Monday, December 29, 2008

Black Angels

I don't have anything new to say. But I thought I'd share the video of our performance of Black Angels. The video quality itself isn't that great, but the sound quality is (the recording guy video'd it on his hand-held camera, but synched it with the quality audio recording). To read up on the piece, you can check this out. The video is hosted by Google video, here. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prettige Kerstdagen!


Well, not so much has happened since my last post. I'm on holidays, so I've been creating some diversions for myself. Sleeping. Gym. Researching for my Master's project. But no "normal" Christmas activities to be found. It's weird too, because it didn't feel so Christmas-y to me here, partly because it's been such balmy weather! I'm used to freezing my ass off at Christmas time - that's what makes it festive! But it's been anywhere between +5-10C here, so it feels kind of like fall weather to me. It's probably just me though, since I grew up in a sick and twisted atmosphere.....known as Saskatchewan...... I'm getting together this afternoon with some of us ex-pats from the Conservatory who are still hanging around town. We're all kind of bored and lonely, because our social life (aka the school) is closed. :) Just a group of us who are too far from home to go for Xmas - America, Canada, Australia....the non-European continents. Then tomorrow I'm going to a Couchsurfing Boxing Day dinner. But not your traditional fare - it's going to be some sort of vegan Asian food. Starting a new Christmas tradition! Funny tidbit - there's no such thing as boxing day here. There's the Eerste Kerstmas Dag (1st Christmas Day) which is Christmas Day, and the Tweede Kerstmas Dag (Second Christmas Day) which is Boxing Day. Prettige Kerstdagen allemaal!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holiday!


What an exhausting week! The orchestra concert went quite well, and was a lot of fun. And as is usually the case with tours, we had a bus party after the concert on Sunday. And the best part was that the school bought us beer, wine, and munchies to consume on the bus. They really know how to placate the music student masses! Yesterday was Melissa's end exam, and our performance of Black Angels. It was really amazing to perform, and I must confess I'm a little sad that we don't have a chance to perform it again. And after Melissa's exam we went out with her parents for dinner and then went to the Waterhole (a dive bar at the Liedseplein). Greg's band performed a set at the open mic night there, and then we hung out and partied it up. Then Raf, Jimmy, Olaf, Mel, and I all headed back to Melissa's place in Amsterdam North and had a slumber party! Today I've been catching up on things that have fallen by the way-side a bit. Already planning my schedule for January and February....... I'm looking forward to the holidays, but I have a lot of work to do! It's unfortunate that the school is going to be closed for 2 weeks, from December 22-Jan 5th. I can practice at home, but it's just not the same.... And speaking of home, I just found out today that I'm going to be moving in February to Amsterdam North. My landlady is buying an apartment there, so we're moving on up. It's actually closer to school than I am now, so that will be nice. And it's a really nice neighbourhood with a big park nearby. And I'll ride the ferry every day!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mijn Sinterklaas-gedichte


For my Dutch class part of our homework for this week was to write a Sinterklaas poem. So here it is, for your perusal (the translation follows the Dutch).

Op de avond van Sinterklaas
Eten wij broodjes en kaas.
De mannen hebben lange baarden,
Maar geen appelen voor the paarden.
Dan horen wij een geluid klop:
Kijk! Daar draait de deur knop!
Het was de zwarte man, naam Piet,
Hij heeft zijn zak niet.
In plaats daar van brangt hij ons niets
Uitgezondered nieuwe lichten voor mijn fiets.
Piet ons aan te keuken een haas
Maar wij veel liever onze kaas.

Translation (approximate):
On the evening of Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas)
We eat broodjes and cheese (broodjes are a Dutch roll that you can get with various fillings)
The men have long beards
But no apples for the horses (Sinterklaas comes on horseback)
Then we hear a loud knock
Look! There turns the door knob!
It was the black man, named Piet (Sinterklaas' "friend" Zwarte Pieter)
He has his sack niet (not)
In its place he brings nothing
Except new lights for my bike
Piet wants to cook us a hare
But we much prefer our cheese.

Isn't is wonderful?????? I wasn't really going for sense-making, to be quite honest I was just trying to find words that rhymed. Hence Sinterklaas rhymed with kaas. I think my teacher was quite impressed with that one ;) Tot ziens!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Holy pants Batman!


Holy pants. I have been pretty busy lately, partly because I got recruited into this week's orchestra project at the last minute. One of the violists had to back out, and so I'm filling in her place. So I have orchestra rehearsals every day this week from 10-5, and then I have to squeeze in Black Angels rehearsals and practicing around that. And last week we had two days of rehearsals as well, which messed up my schedule a bit. But the program is pretty cool - it's all American music. Two pieces by classical American composers (John Adams and Samuel Barber), and then three jazz pieces - two with jazz orchestra and one with jazz quartet. Last night I also went to see the Tokyo String Quartet play at the Concertgebouw. I managed to score the very last ticket for the concert, so I was pretty stoked. It was really fabubus, and after the concert I went backstage and surprised Martin Beaver (the first violinist). He was faculty for the chamber music session at Domaine Forget when I was last there a few years back, and he created this running joke wherein he would sing my name while choral-conducting it (Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-tya). You know, music geek fun. So he was pretty surprised to see me, but I ended up going out with him and the quartet for a late dinner and drinks. I also got to manhandle the violist's Stradivarius viola. But being me, and being that I'm rather clumsy, I didn't hold it for too long since I was afraid I'd drop it or something. Today I had a really good study session for my Dutch class. It was just three of us, and we basically went through the two chapters that were our homework and talked a lot, answering all the questions and helping each other out with vocabulary and stuff. But 3 hours of having to think really really hard about everything you're saying was exhausting! Tomorrow the hell that is orchestra week begins. I will most likely be very exhausted and will lead a very boring life until after the concerts on the weekend and Melissa's end exam next Monday. Then the holidays start (for me at least - I don't have any exams).

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Say What??



I've been a bad blogger. What can I say - I'm very busy and important. Tuesday last week was the tango recital in Rotterdam. It was a lot of fun, and we got mad props for our killer tango playing. Unfortunately I couldn't join in the celebrations, since I had to run and catch the train back to Amsterdam for my Dutch lesson and another voorspiel (class recital). I think that if this classical thing doesn't work out, maybe I'll get a degree in tango viola. That would be awesome. On Wednesday last week I had my very first Couchsurfing dutch lesson. I'm in this weird in-between level, where I'm not a beginner but I'm not really advanced either. Last week I tried out the beginner class but it was way too boring, so this week I was in the advanced class and it was better. It's a little above my level, but it's better than learning how to say "I have, you have, we have" again.......The lessons are really nice though - the teacher are all locals who are volunteering their time, and the students are from all over the world. And I have to say I like the text we're using for this class much better than the text we used for my CvA class. It's laid out so much better, especially vis a vis vocab. Friday night was the Kammerorkest Tryptich concert in Utrecht. The Walton was interesting (as always), but it was a really fun concert. Afterwards we went out for a drink at a bar nearby the church, and then caught the midnight train back to Amsterdam. I was so exhausted though - I went out with Hayley to Karma's on Thursday night and was working on Friday with 4 hours sleep. My own fault of course, but by the time we got to the train station in Utrecht to go home, I was so exhausted. And then I didn't get home until around 2 because after we got the train back from Utrecht I had to catch the night train to my station from Amsterdam Centraal. Ugh. And Saturday morning was our Dutch lesson, bright and early. THEN Saturday night I went out again with Hayley, first to Karma's and then to the Kring. Then after the Kring we met up with some people from school, but I bowed out early because I was so horrifically tired. On Sunday I got to sleep in a little, but I went to school in the afternoon to listen to my friend Simona's run-through of her concerto for the competition to play with the orchestra in April. And I also make 2 presentations - one for my Musical Body class, and the other for my dutch class. So I hung out at school working on my presentation until it closed, then I wandered into town to meet up with Josh (from TO) for dinner. It was snowing on Sunday night, so I got to bike in the snow! We ended up going for tasty Indonesian food, because the place I picked out was closed. There was a street full of restaurants, and it was the only one closed. Just my luck.
Monday I gave my presentation in my Musical Body class, and it went well. My presentation was on everyday actions that can affect our body adversly when playing - ie carrying around heavy things, posture, not sleeping in a good bed. I was supposed to have a lesson at 9 pm but I rescheduled it with Sven because I was still really tired and didn't think I'd make it to 9 pm. I went home early, and was in bed by about 10. It worked better for Sven too, since he has to commute to Den Haag. Getting home earlier is always good. Then on Tuesday evening was our very last CvA dutch lesson. We finished up our presentations, then drank champagne and ate chocolate. Celebration! I also had a couple of Memos this week, and since Sinterklaasavond is around the corner a bunch of the kids I've seen have been dressed up like either Sinterklaas or Zwarte Piet. Seeing small children in Cardinal hats (Sinterklaas) or 17th century Spanish hats with feathers (Zwarte Piet). I just got back from watching the Concertgebouw Orchestra play Shostakovich 5. I absolutely love this symphony, especially the 3rd movement. It was so amazing, I wish I could go again on Sunday. I'll just have to put it on repeat on my iPod now.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Lemmings

Well, it was a weekend all right. Friday night I played a piece by Rudolph Escher in a concert of Dutch chamber music, and then headed over to the Couchsurfing weekly meet-up for a drink. It was pretty fun, but I had to head out early to because I had to get up early to catch the my ride to Gronigen. Luckily for me, Greg (the conductor of the orchestra) texted me at 8 am, because otherwise I wouldn't have made it. I slept right through my alarm - I don't even remember it going off!!! We were meeting at Central Station at 8:30 to leave for Gronigen, and I didn't leave my house until 8:15! But it's a good thing I'm a crazy fast biker. And also good that there was pretty much no traffic out, so that worked in my favour. I booked it to Centraal, and ended up pulling up just before 8:30. But then I had to find a place to lock my bike, which took me an extra 10 minutes. As it turns out, the orchestra had booked a whole lodge-type place outside of Gronigen. Oh yeah, and on our way to Gronigen we drove past Lemmer, which is the small town in Friesland that my Dutch side came from. We rehearsed there in the afternoon, and then went into Gronigen at around 4:30 for our dress rehearsal before the concert. The concert was in a synagogue in the medieval centre. It went well, but my plan to catch the train back to Amsterdam after the concert was foiled by the fact that the last train to Amsterdam left at 10:04 and our concert didn't end until 9:55. The one other person who was taking the train did make a run for it, but I had too much stuff with me to really be able to do that. So I ended up crashing with the orchestra at the lodge and coming back to Amsterdam on Sunday. It was nice to have a lazy weekend trip, but it meant that I didn't accomplish too much. Today I finally got my package in the mail from my mom, that she sent back in September. Moral of the story I guess, don't send mail to another continent by ground.....but I got some of my clothes left behind, and my rain gear, and socks! I love socks.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Railrunner


It's been a busy week - and it's not over yet! On Monday evening I went with my friend Simona to check out a big band that her friend from Bucharest plays in - The Konrad Kosseleck Big Band. They have a standing date at the Sugar Factory once a month, and every month they are joined by some special guests. This month's guests were two tap dancers. At first I was skeptical - I mean, tap dancers? Seriously. But it was actually pretty cool. One of the tap dancers was definitely more interesting than the other to watch, more of a showman. But they ended up like being another percussion section. They even got their own improv solos just like all the other instruments. It was pretty cool. On Tuesday evening I went to Utrecht to rehearse with a community orchestra. The conductor is Canadian, and is a friend of my friend Melissa. He needed an extra violist to fill out the section, and I was hankering to do some orchestra-ing. It's actually kind of cool because they're playing the Walton Viola Concerto with a viola teacher from Amsterdam as the soloist. It's fun to be playing on the other side of the concerto, since you spend so much time practicing the stupid solo parts of concertos. The orchestra is all amateur players and they're all just playing for the love of it, which is refreshing. Somehow that joy can get sucked out of professionals, even music students. Music schools almost have a survival of the fittest atmosphere in that respect - I know many people who've finished their music degree and then decided to go to law school, or fashion design school, or business school. Or whatever. Anyways, I digress.
Wednesday I just had rehearsals and rehearsals and more rehearsals. Then this morning I had to get up ungodly early (7 am!) because I had to catch the train at 8:50 to Rotterdam for a coaching. On Tuesday I'm playing in an end exam for a friend of Melissa's, Xabier. He's in the tango department of the Rotterdam Conservatory. Yes, that's correct. They have a tango department. They actually have a whole world music and dance academy, and the tango department is within that. So we're playing a piece by a contemporary South American composer (that has tango influences), and then a Piazolla tango. The coaching was quite funny, if only for his teacher's declarations about tango. "Tango is like a conversation with your friends, and everybody's talking at once. Tango is the difference in a car between leather seats and plastic seats". But it was really interesting, and a good coaching. Unfortunately I didn't really get to enjoy Rotterdam, since immediately after our coaching I had to run for the tram so that I could catch the train back to Amsterdam to try and make my next coaching at 2. The difficulty level was that my coaching in Rotterdam went until 12:30, and I had to catch a tram to the station, and then the train to Amsterdam takes about an hour. Then I had to hi-tail it from the train station to school. Luckily school's very close to the train station, and when I arrived at Amsterdam Centraal in the morning I deliberately locked my bike up beside the station in the direction of school, so I basically ran to my bike, unlocked it, biked like a fiend for 4 minutes to the school, parked my bike in the square out front, locked it, and made a run for the coaching. I was only 15 minutes late, which was impressive considering that my train didn't get into Centraal until about 2:05. This coaching was for my viola flute and harp trio - the Debussy sonata for viola flute and harp. The coaching was with the flautist's teacher, and it was really helpful because it's a very confusing piece and it's easy to just be totally lost in the mishmash. So she really helped us figure everything out and make sense of things. By the end of that coaching I was kind of exhausted, partly from the lack of sleep, and partly from the stress of rushing around all morning. So I ended up sitting in the canteen at school for about an hour I think, just visiting with people. Then I ended up going for dinner with my friend Hayley at the new restaurant that just opened in the library next door. That frikkin library now has two gourmet restaurants in it. The big fancy one on the top floor, and this smaller one at the front of the building that just serves pasta and pizza. But they make it all fresh, including the sauces. My favourite part was how they cook the noodles - they have the noodles all packaged by serving, and they just grab a package of whatever type of noodle you want and pop it in what looks like a deep fryer. It's the same idea as the deep fryers for french fries at fast food restaurants, but instead of boiling oil you have boiling water - ie. you put the noodles in a little basket thing and lower them into the water. It was pretty nifty, I must say. And tasty. Now I'm just chilling at home, trying to take it easy. Tomorrow evening I have the concert of Dutch chamber music that we're playing the Escher in, and then on Saturday I'm probably going to Gronigen to play a concert with the community orchestra. I'm quite a prodigious traveller this week!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Don't worry - I will always be a purple ribbon



Obama! What a win - I mean, he won the popular vote AND the electoral colleges. What a joke of a democratic system. But at least he won. That's what counts. And now we all want to know: what kind of puppy will Sacha and Malia get??????!!!!! But on to my life. On Wednesday I went out with Melissa (who I'm playing Black Angles with) and her friend Jimmy (aka James) who was visiting from Ireland. He's also Canadian - they went to school together at Laurier. We went to this crazy underground club to see an experimental jazz show that some friends of Mel's from school were playing in. There were three acts, and the group from the Con was the first. The music itself was pretty cool, but they also had this projector that they put overheads up on - different colours of transparencies and little sentences. It was a little weird - some of the sentences were just hilarious in their absurdity, but overall it was a little silly. But that's artsy-fartsy people for ya. The second act was a one-man-band that was hilarious. His songs were all two chords, and lyrics like "Everything is hypocrisy! Everything is hypocrisy! Everything is hypocrisy!" repeated ad nauseum. We were just killing ourselves laughing at the back of the performance space. The last act was similar to the first one, and they were pretty cool. And no overheads, so that was a plus. It's always cool to go to things like this, because it's really easy to get into a bubble and never go to any concerts but classical ones. It's always good to experience new things!
Yesterday was my lesson with Nobuko Imai. She's a badass violist, and is pretty much as close as you can get to an internationally reknowned viola soloist. I played the Hindemith 11/4 Sonata I played in our studio class last week, and it went really well. She really liked my playing, and we basically just worked on adding more expressiveness to the piece. There was even one part that she just skipped over because she said it didn't need anything else. Hilariously enough it was a variation in the last movement in which the directions are "bizarre, with hesitation to speak". But I already knew I do bizarre well. Anyhoo, Nobuko was really great and it was a good lesson. This coming week I have rehearsals in Utrecht and Rotterdam for two different concerts, and I have the Escher concert on Friday. And I desperately need to do laundry.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Into the Void

So, Saturday was Museumnacht 2008! Museumnacht is one night a year, where 40 museums throughout Amsterdam open up and have all sorts of activites going on - live music, cheap beer, artwork, and a rumoured champagne fountain at the Rijksmuseum (but we never made it there, so I don't know for sure). Tickets were just 17 euros for as many museums as you could hit between 7 pm and 2 am. And considering the entrance to one museum can run you upwards of 10 euros, it's a pretty sweet deal. I went with a group of friends mainly from my Dutch class - Bernie (jazz bass player), Bernie's jazz friend Ben, Ana (pianist), Ana's boyfriend Guillaume, Simona (pianist/conductor), Takashi (chorale conductor), Niels (music theory), and Niels' brother Jens. Our first stop was the Pianola Museum in the Jordaan. They were having combiniation live + pianola performances, and I we ended up seeing a classical guitar player + pianola. Pianolas are those nifty old pianos that play a recording off a paper roll. The guitarist played some Granados, and then played a roll of Granados playing the same song recorded in like 1912 or something absurd like that. Anyways, it was the perfect place for a bunch of music geeks like us! Next stop was the Anne Frank Huis. I've been meaning and meaning to go here, but there's always a huge line and it's a private museum so my museumkaart doesn't work there. But it was surprisingly not packed, and we got to walk through the whole museum - they built it around her father's office building that held the secret annex that they lived in during the war. It was a little crazy to see how tiny the space was that they lived in for years. It was depressing, but also very interesting. Our next stop was NIMk, the Nederlands Insitute voor Mediakunst - ie. school for media art. They had all these wacky installation pieces, including a super trippy Bjork music video in 3-D. Very cool stuff. Then we went to the Huise Marseille Museum voor Fotographie - a photography museum. This venue was a little boring, but they did have a cool jazz ensemble playing in one of the rooms. Then we headed over to the Rembrandt Huis. I'd already been there in June, but it's a cool place to visit anyways. And the big attraction was the "low-cost bar" in the basement - 1 euro beer! At 1:30 we decided we had to hit one other place before the night ended, so we ended up going to the Portugese Synagogue nearby. It's the big old brick synagogue, and was lit entirely by candles. There was no electricity - so no heat and no light (other than the candles). Earlier in the night they had choirs and stuff in there, but since it was pretty much closing time we just wandered around and then left. It was pretty nifty though. So I guess the count is 6 museums in a night, which is pretty good.
After the Portugese Synagogue the group split up due to differing ideas about what to do next. Ana and Guillaume went home; Bernie, Ben, and Niels went to a pub at the Nieuwemarkt; and Simona, Jens, and I went to the Leiseplein to go clubbing. Part of museumnacht was that they had "afterparties" at certain clubs, which basically meant that by showing your ticket for museumnacht you got dicounted cover into the club. First we tried Paradiso, but they had an actual show happening and it was sold out. So we headed over to the Milkweg, and partied the night away. And I mean that literally. Amsterdam knows how to party, and when we left at 5:30 am the party was still going. Needless to say I was exhausted on Sunday and spent pretty much the whole day in bed. And no mom, I wasn't hungover. I was just really freaking tired - the kind of tired where you've been up for 23 hours, biked all over the city, and then danced for a couple hours. Today is US election day - very big news all over the world. In fact, the Milkweg is having a big election party tonight that's completely sold out, and the idea is to stay up until the results are in (which over here is expected to be about 4-5 am). It hypothetically sounds like a good idea, but I have stuff to do tomorrow! I guess I'll just find out in the morning if Obama lost. But this morning I had a Memo at a preschool run by the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and one of the little girls was wearing an Obama T-shirt. I thought it was pretty funny. In fact, on the weekend they did a poll of Dutch people and something like 80% wanted Obama to win, and only about 8% wanted McCain to win.......it's a little scary that we have to trust in the American electorate to make the right choice!!!!!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Viola as Prima Donna and Other Improbabilities

Another lackluster week. I played a couple of Memos, played in my studio class on Tuesday night, and had a few rehearsals. Other than that, it's the normal eat, practice, sleep, repeat deal. However, I have been reading a book about the history of the Bartók viola concerto, and I was inspired to share this awesomely scathing review the concerto got when it was first premiered in the early 50s. (The title of this post is the title of the article). So here it goes:

The diverse efforts of Mozart, Berlioz, Hindemith, Walton, Arthur Benjamin, "Handel-Barbirolli" and others have succeeded in convincing us that the best viola concerto is one which isn't really a concerto, and that the fingerboard of the viola ought to be cut off, until further notice, at a point to be determined by a Committee of Chamber Musicians, but none too near the regions of the eternal resin. Only thus will the viola cease to lead into temptation. Meanwhile, painstaking musicological research has unearthed the inspirations, primary as well as pre-disposing, which make for a viola concerto. They are precisely four. The first inspiration is that the composer is fond of playing the viola. The second is that Paganini wants a viola concerto. The third is that Primrose wants a viola concerto. The fourth is that nobody, least of all the composer, wants a viola concerto, but that he hopes that once it's there someone will want it, since there are so few viola concertos. As for "exploring the virtuoso possibilities of the instrument," there aren't any, unless you want to change the viola's character, which nowadays isn't at all difficult, though Mozart has done far more in this direction than you with your whimpering and whining viola parts, simply by tuning the instrument up half a tone. If, however, you think that exploring impossibilities will give you ideas, you ought to turn to the saxophone, which offers the richest variety of them; or, since these have been dealt with by Ibert and Phyllis Tate, you might try a concerto for cow-horn. At least this wouldn't tempt you to throw in strings of semiquavers whenever you thought that virtuosity was called for - a game in which almost all modern composers of concertos for the violin family indulge. Beethoven started it, and indeed, with the deepest admiration for the content of the violin concerto, I do not find much reason to consider it a violin concerto. In our own time, the sense of the genuinely virtuosic possibilities of the violin family has largely been lost (for reasons that in my opinion lie ultimately in the development of harmony), which in part accounts for people's increasing readiness to write viola concertos. I personally would propose to every composer who writes a string concerto, including the great geniuses, to re-study the Mendelssohn which qua violin concerto has remained unequalled, and which incidentally goes to support Hindemith's discerning suggestion to Stravinsky, who is not a violinist, that his lack of executive ability, far from being a hindrance, would actually be "a very good thing" for writing a violin concerto.
Bartok's last work does not seem to lessen the improbablility of the viola concerto; even the would-be brilliant semiquavers are all there, in the last movement. At the same time the chief problem of the Concerto, which in places one hardly recognizes as Bartók (let alone the great Bartók), is more fundamental: should this music have been published at all?....If someone told me that I would find Elisabeth Lutyens' Viola Concerto immeasurably more satisfying than Bartók's I should have laughed in his face - which goes to warn us of even our most justified prejudices.

I love this review because it hardly mentions the Bartók concerto at all, and is instead an opportunity for the author to voice his great dislike of the viola. If only all viola bashing were this eloquent! Granted the Bartók concerto has a lot of flaws. But that's because he died in the middle of writing it. It's still a pretty cool piece, and just imagine how kick-ass it would have been had he finished the orchestration and finalized the viola part before he died. Course, this was a review of the Serly version, and it does sound decidedly un-Bartókian at times. Which is probably why they kept the manuscript under lock and key until the 1990s. But since the manuscript became available for study, 2 other versions have been published, not to mention countless others that may have been worked on but not published. The author of the book I'm reading created his own reconstruction! The most widely available new version is the Peter Bartók/Nelson Dellamaggiore version, but Csaba Erdelyi has published and recorded his version in Australia/NZ, but it is as of yet unavailable in the rest of the world due to differing statues of limitations on copyrights. Which is also why others haven't published their own versions (like the author, for example). Anyways, I'm reading this book, and I thought this was worth sharing. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Just livin my life, ayo ayo ayo

So Tuesday I went to Den Haag to my teacher's house to get my instrument adjusted. Some friends of his from Germany who just happen to be really great instrument repair people were stopping by to look at his viola and whoever of his students as well, so me and one other of his students came with our instruments. They filed down my bridge a little, adjusted my soundpost, and my viola sounds so good! Whoa! It was pretty sweet. And luckily it stopped raining by the time we were done the adjustments, so I took the opportunity to wander around Den Haag a little. I went to the Binnenhof, which is an inner courtyard surrounded by all the buildings of the Dutch parliament. The central courtyard was once used for executions, and has a big 13th century Gothic dining hall called the Ridderzaal (Knight's Hall) on the one end. There must have been something going on because there was a red carpet of sorts and barricades with people crowded around them. Maybe the Queen was there. But waiting in a mob is actually kind of boring so I just had a look around and left. I wandered around for a bit, found the Canadian Embassy (since I figured it's probably a good idea to know where the embassy is if I ever need to go there), walked past the Paleis Noordeinde, the king and queen's official residence. I eventually made my way back to the Binnenhof, and visited the Mauritshuis museum. The building was actually a mansion dating from 1640, and in 1822 it was converted to a museum to host the royal collection. I saw Vermeer's "View of Delft" and "Girl with a Pearl Earring", as well as Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp". Pretty cool stuff. Aside from the biggies that are always on show (if they're not being lent out) they have rotating exhibitions of course, and the one showing was of Dutch cityscapes. The Netherlands has had a strong tradition of strong city-states, so as far back as the 1600 artists had started painting cityscapes. It was pretty cool, but there's only so many times you can see a painting entitled "View of ". I was a little sad I didn't get to see Andy Warhol's "Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands", but it wasn't on display. I considered going to a few other museums, namely the Galerij Prins Willem V (which was opened in 1773 and paintings are still hung in the manner popular in the 18th century - every possible space on the wall is covered in art), and Escher in het Paleis Museum (a permanent collection spanning MC Escher's entire career, housed in the former residences of Queen Emma). As well, it would have been supercool to tour the Vredespaleis, the home of the UN International Court of Justice, but you need to book ahead to take a tour since security is understandably pretty strict. But instead I decided to head back home. There's so many cool things to see! It's too overwhelming! Also I was tired from getting up early to catch the train, and sort of travel fatigued since I'd just gotten back from Maastricht the afternoon before.
The rest of the week passed by pretty quietly. I practiced, and went to the gym. I had a Memo in Amstelveen on Thursday morning, which is one of the suburbs of Amsterdam. But it was all good because I got paid an extra 12 euros for extra travel, and it's not like I had anything to do! Holidays! The only stupid thing about the holidays is that the school was on limited hours - 9-4. Which is just ridiculous. On a normal school day nobody is there at 9 am, or pretty much before 11 or 12 for that matter. And we have even less incentive to get up early on our holidays! I think if they wanted limited hours, they should have done them from 12-8 or something like that. But apparently most schools just shut down altogether, but music schools can't do that because we need to practice. The library was closed entirely for the whole week which was annoying, since it already has limited enough hours as it is (it's only open monday to friday, mon 12-5:30, tues-fri 10-5:30). Yeah, that's another weird thing I don't know if I've mentioned yet. Not only is everything in the entire country (pretty much) closed on Sundays, but everything's also closed on Monday mornings. And most things close quite early compared to in big cities in Canada - there's no such thing as grocery stores open until midnight, let alone the awesome 24 hour stores - here most close at 6, and the late ones close at 9 or 10. I can only compare it to living in Saskatoon, and every day is on Sunday hours. It's frustrating because I don't keep 9-5 normal hours, and so when I have free time everything's closed. Boo-urns. Also, another interesting thing I've discovered while working for Memo - all the preschools and primary schools are locked up tight, and you have to get buzzed in. There's no such thing as just walking in the front doors of a school. You have to call and get buzzed in. And most of them have playgrounds in an inner courtyard, so there's no way that you can really get at the playground either. I'm not sure if it makes me feel more or less safe, because it's a little worrying that they feel they have to take such precautions. I just think of the elementary schools I went to, where all the doors were unlocked and open at all times, the the playground was a big field that was completely open. It's the same way that when you see lots of police around you feel more afraid rather than more safe. Anyways, I just thought it was strange.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Uno Maas(tricht)





So I'm back. Back again. My friend Hayley and I went on a weekend trip to Maastricht, in the very south of the Netherlands. It's right at the bottom of the country, and about 5 km one way in Belgium and 20 km the other way is Germany. We took the train out Saturday morning, and after brief confusion finally arrived in Maastricht around noon. Unbeknownst to us, the train from Amsterdam seperates at Sittard, and one half goes on to Maastricht while the other half goes to Heeren. And we just happened to be sitting on the Heeren side of the train. So we arrive in Heeren, and can't figure out what happened. So we had to catch a puddle-jumping "stop-trein" from Heeren to Maastricht. But it turned out quite nice though, because we saw some South Limburg countryside that we wouldn't have seen otherwise. Maastricht is the "Crown Jewel of the south", and is about as far away from windmills, clogs, and tulips as you can get. There are Spanish and Roman ruins, since it got its start as a Roman town and then was occupied by the Spanish for a long period of time. As well, the city hosted two key moments in the history of the EU - in 1991 the 12 members of the European Community met to sign the treaty for economic, monetary, and political union, and they reconvened the next year to sign the Maastricht Treaty, which officially created the EU. So part of Maastricht's new revitalized Ceramique district (which used to be filled with ceramics factories) has a big square called Plein 1992, in celebration of the EU and the Maastricht Treaty.
We met up with our host Marten at his flat, which is about 3 blocks from the train station. We dumped our stuff off there, and then headed out with Marten who took us on walking tour of Maastricht. This was my first adventure using Couchsurfing.com to find a host to stay with. And I must say it worked out great. Marten was a great host, and we had a really fun time in Maastricht. He took us all around the city on Saturday. We visited the church with the Zwarte Christ, a statue of christ that's "black" because it's made out of very dark wood. We checked out the old city walls and fortifications, the Sint Servaasbasiliek which is a church that dates from around 1000, walked by Sint Janskerk but it was closed for repairs, went to the Onze Lieve Vrowebasiliek which has parts dating before 1000 and may well have been built on the foundations of a Roman cathedral. We got some coffee at the Markt Square, visited a water powered granary, and then got some groceries and went back to Marten's where he cooked us a very tasty Thai curry for dinner. We then proceeded to drink copious amounts of wine and discuss life until about 2 am. Good times.
On Sunday 'morning' (and by morning I mean around 12:30 pm) Hayley and I set off with a mission to visit Sint Pietersberg, a Roman fort 2 km south of the city. It's a nice walk from town, and it lies just on top of a hillside overlooking Maastricht. We didn't get to go on a tour of the fort since we missed the 1 tour they run every day, but we did get to go on a supercool tour of the Northern Corridor System Tunnels, which were built by the Romans throughout the hills over a period of 2000 years. The Romans developed the tunnels by quarrying soft marlstone at a rate of just 4 blocks per day, creating an underground system that provided refuge to the citizens of Maastricht whenever they found themselves under attack. During WWII for example, the tunnels housed a well, a storeroom, a chapel, a kitchen, a bakery, and a pen for livestock. At one stage the Northern Corridor System Tunnels had over 20 000 separate passageways adding up to a length of over 200 km and stretching underneath the Belgian border - until the French blew up a big chunk during the war, thinking they were under the Sint Pietersberg fort. However, they only succeeded in entombing hundreds of French soldiers. Geniuses at work. The caves are quite chilly, and are really really dark. Also, they're full of graffiti from across the ages. The tunnels were only closed to the public in the 1980s, so up until then people could just wander in and write their name on the walls. I saw a lot of English/American names written with the date 1944 - Allied soldiers no doubt. I even found some names carved in the wall somewhat ornately with the date 1698. Cool stuff. The guide's favourite game is (with your permission) to leave with the lamps and go to the end of a long curved passageway, and then we have to walk through the tunnel in the pitch black, using our hand on the wall to guide us. It is so dark and so ominously silent down there, that apparently grown men break down and cry when left without a light. In our tour group, one of the kids piped up as soon as the light disappeared around the bend: "Ik kan niet see!" It was pretty funny. After our tunnel adventure we walked back into town, and ate some food at a nice little cafe in the Markt Square. Then we headed back to Marten's and hung out with him some more. But we ended up turning in at a more reasonable hour since we were all very tired from our late night before. This morning we got up and did some dishes for Marten before we left - he was already at work so we decided to leave him a little present. We caught the train at about 11:50 and got home to our doorsteps at about 3:00. Not too bad. Now it's back to real life, somewhat. It's still the fall break, so the school has limited hours. I may make use of my Museumkaart and go to some museums around town, and I was also thinking of taking day trips to Den Haag, Rotterdam, or Utrecht. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Walk this way






I feel like I should be walking around like a cowboy, all bow-legged. Yesterday I met up with a guy from Israel who messaged me on couchsurfing.com to go for a bike ride in the countryside north of Amsterdam. He (and another tourist from Seattle who he met on a city tour the day before) met me at school, and we headed out into the countryside. Beautiful weather, all sunny with a breeze to keep cool. Perfect biking weather. The Netherlands has a huge network of bike paths, and really great signage all over the place so that you never get lost. We biked north, and more north, and passed some very quaint towns like Volendam and Edam (yes like the cheese), until we got to Hoorn. The catch is, Hoorn is 31 km north of Amsterdam. And once we got there, we had to bike all the way back. So that was a 62 km round trip. And then counting the distance I bike to school and back, I biked around 80 km yesterday. And also because I'm crazy, I went to the gym and worked out. I lifted all my weights, and ran for a couple miles, and then did a yoga class. Surprisingly, I'm not very sore today. Pretty much only saddle sore. I also got to take some pretty pictures yesterday, so enjoy - on Saturday I have my own couchsurfing adventure in Maastricht!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thanks-give-to-me


Life continues on. I was super excited to go see the Concertgebouw play Prokofiev's Classical Symphony on Saturday, but halfway through the day on Friday I started to feel very tired. At first I just thought it must be because I had gotten up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 to go running with my friend Simona, but then I started feeling all achy and feverish, and I ended up getting very sick. I spent most of Saturday in bed, except for my brief sojourn to the grocery store in the afternoon. I needed food, and even though I wasn't feeling very well all the stores are closed on Sunday so I had to go out. I also stopped at the drug store and picked up some good old vitamin C. Needless to say, I didn't make it to the concert. I am feeling much better now, though I still have some vestiges of the sickness. I am a bit stuffy, and have a cough. But other than that I feel fine. Which is of course a relative term.

This weekend is the start of the Herfstvakantie, the fall vacation. We have a week off, for whatever. A lot of people are going home (because they're from England/Austria/Spain/Germany/somewhere else close), but my friend Hayley and I have decided to go to Maastricht for the weekend. She has to work on Monday evening, and I'm going to have a lesson even though it's the vacation, so we're just going to go for a couple of days. Maastricht pretty much as far south as you can get in the Netherlands, and it's surrounded by Belgium and France. It's one of the oldest cities as well, as it used to be a Roman town. It's also got hills, which is quite a novelty. And a whole system of tunnels hewn out of the hills from as far back as the Roman times. I just hope the tunnels will still be open. Maastricht's sort of described as the most un-Dutch Dutch city, so I think it will be pretty cool. On Tuesday as well I will probably go to Den Haag to get my instrument adjusted by these people my teacher Sven has recommended, who are there for one day only. As well, Hayley and I though it might be nice sometime a little later in the week to take a day trip to Rotterdam. So we'll see. Tomorrow I'm meeting up with a guy from Israel who I met on couchsurfing.com, and I'm going to take him on a little biking tour of the countryside around Amsterdam. It's a nice excuse for me to do it as well, since I've been meaning to since I arrived in August, but haven't managed to leave the city yet. There always seems like there are other things I should be doing. It's the classic musician guilt - you should be practicing. And if you are practicing you should at least be sitting at school not practicing. Hayley and I are probably going to couchsurf in Maastricht too, since it's the only way to travel!

Fun fact I learned today in my Musical Body class: our guest lecturer was a doctor at the clinic for musicians and dancers in the Hague, and one of his colleagues did a very cool study. He got the first 150 patients who walked through the clinic doors (musicians and dancers) to fill out a survey that would determine whether they had ADHD. Now only about 2-5% of the normal population suffers from ADHD. What percentage of these musicians and dancers did? You might think like I did that it would in fact be very low, since you are required to focus and concentrate for long periods of time. Until he explained that one of the manifestations of ADHD is hyper-focussing on one action or task, at the complete detriment of focussing on anything else. And then it struck me - what is the prototypical absent-minded musician? Someone who can tell you absolutely everything about their instrument from its creation to the present day and is generally a master at their craft, but can't organize their life worth shit or even remember your name half the time. Well, this study found that 50-60% of those walking through the clinic doors suffered from ADHD. Now keep in mind that these are injured musicians and dancers, so their hyper-focus may have led to strain themselves over the limit, but it makes a lot of sense doesn't it? And that doesn't take into account those of us who have some aspects of ADHD but don't "suffer" from it in a clinical sense. Then I'm pretty sure that would encompass at least 90% of professional musicians. You have to be slightly batty just to survive. Anyways I thought it was an amusing fun fact. Enjoy. My Thankgiving gift to you.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Wil jullie danse?

Wow, it's been a while since I posted. I don't even remember as far back as Sept. 27. Let's see. I continue to rehearse for Black Angels. I continue to take Dutch lessons. I've started working/volunteering for this MEMO program, in which students go to nurseries and daycares throughout the city and do little 15 min music presentations for the kids. I had my first 'try-out'this morning, and it went well. On friday I do my first real paid MEMO - you get about 15 euros an hour for it. You can only earn a max of 150 euros a month, but it's pretty sweet because since you're technically just a paid volunteer, I don't have to pay taxes on it. Playing for kids is really fun - though it's funny the difference between the baby groups and the toddlers. The babies just sit and stare at you, because you're just totally blowing their mind. They can't do anything but stare. But the toddlers get really excited, and clap and dance and run around. It's very cute. This week I started getting up at 7 am to meet my friend Simona who lives near me to go for an hour run around the Sloterplas (lake near our place). It's good for now, but I'm still shopping for a gym for when the weather gets really gross. Also on friday night I met up with Ramon, the 'Dutch freeloader' who stayed at my rents place in Saskatoon back in 2005. I had my first real dutch brown pub experience, and even drank some crazy Frisian liquor. I continue with my Concertgebouw addiction, averaging about 2 concerts a week. This weekend is Prokoviev 1st piano concerto and the Classical Symphony. I must go. But then after that I think I have to cut back on my concert consumption. Only if I want to eat. And I like food almost as much as I like sleep.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hootin and a hollerin



So this week was a little more busy. Things are starting to pick up - probably a good thing, though I was really enjoying my ample free time. I started rehearsals for Black Angels, which I'm playing for another Masters student's final exam in December. I also played in a clarinet Masters final exam today, in a little orchestra she put together to accompany her clarinet concerto. It was a jazzy number, by Artie Shaw. Pretty fun stuff. On Wednesday evening the Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor the Kunsten had their big back to school partay. The AHK is a big umbrella school, and the Conservatory serves as the music faculty of it. They also have dance, theatre, and art departments. Film too I think. It's an arts school. But each department works pretty autonomously, in our own buildings scattered across the city. So they threw this big party and rented out the entire Milkweg, a big club off the Leidseplein. The Milkweg has lots of different rooms with different performance spaces, and they had something different happening in each. A big dance hall with a DJ and a live band who played a set around midnight, another hall where bands from the Conservatory played all night, a movie theatre upstairs where you could watch student's films, and then two little cafe areas. The party started at 8 pm and was supposed to go until 4 am. I left around 1:30 because I was tired, but the place was packed! The Conservatory alone has around 1000 students, so once you got all the faculties of the AHK together, there was a ton of people. I think the idea of having a big back to school bash for the whole AHK is a good idea, but the problem with a big party at the Milkweg was that it was really bad for meeting people you don't know. I enjoyed all the music and dancing and stuff, but it was so loud everywhere that you could barely hear when somebody told you their name, let alone have a conversation with them. So basically everybody hung out with all their friends they already knew. But it was fun, and was officially the first time I've been out to any kind of nightlife since I moved here.
I've also been working on my plan to become more culture-fied. I finally got a bank account on Thursday, so as soon as I get some money in it I'm going to get my Museum card - free admission to lots of museums across the country for a year. I'm also going to get a korting kaart for the trains, which costs 50 euros but I get 40% off every time I ride the train. And since I want to try and explore the Netherlands I think it will pretty much pay for itself over the year. It's basically the difference between paying for a 9 euro return trip or a 16 euro return trip. And I went to my first concert at the Concertgebouw last night. I got a rush ticket for 10 euros, and saw Antssi Kartunnen solo with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. I played Bloch's 3rd quartet with Antssi 3 summers ago at Domaine, so it was cool to see him playing. In Amsterdam. I have to say that although I didn't really like the piece he played, he rocked at playing it. It was a new cello concert by a Finnish composer, and aside from the 2nd movement which reminded me of Apocalyptica, it was actually kind of boring. It sounded like an orchestration exercise on all the cool effects you can make with an orchestra and all the cool effects you can make with a cello. Booooring. The RCO also played some Britten, which was amazing. The Messa di Requiem, which I'd actually never heard before, and then selections from Peter Grimes. I saw the Canadian Opera Company's production of Peter Grimes 3 years ago, and it was nice to hear some of the music again. Man, that Britten sure knew how to write good music. And there was a kick-ass viola solo in one of the 'sea interludes', so that was awesome as well. Fairly soon I should start rehearsing with a Piano Quintet, as well as a flute-viola-harp trio. And my teacher also put my name forward for some kind of funky 20th century ensemble, so we'll see about that. Until then I will continue to lock myself in a practice room and explore the overtones of my viola. It's my new project.
Oh yeah, and I mailed my absentee ballot for the election yesterday. Plus, CBC's Your Turn asked people to fill in the sentence "President________ and Prime Minister _________" for who you wanted to win both the US and Canadian elections, and so I emailed them and said President Obama and Prime Minister Layton, and I got my sentence read on the air! My friend Tim in Vancouver heard it on the news, and so I was joking that I could out-election him even from another continent! Good times. I have to say that I still feel very connected to the election even from all the way across the ocean because of the miracles of the internet. I can watch the Canadian news online, and see all the different parties TV commercials and everything. I even watched Bob's interview with Mike Duffy! (my cousin and NDP candidate for Battlefords-Lloydminster. Facebook helps too. It's all the rage in this election. So it's nice that I can still be engaged and involved in the electoral process even from a gazillion miles away. If you haven't already, check out Toronto NDP candidate David Sparrow's hilarious videos that spoof the Mac/PC ads. "I'm a NDP....and I'm a PC. I mean, C." Classic. davidsparrow.ca

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

If I were a rich man



So, the exchange rate between everything is killing me here. I'm always doing the math in my head - I check the price of something and then I think, "how much is this in Canadian dollars?" And then I get very scared. A lot of things here are more expensive - like for instance most things in restaurants or shops are the same number price as they are in Canada, but in Euros. So that means they cost at least 1.5 times more. I usually just round it up to 2X more just to be on the safe side, what with fluxuating exchange rates and all. But buying food in grocery stores is relatively cheap. It's actually utterly ridiculous the disparity in prices between buying food in the grocery store and buying food in a restaurant. Now, it's always more expensive to eat out. I know this. But when you're only one person, you usually end up having to eat the exact same meal for at least 3-4 days because that's the quantity your ingredients come in. In Canada I had all my tricks for eating out on the cheap - like the Subway 2.99 sub of the day. Well they have that at the Subways here too, only it's the 2.99 Euros sub of the day. So really it's the 6 buck sub of the day. I can go to the grocery store and pick up sandwich fixins and pasta and stuff to eat for dinner, and for about 10-15 euros. Or I can go to Wok to Walk, a popular "cheap" asian fast-food place and get one meal for 6 euros. Actually, the 2.99 euro sub of the day is pretty much still one of the best deals to eat out. Which is just sad. Of course there's just a higher cost of living here, and that's all fine. The problem is that I'm funding this on the lower-cost living and wages my parents make back in Canada.........and for that matter I made all summer. I worked my ass off all summer, and I think I probably spent all the money I saved up before I even left the country. It's a sad sad state of affairs. I think the US government should give me a billion dollars. I mean, seems like they're just handing it out these days. As for all the electioning happening in N.America, I've been keeping up to date thanks to the internets. Though of course I'm always finding things out late, since while I'm sleeping all the action happens. But it's still fun to watch some news and videos on the internets. I'm eagerly awaiting my write-in ballot, because even though I may not be residing in Canada right now I'm damn well going to do my part to get Harper outta there.
Notes on the pictures: The first is of one of the bridges I have to cross on my way to and from school - occasionally I get to it and it's letting a big barge through and so I have to wait. The cool thing I found about it (that I couldn't get in the frame) was that the power lines also run over the bridge, so they have this system that's hard to describe (I'm finding this as I'm trying to describe it). Basically, where the bridge separates there's two tower thingies holding the wires - the wires are separate but the tower thingies touch and covey the voltage that way. So when the bridge goes up, one tower stays on the ground and one goes up and takes that side of the wires with it. It's a pretty nifty process.......or at least I think so. The second is a mailbag used by TNT Post (the dutch post office). Nobody carries mail. That's so passe. They either have these trolley thingies that they wheel around, or they carry it in carrier bags on a bike. I've passed a few posties biking around with wads of mail sticking out of TNT carrier bags. This system works well here though, because most people live in flats/apartment buildings, and even the houses are close together. Also, we don't seem to have a dedicated postie for our route. Every time I see someone delivering the mail it's somebody different. One day it was a middle-aged Muslim woman in her long dress and hijab, the next day it was a teenage boy. Anyways, it just seemed odd to me, since I know so many posties and am so used to the way our system works (or doesn't work as the case may be). Tomorrow night is the big welcome/welcome back party for the whole Hogeschool voor de Kunsten (School for the Arts) at the Milkweg. It's scheduled to go from 8pm-2am, but it's very unlikely I will stay that long. Unless it's a really really good partay. But it's a chance to meet people from not only the Conservatorium, but from all the other faculties of the AHK. Who knows. Maybe I'll be discovered :P

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Notes on this week

This week was fairly uneventful. I had my first lesson with Sven on Monday, and it went well. My goal is to become more XTREME! Which is something people have been telling me for years (i.e. my ideas are good but I just need to exaggerate them). I'm working on it. I hope to bring some Xtreme-ness from my life into my musics. Other than that, I had nothing to do all week but practice. So that's pretty much all I did. I've actually gotten more practicing done in the last few weeks than I did all summer, and really all last term at UBC too.....at least that's what it feels like. It's both really nice and really strange to have time to practice, since usually I'm trying to squeeze it in around everything else. It certainly helps that I'm not loaded down with courses! Bah to the Bachelors! I've also met a violinist from Sudbury, and I'm going to be playing in her final examination in December - George Crumb's Black Angels. It will be very challenging, but I think it's a really good piece to know, and also to learn in school when you have the luxury of rehearsing it for 2 1/2 months. Because in the real world, that would probably never happen. They'd probably just be like, 'can you play Black Angels next week?'. So yeah.
Yesterday Aida and Nathalie, two girls I went to UBC with, came into town on their way to Paris. Nathalie's in Austria right now visiting family, and Aida is living in Enshende doing her Masters. So I met up with them yesterday, and we wandered around Amsterdam. Went for super sketchy all you can eat Chinese food in Chinatown (on the Zeedijk), went to the red light district and the Amsterdam Erotic Museum, and then ended up sitting in a McDonalds for I think around an hour. Or maybe two. We were really just looking for someplace to sit after all our walking, and Amsterdam's not huge on the public benches. I have to say I don't really walk a lot what with riding my bike everywhere, so I never really noticed the dearth of public benches until yesterday. The other annoying thing is that you have to pay to go to the bathroom pretty much everywhere in the Centrum. Pretty much the only place I've been to where you don't have to pay is the Conservatory - even at the public library next door you have to pay! It's pretty ridiculous, even if it is only 20-50 cents. It's a washroom, in a public building - I can see McDonalds doing it cause they're corporate asses, but the public library???? So strange. Anyways I'm just hanging out at school until my Dutch lesson starts in 15 minutes. I got here early to finish my homework, but it didn't take me as long as I thought. Which was nice.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Do the wave


So today was the music wave. The whole idea behind it was that there'd be a travelling caravan of musicians playing the piece written for the occasion (aptly entitled Music Wave), and they would play this wave of music through the city from the old location of the Conservatory to the new location on the Oosterdok. And of course the route wound its way to some of the most popular public squares in the city, so we could put on a show as well as gather people to join our procession. Once the wave arrived at the new location, there was an outdoor stage set up on the square in front of the new building, as well as performances happening on all three stages inside. This was really meant to be the big opening for the public, since Friday (with the Queen) and Saturday (for the architect) were both invite-only affairs. The music wave started at 12, so at 10:50 I met up with Simona, a pianist who lives only a block away from me. We walked together to the old conservatory building, which took about an hour. I wheeled my bike along, since I ostensibly wanted to be able to ride it home once we got to the Oosterdok. The first major square the procession hit up was the Museumplein, the big open park between the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh and Stadelijk Museums. I decided that I wanted to join in - it's hard to follow a procession of people playing the same melody over and over, and not want to join in! So Simona offered to wheel my bike for me and I got out my viola and started playing. Good thing it was sunny weather though, since I think this whole outdoor procession/concert idea would have sucked big time if it had been rainy. But I walked behind the moving stage, playing on my viola until we reached our next stop - the Liedsplein. At the Liedsplein another flatbed truck rolled up, with a piano in the back and seats for extra musicians to sit on. And since Simona wanted to play the piano on the truck, I ended up leaving my bike locked up on the Liedsplein and hopping on the back of the truck. I had to walk back there after and get my bike - I could have taken the tram, but that would have cost like 2 whole euros! And the whole reason I bought my bike was so I wouldn't have to waste lots of money on trams/trains/metro. But I digress...
Now comfortably situated on the back of the second truck, we made our way from the Liedsplein to Dam Square. We stopped beside the war monument, and attracted a fairly large crowd. Then it was onwards, through the winding streets of the Red Light District to the Nieuwmarkt. At the Nieuwmarkt we were joined by an African drumming group, who were totally awesome. The picture above is of the crowd that gathered to watch the mini-performance at the Nieuwmarkt. Then we continued along the canal, up to the Oosterdok. It took about 2 hours for us to get from the old conservatory to the new, but it was pretty fun. You know me - I love any excuse to march through a city, disrupting traffic and causing a commotion! But afterwards (and especially after I had walked to the Liedsplein to get my bike, and then biked the rest of the way home) I was extremely exhausted. Apparently sitting on the back of a flatbed truck, playing the same ditty over and over is exhausting work. I literally had to have a nap when I got home, as I was completely exhausted. I had planned on trying to hit up some more buildings for the Open Monument weekend, but my exhaustion nixed those plans. I guess I'll have to wait until next year - and since I know its coming, I can plan ahead, maybe draw up a schedule, with a colour-coded map! I'll be the coolest kid on the block!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

No Dutch, no problem!



So I hauled my carcass out of bed this morning at the ungodly hour of 9 am to get to school for my Saturday morning Dutch class. It was gross, and cold, and rainy, so I had a bit of a damp bike ride to school. I got there a little early, so I got a croissant from the canteen and chatted with some people from my class. At the appointed hour we head up to the room in which we've had our lessons for the past 2 weeks, but it's got another class going on in it! So we're standing around, and the teacher of the class in our room comes out and puts a sign on the door saying that the Nederlands class is on the 8th floor. So we all troop over to the elevators, and as we're waiting for the elevator our Dutch teacher Anneke calls Bernie's cell phone, and says that she's not even at school yet! She comes from out of town, and someone jumped in front of her train and so she was stopped and wouldn't be able to get in for about an hour. So we decided it was probably better if we just cancelled the lesson. But since we'd all gotten out of bed and trooped to school, a few of us decided to partake of some of the free coffee being offered to people there for the opening weekend festivities. Yesterday the Queen came and went to a concert and checked out the school, and today it was the architect or something. None of us were all that clear on who exactly these strange people at our school were, but they were giving out free coffee so we weren't about to complain. I then went off to practice for a couple hours, since I had brought my viola all the way to school and all. What was kind of annoying was that after the concert that was put on for these strange people was over, they started roaming the hallways - so we had lots of people walking by and peering in while we were practicing. Only a tad annoying. But they were having a lunch when I got downstairs so I scored a free sandwich before heading out.
By the time I was done practicing, it had stopped raining, so I decided to take advantage of the no rain and go for a leisurely bike ride in an area of the city I hadn't make it too yet - Jordaan. Jordaan was originally built as the packed quarters in which to house all the workers and artisans and canal builders. It has one of the highest population densities still in Amsterdam, since the houses were built quite small and packed together (see picture above). It of course has become more gentrified over the past decade or so, what with those darned yuppies moving in. But it's a nice little district of narrow streets, canals, and tiny houses. After Jordaan I just kept biking around, and eventually found my way over to the Stopera building. And, I found the Amstel river! The city was built around the Amstel river, with the IJ river on the northern border and providing the connection to the sea. But since the city has grown, and various canals and stuff were filled in for sanitation/traffic purposes, the Amstel no longer meets up with the IJ. But I found it today - though if I hadn't have known what I was looking for I might have just thought it was a really big canal. That's really the only difference. The Stopera is a combination Stadhuis and opera house - ie its the city hall plus an opera hall, all in one building. It caused quite a controversy when built, and it is actually quite an ugly building.
I then wandered around the market on the Waterlooplein, which is right behind the Stopera. There were some interesting things, and also some "interesting" things, but I did buy two pretty pashminas for 8 euros. And I think I might go back and get a cheap bike lock.....or two....... I then biked through Nieuwmarkt, and hit up the Oude Kerk. Little did I know that today was open monument day, when all these historical buildings were open to the public (including some like the Oude Kerk that always are, as well as others that usually aren't). The Oude Kerk is used these days mainly as a space for art exhibits, and so they had one of those in there. But because of the monument day celebrations, they had a free wine bar! So I grabbed a glass of wine and wandered around the church. The art exhibit was sort of meh. I feel very similarily about modern art as I do about modern music. Some of it is really cool, but most of it is quite craptacular. Just because you can dress a mannequin up like a hooker and put it in a sarcophocus, doesn't mean you should. But one cool thing was that I found the gravestone on the floor that belongs to Rembrandt's wife Saskia von Uylenburgh. I just says, in really big letters, "SASKIA", with the date of her death. I think that's great. Very pithy. I think I want my gravestone just to say "KATYA" in hugmungous letters. After the Oude Kerk I headed back home, but along the way I passed a house that was open for Monumentendag so I decided to stop and go in. Turns out is a super fancy house on Herengracht, in a part of town known as 'the Golden Bend'. Its basically the most prestigious stretch of real estate in Amsterdam - and it showed. The rooms were all fancy with chandeliers, and gold trim, and priceless paintings. The mansions date from the 1660s, and thanks to lobbying by the richies the gables are twice as wide as the standard, and the rear gardens deeper than normally allowed. This particular house was the only one along the row open today because it's up for sale. They're all still private residences (or offices, as some have been converted to house things like the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds). But they apparently open one up every year on open monument day, but only then. I think the monument day open houses are supposed to go all weekend, so I might check out some other stuff tomorrow as well. We'll see. Tomorrow is the big "Music Wave" from the old building of the Conservatory to the new building. The idea is that a bunch of people meet at the old building, and some composer (student I assume) composed this "Music Wave" piece, and so we play it there, then we march through the city, stopping at various places along the way like the Liedsplein and the Dam to play the "Music Wave", and then we end up at the new building where they've put up a stage in the square in front. And then there's be some sort of concert or opening thing of some sort. Who knows. Hopefully it won't rain, but the sun shining right now bodes well for tomorrow.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In my inbox

I just got this email today about the Queen's visit tomorrow. I though it was pretty amusing, so I thought I'd share it:

To all students, teachers and staff,

Tomorrow the Queen will visit the conservatory and on Sunday there will be an Open Day in the building. Therefore we ask you to take account of the following:

* during the bomb check at noon tomorrow, all coats and bags that lie around the canteen, the Bernard Haitinkzaal, the Blue Note and the Sweelinckzaal will be removed

* no bikes may be put on the square in front of the building on Friday 12 and Sunday 14 September. On Friday the square will be closed off with fences, on September 14 a stage will be built on the square.

* due to the Queen's arrival and departure on Friday, the fences on the square will be closed from approx. 2.50-3.00 p.m. and 4.45-4.55 p.m. Please wait outside or in the canteen until the fences will be opened again, it will take only ten minutes.

* on Friday the large elevator cannot be used. During her visit, the Queen will use one of the small elevators, during those times this elevator cannot be used by others.

* From 3.00-4.00 p.m. there will be a concert for our guests in the Bernard Haitinkzaal and the Blue Note; following there will be music in the Blue Note and the Sweelinckzaal. Due to the concert in the Bernard Haitinkzaal, the corridor with the computers cannot be used between 2.30 and 4.30 p.m.

* On Friday the canteen will close at 12.30 p.m.. At 4.00 p.m. there will be a party for our guests on the ground floor and the mezzo foyer; the canteen will be closed then as well.

We apologize for any inconvenciences caused and we hope you will enjoy this special day.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I swear!

It's been a while since I updated this....I swear I though about updating it. But then I didn't. Not too much has been happening. And I mean, really. I had my first class yesterday, but other than that and my 2 Dutch classes a week, I've had absolutely nothing to do. I go to school every day, and practice, but that's really just to fill up my units of time. I've been slowly meeting people. It's a process when you don't actually have any classes. Last week at the Masters student orientation I met some people, including classical saxophonist from Cologne whose girlfriend is from Nova Scotia, and a half Croation-half Japanese flautist who went to school with my homeboy Jonathan at Peabody. Oh, and I also met two girls from Montreal, a singer from Poland, and a trumpeter from the UK. We went to a brewery in a windmill after the Masters meeting, and had some sweet ass windmill beer. The Brouwerie ant'IJ, I believe it was called. Hilariously enough, I met a girl from Saskatchewan while standing in front of the elevator at school today. She a violinist from Regina - we both though it was pretty crazy that we were both from SK, since when your in another country usually the people you meet from Canada are from every except where you're from.
On Saturday I met up with Aida, who I went to school with at UBC. She's doing her Masters in Eindhoeven, near the German border, and her and her roomies came into Amsterdam for the day. I met up with them after my Saturday morning dutch class, and we wandered the streets for a while. It was nice to just wander around, though I was wearing bad shoes for walking. My bad. On Sunday, one of the girls from my dutch class had a bunch of us over for dinner. It was a nice little gathering, and quite convenient for me since she lives about 5 minutes away from me. Today I just got back from the Dienst Persoonsgegevens, where I registered! Boo-yah! In the mail next week I will get my info, like my BSN and SoFi nummer, which I can use to finally open a bank account. Cause doing my banking from Canada is killing me with service charges... I also re-applied for my CPP, and I found out that I can get it direct deposited into my Dutch bank account. So I printed the form for that - just need to go get the bank account......
Oh yeah, and this whole election thing. What a joke. Stupid Stephen. But I mailed off my application for a special ballot this morning, so that I can elect an NDP MP on October 14. I'm only a little cheesed that I spent the entire summer sitting on my ass in Saskatchewan, and then three weeks after I moved to another continent he calls an election. It's really just a big conspiracy against me. I know it is. I know that Harper's afraid of the Woloshyn election machine! But that's his own problem, and he has to deal with it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ik begrip het niet




There's a reason I've always skipped new student orientations. It really has to do with the inherent forced merriment vis a vis going to school. But I decided it would probably be a good idea to go to the new students orientation at the Conservatory, seeing as though I know how Canadian schools work inside and out, these crazy Dutch are a confuzzling bunch. Plus, we got two free meals out of it - score! You can always rope people in by offering free food. The orientation was pretty informative, and I have a Masters students information session tomorrow, and a chamber music info session on Friday. By the weekend, I will be highly informed. Needless to say, the orientation was a madhouse (see picture above). I tagged along for the tour of the building and info meetings, but ditched as soon as they scheduled 'game time'. I do not need to play games with people. How does that learn me anything????? Me learn nothing with the stoopid games. But I digress......
The weather turned after the beautiful weekend, and it's been pretty rainy and overcast. It reminds me a lot of Vancouver. I have been valiantly biking to school, and am determined to be an all-season, all-weather cyclist. Mainly because I'm also too cheap to fork out for the train if I don't have too. Cheapness is a great motivator. Also my schedule is pretty 'light' at school, but I prefer to practice there in the nice soundproof rooms as opposed to at my flat where you can hear everything your neighbours are doing. It's a little stressful if you're practicing for an audience. Most of my "classes" aren't scheduled yet - aka my lessons, orchestral rep, ensembles, etc. My only scheduled class this term in one of my electives - The Musical Body. I will be learning all about my body. And music. Music and my body. Something along those lines.
Notes on the pictures: The first is of orientation day. It was just a madhouse. The second is the view of Amsterdam from the Conservatory (7th floor). The Conservatory is built on the Oosterdok, just across the water from the centre of Amsterdam. And since it's a big glass box (all the outer walls are just big panes of glass), you get a pretty sweet view from the higher floors. On the lower floors, you can also look into the public library beside us. The third picture is one I took this evening at the park near my flat. I went for a run yesterday and discovered this park. So this evening I went on a walk with my roommate Aaron and showed him the park. It was sunset, and very pretty. I think it looks exactly like something you might see painted by a Dutch Golden Age artist.....

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sun!!!




Things are going well. I just finished my intensive week of Dutch lessons, and 'real' school starts tomorrow morning. But not really, since the first day of school is just a big partay. New student orientation all day, followed by a concert and partay in the evening. Because in music school, that's just the way we roll. I still haven't gotten my timetable, so hopefully we'll get those tomorrow.....
This weekend was the Uitmarkt in Amsterdam, which is a big outdoor festival that celebrates all the different cultural things in and around Amsterdam. It spans all along the Eastern docklands of Amsterdam, and consists of a series of booths and performance areas. Every single arts organization you could think of seemed to have a booth - and they went on forever. And a lot of them were giving out free stuff, so that was awesome. They were grouped according to which 'art' it was too, music, theatre, dance, museums, libraries....... A lot of the theatre/music booths were selling tickets too, so you could pick up a season schedule and buy your tickets right there. Pretty nifty. So I was wandering all around the Uitmarkt, picking up free swag from all the booths, and I wandered over to the museum quarter and saw a big stage set up for what appeared to be an orchestra. So I found a schedule to see who was supposed to be playing - and it was none other than the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra! For any of you who don't understand how cool this was, the Concertgebouw is one of the best orchestras in the wooooorld. They're based in Amsterdam, but this year they're touring Japan, Italy, and England as well. Since I had about an hour and half to kill before the Concertgebouw was supposed to go on stage, I decided to bike to the Vondelpark and try and read my NL Cosmo magazine I had picked up.
The weather was amazing yesterday (and it's still really nice today), so the park was packed full of people. I found a little piece of grass off one of the side trails, and sat down under a tree with my magazine. After painfully reading some Cosmo (including an interview with Scarlett Johanssen in which she claims she's not sexy, and is just a normal girl), I headed back down to the Uitmarkt. It was a madhouse down there. I have never seen so many bicycles in my life. Near where the Concertgebouw was playing they had an entire field set aside for bikes, but that was full and there were bikes locked along the side of the road for miles. If I had to guess, I'd say a million. But it really only made sense to bike to the Uitmarkt - its sort of off on its own, not close to anything, and the weather was really nice. I also discovered that my school was part of the Uitmarkt, since its on the docklands too (the Oosterdok) and so they were using the three performances spaces in the CvA for Uitmarkt stuff. But back to the Concertgebouw.
They were supposed to go on at 4, but (surprise surprise) the 'host' came on stage at 4 to say that they were going to wait until 4:30, so that the sun wouldn't as much in the musician's eyes. Anyone who's played an outdoor concert knows that although it's great when it's not bad weather, it inevitably means there's major sightline problems due to the blinding sun. As it was, they went on at 4:30 with half the orchestra wearing their sunglasses. It was a good time though. They played Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, and then topped it off with a Dvorak Dance. The performance was also broadcast on TV, and so they had a big viewscreen behind the stage showing what they were broadcasting. It was highly amusing to a) watch the pages of the conductors score flapping in the breeze, b) watch the people in the audience try not to look surprised when the camera cut to them, and c) watch orchestra members try to act normal while they have a camera in their face. After the Uitmarkt I biked home and discovered that I had a wee bit of a sunburn. Tomorrow school starts, and the adventure continues.........

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mijn naam is Katya



So I'm beginning to feel more Dutch. Except for the part where I still can't understand any Dutch. But other than that I am acclimatizing very well. I started my Dutch course yesterday morning. I've discovered that the main difference between Dutch and German is the lack of hard Gs. No such thing as "Gah". It's "hhhhh". That sound like you're clearing your throat. So therefor a word such as geboren sounds like "hhhh-eboren". It's kind of fun, actually. Just as long as I remember to pronounce it right. Though right now my Dutch mainly consists of 'Mijn naam is Katya, spiel ik altviool.
I broke down and bought a phone - I was holding out hope for an iPhone, but for that you need a Dutch bank account, and to get that you need a BSN. They call it a "Burger Service Number", but that's not its actual name. Its the number the government gives you when you register. But I haven't registered yet.......I went down there yesterday and I had to make an appointment for their first available date. Sept. 9. But back to the phone. Because an iPhone requires a contract, I couldn't get it without a bank account. And although I'm not really expecting any calls, I didn't really want to go 2 weeks without a phone. It seems wrong. So I went to the T-Mobile store on Nieuwendijk and got a pre-paid phone. The advantage is that you just pay up front, and get the phone. Pretty good for me as well, since I'm not anticipating large amounts of phone calling taking place. But I'm still totally clueless about how phone numbers work in Europe. Seriously, I know there's a country code (033) and a city code (020) but I'm not sure my phone has one. It's very confusing. There's just a sticker on the box that says my phone number is "0681639711". Also, all the instructions on activating my phone are in Dutch. I managed pretty well, but I still don't know how to refill it. Sadly, my Dutch lessons have not yet covered phone set-up. I'm sure that's going to be covered very soon.
I had a fun time after class today hanging out at the AHK's Bureau Inschrivijn (Enrollment Office). I had to get a few forms signed for the Canadian government, one so that I don't have to start paying back my huge student loan, and another so I keep getting my sweet pension every month. But of course they were very busy, what with everybody trying to figure out how to register and pay their fees one week before school starts. Fools. But it's also very weird that the BI is only open from 1-4 every day. You'd think they'd at least have extended hours for the back to school rush. But apparently not. I then stood in line to get my visa sorted out, but because I only got to the BI at 3 (due to the fact my Dutch class went to 2:30) it soon became 4 and the BI closed. So I have to go back on Thursday, because the visa person doesn't work on Wednesdays.
As for the pictures, the first is of the view from my bedroom window. Pretty sweet, no? And the second is the underground parking at the Conservatory. This is the way every new building (in an accommodating climate of course - VANCOUVER) should work. They've made absolutely no provisions for vehicle parking, but there's an underground bike parking lot (that's monitored by security) as well as ample above ground bike parking in front of the school and the public library beside it. It also helps that it's a short walk from Amsterdam Centraal train station. And since you can pretty much catch a train/bus/tram/metro from anywhere and take it to Centraal. Efficient and inexpensive public transit definitely helps with the whole no vehicle thing. Anyhoo that's about all for now. I'm sure I'll have more news later.

Oh yeah. I bought some European Smarties today. They tasted kind of weird. It was extremely disappointing.