Monday, March 21, 2011

Everyone is posting pictures of the "super moon" so I guess I have to join in.

Did this one from my balcony, night before last.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Spent my vacation motoring around the Cote d'Azure and then a week in the Austrian Alps. France was fascinating but expensive and hot and crowded. 

I can thoroughly recommend the Austrian Alps. We got a half of an old farmhouse for a week, it could sleep 7 and was very reasonable. And the views!! (this is just the view out the FRONT door!!)

We went on hikes every day, about 6 hours each, the brilliant thing about hiking in Germany or Austria or Switzerland, at the top of every mountain there is a fantastic view AND a wooden chalet serving beer and meals.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

The New Piece

My new piece actually got done in time... well, just barely in time. It was finished about a week before rehearsals started, but I still had to print up parts and distribute them. I was grateful to our orchestral librarians, who kindly helped with this part of it.
Such a lot of work went into it, it lasts about 12 minutes and is relatively complicated. There was a lot of resentment in the orchestra about having to play a new piece, and one from a basically unknown composer. I was very nervous before the first rehearsal, felt like a soldier must feel going into battle-- there is an excitement but also dread, knowing there will be violence but hope that one will come out of it all unscathed and maybe a little victorious.

But it was a victory, of course on a pretty modest scale, but the house was full (2000 people) at all three concerts and the reception was very good, there were cheers and 4 curtain calls each time.

And it has affected the way my colleagues see me, I think-- not just as another player but as a serious composer.

Very good for the ego. I am perfectly insufferable this week.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010


Composing is a very lonely job. You don't talk to anyone for fear the wispy sounds you have in your head get blown away. 

It is kind of like the story of Pygmalion. You have a block of marble, it is smooth and promising, and you know the girl of your dreams might be inside. You chisel away gently, but don't know if you are smoothing her thighs or putting a metal point through her heart.

You check your tools and maybe buy a new set. Are the old ones too rough? Maybe rough tools are better for her. 

You have revealed her outlines and know there are some very pretty parts of her, but will she come to life or lie there cold and inert when it comes time to push her out of the studio into the warm sun?

I am ready to push her out very soon, whether she is ready or not. I know she is not perfect, but I am not sure I will make her more beautiful by fussing with her accessories.

I hope the people I have not spoken to for weeks now will remember who I am, that they will forgive my silence.

And that they and the performers and the audience will be gentle with her. March 21.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Catch the looks, smells and sounds of autumn now.
Forced myself to go out this afternoon and don't regret it.
I could have done without the venison schnitzel at the Forest-Cafe though; it was not especially nice.
Have worked out that if I schedule my time and energy perfectly from now until Christmas I still won't get my ironing done OR the bathroom cleaned.
Everyone who knows me also knows I love my job and feel very lucky to be doing what I do. But sometimes it still seems like very hard work.
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Friday, September 18, 2009

Obsolesence Frustration

Finally find some time this week to start working on a major rewrite of an old composition of mine. It is scheduled to be performed by a big orchestra, and I have promised to get the score an parts out as soon as possible.
I wrote the piece in the 90s, and carefully stored the files on the most modern devices: the floppy disc, and the Orb disc.
The Orb Disk? OK, so the Orb disappeared in months. But I had the floppies.I had been assured that the floppy disk would be around for centuries.
How was I to know that these disks would be overtaken by CDs? Remember that in those days, the largest hard drives had a capacity of 2 megabytes!!! I knew every system file on my drive by its first name.
OK, I have a keen appreciation for progress, and did not protest when the CD arrived on the scene. I even copied many, many floppy disks onto the new medium, and patiently put my disks into storage when the floppy drive became extinct.
And I noticed (because this is the kind of thing that I notice) that the program I had used to write my piece was no longer being updated. I promptly purchased a copy of the music program that was its successor. There was a promise on the box that the new program was perfectly compatible with the files generated with such love by the old program.
What I neglected to do was to print out clean copies of all my pieces onto hopelessly oldfashioned sheets of paper.
This has proven to be a disastrous oversight.
I had copied some-- but, as it turns out, not all-- of my music files onto CDs. The composition in question had made it onto a CD, but only in a very early and incomplete version. The original floppy disks were put into storage about 10 years ago, and I have no idea, where.
At least, I thought optimistically, I can rescue at least some of the work from the early version. No such luck-- the original music notation program had been aimed at the serious classical composer, but its successor only understood pop music and philosophies collided, seriously. My painstakingly notated rhythms were heedlessly smoothed into values which could be easily understood by Miss Brittany Spears. .. the detailed performance instructions were mercilessly deleted as superfluous.
I do have some copies of some of the original instrumental parts, but the full score printout is missing. It is horribly frustrating.

What is the moral of this story?

Try to take an inventory of what you know your kids will want to have. Believe me, it doesn't include your tax returns from 2001 or your emails from the co-workers about the scheduling.
If you are thinking of passing on some pictures or videos, think about how they could be stored. We are using DVDs at the moment, but there is no question but that after 15 years or so they will begin to degrade. The external hard drives are very convienient, but who is willing to bet that those motors will still be reliable in a dozen years?
So maybe you are uploading to a server? How many of those will still be online in 5 years?

What are you doing about this problem? Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Health Care in Germany--My Experiences

As an expat living in Germany, I get asked by friends and relatives to explain the health system here. I cannot back my experiences up with statistics, and I don't know if I am typical, but will try to detail some of my dealings with the German medical apparatus.
First some background: I have lived here for over 25 years and --by necessity-- have become fluent in the language. This gives me an advantage over other foreign workers who may not be able to express themselves adequately (this is a big problem among the Turkish population, who often never learn the language). However, my written German is not error-free, so I will usually get someone to check my grammar if I have to write an official letter.
My children were born here, so my first dealings with the system were to do with maternity issues. My wife began to have premature labor pains in the second trimester, and so it was recommended that she be medicated. She was given a room in the hospital and stayed there for 5 weeks. By which time she was so excrutiatingly bored that she decided to come home. The hospital stay didn't cost us anything.
When she went into labor, we just drove to the nearest hospital. There was a midwife on duty, and a doctor. The midwife was experienced and skilled, the doctor was a young woman probably only a couple of years out of medical school. It was funny to watch, because the doctor would make some suggestion and the midwife would say, "Nonsense!" and go back to chatting with me about opera.I was encouraged to stay for the birth.
The birth went without complications, and after delivery, they gave my wife a glass of champagne and took her back to her room while the baby was examined.
They stayed in the hospital for about a week, which seems to be a normal length of time. No charges for anything.
My boys have been pretty healthy, but we have used the system for dental work (fillings are free; crowns depend on what kind of material you want-- the silver ones cost nothing, but they charge for ceramic); one boy had a hernia operation, the other had some asthma. No charges, either for the examinations or the operation, and the medicines have only a nominal charge.
A couple of years ago, I had a pinched nerve in my neck. The doctor recommended having it operated on because it was affecting my playing. I could have had the operation locally but decided to have it done in Heidelberg at a private clinic because it could be done a week later, whereas at the local hospital I would have had to have waited a couple of months. The operation, which I then paid myself, cost roughly $5000, but that included all the fees and hospital stay; and I could deduct the cost from my income taxes.

The cost of health insurance here is based on your income. This means that the higher income brackets subsidize the lower ones. I could have joined a "private" scheme, which is slightly cheaper and gives you access to a greater range of specialists, but I made the conscious decision to stay with the "public" insurance because I find it such an improvement over the American system-- I don't mind paying a bit more to show my support for the scheme.

In Germany, there is far less reliance on medicines, except of course for chronic diseases. I have never heard of anyone (for example) getting drugs for ADD, and the use of tranquilizers is extremely rare. (Maybe it helps that many people have a beer at lunch?) I am always amazed at the array of drugs I find in people's bathrooms in America.

Why is it then that in America so much more money flows into the heath system, but the benefits are nowhere to be seen? Here are some statistics:

Looking at the World Health Organization’s Core Health Indicators, Germany has better numbers than the US in most health care related statistics. Here are some highlights:
Life expectancy at birth, for both sexes combined, is 80 years in Germany and 78 in the US
Healthy life expectancy at birth, for both sexes combined, is 72 years in Germany, 69 years in the US
Infant mortality rate (per 1000 births) for Germany is 4.0, the US is 7.0
Hospital beds (per 10000 people) is 83 in Germany and 32 in the US
Physician density (per 10000 people) is 34 in Germany and 26 in the US
Total expenditure on health as percentage of GDP for Germany is 10.7%, the US is 15.2%
and Per capita expenditure on health is $3250 in Germany and $6350 in the US

My feeling (no statistics to back this up, this is just a theory) is that in America, because the cost of medical care is so high, and so many medicines are available in supermarkets (here even asperin has to be purchased from a licensed pharmacy) that people tend to overuse drugs and invent their own prescriptions, leaving the underlying problems untreated until they are in a much worse condition.
Added to this is the pervasive medical litigation, which drives malpractice insurance costs very high for workers in the health professions. Germany's legal system precludes working for contingency fees and class action suits. Legal fees are strictly regulated and are required to have some relation to the amounts involved in the case.
So what disadvantages does the German system have?
In hospital, unless you pay an extra fee, you will be sharing a room with 2 or 3 other people.
Extra or unusual treatments will generally not be covered.
Cosmetic surgery is not covered unless your doctor can convince the insurer that it is really necessary.
Lawyers are not generally filthy rich.

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