Saturday, March 27, 2010

Springtime in Riga

With temperatures reaching the 50s today (F), it felt like a good time to update our blog.  We have had a very busy couple of weeks.  Bill was asked to serve as a member of the brass jury for school competitions throughout the country with fellow brass players and JVLMA teachers Arturs Berzins (trombone), Gatis Evelyons (horn), and Janis Retenais (euphonium and tuba).  Together they have provided ratings and feedback to students of a wide variety of ages and ability levels in seven Latvian cities - Riga, Liepaja, Ventspils, Jelgava, Jurmala, Rezekne, and Daugavpils.
At present, instrumentalists begin taking lessons between the ages of 7 and 9, a little earlier than most band students would begin in the United States.  Latvian students will often attend school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., then take lessons and attend music theory class in the afternoon.  It seems that the emphasis is on solo playing rather than large ensemble playing here...we haven't heard of many school bands that meet on a regular basis.  It is interesting to note the differences between music education programs between our countries.  As with most countries around the world (Latvia and the U.S. included), current economic conditions certainly present challenges and opportunities for innovative ways of doing things!

For Bill's most recent trip, an overnighter in Rezekne and Daugavpils, the Janis Retenais Autobus was completely full with seven people, a tuba, and two trumpets.  Here are the three woodwind adjudicators (Ainars, Mareks, and Lara) chatting with Gatis.
While waiting for woodwind judges to finish their work (one location had 54 flute players!), the brass guys had a chance to do a little sightseeing.  In Liepaja they celebrated the "Rock & Roll" heritage of the city...
visited a Russian Orthodox Cathedral (brass-players' sense of humor is the same on any continent, btw!)...
hung-out at the beach and were amazed at how icy the shoreline was...
then freaked-out when Bill put his foot through the ice!
Yep, that's a picture of the drying-off process which, if you notice at the top of the picture, included Janis placing Bill's shoe on the dashboard and cranking the heater!  Too funny.

On to other things, Bill played a trumpet solo, Night Sun Journey by American composer Meg Bowles, on a March 16 recital featuring the JVLMA Wind and Percussion Faculty.  It was really great to hear such talented musicians perform in the JVLMA "Great Hall."

Bill also performed two compositions with Riga's City Jazz Big Band for a kind of variety-show on Sunday, March 21.  As a jazz ensemble director in the U.S., it was really fun for him to be "on the other end" and take a trumpet solo on Afro Blue.  The ensemble is quite good with really fine players, and the concert was at the Mazā Gilde, a performance venue in Old-Town. 

Friday, March 26, marked the beginning of the J. Jurjānu International Brass Competition, hosted by the JVLMA.  The event began with a concert of the JVLMA Brass Ensemble under the direction of Janis Retenais.  Bill played piccolo trumpet on Old French Dances which can be viewed here (Old French Dances, part 1, Old French Dances, part 2).  We're still working out some issues with the camera tripod, but this will give you the idea!  Two of Bill's trumpet students, Janis Ivuskans and Guntis Supe, are participating in the competition this week, for which we wish them luck.
Outside of Bill's work-related activity, our family has had some really fun experiences over the past few weeks.  As Sarah mentioned in the previous blog post, we attended the Riga Cirks (Circus), right across the street from our apartment.  On March 8 we celebrated "International Women's Day."  We also attended a childrens' opera, Hansel and Gretl, presented by the JVLMA Opera Studio and recently attended a performance of the Prokofiev ballet Romeo and Juliet at the National Opera.  They performed the "Rostropovic Version" with the orchestra on stage and dancers both behind and in-front of the orchestra, which was very effective.  Upon explaining the plot to the girls, Leah's response was "Wow...there's a whole lot of dying in this area!"  You've got that right, kiddo.

While at the ballet, Niki and the girls met some Americans from Houston, Texas, and began to chat.  It turns out that one of them, Mary Ring, attended Northwest Missouri State University!
Mary works with "Julianna Poor Memorial Counseling Center" at Houston's First Baptist Church and has traveled to Latvia over the past several years to assist with counseling programs here.  Now who would have thought that people with ties to Maryville, Missouri, would randomly meet in the 2nd Balcony of the Latvian National Opera house?!  Unbelievable...

Last weekend we took the tram to go ice-skating at LIDO on Krasta iela.  We're starting to get more used to public transportation here, which is a good thing.  Sarah and Leah had never skated, so we had a great time with the penguins.
Because Sarah's class is studying penguins (btw, check out the Horace Mann 3rd level class blog here!), we're calling the penguin with the tie "Captain Cook."

The girls both did an excellent job and had a great time.  We are really fortunate to have two daughters who actually like each other and, in general, play well together.  Here are some pictures we took yesterday morning in the sunshine!
Here's a picture of money we use in Latvia.  The "Lat" is worth roughly $2 U.S., depending on the exchange rate.  A "Santim," similar to a penny, is worth about 2 cents.  The following coins are found in the picture 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 1 and 2 Lats.  The paper bills are in 5, 10, and 20 Lat denominations.
Daylight-savings time actually begins today for us, two weeks later than in the U.S., so it's probably best to sign-off for now.  More updates to come!