Belgium's famous harmonica player is no more. My fondest memories of Toots Thielemans:
Last year I worked as an English teaching assistant in two primary schools (six hours in each one). Next year I get to work twelve hours in the same school and the main teacher is giving me a lot more responsibility than I had this year. So, I decided to prepare. Last year I did some games with personal questions, and today I perfected them, printed them and even laminated everything. I even got a blister on my finger from cutting all the edges of the plastic. But the result is worth the pain.
First of all, we've got your Game of the Goose. But, every time you land on a goose, you have to take a card and answer a personal question. If you get it wrong, you have to set one step back. Of course, the question cards can also be used without the board. Then there is the Personal Questions Domino. One player reads the question on his card, and the person who's got the answer on his card fills in the blank to answer correctly. He or she than proceeds with the question, at the top part of the card the answer was on. The game ends when the first person to have asked a question pronounces the answer of that very same card. The third game is a little less intuitive. There are two stacks of cards. A player takes one from each stack an makes a question with them, using any. Another person answer the question. For example: "Are there any fish in the car? No, there aren't any fish in the car." This is not only a helpful tool to learn to build correct sentences, but it is also funny. And funny is good.
I have a lot more ideas and I'm writing them down in a cute notebook (I like notebooks). I must say, I'm very organised this year. I just hope I can continue like this and make this new school year a big succes!
It was January. I was stressing out because the exams were really very close now, and I was still trying to finish a lot of assignments on time. On of those assignments was a bibliographical review of the premiere of John Adam's The Death of Klinghoffer. I found a blog post from someone indicating that they had been present at this premiere and I wrote him to ask him some questions. At one point he recommended me this book, Orfeo, by Richard Powers. I'd never heard of the author, but this person told me it was (at least for him) the best book ever to be written about the history of contemporary music. Yes, that's right, the history of contemporary music.
The novel mixes three main times: the present, the past, and the moments that the main character listens to and describes a piece of music. There are no chapters, which can make things a bit jumbled at times, but that's just how life is, jumbles. And that's also how Peter Els' brain is, and every composer's brain in the world. I think... Between paragraphs are some phrases, but until the last pages you don't find out why. It is remarkable though, that they are all less than 140 characters long (hint, hint).
What's in a name? Why is the novel called Orfeo? Hard to say. What's the book about? Even harder to say. But did I like it? I loved it! This is one of those books where the main story line isn't all that important and nevertheless you enjoy it immensely. You can savour the artistic writing style and rich descriptions and you get transported back into history. Okay, maybe I relate more to Peter Els than other readers because I'm a composer too, but my review, my opinion. This really is one of the best (and only) books to describe the history of contemporary music, although some important names are missing and it mainly focuses on American music.
And now for the really crazy part... I should say that, while I was reading the book, I was also reading a lot about John Adams and The Death of Klinghoffer, but I started to see huge parallels between his life and the book's composer's. And doesn't Peter Els sound a lot like Peter Sellars? I know, I know, in the beginning of the book it clearly says there are no parallels with real life people intended, but still, my imagination seemed to see some. It's possible that it made me like the book even more. For a non-musician, this Richard Powers knows what he's talking about.
Last week my father came to visit me, and as he came by car, we drove around Galicia for four days. Here are some impressions:
By the way, happy Left Handers Day to all lefties out there. We are awesome!!! May your day be free of smudges.
Happy Easter everyone! The sun is coming out from behind the clouds and I'm drinking a relaxing coffee, because I have a full day of studying and teaching ahead. I leave you with this Easter video: the Johannespassion, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Graz in 1985. I must admit that, before he died, I had no idea of the importance of Harnoncourt. I'd simply heard of him. But then I watched an interview and I heard his accent, which is clearly from Graz. I have family in Graz and this is the accent I've heard since I was little, so it's very easy for me to understand. Not only could I understand everything he was saying, but I understood everything he was talking about. And I was like, YES, finally someone who's telling the truth. So I've started listening to more interviews and watching rehearsals and I bought two of his books. And maybe it's a bit late, but I am now officially a fan of Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
A few weeks ago, while I was writing a presentation about the concept of melody in Stravinsky's music, I noticed there were some essential books missing from my collection. I searched for cheap copies on Abebooks and ended up buying 7 books for a total of 50€. The last 3 arrived today. I went to the post office and they gave me this:
Which translates into this:
The package, which went from Chicago to Zürich to Madrid to Vigo (hence the video), was in a bag. So literally a book bag. Maybe Americans think it always rains in Europe (which is partially true, it has been raining non-stop for almost a week here in Vigo), in which case the protection served perfectly, but they could’ve done with a smaller bag (I could fit in this one).
Anyway, I'm glad all my new books have finally arrived. Look at them, my babies:
I rearranged my bookshelves to fit my new acquisitions:
Stravinsky (far right until the cat) and some other composer. I think it's clear which one's my favourite.
I'm originally from Belgium, more specifically from Flanders, which makes me Flemish. So my mother tongue is Flemish or Dutch, same thing. In Spanish, I am therefore flamenco, even though flamenco also refers to the dance and the bird, the flamingo. Wait, keep reading, because the next anecdote will bring us to why I prefer studying seated.
When I came to Spain on Erasmus exchange, one thing my teacher always noted was that when I was using up my last air, I would lift my leg. Well yes, like a flamingo. When I came to think of it, it sounded logical that when we almost feel like life is escaping from us, we lift our foot. Why? Chakras. Bless you, you will say. Or maybe some of you know what chakras are. Anyway, you will hear a lot about them on this blog, because they are somewhat the basis of my teaching.
Chakras are energy fields within our body. There's seven of them. And for now, just let us talk about the first one. The first chakra or root chakra is situated... well, at the root, your bottom. That's why for a meditation you sit on the floor. The root chakra is our connection with the earth. Our legs don't serve any other purpose than walk us from one place to another.
"The flamingo" is a reaction to a poor connection with the earth. My strongest chakra has always been the seventh, the crown chakra, which stands for spirituality. Easy to understand that my body tends to move to where the strongest energy comes from.
Tips for musicians with a poor root chakra? Practice seated. Why? Because when seated your root chakra makes a connection with the surface of the chair. Of course you can also sit on the floor, even better. Before playing, try focusing on your downwards energy. Feel the energy of the earth. To make this focusing easier, the best practice rooms are those on the ground floor or in the basement of course.
Flamingo people usually have trouble with self-confidence (third chakra) or emotions (second chakra). Try to work on those things too; even sitting down and trying to locate the energy field inside you usually helps in some way. Try to start your practice session with something very tonal, with clear tonic cadences, to get the feeling of ground within the music.
Who are these flamingo people? Usually they're not small children. Children tend to energise downwards because they don't have a spiritual conscience yet. Girls entering adolescence are the most flighty. It can be that only one of the chakras needs to be refocused, or maybe they have problem with all three of the bottom chakras.
Some of you will be saying now that this is all rubbish, some will realise that it really makes sense. If you are from the first kind, I don't recommend you coming back here, because this is just the kind of teaching project I am working on. Even though my idea of chakra psychology hasn't been completely detailed, I have certain things I've used in my lessons which have really worked. In the future I would like to build a whole music teaching system based on chakra psychology and you are the people that will be the first to hear about it.
What is Leonard Bernstein's most famous composition? Probably "West Side Story". Why? Who knows... So I'm leaving you here with some of my favourite excerpts from "West Side Story", "Wonderful Town" (not to be confused with "On the Town") and "Candide".
Ever since I started playing clarinet again in July I notice the well-known pain in my arm/wrist/thumb every few days. And then I think: oh I should definitely do some stretching exercises before practice tomorrow; and maybe put some ice on it when I get home. I've suffered from tendonitis a few times in the past, so I recognise the signs easily. But then I forget about it, or I minimise the importance,... I believe it's called executive dysfunction, such a wonderful thing. Yesterday I played for almost one and a half hour straight. I needed to stay focused because there were teacher meetings, which means a lot of people talking loudly in the hallway. My arm didn't even feel that tired after practising, my lip hurt a lot more. But in the evening my right thumb started hurting. Just a small spot on my palm, but never the less it was hurting. And so it continued to do this morning. It now became a small, red spot. No real inflammation. Nevertheless I decided not to go to the conservatory and good thing I didn't because that would definitely have made it worse.
I now have a general unease in my thumb, wrist and arm, and a contraction in my right shoulder, probably the real cause of my problem. I decided I needed to Arnica. Not gel, because that one the many things I get a rash from. There used to be an ointment by A.Vogel with 50% arnica, but now they just have gel, and anything that's transparent gives me a rash within three days. But I asked my pharmacist and she came up with the closest she had to my original ointment: homeopathic, with 30% arnica, and some other herbs. I also have my ice pack ready for when I finish writing this post, and I'm really planning to do stretching exercises before practice tomorrow.
This is going into my clarinet case tomorrow: Traumeel arnica ointment, Theraband for palm stretching (not the official ones, this yellow one is already quite strong), and the softest Handmaster Plus for finger stretching (I usually take the medium strength). And of course there's the wall to stretch my arm. And an ice pack when I come home.
For those who wonder: I use A.Vogel Echinaforce drops for a quick inner lip repair. It's basically just echinacea and alcohol, completely safe for inner use or use on open wounds.
Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks passed away a few days ago. To us musicians he is most known for his book Musicophilia, a collections of experiences about the effects of music. I'd like to share this next video with you. Let us all remember a great man.