07 July 2007

"I was in sex shop [sic]," choppy, with Polish accent. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the carillon quote of the year. In a moment of true devilry, Mariko closed the handcuffs they'd found in the dorm room closet on one of Anna's wrists. The keys were nowhere to be found, and none of the other implements they tried would open the contraption. In the morning, they went to the bicycle shop to ask a bemused employee to cut the handcuff with a bolt cutter.

Then Anna went to the sex shop on the edge of town in search of a replacement. Our master class teacher doesn't want to leave his summer school accomodations for their school-year inhabitant with a note saying, "Thanks for the handcuffs!"

Unfortunately I did not witness any of this. Serves me late for going home at un-ungodly hours to catch up with some work.

I miss Chip. Sad face.

06 July 2007

bayer's cashing in + a new idol

"Bayer HealthCare...announced its decision to leave the New Haven area in November and put the site up for auction. Mark C. Bennett, a Bayer spokesman, said there were 17 bidders...a Yale official confirmed an Associated Press report that the price would be about $100 million. Dr. Levin said that money was not a problem and that Yale would pay cash."

The Rochester Museum of Science had an exhibit about money that showed the volume occupied by $1,000 or some such amount of one-dollar bills. I'm envisioning freight trucks of cash-filled suitcases pulling up in front o Bayer's headquarters in Germany.

Also... some clever words from an open letter to a Senator the writer once knew well: We have seen more people die last year from spinach then pot.

Finally... I WANT THIS MAN'S LIFE. I can't believe I'd never heard of photographer Edward Burtynsky before. How does he track down such extraordinarily haunting scenes of the industrial waste of the world? Perhaps they're not so difficult to find. Perhaps they're everywhere -- everywhere that we don't look.

Edward Burtynsky - Shipbreaking #21
A documentary featuring his work, "Manufactured Landscapes," seems a likely candidate for my favorite film since Koyaanisqaatsi. I've been so out of it. If only my usual life gave me the spare time to chance upon things like this more often.

05 July 2007

Gerda was kind enough to drive me back to St. Maartensdijk to fetch my trench coat and mobile phone from the church. The weather cleared up for our drive, and because she never has reason to come that way and enjoys being behind the wheel, we felt like we were on vacation. Not such a bad compromise: She saves me from being on the bus for two hours and then waiting heaven knows how long for a return bus, and I get the equipment back that will enable me to keep things running while she attends to other summer school business. Except that Kasia still has the keys to the bike. I seriously need that equipment back.

Fortepiano and violin concert poster
Besides making up contact sheets, organizing the trips, keeping track of everyone, and acting as if my stomach's just fine, I'm expected to design our PR as well. They do keep me busy. Now if only I could find enough time to practice the carillon! I'm doubly annoyed because nobody has gotten back to me until today about playing Paul's "Tiffany Sketches" either on the real carillon with Frans' speakers or at his master class, which is supposedly on carillon and tape music. They all said things would just turn out "fine" -- magically. And as it turns out, I was asked to provide the master class equipment today! We'll chalk this one up to cultural differences. At least the time difference between Europe and the US works in my favor for making last-minute requests overseas. I shouldn't speak too soon, though.

Piano concert poster
All in all, things are getting more fun. With everyone finally showing up, going on field trips, hearing a ridiculously beautiful opening concert by Geert, and then bantering the evening away in Dutch bars, it's getting to be like the old days. But minus characters like Bauke and Chiaki -- alas! Can it ever be the same without them?

02 July 2007

of jem and sirens

Jem and the HologramsMy lifelong lack of piercings is sometimes met with shock. This has motivated me to dig up an image of the earrings I always wanted as a little girl -- those which gave Jem from the tremendously popular 80's cartoon Jem and the Holograms her remarkable... musical faculties? The earrings are pretty hideous in retrospect, although I swear I remember them being a pretty sparkly dark pink. Perhaps that image is just a fantasy of childhood formed in retrospect. I remember so little of the cartoon that entranced me for so long. The only scene I remember from any episode at all (I even forgot about The Misfits, their antagonists) is the one in which her earrings end up in a Japanese museum on display as an ancient artifact, no doubt thanks to The Misfits' schemes. As a child I supposed that, however unlikely this appeared to my untrustworthy sensibilities, if it was shown on TV (in a cartoon, no less), it could really happen. Television was the authority on what was possible in real life.

The cartoons I watched as a child have all blended together into a single stage, but I watched them over such a long period of time that they really could/should be divided into stages. I didn't even remember the name of Jem's cartoon by the fifth grade until Sophia named it for me, and since then (for over a decade) I have wondered on occasion whether she was right. To think that I didn't bother to check until now, yet I still remember the question.

Mighty Max and OdinRemember Mighty Max? Definitely one of my favorites. I was reminded of the owl, Odin, when I looked up the etymology of "Wednesday" on Sunday. It comes from Old English Wodnesdaeg, named after the Germanic god Odin. This is news to me, and further investigation of the days of week will undoubtedly yield more blog entries. I am thoroughly enjoying this life-of-the-mind reflective learning absorbing reviewing writing moment in my existence.

Today I awoke to the haunting wail of sirens. They ascended in spirals of pitch for an impossibly long time, and though I tried to convince myself that I could ignore whatever Dutch drill was going on, I finally stumbled out of bed thinking the city must have burst into conflagration.

The clock told me it was Monday noon. In Mr. Himberg's class at Hoover, we had always heard the testing of the sirens on Mondays at noon. And the city does it here too, only, as I began to remember groggily, the sirens must be for flooding. Entire towns in Zeeland have been flooded in disastrous breaches before. Last year, Kees drove us past a tower that was all that survived from a seaside town. An eerie sight.