Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A day in the life...

Hi, All, :)

If you've followed any of Sonos' previous international trips (handy links on the right), you probably remember us as pretty chatty. OK, downright oral expulsive!

So, why are we so quiet so far on this trip? What's the deal? Don't we like Estonia? Isn't there anything cool going on here?

Truth be told, there's a LOT going on, and most of us are just too darned pooped to write anything! Here's what yesterday was like:

8:30AM: breakfast
9:00AM: head over to Estonia National Opera House for conference
9:30AM: greeting
10:00AM: Class session I
10:45AM: Class session II
11:30AM: Class session III
12:00PM: Lunch
1:00PM: Massed ringing I. During this time, prepare table covers for our "dragon entrance."
2:00PM: Massed ringing II. Send deputized group of Sonosians to venue to figure out initial logistics.
3:30PM: Rehearse on Dolce's bells, which they kindly loaned to us for this trip. This was in the Opera house, where the massed ringing took place.
4:45PM: Load up equipment in vans to go to concert venue (St. Nicholas - Niguliste, in Estonian).
5:15PM: Walk to Niguliste, unload equipment.
5:30PM: Figure out final logistics, spike floor, drop jaws at EIGHT SECOND REVERB in Niguliste. (How the heck are we gonna make this work??)
6:15PM: Practice "Sonics" to get a feel for the crazy acoustics. Adjust some rhythms to make it easier to keep group together.
6:45PM: Eat hastily purchased dinner of sandwiches and chips. (Thank you, Jan, Jim, Sharon, and Greg for getting these for us!!!!)
7:45PM: Begin trickling out backstage. Because of the layout of the entrance, we have to walk all the way through the audience to get backstage, actually behind a *huge* tryptich altar. (Wow!)
8:00PM: Concert.
10:00PM: Done! Chat with audience, friends, commiserate amongst ourselves, beat ourselves up over wrong notes, etc., etc. - typical after-concert stuff.
10:45PM: Pack up, get stuff back into vans. Walk to Opera House.
11:15PM: Unload at Opera House. Walk back to hotel.
11:45PM: Crash in hotel room.

So, as you can see, there ain't a lot of time for postin' in there. You'll have to forgive us our reticence - I promise you'll get your heapin' fill of Sonos activities once the festival is over. :)


Monday, June 27, 2011

Old Town Square concert in Tallinn, Estonia

This was the first concert of the festival called "BELLSART" here in Estonia's capital city of Tallinn. They set up a big tented stage on the square. This was the point of view of the performers. Impressive!

We shared the stage with several other groups, each performing about 15 minutes of music. This pictures shows "Pizzazz," a trio from England that were invited to the event.

"Kiriku" from Japan (also by invitation) were there. All three invited groups would later teach and do full concerts on their own. This picture only shows three of the Kiriku musicians.

Here is "Sonos Handbell Ensemble" from the USA (of course).

We also shared the stage with the host group "Arsis," who brought three handbell ensembles together to premiere a wonderful new work for multiple choirs plus steeple bells from the local church bell towers. It was amazing to hear the work, which resounded all over the town square.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

First day around Tallinn

Well, we made it!! It was quite an ordeal - 5+-hour flight to New York (from San Fran - at 7AM, no less), then a dash through the airport, a 7+-hour flight to Helsinki, another dash through another airport, then a turbo-prop-puddle-jumper 22:25-minute flight to Tallinn. Oh, man, there's NO WAY that little plane was gonna get all of our stuff...

And it didn't. ;) Our luggage and the bell case we brought came in on a later flight. Still, it got to us! Whew!

We're staying at the Park Inn (by Radisson) in central Tallinn, here:


We went to the National Opera House, which is in the same complex as the national symphony theater, and we dropped off our few bell cases. Yes, for the first time, Sonos is borrowing bells for our concerts. We just couldn't make the luggage distribution with the *massive* limitations and excessive fees that are being placed on checked-in bags these days. We were looking at $1000+ dollars just to pay for all the overage fees. :/

We went to our hotel and dropped off our junk, but we couldn't check in for a few hours, so Greta, the assistant manager of our hosts, Arsis Handbell Ensemble, took us out to the Old Town Square, where we met up with our best handbell friends in the world, Kiriku! And we got to meet Taiko Otsubo's new baby, Yuam, who is precious beyond belief. Jan, Cheryl Woldseth's husband, quipped that they had some extra space in their luggage on the trip home... ;)

It was a tearful reunion. Great tragedy has befallen Japan since we saw them last. None of our Kiriku friends were hurt or suffered terrible damage in the earthquake and brutal tsunami, but I'm sure no Japanese, no matter where they are, could be escape unscathed from that terrible time. Plus, Kiriku and Sonos have always had a close, beneficial relationship. Sonos helped Taiko Otsubo (music director) get back on her feet after a terrible time with her first group, Chamber Ringing Soloists, in the early 2000s. She, in turn, commuted from Tokyo (yeah, you read that correctly!) to play with Sonos for a few years while she started up a new group (what became the modern Kiriku).

We split for lunch - Diane and I ended up with a group at an Indian place, which was, unfortunately, not special. It was probably a mistake - hard to beat the Indian food we can get in the Bay Area, which its *huge* east-asian population.

After that we came back to the hotel and napped (THANK *GOD*!). I hadn't slept for about 40 hours prior to that, so I was a basket case.

We got up and went to the opening concert of the inaugural "Bells Art" handbell festival, featuring Arsis' own youth choir (choir I - they have an older youth choir, too) and their "senior" choir. Aivar Mae (their artistic director) jokes that since a majority of the 8-person group were in Arsis *before* they ever saw handbells (pre-1993), they truly are a "senior" group. ;)

Their show was great, although the venue, St. John's Church off the Town Square in Central Tallinn) was a little too forgiving for my taste - the reverb was excessive. Plus, the high, high, high ceilings just ate up a good portion of the sound.

Still, their playing is as fine as always. The youth choir opened with four or five numbers, starting with the Largo from Handel's Xerxes - not a typical opening for a concert! But it was played impeccably. Aivar is a consummate musician and I imagine demands no less from his students.

Yes, Arsis has morphed into a much larger organization than when they first got their bells from the AGEHR in 1993. They now support *two* handbell schools, which are supplemental music schools that teach keyboard, theory, and handbells to 100+ students at a time. The school gig has been going for 8+ years, and their organization has turned out amazing ensembles. And in *Estonia*, no less! Can we say we do any better in the U.S.? NOT!

Arsis' youth group ended with Doug Smith's inimitable "Hava Nageela," which they beat the snot out of (in a good way). A little too fast for my taste, perhaps not sensual enough to suit, but no one can deny their chops.

Then the "senior" group came out and opened up with more un-traditional pieces, this time arrangements of the second and third mvmt. from the Mozart "Eine Kleine Nachtsmusik." We always hear the first movement (and only portions of that - our American attention span is so limited these days), but I love the second movement more. They were lovely, so sensitive.

Aivar plays in the senior group, so they don't have a director. It was amazing to see the "chamber" aspect of their ringing as eye contact and attention flew around the group as they rang their way through the subtle shadings of the Mozart.

I was thrilled when they played three Estonian folksongs, all of which are present on their beyond wonderful "awake, my heart" CD (*buy* *it*, if you haven't already. NO EXCUSES!!). They began the set with "Cody," a cute little hommage to a famous fish that Estonians caught for time immemorial. The setting perfectly caught the darting, fleeting nature of the fish's existence. Unfortunately, Aivar commented that most of Estonia's rivers have been fished out, so the song is mostly about the memory of the fish, rather than the reality. Sad, when I think about it.

Next, Arsis returned to their chamber choir roots and sang an arrangement of "Awake, My Heart," the titular tune on their CD. LOVELY. Beautiful. I love the bell arrangement, but their singing was transporting, especially in this venue. I'm so glad they still sing. This tune was so appropriate and very effective.

Finally, they ended their set with my favorite song on "awake, my heart" (have you bought it yet??) - "Roll, Sun," a driving, rhythmic rendition. BTW, the songs on "awake" were all arranged by Estonian composer TÕNU KÕRVITS, who is a big shot - lots of romantic, classical music as well as pop music! He really hit the sound and genre on the mark with his arrangements for this CD. "Roll, Sun" conveys the energy and light and power that the sun provides to all mankind.

Arsis "senior" ended with Kevin McChesney's arr. of "Farandole" from "L'Arlesienne." (I think he calls it "Joyful Dance" or something like that.) They were a little quick (they like fast tempi), but the playing was brilliant. My friend, Tiina Kodumäe, who manages Arsis and also plays in the senior group, was crazy amazing as she reached around and played other ringers bells, even turning around to the back table, playing a bell, turning back to her position, playing another bell, then turning around *again* to play yet another bell in another ringer's set on the back table... amazing. I guess that's life with 8 ringers playing full 5-octave stuff.

I could go on and on (and I did scream for an encore, but was shot down), but I'll end with some pictures I caught on our first day. (Nothing from the concert, unfortunately.)



The St. John's Church, where Arsis played the opening concert of the Bells Arts festival.

Lovely example of Soviet-era masculine architecture. Joy.

A baroque-style organ in the St. John's church. (The 2nd organ in the church!)

Marquise and Cheryl in front of Arsis' Headquarters in Tallinn.

Arsis' bass bell "pit" (with apologies to Bayview). They have aluminum from B2 down to C2. They also have handchimes down to C2, which were used to lovely effect by the youth ensemble.

Before Arsis' concert. The blond in the foreground is Jenny Cauhorn, the executive director of AGEHR (soon to be Handbell Musicians of America). On her right is John Pfeiffer, AGEHR's president. AGEHR has had along relationship with Arsis - I'm glad they came to see the first festival get underway!

The "other" organ at St. John's Church. Not bad, eh??

Kickin' around Old Town Square in Tallinn. The lovely blonde in the light blue shirt is my baby.

Taiko Otsubo of Kiriku and her 18-mo. baby, Yuam. The wee one slept through most of the excitement. So precious!

Original city gates to the walled central city of ancient Tallinn. The foundations are still in place.

A shot of the national theater from in front of the national opera house. This is where the festival classes will be held. (And are being held right now - I'm playing hooky.)

Random buildings in Tallinn. The lady staring me down in the above picture is "Kitten," a good friend of Sonos' and Kathie Fink.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Before the trip

I can't seem to check into my flight. I'm still not sure how I'm fitting my stuff and Warren's stuff in our one suitcase. sigh. Fortunately, I took tomorrow off to deal with all of these things. By 6:00 p.m. tomorrow we'll be sucking foam and loading Lois' truck and then be on our way to SFO (we being Warren, Tess and me). Doing the park/sleep/fly route since we need to be at the airport at 5:00 a.m. on Friday. But.... I'm off work until after the 4th of July! Going on a trip with Sonos! Ready or not!