Saturday, June 23, 2012

Finally, An Update!

It has been an amazing, if somewhat emotional, three months since I shared the news of my appointment at Vanderbilt.     As soon as I clicked 'publish' on the post I knew it would be a crazy few weeks, and I decided that I wouldn't try to update the blog any more until things calmed down and I had plenty of extra time.   I wanted to dedicate my time to family vacations we had scheduled, spending time with and saying goodbye to our friends, and savoring every last bit of my remaining time in the orchestra.    I honestly didn't think it would be this long until I had some extra time, but I'm able now to update you all on what has happened since then.   First, though, we have to jump back to the beginning of 2012.

At the time I accepted my new position at the Blair School of Music, I was at the end of one of the busiest periods of time I've ever experienced.    The first three months of 2012 looked like this:
- VPO Block with Gergiev
- Tour to Oman with Gergiev (big 1st trombone solo with 24-hrs notice when Ian Bousfield falls ill)
- Live Austria-wide radio broadcast with the Vienna Trombone Ensemble (buy their CD!!!!)
- Fly to the US with Kristi and Eli
- Masterclasses at Wheaton College, Illinois
- Masterclass at Roosevelt University, Chicago
- Solo recital/masterclass at Univ. of Wisconsin - Whitewater
- Return to Tennessee for family visit
- Solo recital/masterclass at Univ. of Southern Mississippi
- Masterclasses at Univ. of North Texas
- Concerto performance with North Texas Symphonic Band
- Audition for professorship at Vanderbilt University
- Fly to Vienna, leaving Kristi and Eli in the US
- VPO Block with Maazel (includes bass trumpet on "the Ring without Words")
- Tour with Maazel: 
          - Oslo
          - Stockholm
          - Helsinki
          - Aalborg
          - Copenhagen
          - New York City (Carnegie)
- Fly to Tennessee for family time and to pick up Kristi and Eli
- Return to Vienna

The New Year's Concert live broadcast in Austria

In Oslo, Norway.   My 40th country!

Now, on top of all this was my normal opera schedule (about 20 performances), and the ever-present back story of my decision to leave the orchestra.  I do not regret for one second the way things turned out, and I am totally happy and at peace with my decision to move to Nashville, but anyone would have to admit that any life/career decision of this magnitude carries with it significant stress and emotional weight.

I am not writing this so that everyone will feel sorry for me, or to sort of brag about how busy I was.   After all, every item on the list (with the possible exception of the trans-Atlantic flights) was very enjoyable, and I'm glad I did all of it.  I am writing this so that 'future me' can look back and remember this hectic yet wonderful season of my life, and also so that you can maybe understand why, at the end of all that, I needed a BREAK!!!

Thankfully, we had already planned a late-March family vacation to Spain and Portugal well before I even applied for the Vanderbilt job.   We decided last Fall to make traveling around Europe a greater priority in 2012, and our many trips have turned out to be a very nice farewell tour!   You can read more about Spain & Portugal at the Vienna Wilsons.

With Kristi & Eli in Granada, Spain
It was really nice to be able to take a couple weeks to relax, unwind, and reflect on the new direction our lives has taken.   I think it was good that we took some time to step away from all the craziness to truly absorb what had taken place and mentally prepare ourselves for what lay ahead.   It also helped cleanse my musical palate and clear my head from a work point of view, so that I could step right back into some great music in the month of April.   It was important to me that I perform well in my final months, especially since two of them were going to be as principal trombonist!   More on that in the next post.

I'll close out this post by saying a huge "Thank You" to all of you who messaged me with words of encouragement and support after my big announcement.   I was truly overwhelmed by the positive reception with which my post was met.    It seems it generated quite a bit of interest... the post had 1,200 views in the first 48 hours, and Back Row Perspectives was viewed well over 5,000 times in the month of March!!  

As I sit here in late June, having finished my final VPO concert in Vienna and only two months from flying to Nashville for good, I feel the exact same way I felt three months ago: sad to be leaving, but mostly just grateful for the time I've had here and excited for what the future will bring.  The moving company is coming to pick up our belongings on Monday, and next Thursday I will perform my 557th (and final) opera in the Wiener Staatsoper.   It has all come so very fast, but I have had musical and personal experiences in the past months that I will always treasure.    I'm just glad I have some time to jot them down now!   Stay tuned.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Major Announcement

It's been an intense few weeks since my last post... and at the end of it all, I have some major news to share with you.   OK... here we go!      

It gives me great pleasure to announce I have accepted a position as Associate Professor of Trombone at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music! 

That's right!  We will be moving back to Tennessee in August, and I will begin teaching during the Fall 2012 semester.

I realize this comes as a shock to many of you, and I know I have some explaining to do, but first I just want to say how honored I am to have been offered this fantastic opportunity and how excited we are about our future in Nashville.

Of course this means I will be leaving the Vienna Philharmonic/Staatsoper, which was not a decision that was reached lightly.    There have been many sleepless nights and tearful conversations over the past few weeks, but in the end I felt the opportunity to return to our home state to teach and perform music at one of America's top universities was too good to pass up.

Those that know me best know that amidst the triumphs and joys of the last 5 years (which will surely rank among the best years of my life), there have been immense struggles as well.    Like many aspects of life, this experience has been a lesson in the age-old dictum that there are two sides to every story.

On one hand, I have had the honor and privilege to perform with not one but two of the world's greatest orchestras, in the world's greatest concert halls, under the world's greatest conductors.   I have lived for 5 years in one the world's most beautiful cities, traveled to nearly 40 countries, learned a foreign language, and built life-long friendships, both inside and outside the orchestra.    And above all of those things stands the most amazing part of this experience:  the music.    The quality and quantity of music I have heard since September 2007 has enriched my life in a way that I could've never imagined.

On the other hand, the demands of the orchestra's rigorous work/touring schedule have made it quite a challenge to fulfill my most important roles... husband and father.  I am on the road an average of two months per year.   In 2011, I was in Vienna only 7 months out of the year.   At the end of this season, we will have lived in Vienna for about 260 weeks;  I have spent 48 of those weeks away from my wife and son.   This is a very heavy price to pay for all the great things I mentioned above, and I have increasingly viewed the touring aspect of my job as a burden rather than a perk.   I love my job, but I love my family infinitely more.   I want to be around for my wife... I want to watch my son (and any future sons/daughters) grow up.  Not even the Vienna Philharmonic is more important than that.

Also, Vienna is not my home... Tennessee is!   There is no way to fully describe in a blog post what it's like to live an ocean away from the people and places you hold most dear.   For some people, it works.   I realize that geographic proximity to loved ones is not a priority for everyone.   For us, it is a big deal, and we are elated beyond words that we will be close to family once more!

We're so happy to return to the Volunteer State!
There is one more major reason I have made this decision.   Those that have known me for a long time know that up until the point I got the job in Vienna, my goal was to someday teach trombone at the university level.   Though I have obviously enjoyed it immensely, I never planned on being a full-time orchestral musician.    In my first lesson with Vern Kagarice at North Texas, we sat down and had a conversation about my career goals.   I told him in that lesson, "I would like to do a job just like yours."   I said the same thing to Don Hough years earlier at the University of Tennessee.

I have a passion for performance and a passion for teaching, and I always felt a university position would allow me the best opportunity to do both those things on a high level.   My feelings on that subject haven't changed over the years.  What has changed is that I'm now actually qualified for such a position!!   In other words, I feel that I have taken a very circuitous route to achieving what has been my end goal since 2002.

I'm looking forward to interacting with students, impacting their lives through the wonderful gift of music, and sharing what I've learned and experienced in Vienna.    I am excited to rediscover the things that defined my pre-Vienna career (solo playing, jazz, and chamber music) through the lens of the last 5 years.   I can't wait to build new friendships and make music with my colleagues at Vanderbilt, especially in the context of the Blair faculty brass quintet, which will be a major part of my existence there.

Though my first priority will be my students at Blair, I plan to actively pursue a more active solo career.   My recent solo performances in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Texas (sorry for the lack of posts, but it's been a little crazy) were the most fun I've had making music in a long time, and I commented to someone afterwards that it could be addictive.    I plan on concertizing lots in Nashville and around the Southeast, as well as hopefully national and international conferences.

I don't want to completely say 'goodbye' to my orchestral life.   It is my hope that I'll have opportunities over the years to perform with symphony orchestras, even if not in a full-time capacity.    I am not so naive as to think I won't miss the Vienna Philharmonic... of course I will!   But I'm not planning on severing all ties.   I want to come back occasionally to listen, absorb, and maintain the professional and personal relationships I have in Europe.   And if they wanted me to sit in on something, I probably would.  :)

As I near the end of this journey, I find myself reflecting on all that has happened since 2007.   I still don't know if it has sunk in yet what I've actually done, but I think it's beginning to.    I find myself filled not with regret or sadness, but rather overcome with feelings of gratitude and fulfillment.

I am so thankful to God for the blessings He has poured out on my family, and for this experience which has changed my life and the lives of everyone around me.

I am so thankful to my wonderful wife, whose support, determination, and courage have made everything in the last five years possible, from beginning to end.   She was ready to move to Vienna in 2007 even before I was, and she never once asked to leave.  I brought the Vanderbilt idea to her, and she was willing to do whatever I thought best.   Kristi, you are awesome.

I am so thankful to the Vienna Philharmonic/State Opera for taking a chance on me, then completely accepting me, and then understanding and respecting my decision to leave.    I have been overwhelmed by the decency, empathy, and professionalism with which my decision has been met.   My colleagues have all echoed my feelings in the last week: sad that I'm going, but happy for the opportunity I've been given.   I owe a special thanks to Ian Bousfield, without whom I would never have shown up in Vienna in the first place, and whose guidance and friendship have meant the world to me.

And finally, I am so grateful to Dean Mark Wait and the Blair search committee for this amazing life-changing chance.   I enthusiastically look forward to the coming years!!  

Blair's state-of-the-art Ingram Center for the Performing Arts

Thursday, January 19, 2012

36 Hours in Arabia

It's time for a pop quiz!    Who can tell me (without using Google) which country the following flag represents?

Not sure???   Here's a clue:  its capital city is Musqat.

Still don't know?

Well, of course I'm referring to the well-known and not at all obscure Sultanate of Oman!

What's that, you say?? You've never even heard of Oman?   Neither had I until recently, when I decided to learn the flags of the world.   Do you want to know how I remembered this one?   Whenever I saw the distinctive curved dagger in the corner, I would think, "Oh, MAN! I'll never get this one!  Oh-man = OMAN!"   I obviously never thought I would EVER have a chance to visit this little-known nation on the eastern end of the Arabian Peninsula, but this week it became my foreign country number 37!

The Philharmonic had originally planned a two-day stay in Abu Dhabi, where I've visited already twice, but the plans fell through somehow and instead we helped break in the brand new Royal Opera House of Musqat with a program of Russian music under the baton of Valery Gergiev.   Sultan Qaboos, the leader of Oman since the 1970s, has a reputation for being dedicated to a policy of modernization and tolerance, quite similar to his neighbors in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain.  He owns a humongous yacht, several elaborate palaces, and is reputedly a huge classical music fan.   Naturally.

I mainly want to let the photos tell the story, but I have to lay a little groundwork first.   You see, this Gergiev 'block' got underway last week with another two-day tour to Germany.   We visited Hannover and Cologne (Kölsch and a meterwurst highly recommended by the way), returned to Wien to perform our normal weekend subscription concerts, and then immediately following Sunday's concert rushed to the airport and took off towards the desert.   

With the time difference, we arrived in Musqat at around 12:30 AM on Monday.   Airports don't tend to be fully staffed at that time of night, as we soon found out.   There were 2 windows open at immigration and it was very slow going.   Immigration took about 2 minutes per person, times 100 people... let's just say we were there for a while.  

Not what you want to see at 1AM
At least Sultan Qaboos was there to greet us!

We finally made it to our hotel around 2:45 AM, and I crashed hard.    The next morning I awoke to see this outside my balcony: 

That's a pleasant surprise if I ever saw one!
Not sure what that island is, but it's HUGE

The Arabian Riviera??

Some beautiful foothills in the distance
I didn't make it out of bed in time for breakfast, but I did manage to drag myself downstairs for a wonderful buffet lunch with some colleagues.    Much hummus was consumed.    In the afternoon I did some practice and then decided to do a bit of walking around.

I can't imagine a more stark contrast to Vienna in January

Seems like all the buildings are white... suppose it helps with the heat

I spent some time reading in the hotel garden
The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (2nd largest in the world)
The concert went really well, and I was blown away by the over-the-top splendor of the hall.   The acoustics were not very well suited to our orchestra, but it worked out okay in the end.   

We did a couple pieces I had never heard of, but that I was really glad to be introduced to.  First was Rimsky-Korsakov's Invisible City of Kitezh Suite, which is a real gem in my opinion.   Second was a brilliant and fun jazz-influenced piece by Rhodin Shchedrin entitled Concerto No. 1 "Naughty Limericks".    And we were again treated to a rousing performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 by the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition winner Daniil Trifonov.   The guy is 20 years old and makes the most amazing music.   Really inspiring stuff.

The Royal Opera House Musqat after the concert
On the way back to Vienna we were treated to some breathtaking views, particularly over southwest Iran and southern Iraq.

The Omani landscape just after take-off

Gorgeous mountain ranges in Iran

If you'd like to see even more photos, check out this album.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year's Concert Thoughts (plus Videos!)

On Sunday I had the privilege to take part in the Vienna Philharmonic's annual New Year's Concert for 2012.    What a blast!!!    I thought the concert went really well, and judging from the flurry of calls, emails, and Facebook messages I've received over the past 24 hours, it seems like lots of other people really enjoyed the broadcast.  

I thought I would share some thoughts about the concert, as well as some YouTube videos I found of my favorite selections.

- I thought the program was fantastic all-around.   There was lots of variety, which is really something when you're speaking about a New Year's Concert where it's normally waltz after waltz after polka after polka... ad nauseum.   Tchaikovsky was included this year, and the Vienna Boys' Choir made a couple appearances.     There was a noticeable up-tic in the amount of stuff for the trombones this year, including probably my favorite piece on the program, Josef Hellmesberger's Danse Diabolique.   This wonderful little piece, written by a former concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic, served as a great fast and furious (not to mention virtuosic) opener to the second half.   And we get to play real loud.  Here's a video:

- The flowers were amazing this year.   I'm sure they featured prominently in the broadcast, but in person there is the added bonus that the entire Golden Hall smells awesome!

- I've been asked by lots of people in years past, "Do you get to meet Julie Andrews?"   No... she records all her little featur-ettes well in advance, and doesn't even show up at the concert.   Well, apparently this year was different because I look up to the balcony in the second half, and who do I see but Maria v. Trapp herself!   Pretty cool she came, though I almost missed an entrance or two looking up to see if she was enjoying herself.

- A major feature of any New Year's Concert is the Austrian attempt at 'having ze fun'.   It usually involves a cleverly-titled polka and a bit of schtick.   In my first New Year's Concert, the entire orchestra gradually exited to stage while performing Haydn's Farewell Symphony.   The year before that, the orchestra played the Sport Polka while wearing soccer scarves before they were given a red card by the conductor.    In 2010, it was the popping of corks and spraying of fake bubbles during the Champagne Polka.    This year, we had two nice bits of 'ze humor', JA??   Enjoy:

- You might've noticed some really unique overhead shots in the broadcast.   There was a new cable cam that ran diagonally from the back left corner of the hall all the way up behind the organ.   Looks like it got some really cool shots... though it does draw attention to my (ever so slightly) receding hairline/high forehead.

- I realized this year that the Strauss family is not that complicated.  First, you've got the DAD: Johann Senior (composed the Radetzky March and forbade his kids to go into music).  Then you've got THREE SONS: Johann Junior (the Blue Danube), Josef (Waltz of the Spheres), and Eduard.    Eduard did something that was apparently pretty common back in the day... he ripped off Bizet and put his most famous melodies from Carmen into a Quadrille.   What's a quadrille, you ask?   This is:

- I was asked by a friend if it was really hot in the hall or if Jansons was just a prolific sweater.   The answer is YES to both.   Jansons (and funnily enough his student Andris Nelsons) both are EXTREME sweaters.   They are usually dripping by the end of concerts.   They are the only conductors I've ever seen go through multiple shirts in one performance.   Must be a Latvian thing...

By the way, I thought Jansons did a great job.   He picked a really good program and conducted it very well the whole week.

- Some of you might not know that the PBS broadcast in America is only the 2nd half of the concert.   My favorite waltz of the concert was on the first half, and was *gasp* NOT by the Strauss family, but rather Karl Michael Ziehrer (sounds like Tseerer).  It's called Wiener Bürger (Viennese Citizens):

- My favorite polka of the concert was also on the first half.   It's called Entweder-Oder, which means "Either-Or".

- During the intermission of the live broadcast, ORF (Austrian TV) played this awesome video which features the city of Vienna and a chamber ensemble made up of VPO members.   It's 23 minutes long, but nevertheless VERY HIGHLY recommended.

Thanks to everyone for all the nice comments and well-wishes you've sent me in response to the concert.  Thanks for watching, and please tune in again next year.   I don't know who will be playing 2nd trombone in 2013... possibly me again... but theoretically we will have a new colleague from our audition in March (replacing the retiring Karl Jeitler), and he/she would be in the rotation to play on New Year's.   Guess we'll see!

I wish all of you the best in 2012.   I hope it is a happy and blessed year for all BRP readers!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Curtain Call and a Master's Degree!

After spending so much time on the road between June and October of this year, I have finally had some (relatively) free time the past few weeks.   I have enjoyed my break from traveling and 3-service days, albeit short-lived, which has allowed me to concentrate on more important things.   I have been spending lots of quality time with Kristi and Eli and I've tried to re-introduce myself to my friends and hang out with them at least once a week.

But that definitely doesn't mean nothing's been happening on the musical side of things.

I've really enjoyed preparing for my solo events in January/February.  My recital repertoire has been selected, and I'm trying to polish it up to share with everyone at UW-Whitewater and Southern Miss.   It looks like I'll be pulling out my alto trombone in a solo context for the first time in over 6 years!   I figure it's about time to unleash some Albinoni, and it has been a blast rediscovering his Concerto 9, No. 2.  Highly recommended.

At North Texas, I'll be performing a relatively new setting of James Kazik's Concerto for Trombone with the Symphonic Band under the direction of Dennis Fisher.   I'm trying to memorize it, which is something I used to be really good at, but have yet to attempt as a professional solo artist.

In early November, the Staatsoper did the Wagner Ring Cycle under the direction of Christian Thielemann.   Wow, was that fun!!   As some of you know, I'm not the biggest fan of the Ring, mostly because the folks 'round here take it so flippin' seriously, (Despite its ties to ancient Norse mythology, it's not worthy of the quasi-religious weight that it is so often given here... I mean, honestly folks...we're talking about dwarves, giants, and dragons chasing after a magic ring here...)  but the sheer quality of this particular cycle was enough to win me over.  

No matter what one thinks of his works or his personal life, it's no secret that Wagner was a master of musical composition.  Combine that with the fact that Thielemann simply conducted so well and with such spirit and clarity of musical intent that the orchestra and singers could not help but respond with world-class performances, and it's no wonder that the audience responded with some of the loudest and most enthusiastic ovations I've heard in my time here.

The pit during Götterdämmerung. I found the photo on an opera fan's blog.  
A very special moment for me came after we finished the last opera, Götterdämmerung.   Thielemann asked us all to join him on stage to take a bow and have a real curtain-call of our own.   This was something I've never seen done before, and it was very meaningful to many of us.   After all, the orchestra plays a significant role in Der Ring des Nibelungen, and Wagner in a way treats the orchestra as its own character much of the time.   In fact, one could say it's the only character (besides the ring itself) that appears in all four operas!  

I've often wondered what it's like for the singers to stand behind the gigantic velvet curtain, waiting to be thrust into the spotlight to the sound of cheers (or boos) from the waiting public.  It was a truly unique event as the entire orchestra huddled together behind the curtain; for me, it was my first time on the Staatsoper stage.   Thielemann made sure we were all there and signaled for the curtain to be opened.   We were simultaneously blinded by the bright spotlights and deafened by the roar of the approving crowd, and I must say I felt a slight lump in my throat.   It feels nice to be appreciated, and it was a quite satisfying reward to feel the gratitude of the audience after such a mammoth musical undertaking.   We all took several bows, and I couldn't help but smile.  :)   Below is a photo I found on the internets... It's quite blurry, but at least you get the idea.

I'm at center-stage.  You can make out my trombone behind the bald guy.
Speaking of the University of North Texas (like, 5 paragraphs ago), I just graduated from there!    As you may recall from a previous post, I decided early in 2011 to finish the final four courses required to complete the Master of Music degree that I began back in 2006 before coming to Vienna.    Over the past year I completed several special long-distance projects that I was able to substitute for the remaining credits, and on December 17th I officially became an alumnus of UNT!

It feels great to have finally finished what I started, and it gives me a great deal of pride to hold a degree from the university that played such a huge role in my journey to the VPO.   I owe a huge 'Thank You' to many people there, but I would like to especially express my gratitude to Prof. Vern Kagarice and Dean Warren Henry for their assistance in making this happen.   Also thanks to Dean Henry for sending me these photos of the commencement program.

Now you all know my middle name!
When I visited UNT back in June, I went by the bookstore and preemptively purchased a UNT Alumni t-shirt, but didn't wear it until last week!

Now it's true!
Also, in keeping with my flag-collecting dorkiness, I was able to find official (or quasi-official) university flags from both schools I've graduated from.

My alma... maters?... materi?...matero?...   My schools.

Back in November, just after the Ring Cycle, I played my 500th opera performance in the Wiener Staatsoper!!   It happened before I even had time to notice it was coming.   That means that I'm well over 700 total performances with opera and VPO combined.   That's a lot for 4-and-a-half seasons.

2011 is now almost finished, and I'll be performing on Sunday in our annual New Year's Concert under the baton of Mariss Jansons.    It will be broadcast live to over a billion people worldwide (so they tell us), and is by far the biggest concert of the year for us.   In America, it will most likely be broadcast in the afternoon/evening of January 1st on your local PBS station.   Check your local listings, make sure to tune in or 'DVR it', and ring in the new year with some lively Strauss waltzes and polkas!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Flags! Flags, Everywhere!

Several years ago, I was listening to the radio on my way home from school, and the host of the show I was listening to mentioned that he had traveled to something like 95 different countries in his lifetime.   He was talking about how dear this achievement was to him, how his experiences in those countries had truly enriched his life, and how excited he was to be closing in on a total of 100 countries visited.     It's especially remarkable considering the host is not someone who travels for a living; he's not an airline pilot, a missionary, or a diplomat, and he's not in the military... he's just a radio host who enjoys traveling.  

At that time in my life I had been outside the USA only twice before, once to Scandinavia for an international trombone festival, and once across the Canadian border at Niagara Falls during my honeymoon: a total of 4 countries.     But as I listened to the radio personality describe some of his trips, I imagined how cool it might be to follow his example.   It seemed a very adventurous, optimistic, and romantic thing to set a goal like that, and I decided I would try it.

At the time, the idea of visiting 100 countries seemed a bit ridiculous... so I set a more realistic goal for myself: to visit 50 foreign countries and all 50 US states.

Now fast forward 6 years.   We're not only living abroad in Austria, but my job is also very travel-heavy.  In a relatively short time span, my grand total has jumped from 4 to 36 countries!!  

I have been very blessed with some amazing opportunities for travel since joining the Vienna Philharmonic, and my life has truly been enriched by each place I've visited.   I'd like to talk more about why I enjoy traveling and why I think it's important in a later post, but right now I want to share a project I've been working on to help me keep track of (and ultimately celebrate the completion of) my travel goals.

Sorry, but this requires more backstory.  I'll be as brief as possible... let's try it this way:

Moved to Austria. 
Didn't know squat about foreign countries.  
Felt like ignorant American. 
Felt embarrassed when meeting people from countries I had never heard of.  
Decided to learn things.  
Bought iPhone app.
Learned where all the countries of the world are located on a map.  
Yes,  still know.  
Must occasionally review.   
Saw 192 nations' flags outside UN building in Vienna.  
Decided to learn those too.  
Bought iPhone app.
Learned those, too.  
Must occasionally review.  
Remembered goal of 50 countries.
Decided to collect a flag for each country visited.
Realized flags are large - wall space was insufficient.
Had an idea. 
Desk flags!
Needed something to display them.
Commissioned handy woodworking father to build stand.
Turned out great.
Realized I had also visited 36 US States.
Decided to do a 2nd stand.
The End.

There are two stands: one for nations (front) and one for US states (rear)

Yes, this was the elegant solution I came up with.   My Dad was awesome enough to spend a day fashioning two flag stands out of beautiful black walnut wood from the hills around my hometown. 

Each stand has 51 places for small desk flags and will 'thusly' show my progress towards my "50/50" goal.   Why 51 holes?  For the 'countries' stand, I wanted to put the Stars & Stripes in the center and still have room for 50 other countries.   For the 'states' stand, I have the flag of my home state (Tennessee) in the center and room for the other 49 plus the District of Columbia.

Don't they look great!?!?   Well, at least I think so.   It's so great to be able to look over at them when I come into my office and see that visual reminder of the great experiences I've had.   And when both stands are filled to capacity, I will have achieved the goals I set 6 years ago!!

And now... some FAQ'S (Yes, I have actually been asked these questions):

Q: What order are the flags in?
A:  Starting in the center and alternating out both left and right, they are in the order that I first visited each country or state.   So the further you go from the center, the more recent.

Q: Do you count airports as visiting a country?
A: No.   I wanted to make sure that all the flags represent an experience rather than geography, so I don't put a flag in just for flying through an airport.  I don't feel that constitutes a true visit to a place.   For each flag, I've actually walked around, spent the night, had a meal, etc. in that place.  At the moment, the only place I've technically been to that isn't in the stand is Singapore.

Q: What counts as a country?
A: This question comes up in regard to places such as Hong Kong, which is technically owned by China.   Should I count it as a separate country or not?   In general, if a place has its own government, is a member of the UN, or has ever sent an athlete to the olympic games, I count it.  And in most cases, if a place has its own flag, that answers the question in and of itself.   The only ones that I'm a bit iffy about are the Cayman Islands (a British Overseas Territory) and the Vatican City, but for the moment they're in there.

Well, that's all for now.   Hope I haven't bored you all too much.   I reckon everyone's got an inner dork... I just seem to also have an outer dork who happens to like flags and traveling.  :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Incredible... Awe-inspiring...Beautiful...Best Trip Ever!!    These are some of the words I've used to try and describe our recent tour to the 'Land Down Under'.    Australia has been on my travel 'bucket list' for a long time, and it did not disappoint.    My wonderful wife was able to accompany me on our first-ever voyage to the Southern Hemisphere, and she has done a fantastic job of sharing the tourist-y parts of the trip over at the Vienna Wilsons.    I have included several of my favorite sightseeing photos anyway.

I was originally not supposed to go on this tour at all, but due to some last minute changes in personnel I was able to tag along as a backup principal trombonist.   The orchestra always takes two principal players on long-distance tours, both to avoid overtiring by spreading out the work and to have a cover player in case of illness or other extenuating circumstances.   Since my contract classifies me as a 2nd trombonist, but moving up to 1st when needed, I get taken along quite often as a principal player.

What an amazing venue!   Can't believe I performed here.

Trying out a didgeridoo... harder than it looks, even for a brass player.
There wasn't that much repertoire to go around, but what I played was quite enjoyable:  Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony, Schumann's Symphony No. 2, and Mahler's beautiful song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn with fantastic soloist Matthias Goerne.   Also, we did quite a bit of Johann Strauss 'Neujahr's Konzert' stuff: Donauwalzer, Kaiserwalzer, and Unter Donner & Blitz (usually for encores).

I am kicking myself for not buying this hat...
Can you find the trombonist's head in this photo of the Pinnacles Desert??
The worst part of traveling to Australia is traveling to Australia.   Did you know that Australia is FOREVER away from Europe?    We flew out of Vienna on a Sunday evening around 5PM and arrived in our hotel room in Perth at 1AM on Tuesday!  Even with the time difference of 6 hours, that's a long trip...

But at least the flights were nice.   I had business class seats the whole way down, which helped immensely, especially on the flight from Frankfurt to Singapore.   On that plane we had seats which folded down to make pretty convincing beds.   I slept for the majority of the flight, and it really helped with jet lag once we landed.

We fell in love with Australia right from the start.   It's one of the few places in my life that have lived up to all my expectations, and I think it's because it's a truly authentic and unique place.   You know the feeling you get on your first trip to Manhattan?  The sort of "wow-I-can't-believe-I'm-here-and-it-looks-and-sounds-exactly-like-I-thought-it-would" feeling?   That's the feeling I had in Australia.   It's one-of-a-kind and it's exactly what I thought it would be like.

The friendly and energetic people, the amazing and unique wildlife, the gorgeous and vast landscape... it all really exists!    Things like kangaroos, wild obsessions with sports, eucalyptus trees, boomerangs, and Aboriginal art are not just stuff you see in the movies.   You see them everywhere you go! 

A humpback whale breeches off the coast of Perth
Our whale-watching tour was definitely a highlight

The beautiful city of Brisbane

The concerts were all very well-received, especially in Sydney.    Performing in one the world's most famous buildings is something I'll always treasure.   Nevermind that the acoustics aren't fantastic... it's the Syndey Opera House!!   Who cares!  It was just a joy to be there.

Now, I'm not an architecture person, but I definitely recognize greatness when I see it.   The Sydney Opera House is an amazing building.   Kristi and I spent probably an hour or more just walking around it, viewing it from every possible angle and vantage point.   It does have the tremendous advantage of sitting directly on the waterfront of the beautiful Syndey Harbour, which only serves to enhance the experience.

There's not that much to say about the music, because I just didn't play that much.  Conductor Christoph Eschenbach was in fine form the whole tour, which says alot because it was a long and arduous trip.     The musical highlight for me was Schumann's Symphony No. 2.   I am continually astounded by the Schumann's use of rhythm and his gift for melody.   It's one of my favorite symphonies, even though the trombones don't play that much.    The second movement is an absolute joy to hear in the capable hands of our string section.  I recommend you look it up sometime if you don't already know it.

Another transcendental musical experience came in the form of Mahler's lied Urlicht, which was part of the song-cycle performed by Matthias Goerne.    You may know it as the 4th movement of Mahler's 2nd symphony, though in that context it's performed by an alto rather than a baritone.    One of my all-time favorites, really.    Again, if you don't know it, do yourself a favor and YouTube it!   I'm thinking about trying out a piano and trombone version of it on my recitals this winter.   We'll see how it works.

Standing next to me is the main reason this trip was so awesome...Kristi!

Also on my list of unforgettable moments is the very last concert we performed in Sydney.  I don't know if this is just a Sydney thing or what, but when we finished the concert, the audience proceeded to shower the whole orchestra with red and white streamers!!  They were coming from everywhere!   Kristi was in attendance that evening, and she said that a roll of thin ticker-tape-style paper ribbon was left in each seat during the intermission.   I think she took particular delight in hurling it at me from her seat in the choir loft.   It was a very fun way to close out our Australian experience, and we took great pleasure in reeling off one final blistering Strauss polka while buried under mounds of paper!

 If you'd like to browse all our Australia photos, CLICK HERE.