Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Acoustic Bicycles

I’ve been having minor electronic meltdowns, beginning with my trusty I-Pod (over five years old!) mysteriously erasing itself and continuing with my laptop or Flip or camera running out of batteries at crucial moments. Meanwhile, I’m trying to juggle long-distance business at home, getting notes to my students here at the Orff Institute, finding every wireless spot in Salzburg (making progress here!). Like so many of us these days, I’m increasingly dependent on these devices, enjoying them when they work and helpless and frustrated when they don’t. “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face” is the song I'm listening to on I-Tunes while typing this rough-draft blog and I suppose it’s appropriate—“I’ve grown accustomed to machines, like breathing out and breathing in…”

Still, though, I was not pleased when I finally located a bike rental place and all they had was a new electronic model. “Just push this button, then that one, and if you want to do X, push Y and don’t forget to shut it off when you park.” “I just want to pedal and go as fast as my legs can turn!” I protested. “You’re going to love it!” he assured me and anyway, there was no other choice. So off I set and sure enough, this button didn’t seem to work no matter how hard I pushed it and then when something did work, I pedaled and felt an extra burst of energy. Then pedaled faster and it slowed down. Huh? Then I discovered if I pedaled lightly, it kept a constant speed of some 25 kilometers an hour. Kind of like a silent slow motor-scooter.

So after class today, I set off to visit some of my old haunts, zipping along the old bike paths with the sun setting over the mountains and a light breeze on my face. Well, who doesn’t get a little thrill from a zippy motorbike? And yet, no real exercise, no sense of earning the dinner awaiting me at the end— like all innovations, a trade-off. At the end of it all, I think I prefer the acoustic bicycle—unplugged.

Meanwhile, the days proceed apace with three or four hours daily with this marvelous international group finding out precisely what our hands, feet, bodies and voices can do on their own and with minor extensions, like striking drums with our fingers or pieces of wood laid across a box with mallets. In a short two weeks, we’ve revisited each grade of  school, reliving the musical education childhood most of us didn’t have. Yesteday, we finished 5th grade.

Today, we sang and played songs and pieces from Bulgaria, Iceland, Brazil, Spain and danced to Old Joe Clark from the U.S. of A. Each one invigorating, beautiful, dynamic in it’s own particular voice. Then we took a detour from elementary school to college, enrolled in a 90-minute History of Western Music from 1200 to 1600 in the way I wish it were taught. We sang Gregorian Chant, hymns of praise, enjoyed the serious and frivolous Feast of Fools and ended with a four-part Kyrie by Palestrina. The highlight was probably the six men on their knees singing a troubadour song to the ten women. Tomorrow we go to Harlem and spend some time with the Duke, the Count, Lady Day and other Royalty of the jazz world. Hard to imagine a better way to spend our days. Almost as good as listening to an I-Pod while riding an electric scooter. Ha ha!

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