Monday, April 14, 2008

Iceland Trip: Chimes in the Sky

On our last night in Iceland, which was on the same day as the trombone choir concert, we had a 'perfect ending' to an already great day and fantastic week. We took Oddur and his wife, Stina, with their three children, Hildur, Baldvin and little Helga, out to their favorite restaurant. We had a warm, wonderful time, full of laughter and good food!

In the midst of this, I was looking out the window every now and again to see when it got dark outside. The reason was because, when we had lunch earlier in the day in our hotel, our waiter said to us, "Did you see the marvelous Northern Lights last night"? Carol and I almost fell off of our chairs! We were in our room working on the living program notes for the next day's concert, and right outside our window, literally directly above our hotel, were the incredible Northern Lights! And we had no idea!

Well, we couldn't believe we were in Iceland and missed them. We had heard that the best time to see them is in the winter, like February, so we did not think that we would see them in April. But, alas, there they came! And we MISSED them!!

So, at the restaurant, I was thinking that maybe they would come back. Other people said they might because the weather would be cold enough and the sky was supposed to be clear.

So, when the sun set, we all went outside and Oddur drove us to a spot a bit outside the city where there were no lights. And before we knew it, THERE THEY WERE!!! In all their glory!! They were more extraordinary than any photo or movie we had seen of them.

They were ALIVE, moving and breathing in hues of green, pink, white and, I thought, a hint of blue. Dancing and moving like a large hand in the sky, appearing and disappearing. At one amazing point, that now is embossed in our minds, it moved like a row of chimes in the wind, each 'chime' lighting up another with each magical stroke. At one moment, we even thought we felt, in our 'inner' ears, a sound. Perhaps it is a feeling of sound more than actual physical sound. We don't know. But we do know this...

What a gift! A precious natural wonder as a finale to a most wonderful week. We are filled with deep gratitude to Oddur and his family, the musicians, town's people, the country of Iceland and Mother Nature. It was all "Music As a Living Thing."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Iceland Trip: Trombone Choir Concert,
Frequency Band Style

During the course of our stay in Iceland, we had four orchestra rehearsals, an orchestra concert, two master classes, three trombone choir sessions and a trombone choir concert. Quite a lot in one week!

Oddur gathered the trombone choir members and mustered concert publicity before we arrived. Once again, his amazing energy and enthusiasm was such an inspiring part of the process!

The three trombone choir "rehearsals" and the concert were conducted in Frequency Band style, with Carol and I working together with the group. And what a grouping of players it was! There was the Iceland Symphony trombone section, a very fine soloist, freelancers, band directors, jazz players, students at various levels and two very nice players on a short break from touring with Bjork (they are trombonists in Bjork's all women brass band). It was the most diverse group we ever worked with! But what was so great about it was everyone's coming together and getting into the love of music and all of the participants doing their absolute best to be in it with Carol and me, as we explored "music as a living thing." We so much enjoyed being with everyone and appreciated their openness and enthusiasm for our approach! We realize it is not necessarily easy for people to take that leap of faith, when they do not know us and our particular ways of going on, which, as many know, are not always conventional, starting with tuning!

The group, in fact, despite our short time together, did extremely well and rose to the newness of the situation. All the various differences in age and experience started to fall by the wayside as we connected to the meaning of each piece. Our purpose put everyone on the same footing (and "frequency") from which we could move forward together as a group. (Here is a photo of many of the players.)

The concert consisted of eight pieces, one being a world premiere specially written in honor of the country of Iceland and my friendship with Oddur Bjornsson. The piece was titled, "In All Hearts." The group warmed to this piece in a special way. Carol even managed to get a sound clip on her digital camera during our Wednesday rehearsal on April 2nd. That session had a magic all its own.

Since the concert was done in Frequency Band style, I gave "living program notes" for each of the pieces. As was said to the audience before we premiered " In All Hearts," Carol and I have been all over the world working with groups and it is easy, when in another land other than one's own, to notice the differences. But in this piece, we wanted to express something else. We wanted to express that special something, wherever you go, that is the same, "In All Hearts." The group played the music with this sentiment. And a powerful core sentiment it is. Here is the sound clip from "In All Hearts."

The audience enjoyed the concert very much. Several people came up to us and commented how they had never been to a concert like this before and that it was "unique and very special," as one person put it.

Carol and I wish to give our heartfelt bravos and thanks to all the choir participants, their guests and all in attendance. It was a very special experience that we always will hold "In Our Hearts."

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Iceland Trip: Experiencing Nature

From the moment we landed and made our way to Oddur's car, it was very clear we were in very different land! During the ride from the airport, we witnessed those unique characteristics of this land that made it understandable why NASA used Iceland to test equipment for the moon landing. Oddur was like a professional tour guide telling us about so much amazing history, from where the Americans set up military base that has since become housing and serving other purposes to how the rocks we were looking at were actually cooled lava. The mountains were beautiful, adorned with snow and bold features, even though they weren't incredibly high.

The next day, which was our only free day, Oddur and his thirteen-year-old son, Baldvin, (who is an extremely talented trumpet player) took Carol and myself on a trip into the countryside. We saw steam naturally coming up from the ground, beautiful Icelandic horses which don't get much bigger than ponies, and the vast expanses of land, snow and ice--the tundra.

Oddur also took us to the point where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet (see photo). It truly was awesome to see them. They are separating at the rate of an inch and a half a year. We could not stay outside too long because it was very cold and really windy. Carol said it was a challenge to stand steady enough to take photos with the high winds but we thoroughly enjoyed being there and did get a strong sense and impression of the land.

As we were driving, looking at the vast expanses of tundra and mountains, Oddur pointed out a house that was at the base of one mountain and surrounded by huge boulders, obviously from a landslide, and it was clear there was no guarantee that more rocks would not come down and crash into it. We all commented on how our own instincts probably would not find that a very comforting place to live!

We also stopped by a shop that sold bread baked inside hot springs, the heat from the hot springs bakes the bread. This place also had a large greenhouse attached to it with huge tropical trees and plants. Oddur commented on how in winter, there is something warming about driving by this area (where there are a number of greenhouses) and seeing the glow of grow lights that keep this vegetation and much of the island's local vegetables growing when the lack of sunlight and cold weather make it impossible to grow food and other plants outdoors.

We were so thankful that Oddur and Baldvin took us to see these Icelandic wonders on what was not our own but also Oddur's only free day. We will always remember these things and yet another wonder of nature we saw our last night in Iceland. That will be a separate post!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Iceland Trip: More on the Orchestra Experience!

As I said in my Iceland Trip: Arrival and Orchestra Playing post, playing in the orchestra was really interesting and enjoyable. Here's more on the orchestra experience!

The Iceland Symphony Orchestra has a lot of members from Iceland in it but also has members from the US and other countries. I could hear a mixture of different trainings which, to my ear, made for a very colorful and exciting effect.

Oddur Bjornsson did a wonderful job playing euphonium on "Don Quixote." I played second trombone to Siggi Thorbergsson, who did a beautiful job on first trombone in the Strauss. The bass trombonist, David Bobroff, played very strong throughout the whole concert, as did the tubist, Tim Buzbeee. This is not meant to be a review, just my appreciation of everyone's musicianship!

I played principal on the "Othello" overture and Oddur played second to me, which was a lot of fun personally and musically. The whole orchestra did a very fine job and the principal cellist did a superb job in "Don Quixote." I heard she attended school in Boston at the New England Conservatory. Her name is Helga Thorarinsdottir lagfiola. As it turned out, I had many different people come up to me who said they went to school in Boston, either at NEC or Boston University.

There is a new concert hall being built in Reykjavik which the musicians are really looking forward to, not only for their own performances but also because of all the other international orchestras and artists who will be coming to perform there. We saw the construction site and it looks like it will be quite a structure!

Bravo to all the members of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra on a wonderful performance and for their hospitality.

Iceland Trip: Master Classes

While in Iceland, we gave two master classes. One was for members of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra; the other was for elementary students, and in Iceland that means ages 9-16!

The master class for the orchestra members was titled " Keeping Your Music Making Alive in Professional Life." This took place in the members' lounge while sitting at coffee tables. A violinist who was present came up to us and said she wished the whole orchestra could have been there. In fact, the principal violist came up to me on the following day and said, "I am so sorry I missed your presentation. Have you written books or other literature?" Carol and I think the violinist is talking about it and spreading the word! Also, we heard that some of the brass players were trying out certain techniques that were mentioned, and getting some results.

Carol and I have always said that if there is one person who gets something important from our work, it is worth it. And we are very pleased there seemed to be several who did and were very appreciative of our efforts.

Photo from elementary master class: "What kind of scary?"

The elementary master class was fun! The students were very open to my 'experimentation' with them and there was lots of laughter in the midst of group exercises that everyone (students, teachers, parents and friends) participated in.
We covered some aspects of breathing, mouthpiece practice, rhythm, and the importance of personal discovery in private practice. The class was titled "Making Practice Time Fun and Productive." The audience and the students were very appreciative and inspired and we saw many of them at the trombone choir concert a couple of days later. That will be a whole other post!

It was a real joy working with the professionals and the students, because this kind of work breaks down all the superficial barriers and/or cultural differences that seem to keep us separated but which, in fact, melt away in the face of mutual respect and human warmth.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Iceland Trip: Arrival and Orchestra Playing

We are back from an exciting and rich trip to Iceland. The trip was very much a success in the sense that we covered so much ground in a short period of time.

It all started when we came off the plane and saw my former student and friend, Oddur Bjornsson, principal trombonist of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. His warm smile and caring nature made us feel at home right away.

From the moment we left the airport on our way to the city of Reykjavik, we were immersed in Iceland's amazing landscape, so different to what Carol and I are used to! We'll be posting pictures that Carol took soon to give you a flavor of some of the natural sights we experienced.

Playing with the orchestra was a lot of fun. In some very basic ways, symphony orchestras are the same all over the world. People warming up, harps tuning, musicians coming in and out getting ready for the start of a rehearsal. Except for the different surroundings, it felt just like any other day at the orchestra!

We played Dvorak's "Othello" overture and Strauss' "Don Quixote." It's so interesting to hear how different orchestras play, as well as hearing what is pretty similar regardless of approach. For example, blending, listening, tuning, paying attention to the conductor, all took place in Iceland, as in Boston, Minnesota or anywhere else. I know that sounds obvious, but it sheds light on our similarities rather than our differences and that can be very leveling and grounding.

The trombone section in the Iceland Symphony is Oddur Bjornsson, who also played euphonium on the Strauss, Sigurdur "Siggi" Thorbergsson, David Bobroff on bass, and Tim Buzbee on tuba. [For more about the section and this concert, read my Iceland Trip: More on the Orchestra Experience! post.]

I really appreciated how welcome they made me feel and I really enjoyed playing with them. It was an honor, in fact, to be a part of another orchestra in a country other than my own.

It shows that wherever you go, there you are.... and there they are, others like oneself. All of us on this journey called "life." It is very warming, and humbling.