July 18, 2011

Last Day in Oxford...Last Day of Fund for Teachers Trip! Biking, The Bate Collection

This is an early clarinet.
The next time Cristi or Esther (my sweet clarinetists) lose their ligatures,
 I'm handing them lots of string.  

Andrew and I have been looking forward to seeing the Bate Instrument Collection all trip, so today was an exciting and kind of sad day all wrapped into one.  After some amazing experiences this was our official last day with the Fund For Teachers portion of our trip.  Tomorrow we are headed to Edinburgh and later on Dublin, but the official grant portion of the trip came to an excellent end viewing the most amazing collection of instruments I have ever seen in one building.  It was so amazing, in fact, that we're going to do a separate post on it in a few days because the amount of information we have is just too much for one sitting.  We took lots of video of the different instruments, some ranging back as far as the 16th century!  We can't wait to show our band kids the pictures of the origins of their instruments!

Before viewing the Bate collection though, we rented bikes and literally spent the entire day biking (Andrew's Note: Read: "nearly dying") through the town of Oxford.  Oxford is known as a biker's city, every single street has well marked bike lanes (that are occasionally shared with the bus lane) which make it easy to speed through town.   Took as many pictures as we could when it wasn't raining, and in true British fashion, we rode in the rain.  Here are a few things I learned from the experience:

1.  Buses always have the right of way.  (Translation: Buses don't look where they're going)
2.  Yellow lights come on BEFORE green lights AND before red lights.
3.  Understanding #2 is vital to avoiding angry Brits
4.  Umbrellas are useless while biking.
5.  Andrew bikes as slowly as he walks.  (In my defense, your legs are twice as long as mine...)
6.  Due to #4, a rain jacket makes an excellent purchase.
7.  Rain jackets do not allow any range of head movement.
8.  Which means you need to keep reminding yourself of #1.  Often.

I look like I'm 12 in this picture....
just need pink streamers coming from my handlebars

See the Yellow light?  This is before we realized that meant GO.
I believe these are 'punting' boats!  Evidently a quintessential thing to do in Oxford.  

Saw these houses that back up to the river that runs through Oxford.  

Here is a sneak peak of a few gems in the Bate Instrument Collection!  Don't worry, we have WAY more information about this collection coming in a few days!

Early timpani, also called Kettle Drums (with real calf skin heads!)

A Serpentine...like a cross between a tuba, a clarinet, and a didgeridoo

 We couldn't play on any of the historical instruments of course, but they did have reproductions of a crumhorn and a cornetto (both used in the medieval and renaissance eras) that I got to play on!!  So fun!  We have a video that we'll post later, but the crumhorn sounded very much like a bagpipe practice chanter and the cornetto sounded a little like a wooden trumpet.  Like Allison said, there was so much to this museum that we'll give it a page all it's own when we get back and make a video for our kids to see.  We think they'll like seeing all of the old, weird, and bizarre instruments!

Last dinner before Edinburgh.  Thanks Fund for Teachers!!
By the way, we are not going to stop blogging.  Our daily trip posts from Edinburgh and Dublin will be available at our normal personal blog site that has been feeling very neglected recently!  http://keepingthetime.blogspot.com

We aren't quite finished with this site though, so check both!  We want to be sure and say "thank you" again to Fund for Teachers - this trip has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience and we've seen so much that we can take back home and use in our teaching.  One of the biggest things that has been reinforced during the trip is that there is no substitute for hearing music performed live by great performers.  It has an impact that little else can match.  If you are a classroom teacher and have at least 3 years of teaching experience, APPLY FOR THIS!!  Being able to tailor your professional development to what will help you the most is one of the strongest aspects of what FFT does.  We would be glad to help you with the process as we were helped by other Fellows, so please feel free to contact us below with any questions.  Hooray Fund for Teachers!  Thanks!!

aredmon@graceschool.org (Andrew)
aredmon@houstonchristianhs.org (Allison)    

July 17, 2011

Day two in Oxford – we feel smarter already.  

We woke up and had breakfast in Kebel College’s version of the “Great Hall”.  Pretty impressive.  Makes you want to raise your pinky finger just a bit higher when sipping your tea.  Sundays are a bit hard anywhere tourism wise; so many things are closed down.  And it was raining… boo.  The ‘Hop-on-Hop-Off’ Bus tour was not closed and it was covered from the rain, so we had a really nice tour through Oxford, seeing and hearing about the history of probably 40 or so sights. 

I then took Andrew to the covered market which contains all sorts of unique and cozy shops, filled with stuff you don’t need but will buy anyway.  More importantly, it houses a milkshake place that will blend pretty much any British biscuit (Remember that’s code for ‘cookie’ here) into a milkshake.    Yes. (Andrew's Note: YEESSSSS!!!)  Andrew had a chocolate Hobnob milk shake.  Remember he ate like 2 full packages of them a few nights ago? (I do.)  Evidently that didn’t quite cut it.  I had a homemade triple chocolate cookie… it almost made me cry.  And this all was on top of having pies and mash for lunch. 
We’re glad that we have the fall to train for a half marathon.

On significantly full stomachs, we walked over to Christ Church College.

It's important in it's own right but now it happens to be ridiculously famous for being associated with Harry Potter.  That couldn't have anything to do with why we went there...  The Great Hall is modeled after their dining hall:

I was disappointed to find out that the students here just pick their houses instead of being sorted.
And the staircase leading up to their dining hall was used for the first film!

Hard to see with all the people, sorry.  This is where Neville lost his frog :-)
The rest of the place, of course, is beautiful and castle-like.  The cathedral inside the college has some amazing windows, AND it's where John and Charles Wesley were buried!  

This is a big deal since we both went to Asbury University.  Asbury is sometimes mistakenly called a Methodist school, but it does have close ties with the Methodist church and several early Methodist movement leaders got the school going.  I also grew up in a Methodist church and have lots of roots with them and the Moravians, who cheered up a dejected John Wesley on a boat trip and got him back on track with his evangelization in America.  Poof, the Methodist church!  All that, plus John Wesley and his brother, Charles, wrote some of the greatest hymns we have in the church today.  

If you’re wondering what all this has to do with Early Music, we promise we’re set to do something of worth in Oxford, we just arrived at an unfortunate time.  The Bate Early Music Instrument collection doesn’t open until Monday, so we’ll go tomorrow.  Meanwhile, we attended an Evensong.  Remember, evensong is essentially a ‘sung’ church service.  I find that as a musician, I tend to get more out of this approach to a church service than your typical service.
Here’s Andrew for the details:
Tonight’s Evensong service was at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin (the one where we climbed the tower yesterday to look out over Oxford).  It’s pretty much a night and day difference from Westminster Abbey’s Evensong.  There were only about 15 people (compared to probably 150 at Westminster) and the choir was a guest choir from a town down the river a bit who tended toward the over 80 age mark :-)  I realize what I’m comparing it to Westminster here, but I’m just illustrating the differences.  They did Mozart’s “Ave verum corpus” – a pretty famous piece and one I could actually sing along with!  It’s interesting…Americans tend to hold up the British accent as a low-maintenance singing accent (as in, you don’t have to fix as much because their vowels tend to be purer and you can’t find an “R” at the end of a word in sight), but hearing an everyday citizen church choir makes me realize that everyone has things to work on!  Most of the pronunciation and accent issues that my choirs deal with are not problems here, but they do have their own set of funny vowels and things.  Now I know what I can fix when I move here!  Ahem…..

July 16, 2011

Day 1 - Oxford: Missed trains, graduation, and The Inklings!

Well hello Oxford!  (Finally...after missing our train from York because the attendant told us it was not our train!!!  80 pounds later...)

I love this place.  Secretly wished I had gone to school here.  Oxford town and University have such a different feel about them than London or York.  It's just inspiring!  So much history and legacy wrapped up into a world class institution.  There are 39 colleges here and some of them are around 750 years old!  And, get this, we are staying at Kebel College!  In the fellows' apartment wing!  Not all that fancy, but heck who cares?  We get to live IN Oxford University for three nights... happy, happy, happy. Thanks to my good amiga Christina West for hooking us up with a friend of hers from Oxford.  You should check out her blog:  http://fulbrightmexico.wordpress.com  She was a Fund For Teachers fellow last summer and this summer is on a Fulbright-Hays seminar trip to Mexico.

Once you get past the wallpaper, the place isn't so bad
Kebel College is one of the newer colleges, built in 1870 (I know, right?!) and houses 435 undergraduates and 245 graduate students.  When we asked about getting internet the guys at the front desk laughed at us.  Nice.  Most colleges at Oxford are designed as huge enclosed buildings with a 'quad' or green area in the middle.  (Andrew's itching to play frisbee on the grass.. I wouldn't let him.  (Andrew's Note: I had to ask if I was supposed to keep off the grass.  It's unclear.)  HCHS peeps:  "Don't step on the grass... we're growing leaders!"  (Kebel is growing nerds).  We were then given a key to get into the college.  Yes, a key.  You have to use the key to open a huge wooden door which functions more like a porthole, because the door is at lease 2 feet off the ground, you have to step over it to get into the college.  
Kebel College quad

Kebel Chapel

We started the evening in Oxford by climbing up the tower at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin.  It gives you an awesome view of the entire city of Oxford, as well as an amazing up close view of Radcliffe Camera.  Not familiar with Radcliffe Camera?  Its probably the picture you've seen when looking up Oxford University.  It was built around 1737 and is Britain's third largest dome.  And since you can't actually get into Radcliffe Camera but once a month for tours (?!), climbing the tower at St. Mary the Virgin's Church is the way to go.  I did it, thank you very much, and while I was petrified, I'll admit the view was worth the falling nightmares I'll enjoy later on tonight.    

The Radcliffe Camera
We then wandered through the main part of Oxford and discovered that what the guide books told us was in fact correct.  There were a heck of a lot of students wearing graduation type gowns.  This made Andrew freakishly happy.   And I'm sure he'll go into an insubordinate amount of senseless detail about graduation robes ... right..... now.  Go!  (This cracked me up - the guidebook said that Oxford is a bookish, academic feeling city...we get off the bus and there are all kinds of students walking every street in their robes, caps, and hoods!  Turns out today was, in fact, graduation day for this term and it had just let out!  It felt like a caricature :-)  Anyway, I do like all that stuff about graduation robes and hoods and where it comes from and all of that.  I find it very interesting for some reason.  I like to play "Guess the Degree" from the hood color...and I have a pretty good record since I've spent some time looking at what all the colors represent.  Don't ask.  Also don't ask about the width of the velvet strip, the length of the hood, and the coloring, striping, and piping of the robes.  I certainly don't know anything about those... 

I think what I liked the most was that several of the graduates had thick white fur (like a Persian cat!) lining their hoods.  I'm pretty sure we don't have that option in America and I would like to think it's reserved for those Oxford students who have completed a M.Ptrc. degree (that's the Master of Pillaging Thatched Roof Cottages degree - comes with a minor in Viking Studies).  It's actually just an option they can get for their hoods, but I like my reasoning better.

This is not a fake picture, although the Oxford ones don't have silver in the middle.
If you're still reading at this point you must really like us.  Thanks.  (Double thanks.)

Moving on.  Who are your favorite authors?  Book?  Of all time?  Lucky for you this blog is a one way conversation so here are mine!
Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"
J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit"
C.S.Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia"
and of course J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series

Tonight we spent the evening at the "Eagle and Child" Pub, home to the authors known as the "Inklings", none other than C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and a few others!!!!!  (It seems to be billed as "a few others" nearly everywhere it's mentioned...I feel bad for the other Inklings who don't merit the mention!)  It was awesome and worth a visit if you are even mildly obsessed with these greats.  Andrew spent some quality time reading "Lord of the Rings" while I attacked a  bowl of Eton Mess... mmmm.  

A very fun and literary night.  I'm going to bed now, as I have a serious inferiority complex around all these smarty-pantses.  I had difficulty with the door key she previously mentioned, so I'm going to sleep on it and see if I can't do a better job tomorrow representing the American peasantry. 

Day 8 - Last Day in York :-(

Today feels like the end of many things....Harry Potter.....our trip to York....a bittersweet day :-)  We started out with more laundry and then went to a picture print shop and bought two big amazing pictures of York Minster Cathedral as souvenirs to hang at home.  I actually found one similar to it online, but ours is way better:

The other is of the Minster in a blizzard.  These will look great on our wall!  After that, we had lunch at a Sichuan Chinese restaurant that was surprisingly good!  Annnnd after that - of course - to the York Picturehouse for the showing of the last Harry Potter movie.  So good...so sad...and we pretty much walked out of the theater, turned the corner and walked by what might as well be Hogwarts Castle.  What a great place to watch the movie!

Hogwarts?  A castle around the corner?  Who knows, I've lost track!
This evening was the final major concert of the festival - The Sixteen.  I've have been a HUGE fan for a couple of years now and hearing them in a place like York Minster was just surreal.  Their entire program was all music from the 16th century composer, Tomas Luis de Victoria, one of the more well known early composers. 

The Sixteen in York Minster - Sorry for the awful picture
From a sound standpoint, The Sixteen were better suited for the space than the first concert, the Gabrieli Ensemble.  I think that had to do with the fact that 1) The Sixteen have about 6 fewer singers, 2) the music had more contrast to it and 3) they did much more dynamic shaping of the music than Gabrieli.  You could hear without a doubt the "singing of the line" and shaping the phrases so that there was a rise and fall to them.  It was incredible.  At the intermission, I happened to see Harry Christophers (the conductor - the guy's a really big deal) and decided to talk to him!  And I did!!  I told him about Fund for Teachers and the grant and how much we were enjoying the concert and that we would take everything we are hearing and learning back to our students.  He thanked me and was very impressed with the grant.  He told me, "You're hearing us in possibly the greatest choral performing space in England - it's fantastic to sing here."  I agreed :-)

So does this make me famous now?  I think it does. (Allison's Note:  No.)

After the concert, we went to another medieval hall for a dinner:
People kept telling us we were keeping the group young.

We kind of thought this would be a large event and everyone would come over from the concert, but there were only about 30 people there.  Most of them were "Friends" of the festival (yearly supporters) and just a few others who had bought tickets to the dinner (us).  It was basically an ask for more money to support the festival - a little awkward - but it was fun to talk to some of the people we were sitting by.  They were all excited about the grant and INCREDIBLY excited by the fact the we "reduced the average age of the room by about half" :-)  

We unfortunately leave York tomorrow...when exactly is the next time we came come back to this place???  Christmas husband, Christmas.  York Christmas Music Festival.

Off to Oxford to show Andrew around and to see the Bate Early Musical Instrument collection.  Everyone at our dinner last night was very excited that we were getting to see the collection.

Bye York!

July 15, 2011

Day 7: Scarborough Castle

Just pretend that you can't see the grass at the bottom of the picture
Alright folks, today was young artist competition day at the York Early Music Festival, so there were not really any concerts.  We decided to head out of town for a day trip to the sleepy little coastal town of Scarborough.

Scarborough was Daniel's idea and it turned out to be a great place to go.  It's pretty close to York - just a 45 minute train ride, made more interesting by an old man sitting in out little group of 4 seats who tossed out facts about the English countryside and all sorts of other things the whole way.  For instance:

1) Yorkshire is the largest county in England.
2)  He has lived in York his entire life.
3) Most of the royal family's men are going bald.
4) Downtown York is turning into "one giant pub" because there are so many of them.
5) "The Kennedys" was a pretty good documentary.  Greg Kinnear, you know.
6) Scarborough's train station has the longest train station bench in the world.  
7) The best fish and chips in Yorkshire is just to the right of the terminal - called "Mother Hubbard's"

Allison's Notes: Honorary mention goes to Daniel and Andrew for their great help in keeping the conversation going.  4.5 minutes into the old man's life story, Daniel put on his headphones and sunglasses.  Awesome.  Then Andrew decides he has to use the loo.  Really??    

We all ("Allison") had to concentrate pretty hard to understand him with his accent but we learned quite a bit on the ride over.  When we pulled up he said, "Right-o.  Enjoy your day."  Nice guy.

We then embarked on an unplanned day.  (Allison is mildly hyperventilating even as she's writing this several hours after the fact.)  I had to schedule it as an "unplanned" day in my agenda just so I would feel like some aspect of it was planned.  We didn't even have a map!!  But we figured the beach was somewhere nearby and if all else failed, following the sea gulls seemed like a logical plan.  So we did.  Got to admit that going to a beach in 60 degree weather was weird.  I kept my athletic shoes on the whole time, and I was bundled up because it was so windy... brr!   Scarborough's touristy spots are so darned cute and really remind me of your average American boardwalk, minus the saltwater taffy.  (We looked for it, it doesn't exist.)  Instead, we had afternoon tea along the beach.  Love it!  (Warm scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream is now what I want in my I.V. any time I have to go to a hospital.)
Daniel has a massive sweet tooth.  This was the first cream filled pastry he had  today...
there were more.

Cute little seaside boardwalk

Running shoes in the sand?  Cold?  Yes.


Very cold water

So many flowers

Daniel was not dry the rest of the day

We sat in the sand for a good while just hanging out.  You see a lot of different types of attire here in England.  I'll do another post on it later, let just say that the nose piercing I've had for the last year or so fits right in.  My blonde hair does not, a bright shade of purple or red might be more appropriate for my age... but that's a topic for another day.  At the beach, there was a weird mixture of sissys like us who had nine layers of clothes on, and then the average Scarboroghonian (??) (Scarboroughniantonianists) who had a swimsuit on.  Evidently "cold" weather is a relative phenomenon.  (As is a cheese sandwich...if you order a cheese sandwich, you will not get grilled cheese but a slice of chilly cheese on a piece of bread.  In Scarborough, you will get a mound of shredded Kraft on a hamburger bun (How do you eat it??) ).  
The ruins of Scarborough Caslte

After our athletic shoes were heavy with sand, Daniel suggested we climb up the Scarborough Castle.  I had to contort my neck in a very ungraceful position to see the castle behind me, which made me think twice about not having a car.  Scarborough is very hilly.  So we climbed and walked and climbed...but it was so worth it!  The castle ruins and ground were probably my second favorite place we've visited so far.  So desolate and beautiful.  You know those pictures you see of the cliffs of England and Ireland?  We were on top of them! 
 Harry Potter nerds:  
1.  It was like when Dumbledore takes Harry to the caves where Voldemort hid the horcrux!  
2.  Tomorrow!  I will see the movie 6 hours ahead of you!!!!!
Surveying his domain 
Take a look at the windy pictures.  We have video too but can't load it with the slow connection at our B&B. Afterwards, we walked around some of the seedier parts of town, had dinner and returned home on the train.  Daniel even serenaded Andrew and I on our empty train cart, it was comical.  (It was something...)
Ruins of the castle tower

Andrew began gnawing on "wheat"... which he said wan't actually wheat, so he called it "faux-wheat",  or "fwheat"

Lord of the Rings fans should be very happy with this picture.
"Light the beacons!!"


You can't see it, but he still has the fwheat in his mouth... nerd.

Tomorrow is going to be a good day - as we said, we're seeing the last Harry Potter movie and BY THE WAY - we found out that The Dufay Ensemble played on the soundtrack of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (movie #3)!!!  All you fellow nerds, listen to the soundtrack and see if you can pick out where they play.  How's THAT for connecting current pop culture with early music??  Tomorrow is also the biggest concert of the entire festival - The Sixteen perform in York Minster Cathedral!  I've been a Sixteen fan for a long time, so hooray!

Before we go, Happy Birthday to my beautiful and wonderful Mom today by the way!  Love you Mom!!

July 14, 2011

Day 6 - York: York Minster Cathedral, Too Much Fish & Chips, The Harp Concert, and The Brabant Ensemble

Well, after being here for 4 days and going to a concert and a church service in York Minster Cathedral, we finally got a chance to actually explore the place!  It kind of feels like our "home church" in a city of churches because it takes 39 seconds to walk there (I timed it.) (Allison's Note: Nerd)  I feel bad gushing more about how beautiful it is, but it really is a breathtaking sight. 

 The inside has a really nice museum in the basement/crypt area telling you where the original Roman basilica was in the first century AD, then where the Saxons (ancient English) built a small church in the 600s, then where the Normans (ancient French) built a large church in the 1100s, and finally when the cathedral was built in the 13-1400s.  Each new building was basically built on top of the previous one, so there are layers of stone and foundations under the cathedral that chronicle its' 1,900 year history.  (There are parts in the crypt where you can see the Roman and Norman architecture merging... so cool!)

The organ

The Quire (where the choir sits :-)

My gratuitous Lord of the Rings shot

Daniel and I took the long walk up to the top of the central tower, which consists of about 250 tiny stone steps in a tight spiral staircase to get to the top.  It's pretty intense - several times I couldn't fit through the passageways unless I turned my shoulders!  

This x 250 = the top of York Minster

The view from the top is amazing, though, (Nope!  I didn't go.  I had a tour by one of the 200 volunteers around the minster itself.  Heights + Allison = puke) and you can see all of York 360 degrees around and even into the farmland outside.  I do believe my knees and legs are killing me now but it was worth it.

Then it got cold.  And windy.  So we changed and I used a gift that I bought for someone as layering to keep me warm.  Sorry Lindsey.  We met Daniel after his concert for authentic fish n'chips.  It was so good that we didn't take any pictures because we were too focused on eating.  Mmmmm.

Then I got my ear pierced again.  Don't worry Fund for Teachers, you didn't pay for it :-)

Allison's York souvenir is in the top left of the picture :-)

Then we headed to our next two concerts of the evening.  The first one was the Harp Ensemble - 4 players playing all sorts of instruments...the violin, the hurdy-gurdy, the triple harp (earlier version of our current harp), the Psaltery (like a strummed dulcimer or auto harp), the guitar, the bagpipes, the shawm, and the cornetto (an instrument that sounds like a mellow trumpet - made of wood with a mouthpiece and finger holes.  Think a long recorder that you buzz into!)  The concert involved not only music, but dancing and poetry, too.  It was very diverse and very entertaining.

This is pretty much what this guy did the whole time - no lie
The second concert was the Brabant Ensemble, a 12 voice vocal group who have been around since 1998.  They did a beautiful job - they focus on lesser know composers of the 15th & 16th centuries.  Here's the program:
*Mater floreat - Pierre Moulu
*Mater Christi sanctissima - Tavenrer 
*Gloria (from Missa 'El Ojo') - Francisco de Penalosa
*Quam pulchra es - King Henry VIII (Did you know that Henry VIII probably wrote two settings of the Mass Ordinary?  They did not survive, but this piece is his only surviving Latin piece.  The words are from Song of Solomon...actually pretty racy!)
*Salve regina - Cristobal de Morales
*Sanctus (from Missa 'Tu es Petrus') - Jean Mouton
*Aspice Domine - Phillip van Wilder
*Agnus Dei (from Missa 'Alma Redemptoris mater') - Pierre Moulu  (this piece became famous as a "telescope canon" - where the music can be sung either with rests or without them!)

The conductor had interesting interpretations on some things - the sopranos had no vibrato throughout the concert, but the other parts (particularly the men) used it at least sometimes, but never on the final note of the songs.  Also, the sopranos were VERY loud on several of the pieces.  I argued that it was not a balance problem; that the conductor must have a musical reason for doing that on certain pieces.  After all, they are a professional group and the conductor was a Choir Scholar at Cambridge and has a doctorate in Early Music from Oxford.  The guy knows a thing or two!  Any professors out there want to shed any light on these observations in the comments section??