Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Green Garden


One of the more nerve-wracking (and ultimately rewarding) parts of doing the tour is that, instead of being put up in hotels or hostels across the country, the students and staff members are housed with host families for the duration of each stay.  As such, we are given a much better idea of how German families live with a first hand experience. Plus the food is MUCH better and we get to have a fantastic sampling of the regional specialties.

Having a great host family adds so much to the over all experience, and I must say that I was a bit spoiled during the initial stop in Landau.  I was housed with the tenor soloist, Zach, and we only have glowing things to say about the Kellers… quite frankly, all those other families have a lot to live up to!


Dr. Peter and Sybille Keller in front of their beautiful flowers


During our stay they were having solar panels installed on their roof, something that is quite common over here.  Though I missed the opportunity to snap some pictures during the process, you can see the end results.

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Just doing a little house tanning


The evenings were spent drinking schorle— the German equivalent to a white wine spritzer, suited best for hot, summer days as a refresher instead of merely drinking straight wine—on one of their many outdoor patios, looking out over their gardens and listening to one of the local classical music stations (see also: heaven).  One night as we were talking we saw the international space station pass by (see again: heaven).

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The smaller building to the left houses the indoor pool!


I also had quite a view from my upstairs room.  For a couple of hours a day their automated lawnmower (think Roomba but with an appetite for grass instead of dust bunnies) would come out and roam the backyard.

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Phi-Phi chowing down on some clippings


But that’s no all!  If the serene beauty of their backyard and gardens don’t do it for ya, just take a seat by the coy pond and chill out.

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I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention another fantastic member of the host family, Martha, who has been with the Kellers for many many years.  She can cook a mean meal, which is evident in the white asparagus crepes and herbed hollandaise sauce we were fortunate enough to have for lunch one day.

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Martha, Sybille and the boys / I most definitely had seconds


On our final evening we took a drive up through the hills and vineyards to a restaurant overlooking the wine country, where we dined on a smorgasbord of regional specialties.  I can’t quite recall the names of the dishes, but I can recall how deliiiicious they were.

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Meat and wine!!!


Needless to say, I was a tad despondent to leave such a fantastic homestay with the Kellers.  They are the epitome of charming and gracious hosts, but such is the life of a touring Blue Laker.

Artist: Laura Mvula / Album: Sing to the Moon

Tuesday, June 25, 2013



When staying in Landau in 2010 I had the great pleasure of making friends with our host daughter, Lena, who was even kind enough to drive to Eberbach to see a performance of the Brahms’ Deutsches Requiem in the 2011 tour.  Though she doesn’t live in Landau any more, she was still close enough to come pick me up after a rehearsal and take me around for an afternoon.  I consider myself fortunate to get to see her once a year, which is more than I can even say for friends I have back in the States (and hell, even back in Houston sometimes).

We only had a couple of hours, so we drove to nearby Karlsruhe to take a quick walk by the local castle. I could lie and tell you all kinds of history about the architecture, former residents, cultural importance, etc., but to be honest we really just walked passed it and took in the view.

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It was a particularly hot day, so Lena decided we would meet up with one of her friends to chat and have some ice cream (or ice as they prefer to call it here).  Whatever you call it, they definitely do it up right!

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It’s popular here to have the ice extruded in a certain way that resembles spaghetti, as is seen on the right. Don’t know why, but I’m not complaining


Short but sweet, my visits with Lena are always just lovely.  Until next year?!

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Deutche besties!


Artist: Ute Lemper / Album: But One Day…

What’s New at the Zoo


During the aforementioned organized meeting with the mayor of Landau, Zach and I decided to forgo local politics and take a quick visit to the zoo nearby our host family’s house.

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Sorry guys… didn’t have time to translate


Relative to the size of, say, the Houston zoo, this was quite a small collection, but I’ll always take the opportunity to take a gander at (mostly) exotic animals.  Plus, it was a perfect excuse to test myself on all of the German animals of which I have been singing in Die Schöpfung.

Apparently it was feeding time when we first arrived, and we caught the penguins being tossed some sardines. The leopards, however, managed to have a field day with a not so lucky pigeon not quick enough to fly away.  Even the tiny fox was chowing down on a little baby chicken (which, by the way, has been our nickname for the campers since back in 2010, so I wasn’t quite sure how to feel about this.)

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Lovin’ them some sashimi


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Givin’ me some sass.  (The baby chicken is behind and to the right)


One of the more surprising animals to be found at the zoo was a group of guinea pigs, as I can’t say that I’ve ever seen them at one in the states before.  When talking to our host father he said that often when families who have them as pets get tired of them they will donate them to the zoo to be used as food. (Shhhh… Don’t tell my mother this!)

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Meerschweindschen! Though, why they are called “sea pigs”, I’ll never know.


And speaking of upsetting parents, nothing gets an Aggie more upset than the sight of some big ol’ horns:

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Saw ‘em off!


One of the "interactive” sections of the zoo was a sanctuary you could walk into and see the birds up close. The following bird was labeled as a “Mexican fowl” if I remember correctly:

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Though adorable, I’m not sure these ginger monkeys would be a big hit across the pond in merry old England.

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Look at me!! … Mmmmk, thnx


Don’t think I didn’t get away without making an excuse to take a ridiculous picture of myself.  There were numerous metal statues of animals littered about the property, the largest of which was a bison and it’s baby.  Mind you, our first day in Landau was the hottest one they had in several weeks, so needless to say I only stayed on for the absolute minimum time needed to catch the photo.

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Yee haw or ouchee?


Zach was even going to attempt it but, after touching the metal and nearly burning himself, decided to be the smarter of the two and abstain.  His inner thighs most definitely thanked him.  He did, however, find a smaller, shadier Simba to pose with.

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Stop stealing my pose!!


And though it wasn’t in Eberbach, I couldn’t HELP but add one more Eber to my collection! This one’s for you, Sabrina!



Annnnnd finally, in the small gift shop they had some stuffed animals with oddly large eyes.  Perhaps I’ve been watching a little too much New Girl, but these things are giving some serious Zooey Deschanel realness, right?!

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Who’s that giraffe… IT’S JESS!


Artists: Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green / Album: Do Re Mi

Thursday, June 20, 2013

His Latest Flame


The first city on our tour is Landau, which was actually the first German stop that I visited back in 2010.  We arrived rather late in the evening to meet our host families but luckily had the entire next day without any rehearsals to A. recover from two full days of continuous travel and B. take in the local sights.  I was mostly just excited to stretch my legs after sitting for so long, and it was nice to be back in such familiar territory.

One of the places that I had not been shown previously was the former residence of Anne Frank’s great-grandfather, which, if I understand correctly, is one of the greater remnants of a formerly large Jewish population in the aria.  I’m not exactly sure which of these rooms was his, so we’re just going to say that he’s up there in apartment 3F.

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While the orchestra and choir had a tour organized to the town hall and meeting with the mayor during the afternoon, Zach and I opted out, seeing as how we were old hats at the local government from before.  Just for fun, though, here’s me acting a fool in the city council room in 2010.


Signing a declaration of war… that’s what they do here, right?


While all of our Haydn performances are taking place in cities across Germany, the individual choir concert was lucky enough to be able to hop the border to France for their first program.  This seemed like as good an excuse as any to take a quick, thirty minute drive into Alsace to enjoy a dinner of Flammkuchen (or tarte flambee depending on your language preference) and sample a myriad of white wines famous from the region.  My first experience of this delectable specialty was also back in 2010 when we toured in Obernai, so needless to say I was excited to chow down and drink up.

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This was our first of three.  And by that I mean both Flammkuchen and glasses of wine, of course


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A pretty good representation of all of the liquids I imbibed over the course of dinner, minus a glass or two of white wine for redundancy. (Pinot noir, pear schnapps, gewürztraminer, espresso and water [gotta keep hydrated!])


After the dinner we headed to a local church for the choir program, which was done in conjunction with a girls choir from the region.  On the way we passed by the town’s old salt depository, the roof of which had some funky window lines going on.

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Look at that wry little smile


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Get it, baby chickens!


Afterwards we were greeted by a still bright sky with the moon in the background.  Not a bad way to end a great evening of food, music and wine!

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Artist: Elivs Presley / Album: From Nashville to Memphis

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Travellers 1, 2, 3


One of the least charming aspects of doing the European tour is actually getting to Europe itself.  A four hour bus ride takes us from the campground to the Detroit airport, where we wait four and a half hours for the plane to leave, which then takes another eight or nine hours to fly into Paris.  THEN we are picked up by our tour bus for an immediate seven and a half hour journey into Germany to our first stop.  Needless to say, it’s a tedious amount of travel after such an exhausting week.


A bit of bus boredom selfie-ness with the maestro hanging out in the background

In years past, the soloists have traveled with the choir and flown out of Chicago; however, this year we were cordoned off with the orchestra group and got to fly out of Detroit … an airport with which I am much for familiar (and quite frankly prefer much more over the Windy City’s).

Arrivals at any stop can be a bit calamitous, especially ones which require an organized yet hasty unloading of three buses of campers, instruments and luggage.  You’ve never received such looks of disdain as when traveling with 80+ high schoolers.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I share in their eye-rollituted, but there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it.


Mid luggage unloading.  This is about a third of the total in case you need a bit of scale, not to mention the myriad of instruments


Historically, Blue Lake has used Air France as their preferred travel provider, and this year was no different.  I must say, though, that the folks at DTW have definitely got a leg up on their ORD counterparts.  I mean… FRESH FLOWERS for goodness’ sake! 


Let’s just pretend those yellow roses were specifically placed there for this dear Texan, shall we?


Having gone to the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor, the Detroit airport was my go-to departure point whenever flying anywhere of import, and I must say it was a pleasure to once again spend a bit of time in the psychedelically enhanced walkway between terminals.  Even DTW’s light tunnel has a leg up on ORD’s!


Colors, man… just look at those colors


The schedule being what it is, one tends to have to grab any amount of sleep whenever possible.  We hadn’t even taken off before Sabrina managed to knock back a couple of z’s on the plane.

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Super classy as always, Air France (and later the orchestra bus in Europe) were kind enough to provide the soloists with our own cough drop holders.  That’s what’s happening here, right?

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Cough drops aren’t the only thing that can be mentholated


With the exception of one of the bass instruments getting broken during transit, every leg of the trip went very smoothly for all involved, and we arrived into our first stop, Landau, right on time.  One never knows exactly what the internet situation will be at each host stay, but I’ll try to update as soon (and as much) as possible!


Artist: Meredith Monk / Album: Book of Days

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Representation of Chaos


Before leaving for the European leg of the tour, the choir, orchestra and soloists all meet at the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp property in secluded western Michigan for what is affectionately known as “intensive week” for days upon days of rehearsals and meetings.  The natural, open setting seems even more appropriate this year as we are performing a piece directly centered around the creation of, well, nature itself. 

In the Biblical telling, God begins with molding heaven and earth and ends with humanity’s creation in the forms of Adam and Eve.  With all this maker-ism on the mind it wasn’t hard to start seeing things around camp through a similar lens.

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A performers eye view from the stage of the Stewart performance shell during our 8am dress rehearsal


“And God said: Let there be Light, and there was Light. And God saw the Light, that it was good; and God divided the Light from the darkness.” (The Creation, movement 1a.)


A shadowy self-portrait on the steps outside of Merrick hall


“Outrageous storms now dreadful arose… By heaven’s fire the sky is enflamed, and awful rolled the thunders on high.” (The Creation, movement 2a.)

The night before leaving for Europe we had a mighty storm pass through western Michigan, as is evident by the lightning struck tree.  Mind you, this is in the middle of faculty village, where multiple cabins are located.


Donner und Blitzen, indeed!


And God said: Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together under one place … and it was so.” (movement 3a.)

Admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch, but I couldn’t quite figure out the most organic way to work this picture into the post.


I’m pretty sure this is more acurately known as the creation of diphtheria


“And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creatures after his kind … Unnumber’d as the sands in whirl arose the hosts of insects.” (movement 9a.)

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Meet Theodore and Howard!  The former, Sabrina and I found while on a walk one morning and the latter landed on her leg during our dress rehearsal, hanging out for a good twenty minutes to enjoy the free concert

Unfortunately we did have one entomological incident during a rehearsal.  On the page directly after my singing of the “hosts of insects” I looked over and saw this poor little guy.

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He’d be hard pressed to find a more appropriate page in the score.  HARD PRESSED, I SAID!!! *groan*


"And God created man in his own image. In the image of God created he him. Male and female created he them. He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul.” (movement 10a.)

So speeeaaaaking of the ‘breath of life’… I was wandering through one of the buildings one day and came across this myriad of lifeless bodies staring up at me.  They had been stashed in a side room in preparation for the regular summer camp’s health staff arrival but were quite disconcerting nonetheless.

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I’m pretty sure that if they aren’t already, a group of CPR dummies should be known as a “chorus” … or maybe I just have a bit too much music on the brain


“And God saw ev’ry thing that he had made; and behold it was very good. And the heavenly choir in song divine thus closed the sixth day.” (movement 11a.)

Throughout the whole of my Blue Lake experiences I have had the great pleasure of becoming dear friends with Sabrina, Leah and Zach.  Without hyperbole I can say they are a large part of my continued return to this gem of western Michigan, and any tour without their involvement would be intensely diminished as far as I’m concerned.  Before leaving for the airport, it is customary for the parents and family members of the campers to see their children off, and I’m so glad that Leah and Sandy, one of the other international staff members, were there to act as our send-off squad!

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And behold it was very good!


Artist: Joseph Haydn / Album: Die Schӧpfung (The Creation)