Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sing, little darlin', sing with me.

I intended to post while I was gone, I really did. It turns out that teaching at a four week high school music intensive does not leave a lot of time for reflection, much less recreational writing. It was like any experience of being at camp: the community is a bubble and time is strangely fluid. Everything is so compressed that you get close to people quickly, and each evening it's hard to grasp the reality of whatever you did that morning

It was a little surreal going back to my cubicle at the office on Monday and sitting down in front of a computer for all those hours. I drove home on Sunday with all of my crap packed into my car, including my bike, and a new/old giant mirror and two new/old lamps from Goodwill. The AC is out in my car, so I had the windows down and the local radio stations of northern IA cranked up. I had two cooler bags full of a growler of my favorite local lager and the leftover groceries from my fridge. I was salty with dried sweat. Clouds kept gathering in the west but it never did rain. I was grateful for anything that kept the blazing sun off my left arm.

The morning had been packed with goodbyes and closing worship and music music music. The kids were all tearful, standing around with their arms around each other. (I personally know two married couples who met as campers at this particular camp. I wonder what relationships formed this time around.)

For the last four weeks, I lived in a student condo on a prairie in a bowl of land between the river and bluffs, with an organist and a pianist. Raptors circled over the prairie every day, catching updrafts, and deer trekked through the tall grasses every twilight. In the adjacent condos there were brass players and woodwind players and singers and a percussionist and pianists and string players and staffers and the chaplain. Behind the condos, the woods stretched straight up a steep hill that rolled gently down to our place and past it to the main drag. Each morning, I rode my bike down the hill and across the street and up another hill to the music building and taught a class or coached a small ensemble and then taught lessons and had rehearsal for the rest of the afternoon. After dinner, there was a concert every night. I've never heard so many recitals in such a short span of time--and a LOT of new music, a lot of avant garde freaky shit that those kids were so incredibly lucky to hear. And once the kids took over the performing at the end of the third week, we heard a lot of exceptional young people working it on out onstage.

I missed most sunsets or came out at the tail end of them, after the recital or evening prayer (which I usually ditched), and would go for a quick bike ride along the river, where the whole trail would be lit up by fireflies and I'd see deer standing off to the side, silhouetted against the sky, munching grass and blinded by my headlamp. Toward the end of camp, I traded most of my bike rides for walks with friends down toward town to the little brewpub or the genius courtyard bar that only had outdoor seating and where the bartender played Caitlin Rose. After my big vocal ensemble concert, I got sick enough to cancel an entire day of teaching and rallied to perform a Bach cantata two days later. I still have a little cough--I say "still" but really, my sick day was only the Friday before last, or 11 days ago. A cough can stay for weeks.

One of the strangest features of living there for most of us grown folks, I realized after two weeks, was all the communal meals. We ate in the caf with all of the students, though the faculty and staff segregated ourselves in one area by the giant windows overlooking the valley and the wind turbine. I fell right into the communal meals, where you'd sit there through your companions' comings and goings and end up dining with maybe three different groups of people, but it did seem funny to think of how many people I was eating with twice a day (I never went to breakfast, since we had a mandatory meeting every day at 8 AM and that schedule was a huge stretch for me), when here at home I eat alone for every single meal and think nothing of it. I had today off from the office, as I usually do on Tuesdays, and it was so quiet, so strange to rattle around here doing prep cooking and unpacking stuff and getting reorganized and reacquainted with my place. I tell you what, after a month of spartan living it seems like I have way too much shit. I might have to address that while I still have the momentum (new/old Goodwill lamps notwithstanding).

Anyway, I guess I might miss the communal dining a bit--that option to always have people to visit with over dinner--but I'm thrilled to be back to eating what I like. The food wasn't bad--lots of it was even locally grown--but of course my salad intake had to at least double because the non-salad vegetarian options weren't what you want to eat all the time: pizza, veggie burgers, pasta. I ate many, many leaves. And everything started to taste the same after a couple weeks no matter how many choices there were: you hit a wall and that's that. The first thing I made today with yesterday's grocery haul was spicy Asian slaw with cabbage, carrots, marinated tofu, and plenty of sambal oelek and sesame oil. Then I made a tub of guacamole. In a little while, I'm going to put together a chickpea sweet potato salad with red onions and tahini dressing and these incredible little sungold tomatoes. These are things I missed.

What I'll miss most now that I'm home is that intense musical community, which I've not really had since grad school. And even then that was a pretty singer-heavy community, because everyone gets ghetto-ized into their little programs and doesn't mix much with others. But now I have all of these very accomplished colleagues who play instruments and sing and teach all over the country. We joked, we collaborated, we commiserated, we floated down the river in inner tubes. My net has widened considerably, and that has already been so good for me.

I'll also miss being in the studio every day, singing and teaching, and I might even miss the classroom a bit. I worked with great kids. The whole experience has given me some momentum to execute my plan of getting out of my day job by the end of the calendar year so that I can do what I'm trained to do. It’s amazing how hard you can work, and how good it feels to do so, when you care about what you’re doing.

I’ll miss the fireflies and deer too, but the frogs and bugs are singing their heads off outside my window right now, and I’m glad to be home.