Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 3: A Run, My Ears and Mozart

The one window I have in my hotel room faces the east, and even with the curtains drawn, the morning sun peeks in. A good thing...my own self-setting alarm clock! I think the maids must work according to the sun, cause each day they knock at my door just about 30 minutes after it appears, ready to clean: "disculpe señor, podemos regresar mas tarde!" No telling when they must rise each day to be at the hotel ready to go by 7:30.

After the breakfast buffet, I took a stroll around the downtown neighborhood while my hotel is located. Just about two blocks from here is the main Plaza, with a lovely large brick cathedral.
Cathedral and Plaza in Santa Cruz, two blocks from my hotel

Managed to find my way to the grocery store I remembered from my last visit, and picked up some provisions for the room, and some Powerade to take with me to classes and rehearsals. Three sacks full of stuff for less than $10.

My conductor friend Charlie Houmard recommended a jogging route from the hotel to the Parque Urbano, about 3 miles round trip. I checked it out on the map and with Roland to make sure it was safe, and ended up having a pretty good run after the grocery store. The main thing is to keep your eye on the sidewalk...lots of uneven sections, big curbs, etc., waiting to turn an ankle. That and the traffic...pedestrians definitely are NOT the priority at the intersections! The urban park is large, probably 6 city blocks, with basketball courts, an oval cement track, skateboard area and fountain.

My run to the Parque Urbano

For lunch, Roland, Melissa, Felix and I went to a nearby coffee shop, and I had a hamburger with a fried egg on top of it. Pretty tasty!

For the afternoon, I had been approached by three singers from the choir about having coffee together, then a voice class for the three of them. They took me from the hotel to the "Horno Caliente" ("Hot Oven") where we sampled numerous yummy pastries, empanadas and tamales.

The singers, all women, wished to practice their English, so our conversation was bi-lingual, since I tried always to answer in Spanish. I think we all learned a bit in the process!
One thing I noticed during our coffee shop time was that my ears are gaining some traction with the language. In fact, when I speak with some people, it's starting to feel kind of easy to understand them. Others, however, still can be a challenge. In general, Bolivian pronunciation of Spanish is pretty standard. However, some folks speak with a distinct accent that makes it a bit harder to follow. For them, final "s" consonants are not only omitted, but the vowel that precedes them is sort of nasalized (kind of like nasal "n" in French). Take the word for "more" which is "mas." Usually when pronounced we hear all three parts of the word: the "m" consonant, the pure vowel "a", and the "s." However, I often hear it like this (IPA rendering): [mã]. Perhaps it's an influence of the Portuguese language...Santa Cruz is only a few hundred miles from the Brazilian border, and that language includes a lot of nasalized vowels. Regardless, it's reassuring to know my ears have made the trip to Bolivia with me!

Finally, we took off for our evening choral rehearsal. There was a little confusion, since I was to have had a class before for choral conductors in the group, but the room was scheduled by someone else. We'll try to make that up later in the visit (the singers are truly eager to learn, and it feels like I'm going to be doing numerous masterclasses in voice and conducting while I'm here...fantastic!).

Our rehearsal started out a bit casually, as many folks were late. However, by the second hour, we had a good group of 45 or so, and really made some progress. Eventually, we even got to the end of the mass, so now we've covered everything and can begin to refine and polish. There's a variety of skill levels in the group, so naturally that's a challenge to everyone. But, since we still have a week of rehearsals before the performances, I bet we can help everyone learn and grow.

Sometimes we all need a reminder-"Don't forget: get close to the urinal. Thanks!"

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 2: First Rehearsals

Working on some of the solo quartets in Mozart's "Coronation" Mass

I had a lot of fun today! After a good night's sleep in a very large bed in my room at the Hotel Santa Cruz (just 3 blocks from the Cathedral and civic plaza), I ventured to the hotel's breakfast buffet. Plenty to eat--sliced fruit, some cheese and ham, cereal, pastries, yogurt, juice and coffee. Shared my table with Felix (violinist from Germany who will be a featured soloist on the first part of the concert that "my" choral work will conclude) and Melissa (his friend and dancer/choreographer, whom Roland has asked to help prepare a project for an upcoming season). Felix and Melissa arrived on the AeroSur overnight flight from Madrid, landing at 2 am, and arriving at the hotel around 5. They looked pretty good considering all that!

Fred took me to the rehearsal hall, in a privately owned community center. It was a large room with lots of wood surfaces. Good space for singing and making music. There, I taught a morning masterclass to some singers...folks from the choir interested in working on the various solos found in Mozart's "Coronation" Mass. (Though we are bringing in professionals soloists from La Paz, Roland and I agreed the singers would gain a lot from the experience of preparing these solos.) They were an eager bunch, willing to try things a different way. I can only imagine how foreign it must feel to "put oneself out there" vocally speaking, and so cooperatively try things that may feel new or different. I'll continue my work with them throughout the two weeks as time permits.

Lunch was served at Roland's house, prepared by his wife (Marcella) and also his mother. Some German food (in a nod to Felix), vegetables, chicken, and a lesson in "Brazilian" coffee.

Roland, Melissa, Felix and Marcella

After a restful stop back at the hotel, it was over to the rehearsal site again, for my afternoon 3-hour session with the chorus. About 40 folks attended, and they had done their homework (thanks Charlie!). We reviewed the first two movements of the mass, and took some time to introduce the third (the Credo).

It was great to meet the singers...many have worked with me during my trips in 2005 and 2008--it is great to see them again! And some are new...evidence of the continued community interest in vocal performance, and what I take as a growing sense of the possibility that collaboration brings.

There was a lot of good work and learning taking place...and lots of laughing and enjoying the process as well. Of course my linguistic "chops" provide their own moments of disarming fun (I call it, "Guess what the conductor is thinking now"!). And I did have to remind everyone of the now infamous gaffe I made last time I was here, confusing the verb "disfrutar" ("enjoy") with "disculpar" ("excuse") (hence my introduction to our final performance of the Mozart Requiem was prefaced by my request to the audience "That you might excuse our performance this evening".)

Following rehearsal, Roland took me, Melissa and Felix out for a yummy meal at a nearby Irish Pub. It was fun to be crowded in that hopping joint, surrounded by happy Bolivians!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 1: Arrival in Santa Cruz

View of the Andes Mountains shortly before landing in Santiago, Chile

As overnight transcontinental trips go, it wasn't too bad. Two layovers in Chile gave views of the eerie landscape of the western side of the Andes Mountains range...completely desert climate, sandy, with snow capped peaks.

Had great service at the Santa Cruz airport, where I was met by my host conductor Roland Schlieder (former Butler student of mine, and now conductor and music director of the Orquesta Sinfonia Juvenil de Santa Cruz de la Sierra) and singer and horn player Fred Alba (who has become a good friend to me, with his wife Claudia, in my earlier trips here). We stopped by Roland's home so his young daughters Victoria and Sofia could say hello to their "Tio Eric," then it was off to dinner for the three of us. Conversation included the schedule tomorrow (soloists rehearsal/coaching in the morning, then I meet the chorus for the first time tomorrow afternoon), and recent job/musical goings on for each of us. You woulda been proud of me...we conducted about half of our conversation in Spanish (I reminded them, "I need all the practice I can get!"). Some sentences were a mixture of Spanish and English vocabulary, but it all seemed pretty natural to the three of us!

Conductor Roland Schlieder and Singer/French Horn Player Fred Alba take me to dinner (...and beer!)

Friday, June 24, 2011

"Attention on the Concourse..."

So, it's 3 pm on Friday...the exact hour I was to be stepping off American Airlines flight 922 at my final destination of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, just in time for my first rehearsal later this evening.

Instead, I'm sitting at gate B9...in the Indianapolis International Airport. Sigh...

What was to have been my first flight yesterday, Indy to Miami, was cancelled due to a flight crew issue. No other flights were available to get me to Miami in time for my midnight flight south, so home I went. At least I got to catch up on some sleep!

My rebooked ticket had a first flight at 12:45 today, Indy to JFK. At the very moment I arrived at the gate, that flight too was cancelled. Apparently weather-related.

Back at the ticket counter, at first they were going to book me for something tomorrow...but after a little negotiating, we found an evening flight out tonight to Dallas. From there, overnight flight to Santiago, Chile (never been there before!) then two more connections to arrive in Santa Cruz around 5 pm tomorrow.

What's your favorite way to spend time in an airport? I'm transferring my marks from one Mozart "Coronation" Mass score to another, so I can use the newer Barenreiter edition for my rehearsals and concerts.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Soy, Fui, Era...


On my counter in my kitchen, I've had open a book I bought 24 years ago. When I was living/studying in Madrid, I found a "Handbook of 4,500 Spanish Verbs" at a bookstore and picked it up. Granted, it's not the most riveting of texts to read, but it IS a great source of information, especially when one is on the eve of a trip to South America.

I'll be arriving in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, at the end of the week. With last week's Beethoven rehearsals and numerous other tasks taking my time, opportunities for Spanish review have been few and far between.

But I've managed to get some homework done! 1) created a small document of three common irregular verb conjugations (for the infinitives "ser/estar"--"to be" and "ir"--"to go") AND posted it to my iPhone for handy viewing; 2) spent a lovely hour chatting in Spanish with Patricia Camacho, a member of the Symphonic Choir originally from Mexico (she was very patient with me!); and 3) dug up the aforementioned verb textbook.

On my previous Bolivia trips, I've had to hit the ground running, usually having either a rehearsal or media interview within a few hours of stepping off the plane. I'm sure this one will be no different. Stay tuned to see how it plays out!

Singing the mighty 9th Symphony of Beethoven is always a thrill. Our past weekend's three performances with the Indianapolis Symphony and conductor emeritus Raymond Leppard were a great way to finish the Choir's 74th season. Leppard, now in his 80's, brought plenty of his trademark wit to the proceedings. His was an expansive 9th, and though some might have wished for a more sprightly take, it did give the opportunity to savor Beethoven's delectable inner voice writing.

"Music Made Me" is the title of Leppard's just released autobiography, which concludes with a chapter about coming to and working in Indianapolis. I've read that chapter first (quite enlightening viewpoint of our city) of course, and will let you know about the other chapters in the coming posts.