Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lesson from the Magi or What the Dickens?

"[F]or it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself..." - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

As I get older, I find it more difficult to anticipate Christmas. When I was a child, the month preceding Christmas became interminably long. Time stretched and each day was four days long. December the 25th could never come. And even though I waited, and time slowed in the waiting, Christmas had a nearness because it was always on my mind.

And then some time ago-I wish I knew the day, though I believe it happened gradually-Christmas didn't seem as far away as it used to be. It became the event after finals, or the reason for the long weekend, or even the day that I didn't have to work the next week. I suppose I put it off to focus on eliminating the mundane and the pressing, figuring I would come back when I had some unadulterated time to devote to reflection and anticipation. And somehow Christmas arrived more quickly than when I was a child, but only like a destination arrives more quickly to the one who sleeps through the journey.

The Christmas story speaks of the Magi who arrived bearing gifts from East, who read the signs and understood that the new star blazing in the heavens signified the birth of a new king. Theirs is the story of those who anticipate Christmas. Some have suggested that they may have been the spiritual offspring of Daniel, the prophet that received the vision of the time of the Messiah's arrival, which would place the beginning of their anticipation in the time of the Babylonian capitivity. Regardless, they correctly read the signs and embarked on a four-year journey to pay homage to the child.

I remember over ten years ago when the Wise Men took on particular importance for me in recapturing the anticipation I had as a child. Not that I solved their mystery, or fully realized how to truly anticipate Christmas, but I began to see them as an archetype for those who would look forward to Christmas Day. Since that time, they have come to my mind each Christmas, the symbol of those who await the arrival of Christmas Day.

Even in typing I can't help but feel that I've still been missing the point all these years, that by focusing on the Magi, I've made the means the end. Just as the star pointed the Wise Men to the house of the child, so too the Wise Men point the way to something greater than Solomon: a child that gives to those who would receive Him the right to become children of God, a king whose kingdom can only be received by children. And so it is as Charles Dickens wrote in his tale of one soul's redemption, "[I]t is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself..."

Thursday, October 09, 2008


So my sister-in-law got on my case for not blogging in a while and she's absolutely right. The only thing I can say is read the very first blog on this page. At least I'm consistently inconsistent in my approach to blogging.

AND I apologize to those who have waited for the blog I promised probably close to two months ago. I failed there too.

So basically the last part of the trip was great. I met with a great couple, Mark and Jane, a couple that was newly married when my parents were in China to get my sister. They talked with me about the work they are doing over in China. A great time of encouragement and interesting conversation. I took the train from a downtown London station to a station in the middle of nowhere. I kind of expected Aslan to come strolling up the lane. But he didn't and eventually Mark and Jane pulled up (so kind of them to drive as long as they did) and we got something to drink at a little coffee shop downtown.

The rest of that day I saw some of the sites of London, rode in the double decker red buses and helped some random foreign exchange student find a train station to make her train back home.

The flight home was amazing. I watched like 4 movies on the little screen in front of me. So so cool. Kung Fu Panda is a must watch. Great writing. Actually made me laugh out loud. Maybe it's cause I was really tired.

Right before I got home, Travis and Josh Auer decided to track 4 more songs for the Travis Ryan project. When I got home I was greeted with the task of scoring 4 more songs. It was a lot of work, but they turned out AMAZING. I have to say that delayed piano and marxophones are totally awesome sounds. For those of you following the Travis Ryan music, you can now find him on Itunes. The next four songs will be on pretty soon. We're currently in the process of repackaging the EP as a full-length.

We also shot a music video that will be featured in a new series of videos for small groups based on the 10 commandments. Pretty fun stuff.

School is back in the swing of things and I'm currently trying to finish up my masters thesis and recital. Currently writing the thesis and a string quartet.

That's about it on life. I'll shifting the focus of this blog to life stuff and school status, keeping you up to date on all things music related there and any interesting experiences that happen along the way!


Monday, August 18, 2008


Sorry for the obscene lack of posts. I will post the final day in London and also let you know about what's happening here in the states w/i the next two days. Some great stuff is going on and I'll keep you all posted! Gotta rehearsal right now so I gotta run.


Friday, August 01, 2008

London... sort of.

London is awesome. I'll hopefully be able to post some more tomorrow night. But I like it here.

I saw The Dark Knight. It was awesome.

Walking home tonight a random british girl asked if she could wear my glasses for a picture. I told her "No, they give me magical powers."

Tomorrow I'm gonna meet some friends of my parents that helped when my mom and dad got my sister from China. Gonna be cool.

Love you all and I'm almost home!


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Last Day in Paris...

Bittersweet day. I really love this city. I hope to someday come back. The time that I've spent at the Ecole has really influenced me. The experiences around the city and at the sites even more so.

Yesterday evening we had the second performance of student pieces and the chorus in which we've all been singing.

I was able to hear my piece, For Lydia performed. It was a great experience and got a great response from people, which was flattering. I'm looking forward to showing it to the Wu family.

If you want to hear it, head over to my music myspace and listen to the final song.

When I get home, this page will be going through a transformation. I've got a shoot lined up w/ Trever Hoehne. I've got a little more for my bio that will be heading up as well.

Thanks to all who have been reading. Hopefully I can get a little blogging in when I get to London. I'll be staying with my first college room mate and his wife, who I am looking forward to meeting, and trying to take in as much of the city as I can.

And Sean, I'm compiling my keyboard harmony notes and will hopefully have a little more up on that. I realize there haven't been as many music postings as I originally planned. That will change a bit.


Sunday, July 27, 2008


Went sight seeing today with Tom:

Here are some pics:

Basilique du Sacre Coeur and me looking like a doofus...

Amazing rose window in Sainte Chapelle...

Amazing stained glass windows in Sainte Chapelle...

The base of Sainte Chapelle with the painted stone columns and me moving at Mach 5...

A very cool day walking around and seeing amazing things. The Basilique has incredible mosaics on the inside and is the highest point of Paris. It never ceases to amaze me how different parts of Paris have their own character.

On the way up the hill to the cathedral we walked through this amazing area where artists are painting. I saw some amazing water colours and other paintings. Really incredible artists there.

I went to McDonald's today. I ordered a McFlurry. I don't know if all McDonald's are this way now or if it's just a Paris thing, but the outside of the paper cup it came in said "McFlur it yourself!" All the M&M toppings were on top. I had to stir them in myself. See earlier blog on vending machines...

McDonalds here has a sort of 50's/modern vibe and had pictures of the Blues Brothers and other American icons on the wall. This may be the first time you hear the Blues Brothers referred to as American icons.

I watched my good friend Brent playing bass in Stop and Stare on the McDonald's music video television. I can't get away from that guy anywhere...

It's been getting a lot hotter here. The Metro stations have been underscoring the fact that deodorant is optional...

I tried to buy a train ticket from Paris to London. I did not want to pay 235 euro, so instead I am flying EasyJet over. I think it will be fun, but I somehow have to make by bags about 40 lbs each. Gonna be interesting.

I somehow managed to burn my right tonsil with Leibig Pur Soup.

Tom and I found a British bookstore chain here in Paris. Lots of really cool stuff there, including English versions of Tintin and the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo. Really cool french comic books that I was totally into as a kid. I still think they are great. I ended up finding a cheap copy of Silas Marner and was able to read that this weekend. A really good story about a guy burned out by people and who is changes by loving a child he adopts.

Favorite quote: "In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction; a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's."


For Lydia Notes.

I was thinking about what I should post (hence, the great blog title). And to be honest, I'm sort of out of ideas. Recently, things have been pretty busy. Last weekend was super short. Classes on Saturday and Sunday off and then back at it on Monday. I was really glad that we've had two days this week.

My piece was selected to be a part of this Tuesday night's concert. It's the clarinet and piano piece that I posted the first page of on this blog. I decided to call it simply For Lydia. That's a little something I guess, some background on this piece.

The link on the right side of the page for Lydia Grace Wu will give you more detail on the whole situation, but to summarize, Lydia was a 10 year-old girl who faced a brain tumor with courage and faith. Although she ultimately passed away, the blog was set up as a way to notify family, friends, and her church family of the outcome of the situation. Though posts have been put on by many people, the bulk of the posting is from her father, Simon Wu. I have found the blog an incredibly moving depiction of human suffering and of the tremendous faith in trust that they have exhibited in their Lord throughout the trial.

Lydia and her sisters took piano from my piano teacher in Ohio. I was honored to see the Wu family at a recital a year and a half ago, after I had completed my first semester of my Masters. I can't remember exactly how it happened, but after talking with them for a while I had agreed to write a piece for Lydia. I asked if she had a favorite song and they said Amazing Grace. I purchased a wristband from them and have worn it ever since, deciding to not take it off until I had finished the piece. I've been sitting on this concept for a long time because I've wanted to do it right. My wristband has started to fall apart and with the time I've had to write here, I decided now was the best time to write the piece.

The piece begins with the intervallic content of Amazing Grace, spread out over triads. I've always love the sound of open chords and it seemed a fitting opening. The clarinet comes in on a scale, incorporating the idea of how single pitches are altered by their context. The piece falls into three sections, the first begins in Ab and incorporates a D natural, creating a lydian scale and ambiguity on the piece's tonality, modulating to Eb. The second section uses Amazing Grace as a cantus firmus in the bass and the clarinet plays a melody over the top. The third section is a sort of clarinet cadenza, modulating back to Ab before a final plagal cadence in Eb. The whole of the piece is a sort of giant IV-I, an Amen.

Hopefully after Tuesday I'll have a recording of it up here too. Until then, I guess you'll just have to get by with that single page a ways down. I'll keep you posted.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Vending Machines and the European Work Ethic...

So at church on Sunday, I heard the pastor refer to this as the "Holiday Season" and it kind of weirded me out. I'm so used to thinking of Thanksgiving and Christmas as the Holiday season, that to hear that term in relation to the summer is extremely odd to me.

Apparently any "white collar" sort of job has August as a mandatory holiday. Not sure how true this is, but I'm sure it's not too far from the truth. And I hear that the work day is much shorter. Most things are closed on Sunday. The city truly feels like it's resting.

I think all these things are great and I wish that Americans could learn the value of down time, of truly resting.

However, the dark side to this phenomenon appears in subtle, somewhat frustrating ways to me. Store hours do not mean what they do in the states. I may get frustrated that Baja Fresh closes a minute or two early, but over here it can be a few hours.

Recently, I was somewhere that closed at 5:00 and was told I needed to leave. I wouldn't have cared except it was 3:30. They were going home early.

The post office on campus has hours that list it open from 12-6:30pm. I've been there at 1. Not open. I've been there at 4. Not open. I don't know when it is open, but I've heard a legend about someone sending something from there one time.

However, the vending machines have proved the most challenging opponent. I don't usually get cravings for food, but when you're eating habits have changed, you start to crave things. At least I do. M&Ms have achieved an even higher respect from me. I was searching for the vending machine that I have seen in our dorm one night at 12:30. Not too late, right? I was having trouble tracking it down and asked the receptionist at our dorm. "Closed for the night" was what he told me. Who closes a vending machine?

The vending machines in the metro also joined the conspiracy. The next day, upon arriving at the Cite Universite stop, I got out and my friend decided to get a bag of M&Ms. Tom and I scrounged through our change to find enough for the machine. M&M packs here are slightly larger than a snack pack and cost at lease 1.20 euro. Anyway, the vending machine had a large-ish pack (large-ish being a relative term) for 2 euro. A deal. After going through the ordeal of tracking down the change, my friend made her selection. Produit non available (or something really close to that) flashed on the screen. The candy was there. I could see it. It was there mocking us. The machine just would not dispense it. Granted, could be a malfunction machine, but I prefer to think that the machine closed for the night.

Again, I like the slightly slower pace here in Paris, but it's the odd little things that just go to show American I am. And I'm proud to live in a country where I can get M&Ms when I want them.

Consider yourself cultured.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Day I Fell in Love or How an Egyptian King Saved My Life...

Every day is unique but not every day is remembered. Often, we go through life and exist in the mundane, but every so often we're given a glimpse of something more. It's like Prince Rilian in The Silver Chair. For a brief moment in time the veil is removed and clarity remains. That happened to me last Monday.

I slept in (which already makes it special) and woke up making plans to go to the Louvre which was free that day because it was Bastille Day (or National Day as they call it here).

I showed up before noon and made my way inside. There were a lot of people (hey, its the Louvre) but not really any lines. I made it in really fast and picked up a guide. I didn't really care what I saw except that I knew I wanted to see the big three (Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace). I wandered around for a bit until I decided to get an audio guide to help me through the day and lets be honest, not much is cheaper than 6 euro here in France.

I made my way towards the wing where I knew the Venus and Mona were located and began to follow the signs to Venus. That's when I saw her. I don't know if it was her appearance, or the way she was framed by the staircase, but as I gazed upwards, I knew that I had found the woman of my dreams. Time slowed and I decided approach her. She stood at the top of the staircase in the middle of a crowd and I...

OK, overly dramatic, but the effect of the Winged Victory of Samothrace was seriously that sort of time-bending feeling of revelation, a moment when the veil was removed.

I could have not seen one other thing at the Louvre that day and been perfectly content. Somehow the sculptor breathed life and motion into the stone and the removal of the head and arms by natural means only gives the statue a greater mystery and beauty. I stayed there for a long time, moving around the statue and studying it in amazement. I then moved on to look at other works of art, but the image stayed in my mind long after I left and I found myself returning throughout the day. Like someone on the audio commentary said, "It's the form of the perfect angel."

I kept thinking "Why do I like this so much?"

I also looked at several of Da Vinci's paintings and thought of my favorite passage in C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce:

“How soon do you think I could begin painting?” it asked.
The Spirit broke into laughter. “Don’t you see you’ll never paint at all if that’s what you’re thinking about?” he said.
“What do you mean?” asked the Ghost.
“Why, if you are interested in the country only for the sake of painting it, you’ll never learn to see the country.”
“But that’s just how a real artist is interested in the country.”
“No. You’re forgetting, “ said the Spirit. “That was not how you began. Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”
“Oh, that’s ages ago,” said the Ghost. “One grows out of that. Of course, you haven’t seen my later works. One becomes more and more interested in paint for its own sake.”
“One does indeed. I also have had to recover from that. It was all a snare. Ink and catgut and paint were necessary down there, but they are dangerous stimulants. Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations.”

The commentary talked about Davinci's use of a technique where no hard lines are drawn, the edges of objects are slightly blurred with the background to create a greater realism. I saw this effect when I was walking home in the shadows of leaves.

Da Vinci's painting of John the Baptist was incredible. Such an incredibly dark painting, but the small uses of color give the saint an incredibly powerful luminosity and a mystery.

I gazed at sculpture and was thinking about light and motion and thinking if sculpture is also a study in light, or if it is the study of something else. It wasn't until I left the museum that I realized the necessity of light in realizing sculpture, because light allows all the nuances to be graced by shadow.

With the ideas of light, motion, and form running through my mind, I found my way stumbling through the wing with Ancient Egyptian art. And that is when everything came together. High up on the wall I saw the sculpture of Amenophis IV and I saw through the veil again. I was given the final piece of the puzzle and I instantly understood why I was captured by the Winged Victory.

Amenophis IV is a sculpture of the monotheistic pharoah's upper chest and head. Although his face, hands, and shoulders are beautiful, the rest of his head is absent. Similarly, the Winged Victory is "incomplete" but not lacking. No loss exists in its deficiencies. The detractions give the sculpture power and clarity, focusing the eye on essential aspects (though I am still trying to figure out what those are).

And in that moment of clarity I knew that I wanted to write music like that.

I thought back to my Masters studies. The fascination with corruption always frustrated me. It felt unnatural and I never enjoyed creation by destruction. However, these works of art showed me the power of loss and I found in them what I believe will be a life-long pursuit of form and absence.

The analogy transfers to the spiritual world as well. I have never seen so clearly the power of suffering as it was displayed in those works. A headless goddess and crumbling demigod displayed the the glory given to God through the suffering of his people and the role of that pain into forming more perfect images of His Son.

I walked out of the Louvre 5 hours after I entered a changed person. I still struggle with the balance between artistic inspiration and good old fashioned grit and determination. But I no longer am absent of a vision. I left with a life-long artistic pursuit and the inspiration to pursue it. The veil was lifted and I've left my Silver Chair but the work has just begun. If I learn nothing else in Paris, I've learned enough.


Friday, July 18, 2008


Sorry to everyone that checks the blog frequently that there have been an appalling lack of posts. Life's been nuts here. I'm working on a new piece that is due Tuesday and so I find that all my time has been going to that. I'm a bit of a creative binger.

Anyway, more to come for sure. I've just decided that I'll have to post more little blogs to solve this issue. So hopefully more will be coming soon. I definitely have much to share!

Pretty cool to see that there are so many people from all over the world that have been checking! Okay maybe it's the same two people that have just checking it from different worldwide airports, but all I need is a reader from Antarctica and all the bases are covered.


Not quite a Disney movie...

So Tom and I have been sleeping pretty well here in Paris. The weather has been great. I've been told that apparently the weather has been unusually cool, which is such a blessing because nothing has AC here. I can only imagine how hot things can be.

Anyway, we've been sleeping with our windows open for airflow. However, this has changed somewhat over the past week.

One morning I half-awoke to what I thought was Tom flailing around in his bed (Why would I think this? It doesn't make sense. However, I was half-asleep). It was an odd noise that say perhaps quickly flapping sheets would make. Tom was a little more alert and said, "A bird is in our room, behind the curtain." I leaned up from my bed to look and saw the bird sitting on the window sill next to the open window. I startled the bird and it took off, but I wondered... Had the bird really gotten into our room or was he just hanging out on the windowsill? If he was in our room, how long had he been here? Had he gotten lost? Was he trying to eat Tom's bread? These are important questions and I pondered them as I fell asleep again for a few minutes.

We laughed about how that little bird had found his way into our room. Crazy that we'd been here for about 2 weeks and that was the first time anything like that happened. Such an odd coincidence.

The next morning I woke to hear a strange flapping noise and saw that in the middle of the floor of our room was another little bird. I woke Tom up saying, "Umm, yeah that was definitely a bird we heard yesterday." I started to get out of bed to shoo the bird out. He flew directly into the window glass, and regathered himself and took off through the window opening.

We started sleeping with our windows more closed than they had previously been.

We told a friend about what happened. She laughed and thought we were nuts. She wanted chocolate (more to come on that story) so we invited her to come eat some of Tom's cookies. We had been gone all day so we opened the windows and let in some fresh air.

Tom was showing her pictures of his family when suddenly, a pigeon the size of a mallard noisily flew through the window. I shouted, "It looks like a duck!" and watched it flap around the ceiling for a while before it took off back through the same way it came in.

Nuts. I don't know what's going to come from this, but I can tell you that if Paris become the next Bodega Bay, you heard it here first.

I came back from class today and opened the window, went into the kitchen to get a banana and when I got back in the room, a little bird was staring at me on the window. I don't think he had come to sing on my shoulder or help with the housework or whistle a cheery tune.

Kind of crazy here in Paris.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

They say it's a virtue/Name that piece

Patience that is. Thanks to everyone who has been so patient at my recent lack of blogs. The past week has been incredibly busy. I do have (sort of) a lot to share. This past week we had a guest composer from Russia with whom we had long colloquiums and who's work was performed this past week. As a result, the days were incredibly long. I think the norm was to get back to the room around 9-ish and then make dinner, then get up at 6:30 the next day and do it all over again.

For those who might be frustrated by the lack of details in this blog, it's because I don't want to shaft the week by just throwing out names, so I will post more on this very soon, like tonight. It's Bastille Day here in France and everything is closed, so I'm gonna use the time to catch up on some blogging... after I go the Louvre (which is free today!).

Just to tide you over, here's the first page of a new piece I'm working on (thanks again Trev for the idea!). I'm really liking it, but it is coming extremely slow. Please pray that I can get more done, since I have a lesson tomorrow and the goal is to get this performed at the student recital at the end of the course!

Oh yeah. I'm notoriously bad at naming pieces, so if any of you have any ideas, let me know. I'm totally open for suggestions.

Thanks for all the comments! I look forward to filling you in tonight...


Monday, July 07, 2008

Art and Church

Enjoy Trev! A few more of my faves from the Musee D'Orsay...

I'm currently cooking dinner, so I figured I'd fill you in on church yesterday.

Went to Hillsong London of Paris. Apparently this was a plant of Hillsong's (in Australia) church plant in London. I found out later that when when the church first began, folks took the Eurostar over from London every Friday to put it on!

Now they do church twice a month on Sundays and every Friday night, so I'm looking forward to going this Friday.

Anyway, the church is just down the street so Tom and I rode the Tram until the line ended, and then walked just a couple minutes. Walking up to the church, I could hear music pouring out and the woman standing at the door greeted us with a friendly "Bonjour!"

We walked in and found our seat. Lyrics were on the screen in french and english, though I think the first song was french. Anyway, we sang about 50% in english and then 50% in french. Mostly all Hillsong songs.

A man came up and gave a little teaching about why we should give, which was great. Based it on the passage where God commands Noah to build the Ark and makes the connection that God commands us to give, and just as Noah saved those who entered the ark through his obedience, those that enter God's house that we build through our contributions are also saved. It was something I hadn't thought about in a long time.

The pastor then got up and updated us on praises in the church and prayer requests in the church and then asked us to "work in prayer" so we all prayed at the same time out loud.

The sermon was great, on the parable of the sower, but told through the perspective of those who are already saved and ought to be bearing fruit. Great great sermon. We sang one more song at the end and then prayed for the people on our right and left.

They are having a church picnic on July 14th which I think I'm gonna try to go to. I really felt refreshed after church this week and was really grateful.

Also started on a new piece today and had more score reading today. It went pretty well might sight reading needs to improve for sure!

Anyways, I gotta eat some dinner and work on music tonight. The old excitement for writing is starting to come back.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

"Money Monet Manet Monument!" / Pictures of Chuck Norris (Big Blog Part 3)

So today the museums were free and Tom and I ended up going to the Musee d'Orsay. Awesome monument with sweet paintings. For no money, we saw Monets, Manets, Gauguins, Cezannes, and other amazing works of art.

My favorites included:

Chuck Norris' self-portrait:

This very large woman (seriously big):


We arrived around 4 and the place closed by 5:30 which only gave us a chance to check out the top floor, but it was pretty amazing. The museum used to be a train station from what I heard. It looked like it:

Tom's the sort of guy that likes to check out new places, so on the way back we figured we'd hit up The Tuileries Gardens, a very beautiful and very large area in front of the Louvre. Sort of odd for a garden in that the grass that is there is not to be walked on. Instead, visitors are to walk on white dirt roads throughout the area. There is a large fountain and beautiful statues around the area. The Louvre looms in the background. Really, really amazing. Tom and I walked into the Louvre, but it had closed. Still, we picked up a list of the major attractions and figured that we'll head back one other day while we're here. The building is amazing. I know I've already said it, but it's incredible. So massive and so much is carved on the outside. Since the Louvre is so close to Notre Dame, we walked over and went inside. A mass was going on while tourists walked around the outside. Again, massive and so ornate. For those of you who don't know what Notre Dame looks like, see the above photo.

We caught the metro home and I made a dinner of chicken, rice, spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes in a sort of skillet thing. Granted, there are probably better things to eat, but I'm on the economy budget and it's safe and fills me up.

Oh, last thing. On the way back from D'Arty I passed by and walked through the Montparnasse Cemetery where Sartre, Cesar Franck, and other famous people are buried. Beautifully ornate tombs are located there. It reminds me a lot of the cemeteries that you see in New Orleans. Very calm there too. It's weird how much beauty can exist where death is. Either poetically pointing to the beauty of sacrifice. Or effectively making a point for futility. Haven't figured that out yet. It was good to think about mortality for a bit though. Haven't done that in a while. Kind of played into deciding the next piece I should write. More about that later though.

That's about it for things I've seen recently. Can't stress the beauty of this place. And how much I feel like I'm at Disneyland by Pirates of the Caribbean.


Taming the Beast (Big Blog pt. 2)

This part answers the questions of living in Paris.

I know a question burning in everyone's mind has been, "What did Brandon do for the fourth of July?" This blog seeks to answer that question as well as others like, "Why are the French trash cans just bag holders?" Or "When is Brandon visiting a park?"

Fourth of July I had told a couple students that I was gonna try to check out an American bar in the city to see what they would do. Really I was hoping that everyone was standing around with red, white, and blue American flags singing The Star Spangled Banner (really, I was). One of the students said that their friend new this place and that we could all meet up at 9 to go over there. So far so good.

However, the plan derailed a bit when we met up with the students and found out that they were supposed to meet some others by the Arc d' Triomphe (see earlier post - been there, done that, tried to read the signs) and go to a club. Now those who know me well know that clubbing isn't really my thing, but I'll try anything once (honestly, I was pretty sure that I wasn't going to be hearing the Star Spangled Banner and that bummed me out a little bit) so I went along for the ride. We arrived at the club around 10:15 and waited until 11:15 to get in. It was below the street and cost 20 Euro to get in (not super cheap). Apparently my ticket came with a free drink. Since I am a drink connoisseur, I was stoked (look up Celiac disease on-line and see what I can drink, then imagine me not drinking that, and that will tell you how much I usually drink). Going down the stairs, revealed a dance floor with two platforms in the middle on which crowds of people were dancing, strobe lights, some fog, a bar, video screens behind the bar teaching me a new dance (my favorite move being the "menthol kiss". Twirl your hand around your head and then blow a kiss), and a smoking aquarium in the corner. Apparently, smoking is not allowed in this club (maybe all clubs) so if you wanted to smoke, you had to go to the holding tank. I hung out for a while, then went to the center to strut my stuff. It was really loud. All songs were about 120 bpm. All songs. Around 12:45 I realized that the crowd I was with was planning on hanging longer and I was starting to wear out. Also, I knew that the metro was closing soon. I told everyone (that was still around because somehow we got separated) thank you for the pleasant evening and then made my way home, catching the last train at 1:11 back to the school. I don't even want to know what would have happened if I had missed that one. So yes, I have been to a club in Paris.

French phrases that came in handy:

"You look like the most interesting person in the room!" - Tu me semble comme la personne la plus interessante ici.

"Do you like to dance fast or slow" - Aimez-vous danser le rock ou le slow?

"You have nice eyes!" - Vous avez de beaux yeux!

Benefits of going to the club included me finding out why French trash cans are simply bag holders. This came up when I said that I was surprised at how there is very little security in the metro system against terrorism. Apparently, the French have already thought about that and have decided to remove all trash cans in favor of these green bags. This is so that if a terrorist puts a bomb in the can, those in the city will be able to see the bomb and report it. Not joking. I'm just wondering if I would recognize a bomb by the blinking red light, or the numbers counting down to zero through the green plastic. I don't really care to find out.

Yes, I have been to a park. Tom and I went to the park across the street for a change of pace and worked on the counterpoint there. The park is amazing. Built a long time ago by a city planner by the name of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann who was commissioned by Napoleon to renovate Paris. Very scenic. Nice pond. Cool staircase (see following picture).

Others maybe wondering why I had the crazy photos in my last blog (those who asked, shout out to Amanda) wanted to see pictures of me in the blog and the composer hair that I've been talking about. This hair was also featured in the staircase shot above. Unfortunately for you this is the last you will see of that hair. The beast has been tamed.

Yesterday I tracked down my blow dryer oasis in this blow dryer wasteland in the form of the electronic store, D'Arty. D'Arty is an electronics store. Really. Only electronics. I walked in and saw more plug-in-able things than I have seen in a long time. An attendant was there to help me (though she didn't really speak English, but was very very nice). I found my blow dryer for only 12 euro (compared to those for 80 to 100 that I found before). Odd thing about this store was that I paid the attendant and then she gave me a receipt. I had to go outside the store to a little counter where they then went into a back room to get my box. It made me think of when stores used to specialize instead of diversify. Kind of fun experience. this store was found in the closest thing to a mall that I have found here. There was a sports store, another crazy store that looked like a Ross kind of place (which does NOT sell electronics. I know because earlier I found a French department store (which I think I blogged about) and they don't sell electronics. weird) and a bowling alley..

Notes on Music (Big Blog pt. 1)

Hey everyone,

Took a break for a while, but today I'm back at it. I've found that the perfect time to blog is when I'm making dinner. That usually happens every night. But like my friend Josh Auer says, blogging means I'm not out experiencing the city, so I'm trying to have balance. I don't know how many of you know my buddy Josh. He produced Trav's album. You can check out his blog on my friends list to the right, or you can see his acting career here.

Got lots of fun things to tell and I decided that it would be way more fun if I broke it into smaller blogs. Like lots of little presents instead of one big one. Sure, everyone wants a car instead of 10 trinkets, but still. I know you're busy people. This is me trying to help you out. Also, have a bunch of fun titles for things, so I wanted to try them out. Be forewarned, this blog is for the music nerds.

In the pursuit of balance, I hung out at the school Saturday night practicing counterpoint and keyboard harmony and trying to start writing a new piece.

A lot has happened since the last blog, so I'll try to give highlights.

Keyboard Harmony class. Love to go into detail, but the basics are that this class is gonna kick my tail, just like most of the others here. Dr. Boyle explained the two motions of harmony: Sequential and Cadential. Sequences are the presentation of cells (consisting of two chords) that are then transposed. There are two types of sequences, cells of the 4th, with 3 types of motion, and cells of the 5th, with two typ. The numbers describe the motion of the bass note. Bass motion can move either up or down. Each sequence has a specific way that it must be treated. This then leads into the concept of proper voice leading in sequences (the higher bass note must be accompanied by the third of the triad in the soprano). Coupled with the rule that there must be minimal voice motion, that means that there are specific ways that all the voices can move. Fairly straightforward.

However, applying this is a monster and is really pushing me musically. We have to be able to sing in solfege (related to fixed do, this means that the syllable that you start on will change for every different key that you do a sequence in) every voice. When you think of combination of five types of motion and their inversions it's forty different options that we have to know. Plus the twelve keys so basically 480 options Add to that the bass exercises that we have plus the all cadence and it's pretty overhelming! Somehow this will all become ingrained.

I also had a comp lesson with Lane Harder. He has been assigned to me for the 3 lessons that I get while I'm here. A great teacher. Extremely encouraging and offered some great advice on a choir piece that I'm submitting for the choir contest that's due on Friday. Encouraged me to write a piece for the student concert at the end of the program.

Saturday morning had me and Tom in our species counterpoint lab where we went through the two counterpoint examples that we had done since Friday's lecture (Species Counterpoint - 1 to 1, whole note to whole note). We also learned about 3 part species 1 counterpoint in the lab. Not for the faint of heart. Spent a considerable amount of time last night trying to get that finished. It's been a long time since I've done this stuff. Kind of like musical Sudoku.

Master Class with Robert Beaser on Saturday had us all listening to his music. A great guy and great music. Very organic and emotional. Reminded me of music that would happen if Copland met Bartok. Tom and I sat on the front and we were able to look on at his scores. Such a benefit to getting there early!

I've asked him if I can have a lesson with him sometime this week. Please pray that I can get that chance. He was totally open to it, but it remains to be seen if that will work because of his schedule. I'm praying that that would work out. Other than that, gonna try to start on a new piece. I'll write more about that later. This is one that's been brewing for a while and I think it might be time to try and get it out.

Enough about music. More blogs above. Like scripture says, "Those who have ears to hear, let him hear."


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Home is a Sweet Thing

Today was the first day of classes at the Ecole. Tom and I took the metro over to the school earlier than we had the day before and got to experience "rush hour." It's basically riding the metro with everyone else. Again, no air conditioning and people are crowded together. To be honest, I think it beats California traffic by far. It's more cramped, sure, but I don't think it's as stressful. I like being with all the other people and sort of the communal way of travel. I don't have to worry about getting hit by another car. Just about being robbed. Lots more walking though, which isn't bad. My legs are protesting, but only because they haven't quite healed from the beating I took bodyboarding a few weeks back. Old wounds die hard.

Tom and I made it w/ a few minutes to spare and were the first in our class room for score reading. Before we got to the school, EAMA sent out an e-mail warning us that we would need to be proficient in soprano and tenor clefs. I know how they work but didn't have too much experience. They also said the first day would be placements and I figured if I didn't do that great, I'd move. I just didn't know how the first day was going to go.

The rest of our class ultimately came into the room and Tom and I were selected to read through the score first. Tom sat at one piano and I sat at the other. We were then asked to sight read on teh piano. The only problem is that Soprano was in soprano clef, alto in alto clef, tenor in tenor clef, and bass in bass clef. My brain was doing somersaults trying to get it all figured out fast enough. I didn't do so hot.

The rest of the class time consisted of others being subjected to the same scrutiny. Some had to play lines and sing others in fixed do. We had to read the rhythm on a cello line that alternated between triplets and quintuplets. Any time Shapiro asked us to sing, he wouldn't let us play the note on the piano for a reference pitch. We had to figure it out based on something that came before. Even if it was a few minutes before. He said "We don't play the notes... we reason our way to the note!" He's a nice man though. Won't let us say sorry. And is extremely patient. All in all a great class. I'm gonna be way better after it. Or way broken. Probably a bit of both. Consolation is that the next class will be me with the other "slow" kids.

After that we went into the Musical analysis class. Lasser (the head of the program) taught the course. It's basically a fusion of Schenkerian analysis and Lasser's own concepts. Basically he says that 1) Music consists of lines in contrapuntal movement and 2) notes can only move by step, and never (with a few exceptions) by a leap. As a result melodies and pieces become the fusion and intermingling of lines. We analyzed some basic tunes, but it's gonna keep getting more advanced. Not too hard.

Chorale was alright today. Not that it's a bad class. It just happens at 3 here and that is 6:00 CA time. For whatever reason I ALWAYS have a hard time getting up a 6 am and I usually get a little sleepy around 3 or 4. Today was a double whammy. I'm still tired and lugging my bag through the metro has caused my shoulders to decide to revolt. They decided to stage their revolution during choir. It was that feeling where no matter what happens you just get fidgety. I wanted to lay down and not move again for a while. The pieces we are singing are pretty cool. Stravinsky, Bach, and others. No holds barred though, Shapiro (same guy from earlier class) asked us to sing text right away (Latin, German). He did go easy and had one of the guys that spoke Russian give us a single run through of the text in Russian. So kind.

I have a comp lesson tomorrow. Had a conversation with my comp professor today and I really like him. Hopefully I say that after the lesson. I think that he and I have similar ideas and I think he has a lot to offer.

Oh yeah, and I made it to one of the upper level Keyboard Harmony classes, number 3 to be exact. I'm grateful. I get to study with the guy that gave me my exam the other day and he was a great teacher.

Enough nerd stuff for now. Other things that happened today.

I revisted the Celiac Headquarters. They gave me a gluten free book which happens to be in French, but at least I can start trying to familiarize myself with brands. Which is great. I can start to learn some French food words.

I saw a pretty cool building down the Rue (that's French for road) and kept walking. ended up outside a really cool church, Saint Vincent de Paul. I caught the metro back to the school for afternoon classes. It was a nice break.

Oh yeah, and I promised pictures of our kitchen so here is how the other side lives:

And opened:

And a bonus shot of the view from our dorm window:

More classes and stuff tomorrow. Happy 4th to all of you. I hope that you have a great one! I'll let you know if anything cool happens. I thought about singing "The Star Spangled Banner" on the metro. But I don't know...

P.S. Thanks for commenting. Not saying that so that you feel obliged to comment. But it's nice to know that you are reading this. It lets me feel like I get to share this and I'm glad.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Paris. Day deux.

So last night I fell asleep watching the clouds roll in. The lack of AC made me super stoked for cooler weather and the rain that they said we'd get today. The summer weather here is nice so far and I slept well, but I'm still jet-lagged (though not too badly) and I felt like my sleep didn't take. I felt good, just not rested. I'm sure that will change this week.

My roommate Tom and I met the group and we all walked towards the Ecole Normale de Musique. It's about a 45 minute metro ride over because it's pretty much on the opposite side of town. We had placement exams today for the counterpoint as well as the Keyboard harmony placements. I was able to finish the exam, which was good because some of it was kind of tricky. I also think I chose the right modes for stuff, but it would have been nice to have reviewed my notes from two years ago. It's been a while.

Side note/Important part. The school is gorgeous. Like all other things of a constructed nature, the school is amazing. Here are a few pictures (random face in picture is my room mate, Tom, a.k.a. The Man. Hopefully a bit more about him in a later blog):

As you can see, it's kind of like learning in the castle from Beauty and the Beast. Or The Haunting.

I signed up for a practice room, and after a quick tour of the surrounding area, began to practice for Keyboard Harmony. I got longer than I bargained for and was able to work through most of it. I ran through the sheet before I left, but didn't have too much time towards the end w/ all the concerts and cd release stuff that had been happening. My harmony exam was with Dr. Boyle, a very cool man. He made the exam simple. Starting with a basic Ab chord, then adding a dominant, throwing a subdominant in between and then adding the I chord at the end. A basic I-IV-V-I progression. He asked me to do the relative minor, and after doing the parallel, I did the right progression. That's where it got a little nuts because he began having me sing parts and omitting them from the chords. Which was wicked because he had me do it in fixed do. Which I don't know. I caught on pretty quick and he ended up actually teaching me in the exam (which he told himself he wouldn't do), but I'm stoked. I think that the Keyboard Harmony class is gonna kick my tail and make me listen a lot more. He already pointed out some things I can work on.

So when I got here I tried my blowdrier only to find that even though it SHOULD work, it does not. As a result, I've been rocking the typical composer haircut around here. This also led to adventures today.

Tom and I finished the exam about the same time and began making our way to the Arc de Triomphe. On the way we searched for an organic grocery store where I ccould find some gluten free goodness. After much much walking around we found out several things.

1) There is a chain of department stores here in Paris called Monoprix. They do not sell blowdriers. They do however sell sponges and dish towels. Both of which will help Tom and I cook.

2) There are tons of Pharmacies around. Though they remind me of Bath and Bodyworks. One woman pointed me in the direction of a gluten free grocery.

3) I bought some gluten free Mueslix which I'm stoked for breakfast.

4) I met a nice girl that had been to the states (so she knew english) and also had Celiac. She told me about the AFDIAG (Asomething Francais Des Intolends Au Gluten) located at 15 rue d' Hauteville 75010 Paris, France. ph. 01 56 08 08 22. By the time I got there, the place was closed. So I'm gonna try to go on Friday-ish.

5) Near the Celiac Headquarters is an Optical Doctor that sells cleaner. Wal-Mart is gone. Vive Generale D'Optique!

Anyway, Tom and I made it to the Arc de Triomphe. It's rad. Saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier there. Also rad.

That's about it. Oh, cool new people. Girl from Sweden named Julie. Going to fashion school here. Loves New York. Guy from India named Shariz. Also going to fashion school. They have a presentation of a dress tomorrow at their class. I'm looking forward to seeing it tonight. They told me where I can maybe track down a blow-drier (which might help dry out my shoes from today's solid rain). And about the location of a piano which I will try to track down tonight.

Oh yeah. Earlier our power cut out for no apparent reason. We tried to have the front desk help but they said not until tomorrow. So we carried our fridge to the hall so we wouldn't lose our food. After a while it came back on. So now the fridge is back. And the fire alarm went off. But nothing burned down, so we're good.

Tomorrow (or very soon thereafter) the Polly Pocket kitchen and other assorted things...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Things (or Chain Reaction)

My first full day in Paris has been eventful. I landed at 9:30 and began the search for the ticketing booth for the RER (no idea what that stands for. Future blog material), what got me from the airport to the Cite Universitaire.

Things I've noticed:

First Thing: Lack of trash cans. For whatever reason, Americans have many more trashcans in more accessible locations. Trash cans consist of a highly minimal rim and stand on either side with the bag hanging down (trever hoehne: you would love this design). Not really a can as much as a trash bag stand.

Second Thing: The smell. I remember this smell from when I was little. It's the way France smells to me. It's more pronounced now. Maybe because I'm older. Anyway. It's a mixture of really springtime fresh and really b.o. Like sweet and spicy. That's all about that.

Third thing: Not as many bathrooms. Period.

Fourth thing: Not as many electrical outlets. Because they want to save electricity, they make you choose which two of the three things you have you will plug in.

Fifth thing: No/Little refrigeration. Got a Minute Maid OJ from a cafe and it was the same temperature as outside. Why bother with the fridge? Got a cold water bottle from a convenience store. 50 euro cents (what are they called? future blog material) more because it was cold.

Sixth thing: Size of things. I'm basically Paul Bunyan over here. I'm no giant, but I feel like one. Small cans of corn and small grocery bags do much for furthering this illusion. Small rooms. Small bathrooms. Small Kitchens. Our shower may have been Daniel Laruso's halloween costume. Except smaller. I opened the doors on a closet to find voila! a two burner stove, sink, fridge, cabinet, and dish drying rack inside. I kept looking for Polly Pocket, but she wasn't there.

Seventh thing: AMAZING announcement music at CDG. Think Ma Na Ma Na meets Breakfast at Tiffany's with a little bit of 60s cool. And it was only like 2-3 seconds. I kept wanting them to announce things so I could hear it again.

Eighth thing. Gorgeous dorm buildings. The building I'm in is gorgeous and surrounded by equally gorgeous buildings. The main international hall must have been a castle at one point. And even if it wasn't, it should be turned into a castle. Awesome architecture.

Ninth thing: Cool sirens. Everytime a siren goes off I think of Jason Bourne.

Tenth thing: Sun went down 20 minutes ago. And its now 10:51.

Eleventh thing: Totally different take on the whole "personal space" thing. At the airport I kept waiting for the crowd to dissipate so that I could pass through with my bags. I realized that that is like waiting for a glacier to melt. So I hopped in and ran over a few peoples toes and thought "I can get used to this!"

Twelfth thing: An 22-year old Italian named Pepe who is completing his masters in nano-technology. A girl from Trinidad who attended the World of Warcraft convention at Versailles. A girl named Erin who will be living in Paris for a month. My roommate Thomas (Tom) who has just built his son a treehouse. A half-dutch American who taught me that ail is French for Garlic.

In other news (all sad), I've experienced what the scientists feared would happen when they ignited the atom bomb. I reached for my Blueberry Glutino breakfast bar (at 7:30 pm PST) to find that the outer wrapper was slightly wet. Upon further investigation I discovered that my Wal-Mart glasses cleaner had decided to leak through everything contained with it in my plastic bag and began making the trek outside of the bag as well. Pulling out my camera to make sure that it would not get ruined, I managed to leave it on the plane. Down glasses cleaner and camera. However, I only realized this when I went to look for my phone that afternoon and realized that it too had somehow disappeared (though I personally think that it was stolen). So to those that I promised pictures, I'm truly sorry. It's not gonna happen. And you can't call to complain too because that would assume I found my phone. The moral of this story: Don't shop at Wal-Mart.

I realize that this blog is long and may come across as somewhat negative. I apologize. I am having fun and I really like it here. It's just really different. The people in my program are awesome and I'm looking forward to seeing more of the city and experiencing the culture. Really grateful to be here. Just sorry that I can't show you more or talk to you about it.

Tomorrow is the counterpoint placement exam and Keyboard Harmony tests. Gonna call lost and found on my camera. And if any of you want to have some fun, try calling my phone. I'm pretty sure that by now the number is disconnected, but in case it's not, just have whoever took it mail it to you. I'll thank you later.

It's now 11 and I'm gonna give sleeping through the night a shot.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


So I figured I'd sort of overhaul this website and use it to document my upcoming trip to Paris. We'll see how well that goes. If this is anything like my commitment to journaling, this blog is doomed. Every couple months I say that I'm going to journal and that I'm going to use it as a way to reflect and keep track of important life events and be able to look back on what I've experienced and be a better person for it. And every couple of months, there are two back to back, and then one from the following week and then silence until the whole process starts up again.

I realize I'm assuming that everyone will know what I'm talking about since I figure mostly family and friends will be reading this, but in the off chance someone doesn't know, I've been accepted to the European American Musical Alliance Summer Program. For those interested, their website is I'll be leaving June 30th and returning August 3rd and might even spend a couple days in London when everything is finished. That part of the trip is sort of up in the air.

Thanks to my buddy Sean for suggesting this idea. I'm planning on explaining (in super nerd music language) some of what I learn while I'm over there. And for my sister-in-law Hayley, I plan on posting pictures of the people and places and experiences that I have while I'm over there. Pretty thorough I suppose.

Alright, today I'm planning on getting my packing list finalized and trying to round up the last couple things that I need for the trip. I'm sure I'll figure out soon that there are a million things I've forgotten, but right now I'm feeling pretty good.