Friday, August 28, 2009

Wollersheim Winery Tour Pictures

All the wine-speak in my previous post made me want to post some pictures from my recent tour at Wollersheim Winery in Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin. If you haven't tried their wines, you must! They are affordable and delicious (I recommend the prairie fume) and I have an unusual amount of pride in any great product that comes from Wisconsin, especially if it is beer, wine, dairy products of all sorts, bratwurst, cranberries, honey, or any other agricultural product that we just rock at producing. Mmmm food. So, as I sip on some tasty wine, let me show you some pictures from our tour!

Barrels of tasty wine in the wine cellar.

Here I am participating in the wine tasting. The tour claims you only get three samples...I got UNLIMITED samples. Yum!

The beautiful grounds at the winery. This is the building that the aging cellars (pictured above) are in. Absolutely beautiful...

I didn't even know places this beautiful existed in Wisconsin. What's a winery without grapes? Wollersheim only grows about 10% of the grapes required for their wine making on-site. Hardly looks like Wisconsin, at all...I felt like I was in Italy or California!

Wine and Weight Loss

As those who are close to me know, I have recently lost a pretty significant amount of weight. While my appearance was a motivator for the change of diet and lifestyle, I was also motivated by the fact that many of my relatives have health issues associated with being overweight.

My initial path to weight loss was the Weight Watchers program, which I can't recommend enough. This diet's emphasis on low-fat, high-fiber foods mixed with the concept of accountability helped me achieve a total weight loss of over 30 pounds. However, some of my favorite consumables include beer and wine, and there is no weight loss plan in the world that would allow me to freely imbibe in my favorite beverages.

If consumption of wine and beer is so bad for you, then why do my francophone friends have diets high in fat and carbohydrates, smoke a pack a day, and drink glasses of wine with every meal, yet have thinner waist lines and longer life spans?

Common sense would dictate that the French are thinner and more healthy despite their dietary and overall lifestyle choices because Europeans are far more inclined to walk or bike to their destinations. However, research indicates that red wine contains an ingredient called resveratrol, which is proven to aid in weight loss. While it would take a shit ton of red wine in one sitting to provide enough resveratrol to have any measurable weight-loss effects, a lifetime of having small amounts of red wine (like our French friends) could possibly provide enough to allow our European neighbors to be less discerning about what they eat, while maintaining a great physique.

Well, this week, I decided experiment and drank a four-ounce glass of red wine with every lunch and dinner that I consumed at home (for some reason, I don't think the cinema would like me bringing a canteen of merlot to work with me...) and see what kind of effect it would have on my weight loss. Quelle surprise! Over the last eight months, I have averaged a loss of one to two pounds a week, and the week I drank red wine with every meal, I lost a whopping 3.5 pounds. While it might have just been a good weight loss week for me, I would like to continue my experiment by continuing to consume copious amounts of red wine.

Friday, August 7, 2009

R.I.P. Hans

This Wednesday, August 5th, I lost one of my best friends with whom I shared many of my greatest memories and best character-building moments. Hans, my 13 year old dalmatian, passed away after a brief illness. While I am sad that he is no longer with me, I am happy to reflect on the ways that he touched my life and made me in to the person I am today.

Like my mother said shortly before the good old dog passed, Hans taught me the invaluable lesson of how being patient and persistent has the potential of yielding great rewards.

An avid participant in the 4-H dog project, I spent many frustrated training sessions embarrassed by Hans' misbehavior which included any combination of barking, humping, pooping, running away, tugging and jumping. Imagine how ashamed my 12 year old self was upon being asked to leave a training session because my dog was being too rowdy. These dogs were at obedience training solely because they lacked training, and my dog went above and beyond any level of normal misbehavior (other than being mean, he never growled or bit anybody or any dog EVER) and got himself kicked out of a training session. However, I recognized the challenge and continued to train Hans, despite the negative experiences that occurred week after week.

Slowly, Hans began to learn. Through practicing every day, I taught him several commands including off-leash obedience. It was very rewarding to take such a unruly dog and turn him into a little gentleman.

Soon, the big dog show approached. To my astonishment, Hans put on his game face and was the portrait of an obedient dog. He perfectly listened to every command and impressed both those who knew his disobedient past and those who were seeing him perform for the first time.

When the results of the show were announced, I received an award especially given to the human student who had the best attitude despite having some of the worst experiences week after week. I was and continue to be impressed that the program recognized my struggles so positively. Generally, the people who receive this award have no chance of getting any other recognition at the dog show because their dogs perform so poorly. However, imagine my astonishment when I was also awarded a first place trophy for high point. Hans didn't only receive a first place award, but had the closest thing to a perfect score out of every dog there! The awards portion of the show literally showed how he had gone from being the worst dog ever to the best dog in attendance in seven short months of obedience training.

Well, in my opinion, Hans was always the best dog ever from the day he was born until the day he went to doggy heaven. Thanks for teaching me so many lessons and being my best friend, Hans!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why I Love the Midwest

I love the Midwest (Wisconsin, in particular) for many reasons. Our cultural association with food (beer, brats, and cheese to be exact), the sense of community in Midwestern small towns, the hard working citizens and most of all: FESTIVALS. The Midwest has festivals for everything: Wiener and Kraut Days, Corn Fest, and Brat Fest are just a few of the favorites I've been to.

This weekend, as I was leaving for opera rehearsal, I opened my door and saw that the world had been covered by a blanket of snow. Still falling from the sky, the snow was the picturesque fluffy stuff that makes you feel like you live in a snow globe as you watch it descend. As soon as I stepped outdoors, I gathered that some hot soup and coffee was in order. Luckily, I live in the same building as a wonderful mom-and-pop coffee shop and cafe in an historic building (the Sweet Spot Coffee Shop, you should check it out if you are ever in Whitewater). When I stepped in, I noticed that the shop was uncharacteristically busy. I also noticed that the sign that usually indicates the soup of the day instead only had chalk residue where an artsy depiction of a cup of soup and an indication of the soup du jour normally is.

When I approached the counter, I asked the barista if there was any soup, her reply was "No, sorry. Lacey (the owner of the shop) has the container at the festival. She has entered her chili into the chili contest" as she pointed her finger towards the park and lake across the street. A giant tent was set up in the middle of the park and there were hundreds of people walking around, despite the cold weather and foot of snow that had accumulated in the course of a few hours, like it was the most beautiful day of the year. Maybe it was...

The festival being held in the middle of the winter on a frigid day featured two of my favorite festival events of the Midwest: a food contest (the chili bake-off) and the polar plunge. For those who don't know, the polar plunge features people jumping in their bathing suits into a freezing cold ice covered lake for charity. Beautiful. While I am sad I didn't get any soup, I am happy to call the Midwest my home and hope that Lacey won the chili contest.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Aboriginal Music

This semester, I am taking a course on World Music. I was supposed to pick a topic weeks ago about which I have to write a lengthy paper. The instructor spent some time in class last week asking me and my fellow students what our topics where. I had not thought at all about this paper and had done absolutely no research. Put on the spot in class, I was unwilling to seem like I hadn't pondered what to write about. Consequently, I blurted out "Australia!" (the first country I could think of on the spot). My professor's only reply was a disappointed "Australia's a big country, better do some" I spent much energy researching this evening, as the library's computer server was down, which made me wish there were still good old card catalogs...not that anybody much younger than me would even know how to use the things... and determined that I would write about the clan songs of the aboriginal cultures of Northern Australia. Wish me luck!

Any body remember these things? I do, which dates me a little :)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

women in music

Until recent history, women's roles as professional musicians were limited. The classical music world is known for being a male-dominated industry. It wasn't too long ago that women with any association with music were considered to have a "loose character." I am happy that my involvement with the classical music world has more-or-less been positive on the gender front, but think that our musical education doesn't teach future musicians enough about women composers and performers. Throughout history, several female musicians held their own in an extremely sexist world and continued to practice their art despite the risk of harming their reputation. So, I dedicate this blog to the women of classical music and hope to enlighten my readers to some the composers and performers I admire.

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)

Primarily a composer of vocal genres such as the madrigal and motet, Strozzi relied on her skills as both a composer and a singer to make a living and is well known for her collections of secular works. Because many of her songs make a play on words based on Strozzi's name, and consistently are written for a soprano with similar vocal strengths, it is hypothesized that Strozzi wrote most of her works for her own virtuosic voice.

Strozzi evidently experience a "wardrobe malfunction" as this portrait was painted.

Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729)
Badass french composer from a family of freemasons. Could it get any cooler? First woman in France to compose and opera and a virtuoso harpsichordist, it helps that de La Guerre married a fellow musician (organist Marin de Le Guerre) so she was not only allowed, but encouraged to practice her art. I'd recommend giving her "Pieces de clavessin" a listen because of their virtuosity and frequently improvisatory nature.

Painting of de La Guerre, perhaps with a newly composed work in her hand?

Maria Theresia von Paradis (1759-1824)

Blinded between the age of two and five, von Paradis was a professional pianist who was admired by good old W.A. Mozart. Her performing career and professional contacts (memorized over 60 concertos by ear, studied with Salieri and is rumored to have had Mozarts's Piano Concerto No. 18 written for her) are remarkable. Von Paradis is also known for devising a music notation system for the blind and establishing a school of music for young girls.

Von Paradis

Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart (1751-1829)

Both W.A. and his big sis, Nannerl, were child prodigies. Unfortunately, Nannerl was prohibited from performing once she was old enough to be married. Many correspondences between W.A. and Nannerl reveal that Nannerl composed several works and that W.A. was Nannerl's biggest fan. Unfortunately, none of her manuscripts survive. We can thank Nannerl for aiding her contemporaries in finding some of W.A.'s lost works.

Nannerl Mozart next to some 18th century "big-note" music.

Clara Schumann (1819-1896)

The romance between Clara and Robert Schumann is something out of a soap opera. The early stages of romance deal with themes such as scandal, deceit, the law, and disowning parents. Crazy stuff. Even crazier is Clara's virtuosity and her AMAZING compositions. Schumann's musical education was unparalleled by any of her contemporaries (male or female) and included lessons in counterpoint, orchestration, theory, fugue-writing and even managed her own tours. She continued teaching and performing despite her husbands death and having *gasp* eight children. Everybody can be inspired by the tenacity and intellect of this woman.

Clara hanging out with her hubby.

Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Amy Beach was the first American composer of large-scale art music and was also a virtuoso pianist. Her popularity with Americans of all ages resulted in "Amy Beach Clubs" that celebrated her music. Beach had perfect pitch at a young age and "at the age of one she could sing 40 tunes accurately and always in the same key; before the age of two she improvised alto lines against her mother's soprano melodies; at three she taught herself to read; and at four she mentally composed her first piano pieces and later played them, and could play by ear whatever music she heard, including hymns in four-part harmony (Oxford Music Online)" Even though her formal musical education was limited she still composed large works such as a mass. Listeners should check out her Piano Trio (good stuff).

A young Amy Beach.

Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979)

I had to include Ms. Clarke because she was a violist and wrote amazing viola repertoire. Her life as both a performer and a composer is surrounded by mystery. She was one of the first female musicians admitted into England's Queen Hall Orchestra and broke many barriers in the performance world on her instrument of choice: the viola. It is known that her relationship with her parents was rather turbulent, but information about the life of this composer is scarce because her family is reluctant to release her documents and papers. Check out her viola sonata!

Clarke rockin her viola.

Well, I hope this post has inspired some fellow female musicians. Look for future posts on women composers and female performers, because lord knows that I forgot some of the greats in this post (Fanny Mendelssohn, Boulanger, Crawford, Hildegard of Bingen to name a few). Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

premonition of a quarter-life crisis?

This May, many of my friends will be graduating from college. Soon, I will follow in their footsteps. I used to live in an idealistic world where getting a degree in something I was passionate in was a romantic ideal a la "la Boheme" (hopefully minus the TB). I firmly held my resolve as I worked my way through four years of a music degree with a minor in non-profit arts administration, despite the lack of job prospects in my field. Four years ago, this seemed like a good idea. Now with one year to graduation, I am scared shitless.

Lately, conversations have abounded with those friends who will graduate in a few short months. Many of them have similar degrees as mine. Each graduating senior I ask about career goals in the near future stares at me dejectedly and answers sadly "I will do anything and take any job just to pay my student loans." This was not what I had anticipated when I decided on my path of academia. In my mind's eye, I would get a degree and open a small, hippie-like private lessons studio in a fashionable neighborhood. Or, I would get a job playing with a local professional symphony. Or, I would work at an awesome grassroots non-profit whose mission aligns with my ethics. That was when unemployment in Wisconsin was less than 4 % and gas was less than $2.00 a gallon. Now, thoughts of working at the same crappy movie theatre job I have had since I was 15 just to have job security and pay my student loans terrorize my imagination and make me tremble with fear.

But why?

I must have a positive attitude and assure myself that I have been successful my entire life, and that accomplishments don't cease as soon as you receive a diploma. Working hard to ensure I am a well-rounded individual, I have held management positions in both for-profit and non-profit arts venues, teach both violin and viola lessons in a studio very similar to the one I hope to some day own, and participate in every music ensemble possible in order to establish myself as a desirable musician in a world desperately in need of violists. Hopefully, this means I will have many employment doors open to me as I step out into the career world. This goes for my fellow students in the fine arts as well. Why would we spend thousands of dollars on a degree that we honestly think won't assist us in finding a job? It is merely because our confidence is waning due to our imminent change in scenery and the current economic and (thankfully changing!) political climate. Upon writing this blog and really analyzing the situation, I am now more confident than ever that me and my fellow 2010 graduates in the arts field will be successful.

What if I don't get a job in one of the fields I most enjoy? How will I maintain my artistic life in the midst of a job that doesn't allow for much expression? If any readers have advice for a confused soon to be college grad, or have had similar bouts of anxiety themselves, please drop me a line!