Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lessons of the Institut

Something to note is that when I have time, I plan to add more pictures to the preceding posts as well as refine thing a bit and correct errors, so readers might do well to check back at some point.

One principal lesson of the Institut is simply learning the nature of what it is they are teaching. I’ve been reading Keetman’s Elementaria concurrently with the course. The principles from this book are in essence what they are keeping alive in Salzburg. The teaching contains the elements of the Elementaria while structuring them into model lessons that would be inviting to children. I am really glad I decided to thoroughly review this book while taking the class. Everything made more sense.

The Elementaria has a great emphasis on movement – greater I think than any of the other Orff media. The core of the book concerns movement; the book points itself towards the movement content. There is a compendium of movement activities in the abstract that are organized in a useful, sequential manner plus an appendix of possible movement activities for beginners. When I look these chapters over, they are too abstract to use directly with children. The activities need to be brought to life with imagination and flair, and this is what was modeled for me at the Institut.

Secondly, I am very glad to have finished my levels with a couple of different approaches, and to have taken some advanced courses before attending the International Summer Course. I would not have wanted to have the course be my first acquaintance with the Schulwerk without a solid background in process and curriculum. As an American, I think could have easily become confused.

Why? Because the Schulwerk as Orff and Keetman first envisioned it assumed the exposure of children to a body of rhymes, folk songs and games common to that culture. The Murray and Hall/Walter volumes bring this same assumption to the English adaptation. In America, I believe, we have lost contact with our traditions and can no longer assume children carry this sort of background to the classroom. As Whoopi Goldberg’s nun discovered in “Sister Act 2”, not every child knows “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

This means we have to teach the tradition simultaneously with the curriculum to make the Schulwerk work for us. And we are already crunched for time. So process and curriculum – efficiency - are essential to achieving our goals as American educators. I found myself a little jealous of people from other cultures, still in touch with their own folk traditions, for it seemed they could take advantage of the lessons of the Institut with less prior exposure to the Schulwerk. With less need to reestablish their traditions, they can get down to the business of learning and teaching with greater ease.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Last Day

I stayed up until almost 1:00 working on the last post. I set the alarm for 8:00 AM figuring that would give me seven hours sleep. Imagine my surprise when I bounded out of bed at 6:40 rested and ready to go. I packed a good deal of my stuff and went off to class.

Today was the double session with Wolfgang Hartmann. I have been warming to him the same as I have been warming to Verena - the night Verena was teaching a dance he was misbehaving a little bit. I t made me wonder what the dynamics between these Orff Institut folks might be.

The trick with these European instructors is to turn your American levels filters off and approach their teaching with an open mind. Wolfgang seems to be the philosopher of the core group of teachers. He said to us that instead of teaching students to imitate musicians, we as Orff teachers should strive to bring out their innate musicianship.
This resonated with me when I thought of my years as a private instructor and band teacher. Sometimes I would even go so far as to say “If you do what musicians do nobody will be able to tell the difference.” Ugh! On the other hand the context was my trying to get ten and twelve year olds to sit up, breathe correctly, use good technique, etc., all things that good musicians do anyway, so I’m not going to beat myself up too badly.

Another point he made, related to the first, is that music, especially in the Orff classroom, is a social, collective enterprise. This also resonated with me because of the isolation with which I often work in Vermont. In many respects my leaving the state frequently for training, for example in Kentucky as well as Salzburg, is an attempt to relieve this isolation. I think one reason I am drawn to the Schulwerk is in reaction to the isolation and stress of hours of individual practice on my flute. I prefer to introduce all children to a joyous experience in which they are the creators than to introduce a small minority to to the intensity of the private studio and band/orchestra. Those people can find their way without me!

I was bad and went to lunch with some folks, found something inexpensive. I just didn’t want to sit around eating weird supermarket food when I could be connecting people from all over the world.

After lunch, Gerhard Reiter reviewed the material we had learned over the week. This world drumming thing is new to me, and I hid among the frame drums rather than take on the individual roles with the clave, etc. As a finale we built up a large polymetric drum pattern. We pulled it off just in the nick of time – Gerhard was clearly feeling time pressure to have a grand finale for closure on our 7 ½ hours of work together.

Next Soili delivered one of her elegant lessons. The highlight of the session was when she had us close our eyes, put our hands behind our back, and gave us “a present from the Orff Institut.” It was a balloon. She led us through a sequence of playing with balloons, tapping and tossing them about with sticks and culminated in tapping the balloons to the ostinati in Bolero. I was hard at play, and truly felt like a little kid again. I think it is an important lesson for adults, especially us craggy veteran teachers, to experience again the freshness and intensity of play. If we can’t play ourselves, how can we expect to lead our students to active learning through play?

Next came the second International Night. We listened to song and watched, or participated in dance from eleven more countries. Chris, the Englishman from York who I met the first day, taught us a hilarious penguin song and dance which he is going to email to all of the participants because he was inundated with requests for it. It would be a marvelous complement to the book Mr. Popper’s Penguins.

We saw graceful songs and dances from China, a jump rope song similar to “Teddy Bear” from Korea (there’s one from Finland to; I bet the idea is universal), a wonderful quartet of high school students from Belgium who taught us a wonderful dance in which one progresses around the circle to new partners in clever ways, and a Russian trio, excellent performers, who took several participants on stage and danced with them a marvelously complicated dance with many patterns I recognized from previous folk dance training, including that with Brian Burnett in level 3 and Sarah Richardson in drama. There were others too numerous to mention.

Friday, July 11, 2008

International Night

We had our three hour class (last one) with Andrea Ostertag today. Brian Burnett predicted they'd have me down on the floor a lot and boy was he right (plus leaping, turning, twisting, spinning, etc.) I think she exercised every muscle in our bodies. It was exhausting, but a very good experience. The good part is that she wore out every muscle about equally, so nothing really stands out as hurting.

We did a variety of trust exercises involving guiding a person through space using just hand or finger touch. I mean REALLY moving - fast, slow, high, low you name it. The morning concluded with us performing choreography of a painting. Creating a relationship between music and visual arts is something I find interesting and it was good to have such a concrete experience of it

I've often thought I would like to retake a level. The International Summer Course experience is like retaking level 2/3 movement and a little level 1 basic (no recorder whatsoever.) Soili today, in the course of one of her brilliant lessons, covered the basic accompaniment techniques of the barred instruments with great efficiency.

I was really impressed at the International Night concert with the skill and creativity that the various national groups applied to the use of the Orff instruments in their performances. The concert included many example of folk music and dance from around the world. Many of the groups gave us the opportunity to get up and dance with them. Even though I was pretty tired and hungry when I went, I am so glad I attended.

One note for those of you who might come: the brochure says bring wind and string instruments. I thought maybe there would be some chamber music opportunities or something so I packed my flute and four different recorders and dragged them over here. I didn't touch them once. In another post I will share more of the fruits of my hard won experience here in Salzburg.

Incidentally, this instrument is in the showcase at the Institut. It purports to be part of the Anklung Gamelan, but I saw no such instrument at Dr. Han's. It is entirely made of bamboo. I am very curious about it.

I had a late dinner with four delightful folks from Finland. As I suspected, they said it is tiring for ESL people to speak in English all day, but they were very gracious, and included me in their conversation. It wasw a lovely dinner.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Top of the World!

Here I am on top of the Untersberg, elevation 6469 ft. This is the biggest mountain I've been up. There are magnificent views of the Alps to the south, The Bavarian Alps as well as a panorama of the Austrian plain, including the city of Salzburg. I saw goats far up the mountain, as well as a delicate selection of alpine flowers and vegetation. This mountain dominates the city, less than ten miles from the center. It was something I definitely wanted to visit and it was well worth the trip.

Afterwards I got off the bus at Schloss Hellbrun, contemplated the water games, opted for town instead. I went to the Salzburg Museum, which was newly redone in 2007. It gives the history of the city. The displays are quite unusual in the way they integrate historic artifacts with modern materials and technology. The museum is not merely a collection, it tells a story. There is a floor devoted to famous Salzburg personalities. These included several musicians including Leopold Mozart and Heinrich Biber. There was a twelve tone composer whose name escapes me, whose work was based on a mathematical refinement of Hauer's tropes. I listened to to the music and was quite impressed - now I just have to remember the name....

We had an intense three hour session with Verena Maschat this morning. We worked on developing movement canons. These are quite difficult. The last choreographed piece we created was based on Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" This involve a choreographed head, a free movement improvisation during the sax solo and then, during the drum, solo a series of "jazz encounters when pairs of people performed brief dramatic duos they had created.

This course is really like retaking a level 1 or 2, with no instruments and an insistence on the equality of speech and especially movement in the Orff process. I had been thinking of retaking a level at some point and I seem to be doing it here in a most unusual way. I have warmed quite a bit to Verena, and found myself regretting that our work with her was over.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I Discover I'm Unbalanced (Could Anyone Guess?)

I saw a great concert tonight in the theatre at the Orff Institut. Gerhard Reiter, the percussion teacher I have in the afternoon brought his group Melange Afrique with a special guest artist Carl Potter. It was genuinely a World Music performance and these guys are virtuosic. It is amazing what they pull from drums. It is so appropriate for this course given the great emphasis on rhythm (the Orff approach grows from rhythm rather than pitch.) The performance covered African, Spanish, Middle Eastern and Oriental styles. It was a great complement to the class.

These days seem very long right now. I'm glad to be having tomorrow afternoon off. I think I'm going to definitely take the cable car up the Untersberg, that huge mountain outside of town.

I used the microwave here tonight with a 1,99 Euro frozen meal that was really quite palatable. The huffy cashier even smiled and said aufwiedersehen. I am less at war with the supermarket. I'm almost worried I've been here too long - I'm doing a lot of retyping because I'm capitalizing all my nouns.

I was introduced to a Turkish woman today who is a graduate student at the Orff Institut. We had an interesting chat about Orff Schulwerk. We were comparing notes on American and European approaches (she had Doug Goodkin as a teacher at one point) and I was able to ask her quite a bit about the Institut and life here during the year. My only regret is I didn't have time to find out about life and music teaching in Turkey.

Re: movement: I think I figured out some of my movement problems, especially around folk dance. In Andrea's class balance problems came to consciousness. I always thought the problem was footwork, but it is really balance. I'm fairly heavy with a high center of gravity. I get some momentum and its hard to get the weight shifted. My feet fall behind and it's all over. I notice the same problem using frame drums in Gerhard's class. It was difficult to perform some of the left hand taps and finger snaps because I was not feeing secure and balanced holding the drum. It's hard to be successful with any instrument if you feel you are going to drop it.

I'm beginning to suspect that many rhythm problems might be due to some form or other of balance problem. Probably throw posture in there for good measure. I guess you can't get to the answer if you don't know the question first.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nose to the Grindstone

I ate today - out at restaurants. I needed nourishment and I'm sick of that grocery store. Went to lunch with some Americans and Carrie from Ireland. Had a big plate of spaghetti. Billy wanted pepperoni on his pizza and had a real hard time figuring out what it is. They brought him one with toadstools, which he doesn't eat. Dinner with the Aussies. It seems like they have it the most together music ed wise of any of the countries I've had a chance to talk to folks about. But it sounds like their teacher's union sucks - not grieving really massive changes of working conditions. Hooray for the VT-NEA!

Today's classes were similar in content and approach to yesterday's. I did get to use some Orff instruments. At one point I checked out a small Studio 49 rotary timp and decided I like my rototoms better. The activity itself was rather crude, but people who had never laid hands on an Orff instrument before were encouraged to explore the full gamut of sound making possibilities. I heard some really interesting sounds as a result - things I never would have thought of, perhaps because I know a little too much about Orff to consider possibilities with fresh eyes and ears. One woman, I believe from Turkey, reversed her Studio 49 felt mallets and scraped the bars of of metalophone for a sort of metallic guiro sound.

I am going to try to keep this post short and to the point, partly because I am tired, but also because I starting to draw some important conclusions about the Summer International Course, as well as the Orff Institut and the basic style of doing things here.

This experience is a good one if you have you have your three levels and maybe more. You have to be well grounded in process (curriculum helps too) as well as a lot of nuts and bolts type stuff. They simply don't do that stuff in this course, so I don't believe it is effective for novices except as a rough introduction. On the other hand I am as I said yesterday finding good opportunities to push my musical skills and comfort level (especially movement) to a new place, enhancing my musicianship in elemental music in a manner complementary to my American training. It is also reinforcing my understanding of Orff philosophy by restating it in a fresh way.

You also need to approach the experience with an open mind because the teaching is not what you are used to from the levels. The teaching is looser, taking you places without giving you all of the steps you might need to have in order to learn the material. Soili Perkio's work strikes me as an exception to this statement. If you are quick to judge, it would be easy to miss the goodness of the experience.

In fact I have have met grumblers already. They characterized by high level of training in Orff or Kodaly. In fact one person has already left (Kodaly trained.) I worry that the looseness of the approach here might not make a good representation of the totality of the Schulwerk - it is the peculiar variety we are finding in this time and place.

I went back for a second dose of the optional evening folk dancing. I want to squeeze everything I can out of this experience, especially movement.

Monday, July 7, 2008

First Full Day of Workshops

Well I got up and headed to Mickey D’s again and came away wondering if one can buy a cup of plain black coffee in Austria. I ended up with this frothy milk and powdered chocolate on top. I even said “Kaffe schwarz” to no avail. A fellow participant from here in Salzburg assured me that it is quite common. I just haven’t found it yet.

Nonetheless, after getting a caffeine hit I headed to class. Verena Maschat started us off with a variety movement activities and improvisations growing out of the singing of canons. She taught the various ways movement for rounds and canons could be structured. We improvised movements and made up texts to existing music in our own languages.

Four language groups are represented in group B, my group: native English speakers, German language speakers, Greeks and Turks. Oddly, these groups were kept together presumably for the language comfort of the participants. I find it sort of a shame because I think mixing up people more would make for a more rewarding experience for all. I hope that as the week progresses interchange among all of the participants will be encouraged.

Verena is an excellent teacher. She has a slight but noticeable tendency to point out when things are wrong that is different from what I have known. It’s not a problem, it’s just different. I found myself wondering if it is cultural.

The second class for group B was with Andrea Ostertag. She taught us Bulgarian folk dances in mixed meters. She is ebullient and a bit oblivious to the problems that this sort of thing can have for those of us for whom the rhythms are not part of our cultural background. Interestingly the Turks and Greeks seemed to have a better time of it. The German and English groups danced with a heavy accent. If we danced the sequence 20 times I might have gotten everything right once.

It all reminded me a bit of a Phyllis Weikart workshop I took in Boston years ago. She found the group for the most part to be pretty good and she started to do really hard stuff. I learned then and there what it must be like for kids in my classes when things move too fast, when the educational experience is outside of Vygotsky’s proximal zone. But having gone through that, the class with Andrea seemed comparatively like a cinch. I guess it is just experience and as they say “experience is what you get when you don’t get what you really want.” And lord knows I need all of the movement experience I can get in order to expand my comfort zone!

It was notable to observe the friction that mention of the word Macedonia caused for the Greek contingent in the discussion of influences on Bulgarian dance. A Turkish woman was a little put out by the mention of a certain mountain chain as being along the Greece-Bulgaria border. Evidently it extends into European Turkey as well. It is so interesting to see these issues that you only read about in the United States being played out up close and personal.

The afternoon classes were electives and group B split up. First I attended a workshop with Gerhard Reiter called “Rhythm Training and Percussion Techniques for the Classroom”. The guy is a brilliant drummer and demonstrated about eight different stylistic variants on the “clave rhythm” including Greek, Turkish, Arabic, African, Spanish and Caribbean. He led us though exercises with voice and body percussion that allowed us to create analogous musical experiences without instruments.

When I went upstairs to Soili Perkio’s workshop in room 27, I discovered where they hide all of the Orff instruments at the Orff Institut. But we didn’t use them. Soili is a delightful woman, very sweet, with a twinkle in her eye. She gave a perfect demonstration of the craft of delivering an Orff lesson with hardly any teacher talk. At the same time she structured lessons with voice, dance and body percussion ostinati that would create active learning experiences for children, allowing them discover important musical concepts for themselves.

During lunch I explored the library and dug into the foreign volumes, including France, Bolivia, Gemany and the Netherlands. I also got to go through the American volumes supplements as well as some for the original German volumes. Something I was very curious about was the Hall-Walter Canadian Volumes. The pentatonic volume explores chat and children’s rhymes more thoroughly than the Murray volumes, but I’m not sure of the value beyond that yet because there is considerable overlap of the materials. I’ll go back for more analysis, especially of the other two volumes.

So a full day of Orff classes and nobody touched a xylophone. It was a refreshing eye opener, and truly all that I could wish the experience to be. At night we did an hour and a half of folk dancing and singing, but not as grueling as the morning session – we even did some English/American stuff, similar to some of the stuff from Vermont barn dances.

Overall the experience might be like what a fourth level could be – challenging materials to push our musical envelopes and grow our musicianship, combined with superb modeling.

Incidentally – if anybody’s reading all of stuff I’m writing, give me a little encouragement with a comment.

I Go to the Supermarket II

I still don’t have this shopping business down. I couldn’t figure out why all the shopping carts locked. On close inspection I discovered that you have rent them for 1 Euro. You also have to buy your grocery bag. But the most bizarre was when I noticed the checkout people rushing back to the produce aisle with my fruit, often in a huff. I thought they annoyed with their employer for not telling them the prices. In actuality they were annoyed with me because I was supposed to weight the fruit myself. Chris, the guy from York, clued me in. I think I’m going to give up eating. And here I’m staying in Salzburg, a gourmand’s paradise. Go figure…..

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Institut at Last!

I got back to my room and had a little time to kill. I must have dozed because I awoke five minutes late. I rushed over to the Institut in time to participate in the opening quodlibet consisting of three four part rounds being sung all at the same time, a total of twelve parts. The faculty was then introduced, and then we were introduced, coming from a total of 23 different nations. We were called to stand by country. Of the 95 participants Greece had the most with 17. Turkey and Spain were almost as well represented. The United States was far down the list with seven, only four of whom seemed to be present.

The participants were divided into three groups for the morning sessions. I am with the B group and went with the others to a room with Verena Maschat, where we introduced ourselves in more detail. The demographics of the participants were fascinating, totally unlike anything you would find in an American levels class. There were academics, a couple of musicology students from Greece, pre-service teachers, many preschool teachers, private instrumental teachers, even a fellow from Texas who had received an AOSA scholarship to attend. All in all not many teachers who do a job like mine. This should be a very unique week.

My electives are going to be “Music Listening with Children”, taught by Soili Perkio (I have got to learn to make umlauts!) of Helsinki, and “Rhythm Training and Percussion Techniques for the Classroom” with Gerhard Reiter of Vienna. In the morning sessions we rotate among different faculty.

So far I’ve had extended conversations with Chris, a university lecturer from York, England, Monica, a preschool teacher from Italy here for the third time whose mother attended for thirty years and knew Carl Orff personally, and Eckhartd, a guitar teacher from the Stuttgart region.

Sightseeing’s over, time to get to work….

Mirabell Garten

This Morning I got up and had some time before the first class meeting. I took bus #3 into town and got off near the Mirabell Gardens. These formal gardens a part of the Prince-Archbishop’s summer residence (not the summer day residence – that’s Schloss Hellbrun.) The gardens are spectacular and immaculately kept, although have seen the guy with the smelly little diesel cart and tank at work I don’t want to know what type of crap they’re pouring on these plants.

I found a garden of odd little stone dwarves while exploring the north end of the park. I stood on a hillock where the garden commemorated Kaiser Franz-Josef, photographing the perfectly framed view of the Alt Stadt with the dome and the Festung. Suddenly and old time Austrian band marched out of Schloss Mirabell and into the gardens. Imagine the perfection of the scene, with the band playing, the brilliant sunlit morning, the gardens in full bloom. I was enchanted.

While they played I explored an open-air theatre made from hedges. It even has a pit for an orchestra. What a great spot for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream!” While exploring the labyrinth of paths that provide for the entrances and exits of actors, I stumbled upon a playground full a child’s dreams worth of gargantuan playground equipment.

I crossed the river and went looking in the northern end of the Alt Stadt, where the Monchsberg squeezes the city against the river, for a good inexpensive lunch. I found it at a little pizza place called Soli where the proprietor served me a hot plate of Risotto with clams. I sat outdoors in a little square watching people and carriages go by, marveling that here I was alone in Europe. It was like something I might have read about someone else doing. Now I was that person.

I went next door and took a lift to the Museum of Modern Art which is located next to a castle atop the Monchsberg . The museum was a little disappointing, as they were showing work by British and American artists the sort of which I felt I could easily see in the United States. I walked out of the museum for the view and was a little disappointed by that too, having been on the platform of the Festung the day before.

I meandered back through the city and decided to give the dome a second try. Probably because I was less exhausted after a good night’s sleep, I really got into it. I went around really examining all of the art, especially the eight smaller altars at the sides of the church as well as the ceilings, really trying to identify the biblical stories they were based on. It’s interesting, a gothic cathedral would have a great deal of statuary on the outside, the building serving as a vast sculptural encyclopedia of faith for the vast majority who were not literate. The Baroque Dome achieves much the same thing, except on the inside using paintings and frescos.

Worried that my time in town had gotten past me, I hopped the bus back to the Frohnburg.

I Go to the Supermarket

I took the bus back to Schloss Frohnburg and couldn’t help myself, I fell on the bed and napped for a couple of hours. I dragged myself out of bed and went to the supermarket that is about a three minute walk down the Frohnburgweg. There is a lovely park with excellent playground equipment and many happy families using it.

So I got there and scoped it out – whoa it’s really different! It’s like I’m in a foreign country or something (oops I am in a foreign country aren’t I?) It is really hard to shop, because the products are so unfamiliar, and I have to surmise the contents with my bad German. On top of this I have to figure out how to feed myself for a week without a kitchen or utensils. They don’t seem to sell disposable products like paper cups (or any cups) in an Austrian supermarket – you even have to buy your own bag. I ended up buying a measuring cup to drink out of. So dinner was fruit, muesli, and yogurt.

Incidentally, in the final analysis I bought some weird stuff. I've got to get better at this!

After dinner I went out and walked the Hellbruner Alee down to Schloss Hellbrun, the summer day palace of the prince-archbishops of Salzburg. There and back was probably another four or five miles. I didn’t tour the Schloss, but I took in the gazebo from the “Sound of Music”.
This was a totally different walk than my downtown walk. The Alt Stadt is remarkable for its lack of greenery. Hellbrunner Alee is GREEN and the fields smell good. People of all ages bike walk and run the Alee (hey, Maria danced and sang it.) In both cases the buildings tend to be yellow stucco with red tile roofs. This style tends to be a lot less harsh in the greenery.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I Stagger In

I didn’t really sleep much on my flight, but I stayed up when I got in. I forced myself to go walking. I took the bus back to the Alt Stadt, picked a likely stop, and went wandering. I managed to take in my top three sight-seeing priorities, the Dome, the Franziskanerkirche, and the Festung Hohensalzburg (the High Salzburg Fortress)

First I went to the great Baroque Dome, the cathedral that dominates the city. It is quite beautiful inside, although oddly I’m not that connected to Baroque art. I took a good look at all of the individual altars off to the sides. There is a considerable amount of paintings but they are very hard to see because of the lighting (maybe I should have taken off my sunglasses.) The ceilings in these areas are well lit and positively amazing – bright colored paintings, beautifully composed set off by white plastered geometric pattern.

The Franziskanerkirche is a 13th century edifice (if I recall correctly St. Francis died in 1226.) It is tall and narrow, held up by tall (I mean tall) columns that seem to be carved from solid rock. How did they do this? I bet we’d be hard pressed to pull off an engineering feat like this today! The Medieval church has a beautiful starkness that seems to evoke the life and work of St. Francis. However sometime in the 17th century somebody got the bright idea of plunking a huge, bright colored Baroque altar into the middle of this austere grandeur. It seems very incongruous, but perhaps unwittingly it reflects the fate of the Friars Minor after the death of St. Francis. How does it go – ontogeny begets phylogeny? A good Orff principle.

Finally, even though I was hot and hungry and thirsty and tired, I decided to scale the path to the Festung. When I got to the top you needed to buy a ticket, so even though I’m a cheapskate I ponied up the 7 Euros and clambered all over the thing. It is quite a castle for one’s first experience of a castle. It covers a long ridge that dominates both the city and its approaches. I took the guided tour of the interior rooms, the highlight of which is when you climb the long spiral stairs of the prison tower and then suddenly emerge on to a high platform that give a 360 degree panorama, including a very impressive view of the Alps to the south.

The Alps are very large mountains – even the smaller ones near Salzburg seem 2-3 times the size of Mansfield and Camel’s Hump. They dwarf the Presidential Range too, rising right up from the Austrian Plain.

I Made It!

Hooray! I managed to bumble my way to Salzburg more or less successfully. My incompetence at going through security probably made it really easy to get through (no terrorist could be that stupid.) Luckily the 4th of July seems to be a light travel day so I didn’t have black diamond travelers breathing down my neck as I stood there stupidly waiting to be told what to do next. Well they say experience is what you get when you don’t get what you really want – and I didn’t really want to feel stupid, so I guess I’m a little bit experienced now.

You know these people all speak German over here! I stopped feeling so confused when I realized that they really brought it on themselves. But seriously, the bi-tri-quadri-multi-lingualism over here is truly impressive. Even bad English is delivered with beautiful British accent. I could not believe the airport employees and flight attendants. Those people deserve six figures for what they can do to make a language ignoramus like me feel comfortable.
I was genuinely impressed by Lufthansa. The overall quality of the experience seemed way above my limited experience of domestic carriers – there was food, and it was even palatable. The people were extremely professional and they didn’t lose my luggage! The last leg from Frankfurt to Salzburg was on a propeller plane, which was a first for me. Frankly the Tyrolean Air plane looked a bit long of tooth, but it was fun because we flew lower and I could see the plains of Bavaria. People say that cluster housing is this new idea in the US, but in Germany and Austria it looks like they’ve been doing it a long time – there’s a lot of open space and farmland.

Incidentally , the Frankfurt airport defines the adjective “sprawling” – in fact it is vast and hideously ugly to boot.

When I arrived in Salzburg (right on time) I had an easy time navigating the bus system and got right to Schoss Frohnburg (although it is a good idea to look at the number on the bus before you walk away from it and go to the platform where it’s supposed to be….) The public transit is amazing for a city of 150,000. Puts us to shame.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Duh, What’s a Euro? Part 2

(I recommend reading the previous post, part 1 so this makes more sense.)

I waited and waited for a letter of acceptance from the Orff Institut. I was starting to get squirrelly about plane tickets and housing. Finally after several weeks I just went ahead and applied for the housing.

This time I decided to go for a wire transfer. The bank info was on the housing app. So equipped with this info and several hundred dollar bills I waltzed back to the Chittenden Bank. This was going to be a breeze.

I wasn't a customer. Yes I know. Since you aren't a customer you can't do a transaction over $500. Yup, this is for $400. So a very competent woman filled out the wire transfer application. Every i was dotted and t crossed. But it was after 2:00 PM again (some of us have work for a living.) Could I just pay $10 more than the current trade price and pick up the change whenever? No we can't do that.

So I arranged with the woman that my wife would bring the money in the next day. I got assurance that this lady would actually be there. So I advised my wife to go after lunch to make sure.

At about 1:45 the next day I got a desperate call from my wife. She had been there over 45 minutes. There was some piece of info she needed to do the bank draft. Bank draft? It's a wire transfer I said. Thank heavens she called. I told her the paperwork had been totally filled out, all she needed was to hand over the cash.

Well the lady I had seen the day before was out for a late lunch. They went digging though her drawers and found the app. End of problem.

So I had sent another bunch of money off into a European black hole - still no acceptance letter. Finally I e-mailed the Institut and got a reply that my acceptance letter had been sent out several weeks before by regular mail. This can take forever. We had a German exchange student several years ago who would need to send thing in October to have any chance it would arrive by Christmas. Well this letter must have been put on a slow barge via the Indian Ocean - I still haven't gotten it.

A few weeks later I was telling this story to friends who informed me that there was Western Union at the local Rite Aid!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Duh, What’s a Euro? Part 1

My adventure began back in March. The Orff Institut requires a bank check or money order denominated in Euros. Three hundred and fifty of them to be exact. So I had to figure out how to get this money to Austria with my application.

First I tried one of my credit unions. No idea. Then the other, larger one. They suggested the Chittenden Bank. I withdrew some cash from that credit union, then ran down the street and hit the ATM for the remainder and went to the Chittenden.

Problem #1 - I wasn't a customer. We got past that (after all they were going to make $40 just for writing a check.) The nice, competent young woman had to ask around to figure out how to do the transaction - nobody seemed to know. I guess Vermonters never go to Europe.
Problem #2 - It was after 2:00 PM. Trading in Euros was suspended until the following day. I paid my $492 anyway hoping that the dollar wouldn't weaken appreciably overnight.

It did. We had a snow day (actually an ice day - it usually takes ice to close a Vermont school; otherwise we suck it up and go.) I get a mid-day call from the bank. I'm 52 cents short on the transaction. The dollar did weaken slightly. They couldn't make the trade until I drove in with 52 cents.

It was a freaking ice storm for crying out loud! Finally the teller relented and said she would put 52 cents in for me. The transaction went through, the next day I picked up the check and repaid the teller. Whew! I sent off the application and check with a passport photo and spent $24 on postage for the privilege of getting a receipt and a delivery window of less than 9 weeks.