So, we’re at the end of the road… the month of October definitely flew by. I feel like when you do any kind of traveling it puts you in some sort of time warp, as if you’re living an alternate life for a while. So I have to leave my German alter ego behind, for now…
After the film scoring session in Munich, we checked in to a bed and breakfast-type place in the heart of the city, and I spent the night wandering aimlessly, getting lost, finding my way, and then wandering aimlessly again… Munich is a really beautiful city, and like a lot of European cities, you see the stark contrast between the old and the new in ways that you just don’t see in the US, for example the Town Hall (Neues Rathaus), which after reading about it, is apparently not that old (having been completed in 1908, according to Wikipedia at least, but could it be a lie!?), but was built to be a throwback architecturally to the Gothic times, and the bottom level of it you see small restaurants and storefronts…if you didn’t look above the first level, you wouldn’t think twice as it looks like any typical city street.
We spent the next three days at the Musikhochschule in Munich, working with 6 or 7 students who had written pieces for string quartet, talking to them about writing for strings, what worked, what didn’t, how certain things could be written more clearly, etc… the first session with the students to our surprise was open to the public and there were probably around 50 people that came in when we opened the doors to the chamber music hall we were doing the workshops, and I’ve definitely been in less awkward situations when sightreading really difficult music…a good exercise in humility : ) On the 2nd of the 3 days we had an open improvisation for strings session, to which only a few students came, but we had a good time and got a few classical kids out of their comfort zones and showed them that they already had a lot of interesting ideas, which I find with most people when they are first trying to improvise, the hardest part is just getting past the self-conscious thoughts….letting….go of….that….cursed……..EGO…..*echoing screams of terror in the background*
At the end of the third day of the workshop we gave a concert in which we played all of the student pieces, which went mostly well except for a couple of minor catastrophies (which we worked through with terror in our hearts and smiles on our faces), and then some of our own program. All in all a great time, and some great music written by the students…post-concert, Chern-Hwei and I went to our supposed “Green Room” to get our music and instead found a 20 piece funk band playing full volume and scowling at us as we entered the room and tried to signal in our very, very, i repeat VERY broken German that we had left some things…VERY AWKWARD…I gave the thumbs up as we were leaving the room, which I think might have caused them all to resent me even more.
Not ones to wallow in our social failures, we ventured on to a Greek restaurant where the jazz students have an open jam once a month. Ate some delicious fish, drank some delicious beer and then I felt like a winner again. Chern-Hwei must have been feeling a similar transformation because we stayed way past closing time (fortunately the owner is a stellar guy, and let the jam continue until a neighbor threatened to call the police). We also ran into a really killing American pianist named Kirk Lightsey, who spent his years playing with guys like Freddie Hubbard and Chet Baker among many others, who now lives in Paris, but had a gig in town earlier that evening…he sat in on the jam and tore it up, and then he, Chern-Hwei and myself split a cab back to our respective hotels while he told us some hilarious stories that all really seasoned musicians seem to have in spades…but alas, i’m not a novelist so I’ll leave that for another time.
Had a concert in Ravensburg the next day (world famous for games and puzzles…check your closet and I bet you’ll find the name), and at the sound check I had the not so pleasant realization that I left a lot of my music in Munich in the room with the scowling 20 piece funk band in my attempt to get in and out of the room as quickly as possible…well done, Jeremy, really well done. Fortunately the only piece I was missing for that night was one that was able to be printed out relatively hassle-free (thanks flash drive). Ravensburg is a really amazing town that would have been worth a few days worth of incessant picture taking, but we were in and out pretty quickly, and on to our last stop of the tour, which was also the first stop, the Landesakedemie in Ochsenhausen, a small town in the South, about half way between Munich and Freiburg.
We spent the next 5 days doing a workshop with a small group of 10 students, the youngest two being 11 or 12 (and incredibly fierce tisch tennis (ping pong) players, as I would find out in the coming days, not to mention, really talented violinists), a couple of high school students, a couple of college/conservatory/hochschule students, and several adults, including a music teacher, a mechanical engineer, and a doctor among others.
We spent each day giving private or small group lessons as well as doing some larger group classes talking about everything from blues and bebop scales to chopping to swung 8th notes to chord voicings to off beat slur patterns to i could go on and on until you don’t want to read this anymore. It was great to have several days to work with the same students, as most of the workshops that we did focusing on playing (not composing) were only a day long.
The 5 day workshop culminated in an evening concert that had the whole group doing a conduction (for more info check out this link), led by the oh so refined and sophisticated sinister musical mind of Fung Chern-Hwei, which had the group doing everything from chaotic noise making to playing Billie’s Bounce, and everything in between. Doing something like this on a concert in front of an audience who is not expecting it is definitely a risk, but the crowd ended up really loving it and asking for a conduction encore (which was condensed to a modest 10 minutes from the original 30). On a personal note, I was psyched to have my string quartet piece Paths Become Lines premiered on the same concert and once again relieved that yes, real stringed instruments sound much better than MIDI-playback…also, we got to play Gregor’s quintet one last time with his brother Veit, a swell guy if ever there was one.
I was sad to part ways with our group from the workshop, as it was a really great few days, but the voice of reality was beckoning and so the students scattered back to the various towns from which they came, and the quartet had our last meal together along with Veit, before packing the car that night in anticipation of our 3:30 am departure for the Munich airport… after a completely revitalizing 2 hours of sleep, we all felt like new men as evidenced by the our zombie-like expressionless faces, and we headed back toward Munich. Gregor stayed in Germany as he had some other concerts to play with his band Tango Five, Chern Hwei was off to Malaysia where he is now enjoying ridiculously nice weather, stuffing his face with Durian, and speaking Manglish joyously. Ron and I flew back to the US and after landing in Newark and driving to Ron’s house, I picked up my car and continued the journey for another 4 hours back to Boston with the help of some really terrible coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts (there’s a reason they load the stuff up with sugar, so don’t ask them to leave it out, it’s not worth the agony).
All in all it was a really excellent month of playing, teaching, and failing repeatedly to speak German, and it seems plans are in the works to do it again in the next couple of years…so BEWARE!!!!!! A big thank you to all of the promoters and host families for taking excellent care of us, and to all the students for being so receptive and open, looking forward to the next time!!!