Saturday, January 30, 2016

Day 14-24 - Salzburg and London

Day 14 - 24 - January 20-30

Day 14 - Salzburg

Today was a day that we took easy around Salzburg. We went and had our laundry done and enjoyed some coffee at a local cafe while waiting for our laundry to get done. 

After our laundry we just spent a day exploring other parts that were filmed for the Sound of Music and seeing the Salzburg Cathedral.

Not much to report for these next few days so I'm going to skip to day 16 from here.

Day 16 - Salzburg

Today was a day that Ben and I had been looking forward to. It was a clear, sunny day and there was still snow everywhere. We were on our way to the top of the Untersberg mountain, which is the same mountain Maria Von Trapp can't stay away from when it's calling her name to go sing in the hills.

We were up early and took a bus all the way to the bottom of the mountain. Then the part I was most afraid of was next. We had to take a gondola ride from the bottom to nearly 2,500 meters high. Safe to say I never looked up or down on the way up and in 9 minutes, we were at the top of the mountain. 

The view was absolutely breathtaking and unlike anything I had ever seen before. There was snow everywhere and the sun was shining incredibly bright. We walked out of the lodge area and saw that there were hiking paths that lead to the summit of the mountain. Being terrified of heights, I was terrified to try and climb to the top but Ben wanted to more than anything, so I knew I had to overcome my fear. 

The hiking trail was filled with steep hills going down and up but as we approached the summit, there was no trail anymore. We had to free climb to the top, walking over trees and rocks that were hidden feet beneath the snow. It was scary but when we made it to the actual summit of the mountain, it was absolutely stunning. Nothing could replace seeing the villages below us on one side and gorgeous mountain ranges on the other. Although it was a tad windy,  it was beyond beautiful.

We headed back down the mountain after an incredible morning and we drove to the Schloss Frohnburg. This was the palace where they filmed the exterior of the Von Trapp house in the movie. I approached the house along the side wall just as Maria does and I couldn't believe I was walking the same steps. It was truly a dream come true and a great way to continue a perfect day.

The rest of the day was taking it easy and getting ready to head to London the next day. I knew this day how much I was going to miss Salzburg. It had quickly been one of my most favorite cities in the world.

Day 17 - Salzburg - London

This evening we flew from Salzburg to London where we met Jennifer at the London-Gatwick Airport. Jennifer is one of the most amazing ladies I have ever met. She was my tour guide when I sang with choral Union in Italy back in 2014. She is hilarious and kind and incredibly generous.  I have been so grateful that he has been so flexible with letting Ben and I stay at her house. 

She drove us to the house and it is beautiful. It is in a beautiful neighborhood in Walten-on-Thames and it is huge! It was amazing to be enriched in the actual culture of someone that lives their life in the heart of England. We settled in and called it an early night to get adjusted to yet another place on our trip.

Day 18 - London

This was our first full day and Ben was going to get to accomplish a dream he has had since he was a kid: going to an EPL match! We were going to the Emirates stadium to see Arsenal play Chelsea in a 60,000 person stadium. The whole day trip was truly an experience. You couldn't drink alcohol in the actual stadium, the fans were the most passionate fans I had ever witnessed, and there was added security in the boundary between the visiting teams fans and the home teams fans. 

Unfortunately the visiting team, Chelsea, won and the police were on horses as we were exiting the stadium to keep the visiting fans segregated from the home team fans. It was quite a scene to witness and I'm so glad Ben got to live out his dream. 

Day 19 - Cambridge

Today was a long day of traveling, but I got to see a town and university that any musician would dream of attending. I was going to get to meet the King's College voices and the St. John's College voices and their conductors through Cambridge University. Ben and I made the long trek up there, and it was obvious that this was a huge college town. The bars and restaurants all had a great vibe and after grabbing some lunch, I was on my way to my first rehearsal with King's College voices and their choral evensong service.

The King's College had a beautiful pure sound, with an incredibly strong men's section. The women's sections were light and pure, with a countertenor in the alto section. Under the direction of Ben Parry, Ben focuses a lot on diction and momentum. He believes too keep the purity of the sound and tone, there must be momentum in the breath, phrasing, and energy behind the note. That works so well with his group and I was impressed with how quick they picked up on the technique in that rehearsal.

The service was beautiful and the chapel was stunning! So much detail to the architecture and the stain glass was so bright. Definitely the best chapel in Cambridge. 

St. John's evensong was beautiful as well, and the service was very similar. The choir had a big sound, a and the women had a lot darker tone with a lot of color. The men were also very strong, with a very dominant chest voice sound, especially in the tenor section. Both choirs were very small but had incredible tone, support, and work ethic.

Day 20 - WB Studio Tour - Harry Potter

Today was an absolutely awesome day! We were going to witness the actual sets used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies -  ALL 8 OF THEM! After traveling a ways to the studio, we were able to see original artifacts used in the movies including all the horcruxes, original costumes, the tri-wizard cup, the goblet of fire, buck beak, and so much more!  We even got to see Dumbledore's office, the Gryffindor common room,  the boys dorm, the Great Hall and multiple other sets. We drank butter beer and took home a few small souvenirs to celebrate visiting our 2nd Harry Potter themed park! The coolest part was seeing the actual model of Hogwarts school and castle. It was so elaborate and detailed and truly gorgeous, especially with the winter snow feature on the model. Truly a dream come true! Ben and I had a fabulous time nerding out on such an incredible movie series!

Day 21-22 - London

These 2 days we took to go into the center of London. We saw Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, London Bridge, the aquarium, the Bond in Motion exhibit, and some shopping centers where we did some awesome shopping and ate and drank at some awesome restaurants and bars. It was nice to have the freedom to we and do what we would like. London is a beautiful place and we even got a gorgeous clear day to go to the top of the London Eye and see all of London. It was the perfect way to end the last 2 1/2 weeks in Europe together. I didn't want it to end.

Day 23 -  London/Walton-on-Thames

Unfortunately, Ben had to leave and it was becoming very clear how homesick I was getting. Always experience new and unknown regions and now I didn't have my one constant to share everything with. It was hitting me harder emotionally than I thought it would. So I took this day to relax and get used to being alone again. Fortunately, Jennifer was not doing anything that evening so we went into the city together and attended a choir concert at the St. James Sussex Church. They were mostly doing music by Karl Jenkins and some pieces by John Rutter. The music was beautiful but the choir,  unfortunately, was less than mediocre. Jennifer and I ended up leaving at intermission and she showed me all the different center districts of London. It was filled with life, light, and so many people!

Jennifer and I returned home and engaged in some wonderful conversation as well as had a delicious meal made of pork goulash, rice, purple sprout, red bell peppers, and fennel. Jennifer did a wonderful job of getting me out of the house and keeping me occupied in my first night without Ben in 2 1/2 weeks.

Day 24 - Walton-on-Thames

Today is a relaxing day doing laundry, catching up on my blog, and getting ready to go to Cambridge tomorrow and then onto Riga on Monday. Thank you all so much for your support and love in all of this. My homesickness is definitely evident now and although I plan to savor every moment of this experience, I also am looking forward to being home again with my friends and family. They mean more to me than anything in the world!

Love you all! Until next time!

Megan Leibold

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

 Day 7 - 13

I've gotten quite behind since Ben has joined me in Berlin but I will try my best to briefly catch you up on the days since he has arrived.

Day 7 -Final Day in Cologne 

I woke up early to meet Stefan for coffee in the heart of Cologne before attending another rehearsal and their afternoon concert. I was able to ask him anything I wanted about his career or what it is like singing under the direction of him and so on and so forth.

One of the first questions I asked is, "what is the process for auditioning to sing in the Cologne Radio Choir?"
 He explained it as something quite unique to their choir specifically. He doesn't actually have the final say in choosing who should be in his choir. There is a committee of choir members that meets up for auditions and they choose who should move on to the next round and then who should ultimately be in the group. There are usually 3 rounds of auditions, singing prepared solo pieces, singing pieces given to you by the choir to learn your specific part, and sight reading. I was surprised to learn that sight reading was the last part of the audition since all of the members of the choir are forced to learn songs quickly and efficiently. Sight reading plays a huge role in that. Stefan also agreed that if he could have it his way, he would make sight reading a requirement in the first round. I couldn't agree more with that statement.

There were many questions to follow that related to his career as a conductor and what sounds he expects from him choir. Something I found peculiar is once his contract ends wit the Cologne Radio Choir, it is up to the choir to decide whether they want him to stay or not. Which, as difficult as that is for the conductor, it makes sense since ultimately the choir knows their own potential and wants the best person conducting them to their success. We also discussed further Stefan's style of conducting and how he has adapted to adding orchestras when conducting larger works. He says this is what separates a mediocre choral conductor from an advanced one. If you make rhythm a priority and have advanced rhythmic techniques, that you will be successful conducting any work whether it has orchestra, small ensemble, etc. He says that choir conductors get a bad reputation for not being able to conduct with a full orchestra and a choir in front of them but Stefan has done his best to break that stereotype and I feel he has been truly successful.

After my wonderful talk with Stefan and 2 cappuccinos later, we were off to a short rehearsal before heading to their concert. They wasted no time making sure all of the pieces were performance ready. There was nothing out of the ordinary that wasn't already done the day before and before I knew it we were heading to the "small" church just around the corner of the WDR. I walked into the church and immediately realized the incredible acoustics of the room. 

The church was standing room only by the time the short afternoon concert started. The choir had informed me beforehand that Germans love when things are free, especially their concerts. So I can't even tell you how many people were in that church just waiting to hear a taste of what the radio choir would be performing during this term. I couldn't believe all the support they had from the community. If only there was a way for people in the states to get that excited about hearing an exquisite choir perform very complex music. One can dream!

After the short concert which went absolutely perfect, with only 2 days of rehearsal, I said my goodbyes to Stefan and the choir and was quickly heading off to the airport to catch my flight to Berlin to meet Ben! Unfortunately I was given very confusing information from the help desk at the train station and was taken onto the wrong train heading the opposite direction into the country of Germany. I finally asked someone for help and a very nice young German girl wrote down specific directions to get me back on track and I was stuck at this very creepy train stop for about a half hour. It looked like someone had filmed a horror movie there before and the time couldn't have gone by any slower. I finally got back on track and was at the airport with plenty of time before my flight. But then another issue had presented itself...

Ben was in Berlin texting me before my flight took off and he was looking for my flight number to check what gate I would be arriving at. Well it was at that moment we realized that our flights took us to different airports in Berlin. Ben was at thee Berlin-Tegels airport on the North side and I was flying into the Schonefeld airport on the South side. At this point Ben was on his own to get to the hotel with not knowing an ounce of German. I started to get really anxious picturing him getting lost in Berlin. Luckily Ben got very lucky when he got off at a random stop and found his way to the hotel one a whim. I was relieved to know he was at the hotel by the time I landed. I got train information and met him at the hotel about an hour after I landed and we were finally reunited! We got settled and had some dinner at the hotel restaurant and Ben had his first German black beer. He was in heaven especially after having the best cheesecake he'd ever had for dessert. We went back up to the room and crashed hard, preparing for the amazing day ahead.

Day 8-10- Berlin 

We woke up to a beautiful clear day and immediately got ready to head out and explore. Our main goal was to go up to the Berlin tower and have lunch in their rotating restaurant. What an incredible view on such a sunny day. The food was amazing and I had my first curry wurst, which was absolutely delicious.

We explored other monuments, churches, and even some luxury cars, including a $2.5 million Bugatti. And we ended our day of exploring with a picture in front of the Brandenburg Gate. 

My time in Berlin with Ben is not really related to music at all because I wanted to have time to do touristy things with the one I love most. My musical journey wouldn't be continuing until London. 

On our last day in Berlin we went to an evensong service at the Berliner Dom performed by the Berlin-English choir. They were a small group that had a difficult time filling out the sound of the cathedral. They did have great diction and their men's sections were definitely the leaders of the group. The service was very peaceful and all in German but we had a wonderful time soaking up the beauty of the church and getting to hear the huge organ performing the prelude and postlude. After the service we walked to a little restaurant that seemed like the living and dining room of someone's house. Here we had an authentic German dinner with schnitzel and delicious desserts. The waiter was also incredible friendly. It was the perfect way to end our last night in Berlin and when we walked out of the restaurant it was snowing hard! The walk back couldn't have been any more beautiful! 

Day 11 -  Leaving for Salzburg

Our flight left early Sunday morning and we had a 3 hour layover in Cologne. I was getting so giddy to know that we would finally be flying into the city I had dreamed of going to most for nearly 20 years. As we landed in Salzburg, I immediately recognized the beauty of the city and the buildings and fortresses that we were passing on the plane. We took a taxi to our hotel and were immediately surprised at how central our hotel was to the rest of Salzburg. We were both equally excited. We checked in and got into our hotel room and were immediately out ready to explore. We walked through some popular parts of town and had our first meal at the Cafe Mozart (fitting,  isn't it?). We had some authentic Austrian noodle dishes and then we were off to the pub that was going to play the Seahawks game. We befriended an Austrian who had studied at University of Oregon and grew to love the Seahawks and then a man from Holland who knew nothing about American football. We watched the Seahawks game and even though it ended in a loss, I couldn't help but just be so happy that I was in Salzburg and there was snow everywhere! I hadn't seen anywhere more beautiful than this city of Salzburg.

Day 12 - Original Sound of Music Tour

We woke up the next morning and I was more excited than a kid in a candy store. Ben and I were going to be on a 4 hour tour learning and seeing the filming locations of thee Sound of Music. We went to the lake where the children and Maria fell out of the canoe and saw where the terrace was custom built between 2 fortresses. We went to the Schloss Hellbrunn where one of three gazebos was standing and right outside of the Hellbrunn was the same bus stop that Maria got out on to walk towards to the house to meet the Von Trapp family. It was there that I needed to skip and sing a part of "I Have Confidence". I should also mention there was snow everywhere and it was a perfectly sunny day. It was seriously so beautiful. We then drove past the fortress that they film the exterior of for the front and back and past the Nonnberg Abbey. 

The bus then took us over the mountains heading towards the Mondsee to see the church where the wedding scene was filmed and we even got to walk down the aisle that Julie Andrews did nearly 51 years ago. We also made a bus stop on the way there that showed a gorgeous view of a huge lake that was filmed at the very beginning of the movie before Maria started singing "The hills are alive with the Sound of Music".

I was the happiest I'm sure Ben has ever seen me and it couldn't have been on a more perfect, sunny day. We ended our tour by seeing the Mirabell gardens and walked through most of the spots they filmed "Do-Re-Mi" in. 

After the tour we went and had lunch at a pizzeria about 5 minutes from our hotel and had some HUGE and delicious pizzas. We came back to the hotel and actually passed out and got 12 hours of sleep that was very deserving. 

Day 13 - Sallzburg

Today was a day of exploring. We went to the modern museum of Monschberg and saw some of the weirdest exhibits we had ever seen before. But the museum was at the top of a cliff that overlooked all of Salzburg. Wow, what a sight to see!

We then walked around to see other sights of the Sound of Music filming. We passed the fountains and the square that consisted of the fountain and the place where the Nazis marched through. We then walked up the 100 steps to the entrance of Nonnberg Abbey, where multiple scenes were filmed in front of. 

We then had lunch at an Italian restaurant and had some amazing pasta with the most flavorful sauces.  On our way back to the hotel we got some beer and wine and laid on the bed and watched the Sound of Music on my iPad. How amazing to relive everything we had just walked through the past 2 days. Living in a dream every time I'm in Salzburg. 

Thank you everyone for continuing to follow and read my blogs. No promises on them being daily but I plan to catch you up when I get behind!


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Day 5 & 6 - Cologne

Cologne, Germany

Day 5 - January 11th, 2016

I arrived in Cologne around 13:20 after a layover in Hamburg and lots of snow in Stockholm. While flying over the city, I spotted the Cologne Cathedral immediately standing tall in all its Gothic structure glory.

After getting my luggage at the airport, I was on my own to get to Central Station and then to Klettenbergpark, where I was meeting my friend of 11 years, Jake. He was friendly enough to offer his flat to me while I was staying there to save some money. We met at his flat and he took me to dinner at an authentic Cologne restaurant. We ordered Kolsch beer, which is a traditional beer in Cologne, and I had my first Weinerschnitzel, which was absolutely delicious! The restaurant was very German designed and it was a great first night in Germany. But it was the next day that I was anticipating more than anything.

Day 6 - January 12th, 2016

I woke up incredibly early with much anticipation for the amazing day ahead. I left earlier than planned so that I didn't risk the chance of being late. After arriving to the city center by train, I was so happy to see the Cologne Cathedral in all its glory. Walking next to a church that took 632 years to build and nearly 7 family generations to complete. I walked to one of the main shopping squares and got myself a pastry and one of the main bakeries. I will confess, I ordered a donut with a filling, but what I didn't know was that it was filled with some sort of alcoholic jelly. So I was having an alcoholic donut before 10:00 in the morning. I realized then why I was getting stared at in the bakery by the other customers. But you only learn by making those mistakes, and I will admit, it was quite delicious haha!

I headed over to the WDR Radio building and checked into the security and they already had my name on a list. It was amazing to know I was going to be amidst some of the most amazing musicians in Cologne and also in Germany. I waited in the waiting room and finally was able to meet Stefan in person. His signature accessory is his hats and I now understand why. He was very warm with his welcome and considered me his "honored guest". We went into the rehearsal room which is all made of wood with a standard acoustic that's set up intentionally for when they do recordings for their albums. I walked into the rehearsal space and he had a seat set up for me with a folder of all their music they would be working on for the next couple months. I took a seat with my journal ready to take thorough notes about the rehearsal. I was also excited to see how much I would be able to understand with the entire rehearsal being spoken in German.

The dynamic and atmosphere was the same of any choir I've ever been in. Everyone is conversing in their respective sections, people are cracking jokes, and everyone seems to be very happy to be there. But the moment the rehearsal started, everyone was in their seats ready to work. Stefan does not waste rehearsal time on warmups. Since all singers are paid for this job, they are required to come in warmed up and ready to sing. 

They immediately jump into the repertoire that they had been working on the day before. This only being the second time they had seen the music, I was shocked at their musicianship and that the text was near perfection, and their dynamics and use of expression was already fully intact. I was immediately impressed on an intellectual level.  And then I listened to the surrounding singers and heard a rich, thick, and full tone that to me, sounded like molasses, and really encompassed the German tradition of choral singing. 

I was in heaven sitting next to the tenor section for this half of the rehearsal. They had a tone that was unlike any other tenor section I had heard before. And when they sang their higher notes, it literally made my ears ring. It was almost a shadowed dark tone with just a hint a glimmer in their vibrato. And the vibrato is almost unnoticeable because it's only used to create a little bit of color. But when they are singing with the whole group it sounds like a very full straight tone sound.

They were working on an English piece called Four Songs of Love by Sandstrom and their English was very good. Their vowels are so dark and pure that it brings a nice color to the language that you don't hear in the states quite as often.  The women's parts are very strong and have a dark quality that contrasts the Swedes use of women in choir. The sopranos have impeccable control in their higher range and I even witnessed them singing an "ooh" on a G6 at a pianississimo. And they never lost any of their tone while doing that. I was truly in awe, especially being a soprano myself.

Other pieces they worked on in this rehearsal were the
-  Tre compositions coralli, No.1 - Cade la Sera by Ildebrando Pizzetti
Pseudo Yoik by Jaakko Mantyjarvi (Finnish)
2 Composizione Corali - I. Il giardino di Afrodite by Ildebrando Pizzetti
Awake, O North Wind by Sandstrom
- Trois Chansons by Claude Debussy
Ant han dansa med mej by Lars Edlund (Nordic)

As you can see from this list, they were singing in 5 different languages just in this rehearsal, and they adapted to the different dialects quite quickly. English, Italian, French, Finnish, and Nordic. All encompassed the same dark, rich tone quality, but all dialects had slightly different moments of diction and use of consonants. They would sing on "Lo" and "La" for the first part of learning the song, then Stefan would speak the language, and after the first try,  the entire choir was singing the correct pronunciation of that language. I was absolutely shocked to see that capability of adaptation to language and dialect at such a quick speed. That would be an amazing development for me to see happen in the states. I I feel we take advantage of English being a universal language,  and I think it would be so substantial if singers spent more time adapting to different dialects and ways to pronounce consonants and vowels to really showcase our flexibility as singers to respect other languages, cultures, and traditions of other countries. 

In the second part of the rehearsal I sat in the soprano section and was able to nearly feel their control and support in their higher range. In a lot of the contemporary pieces they are performing, there are a lot of moving lines and chromaticism in the soprano section. When singing with the rich tone they have, it can be very difficult to sing quick, chromatic lines in tune. It makes them very vulnerable to sinking in pitch during those parts of the song. And for the first few times it would. But what impressed me about the soprano section is that without even being told, they would pin point what specific note they were descending to that would bring their pitch flat and fix it immediately. The next time they sang through it, the problem had been fixed and it is because of their advanced knowledge in musicality and technique that they are able to overcome these struggles in such a short mount of time. This made me see why they can rehearse for 2 days and perform a concert of very high quality. Which is what they were preparing for. 

Something that I also found interesting was their adaptation to rhythm. Since I was able to both sit in the tenor section and the soprano section, I was able to feel how rhythm was worked out in both genders. If you have sung in American choirs,  you probably know that the men tend to drag in rhythm more so than the women. But one thing I noticed here was that in rhythmically complex pieces with multiple sections of syncopation, the women tend to drag more in time. Stefan would always direct the rhythm with a little more force when the women were presented with a sequence of syncopation. That was very interesting to witness and I am still trying to work out why it was that way. It wasn't all the time, just only in complicated songs and it may have also been because they'd only looked at the music a couple of times and weren't referring to the conductor for tempo as often as they would after knowing the piece for a longer period of time. 

Stefan's conducting was smooth as butter but yet also rhythm at the same time. It was a style of conducting that I could truly adapt to and read quite easily. He is very passionate with his facial expressions and his movements in his body are more vertical. When getting softer, he dips low to the ground behind the music stand and brings his hand into his chest.  When moving a section to be faster, the circles become smoother and larger swaying away from the torso. In the rhythmically complex pieces his head would be used a lot to keep the rhythm strict and forceful and he always kept his conducting with the time signature. He never acknowledged the syncopation in his conducting, which truly showcases the independent musical intellect of the choir members. It was very easy for the choir to read his musicality in his conducting and I could have watched him conduct all day. 

Sitting in on this rehearsal was a dream come true and I really felt quite honored and blessed to be sitting in a choir that I feel is one of the top choirs not only in Germany, but in Europe as a whole. The sopranos became very interested in my journey throughout Europe and discovering other choirs and conductors and at one point I had a circle of sopranos listening in to my story and what I hope to gain and accomplish throughout this journey. It was humbling to see people that I idolize look up to me and express their envy for my opportunities and experiences. Most of them thought I was here on a scholarship, but after explaining that I planned this all on my own, they seemed to be even more in shock that I was able to make the connections that I had. They also really appreciated my attempts to try and speak German and throughout the rehearsal, I understood about 75% of what Stefan was explaining to the choir. Thank goodness those 3 years of German in high school have finally paid off!

 It made this trip even more liberating after seeing their reactions and their support for me. It makes wanting to pursue my dreams as a musician in Europe more of a reality and their support has really boosted my confidence to think that maybe this is a possibility for me. 

After the rehearsal was over, I walked over to the Cologne Cathedral to finally see the inside. I walked through the main doors and my breath was literally taken away. My heart was full and I was overcome with emotion. Fighting back tears I progressed to the sides with the small praying sections and soaked up the stain glass and the art. The ceilings were 142.5 feet in height and your head literally leaned all the way back.  The pipes for the organ were located in different sections throughout the church so that it would fill all sections. It made sense why this church took 632 years to build (1248-1880). You could also see the changes in stone throughout the process of building based on the color and even the stain glass window design was different in some places, showcasing a change in generation for the families working to complete the church.

I spent a good amount of time in there soaking up every ounce and every emotion before heading out to the Roman-Germanisch museum to learn about Rome's influence on Cologne during the days of the Roman Empire. I learned in that museum that Handel's opera, Aggrippina was based on a female political leader controlling Cologne during the early AD period. I will definitely be wanting to see that opera now after being in Cologne and learning about the Roman influences of the city.

All in all, it was an amazing day filled with music, spirit, architecture, and history. The perfect day for me in my eyes. I couldn't wait to soak up one more amazing day in Cologne before heading to Berlin. 

Until next time virtual European travelers!


Monday, January 11, 2016

Days 3 & 4 - Stockholm

Day 3 & 4

It has been a busy last couple days and I got a tad behind on my entries so my apologies for those following my blog. I plan to get you caught up as best I can on what has gone on the last couple days.

Saturday - January 9th

After sleeping a full night and having a relaxing morning at the Graden household with a BEAUTIFUL view outside,  I prepped myself to venture out into Stockholm on my own. Gary helped me with the bus routes and train routes and I was on my way to the Sofiakyrka for a concert by the Rasmusson Vokalensemble under the direction of Inka Rasmusson. They are considered an amateur choir; this means they are good singers but are not compensated for their time and work. They had an absolutely beautiful sound that was light and pure. There was no vibrato that was used at all and the men dominated the choir as a whole. The women seemed to be taught to float over the men with a light, airy sound. The blend within each individual section was perfectly blended and not one voice stood out. I noticed in their mixed setup that the tenors stood on the outside of the half circle they had created. 

The compositions and arrangements were all done in the 20th century, including Poulenc, Rachmaninoff, Rathbone, and even some arrangements made by the conductor, Rasmusson. The music was also mostly done with score in hand and only a couple of pieces were done for memory.

In terms of tonality and diction, I noticed that vowels were more important than consonants. This was evident in the English pieces they performed. In the states, diction is very important so everyone in the audience can understand what you are singing. But once thing I notice in Sweden is that tone and vowel shapes take precedence over pronouncing the consonant in the words. I also notice that when they sing in different languages that they don't adapt to that languages dialect. For example, when they sang the Rachmaninoff, which is in Russian, their vowels were still very bright, whereas Russian is a very dark and shadowed tone. 

The conductor didn't do much in terms of expressing a lot in her conducting. She would only keep time during a meter change and would move her arms in circles to keep the choir moving so they wouldn't drag in time. She would also acknowledge when parts were to come in but other than that the choir was very independent. There were even some pieces where she didn't conduct at all. 

One thing I found interesting is not everyone in the choir sings for every song. It seems like they choose the projects and pieces they work on based on their schedule so they are constantly shifting and moving around in between songs. 

Their use of expression was also strictly in the singing. There was limited movement in songs, which for me, would be very difficult to do. And all of their pieces were acapella, which is the standard for choir concerts in Stockholm. 

All in all, the choir sang beautifully and their diversity in music selection and complexity was very refreshing. 

I also ended up befriending an older couple sitting next to me and they provided me with a lot of added information about the church, choirs in Stockholm, and their experience in choir. The church was built in the late 19th century (so not that old for Stockholm). The members of the choir are not members of the church itself. And churches in Stockholm are used more for choral concerts than for the church services themselves. 

The couple then walked with me through the streets of this part of Stockholm and helped lead me to my next destination. We talked about golf and places they have been in the states. One place in particular was Las Vegas. The wife had been there for work once before and it was comedic to hear her impressions of the crazy Americans with the big drinks in their hand on the sidewalk. I explained to her the phrase, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas", and she understood immediately why it was so. I also explained to her that I had been that crazy American and her husband had a good chuckle about that. They were an incredibly friendly couple and I am so glad I asked "Talar du Engelska" (Do you speak English) to strike up a conversation!

After bidding adieu to the couple, I was on my way to get some dinner in Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm). I found a little Italian bistro along the cobblestone streets and was warmly greeted at the entrance. I sat at the table and was immediately given a wine list. These people know me SO WELL! I ordered a delicious red wine with a bottle of still water. Looking at the menu it was evident of the Swedish influences in these Italian dishes. Meats were mainly veal, venison, and duck. I ordered the la carbonara and it was delicious! It had a different taste than the usual carbonara that I eat. They used a lot more pepper and the sauce was almost a light brown color. And instead of using bacon, they use pork cheek, which is just a stiffer bacon with a much richer flavor. It's also incredibly filling.

During my meal I was asked by my server if I was an American and he asked what I was doing in Stockholm and where in America I was from. He was very surprised to know that I had traveled so far from Seattle. And then to my surprise a younger couple sitting next to me asked me if I knew anyone that worked at Boeing. It was definitely the most unexpected question I have been asked in Europe. Turns out the man is obsessed with airplanes and knows everything about Boeing. He was so excited to know that I knew a handful of people and he was super jealous, which I found to be quite humorous. 

After dinner, which went longer than I was expecting, I walked over to the center of Stockholm to try and attend another concert under the direction of Waldenby. Unfortunately I was about 5 minutes late and they had already closed and locked the doors of the church. I was bummed but at least I got to see a little of what that side of Stockholm had to offer. 

I found my way back through subways and the bus and was at the Graden household around 7:30 that evening.  I was then informed by Maria, Gary's wife, that the concert featuring the Swedish Radio Choir and other famous Swedish singers was broadcasting on TV that evening. We sat in front of the TV and I listened to some of the most talented singers. And the Swedish Symphony was perfection. They performed everything from Sondheim to Brahms. It was a beautiful program and it made me even more bummed that I missed attending the dress rehearsal for that very concert. 

After watching most of the concert I headed to bed after a fun day of exploring Stockholm on my own.

Sunday - January 10th

This was the day I was most looking forward to happening on this trip in Stockholm. I was going to get to meet some incredible singers that sing in great choirs and get to sing along with them in a small ensemble for a Lutheran church service and Stockhom Cathedral. Gary and I left to catch the bus at 8:25 in the morning. We got to the church a little earlier than the rest of the choir and Gary sat down with me and went through some of the pieces to help me pick out the tone he wanted that would best blend with the group I would be singing with.

It was a group of 10 of us and wow are they gifted. They got the music and looked at it for the first time in this rehearsal and I was so pleased to see how well they sight read. Everyone got the songs perfect after running through the pieces twice. And we found a blend so quickly that truly filled the church. I was in awe knowing that I was sitting here singing with these people. I knew I would never have this feeling about anything else again,  so I savored every moment.

The service started at 11:00 and we were all matching in burgundy robes. We processed in behind the pastors and the ushers and took our seat behind the communion table. The hymnals were very small and I wasn't even thinking about the language until I opened the hymnal to sing our first hymn and saw 4 verses in Swedish. One of the singers sitting next to me leaned over and said, "Good luck!" That's definitely what I was going to need. But I was surprised at how fast I picked up on reading the pronunciation of the Swedish. No better way to learn than to just get thrown into singing and speaking it throughout a whole service. I couldn't help but feel proud for being able to follow through the whole service. The singing and service went beautifully and the pastor told Gary afterwards that the choir was especially exquisite that morning. What an honor to receive such a high compliment. 

After the service and making some amazing connections, Gary treated me to pizza in Old Town, and it was AMAZING!!! There is nothing like European pizza! And afterwards when we were checking out instead of mints for guests, there were gummy bears! It was pure magic!

After lunch we went back to the house and I took a nap so that I could watch the Seahawks Wild Card game later that evening. Luckily my family was all together at my Dad's and I was able to FaceTime in and watch the game from their phone. It made me feel like I was there!

And now I am ready for my next journey in Cologne! Thank you all for reading! Keep you all posted!!


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Day 2: Arriving in Stockholm

I truly can not believe that I am here in Stockholm. A place I have envisioned for months while planning this trip is just how I have imagined it.

I left on a shuttle for the airport in Reykjavik at 4:00 in the morning to catch a 7:35 flight to Stockholm. Arriving at the Keflavik airport, I was surprised at how many people were waiting in line but how fast the lines moved. The states could take notes on the efficiency and speed of Europe's airports. After starting my day with a Cappuccino, my new friend, Josh and I bid adieu after spending an unplanned day together in Iceland. He was such a friendly and intelligent man and it was nice to have someone to share my time with in an unknown place. He promises to keep me posted on the amazing beers he plans to try in Brussels and Budapest. 

My flight to Stockholm was very smooth. I got to watch the moon and the sun rise at the same time and as we started our descent into Stockholm, I saw an increase in snow on the grounds below me. A blanket of white swept through the country of Sweden and I was overwhelmed in anticipation and excitement to see what this country really has to offer. 

After getting off the plane, I was on my own to discover the train system into Stockholm and find my way to Old Town to meet up with Gary. After a 20 minute trip from Arlanda to Stockholm, I became very grateful that the Swedes all speak English very well. After speaking to 2 attendants,  I was on the correct metro to Gamla Stan (Old Town Stockholm). I finally met Gary in person at the station and he greeted me with a warm welcome and immediately made me feel like we had been friends for years. He seemed to be impressed that I was able to figure out the metro, but I quickly let him know that it was not easy and I received a lot of help. We went to a small cafe/bakery where he treated me to a Cappuccino and cinnamon bun and we quickly started planning what I would do and see during my short stay for this visit in Stockholm. We then walked on the snow covered cobblestone streets up 
the hill to the Old Town Square to his office to drop off my bigger items of luggage. I was able to see 
his music library that he has collected on his own, filled with choral music by all composers, especially Swedish. He then handed me some music that his choir was performing for service on Sunday and said, "You can sing Alto with us." I was immediately excited to know I would get to sing under his conducting.

He walked me through the square and took me to the cathedral where he conducts, the Stockholm Cathedral, and I couldn't believe my eyes when I walked in to this cathedral. His place of work was this beautiful space filled with history, detail, and true beauty. I couldn't believe in that moment that I was going to get to sing in this space with the conductor of this historic venue, which the royal family attends frequently. I asked Gary if he ever got nervous to conduct in front of the Royal family, and to my surprise, he said no! He knows that they appreciate his conducting and repertoire selections and I was in awe to know that he has made a career in this historic place known all around the world. I couldn't help but feel star struck knowing he was taking me in as his mentee in a way.

Gary then left me alone while he ran his errands and I was able to explore other parts of Old Town, including the outside of a German Gothic style church, one of the Royal palaces, numerous monuments and statues, and even walked along the Harbour to see the Loch, which is the section of water that connects the lake and sea together. I saw the beautiful city skyline at night while it sensitively snowed. It was a feeling of beauty you can only experience in Europe - in Stockholm. 

I met him back at his office and we walked to the metro to catch the subway to the bus station and then a bus to Nacka, a suburb outside of Stockholm, where him and his wife reside. It is a beautiful and peaceful neighborhood and their home is very cozy filled with wonderful decorations, and even a train set!

His wife cooked us dinner: pasta with two types of sauces (basil pesto and a red meat sauce), Caprese Salad, green salad with olive oil, fresh bread, sparkling water, and my favorite, red wine! We were able to converse in some amazing conversation about Swedish choir traditions and how choir 
structures have formed into what they were today. I was fascinated to be able to discuss comparisons between Sweden and the states in how choirs are formed and the education that creates the musicians we have in our respective cultures. 

Gary Graden studied music in Sweden with the infamous Eric Ericsson, who during that time, was revolutionizing the ideas of what choirs could be. Before thee 1950s, large oratorio and symphonic choirs were all the rage. Big romantic sounds completely enveloped the Swedish Choral traditions and created large, beautiful sounds. Ericsson came in as a conductor in Sweden and discovered that he could consolidate these groups to create what is now called "Chamber Choirs". These smaller choirs created a sound that revolutionized the choir traditions in Sweden. From this, more complicated music was being composed by composers such a Poulence. Tonalities and harmonies could be more complex and create a different color in choirs that hadn't been experimented with before. Gary was able to sing in these groups with Ericsson and was the only American there full time during this revolutionary period.

I was also very interested in listening to him and his wife, Maria, talk about how Swedish Choral Traditions are not as strong as they once were. Just like in America, funding has become more challenging to obtain and younger generations are losing interest in the discipline of music.  But in the day cares, music and singing I incorporated into their daily life. But the homes in Sweden are not filled with Swedish music traditions as they once were. I was disheartened to learn this but it is still evident how passionate Gary and Maria are about keeping Swedish Musical Traditions alive in their household. Both of their sons are accomplished musicians as a Cellist and Pianist. 

After dinner, Gary and I pulled out some of his solo singing books filled with art songs by Schumann and Schubert and started singing and playing piano for each other. Yes, I was singing and playing piano with THE Gary Graden in his own home! How many people can say they've done this? My heart was so full and my joy and excitement was overflowing. I then discovered he had a jazz fake book. While he was cleaning the dishes I started singing the multitude of songs I knew in this book and even opened up Gary's ears to jazz music he had not heard before. I was able to explain to him how popular jazz music was in the northwest and that I was raised in it from high school, on. Playing music alongside Gary will be a moment I will treasure forever and I am still in disbelief that this is my life in this moment. 

I feel lucky and blessed to be able to meet people like Gary and I can't wait to see what Stockholm has to offer me next. I hope my stories can inspire others to pursue their dreams of traveling, performing, or meeting people in the fields they are most passionate about. I can't even explain the feeling of how rewarding it is. And I'm only on day 2!

Until next time to my family, friends, and supporters. Lots of love from Stockholm to you all!


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Day 1 - Winter in Europe - Reykjavik, Iceland

Day 1 - Traveling to Iceland

I can't believe that I am here in Europe as I write this post. It has truly been an adventure leading up to this point and we are only on Day 1. It's about 1:30 in the morning here in Reykjavik and I'm currently awake in the hopes that I might be able to see the Northern Lights. 

Starting back at SeaTac, we were informed that there was increment weather in Iceland (high wind gusts) and that the airport might be shutting down at the same time that we would have been arriving on Thursday morning. So an immediate detour was made to fly to Edmonton, Alberta to fuel up on extra fuel in case we needed to fly an extra 2 hours and land in Glasgow, Scotland. Initially, I panicked knowing that I might miss out on opportunities that I had scheduled the day I arrived in Stockholm. But once I realized that I truly had no control in the matter, I decided to go with the flow and just savor the moment and that I was even going to Europe to start with.

The flight from Edmonton to Keflavik flew by and the weather didn't hit hard as they had expected. I befriended the guy that I was sitting next to, Josh, who was a 2003 graduate of WWU and is married with 3 kids. We figured since we had missed our connecting flights to our next destinations that we would stick together through the unexpected adventure in Iceland. We were informed that we would be staying overnight with all accommodations included so how could we not make the most of getting to experience a day in Reykjavik! 

We left the airport around 10:00 AM and it was still pitch black outside. The sun didn't even rise until 11:11 and the city of Reykjavik wasn't bright until after noon. That was a crazy thing to experience, not being used to the lack of sunlight in the north. It was a 50 minute drive to our hotel, which is located next to the Reykjavik airport. Disclaimer - the Keflavik International airport is where the connecting flights to other countries are. The Reykjavik airport is for the locals whose final destinations are in Iceland. The hotel is beautiful and I have a gorgeous view of the mountains from my room.

After settling into my hotel room, I headed down for lunch in the hotel and had an amazing lunch filled with chick pea salad, potatoes, tilapia, and lamb. I then went and had desserts with fresh, unprocessed whipped cream! There were apple tarts and triple dark chocolate fudge, and cake. I was in heaven to say that the least. And then I was quickly reminded of how amazing Europe is when I got a cup of coffee and put a little cream in it. It was smooth and heavenly, just like I remembered it from when I was in Europe last time.

After lunch we took a bus to downtown and saw a gorgeous cathedral called the Hallgrimskirkja, which was consecrated in 1986. It was very minimalist in architectural design but it had a GORGEOUS pipe organ with nearly 5,250 pipes included. It definitely was the focal point of the entire church. 

We then continued to walk through the main streets of downtown and went along the Harbour to find the stainless steel Sun Voyager  sculpture. Although simple in design, it's meaning and precise location truly create a symbolic hope for the people and ancestors of Iceland. The artist, Jon Gunnar Arnasson, wanted to portray within the sculpture the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress, and freedom. And the view of the sea with the the mountains in the background is truly breathtaking.

After some sightseeing, we found the Dillon Whiskey Bar where we had some traditional Icelandic gin (Brennivin) and a Viking Classic Amber. I will say it was the best and smoothest Amber I have ever tasted. 

We conversed with a few of the locals in the bar and was surprised to hear of the things that they were sick of seeing in Iceland. For how raw its beauty is, I'm surprised that anyone could get sick of it. 

After a beer and some gin, I realized how long I had been awake without getting an ounce of sleep. We made our way back to the hotel and I crashed at around 5:30, and it was pitch black outside.

My flight for Stockholm leaves at 7:35 in the morning and I have a shuttle picking me up at 4:00. I am so glad that I got to see a taste of Iceland and its beauty, but I am excited to get to Stockholm and truly start my musical adventure!

Until tomorrow my virtual European travelers!