Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Perceptions, youth, and humor

My friends all know that when I'm not teaching I am likely to be playing my horn in some community group. Besides getting to play some pretty great music I have loved meeting people I would not have known otherwise.

A couple months ago one of my horn-playing friends from a community orchestra asked if I wanted to play Mahler's Symphony #2 in another community orchestra. What a great opportunity, I thought! I have never played any Mahler in concert. Gustav Mahler was a giant of the early 20th century, composing 9 symphonies, plus many songs and other works. He was also a top conductor. His symphonies are all large works, usually calling for many extra players beyond the usual symphony roster. So to get a chance to play any Mahler symphony was awesome.

A standard symphony calls for 4 horns. Some early symphonies call for only two. Mahler 2 calls for 8 horns on stage and 4 off-stage! It also calls for extra trumpets, woodwinds, and a full chorus. I am playing one of the off-stage parts, though it turns out that we start off-stage, then go on stage to play for a bit, then back off-stage, then on stage to end the symphony. We've had one rehearsal and it is so much fun!

My Slice of Life today, though, is about perceptions, surprises, and finally, humor, while rehearsing Mahler. I had met one of the other off-stage horn players earlier this year while we were both playing a concert with a different community orchestra. She is a young woman getting started in her music career after graduating college. She is charming, friendly, and a good colleague. Before our first rehearsal of the off-stage players last week, we were chatting with another of the horn players, who neither of us knew. He was very friendly and asked me what I do when I'm not playing horn.

"I teach 4th grade," I said. We chatted about my school and the university where he is teaching.

A bit later my young hornist friend said to me, "Wow, I didn't know you were still working!" Ouch! Yes, I am the oldest off-stage horn player, though not the oldest of all the hornists. I didn't think I looked so old, but many people are retiring younger these days, I said to myself. In the end I decided it was a funny story to share with friends also in my age range. My friends winced a little and chuckled.

Then... a former student and her mother stopped by my school to visit. After chatting and catching up, the mom said to me, "Let us know when you're retiring. We want to come to the party."

Really, I'm not that old. I have at least a few more years in me!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Super Power - Listening

If I were going to be a character in the Star Trek universe, I would be one of Guinan's people.

Guinan is in Start Trek: The Next Generation, the one with Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Her people are described as a race of listeners. She comes on board the Enterprise as a bartender in the lounge, a wonderful place for a listener. Her people are also very long-lived. In the one episode that she takes a contral role, several crew members have to travel back in time, where they meet Mark Twain and a young Guinan. Meeting Picard, she at first thinks he was sent by her father to tell her to come home. She says, "Tell him I'm not done listening." (And if Mark Twain is around, maybe one would never be done listneing!)

She is a better listener than talker. She seems to have trouble explaining herself at times, giving partial information (which often helps the plot more than if she had told everything she knows!).

I would fit in so well with Guinan and her people. I love to listen to people, I love to hear their stories and appreciate other people's lives and experiences. I also am not the best conversationist. I frequently can't think of anything to say. I would rather be listening.

In another Star Trek storyline, we learn that Guinan's people were attacked and driven out of their home. They are now scattered across the galaxy. So sadly, even if they were real, I couldn't go find them. On the other hand, maybe they are here, among us, listening intently and sympathetically.

And Guinan is played by Whoopee Goldberg! So cool!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Memories of Opera

I'm finishing my spring break week by visiting my mom in Minnesota. My mom is 94 and slowing down. She complains of not feeling well, of stomach problems and losing weight, and most of all, of being tired. Though I've only been here a few hours I can already see the positive change that having company, especially family, visit is doing.

My mother has also told stories about her childhood and her family. She grew up in western Minnesota in a very small town surrounded by farms. A lot happens in small towns, as any number of novels and biographies can testify.

As children, my sister and I loved to hear the story of her white cat with the green eyes. One day when my mother was about 10, the neighborhood children found that I white cat had been killed by a passing car. It was my mother's cat and she was distressed. The kids decided to have a proper funeral, and buried the unfortunate feline with a ceremony and lots of crying, especially from my mother. After the funeral what should stroll around the corner of the house, but a white cat with green eyes. It was my mother's cat. The cat that they had just buried was a white cat with blue eyes belonging to a girl down the street. This started a new cycle of weeping. Maybe this type of thing is where the idea of cats having nine lives comes from?

However, today's story is about opera, not cats. I previously wrote about opera, in particular the opera Carmen, so I think this an appropriate way to bring the month of blogging to a close. After college, which my mother was able to attend because my grandmother was determined that her daughter would get a good education, my mother became a math teacher. She taught in Duluth and Elbow Lake, in the Iron Range. This was not an area known for its culture. But, my mother told me, every year the Metropolitan Opera would go on tour and would present several operas in Minneapolis. She and her best friend would catch a bus from Duluth after school on Friday and take it to Minneapolis, where they would see several operas. They would take the bus back to Duluth on Sunday evening.

The first opera she ever saw was Faust by Gounod. She remembers how Mephistopheles wore a black cape that opened up to a dramatic red lining. After that first opera, she said, she was hooked. She remembers seeing Carmen (my first ever opera), Pagliacci, and Cavallerio Rusticana. As I listened, I thought, how wonderful that the Metropolitan Opera, one of the greatest opera companies in the world, would tour the country every year. They also had a radio broadcast of the Saturday afternoon opera for decades.

Today it's not as difficult to actually travel to New York City. But even you can't go there, the Met now simulcasts some of their operas to movie houses across the country -- not equivalent to getting to see a live production, but a benefit to opera lovers who don't live close to NYC. But there's still magic in the idea of the traveling opera company. And in the thought of my young mother spending hours on a bus in order to have her weekend at the opera in Minneapolis.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Thoughts on Traveling

I'm in O'Hare Airport waiting for my flight to Minnesota to visit my mom. My check-in this morning was remarkably quick and easy -- I checked my suitcase with the skycaps, went through the Pre-check security line without taking off my shoes or taking out my laptop, and here I am waiting at my gate an hour in advance.

Even though this time was easy, I was remembering the "old days," before security measures. The days when your family could walk with you to the gate and wave as the plane took off. No x-rays of your stuff, no metal detectors. You could take liquids onto the plane without incident. You could change your tickets without paying a huge penalty. I usually feel like I'm signing my future away when I buy a plane ticket. You walked to your gate and got on the plane. Sometimes you actually walked out onto the tarmac and climbed stairs onto the plane.

I also remember the first hijacking of a plane and how scary that was, especially when other hijackers jumped on the bandwagon.

My children have never experienced the days before these regulations and precautions. We'll never go back to those days, and really these days are not so bad.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Girl's Trip

Tomorrow I will fly to Minneapolis to visit my mom for a few days. On Friday, my daughter will fly up from Houston to join us. We thought that would be our girls' weekend - mother-daughter-grandma - and that would be great! My daughter hasn't been able to get away to see her grandma in over a year. We planned a quiet trip, visiting with my mom, doing some errands for her, maybe taking her out to eat if she's up to it.

Then we found out yesterday that my niece will also be coming up to Minneapolis from Iowa, so we'll get to visit with her as well! She is starting grad school in the fall at the University of Minnesota, so I imagine her visit has something to do with that. And, oh yeah, her boyfriend lives in the twin cities. It will be fun to see the cousins together - they are only about a year apart in age.

It will also be very good to see how my mom is doing. She is 94 and one her last birthday it was evident that time was catching up to her. She was much more tired by going out to eat and would nod off while the rest of us were chatting. Recently she has begun to complain that she can't keep track of things like taxes, and that she's having more health issues. My brother and I keep reassuring her that she has people to take care of things like taxes and that we are always willing to come up if she needs us. She seems to have bounced back a little since then, so I'm hoping she is comfortable and happy. She is a survivor, but getting to be a tired survivor.

On another note, I'm hoping I can post my last two blog entries for SOL2017. There's no wifi in her assisted living! Hopefully a quick trip to Starbucks will do it.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Poem written while being tailgated

I went shopping at the big mall today, which meant taking the expressway for a few miles. I wrote this poem in my head while driving and then wrote it down in the parking lot.

Hovering so close behind
Swaying from side to side
Like a jackal ready to pounce
Looking for that opening,
Springing into action
Into the small space
Between your fellow travelers.

You will never find
Your heart's desire,
To be leader of the pack
On the open road.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Real First Day of Spring Break

Today was the real first day of spring break, because it's Monday and I didn't go to school. So what did I do? I'm a morning person, so I got up resolved to catch up on the many household things I had neglected.

First off I did a half hour of yoga. I had worked to make this a daily habit, but I caught three colds in a row and had stopped getting up early to do yoga. It felt really good to begin again, even if I was a bit stiff.

Then after breakfast, I started on my list. Laundry (okay, that's just an every week chore), cleaning, putting things away that had never made their way back to where they belonged, throwing stuff away! Then I went to Target to but many paper products, a new kitchen mop, and sponges. How exciting! I stopped for some bagels on the way home and I stopped at Goodwill to donate several bags and boxes of items we don't need.

After a bagel for lunch and a little more cleaning, off to an overdue doctor's appointment, followed by grocery shopping. Back home, I immediately began making one of our favorite dinner, banh mi.

After cleaning up I thought I'd just sit down and read for a little bit -- oh no! almost 2 hours later I realize that I really must stop and practice my horn before it gets so late that the neighbors will be unhappy. Why do books do that to us?