Long summer evenings. Crisp fall mornings. Apple picking. Thanksgiving turkey. All have come and gone for another year, and here we are on the cusp of Advent. …The fall has been good — and full. To jump ahead in seasonal metaphors, I’ve felt a bit snowed under at various points in the last couple of months, but that probably means I should try to jot down at least some of the highlights.
September in Paris
In September, friends from Knoxville, Randy and Linda Lind, invited me to join them for several days in Paris! It was right as the new school year was starting, but marvelously my school teaching schedule and the unpredictability of the first week or so of school meant that I didn’t end up missing any lessons.
I also got to reconnect with friends who live in Paris…with time to enjoy meaningful conversation, croissants, a fabulous music store…with Ernesto, Anne, and Pauline’s parents. (I guess I was happily focused on the visiting, and didn’t take any photos of these dear people!)
The time with the Linds was filled with sight-seeing, interspersed with rejuvenating cups of coffee, as well as conversation and laughter. We did a lot of walking, map-studying, garden meandering. (Who knew that there’s a vegetable patch hidden away among the flowers in the Jardin des Tuileries, next to the Louvre?)
We also visited (twice, I have to admit) the wonderful cafe that friends introduced me to my last trip to Paris. (James and Davenne, I thought of you so many times over the course of the days in the city I’ll always associate with you!) After a piece of quiche, I’m not sure if there’s anything better than a slice of cake from Le Loir dans La Théière (“The Dormouse in The Teapot”). Oh, and I should note that we enjoyed two splendid meals at the restaurant where Benjamin Franklin signed the Treaty of Paris in 1783!
Our day at Versailles was certainly a dose of pomp and extravagance. My goodness — the palace was beautiful, but in a rather ridiculous way. I think we might all have enjoyed the elegance of the gardens more than the glamour indoors.
In summary — a wonderful few days with dear friends in a truly beautiful city.
As October arrived, I was especially aware of what was happening this time last year — both Mom’s birthday on the 12th and her death on the 26th.
On her birthday this year, I spent a bit of time making a stream-of-consciousness account of things I’m thankful for about Mom:
I’m grateful for countless quiet, happy hours listening to Mom read. For her example of steadfastness in fulfilling daily routine — Bible reading and prayer, healthy and tasty and timely meals, laundry and cleaning. For the value she placed on written communication, keeping up with family and friends, asking questions, prioritizing hospitality, making special days special, enjoying tradition, appreciating things of beauty, taking interest in what interested others, reading widely, enjoying music, establishing routine, avoiding busyness for busyness’ sake.
For listening well, for exemplifying putting her own desires behind others’, for taking initiative in the small things, for a ready laugh and quiet wit and emotional elasticity. For splendid meals — family favorites likes crepes, waffles, tacos, turkey tetrazzini, cheesecake, Christmas baking, Christmas breakfast, apple pancakes, homemade bread, omelet breakfasts, love for butter.
For her love of travel, adventuresome spirit for hiking or getting to know about other parts of the world. For her faith pointed outwards — in prayer and delight in hearing stories of missionary work, in reaching out to internationals locally. For her lack of preoccupation with things, yet careful stewardship of what we had and delight in things of beauty, often connected with a personal story in some way.
For her presence and enthusiasm for my musical pursuits…attending lessons, guiding practice, sitting and writing letters or such while enjoying the “background music” of my practicing. For her readiness to learn, expand. For her freedom and delight in traveling to Vienna — her bottomless capacity for coffee, readiness to adapt, intentionality before/during/after in remembering and cherishing each person I described and whom she met….
…On the 26th, my flatmate and another friend from church joined me early in the morning for listening to a recording of the memorial service for Mom. It was a rather strange thing to do together, perhaps, but it felt very important to listen back through the service and, rather than doing that alone, in some sense introducing my mom to two of the people I know best here. Afterwards, we talked over breakfast — a typical Mom-menu of an omelet and toast.
Later that same morning, I headed off to our church’s annual retreat, located again this year in a quiet town in the middle of Austria, in an area sprinkled with lakes (and prone to lots of rain). It was a special few days. We were bursting at the seams of the retreat center’s capacity, with about 110 people. The theme of the weekend, which was right over the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, was the 5 Solae of the Reformation — salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. We spent time considering together the foundations of our faith — plus enjoying blustery walks, damp morning jogs, and late evenings playing games.
The next weekend was another retreat, this time with my choir. It was one packed weekend, filled with half a dozen rehearsals, a wonderful morning jog through the fog and morning light of countryside Austria, and two extended evenings chatting. Good, but exhausting! There was just time, upon returning to Vienna on Sunday night, to try to catch a huge breath before diving into the busiest week of the fall!
November proved to be a busy musical month! Besides diving into some new chamber music projects, there were two choir concerts, plus the big project of the season — helping organize a concert/forum at church with visiting musicians from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.
Months ago, my pastor put me in contact with one of the musicians from Redeemer, who was organizing a Europe trip with concerts in three cities — Munich, Krakow, and perhaps Vienna. The goal was to use a format that Redeemer has found welcome in their NY context — a concert, whether featuring opera, jazz, classical, musical theater, etc., with texts addressing a particular cultural topic (in this case, “tradition”), plus a discussion of how Christian faith interacts with the topic.
I was intrigued, and a lively correspondence ensued. The end result was a wonderful concert of Broadway tunes, all somehow connected to the idea of “tradition” and the opportunity for connecting the themes brought out in the music to Christian faith. It was exciting to see the church full, with a number of guests, as well as regular New City Wien folks.
The musicians’ week was packed with other activities, too — offering a masterclass to voice students, participating in a theater class at the local English-speaking Christian school, singing in a nursing home, and giving a panel discussion on “music and spirituality” intended for students at the music university.
On top of all that, the group was very much fun to hang out with. They made a huge impression on me by being so absolutely available, flexible, ready to serve. There was a lot of good conversation and laughter packed into the week. It was also very affirming at a personal level — seeing the musical arts connected with Christian thought and faith, without music being just a means to an end, but also being enjoyed and appreciated as worthwhile in and of itself. And, although I usually get excited and nervous about musical events where I am performing, I had those same feelings with getting to be on the planning end this time! A ton of work, but definitely the job highlight of the year!