Monday, July 11, 2011

How to jubilate with propriety

I'm back in the U.S. but still have Wadlstrumpf blogging to catch up with. Allow me to begin with some observations about the proper pace of jubilating in Germany.

The discussion will focus on the opening hymn of the wedding mass the other week, "Erfreue dich Himmel, erfreue dich Erde."

If you were a Jewish American organist music-theorist who played for a small southern U.S. Lutheran church, you might note the dancing lilt of the 6/4 melody and, considering also the text ("Rejoice, Heaven; rejoice, Earth"), opt for a cheerful upbeat tempo such as this (please note I self-identify as a keyboardist, not a singer):

Germans, however, understand that because God is very far away, you must sing very slowly and very clearly in order for him to hear you. Joyous hymns, therefore, should be sung ponderously, while solemn hymns (given their solemnity) should be sung very very ponderously. "No--slower, slower," was the advice I received from my musician collaborators in the organ loft, "and don't forget to leave time for people to breathe at the breath marks here and here," thusly:

"I actually thought the hymns were a little fast," observed one relative after the ceremony. Seriously?, wonders the foreign Gastmusikerin, who was brought up in the U.S. on German classical music and doesn't remember joyfulness ever being so restrained.

A little research on youtube reveals that German organists apparently also feel the festive tug of this melody and find opportunities to push the tempo before settling into the lugubrious pious pace of the sung word.

As you watch the following video, listen to the peppiness of the improvised organ introduction; then observe the aural brick wall encountered just before the congregation begins singing (around 1:00-1:05). Note that the organist leaves lots of time for the singers to breathe and that the singers want to take an even slower tempo, which the organist gradually accommodates over the three verses.

I returned to the U.S. on Saturday, in time for work on Sunday morning. "Your sub did fine," people told me, "but he played too slowly." Oh, it's good to be home.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Elias has been enthusiastically trying to catch women's world cup soccer games on TV, so we surprised him on Tuesday with a trip to Augsburg to see Japan play England. Our original plan was to pick up the tickets, go hang out in old town Augsburg for a bit, then go to the game; but when we arrived at the stadium 2.5 hours before kickoff, the parking lot was already filling up. We skipped Augsburg altogether and people-watched instead.

Some folks were rooting for Japan,
and others were rooting for England.
Some were rooting for Germany (playing against France further north in Moenchengladbach later that evening).
It was a very friendly crowd,
and pretty much everyone cheered whenever either team displayed finesse, but Japan was clearly the crowd favorite. This might have been because Japan was #4 in the FIFA rankings, vs. England at #10, or because Japan was playing so well despite the devastating earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. After the game, Japan thanked the world for its post-tsunami support, and England's players joined in the banner march to show solidarity.
With 20,777 attendees, the relatively small stadium still had room for another 2,000 or so; but 20,777 is a lot of people when it comes to clearing out parking lots and walking to mass transit stops. Both teams would go on to the quarter finals regardless of who won. England surprised everyone and won the game 2:0. Toooooooooooooor!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A vegetarian abroad

When I first started coming to Bavaria with Stefan 21 years ago, it was a challenge to find vegetarian fare in restaurants. Times have changed, however, and it's much easier now to find at least an ovo-lacto option such as Käsespätzle mit gerösteten Zwiebeln und Blattsalat (little boiled egg dumplings, pan fried with cheese, served with fried onions and a side leaf salad), or a Gemüse Teller mit Spiegelei (plate of cooked vegetables with a fried egg). Salads have also undergone significant changes, shifting away from arrangements of potato salad, cooked cabbage, and corn kernels, toward a variety of green leafies. Still, as in the U.S., the vegetarian in Bayern occasionally faces limited options*:
and has an excuse to cobble together a tasty if questionable complete protein.
(The beverage pictured above is Mineralwasser mit Kohlensäure, of course, because fizzy water is always available in this cultured society.)

*You'd think the carnivore has limited options here too, as all there is to eat other than french fries is Wurst--but the Wurst connoisseur understands the differences between grilled pork sausage, beef 'n'pork sausage, white pork sausage, and hot dog chunks in curry sauce.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Look, some charming little cherubs are playing stringed instruments in the clouds:
Their heavenly compatriots play brass and drums! What relaxed embouchures!
Meanwhile, smack dab in the middle of the music loft ceiling at Bavaria's wee country Blumenthaler Marienkirche, a wingless keyboard player (an earth-bound human?) accompanies a choir of cherubs under the experienced baton of Frau Engel.
See those lines radiating from the organist's head? Do not be fooled--they are not a halo. They are wisps of perspiration, for when the organist agreed to play for her nephew's wedding, she did not know the organ was actually an antique harmonium, nor that it possessed a mere two pedals, both of which had to be pumped continuously in order for music to sound.
On the bright side, pumping added some pleasant challenges to playing Pachelbel's Canon in D, a piece that, I'm sorry to report, has finally made it across the Atlantic as a wedding processional. The two singers and the violinist performing with me insisted that, despite being in the business for a long time, they had never once heard the Canon used for a wedding processional. German organists have much to look forward to.

In any case, the organist was delighted to offer her services to the happy couple, and, during the lovely wedding mass, to get in a good workout.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Back in Bayern

We left SamfaylYOUdayGWEEshoals early Thursday morning and flew from Barcelona to Munich. Oh Bavaria, how I had forgotten I missed you so--your rolling farmland, your afternoon coffee and cake, your Brezeln and Semmeln, your solar farms, your roll-up-your-sleeves enthusiasm for tidiness manifested by swept sidewalks and invariant village house colors, your incomprehensible fondness for thick white asparagus rather than tender green, and your Mineralwasser. If anything epitomizes the difference between Germany and the rest of the world, it's Mineralwasser.

In Barcelona, you need walk no more than a few blocks to find a very small, slightly grungy, well organized, supremely friendly family-run grocery store where you can buy fruit and vegetables and, if you're lucky, score a bottle of Vichy Catalan (Catalan's self-proclaimed finest healing mineral water, apparently most healthful when served cold). In the Munich airport, you need walk no more than half a terminal to find at least two large, well-polished, impersonal corporate-owned grocery stores, where you can buy fruit and vegetables and at least five brands of mineral water with four different varieties each (high fizz, medium fizz, low fizz, no fizz). I'm not sure who goes to the airport to buy fennel and beets, but surely every frequent flier can use a liter of medium-fizz seltzer, and it's good to have choices.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sant Feliu de Guixols

From Sunday midday until Thursday morning, we were in Sant Feliu de Guixols on the Costa Brava. Despite spending nearly four days there and hearing native speakers say it multiple times, we still don't understand how to pronounce the name of the town. Sam fay-LOU day GWEE-shoals? Sant FAY-lee-you day ghee-SHOALS? Fail-YOU day ghee-SHOAL? Catalan and Spanish are related but independent languages. The Catalan x is pronounced sh after i, but that's about as far as we were able to match phonemes with spelling. Our knowledge of French kept intruding too, in our effort to process that x, so our de kept sounding like deux instead of day, which didn't help.

Sant Feliu de Guixols saw major development post-WWII, when Germans started flocking to the Spanish coast and the Spanish coast responded by building great swaths of hotels and high rises. One hears as much German as English in Sant Feliu (sam fay-LOU day GWEE-shoal?), when one isn't hearing Catalan or Spanish.

Stefan left Elias and me on our own while he attended a European Science Foundation conference. What to do, what to do? Elias was in heaven after all the boring hiking we had done: the hotel had a swimming pool, we could walk to the beach down the hill, and our room had a TV with a channel broadcasting FIFA Women's World Cup games. Because I am about as far from being a "beach person" as is humanly possible, I was grateful that there were two soccer games to watch every afternoon, as they were the only thing that could compel Elias (a beach person if there ever was one) to abandon the sand and pebbles.

On Wednesday, conference participants had the afternoon off, so we drove to Figueres to see the Teatre-Museu Dalí (Dalí Theatre-Museum), the third most visited museum in Spain. Adding to the bizarre art was the industriousness and determination with which most of the huge crowd took photos of the collection. Say "patata," Galatea of the Spheres!