Thursday, August 31, 2017

In the Music Room with Professor Bardiac

I went in search of the music room the other day.  It must be down here:

Let's go down this hallway...

Through the doors.  Look, at the end, on the right, there's a doorway!

Turn the corner, and a hallway, with another doorway.  I hope there aren't any orcs down here!

Ta da!  A very nice room!  Natural light!  And there's a door in the corner... 
A not very secret stairway!  (It's not very secret because everyone in the Abbey knows about it.  I'm told the current music room is probably where the head Butler's office was.  He could get right up to the state rooms, to the main one, and could also see what was happening outside, in case anyone was there.)

One of the things you learn living in the Abbey like this is that there are sort of two houses.  One of the "family" house, with grand halls and grander rooms.  The other is the servant's house, with ways to get into the grand rooms that are somewhat hidden and discrete, so they could be anywhere, but not be seen by the family or guests, because at the time this house was built, that mattered a lot.

The ground floor is pretty much the domain of servants except for the grand entrance, which is a big room with a staircase.  The main staircase goes up to the next floors, and is really fancy.  The next floor up (the second floor in US parlance, and first floor in UK parlance) is grand rooms and halls, with some sort of secret doors, and a semi-hidden area with a big staircase.  It's the ground floor at the back of the house, and there's a gorgeous conservatory.  There's also a wing that's all where offices and kitchens would have been, that's off the main square of the house.

The next floor up (third in US parlance) is mostly family rooms, bedrooms and such, and a governess's room to one side.  The next two floors up are only accessible through the semi-hidden area with the big staircase, and lead up to what would have been servants' quarters.

So the house is sort of split in two.

Socially, things are very different here than when I was here before.

Then, there was one married couple with two kids, both parents faculty members teaching.  One married couple with only the male faculty member teaching.  And four female faculty folks more or less on their own (though at least two of them had long term partners who visited for a short time), and one male faculty person on his own.  And only the one couple with a "trailing spouse" was sort of older.  That meant that a lot of time three of us "single" folks did a lot of traveling and such together, and we also did stuff with the family.  Two of the "single" folks pretty much did their own thing, and the married couple did their own thing.  So it felt pretty social.  And gender balanced.

This time, there are mostly male faculty members with trailing spouses.  At least it feels that way.  There's one "older" couple, nearly retired, who seem a bit imperious.  There's a couple with four kids, and another couple with two kids, and two nearing retirement couples whose kids seem grown (and not here).  Then there are two male faculty members without family here (though one is married, but his spouse and child didn't come).  Mostly folks are nice, but the couples are doing couple things, and the families are doing family things.  (It's weird, but the couples nearing retirement seem older than I feel, but I don't think they're actually much older.)

At the one faculty meeting we had, it felt very, very old fashioned.  

The new principal seems good, but very traditionally male, too.

I'm glad I've been here before so I'm pretty comfortable traveling on my own and know my way around places.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Beginning Classes

We started real classes yesterday, though the faculty has been here since Tuesday, and the students since Thursday.  The administration and student affairs folks have been keeping everyone busy, especially with student activities to which we've all been strongly encouraged to go.  It's left less time for prep than I'd like, and no time (since last Wednesday) to go to town for some basics.  (I want some cough lozenges to suck on, since my throat's itchy, for example.)

I have classes from midmorning today until afternoon, but with an hour between.  It's great for prep, but not enough to go to town and get the lozenges.  I THINK I may be able to go Thursday morning, but only if I'm caught up on everything and ready for classes.

It's really the Victorian course that's worrying me.  I'm still reading background, worried about reading the novel, and so on.  I'll be reading something contextual, and then wonder about some aspect and get sucked into Wikipedia re all the crazy European wars and parliamentary maneuverings, and an hour or two later, I'll look up, and I'll have a vague idea about the wars and parliamentary stuff, but not much more about the original context.  Still, it's a fascinating period!

I feel far less ready, and far more discombobulated than usual at the beginning of the semester.  I think I really, really need to organize my room so that I can keep class materials easily to hand.

Okay, I need to finish reading some Victorian context, then finish my Shakespeare prep for that course, print and make copies, and then go teach!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

At the Abbey

I'm here and settling in!

I had a fantastic time birding in the Highlands.  I stayed in a small town called Nethybridge, right near Cairngorms National Park.  We birded around there, seeing House Martin, Swallow (Barn Swallow in the US), Goldfinch, Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow, Jackdaw, Swift, Buzzard, Pheasant, Lapwings, Mistle Thrush, Meadow Pipit, Red Grouse, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, Spotted Flycatcher, Gold Crest, Robin, Great Tits, Crested Tit, Common and Herring Gulls, Kestrel, Greylag Goose, Dipper, Gray Wagtail, Mallards (of course), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail, Osprey, Grey Heron, Hen Harrier, Curlew, Redpoll, Hooded Crow, Greater Black-backed Gull, Cormorant, Canada Goose, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, and Black-headed Gull.  (I just listed straight off my notes from various places, not repeating though of course we saw repeats.)

Alas, we tried but didn't see Capercaillie.

then we took our little van to Maillag, where we got on a ferry to Lochboisdale, on South Uist (in the Hebrides).  Along the way we saw seabirds galore, including Gannet, Manx Shearwater, Guillemot (aka Common Guillemot in the US), Black-legged Kittywake, and Fulmar.

We drove up to Benbecula, where we stayed two nights.  During the day, we drove around Benbecula and North Uist birding.  I saw Snipe, Red Shanks, Eider Duck, Cormorant Starling, Raven, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Common Gull, Turnstone, Ringed Plover, GLAUCOUS GULL (very exciting), Dunlin, Greater Black-backed Gull, ICELAND GULL (also exciting!), Common Gulls, Mute Swan, Whooper Swan, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Tufted Duck, Lapwing, Greylag, Twite, Corn Bunting, Merlin, Black Headed Gull, NORTHERN WHEATEAR (another exciting one!), Pied Wagtail, Tufted Duck, Gannet, Rock Pipit, Stone Chat, Kestrel, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Coot, Gadwall, Diver (aka Red-Throated Loon).

After birding the second day, we drove up to Lochmaddy, and got on a Ferry to take us to Uig Bay on the Isle of Skye.  On the Ferry we saw Great Skua, Gannet, Black-legged Kittywake, and Manx Shearwater.  We drove across Skye pretty much straight because we needed to reach the hotel in Nethybridge, and it was pouring rain, but we did see Rook and Jackdaw.

The last two days we spent going up Cairngorm (in hopes of seeing Ptarmigan, but didn't), but we did see Goldeneye, White-Tailed Eagle, Red Kite, Red Grouse, Black-throated Diver (aka Arctic Loon), Goosander (aka Common Merlin), Wigeon, Shell Duck, Peregrine, Black-tailed Godwit, a weird hybrid Canada/Greylag goose (it looked like a pale Canada Goose with pink legs), Shag, Arctic Skua, Common Tern, Green Shanks, Barnacle Goose, Slovonian Grebe, Moorhen, Blue Tit, and Green Finch.

All in all, I saw some 80 species of birds, almost all of them new for me.  So that was very exciting!  (I can't seem to load images, but will try again later.)  I went with a birding company, Heatherlea, and they were great, and the guide wonderful.  There were six guests on our trip, and one guide, so we got to see lots, and he gave us lots of background information, too.  I'd love to go on another trip with them.

Then I spent a few days in Inverness, walking around, visiting Clava Cairns, the Culloden Battlefield, Loch Ness (on a boat), and Urquhart Castle.  It was all wonderful.

And now I'm at the Abbey, and I need to finish prepping for my courses.  This, too, is a beautiful place, very comfortable, with a staff that really takes care of things well.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Practice Really Does Make a Difference

On July 13th, I did my three test pieces from Suzuki Book 3 for my teacher, Strings, and passed, making me, according to Strings, an "intermediate" Suzuki student.  In old D&D terms, I'm level 4!

Before that, for about a month, I was totally focused on memorizing and working on those 3 pieces, getting them to the point where I could play them as well as possible, from memory.  It was hard.  Most days, I was practicing about an hour and a half to two hours because I really wanted to pass into the next Suzuki book before I left.

Part of the issue is that Strings was leaving for a music camp thing, and won't be back here until after I've gone.  And then I'll be birding in Scotland, and won't be practicing then.  And then I'll have to get a violin at the Abbey (they said they probably have one I can use, and if not will help me find a student rental).  But, in terms of memorizing, it would be hard to be away for two or three weeks and then go back to trying to play those pieces from memory.

But it worked out!  And I've started into Book 4.  I've also started back working on the technique books I have.  There are 4 of them.

1.  Ševčík bowing
2.  Ševčík technique (more fingering than bowing) (first position)
3.  Whistler's Intro to 3rd and 5th positions (hand and finger, mostly)
4.  Trott's Melodious Double Stops

Each of these helps me focus on a specific area where I need to focus (and really, pretty much everyone at my level needs to focus on bowing, fingering, positions, and double stops, I guess).  But for the past couple of months, I haven't practiced these as much because of focusing on the three test pieces.

I posted before about working on the Ševčík books, and how hard they are.  That was back in January, and from what it says, I got the Ševčík books last summer, and started working on them.

I've been better about the bowing book than the fingering book.  Today in my practice session, I couldn't even remember where I'd left off with the fingering book, so I decided to start at the beginning, since they're so hard.

As you can see from that previous post, the first set of exercises starts with slurred quarter notes.  Last summer and into winter, it took ten minutes or so to be able to slur the notes in a single measure more or less okay.  So on a given day, I might make it through one new measure, and one old, and then eventually, a whole line of old, and so on.  (Because I did improve.)  And then I'd start the next set, and basically the same slow process.

Today, I started and played the whole first set pretty much straight through, with a few mistakes, but mostly way, way better than I remembered.  It was pretty amazing to me, because I go along practicing, and often don't realize that I've improved, but then I go back, and something that was really hard is not nearly as hard.  And then it's obvious that I actually have improved.  And that makes me feel good!

So I remember for the future:

1.  Ševčík bowing - exercise 4, #30 (page 9)  (Basically, each exercise is a few lines of music, and then the page and next page are full of bowing variations for those few lines).
2.  Ševčík technique (more fingering than bowing) (first position) - back to the first exercise on the A string
3.  Whistler's Intro to 3rd and 5th positions (hand and finger, mostly) - G major, #62 (page 10)
4.  Trott's Melodious Double Stops - played through #1-3, worked on #4.

A Little Adventure before I Go

I have 8 days before I need to be on a plane to London!  I'm excited, overwhelmed, and more overwhelmed.

I've now finished all the big projects that absolutely have to be finished before I go except the whole class prep project.  There are two other projects I should also get further on.  But at least I've taken steps on one of them.

My friend, K, who's going to house sit has moved in.  So far, this arrangement is working out really well.  I hope he enjoys living in the house!  (He's a really good guy, and easy to get along with.)

I started riding my bike again this past weekend, just on a local trail.  And on Sunday, I was thinking about cutting my ride short to work on something else, so I turned off the trail onto a road in order to be able to turn around more easily, and saw a sign that pointed to a landing and said something about the joys of taking your kid fishing.  But I'd never heard of this landing, and it's only about a mile off the bike trail.  I rode up the road, which I'd thought ended at the gravel mine (visible from the trail crossing) and realized that it turned and went on from there.  What I found was a little park area, with a gravel/packed dirt and pothole parking area, a few picnic tables, and a little paved boat ramp with a sign saying that it was four something miles up river to the landing near campus, and 5 something miles down river to a landing further down.

I had a plan.  It wasn't a particularly cunning plan, but a plan.  I could put the kayak on the car with the bike inside, and drop the kayak at the landing near campus along with my life vest, paddles, and so on.  Then take the car (with the bike) to the new landing, leave the car there, and ride the bike up to the landing near campus, lock it there, get in the kayak, and go down river.  So I could do my own drop off and pick up because it's fairly close.

And that's what I did yesterday.  I was a little anxious about it, especially worried about what if I missed the landing somehow?

The thing is, right across from the landing is a ski jump, and that's visible from pretty far away, and not easy to miss, so the chances of my missing the landing and having to go another five miles were low.

The weather was good, and I told a couple friends what I was up to, and texted them before I got on the water with my eta (and then when I got out again).  But still, doing things all alone makes me a bit apprehensive.  It doesn't usually stop me doing them, but it makes me worry a bit along the way.

Here are some pictures from the adventure:

My kayak at the first landing.  (There's an ice rink right near, owned by the city and university jointly, and the city rec people were kind enough to let me leave my life vest and paddles and such there.  I used my bike lock to lock the kayak to the sign, probably illegally.  But it was out of the way at least.)

At the second landing, ready to get on the bike!

Bike parked at the ice rink, and locked up!

Kayak loaded and ready to go!

Gorgeous day on the river, mostly very quiet and calm.

Ski jump in the distance!  (Why was I worried I'd miss that?  I blame my recent reading of The Mill on the Floss, where Maggie becomes a "fallen woman" because Stephen purposefully "misses" landing at the town where they were supposed to land, and ends up going so far that they have to be sort of rescued by a ship and spend the night on it.)

A much closer view of the ski jump.  I really don't know how anyone has the courage to slide down that and fly through the air.  But they have big competitions here during winter.

The landing (with my car parked up the hill).

Pulled out!
Packed and ready to go back and pick up my bike!

All in all, it was a really lovely adventure, and I'm glad I went.  I'd like to try the next leg, too, maybe next summer!