I've now returned home after a two week trip to Spain. The first week of the trip was spent in Salceda de Caselas, Galicia, where I was teaching at Curso Internacional Semana Musical (CISM). This five day intensive course attracted brass players from all across Spain of all different ages. I had 14 students ranging in age from 12 to 35. The other featured instruments were tuba, trumpet and clarinet.

Each day consisted of six hours of masterclasses for each respective instrument, followed by faculty recitals in the evenings. This was quite an intense schedule! Usually teachers will give a masterclass for 1 1/2 or 2 hours, but six hours a day for five days in a row? That was a little different. It was quite a lot of work, but at the end of the day I think it was worth it. Every student at the course had the opportunity to play two or three times, usually receiving 30-45 minutes of attention each time. I'm sure that by the end of the week, they all had a pretty clear idea of what it is that makes me tick and how I think they can improve, and I suppose that is the whole point.

Overall, I was very impressed by the level of brass playing by the students. Everyone exhibited a high degree of musical intuition and a desire to improve. A handful of players already play at the professional level in Spain. I was previously unaware of the band culture in Spain, but a couple of nights out on the town in Salceda (the village only has about 3000 people) made it clear how much the people appreciate the music. My same students who had been in class from 10A-6P were blasting away in the park well after 2AM, and they sounded great.

Following the course, I had the opportunity to be a real tourist and visit Barcelona and Madrid, seeing the great architectural accomplishments of Gaudi, flamenco shows, the Prado museum and Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia museum. It was a really fantastic vacation. I indulged in the usual tourist traps that attract foreigners. Looking back on this, I am really grateful for the time that I spent in spent in Salceda, where I got to see how small town Spanish people live. Even though most of our time was spent working very hard to improve musical standards, there was enough time left over to get to know the people and excellent food of Salceda a little bit and take part in their way of life. To me, this was the most memorable part of the experience.

Each night following the recitals (which began well after 10PM and often ended close to midnight), we would go out for food and drinks and socialize with the students, other faculty, and townspeople, including the mayor, who was very supportive and sat near the front row of every performance. I'm now a huge fan of pimientos de padron and whatever it is they do to their pappas fritas that make them taste like they came directly from heaven. It was interesting for me to see 10 year olds in the square kicking around a soccer ball at 1AM on a Tuesday night, completely unsupervised. There were elementary aged children enjoying ice cream at the bar at 2AM on a Wednesday, right next to people who were throwing back their 5th beer of the night. There isn't a hint of concern for their safety. Everything will be fine. There are no police to be found. Their job is probably similar to that of the Maytag repair man. They are probably asleep at the station, in a food coma from eating too many churros, but who cares? Nothing is going to happen. How many places in the world can you see something like this? It got me thinking about the stark contrast between Salceda and the townships of Cape Town, where I heard the story of a girl who practiced the flute constantly, not only because she loved to play, but because she didn't want to leave the confines of her home for fear of being raped. What a difference ten hours on a plane could make for her.

The after recital activities following the recital given by Pasi Pirinen (Principal Trumpet, Helsinki Philharmonic) and I, were really something else. I think every person in Salceda can play the bagpipes. After a long series of traditional Galician drinking songs, which assured everyone was well inebriated (except for me, still a teetotaler), people began dancing and singing and, of course, passing the bagpipes. First, Franc played the bagpipes while a small group danced. People applauded and then he passed them on to someone else. At this point, I'm thinking, "That's cool! These two people both know how to play!". Before long the bagpipes had circled what seemed like nearly half of the room, and EVERYBODY knew how to play. Pretty neat tradition they have there! Next came the quemada, a traditional alcoholic drink that seems to be more about festivities surrounding its preparation than the drink itself. An enormous pot is filled with alcohol and sugar, and then slowly burned creating a visual spectacle of flames, kind of like a long lasting Spanish flambé. They turn off the lights to increase the visual aspect and ancient spells are read to ward off the evil spirits. If I hadn't been wearing a button down shirt and suit pants, I would have sworn we were in medieval times. Much more fun ensued. Let's just say that by leaving at 5AM, I was able to retain my usual status as the responsible one, because I was the first to leave. For those people who told me that the tradition of the Spanish people staying out until the wee hours of the night is no more, you're wrong. If you're not, I can't imagine what they used to do!

I had a great time in Salceda. The people were wonderful, the students were great, and the recitals were excellent. I made many friends that I hope will stay in touch for years to come. I am thankful to the people of this village for treating me so well and making me feel incredibly welcome in their home town.

It has truly been an awesome summer of traveling, learning, teaching and music making. My body hates me for traveling NYC - Nagoya - Tokyo - Kyoto- Tokyo - NYC - Cape Town/Stellenbosch - Nelspruit - Johannesburg - NYC - Salceda - Barcelona - Madrid - Dallas - San Antonio -NYC all over a span of nine weeks, but I wouldn't trade in the experience for anything. They say that you should explore and have fun when you're young, and I'm trying my best to do that while a have a little bit of youth left. I could write a million blogs about this summer, the great people, cities, cultures, food, sight-seeing, concerts, classes, activities, etc. I played video games in Shinjuku, petted a cheetah in South Africa, visited the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, taught lessons and played recitals all over the world, and of course, had good ole Tex-Mex food all in the same

A closing thought... People are always talking about how classical music is dying. I'm not so sure about that. Sure, Brahms and Beethoven don't get as much play as Britney and Bieber, but that doesn't mean it's disappearing. Our music will ALWAYS be alive. It's simply too good and too meaningful not to be. In a world where people are always searching for the latest and greatest, I'm proud to report that there are still people, young people too, who understand that just because something is old doesn't mean it's not good. That's precisely why it is called classical music. It is classic. Look up the definitions of classic.... 1. of the first or highest quality, class, or rank: a classic piece of work. 2. serving as a standard, model, or guide 5. of or adhering to an established set of artistic or scientific standards or methods: a classic example of mid Victorian architecture. 6. basic; fundamental 7. of enduring interest, quality, or style: a classic design; classic clothes... My favorites are the first and the last mentioned here... "of the FIRST or HIGHEST QUALITY, CLASS, and rank" and "of ENDURING INTEREST, QUALITY, or STYLE".

This summer, I met people young and old, from every corner of the earth, who love this music and are scratching and clawing to learn more about it everyday. They care about learning and preserving the craft. Even as far as Nigeria, where there are no real professional orchestras or significant funding for music education, there is a fire burning for the craft. These people will carry the torch long after I am gone and they will pass it to someone who will then carry it to the following generation. Maybe it costs $50k a year to attend a first rate conservatory in the US, maybe the government is cutting funding for the arts, and perhaps the board of your local orchestra has decided it no longer wants to treat its musicians like the first rate specialists they really are, but it won't be enough to completely stamp out people's desires to hear music that engages the intellect, speaks to the heart and elevates the spirit. At the end of the day, people need more than food, water, shelter, a monotonous job and Monday Night Football to live a life that is full. A large enough percentage of them will find their way to a concert hall or opera house in search of something with greater substance that will add depth and richness to their lives. Others will go to an art museum, a Broadway show or a local play house. Some will come on their own, some more will come if we have appropriately reached out to them. We need these people, but they need us too. Relax, we aren't going anywhere any time soon. Cheers!

PS - I'm not cutting down Monday Night Football. I LOVE football and especially the Philadelphia Eagles. If anyone knows where I can get a good deal on Super Bowl tickets, please let me know ASAP. I'm pretty sure the Eagles will be there this year. Even from abroad I was getting pumped up about the signings of Nnamdi Asomugha, Cromartie, Vince Young, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith. Did I mention we already have Michael Vick? OMG! :-)

Also, if you interested in seeing the quemada, look here. For a recipe for pimientos de padron, click here.

1 comment

  • Tanisha
    Hi, I'm the music librarian intern currently cataloguing in the Met library. Your comments are very interesting! I was embarrassed to ask you your name the other I asked another colleague. This is my first time seeing your site and I think it's neat! Happy playing!

    Hi, I'm the music librarian intern currently cataloguing in the Met library. Your comments are very interesting! I was embarrassed to ask you your name the other I asked another colleague. This is my first time seeing your site and I think it's neat! Happy playing!

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