More pictures at…

Everywhere we go we are meeting warm people from the embassies, the people who are helping put events together, and so many music students who we have been getting to know in our short time in each stop. Lot’s of cameras are snapping with many many pictures and I recommend that you visit our facebook page, as there is a great deal to look at and some videos. In particular, there is a new video of some music students in Tetovo singing a song with such a beautiful melody. I was in a small classroom with them. We had just done our presentation for them. Some students played for Dina, Alisa, and Jess and these students excitedly pulled me into a different classroom and sang and danced. They sang an Albanian song, a Macedonian song, and then we all belted out Rolling in the Deep together by Adele. This experience, along with dancing with music students in Bitola where we spent yesterday, are the highlights of our experience here. We felt the same way in Azerbaijan interacting with young musicians. It’s such an honor to be able to do this. The travel is hard. We are sleep deprived and the schedule is very busy, but what a gift to be able to connect with amazing and bright young people with the language of music. Music really does bring people together!

And now a shout out to my students. I miss you!! I hope you are having a wonderful month. Hi hi hi!

View from my hotel room in Bitola

Bitola is such a charming town with beauty and warm friendly people.  We not only played for high school music students today, but they played for us (so did our high school friends in Tetovo).   We danced with students to Jovane Jovanka, the same Macedonian piece we played for them.   This time they played.   Macedonian dancing with teenagers leading the way!  What joyous fun!!   After, our host from American Corner, Ivana, took us to a restaurant to taste real Macedonian fare.   Clay pot after clay pot came out and we ate and ate.   Really incredible experience.   We just sound checked at the jazz club and now have a little rest before a concert tonight.   I love it here in Bitola!!

We enter Macedonia

Aside from night time flights with various stops in the Istanbul airport in the wee hours, I am filled with old sights which are new to me and meeting interesting people and enthusiastic music students.   Today we have traveled to Bitola which is in the southwest region of the country.   It is historic and beautiful. Minarets abound, alongside Eastern Orthodox churches.

The holocaust museum in Skopje is a 3 story gallery of photos and stories.   This is my first time in Europe and that was my first time at a holocaust museum.   It was very humbling.

Today in Bitola, we play for students in the day and a concert at a jazz club.



Keeping it Real in Skopje!

I love being in a politically exciting hot spot! Especially when I am safe in my hotel room and reading about it. Just like home in Oakland!

Last night we were in the old city of Skopje and saw all these young men and boys with the Albanian flag worn as capes.  We mused, “Must have been a win at soccer!”,  “Maybe Albania won the world series of the Balkans?” well no, actually it was the 100 year anniversary of their independence and so it was a big event with the Albanian flag draped over the fortress wall and crowds getting more excited with yelling and dancing. Then a bunch of cars drove by, as if in a parade, with the flags hanging out of the windows and kids were throwing fireworks. It felt both exciting to be around but also a bit scary to be among a crowd of young men. Since it gets dark here so early and since we are all ready to get to bed by 8:00 pm., we headed back to the Glam Hotel in the new city section and did a bit of Internet research to find out this: There was a bit of political provocation and not just an Independence Day celebration. You can read the article here:

So then I watched 2 episodes of “Homeland” from Showtime and made myself more anxious to be so far from home. I’m far more used to East Oakland scary than Balkan scary. But, in the morning, we were greeted by Borka, our cultural affairs contact. She is a confident and calm woman and like many others here, has a grounded and realistic attitude. ” Of course we’re fine. Nothing to worry about. Let’s get in the van and get going to Tetovo where the music students are waiting!”

Allrighty! That was super fun. It was our first real educational presentation for a large group of high school students. They are instrumentalists and singers who clearly love music because the enthusiasm and attention they gave us was very respectful.  They loved our version of “Sweet Honey Bee” because they all love Jazz (we joked–the folk music of America! not as old as the Macedonian folk music but just as groovy!)  We ended the set with a version of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” arranged by Dina.  She interpreted it like a blues tune and I had fun belting out the first verse.  On our way out of the school we caught up with an accordion player who played a traditional folk song for us–it was pretty great. Irene even got the balancing coca-cola bottle on the forehead treatment from some kids singing and dancing.

Now we have some time before our 7 p.m. concert and we are in the American Corner Library (free Internet!).  Borka took us on a quick jaunt to the “Painted Mosque” (Šarena dzamija) where we sat up in the woman’s balcony for the afternoon prayer.  It was just repainted so the colors and patterns were not only ornate but exquisitely clear and shiny!  Read about it here:

We have some yummy cookies to much on called “parachutes” they are walnut with pink cream and like a Macedonian macaroon. Yum!!

trying to pull an all-nighter

it’s 1:03 a.m. and we leave for the airport in an hour. Our flight is not until 5:00 a.m. but somehow we need to leave with 3 hours to go. I am exhuasted. I’m sure the rest of the gang is equally tired. I want to sleep but fear that I will not hear my alarm so I will do things like use the computer to keep me awake. I have the window open too and staying a bit cold keeps my eyelids open for some reason.

Our brief time in Azerbaijan made such a great impact on us and really started this tour right. Our hosts from the US embassy were so organized and helpful as well as super knowledgeable about the country’s history and about the history of the region.

We ended our tour with a traditional Azeri meal including Dolma and Plof. That’s dolmas and rice pilaf for all you Americans:)  The dolma was sautéed meat stuffed into cooked eggplant, peppers and tomatoes. It was so delicious. Then the plof included my favorite-chestnuts and apricots as well as local and small plums. Tea all around and with a side of cubed sugar that is so ubiquitous around the world. Why don’t we have that in the States? It seems more dignified than a packet of sugar somehow.

Earlier today included travel/teach/perform/travel to and from the city of Khachmaz.  To get there we had to drive on a new-ish highway past a deserted refinery and then a mountain range that looks like 5 fingers.   We learned that our sound guy-with all the gear-had a car breakdown at finger number 2 so he barely made it to our gig that afternoon!   We held a masterclass with 3 violin students and Alisa worked on “Cluck Old Hen” with them by ear. it was cute–“now that you know the song, stand on one foot, close one eye, air bow!!” with that endearing Wisconsin accent! Great Job!! (sounding like “great jab”!)

There was a strict piano teacher in the room–she had many things to say including letting us know that Arnold Schwarzenegger had been our governor. She also congratulated us on our recent Obama re-election.  Then she started acting like our teacher and correcting our music and we all got a bit nervous around her.   But–she and I had a nice smile from the stage to the audience at the concert.   I think some folks here don’t know what to make of us really! A string quartet that does not play Mozart? In these parts, it can be confusing I suppose.

falling asleep….need coffee….to much coffee

Live on Azeri TV!

 Videoda ANS TV və ANS ÇM radiosunun aparıcısı Cavid Osmanovun ABŞ-dan olan Real Vocal String Quartet-i ilə “Salam Azerbaycan” səhər şousunda oxuduğu Bob Dilan – ın Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door hitinin akustik versiyasıdır.

reporting live from Azerbaijan….about Whitney!!

up early and already back in the hotel after a great morning at AZN TV.  We played 2 tunes on the national show, “Salaam Azerbaijan” (Hello Azerbaijan!) and then chatted with the host a bit.  He was a youthful and jovial guy who told us that he got a “C” in English class!   But we bonded over our musical love and jammed on Dylans’s “knocking on heaven’s door” live in front of the nation!

Some of our favorite questions have been–what do you love about Azerbaijan?!! Of course that should be the question but it’s hard to answer with much detail since it’s only our 3rd day ever in this country.  Still–so far everyone we have met is terrific–our cultural affiars specialist, Fargani, our translator, Elvin, our driver who lets me fuss over where my cello will go in his van!  Also Chris, the US cultural affairs officer is spot on!!  Even when he had to field questions about Whitney Houston.  Yes—after our spot on “Salaam Azerbaijan” they asked if we could be part of a short interview on another TV program where the topic was Whitney Houston.   I like to think of myself as a Whitney specialist……  Well, really I just listened to her debut album multiple times with the cute girls I babysat back in 1985.   We loved it when she defiantly modulated up a key in “I will always love you”!! I knew she meant it!  Oddly the host of this Azeri TV program wanted to get all tabloid-y with us and talk about her addiction problems. But–we kept it about the music and truthfully, there are only great things to say. As Irene said, her performances were electrifying!

We have a break now and then our first workshop with students this afternoon from the conservatory followed by a concert at a jazz club.  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving so we will look at rugs and visit the hamam in honor of the pilgrims back home.