After a rather crazy first week of classes, I have come to the conclusion that at the root of any great adventure is the acceptance of ambiguity. This week has consisted of incorrect or outdated information on lecture times, meeting rooms, campus locations, and even reading lists (I re-read the Scarlett Letter in one sitting for a class the next day, only to show up and find out the reading list I’d been given the day before was outdated and that the seminar discussion for that day was on Edgar Alan Poe… very different reading). However, all of the craziness just adds to the adventure of it all, and as there’s very little I can do to change many of these incidents, the best thing to do is just go with the flow. So, after many schedule changes, and visits to the study abroad office, and e-mails home to my advisors there, my course load here consists of four courses–one writing course, and three literature (Post-colonial literature, Gothic literature, and, ironically, American literature). While slightly irked by the fact that I would be studying very little British literature, and certainly not the canonical writing I had envisioned, I’m happy now with what I have. I really enjoy the writing course, the post-colonial lit class should be interesting when taken from the view point of the post-colonizers, the Gothic is all about the unconventional which is what this whole experience is in many aspects, and the American literature will feel a little bit like home (plus I’m curious to see their take on it).
Each class I have consists of a lecture and a seminar. The lectures are between one to one and a half hours, and the seminars are one and a half to two hours long. For the literature classes, seminars are discussions. For the writing course, they consist of group and individual writing excercises and peer review circles of what we write. The pace is quick, and each week for each literature class, I have an entire novel to read (or, in some cases, a large set of short stories) for the upcoming seminar. In addition, there’s secondary reading to be done about the book, or about critical reading practices or tendencies in general for the topic. In some classes, the secondary reading consists of a list of five or six articles or books per work read, and for others we’re just given a four page long list of reading to choose from. Either way, I’ll be busy. The writing class, which I was initially most concerned about, might turn out to be my lightest class, as the reading is not as heavy, and the writing we do each week is only around 500 words (that being said, this week we’re supposed to write the start of a novel, and I feel slightly stunned at how to even do such a thing). Still, they all hold interest to me, and I think I’ll be able to handle things well enough if I’m smart about my time…
Friday afternoon, after surviving a chaotic week, I decided that the day and weather was nice (there’s something wrong when I think 3° C is nice weather for being outside), and headed to explore the pier after class. It was nice, somewhat quiet, so I imagine it’s much more exciting at night when everything is lit up and there are people around, but overall enjoyable with a good view. And, since I was there already, once I was finished at the pier, I went for a walk along the beach to explore things there. The sand on this beach… it isn’t really sand. Or gravel. This beach just has rocks. As one person put it, “You could count the grains of ‘sand’ on this beach.” Still, they had all been worn smooth by the ocean and were thereby neat to look at, and there were nice shells washed up, waiting to be discovered as well. Off in the distance, there’s the bare remains of an older pier that used to be here, but burned down. Many of the people here are in favor of tearing it down, as they think it’s an eyesore, but I liked those skeleton remains, a haunting from the past (maybe the Gothic literature is going to my head…). After my miniture adventure, I met up with to explore one of the coolest places I’ve yet discovered: the Lanes. The Lanes is a small area of lavish boutiques, restaurants, bakeries, sweet shops, and other fun places all concentrated into a little center. There’s no roads, just narrow lanes connecting everything in this little tiny town, and for the time you’re there, everything else fades away as if you’re in a completely different world. Though everything there is pretty expensive, just walking around and taking in the atmosphere is fulfillment enough, and I’ll definitely be back to cover more of what we were unable to see.
Last new experience for the week, I had my first horn lesson with Pip Eastop yesterday. And it went really well. I was apprehensive that I’d get nervous and not do well, but when I first arrived, he remarked that it was freezing cold outside, and offered me tea or coffee. When I refused, he offered a baked potato or soup. Though I refused those as well (after all, I’m there to learn, not to eat!), I quickly lost my fear of playing for him.
Because I told him that I was really interested in teaching horn, he worked the lesson around teaching me how to teach, asking me how I would explain certain technical concepts, and then correcting or adjusting my understanding of them so that I could both better teach them, and apply them to my own playing. This lesson was strictly devoted to technique (so much of what I learned will mean very little to the general audience), which was great and probably exactly what I needed. While he did cast off some of my previous ideas of how things worked (i.e. breathing and embouchure), I was reassured to know that there were some concepts I did have a good understanding of (tonguing and gaining an understanding of hearing, learning, and teaching pitch). My homework assignment? Long tones. Just long tones. For the next two weeks. Perfect, precise, gorgeous long tones. While I’m nervous that this will get boring, I know that this really will make a big difference in my playing and is a key element in mastering tone, dynamics, and control of the instrument. So I’m sticking to it!
Final thought was one he shared in my lesson. When he first shared it, it was alarming, as it went against just about everything you grow up learning, but upon further explanation, it made sense. “There’s no point in practicing something you can’t do.” Like I said, rather shocking, until he explained that if you continue to practice what you can’t do, you’re only going to continue to practice not being able to do something. Rather, you practice what you can do until you can get it perfect. And then you continue to practice it perfectly. Everything you practice, you must practice perfectly. If not, you’re just creating and practicing bad habits–imperfect playing. So practice perfectly, and when you learn more things, learn it at a level where you can always get it perfect, even if it means piecing it together note by note. Kind of a funny way to think of it, but it does make a lot of sense as well. So there’s something to think about, for whatever you may be practicing, be it an instrument or a sport or a virtue or whatnot.
There’s more to be said, but tomorrow is class, so I’ll finish and add pictures at a future date.