Posts Tagged ‘Music’

I spent a majority of my weekend holed up in a secret music library in the northwest part of the heart of Paris.

Yes, that’s as wonderful as it sounds. I was a temporary visitor to the fabulous Médiathèque Mahler for a group presentation — or exposé — on the differentiation of opera genres in the 19th century for my French class on music and politics. Exposés are apparently the key piece of the SciencesPo academic methodology, although this will be my first and only one.

But opera is kind of my jam — witness: my upcoming summer research project on opera in Europe — and I really like Bizet, one of the three composers we have to cover for this project. So, I found myself in a quietly elegant reading room all weekend, listening to and reading about Bizet’s first major work, “Les pêcheurs de perles, or The Pearl Fishers.

Finding myself there was rather tricky. I had the address — a “bis”, or half number — and a general idea of what I’d find — music, books, assorted other related items — but I had no idea what kind of people would be there, or if it would be worth my time. It doesn’t help that I don’t particular like the music of Mahler.

(You see, I once went to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra with my uncle. We were there to see the celebrated pianist Lang Lang, and as a young pianist myself, I was pretty excited. Lang Lang opened the concert with his trademark flare and pizazz, and I remember being really impressed. But after intermission, Lang Lang was nowhere to be found, and instead the orchestra pulled out this ridiculously long and depressing 75 minute Mahler symphony. It was well played, but so very long, and after the flash that was Lang Lang, nobody really was into the Mahler. Plus, I remained convinced they put that piece in the latter half of the sold-out Lang Lang concert to trick people into listening to something that normally wouldn’t attract anyone on its own. My uncle fell asleep. I was bored out of mind. Hence, my dislike of Mahler. I’m sure he has some great stuff, I’ve just only heard that one long and boring and poorly placed piece.)

The professor gave everybody a list of books and musical works to consult for these presentations, and strongly recommended we go to the Mahler library, so I headed up that way Friday afternoon to see what it was all about. It’s located in a beautiful neighborhood I hadn’t had the chance to see yet, just south of Parc Monceau, and the trees and flowers were all blooming in the warm spring breeze.

The street door led into a little narrow hallway and courtyard, and somewhere in the distance, someone was playing the piano. I was excited. This seemed like my kind of place. A quick buzz on the inner door and then a walk up a beautiful carpeted staircase took me up to the library, and brought me face to face with the diminutive bibliothécaire, or librarian.

After some confusion on her part — “You know this is a very specific library, for classical music study,” she told me — I explained to her why I was there and showed her my reading list. She signed me up, gave me a temporary library card, and showed me to a seat. Moments later, she had my books in a neat pile.

“Enjoy yourself, M. Andersen,” she said, smiling.

And boy, did I ever. I spent the entire afternoon poring over thick books on opera theory and the life and times of Georges Bizet. I even got to listen to a couple of recordings of “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” and follow along in the complete score. This library had EVERYTHING you could ever want in the field of classical music.

As I sat there, reading and listening — and having a wonderful time — I slowly found myself remembering what it felt like to be studious again. This term, while interesting and rewarding and all that jazz, has really been low on the academic-stress scale. Not being overloaded with work and obligations and stuff makes me feel lazy and bored and just…not right.

But these next two weeks are going to be chock full of work — this exposé, two major papers and two or three article assignments — so I felt that I needed to regain some of my old drive. Especially since the light at the end of this work pattern is a trip to Spain for Spring Break.

And surprisingly, Mahler — or rather, the French music library named in his honor — did it. I felt like a real, busy student again, with time to manage and work to complete and books to read and all that wonderful residual stress that trickles down from on high.

It felt good.

My favorite place in Paris is still Parc des Buttes Chaumont, but the Médiathèque takes a close second. I’ll definitely be back again to research for my summer project.

Its a quiet, secret place. But it is beautiful.

And I feel at home there.

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It was a strange day, involving much napping and several hours of breakfast eating.

But it was a rather lovely day, too. Plus, a girl in my Music and Politics seminar thought I was a real French person, which was fun.

I woke up, feeling really rather awful — maybe it was one of my weird “Saturday Morning Sicknesses”, only this time on a Friday, or maybe it was the dread I was facing for having to pay my rent that morning — but I was really hungry, so I slowly ate my usual breakfast during a prolonged period of the morning. I would eat a few spoonfuls of yogurt granola, then lie down on my bed, then try again, then lie down on my bed, etc. etc. It was not the most efficient way to eat breakfast — it took me about 2 hours — but it stayed down, and I felt decidedly better after having finished and showered.

Paying the rent? Not so much fun. But that had to get done, too, I suppose.

Then, eating lunch while walking, I wandered down to campus for my final class of the week, the looming French lecture on “La Musique, la Politique et la Sociabilitié” (Exactly what it sounds like) in one of my favorite buildings on campus — they have one of the better coffee machines there.

I found the room, and another student waiting for the same class, and we awkwardly spoke to each other in French. I asked her if she knew the professor, and she said she did not. I replied that I was the same, because I was an exchange student here for the term.

And then the wonderful thing happened.

“Oh,” she said, still in French, “I thought you were a French student.” She, it turns out, is an exchange student — for the year — from Mexico. We bravely entered the class together, at least one of us feeling just a little more French in doing so.

The class was a grab bag of students from exchange programs and Sciences Po in general, making it clear that I wasn’t the only non-native French speaker present. But for the most part, I could understand the delightful and amusing professor, as he rattled off details of his musicology history and his academic career.

It would appear that this course will be, as its title suggests, an exploration of the intersecting worlds of music, politics and sociability. We will all be presenting various topics in small groups — I’m in a group with my new Mexican friend on opera! — and just pretty much having a musical kind of a time. We even finished the first class yesterday by sampling some recordings of select virtuoso pianists.

It, like the rest of my classes here, will be a truly enjoyable experience, I am sure.

I wandered back home, taking time to go to the huge shopping center close to the center of the city in order to buy a novel for my French class — not available in the independent bookstores down by Sciences Po, which was sad — and then bought two loaves of bread to bring with me to the dinner party I was planning on attending later that evening.

A friend from Chicago in my welcome program here was the host, inviting about 14 students over — all exchange students this term — to her lovely apartment by the Seine for a little bread, cheese, wine and French Soupe a l’Oignon. Everything was delicious — including the strawberries, madeleines and whipped cream for dessert — and a few of us decided to go for a post-dinner walk along the Seine down to the Eiffel Tower.

We sat under the huge iron structure, looking up at the pretty sky and the soaring monument to 19th century French engineering.

And then we called it a night.

Oh, I also got stopped by the National Police at my Metro station at Gare de l’Est. They were closing the station for the night and decided that I, with my satchel and pea coat, looked like a drug carrying type of guy.

Obviously, they were wrong — although I did make sure to warn them that I had needles in my bag, as I am a diabetic — and they let me go. It was a strange experience, and I’m not sure why they singled me out, but maybe it’s because they thought I looked really French.

I think I’ll just go with that one.

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