Junior Music Production major Aaron Levin blogs about his experience studying abroad in the Netherlands.
Whoa, I’m back in Minnesota. I feel like I wasn’t gone more than a week…Anyway, I suppose I should provide some final thoughts on the whole study abroad experience, because that’s why I agreed to write this blog in the first place, to provide thoughts and experiences. The school experience wasn’t what I thought it would be when I left Minnesota. That’s not to say it was a bad experience. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much free time. The main goal of what I would study there was material that would help me test out of Technique and Applied Theory level I, but when you aren’t taking equivalent classes, it is not extremely easy to teach yourself the material, as easy as the material is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure people other than me wouldn’t have such a struggle staying focused while in another country, a new environment, without strict guidance, and still be able to stay on task. I did have a private lesson, and that ended up being also different than what I was used to. The general vibe of this school is VERY laid back compared to Mcnally. This is what I wish I would have known before arriving, because I’m not someone that is used to practicing a lot, let alone practicing specific things NOT in a class setting with specific goals. The goals seemed to become less and less clear for me, and I started getting down on myself for not being able to figure it out. Well, I think it went fine and I got a little better at my instrument, but I didn’t make as much progress as I had hoped. All of the people I met along the way were great. They were friendly and supportive, and most were excited to have an American friend (an edge I don’t have in America). The cultural difference took me a while to get used to, but I eventually found the Netherlands to be my second home. I had a routine, friends, a studio to work/play at, and a second life, even if it was a short lived one. After it was over, I found that I had learned quite a lot, most of which was not related to my technical abilities on my instrument, unfortunately, but about myself. One of the best ways to do this seems to put yourself in a strange situation with new strange people with no chance of going crying to mama. Europe is a great place to do it as well. There’s so much to explore and so much history to basque in, and I barely experienced 10% of it! If I could do it again, I might have done things differently, tried more things, gone more places, and practiced more, but there’s always going to be more opportunities, like the rest of my life for instance. It was sad waving my new best buddies goodbye after they drove me to the airport, but I have a strong feeling I’ll be back someday. As far as my buddies at Mcnally go, I’ll see them in a couple of weeks! To all of those that read this blog, I hope it was interesting enough. And, if anyone if interested in attending artez through exchange, you can ask me whatever questions you have. Looks like I don’t have to write a blog anymore. Tot Ziens!
After spending four days and three nights in Paris, I have now returned to home base in Arnhem. Before I’m on my way back to Minnesota, I wanted to go on one last trip somewhere. Paris is a beautiful place, although the folks aren’t as cheery and friendly as the Dutch. I found a place to stay via couch surfing with a forty-one year old guy from Texas named Dave. He was a great guy to couchsurf with; he was funny, had a cute little dog, and was willing to show me around Paris. I’m not going to give a novel-like in depth description of the trip like I did for Ireland, sorry guys. But, I will say that I witnessed many of the monumental sights that one would expect to visit upon a trip to Paris, such as that one big tower thing that I’m forgetting the name of (just kidding), the Arc de Triumph, Louvre (mona lisa, etc), Sacre Coeur, etc. Now upon my return, I have a lot of work to do (mixes to finish, etc), and I’m starting to regret not having turned down more projects than I can handle. Hopefully I can reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Wish me luck.
Oh, man, this is a special blog post for me, guys. This week, Marcus Strickland (renowned and upcoming Jazz Saxophonist) did a master class at my school this week, and it gets better from there. So, I leave the studio at around 2pm to catch my flute lesson at school. When I arrive, I’m hanging outside just before the lesson with a buddy of mine when we see a few guys unloading some equipment out of their car across the street. My friend tells me that the Strickland Bros are giving a master class in an hour and I should check it out. I’m like “Ya, no shit!”. After the flute lesson, I head to the concert hall and proceed to be enlightened by the Stricklands and their views on trio playing without a harmony instrument and improvisation in general. I got to talk to Marcus about the saxophone and about how he does his thing. He’s one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met, and he’s always got a smile on his face. He’s also as tall as me, which is cool, but he’s way better at saxophone, unfortunately. This was Thursday, so the usual jam session was that night, and the Strickland Bros were opening the jam. Later that night, I head down there with my horn and watch their set. While Marcus was warming up, he played an excerpt from the star spangled banner. I was the only one in the cafe that gave an affirming yell, of course. I was up there during the jam struggling to play along as I usual am, and then up comes Marcus to play a chorus – or a hundred, I don’t remember, exactly – and blows my ass out of the club. I’m just glad I got to play on the same stage as the great Marcus Strickland, even though it was EXTREMELY humbling. After I put my horn away in shame, he comes up to me and says he thought I was sounding great. I told him I wish I just knew the tunes better and that I don’t practice enough and all that. And then, something unexpected happened. He said he’d give me skype lessons if I wanted (chuckle), so he gave me his contact information and told me when to reach him. That was the best moment of the evening, aside from giving him a hug just before I left. What a night, man, and to think I came to school that day not knowing he was giving a master class. Cool how things work out sometimes. On a side note, I’m off to see the Lionel Louke trio tonight at the Bimhuis, should be a good show!
Today was the “open day” for Artez where they open their doors and let in all of the prospective and inquisitive young people that are interested in attending classes. I was asked by my flute teacher to come by his room and hang out for a bit, and we played some tunes and had sort of an open lesson. This was nice since I missed my last lesson (oops). There were tons of people in the school to the point where it was difficult even to get around without having to use tactical maneuvers.
There are workshops and master classes every so often at Artez, and tonight happened to be one for free improvisation. It was, to say the least, an interesting experience. We were split up into groups based on instruments so I was with the woodwinds. We were told to play whatever came to mind, essentially. Using given improvisation techniques such as color, dynamics, rhythm, style, etc., we played spontaneously with groups of three at a time, selected from the larger group. One specific, interesting concept was the combining of classical and jazz players. So, players who have never really improvised but can sight read the hell out of something, combined with the opposite. After the workshop was a performance put on by the musicians who lead the workshops. They all have a band with the department of jazz and pop head who creates very wild and free compositions for the group, then combining the elements I stated in the latter into something that is free jazz with charts. There was a string section with four strings and a brass section with cornet, tuba, and French horn. Student musicians from the workshops were chosen to fulfill the role of the players in the band on different songs playing the same instruments so they could get a taste of that kind of scenario. There was no sax in the group so I didn’t play, but watching was also nice.
Hello! I’ve been very busy for the last couple weeks in the studio and practicing at school, so it’s been a while since my last post. Today was an exhausting eight-hour day in the studio. I’ve gone from having a single mixing assignment from Raoul (engineer) to taking on several recording projects, which in tern I will have to mix – phew! I’m having a blast with the free studio, but I’m starting to get a taste of how busy life can be as a music producer/musician, and relative to that I’m really not doing much at all! Another perk is I can actually drink something while I work, which I will miss upon returning to the strict rules of an institution. Today was mostly recording some overdubs and editing for the project band from the ensemble week – a project that has sucked more energy from me then at first expected. I guess that was my own fault, but I’m excited for the results. You will be hearing them soon!
Good news, I can finally say that I’ve been to Amsterdam. I’ve been trying to get out there for some time, and now I know what all the fuss is about. And sorry to break it to you Bill O’ Riley, but it’s not an out of control “cesspool of corruption”. If you know where to go to get away from the touristy centers, it is actually one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I have ever seen! Yes, there are “coffee shops” lining the streets in most of the center area, but one thing I’ve learned since being here is, well, regulation seems to work in keeping the street crime down (aka underground drug market). I went with a couple of Dutch buddies, because who better to go to the capital of a country with then it’s native citizens? We had a great time walking up and down along the long canals that seemed to go on forever. You won’t ever see anything like this in America. It was truly breathtaking! The only downside was a very angry buss driver who seemed to be having a bad day, but considering the traffic situation in Amsterdam, I did feel some sort of sympathy for him. After the short buss ride from the center, we stopped off at the Rijks Museum, which houses original works of Van Gogh, but we only hung out outside with all of the other tourists snapping photos of the giant IAMSTERDAM sculpture. Later we meandered to the “central park” of Amsterdam, which wasn’t as glorious as I thought it would be. It was actually quite messy and didn’t smell very nice. I suppose that was to be expected. Anyway, I had a great time. We even visited my friend’s sister who lives just outside of the center in a very peaceful section of Amsterdam. They pay something like 150k for a one-room apartment, so if you’re planning on living in Amsterdam don’t expect to live cheap. When the sky turned dark, that’s when the Amsterdam night-life began. Staying true to my tourist obligations, we checked out the red light district. Many of you know what this is, but for those that don’t, it is basically a few blocks of the center where there are prostitutes for your legal enjoyment. I, for one, did not partake, but I don’t think my life has gotten to that point of shamelessness yet. Other then the idea of the district itself, all of the red lights along the canal at night is quite a spectacle. Most of the day consisted of walking and exploring, stopping and having a beer or some food, and then exploring some more. I’m definitely going back soon, because there is so much more to explore. Until next time, peace!
Yesterday marked the end of Ensemble Week 2012 at the ArtEZ conservatory. Each year, the Jazz and Pop/Music Theatre students put a halt to their normal class schedule’s for one week to work with classmates on a specific musical theme. This year’s theme was Igor Stravinsky, meaning each Jazz and Pop student was to form an ensemble and re-arrange and reproduce the music of Stravinsky in a unique way. This was only required of one song; the other song could be an original composition. For three days, we rehearsed with our ensembles and worked on the pieces with the aid of ensemble “coaches”. Each day we would have two coaches, one every two hours with an hour break in between. One of our coaches was Larry Coryell, who has worked with Randy Brecker, Mitch Mitchell, Charles Mingus, John Mclaughlin, and Chick Corea. Some of the groups had a dedicated composition major work out the ideas of the main piece, as was the case in our ensemble. We took various musical ideas from Stravinksy’s “Sacre Du Printemps”. The second song was an original composition by the guitarist which turned into a collaborative effort by the group. The hard work ended Thursday evening with performances by all of the ensembles (around twelve) and a showcase of short films and theatrical performances by the music theatre students. It was astounding to see what the other ensembles had prepared and formed from different pieces of music. I’m constantly impressed by the work students do here in a short allotted time frame. I will be recording the two pieces of my ensemble at Edgetip studio sometime in the coming weeks.
What’s up! Back again for another post. This week was pretty great. I was given the epic privilege of having my own set of keys to Edgetip recording studio thanks to the trust and generosity of Raoul, studio manager. So, now I’m finding myself spending a lot of time in the little cozy studio recording bands, mixing, practicing sax, and making coffee. If it was a realistic option, I would probably live there…but that’s a little too far for Raoul. I also had a nice little bike ride through Arnhem’s Sonsbeek park where I found myself feeling delightfully isolated from the hustle and bustle of the cramped city center.
One month down, three to go! Hello dear friends. I know it’s been a bit since my last post, but a lot has happened in the past few weeks – classes, jam sessions, practicing, hanging at the studio, getting together with friends, and a trip to Ireland – all in the last few weeks! So, I’ll break it up for you.
Life at ArtEZ
The last few weeks at artez have been challenging and refreshing all the same, and I’ve met a lot of cool people. Each week basically goes like this: I have a couple ensembles – one fusion and one technique based – and two lessons – one sax and one flute. I also have an arranging class and songwriting class so I can knock those credits out at McNally. Somehow it worked out that I don’t have class Monday or Friday – not bad, eh? Also, Tuesday is my busiest day with two ensembles and one lesson, not bad either. When people in the conservatory aren’t at class, they usually hang in the lounge area where they stay caffeinated with the nice automatic coffee dispenser (I think the school spent most of the music budget on this). If you are a music student, you never see any of the other departments other then music theater since they are in the other building. The school consists of Dance, Art, Fashion, Music Theatre, and Music departments. The music and music theater departments are located in the conservatory building, just up the hill from the other main building. The dance department is located in an underground awesome artsy post-modren building connected to the basement of the main building. I don’t see why they need all of that room and money to dance…anyway. Walking around the conservatory for the first couple of weeks was a combination of overwhelming, inspiring, and depressing. There is music to be heard everywhere – half isolated practice rooms spread out through out the building packed with students playing, usually, very nice music. Every classical pianist here seems to have virtuosic abilities, and most non-piano majors seem to have a high standard of ability on the instrument anyway, which, no offense to Mcnally students reading this (me included), you don’t see around Mcnally too often. So, among the beautiful piano etudes being projected through out the main floor, on the other four floors there are classes, ensembles of many different types, and the other instrumentalists practicing. Now, understand this McNally students, you are SPOILED. We can practice from open to close, but not here. The times vary each day, but usually you can only practice till 930pm (only four days a week or else earlier). Also, you are only allowed two hours to practice, but there are easy ways around this. The practice rooms do have a little character though (they aren’t just vacuum sealed space chambers). So, when I get back to Mcnally, I won’t take the flexibility for granted anymore! All in all, it has been an enjoyable experience to go to class and hang out with my new found musician buddies in between. They have an overpriced cafe just like McNally, but I have to walk much farther for it since it is in the main building. Another thing I’ve noticed is the slim budget this place seems to have for their music department. They don’t have multiple rooms stocked with brand new apple computers, but about 6 to 8 PCs for the whole conservatory. This is ok though since practicing doesn’t require a computer. Other then the obvious differences, the jazz and pop program, which I am enrolled in, is not so much different from the music program at Mcnally. Like Mcnally, they combine the elements of Jazz and Popular music into a coherent discipline where everyone has their music theory, ear training, rhythm, and piano classes. You also are in a different style ensemble each year. Luckily I already have the boring stuff out of the way, so I can just play for the most part, and my open schedule gives me a lot of time to sit in a practice room (something I’m still practicing in itself). Overall, a good music school with good faculty, passionate students, and above average facilities! Hopefully soon they realize music needs more money then dance…well that’s the life of the musician I suppose. That’s all I can think of for now, and if I forgot something you’ll hear about it in another post. Now onto the fun stuff…
It took a couple weeks, but I eventually became hip to some weekly jam sessions that I wish we had around Saint Paul. Two of them are straight up jazz sessions, and one is a pop based session (I pretty much just go to the jazz sessions). The Tuesday night Jazz session is at a small hole in the wall coffee shop/bar (no, not that kind of coffee shop) called the Oranje Koffiehuis, or “Orange Coffee House” in English. This sessions is cool because it is mostly made up of Artez jazz students. The way it works is there’s an opening band that plays for an hour, and then you basically switch off with musicians and call out standards that everyone in the band knows, run it down and solo and all that. This has been tough for me since I don’t know many standards, but it’s still fun to try and play along and solo. This has also inspired me to learn some damn standards! It’s pretty incredible how much repertoire these kids know, and they know it good! Even the first year students are at an impressive place starting off. The second Jazz session is at a bar a block from my apartment called De Kroeg, or “The Pub” every Thursday. This works pretty much the same, but there is more structure, and somewhat of a jam session leader. You see all kinds of people at this one, not just students, so it can be interesting in that sense, and there’s more space in this place, although I think the atmosphere of the Oranje is great. It’s great to have these two sessions every week, so there’s always a place where you know people are hanging out and you can get a drink and talk and play. The pop session is probably what you imagine, people playing pop and rock oriented music. It happens at a place called the “Freaky Piano” bar about a five minute walk from either jazz session. This is fun for some people but I dig the jazz sessions much more, although this one goes two hours later then the Oranje, so after the jazz jam me and some friends usually go check it out. Mostly just loud and annoying, though.
Trip to Ireland:
Today I returned from a weekend trip to Dublin, the capital, and unfortunately the most touristy city, of Ireland. One of my longtime highschool buddies, Edward, lived in France and then moved to London to live with his grandparents for the last few months. He was heading to Dublin for the weekend before heading back to Minnesota, so I decided I’d go spend the weekend with him before he headed back to the great MN. So, we both stayed in the same hostel for four days and met some interesting people and saw some cool stuff. I left the Netherlands from Amsterdam Thursday afternoon and arrived just about an hour later in Dublin. I checked into my hostel, the Abraham House, dropped off my backpack filled with some toiletries and clothes, and headed off to see the city. It was a beautiful city with a large river running through the center called the Liffey. There were so many people everywhere, and the best part was most of them spoke English as their main language! There were also so many other cultures visiting that it almost wasn’t authentic, but that’s what you get with a tourist attraction. The first place I stumbled in was a pub called “The Boars Head” where I got me an Irish stew and, of course, a pint of Guinness, the seemingly most cherished thing in all Ireland. After that I walked to the famous Temple Bar, an area with several bars and restaurants that goes crazy with young and old people having a good time every night, sometimes too good of a time…I also saw the Dublin castle and experienced the craziest night life I think I’ve seen yet. Drunk and merry young people and many musicians on the street, one named Paul, of whom me and Ed became fond of and watched for about an hour. There is so much going on in this city! Pubs lining the streets with music and people dancing on one side of the river, and on the other is the lower key, intimate pubs full of Irish character. Upon returning to my hostel room I figured out shortly that I was in a ten-bunk room with me…and ten French people, who proceeded to wake me at 3am each morning as they all came back to the hostel after what I could only assume was a good night for them. Too bad for me…but that is the hostel life I suppose. The next day Edward was arriving at six, and we had reserved a nice dinner that evening, so I decided I’d take the train to a peninsula town called Howth, a wealthy and small fishing village, before he came so I could see the coast, and man was that worth it. I was greeted off the train by a magnificent view of the ocean and some awesome cliff views, something I can’t really describe in words. Later I met Edward with a big hug at the hostel and we took the bus to the restaurant “1014”, got ourselves a bottle of wine and reminisced about his experiences working and living in Europe over a nice meal of Fish and Chips. The next day we paraded the city, seeing what it had to offer, which is quite a lot. There is so much beautiful architecture and churches that have been around for hundreds of years, and many cool shops. The culture of Dublin was very rich and inviting, but people like to get to the point there and aren’t very ‘soft’. But, once you get to know anybody, they’re very friendly and have a lot to offer. And of course, the roads are reversed, which took some time to get used to. We went to the Guinness Store House and found out how the famous brew is made, and even got a complimentary pint while being able to overlook the entire city from the “gravity bar”. That night we went to a bar called the “Workman’s Club” and saw some great folk music for eight euro, and later experienced some more of what Dublin’s night life had to offer. Sunday, we took a stroll to Phoenix Park, a park with an 11km perimeter, so quite large. We rented a couple bikes and started exploring. We saw a huge herd of wild dear that hangs out in a giant field portion of the park, stopped for some coffee at some small castle grounds, and saw where the president of Ireland lives, all in Phoenix park. There was some other little things we did in between, but that was the basic experience of Dublin. I do wish I could have seen the magnificent cliffs of the west coast, and many other things too, but I’ll save that for next time!
Being a music production student, before I set out for the Netherlands I wanted to see if there were opportunities related to my major. I got in touch with a studio engineer by the name of Raoul at Edgetip studio, a small, but nevertheless professional, recording studio situated just outside of the center of Arnhem’s main shopping district. Raoul is someone you want to hang with – he’s down to earth, hip, and has a great sense of humor, and on top of that, he’s great at what he does – all of this at 50 years old (I thought he was in his 40s when I met him). As soon as I arrived, I started to work with Raoul assisting him with various sessions and accompanying him while he mixes as he teaches me his wealth of knowledge. Raoul sends me a weekly email with the week’s activities, and I work around my schedule to stop by when I can. He’s also hooking me up with some mixing assignments of bands he’s recorded, not unlike assignments at McNally. Raoul is a great guy, and even though we can spend hours in the studio, he’ll take me out to lunch or dinner or whatever and we’ll talk about everything – the Netherlands, America, music, and whatever else comes up. He even invited me to dinner with his family the other night. I feel very lucky to have this internship because the environment isn’t stressful, and I still will learn some good stuff. Here’s a couple pictures of a session with a bunch of vocalists and their backing band. They’re director is a famous Dutch singer who currently teaches at the ArtEZ in Zwolle I believe. Peace!
Last night I hung out with my German roommate Phillip and his girlfriend. He made a great dinner and talked about politics. We also talked about Disneyworld somehow…but there was a more interesting topic discussed. There is a zoo very close to where I live called Burger’s Zoo, and it is a pretty amazing zoo that I still have yet to visit. They told me how just recently, a caretaker for one of the tigers was attacked and killed. The owner of the zoo decided to shoot down the tiger because the caretaker was lying in the pen, and they didn’t know if she was alive or dead. Apparently she was dead anyway, but there has been a huge hurricane of threats and negative mail towards the zoo owner, so much, that he now has to have personal body guards with him on his way to work. This topic lead to a conversation about the inhumanity of locking up wild animals that are extremely territorial, or any animal for that matter. On another note, I find it so amazing that they could talk to me in English, and then talk to each other in German, and also know Dutch. People here are so interesting and smart, but they are so humble, because it is what they know. People here are forced to learn English at a very early age, and must pass a test before graduating high school. We certainly do have it good in America. Tot Ziens (goodbye)!
Hello, my name is Aaron Levin and I am a fifth semester music production student at McNally Smith. I have decided to go on an exchange program to the Netherlands to experience its rich artistic culture and to study the saxophone to fulfill a minor. For those of you attending classes at McNally, you might notice a new student with an accent that is certainly not American. Her name is Linda, and we have decided to swap schools for four months, and I will stay in her apartment with two German roommates. I have been here since last Wednesday, and so far have experienced so much. In Arnhem, the city I am staying, there is a school called Artez which I will attend a week from Monday. The school is known for its fashion and design courses, but they have a small “Jazz and Pop” department which I will be a part of for the next semester. So, let me tell you a bit about my experiences so far.
It has been hard to adjust to a new culture and language, but since most people speak English here it isn’t that bad. Although, everyone you come across on the street is speaking Dutch, so eavesdropping is not an option for me. I spent a few days with Linda before she left for the states, and she showed me around the beautiful town of Arnhem and her apartment which is situated right on the river (the same river Artez is on). If you want to see pictures, check out my facebook! One of the days we spent together Linda and her friend and I travelled by train to a town named Scheveningen, a city situated on the beach of the North Sea. We went swimming, although it was very cold, and had a very nice meal. Upon returning, Linda and I took the bus to a nearby city where her grandparents lived for a going away BBQ. Her family was very nice and there was a massive assortment of meats, salads, and sauces. Her dad, Wim, seemed very nice. It was sad to see Linda go, because now I was on my own until my roommates returned from wherever they were. I think it was the next night, I woke up from a nap to hear loud music playing outside of my apartment, and found out there was a free music festival happening right in the city! People here are very lively and like to have a good time, and they are also mostly tall – bad for me since I’m a short guy – but it’s ok. So far I have been exploring the town and trying to learn Dutch, but it isn’t an easy language. I even landed a studio internship at Edgetip studio with a guy who will teach me many things and let me help him out with sessions, so hopefully that will fulfill my internship credit.
Earlier this week was an introductory camping trip for new ArtEZ students, so basically a lot of eccentric people in one place. This was a very interesting experience, so let me see if I can remember everything. I took the train a short five minutes to the camp grounds to find many tents and a main activities area. This was near a small area of housing, and apparently the grounds were also the homes of artists that live there and make Mooi (beautiful) sculptures and paintings to attract wealthier residents. There were many groups, and each student was assigned a group – I was group twee (two). Each group leader was dressed like a drill sergeant, and told us what to do. The first day, my group was assigned to clean up the kitchen after lunch and dinner, but each group had different duties through out the week. At night, there was a big party with 280 artists from Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries. I thought I was the only American, but I later met one other American girl from LA, Madeline, who was attending for dance. It was a crazy time. Through out the week, they would give directions in Dutch, so I never had a clue what was going on, but I met some friends that were happy to translate some stuff. We also attended workshops like social media, networking, percussion and dance, etc, but of course they were in Dutch too so I didn’t really learn anything, oh well. After activities and dinner, we could do whatever and party and socialize and have a good time, which we did. There was a jam session and a silent disco one night, it was wild, man. There was also a performance by a couple bands one night, one who produced music to his own films that portrayed stories – again in Dutch. The last day, we had a big workshop – I signed up for percussion and dance. For two hours, I went to dance out in the hot sun, and we did very abstract dancing that I can’t really explain. We choreographed our own dances with our groups. Next, we went on to play percussion in another area and perform our own original pieces on our specific percussion instruments. I met so many interesting people there and had a lot of fun, and people know me now as “the American boy.” It is a very strange feeling to be the only one who speaks one language here, it seems like everyone knows at least two! This has made me realize how much we are safe in our little American bubble back in the US for only needing to know one language. For now, I will continue to work hard practicing and learning Dutch. All this and I haven’t even started school yet, oh boy. Until next time, McNally Smith, keep jamming out!