Having just left the opera house, I decided to take a walk down Karlsplatz and appreciate the Christmas lights displayed all over downtown Vienna. I had just left a performance of the best opera I have seen in my life, Peter Grimes. I saw a café, and went inside for what would be my last Austrian coffee and a bit of warmth. I ordered a hot chocolate and an apple strudel, of which I ate way too much during my time in Vienna. I sat there alone, contemplating all the life changing events that happened this term. I didn’t quite understand how much Vienna would mean to once I left. I was focused on getting my medicine in order, finishing my final paper, and making sure everything’s all set for my trip home. In some ways, things have not changed, I got back to my family, and we were still ourselves, and I was able to ease right in. But there was a deeper and better understanding of myself and the world I’m in that I got through my semester abroad.

Vienna is a city with its own splendors and charms which makes it unique and beautiful, but it is not magical. In Vienna, I found I was not able to distance myself from issues at home, and it would be a lie if I said I fit in right away. I was an oddball. I was living alone, in independent housing, trying to find a way into the most elite musical culture to ever exist. I didn’t have very many goals, I wanted to take advantage of every moment I was there, use the opportunity to listen to as much music as possible and gain a stronger, deeper understanding of what it means to be a musician. I wanted to network with possible musicians, in hope that I can find someone to commission me, and give me a reason to come back. I did not make very many friends, but I made a few that I deeply admire. I didn’t get the chance to meet a lot of musicians, for I had not anticipated a wall into the music scene, and I had not anticipated the anxiety of asking someone to coffee, in a different language.

Another thing that separated myself from many of my peers was economic class. My family could not afford this semester on our own, we looked for every bit of funding we could get. The IES Abroad Scholarship was among the first of many sources of income I had gathered to fund my semester, and when I received it, it was in that moment that I knew, it can be done.

I didn’t meet my goals, but instead, I became such a different person that by the end of the program, I understood that personal growth is much more valuable than professional growth. I had learned what it really means for me to be a composer, and what incredible power that holds. I learned to trust in myself, and forge my own path focused on making myself the best person I can be. So I didn’t do a lot of tourism stuff, I didn’t travel every weekend, I didn’t go clubbing or shopping. Instead I spent my Saturdays volunteering for refugees, speaking to them in Arabic about what it means to be an Arab new to the city. Then I would invite some of them to join me for a concert, they would decline (they usually had other, more important things occupying their time), and I would get standing room for whatever opera was playing. My Sundays, I wake up at the fresh hour of noon, make myself a quick lunch, do some work, then go to another concert. Mondays I would be at the refugee house again, and either go to a concert in the evening, or go on a walk. After every concert, I made a tradition with myself, to go to a café, and simply appreciate being in that space. I would compose a couple notes, just like Beethoven would have done in his time. I went out to the Alps, and composed while enjoying nature, just like Mahler did in his time. And the music I wrote there showed the progress I made in my personal growth throughout the semester.

I want to apologize for not keeping people in the loop as often as I would like. I’ve thought many times about updating my blog but I had a difficult time figuring out what I want to write about. There are cultural differences here which are strong, there’s my internship at the refugee house, my many many complaints on German grammar, and a new work has been completed! So I will try to give a brief summary of what happened these four weeks and what I learned in that time.

First off…

Berlin and Paris

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Berlin and Paris, for a week. I had family in Paris and I convinced my cousin to meet me in Berlin. It was a fabulous time with lots of food and music. The first day we arrived in the afternoon and took a walk around the city. We walked around the Brandenburg gate, got some ice-cream and took a stroll through an outdoor art sale.

Then I got to scratch off something off of my life’s goal’s list. We saw the Berlin Philharmonic perform Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune, Arcana by Varese, and Symphonie Fantastique by our favorite Hector Berlioz. The Debussy I thought was pretty good, it wasn’t the best interpretation ever and was a bit quieter than I expected so it didn’t blow me out of the water. The Varese, by contrast, requires an orchestra so huge that it can only blow you away. I loved it but it was also very clear that this is not the orchestra’s specialty. They then proved that point with the most stunning performance I’ve heard in my life. I’m not kidding, I was in tears after about four notes into the Berlioz.

After that, I went to a few museums, and I was really impressed by Berlin’s ability to take stuff from the Middle East and put it on display. Their collections of architecture from Babylon and Mesopotamia were absolutely stunning.

And Paris was, even more, fun. Mostly because I got to celebrate Eid al-Adha with my family and they were eager to show off what the city had to offer. We went up to the Eiffel tower and saw the whole city from there! Then we took a walk through the Champs-Élysées and got back to my Aunt cooking way too much food for me. I also saw La Cathedrale de Notre Dame, the Louvre (that took an entire day), and La Palais de Versailles! The garden was gorgeous, I spent the whole afternoon just wandering through it and I only got through the very beginning!

So after this, many people have asked me about the treacherous task of creating…

Relationships with other students

After orientation, I was able to get away from the scary men and actually befriend a few of the students. I’m very much the type of person that has only a few close friends and otherwise prefer isolation. This term has been very different for me in that my relationships with people are not determined by membership in some sort of group or clique, but rather through a number of individual relationships. This has the major advantage that dangerous people cannot enter a group space and make it unsafe for everyone. Which is better than I can say for Lawrence, where abusers continually invite themselves in group spaces I’m in and force me to leave. Here safe spaces for me are not officially formed but instead arise from these individual connections I have made with POC in the city, people at my internship, and connections with people at home, who I am grateful for. This is all a longwinded way of saying that I have made friends here without compromising my safety, people that know me personally knows I’m healing from a number of abusive situations at Lawrence, and I’m proud of myself for that and grateful for those that are helping me.

On my next post, I’ll talk about my trip to Salzburg, Halstatt, and Graz, as well as what I learned in regards to healing and how issues from home will still follow you abroad. Those will be coming very soon because I’m quickly learning how to submit things on time!

Bis Spater!

 

 

 

A lot happened these past couple weeks so I’m just gonna lay it all out as much as I can and give my initial assessment of what it’s like here.

I landed at the Vienna International airport a day ahead of orientation, so I got to unpack my things and get settled in my new home. I noticed two things right away, (1) omg this cab ride is so expense and (2) omg, this city is gorgeous! Vienna is apparently very dedicated to constantly keeping their old buildings in great condition. Most of these buildings were built in the 19th century and have been treated wonderfully over the years. Here’s a panorama picture right outside of my apartment!

Vienna Nussdorfer Strasse

I’m not kidding, all the buildings look like that. And they just get more elegant as you get closer to the center!

So after the first day, I had to leave Vienna immediately. We were told to meet at the airport and we would take a bus to Mariazell for a four-day orientation. It was a bit strange because I was only meeting new Americans at that point, and I was frankly uninterested. The group studying here is upper-class and white, as one might expect. I immediately met quite a few fraternity guys and they were frankly really scary. But then I just took a deep breath, accepted the fact that I’m in a new space, and just went on. The first couple days was filled with all sorts of microaggressions like “oh, you’re MUSLIM?!! I never met one of those before!”, “yeah man, don’t white people just suck” (this was said to me by a white man, we barely met) and a number of others that I won’t share. Some people I called out and they (fake) apologized. But there were a good number of people I decided I just need to avoid this entire time. Of course, these things happen anytime I meet new people, but this group was particularly insistant.

Meanwhile, I won’t even talk about the classism here. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

So I was a bit lonely at the beginning, but I was still meeting new people and more importantly, I got to explore the city of Mariazell. It’s a fascinating place of pilgrimage, with a statue of Mary that’s centuries years old right in the center. The cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. It was originally in the gothic style, but during the counterreformation, they expanded it and adjusted it to a baroque style. I spent hours just sitting in this building admiring all the intricate little details that went into this giant work of art. Some pictures below.

After Mariazell, we got back to Vienna. I ate a lot of street food and did very little fancy stuff because those cost money. But I did get to walk around and enjoy the incredible scenery Vienna has to offer. There are a couple bars around here, some taverns, and best of all, cheap food! Just being here makes me better understand the muses at work for the composers I have looked up to my whole life. Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Berg, Schonberg, Webern, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, etc. They were all here, I can feel a sense that art has to be the very best in the world here (whether that’s good or bad, you can decide). It’s also a staunch reminder of how much white supremacy is infused into this artform, but that’s a topic for another blog post.

So what else happened? Well, I’m doing a public service internship here. I’m going to be helping out at a refugee house 8-10 hours a week and will be looking more into how public service works around here. For example apparently, people give more money to animal welfare than children. I also am taking lessons on organ and composition as soon as I find a teacher and I can’t wait to get back on the pipes! Pieces are coming along rather well and recital planning is only a little bit behind schedule (oops).

There’s so much more I want to write about. Orientalism is REALLY strong here. The racism here is very different, it’s much less violent so I like that more. There’s a lot of denials here (no! racism doesn’t exist here!) also there’s apparently a fascist running for president. These are just sort of little trends I’ve been noticing, but definitely expect me to get into a lot more detail on those in later blog posts.

For now, please enjoy these pics of Vienna! I’ll keep you updated soon when I start taking lessons and make my trip to Berlin to see Symphonie Fantastique and the Turangalila! As well as a brief excursion to Paris 🙂 Auf Wiedersehen!

It has been an intense year so far, and it seems like it’s only going to get busier from here. Right now I’m at Dulles International Airport waiting for my plane to take me to Vienna. So many thoughts are passing through my mind as I plan ahead for these next four months. I’m trying to figure out how I’m gonna eat, if transportation will be ok, all of these sorts of things one can’t really figure out until they get there. But the big question that’s been on my mind lately is How did I get here?

To be quite honest, I’m still not sure why I was selected to go. Why did they accept my application when I submitted it a week late and wrote the essays in an hour? My decision to apply came not even from a desire to explore new territory or anything like that. I just couldn’t imagine spending a whole year at Lawrence again.

You see, this past academic year has been really stressful and isolating. There were so many people in my life I had learned were extremely toxic and I had to cut-off friendships from some of the people I was most attached to at Lawrence. In other words, when you start fighting your oppression, it’s gonna suck. For a long time, I felt unsafe and had to use my energy to watch out for myself. And the worst of it was felt from my own housemates, who stopped talking to me because I was being “racist against white people” among other arrays of microagressions.

So one day in a state of anxiety, I opened up my computer and checked the deadlines for studying abroad. I knew I couldn’t afford it, but I’d rather bust my arse to find a way than endure more of this. The application was apparently due that day. So I just got to work immediately, asked for an extension and was able to turn it in a week after the deadline. I still owe my advisers, the abroad director and my professors my life for writing my recommendations so quick!

After that, I went to work looking for as many scholarships as I can. I didn’t get any IES scholarships, even the diversity one (despite the fact I’m one of about 4 POC there) but I was able to get some from Lawrence, and I was approved for an addition to to my student loans.

I feel like I was was fated to go. I kept getting these signals that I needed to get out, and it wasn’t just that I needed to leave, but I needed to be somewhere else. I didn’t realize until later that all of pain I endured from this past year was a sign that I had someplace better to be.

So I guess that’s how I got here. It’s still surreal though. Going to Europe has always been something like a display of class to me. That it was a luxury only to the rich, and even though they say there’s money to help you out, for an Arab musician with few connections that’s not the case at all. I think this  is why I always get shy around people that say they’re so jealous of me or how lucky I am. I guess I am lucky, there was so much luck that happened in this process, but that doesn’t mean it was easy. It was worth it though. So here’s hoping Vienna can open doors I would have never seen coming!

I’ll try to keep you all updated at least every 2 weeks, if not weekly. But for now, oh shoot they’re boarding…

 

I am currently sitting on the balcony of my uncle’s house in Southern Lebanon as my cousin is blasting Lady Gaga inside and the country is still calming down after the world cup game. My uncle just got married and now we’re trying to decide what to do for the rest of the month. 

A lot has happened here so far, musical and personal, but I think I want to focus this post on how the people here reacted to my music. The thing I noticed right away was that people were much more interested in me as a performer than a composer. We only had one night where I showed my closest relatives recordings of my music, and I was able to give them a quick run down of how I wrote my music, why and how the performers liked it. They nodded and thought it was ok, then asked me to take out my oboe and play for them. 

The only piece I know well enough I can just take out my oboe and play would be Pan, from the Metamorphoses after Ovid by Benjamin Britten (fantastic piece if you don’t know it). I played Pan so many times for so many people I’m getting pretty close to mastering it…and getting sick of it. Due to my own stupidity, I decided that I should learn two new pieces this summer, both so ridiculously contemporary your brain will ooze out of your ear and start scratching its head. They’re both fantastic pieces, but not at all appropriate as an introduction to classical music. Although I was so surprised by peoples reactions, they may just get it. 

You see, people actually loved it! Not the obligatory “oh, that was nice” after a performance. These people, the ones who listened to Lebanese folk music all their lives, music that is extremely lively and rhythmically driven, loved the cute little pictures Britten wrote for solo oboe! My uncle loved them so much, he asked me to play in his wedding. 

I was completely bewildered by his request. Calming oboe music? at a wedding? at the night party for the wedding? In this culture, night weddings are eerily similar to frat parties, we’re just a bit more stylish in our clothing. To give you a proper picture, they had 7 speakers blasting at full volume when the bride and groom came down, they were accompanied by a full set of dancers, 2 drummers and a shawm. the drummers and the shawm were louder than the seven speakers laid out across the virtually indoor (it was more like a tent) dance floor. They had a full bottle of Red Label Whiskey and Arak (arab vodka) on each table and people were determined to drink it all. Each table also came with a couple hookahs, and a complete feast. I played right after the bride and groom sat down. 

I decided I would play 3 movements from the Metamorphoses. Pan, Narcissus, and Arethusa. I figured they were appropriate (My uncle did remind me and Narcissus). I was micd. I had to be. It was too loud, and they weren’t all going to fall silent to listen. This is just supposed to be pretty background music. They set up the mic for me, there was no time to adjust it. They put it in a perfect spot for speaking….my bell was quite high up. I had to be really far away from my stand, it was dark, I could barely read the music! It was an embarrassing performance. I finished, gave my congrats to the married couple, and was met with a thunderous applause. People throughout the night congratulated me on my playing, invited me to dance with them and I met some very lovely people who wanted to learn more about western music. My uncle told me there was a professional singer who wanted to meet me (Unfortunately I couldn’t find him). 

Now I’m afraid I must go, my hour of internet is up. to be continued…