And the dust begins to settle…

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The famed Toulouse sausage

This has been a week of “figuring things out” and settling into life here. I am very glad that the weekend has arrived, although it has come simultaneously too quickly and too slowly. The time here flies, especially since the majority of one’s time seems to be spent eating: wake up around 7 or 8am, eat breakfast about 9am, start lunch around noon or 1, continue enjoying one’s meal until 3 or 4pm and, of course, have an espresso. Drinks start flowing by 11am, at the latest, and continue through dinner, which begins around 8pm. The question of why the French are not overweight is truly a valid one. It seems like there is always time to simply sit, eat/drink, and watch people. However, it does seem as though about 80% of them still do smoke so perhaps that as something to do with…

This has also been a week of my discovering that I have more than enough French to get me into plenty of trouble but not always enough to get me out of it. Sometimes, I have a “joli accent” and other times, I have almost no accent. In either case, I typically end up receiving far more information in a short period of time that I can fully process!

Thanks to all of your positive thoughts and encouragement, I am about 99% sure that I have a bank account! I have signed a contract and am awaiting my account information and debit card, which will both come in the mail. Until then, it is just as though I do not have a bank account. French literature courses certainly didn’t prepare me for the speed at which the bank employee would tell me my account information, especially since this monologue was complete with a strong Toulousain accent. Asking for everything to be repeated simply tries the patience of somebody who is kind enough to help this poor international establish herself in a new country!

Funnily enough, my supposed bank account is with La Poste. This is just as it sound: La Poste is, in fact, the national post office. One of the stranger French cultural experiences I have had is entering that large, almost gymnasium-like room full of people trying to mail large packages, order cell phones, deposit and withdraw money, and open bank accounts. Who knew the French liked to multitask so much?

I have rented a charming vélo de ville, a bike on which I can easily cut down the 25-minute walk to the conservatory to under 10 minutes. However, riding a bike in Toulouse, especially downtown during the afternoon, is borderline suicidal. Not only do cars seem to go out of their way to try to push you off of the road, pedestrians have no problem at all walking out right in front of you. Now that I have had two days of riding back and forth across the city, I am feeling much more comfortable but I probably gave a few pedestrians and drivers miniature heart attacks during my first ride from the Maison de vélo!

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Don’t mind me, just waiting to have my hair cut!

I deliberately waited to get a haircut until after my arrival in France, forcing myself
to learn the necessary vocabulary and get over my natural fear of not being able to explain what I want to such a specific extent in a foreign language! I am so glad I did. For just 30€, I got 15 minutes in a massage chair with a head massage, an espresso and all sorts of chocolates (none of which I ate, unfortunately because it was 9:30 in the morning!), a consult on how my hair should look and how I should style it (apparently my face is square and my previous cut had been too square, leading to far too manyIMG_1757 squares…etc), a cut, a brushing (blow-dry), and tons of advice on where to visit in southern France during my time here. The two hairdressers in the shop, each of whom had their own charming yet difficult-to-understand Toulousain accents, absolutely loved comparing French and American ways of life and describing their favorite places to travel in both countries. I ended up giving advice of where to have brunch on Sundays in New York City! The name of the salon, Pourquoi ailleurs, is absolutely perfect, as it means “why anywhere else?” Indeed: pourquoi ailleurs!

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Giving up my “no selfie” rule for this posting. New haircut… en France!

Finally, I passed the harpsichord audition the Conservatoire yesterday and have been accepted into the deuxième cycle, troisième année, which seems to be about the equivalent of the final year of a Master’s degree…in harpsichord. After only one semester of private study five years ago and after learning two pieces in a week for the audition that I didn’t know about until I arrived in France, that doesn’t feel too shabby! I do look forward to trying to live up to the level and have already ordered a whole stack of repertoire I can’t wait to learn. Even better, there seems to be no lack of harpsichords on which to practice at the conservatory, I will be able to continue fortepiano studies with the same professor through that audition, and I have been exempted from solfège classes. The audition for the organ class en perfectionnement take place next Thursday on the stunning organ of St-Sernin so wish me luck–  I can’t wait to dive right into lessons in the coming weeks!

The amazing organ of St-Sernin
The amazing organ of St-Sernin
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Summer Summary

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Graduation!

The end of the season has crept up on me, like it does every year! However, this summer’s end is more of a change than ever before, as I exchange my “drive out to Oberlin” tradition of the last five years for a much longer commute across the pond to France.

Before I begin to document my European adventures, the events of the past few months merit descriptions, all of which I am thrilled to share with you!

In May, I received both of my diplomas from Oberlin. Those expensive little pieces of paper that try, but fail, to summarize five years worth of work certainly look nice framed and boxed up, waiting for the wall of some future office. I already miss Oberlin, its tireless professors, and the unlimited practice time. There is no place like Oberlin and we Obies certainly know that well!

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Church of the Advent, Boston

This summer began with Corpus Christi at the Church of the Advent in Boston, where Mark Dwyer and Ross Wood have added a harpsichord to their list of fine instruments. The service was full of music by William Byrd sung by the choir and performed on the harpsichord. Playing Byrd’s music in the smoke-filled room added a new layer of mystery to the event. The annual procession around the church certainly shocked Charles Street and the tourists wandering nearby!

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Church of the Transfiguration, New York City

I went from Boston to New York City where I presented a “young artists” program with Mary Copeley, Ashley Snavley, and Emma Whitten on the charming Fisk organ at the Church of the Transfiguration. It was an honor to participate in a weekend of concerts at the Museform conference and to hear the music of such distinguished organists. I look forward to future events!

Having played in NYC on Saturday morning, I quickly returned to Maine for a concert, sponsored by the Keith McClelland Music Foundation, the next day in Cape Porpoise, Maine, a stunning and must-see town past Kennebunkport. I have never played for such an appreciative audience as that of the Church on the Cape. Even more shocking, after listening to my playing, the Foundation’s board was so inspired by the music that they wished to support me in my future studies, offering me a scholarship to accompany me as I moved forward! Words cannot describe how grateful and how amazed I am by their generosity, especially since I only hope to move and reach people through my music. To have this response is nothing I have ever experienced and I am truly humbled by this church family and by their support.

Presenting at the American Guild of Organists Northeastern Convention in New Haven, Connecticut
Presenting at the American Guild of Organists Northeastern Convention in New Haven, Connecticut

The Northeastern Convention of the American Guild of Organists was held in New Haven, Connecticut and certainly showed off the unbelievable instruments that Yale University and the town of New Haven have available. The sparkling jewel of the city, the organ at Woolsey Hall, was displayed in completely different, but equally astounding, ways by Peter Richard Conte for the opening concert and by Tom Murray for the closing concert of the convention. The countless other concerts combined with these made New Haven’s convention one of the most successful I have yet attended. I was privileged to present a workshop on recently published voluntaries to a room with over 60 attendees. There was not an empty seat to be found and I ran out of handouts! What an honor to be able to share ideas for preludes and postludes with colleagues and I was thrilled that it became a discussion of attendees favorite music.

July found me at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Summer Conducting Institute. This is a must for anybody wishing to spend three intensive days focusing on their conducting technique. I was one of eight choral conducting fellows, which meant I got over two hours of time on the podium in front of the responsive, 40-voice volunteer choir and string quartet. The faculty, consisting of Tony Thornton and Wayne Abercrombie, is extremely attentive. These teachers want the conductors, of a variety of levels, to access the next level of their musicianship and they work to create a welcoming atmosphere in which to grow.

Pipe Organ Encounter, Brooklyn Faculty
Pipe Organ Encounter, Brooklyn Faculty

From UMass I traveled out to Brooklyn, New York, where I was both faculty and chaperone at the Pipe Organ Encounter. What a week, with 21 enthusiastic, talented students studying with 10 esteemed faculty members! I was honored to be a part of this program and am in complete admiration of the planning committee, especially Eric Burke. The “borough of churches” really rolled out the red carpet by sharing their instruments and spaces with all of us for lessons and recitals throughout the week. Especially unique to this POE were the numerous workshops offered by the faculty. These enabled all of the students to really get to know each teacher and learn about many different aspects of the organ and organ playing, including composing for the organ, practicing, Russian organ music, and competitions. Of course, the best part of the week was finally getting to hear the students play on Friday evening’s concert!

This last month, I visited New York City to see friends and have a little time off (however shocking that may seem!). During this time, I learned of the passing of John Scott, the unparalleled organist and choirmaster of the great St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue. I attended the Requiem Eucharist at St. Thomas the day following his passing and felt privileged to be a part of the congregation of hundreds coming to testify to his amazing life. Although he was one of the best organists of our day, he was even better known as one of the most exceptional people in our field, always generous with his time and knowledge and tirelessly genuine. He lived by the phrase soli deo gloria and invited all others to do the same. The service was a celebration of a man who inspired all of us through his music-making and through his love of both music and people.

The last two weeks have seen me in and out of Boston, during which I was also able to visit St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and hear the beginnings of the new Andover organ being put in. It was a privilege to play an instrument in its early stages of installation and the organ will sound simply glorious in the chapel’s acoustic!

I finally got my student visa, following much work and worry over the summer. With visa, two suitcases, backpack, and duffel bag in hand, I fly to France tomorrow to begin a year’s worth of European adventures. Stay tuned for updates and please do follow my posts for the next year! I promise they won’t all be this long…

Visiting Ogunquit, Maine
Visiting Ogunquit, Maine