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.

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Feel Like Celebrating!

I've got three big reasons to celebrate today...

First and foremost, I am very excited to announce that I have reached the end of the year's final tour!  That's right, after my busiest year of touring ever, with a total of 22 weeks on the road,  in 9 countries on 4 continents, I will be heading home in three days.   I am thrilled and relieved beyond words to be able to say that.   I've had some truly great and rewarding experiences during my travels in 2011, but I must say I hope I never again travel this much in one year.     There will be some upcoming posts about the current tour, which has taken us to Australia (which was AWESOMELY AWESOME), Hong Kong, Macau, and now Japan.  Here's a sneak peek:

Secondly, I wanted to take the opportunity to announce some upcoming solo events that have been developing in recent weeks.     I am honored to have been invited to be a guest artist/clinician at three wonderful universities this winter.    First up will be a Trombone Day at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on January 29th, 2012; then the following weekend at the University of Southern Mississippi's Trombone Day, which will be February 3-4, 2012.   A huge thanks to Mike Dugan (UWW) and Ben McIlwain (USM) for the invites!   I am really looking forward to these events, which will each include a solo recital and masterclass(es).   Just after the USM event, I'll head back to my (soon to be) alma mater, the University of North Texas, where I will be performing a concerto with the UNT Symphonic Band and giving some masterclasses (stay tuned for more info).    As I found out back in June at the International Trombone Festival, I get such a kick out of solo playing, and I feel very blessed that the opportunities keep coming.   

 These places will not know what hit em'!

And lastly, I just realized yesterday that I missed the 1-year anniversary of Back Row Perspectives!  It's now been over a year since my first post, and I have to say I'm pretty proud of myself for sticking with this.   There was a part of me that thought I would give up, but I have been so encouraged by the feedback from BRP readers that I found the motivation to keep posting.    I know I often comment to many of you that I just post this stuff for my own enjoyment and to preserve my memories (which I do), but it is also nice to think other people are somewhat interested in it as well.    As of today, the blog has over 15,000 views from two-dozen different countries, including places I've never been before! I'm lookin' at you, Bulgaria and Norway!!

I hope to someday visit these BRP-lovin' countries!

So that's what I'm happy about today!    I made it a year without giving up on the blog,  I'm gonna get to hug on my sugar booger and my li'l turkey buzzard in a couple days (yes, those are actual nicknames of my wife and child), and now I get to start preparing some solo works for my concerts in January/February! 

There are some good things coming up in the orchestra as well:  Wagner's Ring Cycle with Christian Thielemann and Brahms' German Requiem with Danielle Gatti.   Keep your eyes peeled for full reports.