Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A series of posts by Tatiana detailing her fury at dealing with narrow-mindedness in her children's new school made me think about the differences in school systems between here and the US, and her latest post shows her considering alternative schools, specifically Waldorf Schools, which are quite common in Germany and western Europe.
I left a comment on her blog, because I have some "issues" with the Steiner system, at least as it is practiced here:
I can really feel your frustration with the system-- and it is undeniable that the Peter Principle (people rise in an organisation until they land in the position for which they are not competent, at which point they languish for the rest of their career) is especially evident in smaller communities where there is not a large pool to draw on.
But as someone with an education background, I have become pretty sceptical of the Waldorf/Steiner schools.
For many years now, I have lived in areas that have alternative schools (mostly Waldorf), and have worked with students from those schools, even teaching part-time in one of them near Cologne.
I find that the orthodoxy of the state schools is merely replaced by another in the Steiner system, and it makes me very uncomfortable to walk through the halls of the Waldorf school and see that all the student drawings have to be in washy pastel.
But the worst thing for me (as a violin teacher) is that the Waldorf schools have a philosophy that discourages discipline, apparently-- I see evidence of this repeatedly with my students.
My advice these days to parents who ask me about schools is that it depends on the child's character: if he is naturally the type that always gets up on time, dresses neatly, has homework done on schedule, loves reading and is articulate (not a very common type, I know!), then Steiner schools are ideal because they allow a lot of intellectual freedom.
If on the other hand the child is lazy and sloppy, does only the essentials in school, and finds it hard to stay motivated and disciplined, then the Waldorf school will not do much to change this. (I, tragically, fall quite squarely into this category)
And an interesting thing is that here in Germany where the Abitur (high school graduation exams) are nationally standardized and quite rigourous, the kids who go to the Waldorf schools often go into a complete panic going into their final year when they realize that all the stuff they were supposed to be learning in the last 6 years they never got around to studying-- many of them then change to a state school for the last year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How I Ruined my Child's Life

My daughter, who is 11 and doesn't live with me, went into shock when she saw my cell phone.
"You have the same phone as me! How awfully HUMILIATING!"

Side Hustle

Heather, now in England, mentioned how she enjoyed doing little jobs on the side, not necessarily connected with her profession, and it made me try to remember what odd jobs, some quite strangely unconnected with my job, which is playing the violin. She calls it side hustles, I don't kinow if there is a better term.
OK, so doing a paper route as a kid is not so unusual, a lot of boys my age did that too. 
But when I started college and had to support myself and pay my tuition, it was soon evident that I was going to have to use my imagination-- there are 6 kids in my family, and we all went to college; and my dad said, "I will pay the first semester tuition and housing, then you are on your own."
These are some of the things I did to earn money in college:
Play in an orchestra.
Tune autoharps for unmusical music education students.
Sell childrens clothes and women's bras in a department store.
Teaching the violin at the University of California Davis.
Play for Jack Benny in the casinos in Reno.
Play background music in restaurants in Aspen in exchange for meals.
(There were probably other things I did, but I have forgotten or repressed them)

After finishing college I started working as a musician but somehow I have kept on doing odd things on the side. These are some of the things I have actually been paid for:
Taking photographs of people and things
Doing graphic work.
Last week I did a calligraphic project-- it has long been a hobby of mine but this was the first time I got paid.
Translating part of an art book
Doing acoustical research
writing computer programs
repairing computers
Organizing music festivals
Web design
CD covers
Various translation projects in German, French, and English
Teaching specialized computer music applications
Writing music
Managing rental properties

I think all of us are multitasking most of the time, what do you do to help make ends meet?

Monday, March 23, 2009

What do you do with a Free Day?

I practiced for the rehearsals tomorrow. I bought a presentation folder for my parchment. I decided to learn to play the piano: read through 2 Mozart sonatas, a book of pieces for piano by Grieg, and 2 Chopin etudes. 
The poor neighbors. 

I got tickets for one of my flatmates for Salome the other night... he brought his new girlfriend, who had never been to an opera before.
Afterwards, she was quite pleasant about it, but later she complained bitterly:
"Here I got a new dress and put on makeup, and where does he take me? To a beheading!!"

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My latest Project

This is what I have been doing during my odd time off over the past 2 and a half weeks. It may not look like much but it took a long time and was a lot of work.

The vellum I had to order from the last place in Germany that still does calligraphic skins. Then had to decide on a layout for the text, and also the type of calligraphy to use-- I settled on a quite conservative form of Fraktur because I thought it was the most appropriate for the occasion. The letters are all hand drawn (putting a big calfskin into my injet printer was just not feasable) and the decoration and sketch are also freehand. (You can click on the picture to get a closeup view)

I am sure real calligraphers do much more careful planning-- I tend to just sweep with the pen and hope it looks all right. 

Never having worked on vellum before, I was pretty nervous, as the skin cost over $100, and once started, you can't go back. Unlike a computer, it is not possible to erase or correct. Once the pen hits the surface, you just have to keep going.

The monks who used to do books before Gutenberg always said prayers that they wouldn't misspell before they started work every day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Go Shopping for Shoes

I hate shopping for clothing-- shirts, suits, trousers, shoes-- but I had a couple of hours between rehearsals yesterday and really needed some new shoes.

Went to shoe store. That is always a good start. (Actually this is not true: I first looked at the shoe sections of 2 department stores, didn't see anything remotely like I wanted)

Saleslady (competent and eager) "Can I help you?"

Me: Probably not, I am notoriously difficult.

SLady: What are you looking for?

Me: Well, I want a pair of shoes and they have to fulfill certain criteria: 

They have to be leather. I don't like plastic shoes.

They should be black or at least dark blue or brown.

I need to be able to put them on without looking at them or touching them with my hands, while seated in an airplane.

They need to be able to cope with snow in Minneapolis and the beach in Honolulu.

I expect to climb modest mountians in them, in hot weather, but the tread on the soles must not be so deep that they capture the mud and doggy poo....and they should be able to survive the occasional mountain stream.

They shouldn't be heavy-- there are 90 steps up to my apartment.

Another essential: they must not look out of place on the stage of a classical music concert.

In addition, it would be nice if they were very cheap.

Saleslady: (speechless)

Friday, March 13, 2009

OK, I will Try

I have been getting many complaints from my faithful readers, both of them,  that I am not writing enough in this blog.  

So I am going to try a bit harder. The thing is, I don't know what to write. This is either because I have so much to write that I haven't the time nor the energy to start, or life is so utterly tedious that I don't waht to bore you. Or that the things I want to write about are just too embarassing.

Many bloggers are good at writing witty and pertinent things about their daily lives. 

So what has happened today that caused me some excitement?

Well, the most exciting thing that has happened today (so far, of course; I am not ruling out the possibility that something REALLY exciting could happen yet later today): for lunch I made myself a baked fish and potatoes casserole because I was REALLY hungry, and boy did it smell good! When I took it out of the oven, it all FELL ON THE FLOOR!  I proceeded to make certain remarks which are better left unblogged.

Now that floor does get cleaned from time to time, but not all that often. Terrible quandary: scrape the fish casserole (which still smelled mighty good!) off the less than sterile floor (trying not to think of all the places my shoes have been the last week), or start all over and make macaroni and cheese (Kraft brand, imported from America for just such emergencies)?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Local Tragedy-- Local Miracle

This rather forbidding-looking building is the Cologne City Archives. It houses local records and documents of historical interest going back to the 13th century. I ride my bicycle past it every day at least once, and the high school my boys graduated from is on the other side of the street. 

The city of Cologne has been building a new stretch of subway system under this street, which by the way was the old Roman road from Cologne to Bonn-- the street has been a construction site for the last ten years and we have all been hoping the new subway line (which is very short and seems to only serve to enrich some local construction companies) would be finished on schedule next year. 

Well, forget that. Last Tuesday the sandy wet earth under the City Archive building poured into the subway trench without warning, and within minutes the building collapsed completely.

It is a tragedy because there were thousands of priceless and irreplaceable documents stored here. It is a tragedy because the high school (on the right in the picture) is going to have to be torn down (along with several old apartment buildings). 

The subway construction has been halted, because there are fears that the safety of the whole route is endangered.  And it has emerged that the Archives were not insured-- the building was considered too safe.

But it is a miracle because only one person died (a baker's apprentice, who was asleep in a neighboring building that was in the path of the collapsing building). If it had happened even a half an hour earlier, the street would have been full of students going home from school. (One of my students included). 

And if it had happened a week earlier, the death toll could have been enormous-- the local Mardi Gras parade goes right by here and there were hundreds of people lining the street.

We are all grateful that there were no more deaths or injuries. But it is going to have an effect on my orchestra, because we have been planning to have the opera house renovated starting next year (it has not been repaired since it was built in 1958) but it now looks like the city cannot afford to do it. 

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