Monday, August 18, 2014

Jet Lag

Well, I have never been so happy to be home as I am this time. It's not yet 6 am and I've been up since 2. I'm unpacked, on my 4th load of laundry, have made a coffee cake, run the dishwasher, answered all work emails and sent a zillion work emails. Nothing like diving right back into life at home. I know I'll crash this afternoon. 

It's good to be home. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

Today was the loooooong trip back home, but boy was I ready. We were on the bus by 7 and to the airport not long after that. On the short flight to Zurich, we were given a drink, a roll, and chocolate. From there it was a short train to the next terminal, passport control, and onto the plane for our 9+ hour flight. I hate traveling west. Takes longer, it's usually during the day so I can't sleep, and drags on and on. I love Swiss air though. We got a drink and some crackers, then lunch (tasty eggplant tomato pasta!), then Swiss chocolate ice cream break, then pizza, then chocolate. Lots of food breaks and they take care of you well. Once home, it was through passport control. Crowded, unorganized, yelling workers, unfriendly workers. Typical. Welcome home. Ugh. Then I called my dad who came and picked me up and I went home. I was so glad to see everyone and mostly to see that little fur baby of mine, who was crying with joy and running like a maniac and then climbing all over me. My mom said he was antsy for a half hour before I was home. Not sure how he knows, but he does. Going to bed early, and will post more later.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Not too much to write about today. It was our last small day trip, this time to Lübeck. I've been here before, but like it very much and still have things I wanted to see. I've never been able to get into Marienkirche because every time I was there it was closed. Today I got in and that in and of itself was worth the day trip. I got to see the fallen bells, the two organs, the old altars and sculptures everywhere. It was amazing and I will need to come back to go in again because I went on overload. After the tour I had a nice lunch and we went back to the hotel. We had a group dinner and then there was this group award thingy. Everyone got some silly award and each time a name was called we were supposed to do the first phrase of the Buxtehude piece we did, in parts, on kazoo. Anyone who knows me and how I feel about such nonsensical junk can imagine how this went down in my books so I won't elaborate. I survived it, but I really don't see why people like goofy crap like that. When this was done, it was one more trip to the grocery store to load up on chocolate, then back to the hotel to repack and get ready to leave. I'm already working on some final reflections but that will be saved for another post.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hamburg again.

Today we did a bus tour of Hamburg. This wasn't so new to me because I've been to Hamburg many times. Hamburg does not make my top five favorite city list, however, I will always be fond of it because it was the very first city I experienced in Europe. I still remember thinking the money was like Monopoly money, being both terrified and excited, not knowing a lick of German, having separation anxiety since Poco and I hadn't ever spent more than 48 hours apart, and overpacking. 50 pounds of luggage overpacking. (I must have thought it was a third world country or something.) So each time I return to this city, it is fun to remember that young naive grad student who showed up in Germany, totally unprepared, and reflect on how I've changed over the years and how Europe has largely help shape who I am today. It's a very nostalgic city for me.

Our tour ended at St. Michale church for an organ concert. I was glad to hear a organ concert, but sad it was so short. One funny note: the fellow from yesterday with the tambourine at the organ? When he heard the Toccata and Fugue in d minor (Bach) he got all excited and stared fingering the pew in front of him as if he was pretending to play. He seemed eager for people to notice this, and was unaware of the Germans sitting behind him giving him dirty looks at making a scene. I rather thought he was just pretending to play and not actually playing the right fingers on the pew because it looked wrong. Much to my amusement, his fingers got more animated when the real organist was playing.... the pedal solo.  

After this I walked around with a small group to see the various sights of Hamburg. We visited the ruins of the St. Nikolai. This continues to be one of my favorite places and I am so glad they left it as-is. It's unreal to walk through the ruins and imagine what used to be and serve as a powerful and visible reminder of the horrors of war. One statue in the corner is powerful and gets me every time. 

You can just see the grief and despair as this fellow mourns the harshness and coldness of how brutal humans can be. It's strange to think about the wars that happen and we say we learn from them, and then war breaks out somewhere else over something else. Sick. We just never learn our lesson. 

From here, we went to the Katarinakirche where I got the CD that they recorded last year but hadn't yet released. I was very pleased to see that the facade was no longer covered with scaffolding. 

By this time I was just with two former CURF professors and I was glad that I could show then the city. I can read maps but have a tendency to get lost so it was great to be able to confidently navigate a city and show then around. When we got to the Jakobi, I died not to play that organ and remembered the time I did play it. I was so tempted to buy the poster that temps me every time, but it was raining and I have no good way to get it back home. One of these days, I'll remember to pack an empty tube and get it back home. 

Then, in the afternoon, we went to the Miniature Wonderland. This is the most amazing museum. I could write an entire book on it. If you want to know more, google it, or ask me to lend you the 4-hour DVD I bought at the gift shop. 

All in all, this was a good day. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Praetorius and a bathroom door. Pass the oxygen!

Today we got up and loaded the bus. Our morning trip was several hours longer than expected thanks to construction. That's life. We had lunch, which was decent, then went to St. Mary (Wolfenbuettel) to find the grave of Michael Praetorius. What a spectacular church. I didn't bother to pay the money to take pictures but just walked around. We sang a piece of his from the steps, and when the guide found out we were a choir, he let us in upstairs to the exhibit. Amazing. A picture of the Compenius organ I played in Denmark one or two years ago was hanging on the wall, which made me all nerdy.

One tour guide said he was buried in an unmarked location on the right side of the organ and that the original stone was stolen. Another said he was buried near the marker under the left side of the organ. Yet another said all that is buried is his head, an arm, and a leg, and the rest of him must be "scattered about". Needless to say, I didn't get a picture with his grave because Lord only knows where his body lies. It was enough for me to be in this church and to know he is buried somewhere in it. 

At the end, the tour guide offered to take a small group up to the organ. I held back, not wanting to be pushy, but several people encouraged me to go so I did. The guide said we could go up to look at the console but only one at a time because they didn't want too much body heat near the pipes. When it was my turn, I was surprised to see pistons and wondered about the action. It killed me not to touch and play it. (One guy later joked that I "looked very pious" but I informed him my folded hands were because I didn't trust myself not to touch.) I stood there in awe with major goosebumps needing oxygen to be so close to such this instrument. I didn't get to play it, but I can say I've seen it up close and personal. I was also able to purchase a CD, which I cannot wait to listen to when I get home. 

There is one other organist on this trip who likes to make sure everyone on the trip knows he is an organist. (Maybe because he's not a member of the church?) When it was his turn to go to the console to look, he went over, picked up the tambourine sitting on the bench, and started shaking it loudly. Aside for being embarrassing, I rather think he doesn't understand the significance of this instrument. I so badly wanted to call Ross or Craig and chat about this since they understand both the significance and depth of the instrument as well as the frustration with American organists who clearly don't get it and spoil it/ give Americans a bad rap for those of us who want to go in and really play. The guide had told us before how serious it was to go one at a time, not to touch, etc. etc, and said he could get in big trouble if he didn't follow the rules. He made it abundantly clear. This guy either didn't hear, or didn't care, and found it amusing to try the tambourine. What. The. Heck. 

After this, we went to our hotel. Got there about 8:00. My roommate went out with other people so I had the room to myself. I decided to take advantage and take a long shower. This hotel, while it is not convenient to city center, is fabulous. Know why?

That is a door. Not made of glass or frosted glass. The mirror is on the OUTSIDE. The bathroom is all in one piece and all behind a closed door. 

The shower doesn't have a million buttons. It looks like this. 

It's not even super tiny. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to shave legs in most European bathrooms? Either the shower is so small that you can't escape the water that you have to turn the water off and freeze, or it's one of those other hotels with a bad door where you don't even think of shaving because you just want to get as much grime off you in 2 seconds lest someone walk in the room on you so figure you're in Europe so shaving and showering are semi optional. Not in this wonderful  Best Western!! Plenty of room in a big shower behind a closed bathroom door to shave your legs and take a proper shower without having to turn the water off and freeze. Oh, and once you are done shaving, you push this little button (not million and no tricks, just push the button) the water stops coming out of the hand held shower head and comes out of this. 

It is like it rains from heaven. A real shower head. O happy day. And as if this isn't good enough, they even have washcloths. In a European hotel. Yep, you read that correctly. No disposable camp washcloths here!

By now I know you are thinking this must be the best hotel in Europe. It gets better. There are free apples and ice cream in the lobby. They give you a free 2-day HVV pass. They have stamps for postcards. They are happy to break the large bills that the ATM gives you but that no merchant wants to accept. They give you mints on your pillows. Best hotel this trip. 

I took a looooong shower, enjoyed my mints and my room to myself catching up on emails until my roomie came back and then I went to bed. 

I feel like a new person. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Turning a corner

Well, it seems that with just a couple of days left, my trip is finally turning a corner and will end well.

Today..... I played an organ. Yes, I actually got to play an organ. It only took being here a dozen days. Never again am I coming in August. That's for sure. I am so glad this organ worked out. It is one of two in Erfurt that I had hoped to play. This was the Volckland. 

Stunning, isn't it? One of the organists met me and just turned his keys over to me. He was kind enough to share with me the history of this organ. This church used to belong to the monastery and one of the nuns helped with the idea for the design of the organ and altar. She had her initials put several places in the church. 

This organ is special because apparently Volckland was only permitted to build organs in a very small area of Germany. The organist proudly showed me his favorite stop that is "like a recorder upside down. Plays like butter." He demonstrated and the sweet sound filled the room and I couldn't help but smile. He sad this organ can sound like a north German or south German organ. He demonstrated and I had a hard time wrapping my head around it. No surprise that I like the north German sound best and when I heard that it of Buxtehude I jumped for joy inside. He left and I sat down on the bench. I played JC Bach, Weckman, Scheidemann, Sweelink, and all my favorites. It was like being home. Being in happy land. Just me, God, and the organ. I was able to tap into that deep part of the music and myself and I got rather emotional when playing through the Scheidenann. I've waited so long to play this way on such an instrument. More than a year. It satisfied that longing I often have to play these instruments, but also left me craving more, and I won't likely get more this trip. So, I stayed as long as I could (3+ hours) and savored every second. 

Joy, joy, joy. Deep down in my soul joy. 

This evening we headed to some monastery not far from here. Is is sort of like the one in Michigan because there are lutheran connections. It was super fun to see the six monks running around the property. We sang a concert and enjoyed a meal afterwards. I sorta wish I would have bought one of the icons they were selling. Oh well. I love monasteries. I love the idea of them and everything. Maybe I should become a Lutheran nun. I'd be good at it, I think. 

We returned to the hotel by 10 or so. I still am just thinking about that organ and feeling so warm and fuzzy and good from that interface experience. Mountain top high and lots of adrenaline today, for sure. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Trying to fall in love again, despite yet another horrid bathroom

Today we got up early and got on the bus to Erfurt. This is another one of my favorite cities and one I have been to many times. When we arrived we did a city tour, which was nice, but I didn't see or learn anything new. After this was lunch. Yummy. Fried sheep cheese squares (like mozzarella sticks but so much better) served over risotto with salad and warm apple strudel for dessert.

After this we did a tour of the Augustinian monastery where Luther was.  I was super excited to go here because last year we saw part, but not all, and the part we saw was largely under renovation. We got the full tour and our guides was fantastic. One of the best I've ever had here. We sang a bit in the little chapel where Luther would have had morning devotions. Goosebumps. We got to see Luther's cell

Of course, my imagination went wild and I started to fantasize about what life we like back then. I know it was hard and not all fun, but it seems so awesome. 

We saw the wonderful church and the original altar from the 13th century that Luther would have performed masses at.

Are those not the most gorgeous windows EVER? I mean, I love my church's windows but these are the real deal. 

Also, look at the side window. Bottom. See the rose? Luther remembered this when he was making his Luther seal. How awesome is that? 

By this point, I had turned into a complete nerd and feeling all happy. THIS is how I should feel in Germany. THIS is why I love it here. I've been missing this desperately. Nice to have glimpses and little reminders on this challenging trip of why I love to come and the country I fell in love with in 2009. 

We walked back to the hotel (more on this in a moment) and then walked around town a bit. The layout of this city quickly came back to me and I was pleased with how well I could get myself, around without getting lost. I found a Rewe and went in. I walked out with this:

Super cheap, and the Schorle and Bitter Lemon are a liter each. Score!!!! I will not make any public confessions of how much I consumed this evening. 

It was about at this point in the evening when I received some most excellent news, which I cannot yet share. Stay tuned and I will share tomorrow, if all goes according to plan. :)

Ok, about this hotel. The Radisson. Tallest building here (or second tallest, I can't really remember.) it is nice enough, with free Internet, standard Europe beds (love) and all that. However.... The "bathroom"? Not so much. I have had bad bathroom experiences in Scandinavia but never Germany. Until this trip, when all the bathrooms are bad and seem to get worse with each one. Our bathroom with the windows at the last hotel. Actually looks kinda good now. You see, this bathroom doesn't have a door either. It doesn't have windows, but it may as well. The toilet and shower sit next to each other, and there is a door that can close either way. So you can have a door to the toilet or a door to the shower. Great, you think, you can manage a little privacy after all. Oh, dear reader, if only it were that easy. 

Here is the door closed on the toilet half 

Yes, that is CLEAR GLASS on most of the door and frosted glass on the center (yippee!). 

Here is the door closed the other way, onto the shower half. 

What in earth were they thinking? Maybe if you had the room to yourself it would work but even with a spouse or a good friend I think this would be strange. I'm rooming with someone I hardly know. We have worked up a system to have the room to ourselves when showering, and I have been making excellent use of the lobby bathroom. The other thing about this shower? 

Like every other barroom this I trip, it's a mystery how to get water to come out of the shower head. Every shower is different and every set of buttons is different. Super crazy. Then there is the small deal off what to do when done in the shower. Since there is no room for clothes or towels in that little shower with the door that doubles as the toilet-door, one must exit the shower to the tiny sink area (with no door, hence the necessary plan of taking turns in the room to shower). This isn't bad enough but here's what you get when you step out 

The tile just ends and the carpet begins. Don't get the carpet wet! And the full-length mirror in the hall? This not only allows anyone in the room to see what you are doing in the bathroom, but means you step out of the shower and there you are. Not exactly my ideal way of beginning a day. The hotels on this trip have been pretty bad, in terms of bathroom facilities. I'm hoping and praying that our hotel in Hamburg has a nice bathroom with a door. Even the hostels I've stayed at with camp-style multi-stall showers offered more privacy than these hotel rooms. Oh, and I forgot to mention that in the little shower room there is a little alcove in the wall with shampoo and lotion and q-tips, as well as a vase with flowers and a fancy Kleenex box, you know, in case you like to blow your nose in the shower with a soaking wet Kleenex. Way to go, Radisson hotel to think of our every need. 

Oh, and one last thing about this hotel. They love the world. They even left a note to tell us that they are trying to cut back on energy because they love the world. Never mind if you, the guest, loves the world or loves light, because here is what you get:

One little light over each bed, and one tiny light in the bathroom. (This is the only time the glass door comes in handy for allowing a little bit of light to spill into the shower so you don't mistake the lotion for the shampoo. This also allows a bit of light to spill into the toilet room so that you can locate the toilet paper. How kind of them to provide a glass door for this purpose.) Seriously, when the sun set, we were in the dark with those tiny bluish-energy-saving reading lamps. Ridiculous. 

But, as I am determined to make the most of this most peculiar trip, I found the silver lining(s).

1) My roommate pointed out that they were kind enough to give us two q-tips, so there is one for each of us. Also, those q-tips, unlike the previous hotel, has cotton on both ends. "Oh, good" she said "that way you can clean BOTH ears." Glad to know the Radisson hotel likes clean ears. And clean shoes, because we got complementary shoe polish and brushes and in the lobby toilet there is a free shoe-shine machine. Clean ears AND clean shoes? Wow, did we hit the jackpot. 

2) Scroll back up and look at my Schorle and Bitter Lemon and Ritter sport. All for less than three euro!

3) The lack of light has caused me to realize just how important light is, and made me reflect on all the epiphany light theme, etc.  so, there is that. 

Until tomorrow....

Monday, August 11, 2014

A free day in Leipzig

Today was a free day. I slept in since our days have been am packed and often start early. Once I had showered and eaten breakfast, I walked the very familiar path to St. Thomas. No matter how many times I visit this city, I go to St. Thomas every day that I'm here and it never ceases to impress, amaze, and giving me goosebumps. After wandering around, thinking about not only the history but about the various times I've been there and how I've changed over the years, I walked back to the hotel to figure out the plan for the day. Unfortunately, and much to my extreme disappointment, the organ I was hoping to play didn't work out. The organist finally got back to me ( I had emailed days ago) that it just isn't possible but any other day would be fine. I seems that August is the worst time to come to Germany and pay organs because everyone is on holiday. 

So, I caught up on some blogging, walked around the city, visited with a few people, and took a nap. The museum that I would have liked to visit again was closed, because of course it is Monday and many museums aren't open on Monday. 

I continue to wrestle with trying to force myself to find the positives and noting that the trip wasn't all bad, and the sad reality that this is by far the most challenging and least memorable trip I've ever been on. I suspect I will think about this for many days once I get back to America. For the first time ever on a Germany trip, I'm ready to be home. I've been ready to be home off and on this whole trip. Odd. 

A dear friend, colleague, and mentor wisely wrote to me in an email a few days ago" I think it's time for you to reacquaint yourself with the Europe you know and love." I think he is spot-on, but sadly, I don't think that I'll happen this trip. It's just too far gone. I think at this point, I make the most of it the few days that are left, and don't get my hopes up that the remaining 3 organs will work out, and then next year, I will come again. I will come alone, with different purposes and different schedule and in a different month. I am already having dreams of being back and falling in love again. I want to love Germany. I do love Germany. I don't love this trip, which is making it hard to remember that I love Germany. I am thankful that there have been some awesome people in the choir to make the trip better because with out them, it would have been totally horrible. I tell myself that the two best things to come out of the trip are 

1) I was able to sing a cantata in Bach's church, which was my primary motivation for coming with this group in the first place. 

2) The course of events has really caused me to reevaluate and reaffirm my position on music ministry and what it is, and what it is not. 

No pictures today, since I've been here in Leipzig a million times. 

This afternoon I met up with some friends who are service here in Leipzig  a missionaries. They took me to their SELK church, which was great to see. They also took me to get some real authentic kuchen, not the commercialized stuff you buy in town. We chatted about this and that, and it was just pleasant to spend time with some like-minded people my age. It was a real blessing. 

After I was done with then, it was dinner, and one last walk around the city. Leipzig, I love you. You continue to be one of my top five favorite cities in the whole wide world. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bach is my superhero

Today was the day we sang at St. Thomas. As I figured it would be, it was a fight between the rush of the surreal experience and the hesitation/inner struggle about the integrity of what was happening. Was this truly worship or just a concert? The tourists went wild with their cameras. People talked and got antsy. I try very hard not to judge, but situations like this makes one wonder. 

When the service began, we walked in, genuflected the altar, then ascended the steps and walked right by Bach's grave to the steps to sing. I got major goosebumps and couldn't believe it was real life. We sang, then headed to the balcony for the cantata. I wish I could just bottle the whole experience. The sights, sounds, smells, emotions. I want to preserve it all to ponder and reflect on later. I experienced so many emotions. The adrenaline rush at the experience. The frustration with camera flashes. The awe of being so close to such a long history. The joy of good string players. The sadness of division within the church. The curiosity of what Bach would think of this all today. It was an absolutely overwhelming surge that left me exhausted, contemplative, energized, thrilled, and disappointed all at once. That sounds crazy, but I assure you it is not. 

I have many pictures of myself and Kantor Bach, but today I was able to take a picture facing the other way. I've wanted such a picture for years. This one just may get put in my office. 

After church, I went to the Bach bookshop and got a little carried away buying stuff. It happens every time. I loose all sense of frugalness and self control in that place. Whatever.  

From here I headed to the wonderful Bach museum across the street that had many neat exhibits including several original manuscripts in Bach's own hand. I needed the oxygen big time. Unbelievable. 

Then my friend Manfred came and he and I spent all afternoon at the Leipzig Zoo. So much fun to see him and really cool to see a German zoo. You can tell things are different because they aren't worried about parents suing for every little thing. There were things there that would never fly in America but here in Europe parents have to be responsible for their own kids and if they get hurt, it's not the zoo's fault. I got REALLY close to some animals, and at the monkey exhibit, the guy told everyone to stay in the middle of the walk way, zip up a bags, and keep your arms to your sides. He said sometimes monkeys will push off your shoulder or head but it will not harm you,  just no sudden movements or you may get bitten. Suffice it to say, this zoo is unlike any I've been to before.

When the zoo closed, we enjoyed dinner together, then headed back to St. Thomas to hear the b-minor mass. Bliss. Sheer bliss. Seated in those pews, looking around, while the music swirled and curled in the air. My emotions went crazy again and my head head was on overload. Bach was a genius. I got all emotional at the Gloria. And the Sanctus. Bliss, I tell you, bliss! There is no way to describe it unless you experience it for yourself. Quit reading my blog, and book the next flight to Leipzig! 

I love this city. A lot. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Leipzig at last

Well, today we sat on the bus for the majority of the morning. We stopped for lunch and I had mushrooms and bread dumplings. Super yummy. Not long after that,  were standing in St. Thomas! It's amazing to me how familiar and comfortable a place can feel that I've spent so little time in. It is also amazing that no matter how many times I enter those doors, I get goosebumps at the sheer depth of history that is in those walls. I opted not to take pictures since I've been here so many times and have so many pictures. The choir gets to first sing from the steps, so we got to enter the chancel area. Of course, the minute the rope came down, a mob of tourists thought they could come up, too. Yikes. It was hair raising to stand so close to Bach's grave and to stand there and sing. I am still wrestling with feelings of anger and frustration about how much this feels more like a performance than worship, but I determined that this is the whole reason I came in the first place and no impatient comment, face, or gesture would ruin it for me. I resolved to put personal opinions to the side and just sing. The next 24 hours of this experience is solely between God and I, not me and the director, and not me and anyone in the choir. Sure, I will still be a part of the group, and all of that, but I'm making this experience my own. No matter what. After our very short rehearsal, we had lots of free time. I elected to hang out with two former CUC profs. I just say, I've really enjoyed getting to know them better on this trip. We found an open air music place and enjoyed drinks, than wandered some more hand had some apple strudel right in front of the Nikolikirche and next to my favorite hotel that I wish I was staying at. We returned home around 9:00.

The hotel we are staying at? Not my favorite. Rick Steve's book describes it as "open floor plan" to the bathroom or something like that. Lets just say there is no door to the bathroom. Not even a frosted glass one like in the other hotel. See this picture? That is the empty open door to the bathroom. See the door? That is the door out of the room to the hallway. Yep, you read that right. 

It gets better.... There are two large glass windows in the shower looking into the room. Yep, you read that right also. Needless to say, we are taking turns using the room to shower. 

All in all, this trip has thus far been a huge challenge. But, I am thankful to be in Leipzig again. I am thankful for good people who I have gotten to know or know better. I'm thankful for a wonderfully strong support system back home who have offered perspective, affirmation, and continue to set godly examples of what faith in action looks like. While I can say with some positive certainty that I won't likely ever go with this church again, God is certainly use it to stretch me in more ways than one. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

A day by myself

After the fiasco of yesterday, I decided to ditch the group and fly solo. Best. Decision. Ever. I needed that alone time in the worst way.

I wandered the town of Nuremberg and visited all the churches. At my own pace, quietly and respectfully, not once embarrassed by any Americans. I decided to put my camera away and just soak it in and take pictures in my mind rather than with a camera. Again, best decision ever. 

I spent a good deal of time sitting in the old churches reflecting on history, on music ministry, on my philosophy of teaching and church music and all of that. 

I went to do my shopping for Christmas, thank you gifts for various people, etc.  again, I shipped it back this year. I you ship it, it costs about 40 euro and you don't have to hassle with all that junk. I you ship it, the tax gets deleted, which in my case was 38 euro. So basically, you pay tax and carry it or don't pay tax and ship it and it costs you the same in the end. Ship it!!!!!

Some general thoughts from my crazy head this day

1) I was blessed with professors and teachers who practiced what they preached. It was not unusual to see them praying before meals, and you never really heard them curse or take Gods name in vain. I am so grateful for these fine examples of people who truly live what they preach. They were wonderful teachers who knew how to push with love and never just break. They know patience is key because people learn differently and at different rates. They are fantastic role-models and the more I'm out in the world, the more I realize how rare gems like them are. 

2) I find it peculiar that this group has eaten a meal together each day and yet most people don't pray before the meal, and the only time we have had a group prayer was when we had a guest in France joining us. This has made me stop and wonder a lot of stuff. Was that prayer offered genuine, or just the politically correct thing to do at that moment? With last year's group and while on tour with Kapelle, there was a prayer at every meal. 

3) While I understand this choir is not the typical choir and the purpose here is different, I've always been of the mindset that my first job as choir director is to love the people I work with and make it about the ministry. The music is secondary to those things. My choir will never be award winning, and I don't care. They are faithful, dedicated, and the there with the right spirit, which is worth far more to me than perfection. Sure, perfection would be nice, but it should be a byproduct and not main goal. I am starting to think more and more that I am alone in my views of this. 

4) Some people here have been wonderful and nice to get to know, but this trip has by far been the most challenging trip I've ever taken.  The joy is gone in the frenzied schedules and demand for perfection. Remember a few days back when I posted I wasn't sure how this trip would turn out and I was nervous? I perhaps should have stuck with my gut and not come. I'm just not sure.

5) I am eternally thankful for the wonderful network of support in my life. After such a rough day, it was so nice to have a familiar voice on the other end of the phone and nice that I could immediately have some email conversations with people back home who understand me and how I work. Knowing I only have to make it to Leipzig and my friend will rescue me if nessesary has been a life saver today. 

6) I believe more and more that my views of ministry and life and dealing with people have been shaped largely by the special needs children I am so privileged to work with. These people are too often overlooked or written off by most of the world, but they are some of the most wonderful human beings on the planet. I convinced. They have taught me to be gentle and loving to people regardless of ability, size, race, etc.  "Success" in life and "intelligence" are really man made labels and not fair measures of people. These special students of mine have really changed my view of the world. 

7) Thank God for the cross. As I reflect on the past 24 hours and I reflect on watching people on this trip and I see remnants and scars of WWII and see places and paintings of execution and torture from the Middle Ages, it seems that we humans just can't figure it out. We don't get it. We fail to love God and our neighbor and mess up over and over again. I still don't understand why God would love us enough despite how stupid we are, but I'm glad he did. I'm also glad that every now and again you can get a glimpse of kindness or love being shared with people. 

After this day by myself, a good friend back home advised that I talk to a former professor who is on this trip. I s reluctant but did. It was so helpful and very wonderful. I may or may not have cried a little.  I was surprised at the outpouring of support and understanding. I went to the concert and sang with the choir, then we all went out to this beer garden. It was crowded, they ran out of food, and many people said this was not the best idea but we made the best of it. There are some good people in the choir and I'm finally starting to find who to hang out with and also trying to be sensitive and not just butt in since I know some of these people have known each other forever. 

I'm moving on and going to make the most of this trip and what's left of it. Not sure what making the most of it will look like, so stay tuned for future updates. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm finally in Germany!

Today we left France and headed to Germany. I knew the second we crossed the border and I relaxed significantly. Our first stop was to Heidelberg Castle, which was quite lovely.

After this, it was to the new hotel to check in, and then out to explore the city. Of course, by this time most things were closed but it was nice to stroll the streets. 

I ended up getting to spend some time with one of the women who speaks fluent German and is helping organize this whole trip. She is a lovely person and I really enjoyed getting to talk to her and hear about how she came more learn German. 

I'm still struggling with wondering if this was a good idea to come on this trip or not. There have been good moments, for sure, but not as good as the trip with last year's group. I'm still sorting through it all in my mind. At least I'm in Germany. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A rough day with a happy ending

Today we started by going on a tour through Strasbourg with some professor from an ecumenical institute. He seemed nice, but it was hard to hear him and all but impossible to keep the group together and quite, which I found annoying. We did see the big cathedral, which is beautiful.

After this we went to the place where this guy works and he talked a bunch more. I had to bite my tongue when the question was asked about if the LMCS participates or not. The answer was that they used to contribute $500 a year but that the money stopped for the last 5 years or "since the president changed". The room erupted into whispers of disapproval and negative comments about LCMS.  It took everything in my power not to yell out "PEOPLE! Did you not hear him comment that the ELCA hasn't contribute for fifteen years? FIFTEEN. So quit judging the LCMS for not participating." Granted I was the only practicing LCMS person so vastly outnumbered and the ELCA participates in different ways. I personally have very mixed views on ecumenical stuff. I will not get into that here. If you are really that curious, send me an email and we can go discuss it over tea sometime. 

From here we went to the church for a concert. I walked into the church and immediately identified the organ as a Silbermann. A quick check of the tour book in the back confirmed this. I learned at our rehearsal that it was newly restored.  As in last month. I didn't know. It was too late to schedule time to play it, so it just sat in the balcony peering down and taunting me. By this point I pretty much was done with France and ready to kill someone. (One other person on the choir who is apparently also an organist tried to have a conversation with me. He's been on my nerves this whole trip and I was not about to have a conversation about an organ to someone who doesn't get it (so  few people do.... Mr. Jallo will understand where I'm coming from with all of this) so by this point I was so close to my breaking point that I wasn't sure I would make it. 

Then we went to lunch, which was decent, but not a lot for vegetarians. By now  I was  beyond cranky and quickly approaching ugly cranky. I'm sure the lady sitting across for me was very nice, but all I remember is her talking loudly nonstop while chewing with her mouth open and her husband sharing his thoughts about the LCMS, not realizing that I am happily LCMS. I guess God saw fit to test my patience and self control on this day. 

After this, one couple said they wanted to go visit the inside of the cathedral, climb the tower, and go to the museum. They said I could come along and  I accepted their offer. They were an answer to prayer. It was a great afternoon. They are so nice, and lived in Europe to study cathedral architecture. I could be nerdy about churches because they liked it too. We climbed the 330 steps to the top of the tower and hiked back down. 

We went to the most awesome museum which had so much cool stuff. Stained glass, old communion ware, and even statues from the cathedral that were removed and replaced with replicas in order to preserve the fragile originals. Super neat to see this so up close and astonishing how skilled these people were. On the cathedral, they have the virgins and their lamps from the story of the wise and foolish virgins. Some of them were in the museum (replicas now on the cathedral) and there was a big space just big enough to fit in. You all know me and my love of posing with statues and I just couldn't help myself so I posed with them. 

 Then, on the top floor, I saw it. I walked in and saw it across the room. Time stopped. I was like a moth to a flame. I walked across and looked at the sign on the wall to confirm what I knew. This was a Cranach painting. Man oh man. I stared at that thing forever. I love, love, love his work. I can spot it a mile away. I hadn't expected to see one today but it changed my entire day. 

We left that museum and I was a new person. Cranky gone. Maybe coming on this trip wasn't a waste.  We ran into some others from our group, including one of my former Concordia profs (there are several on this trip) and enjoyed drinks outside. Ah. Europe. Outdoor cafes and slow pace. We ended the evening with a boat ride and a bizarre light show. Then we found another cafe and talked until midnight. 

Thank God for providing awesome people to hang out with today!!!

And France,  at least we had some decent time together. We will never be best friends, but we can be acquaintances. I still sorta hate you, but I'll keep that to myself and play nice. PS Don't count on seeing me anytime in the near future. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Not loving France

What a waste of a day. 

Well, I always said that no matter what kind of bumps or challenges were to arise when traveling, it wouldn't be that awful because it is Europe. Today that theory proved false. I felt like the entire day was wasted. We got up, loaded the bus, and headed to France. We arrived at a little town called   Ribeauville and went to a wine tasting. I hate wine. Everyone else loves it and had too much. The volume went up and I soon had a headache. We walked up the street to lunch. 

This lunch was horrid. Two and a half hours long. No one was expecting that. People got antsy and started roaming, causing quite a scene. Totally embarrassing. The so called vegetarian option turned out to be a huge pile of very stinky fish. Apparently here fish aren't animals. I don't get it. I don't mind the smell of meat but the smell of fish makes me nauseous and I already had a headache. Not thrilled about not getting to eat, either. 

Then it poured buckets so we decided to forgo the sightseeing and travel the hour to the next town, Strausbourg. We got lost. It took two and a half hours to find the hotel. The bus did a u-turn on the highway. In front of a police officer. The bus driver kept hopping out of the bus looking for someone who spoke English or German to give directions. By the time we arrived at the hotel, the whole bus was cranky. 

We got to our hotel. No good. Thin walls and the tiniest roomies you can imagine. I have to walk sidewise to get to the bed. The bathrooms all have frosted glass doors. Sick. The public bathroom on the main floor in the lobby is for both men and women and the doors are frosted glass there as well. Double sick. I'm thinking I won't get to shower or use the bathroom for two days straight. 

It rained some more. Lots. By the time it stopped, everything was closed. 

Even walking around, it was so different. I've been to many countries and never felt as odd as I did being here.  

No pictures. No words. 

I hate France. I came in skeptical, and 12 hours later, my mind is made up. If tomorrow isn't different, this will be the first and only time I come here. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I cheated on Martin Luther today

Today we enjoyed the city of Zurich. We began our day by singing for church at Grossmünster. While it was a beautiful church and nice acoucsics, I felt like I was cheating my guy Marty by worshiping at Zwingli's church. I got pretty grouchy after church because there were people from our group taking all kinds of pictures and there was a sign in English and German saying not to!!! 

After church we had lunch together and then had a ton of free time. I went with a couple different groups and enjoyed an absolutely wonderful concert in the afternoon. The thing that was most impressive is that so many of the performers were children under age 14. They sure know how to raise cultured kids here in Europe! In addition to the concert, I had fun walking around, visiting all the churches I could find, and just strolling the old cobblestone streets. While walking along the river, I spied the back of a statue and exclaimed without thinking "is that my guy Marty?"  I of course immediately realized my mistake and confirmed it was not my guy Marty, but Zwingli. Against my better judgement, I posed for a picture with him, telling myself it was ok because I have pictures of myself with many, many statues of Marty, and I was after all in Switzerland. 

Overall, I really enjoyed today and my only regret is that our time in Switzerland isn't longer than a day and a half. I am already thinking about coming back here sometime in the future to really explore it. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hello, Switzerland!!

I have arrived safely in Switzerland! I am exhausted but excited. I think this year will prove very interesting and I have mixed feelings about how it will all go. 

The flight over was awesome- smooth with zero turbulence and an easy landing. We flew on Swiss Air, which I must say may now be my new favorite airline or at least tie with SAS. When we arrived at the airport (which, by the way, terminal 5 is redone and looks so much better) it made me smile to see the flight crew march two by two onto the plane. Very formal and serious. This is so different from the casual nature of American flight crews. Anyway, the food was by far the best airplane food I have ever had and they even used real silverware. The seats were super comfy compared to other airplane seats I've sat in so I even managed to sleep a few hours. They gave us lots of snacks and even some chocolate. I would use this airline again in a heartbeat. Once we arrived and made it through passport control and customs, we hopped on the bus and headed to our hotel. Now we are relaxing a bit before getting back on the bus to head to our first rehearsal. Super excited about that. 

The other major difference with this year is that I packed an embarrassingly large amount of stuff. I blame it on having such a quick turnaround from my CT trip, but my suitcase weighed in at 10kg. I usually can keep it to 7. I won't likely use half the junk I packed but I'm still one of the lightest packers. Some of these people have the huge giant suitcases. I don't get it, though that was me my first trip to Europe. 49 lbs and boy did I learn my lesson after that. 

That's it for now,  it's 1:30 PM here so I need to make it till 8 or so to defeat jet lag. 

Yay for Europe. I love it here!!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Final Reflections in Pictures....

Most of the Level Two people
With Dr. John Feierabend!!!!!

The walk from the dorms to class.

The Amidons!


More Dancing

Longway set

My friend from China

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The End is in Sight

The end is fast approaching. It is shocking how quickly these two weeks have flown by. I have really tried to be more conscious about enjoying my time and savoring life rather than wishing it away by thinking way ahead and being stressed, etc. While these two weeks have been busy and stressful, I would say I've taken more time this year to just enjoy it, though it certainly was super stressful. For example, last year, I lived off PB&J sandwiches for the entire two weeks. This year we've shared grocery shopping and cooking and sometimes invite the suite across the hall to join us so there have been many nights where we've all sat down around the table to enjoy a meal tighter. I still took a pass when the group went out for trivia night and to go to a bar, but I participated more with my class outside of homework, which has been great.

Today in Folk Song Research, I had my one-on-one meeting to review my final project. It went just fine (thank goodness!) and I even showed him the curriculum planning spreadsheet my friend Katie and I created. He was very impressed with this idea and said in all the years of teaching he had never seen anyone lay things out like that. Yay!

Then somehow it came up that I teach at a Lutheran school. He commented that he taught at a Lutheran school once and that he was so impressed at how much that school sang and what those kids could do. He said it was as if they were born to sing in parts. My Lutheran pride swelled up like crazy. While Lutherans sadly don't sing like they used to, it's good to know we still have a reputation of being a singing people.

My suite mates Sue and Jessica and I spent a good chunk of the evening in the library working, then went out for ice cream once last time since this is my last night here. I can't believe my time here is almost done.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Hitting the Wall

Week two is always more challenging than week one. The fatigue sets in pretty hard. We've all been together non-stop for more than a week so patience runs thin. For me this year, there is the additional stress of trying to finalize prep for Europe since I will have a VERY quick turnaround between trips.

In solfege II today, our teacher heaped on an extra dose of insults and yelling because we were making so many mistakes. He said "Now you will all confess your sins one by one" and made us go around the room singing individually until we got it right. It was brutal, and several of us left feeling overwhelmed and deflated. No pain, no gain, I guess.

Tomorrow we have a test for one class, a huge project for another, and of course it goes without saying that Gábor gave us more homework than we could even realistically get through. I stayed in the practice room until nearly 11:30 and then returned to the dorms to work on written homework.

I'm so glad I'm here, but I also am pretty sure I will sleep the whole way to Europe, which actually would be a pretty good thing. I also know that at the end of the week, the sense of accomplishment at finishing level two will be well worth these tough and busy days. Fortunately, everyone in class understands because we're all in the same boat together. This makes a huge difference.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dancing and Singing

I love it here. I love the challenge, even though sometimes I am at my wits end. We literally walk around campus singing. Non stop singing.

Friday evening was the Strawberry Social. Students, faculty, family, and friends all gathered together to share in strawberries and whip cream and then we danced together for two hours. We were in for an extra special treat this year since the Amidons were there to teach and call all the dances. I LOVE to dance. It is so much fun. It was so hot and it wasn't long until everyone was covered in sweat, but everyone was smiling and enjoying each other's company. There is nothing like dancing in a room full of people, just connecting and dancing together. You end up dancing with zillions of people. We did contra dances, circle dances, line dances, and of course ended with a waltz. I was spun and twirled until I was dizzy. I haven't had such a good time in a long time and couldn't stop laughing.  I even was lucky enough to dance with Peter Amidon, John Feierabend, and Jeff Rhone. These teachers of mine are wonderful and I look up to them and admire them so much.  It's fun to learn new dances and when you get to dance with someone who knows how to do it well, it is light and effortless and magical. I LOVE to dance and wish I had more opportunity to do so at home. There were several children at the dance as well, and it was so beautiful to watch these young children dancing along with grown ups and learning about their world through dance. After we were all exhausted and sweaty and the sun had set, we pulled chairs around and sang for another couple hours. The banjo, accordion, and mandolin came out and we sang like crazy. It saddens me that our culture has lost the sense of tight communities. While the people from long ago may have been poor and not had a lot of material goods or big houses, they were rich in different (and more important) ways. It's such a beautiful and powerful thing that we've lost as we've become busier and more and more separated and isolated. People were meant to synchronize together. If we all sang and danced together more, the world would change. I'm convinced. By the time I finally got home, it was very late and I collapsed in bed exhausted but exhilarated.

Saturday I was up early for the 8:00 AM lecture and spent until 5:00 PM going to different lectures. I went back to the apartment for a quick dinner, then back to the community center for a 2 hour community sing. This was led by the Amidons and we sang all sorts of things. It was a beautiful and emotional two hours of singing with banjo, piano, guitar, unaccompanied, unison, in parts. Music is so powerful and such a wonderful gift. All week I keep thinking about other ways I can use music in my ministry as a way to connect people. I have many new ideas of how to get people singing, dancing, and spending time being together. I'm constantly realizing that music doesn't have to be just in the context of worship or even just "Jesus songs" for it to be good ministry. I know some would disagree, but sometimes a gentle side-door approach is just the ticket to ministry.

It is such a treat to have spent time with the Amidons. If you don't know who they are, look them up. If you're a teacher, buy all their stuff and teach it to your kids. 90% of the dances I teach to my students come from them. They are such special people who just live and breathe folk music and dance. They are  humble, talented people and just some of the kindest and gentlest souls you could ever imagine. They live life to the fullest and set an example for everyone. It was very wonderful to see them working together. They work as a seamless team and it's as thought their lives and work are so intertwined that you couldn't begin to separate them. They are the kind of people who are just very wise, and truly listen and know what matters in life. It's almost as though they are surrogate grandparents to everyone they meet, and you feel comfortable with them the moment you meet them. I have such admiration for these fine people and hope I have many opportunities in the future to go to their workshops.

The conference was also great because I had the opportunity to hear Lillie (Dr. Feierabend's wife) speak. She is one of the most amazing teachers ever. She truly loves children and is one of those wise teachers who understands children and takes the time to see them for the wonderful people they are. She said over and over that we teachers may get tired of repeating things, but it doesn't matter, because the students will never tire of repetition and we are there for them. I've taken classes with her before and she just never ceases to amaze me with her wisdom and ideas. I walked away from her lecture with pages and pages of notes. Her wisdom and intuition is something that isn't learned from a book. Like the Amidons, it was fun to watch the Feierabends working together. In a culture with such a high divorce rate, it's wonderful to see couples who have been together forever working together and supporting each other and striving to make the world a better place. You can tell that they have a deep and mutual respect for each other and their work together is far better because they could work together. Two of their three grown sons were also in attendance and it was just fun to watch them all interact. (I love to people watch and see how different families interact together.) The Feierabends are just wise, wise, wise, and both of them LOVE children and LOVE music and can see the wonder and innocence and magic of childhood. They are so committed to helping teachers learn to give children their best. At the end of the conference, John said "Go out and make the world a better place for children to work and grow." I got goosebumps and that quote has been echoing in my head all day.

Being here has stretched my musicianship, challenged my thinking, allowed me opportunity to connect and share with other teachers. It has reaffirmed over and over that my vocation is that of a teacher and my ministry is to use music as a tool to enrich the lives of the people I work with and to help them to connect to each other. It is through building community and trust that we build relationships that allow for more genuine and honest conversations about the Gospel. While traditional church-music models are fine, music ministry must not stop at Sunday morning music within the walls of the church. Rather, the music ministry should start with worship in the walls on Sunday, but then be carried out into the community to those who are in need and who don't have church homes. Music is such a universal and non-threatening medium to get people together. It can melt away stress and make a bad day seem better. It's such a wonderful gift. I am so very thankful to work in a congregation who views music as a powerful ministry tool and allows the the privilege of teaching music classes to community children and being creative with the music ministry. They trust me to do the job I'm called to do and don't stifle my crazy creative nature, letting me try different things knowing full well sometimes it's trial and error to find what works best. I'm already dreaming big (shocker, I know) for things I can do in the future.

But for now, I just can't wait to see what week two has in store!