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.

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 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.....