Archive for Thoughts

Hanging up the coat for now

So I didn’t want to leave anyone hanging out there, but for now my travels are halting. It’s been fun, thanks for tagging along. I’ve estimated nearly 21,000 miles of travel since May 1, and it’s been worthwhile having it all front-loaded in the summer.

So until next time, why don’t you head over to The Porch and check that out? We can keep talking over there. Peace out.

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The Battle for Normandy

Today, (pretend it’s Monday) not only did The Steve bring out another revelation of the latest and greatest, but I spent the whole day on a tour of the Landing Beaches of Normandy of the Allied Forces during D-Day. Along with that, the sun finally came out for the first time since I’ve been here! The overcast clouds were getting to me anyway.

If you’re in Paris, have a copious amount of funds (such as myself, “Thanks, high-paying job!), and in need of a day trip, guide, meals, and nothing to worry about except getting yourself to their bus on time at 7 a.m., I recommend Cityrama in Paris. They lead tours all over France that are pretty enjoyable. I found them two years ago on a trip to the amazing Mont Saint-Michel and found myself using them again, this time for the D-Day Landing Beaches in Normandy I had wanted to visit for a while.

Driving out of the city of Paris after being there for a week certainly was revitalizing. And people were speaking English finally.

The Memorial Museum in Caen is an interesting tribute to the peace that surrounds the World Wars. The exhibits retrace the failure of the peace between the wars, the Weimar era, and it is in fact a tribute among many nations for peace after World War II.

Interestingly enough, we had lunch here at the same little corner that I had been two years ago with this touring company. One of the great things I love about tours like these is that there are an abundant amount of Americans. I got to meet newlyweds from Tennessee, a couple from Mississippi, a woman from Ohio, nice family from Chicago, and a faculty member from the University of Alabama. They were all a pleasure to talk to and get to know!

On Omaha Beach alone, there were 34,000 American troops that made their landing there, but even the 300 bombers hours beforehand could not tone down what lay ahead for the young soldiers. There are memorials all along the five sectors of the beaches; we stopped at Omaha, Utah, and Juno beaches.

However, nothing was more spectacular than the Normandy American Cemetery, adjacent to the Canadian and British ones. It happened to be the most beautiful weather one could ask for. This piece of oceanside land was given to the United States permanently by France. This was American soil. It was chilling.

Gotta hand it to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC). They maintain beautiful cemetery and monuments dedicated to the troops in the wars of the twentieth century all over the world. I was able to visit Punchbowl Cemetery in Oahu last month, and now this.

After walking through the memorial museum on the grounds, you saw the memorial statue, ‘Spirit of the Youth’, and then the sea of gravemarkers simply flooded your sight. I believe the number was around 21,000 buried here. A portion of them marked ‘Here rests a comrade in arms, known but to God.

It was surprising to find out that in this part of France, there are actually more Germans buried here than all the allied troops put together. They number around 80,000, buried wherever their bodies ended up in.

On the way back, we drove through the countryside of Normandy and I could help but imagine the raining down of paratroopers, lines and companies cutting through the tall bushes and hedges as in the films I had just watched a few hours ago in the museum. Or for that matter, Band of Brothers. Can’t avoid throwing in Saving Private Ryan while your at it.

These are actual places that we read, watch and hear about. I was cruising on the highway right through them, munching on my exquisite dinner. I had a conversation with my teacher two years ago while spending two weeks out here in the countryside playing chamber music.  As we sat out in a field under the stars by the River Seine at the end of a long day, enjoying a cigar and wine (Nice huh? Better believe it; I don’t smoke though). Quietly, he just said, “Alex, look at that. Up there, this is where [the paratroopers] came down. Just out here, by these towns, in this field.”

The more astounding thing though? Life goes on. It has to. Farmers continue to farm as they did decades ago after rebuilding. They continue to farm as they did 70 years ago before the war. There are little stone memorials all throughout these fields and towns, but life goes on. Our tour guide joked, if they put a monument everywhere an event occurred in France, they wouldn’t have any place left to work, live and play! It’s probably the truth. Just look at Paris or Rome. All this to say, right on Omaha beach for example, there were a few local families with their kids playing in the sand and water, building sand castles, getting some sun.

This is the other side of the Parisian story of the 20th century. Often forgotten, taken for granted. In personal vengeance, Hitler’s acquisition of Paris was supposed to lead to its complete off-the-map destruction. You know, he had a bit of a grudge. Something about the German’s terms of agreement in some treaty of Versailles or something

Luckily, the Allies succeeded, arduously, in this battle for Normandy, France, and concordantly, European continent. We have a Paris, rich and full of tangible history in its buildings. To think, It almost burned.

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Some gloom in ol’ Paris

Remember Air India??? Yikes. If you ever can opt for a cheaper planet ticket, I don’t know. Work hard or something, but pay that extra $200 for the other airline. I’m not sure what went wrong but, the flight had lost all its normal meals… with fish. All vegetarian. The snacks? A bit spicy. I also don’t think there’s any restrictions with foods with peanuts in India or Hinduism is there? We had to throw out a lot of chocolates with nuts in them. Sad. Don’t even get me started on someone on the staff.

Fun part for me was that I sat next to two kids whose parents had a seating problem and were bumped into first class (boo). Hanush and Keshav were in 5th and 8th grade, studied at an English school in India, and have probably traveled to as many places as I have! We had a wonderful conversation about what we each were reading, what I did, and other delightful subjects. Went through the whole thing, you know,… viola, music student, summer travels, reading Alex RossThe Rest Is Noise (It’s fantastic, thanks Jameson!). He asked me if I was Christian. I’m still not sure what might’ve made him ask. Anywho, we found out a little more of each other as this inquisitive little junior higher got more interested in what I did. Much fun was had.

So Paris is set for rain for most of the week. I think we’re planning a trip into London for a few days after the wedding on the 7th… I’m excited for that. I can speak that language. I’m not too bad at picking up the language wherever I go luckily.

I can never really understand the romanticism associated with Paris anymore. Let’s say that it’s changed… since, say… 1934. Even my family, whom all lived here in the 80’s, has said it’s nothing like the nice Paris they knew. I believe it. There’s rather less ethnically French people here than one would expect to see. Oh yes, the European Union certainly has opened everything everywhere for everyone. Dabble on the less-careful and biased side of things, Mark Steyn’s book unapologetically has his own theories.

Of course, it’s nice to spend time with the fam here. Almost a mini-reunion, where practically all of us actually live in the States though. Peculiar. Other than that though, possibly the highlight of my week here? I didn’t even thinkabout it but my trip has unintentionally coincided with Roland-friggin- Garros! That’s right. I’m taking the metro. Line 9. To the French Open tennis grand slam! I’ll take that over EuroDisney, thanks. (Sorry, no pics on this post, I’m on a family computer)

To end with, if you’re in the APU community, you will know. I want to extend my deepest condolences after hearing news from APU of a tragic accident in the community. I was floored to hear what happened, and to that family, my greatest sympathy. It hurt hearing the news, especially knowing the older siblings of the person. God will certainly be with them.

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Teaching? Traveling? Great!

One of the highlights of the Brazil trip for me personally, has been our involvement with the schools, conservatories, and students. Never have I felt more inclined towards this type of work than at the present. To walk into a community that provides a safe place for so many kids to come after school and pick up an instrument, find a teacher, hang out with their friends, was invaluable to see. I have not really taught much before for young string students, private or group, but it occurred to me, you do make a difference. For younger kids, you don’t even need to wait to see the affect it has on them! I was floored by all the responses we got from performing in different venues, classes, for different levels and skills of instrumentalists. I certainly could do more of this stuff.

Deep inside, what really got me was having performed these classical pieces, staple works in the string quartet repertoire, young students were excited, beaming and impressed by what they saw! More impressive to me was not our performance, but how fortunate we are to enjoy this so freely and frequently,yet our arrival and stay with them was a big event. One that was between two big music festivals that roll into town. That’s it. Twice a year, and then there was us. Talk about deeply humbling, that our work could be effective and plant within them a seed of desire and passion for making music and perhaps using it to further themselves as learners, musicians, professionals, people.

Hanging out with those same fellas I’ve been speaking about, at times they would converse in Portuguese to each other. To me it was just fun talk, maybe about their latest joke, or making fun of something we did in front of them. But as Paulo explained to me, that excitement and thrill in their voice was about the orchestra rehearsal of the Vivaldi, or seeing the Dvorak Cello Concerto performed, on YouTube albeit. Talk eventually started up about future plans, individual playing, quality, etc. On the side, Paulo and I spoke and he whispered to me, “No, they’re not in it to make money. They just love music. The love the music they get to play.” I couldn’t have put it better or more genuine, nor could I have learned anything more at that precise moment. These were sixteen-year-olds. These were joking-laughing-slap-each-other Brazilians friends hanging out. But these guys had something else I often need. Who am I to be worried for what’s ahead or in store? I wonder if we look like that sometimes. I hope so.

On another note (don’t say it!), as our quartet experienced traveling, rehearsing, performing, and practicing completely on our own, self-sufficiently enabling ourselves to ‘tour’ and stage ourselves for a week and a half of enveloping ourselves in our career pursuits, really refined a lot of things for me. It’s good that most of the time I thought to myself, “I could really keep doing this!” What better than to wake up, rehearse, practice a bit, go do a small performance, teach for the afternoon, or should I say inspire, and then give a performance every few nights! I could really keep doing this! What a routine. Let’s do it.

Any thoughts or experiences in music education and professional performance for you guys?

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Here to there…

As I’m typing up this on my flight to Brazil, I couldn’t help but switch my iPod to the last Men’s Chorale album, Restoration. Sorry for the onslaught of the last few entries, but it was worth typing out.

We said our quick goodbyes and finished off tour as we all arrived at APU and then split, but I’ll definitely miss those not returning and those graduating. The legacy of this group is something special… I spoke about it at the group gathering on the North Shore, but those that have come through the Chorale owe it to each other and to the guys coming in year after year, to pass on what this group means to them. To pass on the brotherhood that is created with each new group that is formed year after year. To each person, it means something different, but I can tell you that there’s great significance.

Personally, I owe a big thank you to those that came before me. For the way they accepted people like myself, fostered a relationship that only a group of guys can experience, and really kept the leadership of this group going.

As I’m jumping to four different time zones within the span of two days,… (Honolulu, LA, Dallas, Sao Paulo), I’m laughing to myself at the two extremes I’m going between…

Singing. Side by side with 65 other men. Fettke, McKay, and Wilhousky. No rehearsals, Just stage to stage. Crazy roommates.

Viola. With my three colleagues in the quartet. Schubert, Dvorak, and Beethoven. Personal practice, rehearsals, teaching, performing. Own room.

Wow. If I come back a little out of sync, you’ll know why. It’s gonna be a fun one!

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So this entry was obviously done earlier. Just wanted to let anyone out there know, you can feel free to post comments about anything; I’d love to see who’s out there also!

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Finishing up

On Friday, we gave a performance at the beautiful Hale Koa hotel. For years, this is the place where our soldiers come back and rest from overseas, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. They meet their families here and it’s usually the first place they come to back in the States.

Again, General Cockett gave us a wonderful introduction with some nice acclamations. Despite being outside in a courtyard, under a cool tree, with the construction going all around us, it did feel like there was extra effort to sing out and beyond. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was hoping some ears out there were those that we were paying tribute to with the Navy Hymn, Battle Hymn, and all the patriotic literature.

Then we headed a few blocks away to the Royal Hawaiian shopping center. Right there by the main street in the middle of this gigantic, upscale outdoor mall, we sang and shared testimonies. Of course, Jonté decided to conduct the first number. It was alright… he done good.

Afterwards, I got to meet a really cool couple that was watching us with their adorable kids! They are APU alumni, and he’s actually in the military and stationed on the island! I also found out they graduated with Jeff and Clara of Marmac Theater and who also teach drama at my high school. Anyway, shout out to our new acquaintances, Graham and Diana, and thanks for coming to the last few days of our performances!

I dare to say our biggest crowd came next at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. They have a center stage where they often have local performers and high school share music and dance of some sort.

Something like three of four levels high with a food court nearby, I’d say it was pretty fun to sing to this crowd of all kinds of people! A couple teenagers saw us all clustered together in our outfits and threw out a “hey, looking good you guys!” to which I responded with an ecstatic, “Hey thanks!” Pretty sure the blip of sarcasm registered a little too late for me. Whoops. Regardless, I saw that group of teenagers standing and listening to us for most of the performance while we were on stage. Sweet.

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Where’s the crowd?

One of the dynamics of this tour being so different has been the audiences we sing for. As grateful as we are to be in a beautiful place like Hawaii sharing our ministry, it is hard to suppress some frustrations that have run its course through a good part of the chorale.

What’s made this tour a bit different?

We’ve performed in public venues for come-and-go crowds, not church concerts. It’s not quite our normal routine, and it may feel like it’s outside of the normal ministry that we are to do. Almost all of the places we have sung in so far feels as though we lack a crowd, and it can feel incredibly disappointing.

Surf the Nations on Waikiki beach with a few people in front of the stage and some little kids.

The performance at New Life Church.

Bishop Square Downtown.

Pearl Harbor’s Aviation Museum.

There’s more… but here’s the point. The crowd may feel sparse, but each and every time we’ve sung under these circumstances, I’ve realized after the fact that to say it was fruitless is completely false. At this point, I will cease to believe that a performance is fruitless even if there is ONE person there because of what I’ve seen and heard now.

Surf the Nations? Well, turns out the organizers of the event said we held the biggest crowd over the two-day event and were heard all the way down Waikiki Beach, sharing Jesus Christ over the loudspeakers! Where was this crowd? They had settled in the shade on the grass right behind the stage! Not one of us knew it walking away, disappointed, but they were there! The name of Christ through those loudspeakers in one of Hawaii’s most popular destinations. Better believe it.

New Life Church? If that didn’t bring all the local people associated with APU for the alumni gathering and concert that evening, it became a blessing for those that were there. The parents with us, the school staff, the founders of Surf the Nation,… I could go on.

Bishop Square? People may have come and gone during their lunch hour from work, but a man came up to Harold saying how much he needed to hear us and the effect it had on his heart.

Then the Aviation Museum? Let’s not discount the museum staff that was behind that video camera. I’m sure the gift shop that was just a wall away heard us. Who knows how many ears we’ll have reached and and who we’ll encounter!

As an example, the other night at the First Presbyterian Church, we finished singing our number in a joint concert with a band. As we met and greeted people afterwards, a couple came up asking for our performance schedule, very flustered. Not knowing, I just directed them to our table and they received a schedule. Not more than 30 minutes later as we were about to leave on the busses, a whistle from Harold brought us all back into the building. Right in the lobby was that same couple. They had driven for over an hour or two, lost their way, and made it just in time for the last five chords of our performance!

Right there in that lobby, we embraced them by circling around them, and began singing. Ending with Holy, Holy, Holy and the Amen chorus, the gentleman then prayed for us. I later found out he heads up part of the Salvation Army, so he might’ve been a really big deal, and he wants to use us. And they were from England. Just goes to show, who knows what could be in store for the chorale down the road.

If this can be any encouragement to our guys that are reading, or anyone out there for that matter performing, ears do get reached, and in this sense, the Holy Spirit definitely comes in play, whether our minds are tired, our voices fatigued, our bodies exhausted from being on the road for fifteen days. What little we can give, turns into a lot for those sitting beyond the stage. We just don’t know so many times.

I just finished a book, Dispatches from the Edge, by CNN anchor and correspondent, Anderson Cooper. In a very telling memoir of his journeys through Niger, the Tsunami, Iraq, and then Katrina, he opens himself up to an incredible place of vulnerability and recounts his childhood, the incredible losses in his family, and his urge to keep moving from place to place. At one point about hurricane Katrina, he mentions all the loss that he saw. Yet the networks had given him wonderful ratings and viewership and told him to ‘keep it up’. From what he says, it seems like he never cared, understood, needed the ratings. He needed to help these people. Reminded me of what we’re doing here. We’re continually blessing people with our voices whether we recognize it or not.

If it’s also any consolation, the first part of our tour was in northern California. One of our bus drivers, Marie, told a couple of us at the very last concert in Napa, “I really needed this.” She didn’t come expecting it, but she needed this so much, she quietly passed onto us. Wow. This is what happens. She had come along and heard our performance for those five days on tour. “What do you wanna do this Mother’s day mom,” she said her daughter will ask. “I’m going to church!”

‘Nough said.

So whether it’s singing for what seems to be about 15 people in the audience, or some public park waterfall overtakes your sound, or waking up at 5 a.m. (Harold and Andrea!) for a television station interview, it isn’t fruitless. Maybe it takes a lot to trust that this might have touched someone and something could come to fruition a decade from now. This tour has been different. We usually minister to God’s own people in churches, and it is encouraging. But this time around, we were out by the streets, in the malls, on the beaches. What more opportunities could we have asked for? We’ll see, right?

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