I’m perched at one of the two computers in the music uni lobby. I’ve been debating for weeks now whether to agree to play a trio for an acquaintance’s recital in June, and I really should let her know today. I don’t want to say no — but without a recording, I don’t really know what 30 minutes of modern chamber music is going to sound like. …Glancing over at the woman at the computer next to me, a name on the email she is writing catches my eye: Astrid Spitznagel. Funny — not just the last name, but the fact that it’s the name of the composer of the piece I’m considering. Even though it’s a bit embarrassing to admit I was “eavesdropping” on her email inbox, I interrupt the woman to ask if she might know the composer or even have access to a recording. To my complete surprise, she tells me that she is Astrid Spitznagel! Oh my! Ten minutes later, she hands me a CD she’s fetched from somewhere, telling me to keep it. I guess I should give the piece a try!
The past weeks I have felt a little bit like a cartoon character in an old, hand-drawn animation film. Someone is flipping rapidly through the dozens of colorful sketches — creating a narrative that leaves me dizzy and a bit dazed, even if smiling in the last frame. In order to bring the blog up-to-date, I’ll just pause on a few of the more interesting still frames (even though it makes for a bit of a disjointed story).
In November the Austrian Student Mission (ÖSM) hosted a series of events for a missions week at universities across Austria. I enjoyed two events with an Austrian friend Stefanie — an informal lunch-time talk about the nature of God and a gospel concert hosted by the music university. On a related tangent, a few weeks prior Oxford mathematician John Lenox spoke to an overflowing crowd (lots of us sitting on the floor, watching via live-stream, or turned away at the door) on the topic “Hat die Wissenschaft Gott begraben?” (“Has science buried God?”).
Before fall turned into winter, Stefanie and I enjoyed a lovely Sunday walk up the Kahlenberg, a group of hills on the outskirts of the city.
A much-anticipated New City Wien church retreat took about 40 of us (half adults and half kids and well over half our usual church attendance) a bit farther out of town. We stayed in a small town in the Salzkammergut, a region known for its lakes and mountains that Mom and I visited last February. In addition to time singing, discussing, praying, it was great just to get to know my church family in a different context — a competitive game of four-on-a-couch, observation of the early birds (basically, those with small kids, and me) and later risers, and a couple woodsy walks.
As usual, concerts have not been in short supply. A wonderful performance of Benjamin Britton’s War Requiem was made more enjoyable by ending up in the standing room section near a very pleasant Canadian tourist about my age. She and I found enough in common to merit enjoying an impromptu trip to Zanoni’s ice cream after the concert.
Another evening a fabulous solo piano concert with friend Yuri. Most memorable was the virtuosic rendition of the “Blaue Donau” (“Blue Danube”) as one of the encores.
An opera with Alexandra (the much-beloved Russian TA who also worked at Keimgasse last year) and The Nutcracker ballet with Stefanie were musical highlights, too.
At the end of November, I played for a studio recital — several Alban Berg songs with good friend Marianna singing. And, on a more low-key note, Rachel and I finally played some pieces together (violin and piano) for the opening of an art show by an Austrian friend (whom I first met at my home church in Knoxville!).
My birthday was great, even if 31 didn’t seem quite as novel as 30. A leisurely breakfast at a favorite cafe, along with a book and a freelance writing project, was just the way to start the day (and a beautiful fall day, at that). In the evening after church, a group of friends came for dinner. (I seem to be good at creating big projects for myself, like cooking up curry and baking a cheesecake for 10; but fun!) At least half of the conversation was auf Deutsch, which was fun, too. It was a blessing to celebrate with a variety of friends from church and uni connections. And if the goal was diversity, we were from about half a dozen countries and even included a profession baseball player (a French friend’s boyfriend visiting from the States).
Thanksgiving overseas is sort of funny. I got up and headed to work as usual, feeling festive myself and sort of enjoying the fact that I was “in the know” that it was a special day — despite being surrounded by other commuters starting a typical Thursday. The evening was happily spent with my small group from church — a pot-luck Thanksgiving meal not only serving up delicious variations of the usual fare and leaving us stuffed as always, but also providing a sense of community, despite being far from the pleasure of a State-side family gathering.
With December’s arrival, one is reminded that a Weihnachtsmarkt is waiting for inspection at what seems like just about every city square. Glühwein, roasted chestnuts, Christmas ornaments, and various hand-made goods bring Christmas cheer.
My kitchen has also been churning out good cheer. In the vein of taking on big projects, I decided to bake cookies for colleagues (which of course grew to include a couple neighbors, a few friends from church, etc.) After a fun and semi-productive morning baking cookies with my 10-year-old tutoring student Hanna, there was still awfully much dough to deal with. But, by the end of the evening, something like 1300 cookies (peppernuts are very small — one batch makes about 1000) sat on the stove top and counter. Wow, maybe I won’t try doing it all in one day next time! …By now, most have been delivered to their intended recipients, and I, in turn, have been inundated with Austrian varieties!
A couple Christmas parties have graced the already packed schedule, too. A Keimgasse teachers’ gathering drew maybe 65 of us (of about 100 teachers). Then, Thursday night Rachel and I hosted a mostly musicians Christmas party. I was struck that though the apartment was full both this year and for last year’s Adventfeier, hardly any of the 15 or 20 people overlapped!
…So, I’m basically caught up, and all that remains for this post is to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas! I’ll include the text of a new favorite Christmas carol, which we have sung in German the last two Sundays.
Savior of the nations, come, show Yourself, the virgin’s son. Marvel, heaven; wonder, earth, that our God chose such a birth.
Not by human power or seed did the woman’s womb conceive; only by the Spirit’s breath was the Word of God made flesh.
Christ laid down His majesty, passed through dark Gethsemane. Though He left His Father’s home, Christ now sits on God’s own throne.
Christ in glory intercede for your creatures’ suffering need. Let Your resurrecting power soon complete the victory hour.
Praise to You, O Lord, we sing. Praise to Christ, our newborn King! With the Father, Spirit, one, let Your lasting kingdom come.