Last Tuesday evening I had a unique experience full of “firsts” here in Vicenza. Traveling around the world as a musician-teacher has been challenging over the last 8 years. As with any musician-teacher, the balance between staying musically engaged and teaching music is challenging, especially with language barriers. Besides that, how many more times do I need to hear the question: “what’s an oboe” before I snap? More importantly, how do I go about playing said oboe when the only musicians I can find to network with are vocalists?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed continuing my vocal studies while in Kiev and here in Verona! I’ve absolutely loved this group in Verona and have really developed vocally with their help and enjoyed performing with them. But the question kept haunting me, when will I play something on the oboe besides the melody line of hymns at church?
Enter Incontri Col Repertorio, a group of musicians who helps conductors studying at the conservatory to practice their repertoire. They meet once a month for 3 hours in the evenings and basically read through great repertoire while giving the conductors a chance to practice. I was super stoked for Brahms 1 last Tuesday. I prepared for 2 weeks in advance because there are many important oboe solos in Brahms 1, and the key signatures change quite a bit. Let’s just say that I was hoping to put all of my fingers down in the proper order!
But let’s fast-forward to Tuesday (Remembrance Day, Veterans Day). It’s now dark by 5pm. Convincing myself to leave at 6:15pm wasn’t too difficult… But it was raining. Upon arriving at the conservatory, which is near the Centro Storico (Old Town), I began to screen the area for parking. As with every town, there was of course no parking. And re-circling to find parking? Difficult with 1-way streets. Plus, I had used a GPS to find my way there and I wasn’t necessarily sure about where exactly I was. After re-circling (and going the proper direction on all the 1-way streets), I finally “pulled a New Yorker” and sat in a no parking zone while a mom piled all her children in the car and pulled out, taking her coveted spot when I had just about given up hope.
BUT THEN I knew that the free parking at night begins at 8pm, and I was there at 7pmish. So I needed to pay for parking for 1 hour. I looked by every little parking sign, and there was no pay machine to be found. (I had saved all of my coins to use on that machine, too!) Walking up and down the street, trying to find a tabbacheria to pay at, calling my hubby, nothing was to be done except not pay for that hour and hope that there was no ticket waiting for me later.
AND THEN when I went to the front of the Conservatory, it was locked, and the guy sitting at the reception counter didn’t want to let me in. He kept saying something incomprehensible and pointing to the left. Choking down feelings of hopelessness, I walked to the left and, believe it or not, I actually found where I was supposed to go! I consider this a WIN! Although I am studying Italian and got placed in an intermediate language class, something happens to me when people yell, are agitated or angry that causes me to not even want to understand what they’re trying to say.
Once inside the practice hall, I was so happy to finally be amongst a group of musicians that were not playing church hymns. Also, it was quite invigorating to be in a rehearsal where only 1 other person spoke English, and not much of it. I not only had to concentrate to play the correct notes (only 1 oboe and 1 flute showed up that night), I also had to communicate solely in Italian. Luckily, the flutist next to me spoke Italian slowly and repeated many times if necessary. I left the evening so thrilled, completely fulfilled, and I STILL have Brahms 1 stuck in my head. If you are a musician, you will understand that playing the first oboe part in that symphony is a treat, so OF COURSE I enjoyed myself. Add to that mix that all of the people there thought that I couldn’t be older than 25 years old, and I consider that a successful evening!
What if I had decided that it was too difficult to actually make the effort to find parking in the rain? Or that it was too difficult to communicate with the receptionist and left? I would have missed the magic of Brahms, which was like a balm for my soul.
Living overseas is not easy. I once compared living in Kiev to a parable. The only people that kind of “got” the parables in the Bible were the ones who went the extra mile to ask. I definitely felt that way living in Kiev (especially when there was a week in the winter with no heat). I often had to ask things about Ukraine in order to figure out just what it all meant. Living in Italy is much easier than living in Ukraine, maybe even Bahrain, but each place has its’ own unique challenges that can sometimes threaten to undo you in the most uncanny of moments.
Living overseas, however, is like life anywhere and anything that we do. There is always an available excuse when situations get uncomfortable. There is always an easy way out. Sometimes, those choices are the right ones for us to make. Most of the time, however, choosing to dig deeper, be a risk-taker and persevere leads to magical moments. I’d like to encourage those expats who are stuck in a rut right now (as we sometimes are) to persevere and see what happens in a day, a week, a month. And to all of our tourist friends: find one experience on your current or next trip that gets you out of your comfort zone. Go that extra mile and you just may have an experience that is magical to you!