fall back

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Nov 142014
 

To decry the absurdity of there being just 1.5 weeks left before the end of my penultimate (!!!) Dartmouth fall term, I choose not to recount what has passed this term. Instead, I will review past fall terms! In particular, my sophomore fall, which I spent off campus in Seoul, Korea.

falloff1The beginning of my off term was rough. I flew straight to Incheon International after my German LSA ended with nothing lined up for the term. No internship, no cool service project, no plans. The first week after Berlin, I spent most of my time inside. Korea is notoriously hot during August, the weather was only just cooling, and I was pretty tired of working and thinking. By the weekend, though, my parents were demanding that I look into labs at all Seoul universities and email professors who didn’t have more than ten people in their labs already. Of course, I only sent three emails by the end of the weekend, so it was with GREAT fortune that one of the professors got back to me later that week. That e-mail was my salvation, and I will never forget how grateful I was when I visited the professor the next Monday and she took me on as an intern. Unfortunately, my arrival coincided with one of the biggest holidays in Korea: Chuseok, Korea’s autumn harvest festival. I had to wait until the next week to start working, but with something to do set in place now, I enjoyed myself while I could. I visited my family, ate a lot of food, and met up with some friends who had come on exchange to Dartmouth from Yonsei University and one of my Dartmouth friends who was on exchange to that university.

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Yum, shaved ice set. One of the many things I ate before the weather turned frigid!

Once work started, though, free time definitely took on a different meaning. I was in the lab from 9-6 Monday through Friday, and the travel time was a whopping 45-50 minutes one way. I would wake up at 7:20 each morning to make lunch, eat breakfast, dress, and then run out the door around 8 to catch the neighborhood bus that would take me to the subway station. If I made it out by 8, there was no traffic and it took ~7 minutes to get to the station. If I was running late and I got out at 8:10, I would be late to work. From that subway station there was a 15 minute ride, a 6 minute transfer, and another 5 minutes. If I wanted to walk to the lab from where I got off the subway, it took 25 minutes. If I took the bus up to the back of the lab building, 10-15 minutes depending on how full the bus was. There was a park on the way I would pass by which was beautiful in October/early November:

 

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Admittedly there was a lot of sitting in the lab, and an hour long lunch break around 12, but the process of going to the lab and working totaled me. The first thing I always did when I came back home at 7:10-7:20PM (a full 12 hours for this entire process) was go to our fridge and take the first thing I saw. I would carry this item of food to the living room and scarf it down, then turn on the TV and watch blankly before stirring myself to eat a real meal (once my mother caught me in the midst of my very important vegging time and suggested I take the next day off). I would read a book before watching the latest episode of the Walking Dead (the only worthwhile show on from 9-10PM), and then go to sleep. Free time became the only way my body could catch up and wake up the next day, and I finally understood why my parents always insisted on making me do the household chores after coming back from work. It’s just really really tiring.

I did do a lot of great stuff in the lab though. The lab was focused on researching transcription factors of neural cells. There was a lot of stem cell research but mostly my duties were preparing DNA, propagating, transforming bacteria, and preparing eggs for DNA injection. Once I prepped a lot of eggs and took a picture ha:

IMG_1256The DNA was then injected into the spinal cord of the embryos, which was crazy. I had a chance to inject 12 eggs over the course of the internship and took maybe three hours total. The DNA being injected was dyed, and it was really easy to just squirt the dye in the sac and then not be able to see the spinal cord at all, which meant that injecting into that egg would not be happening. I also ran a gel before I left, which was awesome, and I got out a product that hadn’t shown up before.

view from the rooftop of the lab

view from the rooftop of the lab

Overall it was worthwhile, but I can’t say I didn’t miss being on campus. I didn’t really have that many friends in Korea, and was too busy to meet them regularly as well, which definitely made me feel a little shut up at times. Fall was beautiful but too short, and once the weather got cold it was difficult to make myself go outside (the way home was also very very dark and grim in the winter). I’m really daunted by the prospect of preparing for yet another off term in the spring, but I’m starting early on planning and am already thinking about where I want to be. Right now though, I’m perfectly fine being here on campus and taking classes. Being a student is truly the most straightforward occupation.

Nov 072014
 

Dartmouth Student Assembly made this video to tell you why they want you here.

The Student Assembly is the official student government of the College and their representatives and delegates are elected by the students. One of their roles is to strengthen students’ participation in the College’s decision-making process and their members sit on various boards. And they do want you here…

Nov 042014
 

The music major at Dartmouth was recently updated (a fact that, thank God, has no bearing on my own graduation requirements) to differentiate into three different areas of study. Without letting my biases show too much, suffice it to say that I would rather focus on the positive implications of offering degrees in performance (my degree will not, unfortunately, say violin performance on it) rather than focusing on the other implications of offering a degree in “sonic arts.” To each their own I guess. What sort of bugs me about new wordings and euphemisms isn’t so much that they are wrong/intrinsically bad, but rather that the attempt to sum up my experience as a music major into one of three tracts is laughable. At times I have studied music “generally,” I guess. But at other times it has been so ridiculously specific as to barely maintain cohesion with the rest of my academic pursuits. I prefer the characterization of my musical life at Dartmouth as twelve-tone.

For those who don’t know, twelve-tone music is a rather progressive branch of 20th century classical music pioneered by Arnold Schoenberg. A large part of the origin of my musical life at Dartmouth was Schoenberg, for I was given the honor of page-turning at my friend’s senior conducting recital for this piece my freshman year. A twelve-tone composition abides by the rule that each of the 12 pitch classes must be played before any one can be repeated. The point of twelve-tone music is multifaceted. On the one hand, it seeks to treat all pitch classes equally. I could compare this to the two music course I took freshman year – ethnomusicology and introductory music theory. Both courses fulfilled a major requirement – you could say each of them was an individual tone treated equally. But music theory was the first class in my life that I got a B in, the first class that posed a substantial challenge to me at Dartmouth, and it was the class that convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to study music. Ethnomusicology didn’t challenge me academically or intellectually, but I’d be lying if I didn’t credit it for opening up my musical horizons and making me confront the fact that the music I listen to (and that everyone listens to) occupies a relatively small fraction of the total musical output of the world.

On the other hand, twelve-tone music seeks to unify these pitches into a singular composition. As I consider the prospect of how music will be in my life after college, I am forced to evaluate myself as a musical composition. In some ways (the music study abroad foremost among them), my musical education vastly outpaces what I could achieve at a conservatory, just like atonal music can access new emotional realms when it abandons the rules of tonal western harmony. In other ways, the ways of tradition still seem supreme. There isn’t a strings faculty of 20 and enough violinists at Dartmouth to form a new (awful) nation-state, and that relieves pressure from me. And musicians need pressure to get better sometimes. Similarly, the interval of a perfect fifth will always sound more consonant than a tritone. It just will.

A Dartmouth career spans 12 on-terms, which for me represent 12 different tones I can select. I have to put thought into each note, for I don’t get to repeat any terms, and taking an opportunity now can mean abandoning another later. I like the tones I’ve picked so far. I feel like I’ve built something meaningful out of them, something that I can say is distinctly my own. When I was studying in London, my private teacher made me hold pitches until I could hear the overtones. I would stand and play a C4 for 20 minutes until I began hear the resonance of the note, the implication of upwards of 16 other notes in a single tone. My music education at Dartmouth has been private lessons and chamber music and concerto competitions. It has also been TAing a theory class, working in the music library, and managing the orchestra. If I reflect hard enough, it has even been the history classes I’ve taken, the very nature of my liberal arts education, even merely living in Hanover. These are the more remote overtones of my music degree.

Perhaps the greatest similarity I could draw is that twelve-tone music forces you to become inventive as you make music. You can’t rely on tried and true harmonic progressions or voice leading to guide your composition. At Dartmouth, I’ve had to get creative as well. I went to Europe to study music, I sought extra lessons from the visiting opera company in the summer, I organized and performed in a recital with friends. You learn to be a self advocate and a well rounded musician, and that is the ultimate reward of choosing all twelve-tones. It may be unorthodox, it may sound a little weird, but as someone who lives it every day, I can say it is worthwhile.

 

All you need is an audience of one

All you need is an audience of one

My study-abroad looking great after our last conert

My study-abroad looking great after our last conert

Me and my friends after our French Impressionism Recital

Me and my friends after our French Impressionism Recital

Oct 242014
 

I’m convinced that climates have moods, and Hanover’s is just too capricious sometimes to handle. I’m from Denver where the weather acts like an un-housebroken 13 year old boy. Something about snowing 2 feet in the morning and a nice 60 degree rainbow in the afternoon feels like slapstick to me. Hanover, on the other hand, gets all moody with the changing leaves and the fall scented air and then the snow drifts and the freezing cold and then the budding trees like a Spanish-langauge soap opera. This is compounded by the ten week terms, which violate some weird macro-circadian rhythm. The result is that students develop strategies for dealing with the passage of time.

One strategy that I find useful is music. Songs become terms, and I can relive the sublime and distinct feelings of my Freshman fall, winter, and spring in the linked songs. Recently, I have found this piece to be very illustrative of my Junior fall. It is easy to be overly self aware at Dartmouth, and I resent myself for listening to music and thinking “wow, this is going to remind me of this term six months from now.” What are you gonna do. At any rate, give it a listen – take a step into my world.

Oct 202014
 

Asher Roth gave me a lot to look forward to in college. Going out on weekdays seemed like a bad idea and maybe I could try it occasionally… but every week? Not so much. I have class every day and wanted a less strenuous activity, especially since back home my Thursday nights were devoted to Scandal. We would get together and spend the hour in awe of Olivia Pope.

How was I supposed to get away with watching TV on what was supposedly the biggest party night of college? Olivia is a big wine drinker but I would not label that a kind of ‘Thirsty Thursday’.

My first Thursday night was drawing near. I had done most of my work and casually brought up Scandal. Of course, none of the friends I went to dinner with watched the show. What was I to do? Scandal was always an event back home.

That was when my blitz buzzed.

There it was, a giant flyer that said “SCANDAL, 9PM. BE THERE.”

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A TV show is a small passing time, but that night watching Scandal was so much more. Everyone in that room was as dedicated to the screen as I was and it was not like we were obsessed and wore gladiator t-shirts but at that moment I knew I had found a place here.

A lot of people are worried about the social scene here at Dartmouth, but honestly there is something for everyone. You can embrace the “I love college” scene but also find movies, gaming events, or like me a small tv room filled with 30 people wondering how someone can get away with wearing all white pant suits.

Oct 202014
 

I’ve been really digging this song by Drake recently because of its beats (as per usual, I never listen to a song for its lyrics, though I do appreciate that they are there), and of the many repetitive lines there’s a couplet that Drake says only three times: “Just hold on we’re going home/It’s hard to do these things alone.” Then of course, there’s that line by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Home is wherever I’m with you”. Place is a funny space, particularly Dartmouth as a place and my place here. It took a roundabout trip to Korea, a winter term of a lot of angst and relief, an actually interesting class spring term, and a literal climax during summer term (I actually ran up a hill and ran back down) to get me to my current place in life. Which, frankly, I’m still having trouble defining but I’m much more at peace with where I am now than where I was before. Anyway, this whole rigamarole, this eventual homecoming, would not have happened without the people who have supported me throughout. I can’t imagine ever feeling at home at Dartmouth without the people who matter most to me, which means that some terms I’m more lost than others thanks to the D Plan, but with modern technologies like the internet and phones, we can still communicate.

Even so, I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to the I LOVE DARTMOUTH thing, particularly when it comes to the rites of passage like the bonfire that, it is claimed, every Dartmouth student experiences equally. First of all, that statement is a total falsehood. Experiential equality is a myth that people like to live with because empathy’s hard. Plenty of people I know don’t like the bonfire, and plenty of people I know did NOT run around the fire freshman year. If you, dear reader, do not want to run around the fire, don’t run around the fire. If it strikes you as a little creepy and culty, you are more than welcome to pull the move of one of my friends and study during the bonfire. This was exactly what I was planning to do this past weekend until my closest friends told me that they would be in attendance, and I figured that maybe in their company I would enjoy it more (I did do my laps around the fire my freshman year, 16 of them, and the weekend was wonderful because my friend visited, but the events actually available during homecoming I found very average).

IMG_1550But… it was kinda cool! Maybe it’s because I’m comfortable where I am now, but the sense of community was pretty great near the fire. There were these alumni couples with their children and pets standing a bit farther back from the fire, I ran into one of my trippees, and my friends and I ran one lap around the fire and ate some kettle corn afterwards. The everyone running bit was scary in its group mentality, but at the same time, it was totally captivating to watch. How you get that many people to do the same thing, it’s a bit awesome.

My favorite part of this weekend though, was definitely seeing 20 people working on the field at the farm on a most beautiful Friday afternoon. 20 people!!!! And yes, we did follow up the workday with our signature pizza dinner, but it was simply amazing to see that many students who had willingly gone out of their way to help us out on the field. And so, like the majority of my posts, I end this entry with a snapshot of that glorious day:

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^THIS PLACE EXISTS IN REAL LIFE, AT DARTMOUTH, SO APPLY AND COME HANG WITH ME OUT AT THE FARM!!!

 

 

Oct 162014
 

bike

As a Texan, or “Person of Salsa” as I prefer to be addressed, I am no great fan of New England’s climate for a good two-thirds of the year. It is with clenched apprehension that I await Hanover’s mutation into a two-tone (gray and white) blur of snow, what everyone else seems to think is some fantastic, Winter Wonderland scenario, like some Twilight Zone episode about a bunch of kids who attend a college housed in a giant snowglobe. I, by contrast, am accustomed dust, mesquite, grackles, sweat and supernovan quantities of sunshine in a sky of molten blue (to borrow a lovely chromatic idiom from my top homegirl Emily Dickinson), so winter in Hanover resembles more of a hell-hole Hoth.

But it is still a matter of a few month’s time before the great icy metamorphosis, and I am enjoying Hanover during the period I do really love: the fall. The air has distinct, seasonal smells to it, there are firestorms of red fallen leaves in every direction, and the sun sinks each evening over the hill in magnificent splendor, like a fat gold cookie being dipped slowly into an earth-sized Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Provoke by such autumnal beauty, I have taken to riding my rental bicycle around to kill time and to think. The bike is a new addition to my lifestyle and quite a good one, too. I’m living off-campus (and loving it!) and the extra minutes shaved off my commute give me great flexibility. It’s also just to move a little faster in a town where everything is so ancient and slow. Sometimes, as I rush past a flock of pedestrians, hobbling in Hunter boots at two miles per hour towards their Earth Science layup, I experience an exhilarating sensation of the quasi-supernatural; I declare to myself in my head:

“On this bike I am not a man. I am a centaur!”

Another great cycling activity is bombing around the Green listening to ‘Bicycle Race’ by Queen at full blast. This is what I was doing one day last week when I spotted one of my best friends, Edward “Crazy Eddy” Henderville. I cut across the Green, slowed down and pulled up next to him.

“HEY EDDY!”

“Yo, what’s good, Pellowski?”

Not answering his question, I yank out my earphones and announce:

“All the little people of the world, like mosquitoes caught in eddies too large to comprehend, pursuing vain dreams and stalking empty loves: they will never know anything like True Happiness until they ride a bicycle while listening to Bicycle race by Queen.”

Before he can utter a word, I re-insert the earphones and speed off, confident that I have impart some hefty wisdom upon my friend as I coast homeward, bouncing up and down and singing along to the chorus: “BICYCLE! BICYCLE! BICYCLE! BICYCLE!”

Of course, this is all therapy designed to mitigate some deeper despair. As a senior, for the first time in my life I don’t know what I’m doing next year. The near future stretches out before my like a gaping chasm, full of darkness and ice and howling befanged ghosts. I see my brother, Class of 2018, having a great time during his first fall at Dartmouth while I cling to every hour of every day of my last.

It’s freaky how I feel simultaneously like freshman year was forever ago but also still feel like I just got here… and am totally emotionally unprepared to leave. Every square foot of this campus has some memory attached to it, both pleasant and painful. But when will be the last time I remember those memories? When will be the last time I walk down the steps of Reed Hall? When will be the last time I turn off an explored road and find myself face to face with a ten-mile view over a stained-glass valley of pines and flashing river light?

I’m almost inclined to do some stupid romantic thing like plant a time capsule in the BEMA containing a copy of Plato’s Euthyphro, a scarf, the a cappella sheet music to Footloose, a Keystone Light and buffalo tender queso from the HOP. Then, in some surrogate, symbolic way, I would never have to leave. For little part of AP’15—the part I didn’t have when I first stepped into Russell Sage 109 back in 2012—that little part would remain.

 

Oct 142014
 
2014-09-28 12.37.03

2014-09-28 12.37.03My first reaction upon arriving to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge on the morning of October 4th was assuredly expletive filled and incoherent, but it probably boiled down to “It’s about time.” Of course, I can only guess as to this, seeing as the contents of my brain from 6AM-1PM that morning were best represented as a Jackson Pollack painting. My second, and much more delayed, reaction to this arrival was a strange sort of hunger. I hadn’t died, I hadn’t broken a bone, I hadn’t even gotten a blister. It’s inappropriate and probably a little demeaning to the 13 people who did not finish, but I couldn’t help but thinking, “what’s next?” Which I suppose is one of the numerous possible reactions one could have to hiking for 25 hours straight through the night to get from point A to point B.

The 50 is a time honored Dartmouth tradition that I have written about before. Groups of four sign up for a lottery, and 8 teams are selected to hike (32 total hikers). This fall, I decided to do the famed death march that starts at Robinson Hall, summits 6 mountains, and arrives 53.6 miles later at the Dartmouth owned Moosilauke Ravine Lodge (known simply as ‘the Lodge’). Seeing as this was right around the time of the fall equinox (based on the number of werewolf sightings during the night), the hike contained a 12 hour segment in the dark. There were many highlights from this period. When we started our ascent up Mt. Smarts, you better believe we had Eminem going at full volume feeling like we were about to storm the walls of Helm’s Deep. And on the way down Mt. Cube, we blasted the first book of Harry Potter on audiobook as if we were about to storm the walls of my mom’s mini van. And there was that moment when we thought that we might literally have found Hell when we reached the road at 3:30 in the morning and it was so pitch black that when we turned our headlamps off we couldn’t see our hands. There was only the unrelenting pain in our feet and knees. At 8AM, one of my friends hiking on my team said that he was relieved. I asked why. He said it was because he thought he was finally going crazy, and that meant his brain was doing something to cope with the pain, which was evidently a good sign. I couldn’t really work out what he was saying. I was too busy swimming in a sea of jelly beans.

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3/4 of the group on a training hike

There are a lot of canned answers you get about things at Dartmouth. “How was your freshman trip?” Great! “How was your FSP” Wonderful! “How was sophomore summer?” Sunny! In reality, these things are all very complex and warrant long and reflective answers, but you have about 47 seconds standing in line before it is your turn to order, and you wont be able to rehearse what you are going to ask for in your head if you are seriously reflecting on your experiences. There isn’t really a canned response for hiking the 50 (only 32 people set out to do it twice a year), but if there were it would probably go like: “How was the 50” Terrible! I don’t know why people do it! I personally have never been more stumped by small talk than I am by that question. Am I allowed to say, “It sucked, I guess, but it was also great. I want to do it again?” The question mark indicates an upward inflection rather than an actual question (other people rarely have the answers to questions you ask yourself). It’s hard to process an experience when you are progressively losing your mind as it gets more interesting. The sucky parts definitely sucked. Miles 42-44 felt like I was walking in circles, and I could have sworn the forest was mocking me with its colors. There was a distinct point when I almost got in a fist fight with Mount Moosilauke over the sheer audacity of its final uphill. But I never for a second doubted that I would finish, and that gave me pause. How much further could we have gone? There are two things about the 50 that are so indescribably great that I can’t imagine that I only got to experience them in those 25 hours and 47 minutes of my entire life.

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  1. Getting supported by my friends for a meaningless task, merely because I had set out to do that meaningless task:

Every 10 miles, I was shepherded to comfy seats with hot drinks and food while eager pre-med students took my boots off and anxiously searched for blisters. Maybe its just me enjoying luxury, but it is just awesome to feel the full support and enthusiasm for upwards of 60 people who want you to finish. I think Dartmouth has a special capacity for generating these sort of people/this type of experience.

 

  1. Accomplishing something immensely dumb and dangerous with a team of my closest friends

Doing the 50 is a weird and circuitous way of expressing camaraderie and friendship in the form of “how the hell are we going to get up that mountain?” We all were in the same place when the gradients got steep, when the moon set, when the fog descended; we went through the same hell together. Conversely, we were there together when the sun rose and we remembered how beautiful the New England colors were (I wish I were exaggerating when I say I remembered that the forest had color at all). We were there at every support station (which is the psychological equivalent of a particularly fun holiday, maybe Halloween). We were there when we passed people at the top of Mount Moosilauke and they asked us where we were coming from and we said defiantly “Hanover.” And then they looked as us weird because we smelled bad and were empirically insane and they probably didn’t believe us. These two things are so wonderful, and the sense of accomplishment is so strong, that I want to do the 50 again. Except not literally – the 50 at this point is a metaphor for fun suffering (keep up). So I guess all that’s left is the question, “What’s next?”

Smiles only go so far to mask the existential pain.

Smiles only go so far to mask the existential pain.

Couldn't move my legs for a minute.

Couldn’t move my legs for a minute.

At the lodge, trying to reach back to Hanover

At the lodge, trying to reach back to Hanover

Optimism at mile 10

Optimism at mile 10

Colors!

Colors!

Sep 172014
 

Every September at Dartmouth the college photographer takes an official photograph of the new, first-year class standing together on the Green in front of Dartmouth Hall (built 1784). Here’s the Class of 2018 photo.

Image of the class of 2018 on the Green at Dartmouth College

Class of 2018

Now that classes have started our bloggers are busy reconnecting with friends, meeting and greeting the new first-years, settling into rooms, getting used to the fall schedule of classes, and finding little time just now to sit down and share with you. Give ‘em a few weeks and you’ll likely see some accounts of how the start of term is going for the Dartmouth Direct blogging team.

In the meantime, here are a few more snaps of the last few weeks from our Flickr stream.

Students dancing the Salty Dog Rag

First-Year Trips: Salty Dog Rag

Girls carrying fridge.

Move-In Day: Sustainability Fair

Image of international students chatting

International Student Orientation

 

Aug 222014
 

This post will be mostly about abroad terms, but due to my imminent earth science exam, I should at least pay lip service to the studying I’m supposed to be doing right now. Phreatomagmatism describes volcanic eruptions characterized by the explosion of groundwater due to sudden heating. These eruptions often lead up to, and in some cases precipitate a major volcanic eruption (i.e Mt. Pinatubo (1991) in the Phillippines, or Mt. St. Helens (1980) in Washington State). Essentially, sudden increases in temperatures causes water to vaporize and burst out of the ground in huge clounds of smoke and debris.

If you wanted to be metaphorical (and if you attend or aspire to attend Dartmouth, you probably spend a decent amount of time being metaphorical), you might compare my decision to study abroad to a volcanic eruption. If that is the case, associated phreatomagmatic events would probably include the dire decision to drop my Spanish class before the 6 native speakers in the class destruyen la media y mi GPA. Following that line of reasoning, the next sudden vaporization would be my decision to fill the opening in my schedule with a music class on Brahms and Berlioz. That class taught me more than I could have hoped – I now have a very informed view that Hector Berlioz is my least favorite composer, especially considering his place in music history, his ego, and his inability to write a bass line. More importantly it introduced me to Autumn, the principle bassoonist in the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra. It is a little embarrassing that it was sophomore fall and I was still meeting other ’16s in the DSO, but after our mutual sufferings in that class, we were better acquainted than the average high string and low wind player. These explosions of groundwater eventually triggered the main event. Over the course of 48 hours late in November, Autumn suggested I enroll in the music study abroad to London, I thought about it briefly, and I accepted an offer to be on the program. This analogy is all very absurd when you think of the lack of volcanic activity in Hanover (we are nowhere NEAR a subduction zone) so I will stop using it. Sorry EARS 5 – studying will have to wait until after this blog.

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Autumn and I writing about Symphonie Fanstatique. It’s awful.

 

In perhaps the quickest and least predictable D-Plan change ever, I had decided to go abroad 2 months after the application deadline and 3 months before I was slated to leave. I said sayonara to my old plan of staying in Hanover in the spring and studying History abroad my Junior Fall, and I started reading Wikipedia pages about Queen Elizabeth II on the off chance she invited me over for tea.

 

Flash forward to me, sleep deprived and still woozy from the flight, trying to explain to British customs why I was there. “No I’m not a student in a British University. I’m in an American University, but there is this program here…..read this sketchy letter that sort of explains it.” It’s a miracle they let me in. I probably would still be rotting in the tower of London if it weren’t for Autumn swooping in and explaining our moral right to return to Mother England. I could probably write a book about my time in London, so I will condense to the basics for the sake of this post. There were 12 of us travelling to study music in the undisputed classical music hub of the world; 4 singers, 1 clarinetist, 1 classical guitarist, 1 bassoonist, 1 flautist, 1 pianist, 1 organist, 1 violinist (me), and 1 digital music specialist/I don’t really know what he did the whole time. The program housed us in student flats in north London (anti-shout out to Camden Town and The Stay Club – it’s like if you turned Hot Topic into a borrough). Our coursework was a collage of musical offerings. We attended five concerts a week, usually hearing one of London’s premier orchestras, but occasionally attending operas, ballets, chamber music performances, and jazz shows. We had two classes – one on London’s Music History (taught by the esteemed Roderick Swanston, notable for giving lectures on Mahler in which he accuses octogenarians of obsessing about sex while listening to the 6th symphony) and one on Performance. The performance class was taught by Sally Pinkas, our FSP leader, and it included discussions of the shows we saw as well as chamber music coachings. The main course, so to speak, of the program was our individual lessons. Most of us were paired with teachers from the Royal College of Music, London’s top conservatory. The finale of the 10 weeks was a set of two concerts, one for chamber works and one for solo works, that showcase the music learned over the term. The auxiliary defining feature is the 10 day travel break in the middle. Since there aren’t weekends during the term (most concerts happen on Fridays and Saturdays), we took all our weekends at once, and were given 10 days to travel around Europe at our own discretion.

2014-03-25 23.39.15

2014-03-25 23.39.15

2014-04-11 13.43.17I will leave off the travel subplot, but I will just mention it here to give an idea of what it entailed. Autumn and I started dating around week 3 of the program (to exasperated sighs of “obviously” from all of our friends) and decided to travel to Barcelona and Amsterdam together. We objectively had the best trip, although other groups had varying degrees of fun in Scotland, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. We all survived, despite several close calls.

uQ0WgUN

Although the program only paid for 8-10 hours of lessons, I was fortunate enough to be paired with Dona Lee Croft, an esteemed music educator who had recently retired after 30 years on the RCM strings faculty. She generously allowed our lessons to extend beyond 2 hours every week, and I ended up with something like 20 hours of lessons (not to mention the additional recital she scheduled for her studio which I performed in). Without getting into the technical speak, she had a transformative impact on my playing and outlook. If any violinist are reading this, I’ll just say that this book reminds me more of London than any Harry Potter book:

sevcik-violin-studies-opus-1-part-1-14029815

 

While I’ve gotten good at explaining what the program entailed, its hard for me to express the experience of being there. I can’t really even conceptualize it fully when I think back on it now. I just remember walking around London with my violin and riding the tube with my headphones in and a book settled on my case. I remember picking up food at the grocery store and eating beans out of a can when I was low on money. I remember the first time the barristas at the my favorite coffee shop remembered my order; I remember my excitement upon finding cool pubs. I guess all of those things sort of blur into this memory of freedom I’ve never experienced at any other time in my life. Despite my decision to attend a liberal arts institution, I was living as a musician in London, playing violin 2 hours a day and taking notes on where to find the cheapest wine at convenience stores. I have a lot of stories. If you cared to know, you could ask me about Autumn and my experience with a certain Jolyon, my weekend excursion to St. Vincent’s pub in Edinburgh, or the time I was trapped in the women’s restroom at the RCM. I could talk to you about skin lice and getting robbed and countless times different group members almost got hit by double decker buses. Those stories are fun, some even informative (or medically pertinent). But if you really want to get an idea of my abroad term, I would paint a quieter picture, one of packing peanut-butter and cheese sandwiches and writing on a beautiful spring day in Hyde Park, of watching the city lights at 3 in the morning from Primrose Hill, of living life with the second movement of Bruckner 9th stuck in your head. It is a great way to live, maybe even my favorite way to live. It’s a special sort of freedom to do what you love in a city that you love with people that you love. Everything feels a little fresher, a little more real. So when people ask “how was your abroad term,” I’d rather answer with a joke about being drunk under the table by a 45 year old father of two. Saying the truth would risk making it false; putting it into words somehow cheapens it. Going abroad is a lot like a pyroclastic flow – it is a burning hot cloud of tephra – volcanic debris – that scorches everything in its path as it descends to earth and leaves discreet geologic evidence of the volcano’s activity.

Spring in Camden

British Currency

British Currency

 

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Mt. St. Helens Erupts