England vs. America: Part I

29 02 2012

What’s better:  America or England?  Unfortunately for those of you who are wanting a definitive answer, there is none.  Both places are different, and personal preference and what exactly you are referring to makes a difference (as we all know, living and visiting places are quite different).  I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the British culture.

Side note: I keep finding out about that are studying abroad this semester that I had no clue were going to be, and I’m a little put off by their seemingly intense enthusiasm.  This is somewhat hipster of me, because I am touting my “I’ve been here since September” over all these bright and bushy people who are like, “OOOOH EUROPE!!!! LOOK, LONDON!!!!” Does this make me a bad person?  Side note over.

1.  Food–Winner: America

This isn’t even close.  England has very little cuisine to speak of, apart from crumpets, tea, and fish and chips.  By the way, the Cambridge Wind Orchestra traveled to Oxford on Saturday and we had lunch at a pub.  It was in this pub, The King’s Arms, that I got my first fish and chips meal.  It looked like this:

Traditional English right here.

It was good, and I enjoyed it.  I really did.  However, England can’t hold a candle to the amazing (and fattening) American foods.  The Philly cheesesteak I had in Philadelphia beats anything I could possibly have here, and that is only one part of the country.  Also, America has a number of wonderful burger establishments, a fair amount of Mexican influence (which is awfuly good), and the correct kind of bacon.  In England, bacon is taken from the back of the pig.  It tastes and looks a lot more like ham.  In America, we take bacon from the belly, which is the fattiest and tastes the best.  No contest there.  Also:

Chik Fil A alone is enough to push America into the winning side.


2. Comedy–Winner:  England

I find English comedy funnier than American comedy.  I really do.  Not everyone likes British comedy–this is because it has particular quirks that some people just don’t enjoy.  The funniest book that I think has ever been written is by a British author–The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  Add in Monty Python and Wallace and Grommit–we’re set.  England wins.

3. Public Transportation–Winner:  England

I can walk out of my room right now, go down to the train station, get on a train, and arrive in London all in a span of less than two hours at a cost of around $22.  This is fantastic.  In addition, this ticket is round trip and has tube travel included.  I can easily spend a day in one of the biggest and most influential cities in the world without owning any vehicle and without getting a taxi.  England, along with the rest of Europe, wins big in the public transportation category.  In the United States, you need to have a car to go anywhere, unless you live downtown in a big city.  If you lived in St. Joseph and wanted to get to Kansas City (a similar distance, about 60 miles) without a car of your own, you would be out of luck.  If you did find some sort of transportation, chances are it wouldn’t be round trip for $22, and even so, Kansas City has barely any public transport of its own.

This is an area in which the United States could improve.  Think about it:  we gripe about airfare, the TSA, and the ridiculous baggage requirements.  But, we could avoid this with a network of high-speed rail.  The United States is just too dependent on cars.  We can’t have our cake and eat it too; a solution is right in front of us but we don’t eve pay it any mind.


Total:  England 2, America 1.

Come on, America.  Step up your game.

England F.A.Q.s

16 02 2012

Hello, readers. My life hasn’t been all that interesting recently, hence my lack of posts for a couple weeks.  However, that wait ends now!

When I went back to the States over Christmas break, I got a number of questions about my experience so far.  So, in order to educate you without having to repeat these things, I thought I’d put the answers here.  Any of my British friends reading will probably get a kick out of this.

1.  “Hey, how was London?”

I’ll go ahead and say the obvious, which is that England is more than just London.  I’m at Cambridge.  However, I guess the idea of a multiple cities in England is too hard to comprehend, apparently.  That or you don’t know I’m at Cambridge.  So, if you don’t know, I study at Cambridge!  Yay!

Now, if you know this, and still insist on me being in London, let me give this analogy to you.  In this metaphor, London = Kansas City.  England is a bit smaller than the state of Missouri.  Cambridge is equivalent to St. Joseph in terms of distance from the big city.  You don’t say to someone, “Hey, how was studying in Kansas City?” when they study at St. Joe.  You don’t assume they live in Kansas City either.  So, my fellow Americans, I am not in London.  I’m at Cambridge.

2.  “So, where’s your accent?”

I was frankly surprised at the number of people who asked me that when I got back.  I’m pretty sure 95% of the people who I talked to who knew where I was asked me that question.  Now, I know Americans like British accents.  But to expect me to have developed a spot-on British accent from two months of being there is unrealistic.  In fact, it’s unrealistic to expect me to have any semblance of a British accent when I come back in June either.

While I haven’t developed an accent, I have taken on some mannerisms of the Brits.  The cadence of my voice changes when I say things to match how the British say them–they stress syllables a bit differently.  I also have adopted the exclamation “Brilliant” as my own.  It’s an English thing.  I’ve also become more attuned to accents as a whole since I’ve been here, though I can’t really sort out the difference between English accents yet–I know they’re different, but I don’t know where they’re from.

3.  “Oh man, I’m SO jealous!”

As well you should be.

…jk.  It’s been a fantastic journey so far, and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.  Getting the opportunity to travel and see different places is great; over break I’ll hopefully get to go to Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Belgium, and will go to Scotland in May.  Most people don’t get to do this, and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Europe in my lifetime.

That being said, it is easy to go overboard on the jealousy.  But don’t.  England is a cool place to live.  But so is New York.  Seattle.  Chicago.  Not so much Iowa.  My point is, there’s nothing inherently better about England–it’s a place.  I love being here now, but I love living in Kansas City and, more broadly, America as a whole.  It’s a treat to be able to have the opportunity to do this–but not because England is inherently better, rather because the study abroad experience is what’s special.  Remember, people study abroad in the U.S. all the time and love it.  My American friends, we live in an amazing country every day.  That’s something to be thankful for.

So, that’s that.  Maybe I’ll have another F.A.Q.  in the future.  Cheers!

The Elder Concert

1 02 2012

There are quite a few good things about the opportunity of studying at the University of Cambridge.  One might assume that the greatest boon from being at Cambridge is the quality of education.  This might be true for others, but not for me.  I feel that, at a certain level, great institutions of learning are great institutions of learning–the education you receive at Cambridge, Oxford, Yale, Harvard, and even more average schools with good programs in your area is all roughly the same.  I had a good education at Jewell; so I wasn’t gaining hugely more amounts of knowledge by studying at Cambridge.

Instead, the most important thing about study abroad is the experience.  For me, the largest part of this experience is the opportunities I’ve had to perform.  At Jewell, I was the only horn player.  One out of 1200 students.  I was alone for two years, and looking back on it, those years were two of the most stagnant, boring years of my playing career.  Here, however, everything’s different.  While not a music school in purpose, Cambridge (both the university and town) is fantastically musical; there are opportunities to play everywhere.  Each college has its own musical society, along with the overarching Cambridge University Musical Society and a bevy of other independent student-run groups.

By the end of this year, I will have had the opportunity to play these grand works, works which I had never performed before.

  • Stravinsky–Firebird Suite
  • Elgar–Cello Concerto
  • Copland–Fanfare for the Common Man
  • Tchaikovsky–Symphony no. 6 “Pathethique” (rehearsed)
  • Beethoven–Symphony no. 1
  • Tchaikovsky–Swan Lake
  • Sibelius–Finlandia
  • Haydn–Symphony no. 94 “Surprise”
  • Debussy–La Damoiselle Elue
  • Wagner–Parsifal, Act 3
  • Prokofiev–Violin Concerto No. 1
  • Shostakovich–Symphony no. 7 “Leningrad”
  • Debussy–La Mer
  • Berlioz–Te Deum

I have yet to play the last 4 on that list; they are works to be done in the coming months.  In addition to that list are other pieces like Vaughan Williams’ Folk Song Suite and Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance, of which I have played before, and other pieces here or there.  Furthermore, that list does not include the pieces that I will inevitably play with whomever asks me to play for them.

Last Saturday, I performed Wagner’s Parsifal, Act 3 and Debussy’s La Damoiselle Elue in an extravagant concert at King’s College Chapel.  The orchestra that performed was comprised of members from both the Chamber Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra.  Essentially, it was made up of the very best undergraduate players in the whole University.  Three years ago, I took part in the Missouri All-State band.  It was a blast, and for three years it remained the best ensemble I had been a part of (yes, that includes the Liberty Symphony).  No longer.  This CUCO/CUMS I combination will probably be the best orchestra I will ever play in lest I pursue a career in performance (not likely).  In addition to the orchestra, professional soloists and a men’s and women’s choir made up of an amalgam of college choirs constituted the vocal power of the concert.  All in all, 192 performers if my counting of the program was correct.

This was a particularly big event because the man in charge of  this joint awesomeness was (apparently famous) British conductor Sir Mark Elder.


Go ahead and make your jokes about “The Elder Wand” and his conducting baton or whatever.  I’ll wait.

Done?  Good.

Frankly, Sir Mark was not the best conductor I’ve ever had, but sure wins the title of most intense/scary conductor.  He walked in to the first rehearsal knowing every single wind player’s name, along with the principal strings.  This is terrifying, because if you mess up, Sir Mark can call out, “Dave, that part was important, why didn’t you enter correctly?”  This is much worse than, “2nd horn, you missed your cue.”  In addition to the scariness, at times Sir Mark demonstrated a lack of empathy towards the orchestra, having little patience for us if we miscounted rests or rehearsing us past our much-needed break times.  Despite this, he was extremely efficient, clear, and faithful to the works.  His constant insistence on quality rubbed off on us, producing a phenomenal final result.  I am of the opinion that a conductor can be patient, kind, understanding, and still possess an infectious passion.  Mr. Anthony Maiello, conductor of the 2009 Missouri All-State Band, was like this, as is current Jewell choral director Dr. Anthony Maglione.  I guess you have to be an Anthony/of Italian descent in order to do it right.

We played, as stated before, in King’s College Chapel.  Which looks like this, if you forgot:

We were seated in front of the organ, facing the camera (I did not take this though)

Big, luscious, and very reverberant.  We had an intense rehearsal schedule due to a combination of factors which led us to 17 hours of rehearsals in 6 days.  This was in addition to the couple of rehearsals before.  Combined with the concert itself, this little thing took up 20 hours of my week.  No wonder I didn’t get anything done.

The concert itself went fabulously.  I had a very pronounced solo in the Wagner and it went off without a hitch.  Fellow horn players Misha, Stephen, and Katie were fantastic.  I will remember this concert for the rest of my life. Here are links to the first part of both pieces so you can experience them if you wish:

Debussy (beautiful piece; French music from the Romantic period on is great)

Wagner (note that we did it without the stagings/costumes; we performed it is a concert piece)

Thank you for reading.