Thursday, August 30, 2012

Goal-Setting, Now that I Think of It

           My generation was raised by the success generation that told us time and time again that goal-setting and decision-making will be the most important skills to master young.  So you have a dream?  They say, facing a class of 1st graders, hands white with chalk; let’s break it down into parts.  Let’s make it realistic.  It starts simple – today learn to tie your shoes, tomorrow learn to tie your roller skates.   Facing a class of college Freshmen, the make-progress mantra becomes strikingly more complex – today enroll in classes you are interested in, next year declare a major.  Time passes. 

Somehow this process is supposed to prevent those of us who teeter so close to being dead-in-the-water from flailing too far behind our furiously treading peers.  It’s supposed to be infallible.  A path to success.  A panacea for the meaningless life that we all seem to be burdened with from the start.  Moreover, it intends to instill meaning into the simple-ness of everyday tasks that seem to consume our meager time.

 An U-Bahn (subway) ticket.  I still don't speak German well,
so I can still giggle that it's good for "1 Fahrt".

Moving to Vienna, I’m beginning to find this fix-all process much more complex than the input::result I was promised.  Certain factors come into play that exact bigger effect than I would have liked to think.  As always, I’m learning that things are much more much more complicated than how I was lead on to believe.   But of course, when I first stood up on my roller-skates, I never expected to fall.

My rough critique from last week led me to do two irrational things.  First, I asked for an interview to do a teaching internship over the next semester, having no experience or interest in teaching (especially not children).  Second, I decided to push on and take the class out of that sadistic urge I call curiosity.  I just had to know what kind of repertoire was ‘simple’.

I use the word ‘irrational’ because neither of these things (at the time) seemed to have lain in the path of any of my plans.  Granted, being completely rejected wasn’t, either, but I’m a proponent of the life-philosophy that I call “ruthlessly improvising”.  And “ruthlessly improvising” I am.  This whole goal-setting thing?  Out the window, smeared across the cobblestone streets of Johannesgasse.  And decision making?  More like having no more time to hold your toe in the water, time to hold your breath and jump.

Where I go to school.  A palace.  On Johannesgasse.  I don't have
a picture of the cobblestone streets.  Yet. 

The result?  Reward, surprise, anticipation.  Excitement.  My interview for a teaching position went unbelievably well.  I’m getting placed in a school of teenagers and adults who want to learn English (among other things).  The woman who runs the teaching internship took a particular interest in me, knowing I play guitar, and is showing me an artists’ street market on Saturday.  My eyes must have been as big as oranges when she said “I have some people you need to meet.  Bring your ukulele and sketchbook.”   Insert here a giddy squeal.

 My only experience so far with Viennese markets - the Naschmarkt.
Near my apartment, it is similar to a farmer's market except more
upscale.  I expect that this is not what I should expect for this weekend.

And my music course?  Surprisingly within my ability. I’m much less intimidated now that I have my repertoire and have seen the repertoire of others.  The woman who criticized me may have been blunt, but she has good taste.  I’m looking forward to a Saint-Saens piece with flute, a Shumann piece for voice and four-hands piano, and… a musical theater piece?  No experience with that, either, but I’ll take it.  More than anything, I’m really eager to meet my fellow music students and work collaboratively with them in this context.  The work may be demanding, but not so demanding.  Really, it’s just more ruthless improvisation.

Had I chosen to goal-set my way through this, these two choices would have been frightening and thoroughly disappointing.  But moving to Vienna has resulted in a surprising discovery – the decomposition of a set standard for my behavior.  When my interviewing instructor asked me “So, who is Rebeccah?”  I answered only with that which I knew for certain – she’s from Minnesota, she likes playing guitar and drawing in her sketchbook.  And she apparently loves to challenge herself.  And now she’s looking forward to a series of unplanned experiences that have nothing to do with ‘life goals’.  Whatever those are.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Viennese Manifesto

    I found myself in a beautiful room full of barely familiar people debating if I had made the right life choices to get here.  From the vaulted ceilings the sound of some horn concerto reverberated through the room and as I listened, some mood in the room suddenly became tangible.  Everyone was debating.  Back and forth - should I have been a music major?  Should I have even come to Vienna?  Am I really good enough to be here?  What did I expect?

 Beautiful Wien.  Some of these buildings are older than any
place I've ever been inside of the United States.  The classical
front of the city is beautiful, but so intricate that it's intimidating.
And, for me, foreboding.

    Listening to other musicians, no matter their instrument or level of advancement, presents such questions of self doubt.  In a new environment, one where you don't speak the language, don't understand the polite customs, can't distinguish the impolite customs, are so inevitably alienated by simple barriers, internal struggles such as these become common place.  Inside and outside of the realm of music.  But I suppose, for me, being so committed to this specific area it becomes almost painful.

    I can't say I've yet to answer these questions.  If anything, my new living situation in Vienna has been more questions on top of questions.  I left Duluth with the intention of finding myself.  I find now that every day the concept of 'self' that I had pre-concieved was imperfect and false.  All it took was one bad audition and a lot of self-support to realize this.  This step, this very first step and I already find that my own self has become much more clear.

    Let me explain to you this bad audition.  I'll preface it by saying that I don't consider myself the 'best of the best' in anything.  I had a rough summer at home, preventing me from practice and I know that there is a lot of work ahead of me through the next year of Study Abroad.  I called these givens.  However, I did not expect that the kind of criticism that they deliver here in Vienna is one-of-a-kind and oh-so-harsh.

    We all have our first set of auditions in the music room.  It's not a concert or recital hall - it's a moderate pretty room with paintings of angels on the ceilings and carvings of cupids everywhere that happens to have a piano or two off to one side.  A panel of music staff sits dead front-center and you walk up there, announce your name and what you're performing, and then perform.  They email you later that night to tell you if you're going to have to re-audition again.

Room 10.  Giving the room a number seems a shame.  Call it the ballroom.
The palace that we're in used to, get this, not be a place to live, it was a 
place used SOLELY for parties.  
    Short story - I got the email.  There weren't many of us that did, and we spread across disciplines but we showed up the next day (looking slightly shameful, I might add) to maybe shed some light on ourselves.  Maybe make a case for why we should be accepted into the music class that none of us was told was competitive and most of us needed for credit.

    I had dyed my hair darker that afternoon (not on purpose, the dye was supposedly the same color as my hair according to the box) and I was greeted by the voice-area specialist with a comment on that.  I walked into the room, less nervous for the second time, and spoke a little about my experience prior to coming to Vienna - that I had been trained as a jazz singer before I got to college, began my career as a classically trained singer, and then now I'm here - and then I was asked to sing.

    What I sang, the repertoire I had, was scrutinized.  I was told my voice was "immature".  I was told that it was in its "baby stages".  I was told that the repertoire I had chosen was much too difficult.  I was told that I shouldn't be singing most of this for the next 15 years.  Toss it out.  Start new.  Here's your opportunity: you're in the class but I'm giving you easy things.  Jazz.  Musical theater.  Is that okay?  Yes, good, fine, nod, smile.  You're not going to be in the opera scenes.  Yes, good, fine, nod.  You realize that all of the other students are at a much more advanced level than you?  Nod, yes, smile, smile, smile.  Try to keep smiling.  Try to hold on.  Smile, nod, smile.

    Leave the room, burst into tears.  Is this how it is in Vienna?  We can't meet you where you're at with your education, start over?  Abandon all hope ye who enter here.  It's a rough world, and you're not good enough.  Well, fuck.

    I mean, well, fuck that.  I knew that just going to school in Vienna wasn't going to be enough for me.  I knew that from the start.  The undertones from my audition that said "perhaps you don't belong here" also tell me that "perhaps you're going to have to make a place for yourself here".  I never claimed to be a classical singing specialist.  I never claimed that I wanted to go back to just jazz.  And never have I wanted to do musical theater.  But, no door ever closes.  They become new opportunities.

    As I see it, this is my chance to do better than even I expected.  To make things tangible like who I am and why I'm here.  To make myself a place.  Why should I be surprised when circumstances force me into it?  I feel the start of something already and it is... liberating. 

    Amongst the Viennese building fronts, there lies an array of graffiti.
The youth culture and the old culture, mixed together in forced harmony.
And oh, the music they make.

    The purpose of this blog is to act as a reflection space for my musical and non-musical experiences.  It's so that I (and others interested) can follow my progress through a city that seems, when seen from a distance, to be impenetrable and explorable.  So vast that there is no start and no end.  And when it's all over, I hope that I will have squeezed enough juice out of it that my experience is rewarding.  I can already tell that it's going to be quite a ride.