Friday, August 27, 2004

There's nothing like the smell of boiled buckwheat to bring back some memories of the Carpathians. Too bad the stuff doesn't taste better, as apparently it is quite healthy.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

It's always nice to hit a random livejournal page and see something I recognize (in the top picture, that is).
We watched the Ian McKellen version of Richard III tonight. This was one I had picked up at Big Lots for 2 bucks. What an extraordinary film. I had never read the play, so I had no idea what to expect other than the horse line--which came accross oddly in this version as Richard was in a jeep at the time. It's amazing now to me that England ever survived through that period.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I am now officially a piano teacher! I had my first student today and had a great time. I'll have two students next week as the neighbor family signed their daughter up as well. So far the only thing I feel odd about is my lack of familiarity with the standard curricula. That and the fact that most of the instructional books are, by consensus, not that good anyway. But anything is useful to start with. My first student is a very bright young lady. I was impressed already with her knowledge of basic theory and reading ability. Time to kick it up a notch I think :)

[edited for finicky people who prefer words to be spelled right]

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Cute Olympics coverage mess-up story here. Make sure to scroll down in the comments to see the newspaper article my my friend, David Frauenfelder.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Here's Yaroslav holding the "friendship bus". this was pretty funny to me since he was always a little grumpy and cynical, but he wanted me to take this picture. Lilia is next to him. Lilia missed about half the week, but was a member of the church and seemed to know everyone. She was one of our tour guides in Lviv. Posted by Hello
I've been kind of bummed about how slow my business has been lately, but perhaps there's a silver lining. I've decided to start teaching piano lessons. Yesterday I found my first student (and have at least 3 more who are intersted in talking about it). I've always liked teaching, but I've never taught piano before, so of course I'm a bit nervous about how I'll do. There's the balance between being too nice and being too pushy. The parent I met yesterday said her daughter had 2 teachers already. The first (and this is someone I know) was kinda pushy and discouraged her. The second was a group class which was so easy that the mother thought her daughter actually retrogressed. I think I'm capable of walking this line, but I guess I'll find out in practice soon enough. I think adult students would scare me less because I wouldn't worry so much about hurting their feelings. If an adult wants to pay for their own lessons, I expect them to be somewhat self-motivated and I imagine they want to be challenged rather than coddled.

Which brings me around to

Lessons from Ukraine part three:

My brother, the real academic scholar, encouraged me to make a journal of what I learned about teaching English. I did a little bit of this, but not as much as I had hoped before hand. I certainly found our three hour training session on Aquiring a Second Leanguage to be extremely helpful and reviewed my noted from that class during my week of teaching. Since I was teaching advanced students, I tried to teach them some of tht same material, since many of them I knew would also be involved in teaching English at some point.

One helpful thing, though small, was the use of a two hand model from prounoucing certain sounds. Native Russian and Ukrainian speakers have a lot of trouble with the "th" sound. If you use your hands, one to model the upper palate and teeth and the other to show the position of the tongue, it is very easy for students to see how to reproduce a sound. One of them also gave me the tidbit that for that particular sound, the person you are speaking to should be able to see your tongue.

The issue of how and when and how much to teach pronunciation was interesting to me, Dean Storelli, our ESL instructor, said we should not spend much time on it and not do any until after building some repore and listening carefully to the students. Most pronunciation, I suppose, gets picked up naturally through speaking and listening, and drills get boring and discouraging, and don't simulate real conversation. I did notice several in my class having problems with that particular sound, so we did work on it for five or ten minutes on the fourth day of class. One student in particular (Yaroslav) had learned most of his English through reading. His knowledge of vocabulary was excellent, not to mention that he was quite insiteful in many ways due to having such an inquisitive mind, but his pronunciation was horrible. Perhaps it didn't matter that much to him, since his English interactions were more textual than personal.

One comment that surprised me, and I heard it from more than one student, is that they liked learning English because it was "easier" than other languages they had studied. I think German was the next most common foreign language for them, and they found it difficult. I don't know why they felt this way, but it doesn't matter that much. It's good to know that some find English simpler to learn.

One of the things I found out about myself through teaching was that I'm not very good at trusting others with tasks. We had a lot of exercises in our text book that required the students to either work by themselves or with each other in small groups. I always felt hesitant about doing these since I felt like I needed to maximize my time in teaching them. Also since many of the students were not really close with each other, they were hesitant themselves about working in groups. I knew this sort of thing was necesary though. I knew that after I left, they would be getting most of their English practice with other Ukrainians and not Americans. One of the exercises was for the students, in gourps of four or five, write a horror story together. They had a list of possible story elements and settings in the text book. I gave them about twenty minutes. After about ten, I noticed them really working together well, which was very exciting for me.

The next day after that, I read to the class an interview with Graham Greene. It was a listening comprehension test of sorts. As I did it I started feeling the opposite of how I had before--the class was spending too much time listening to me and not practicing speaking enough. I guess it has to go back and forth a bit.

Monday, August 16, 2004

A sneak peek into the White House. Posted by Hello
I believe I already issued my own warning about one of these words. And speaking of words, I've been reading Word Freak lately. This is one of the most interesting and disturbing books I've ever read. It's a rather deep look into the world of tournament scrabble players, a world which seemed to suck the author right out of any semblance of normal humanity. When you click the link above, be sure to read the first reader review, esp. the title. The author of that review is one of the major characters in the book, known to his friends as GI Joel. Please don't ask me why, just read the book.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

I've been thinking of lots of blogworthy things in the last several days, but my energy level when I have been at home has been pretty feeble. No good reason for this aside from me being lazy. To break out of the rut, just a few recent thoughts about music, starting with,

Lesson Two from Ukraine.

One of the many things I respected about Tabernacle Church of Lviv was the way they used their musical equipment so efficiently. They had one man (I never learned his name) who took care of all the sound equipment, one young man (who was not quite sure yet if he was willing to commit to Christ) who played the guitar pretty well, and one woman who had one of the $200 type Yamaha keyboards. The latter is what caught my attention. I've been a fan of keyboards for a long time, and I know that a lot of time and engineering has gone into these keyboards, even at that price level, to make them flexible for different types of music and easy to work with. For all that, I have never once seen one of these keyboards used to its potential in any sort of public music performance in America. This woman, though, found the best style settings for each praise song we sang and was familiar enough with the controls to do a really fine acompaniment job for us. I know that most of that is not especially difficult. Finding the appropriate style setting is the hard part. After that its mostly just playing basic chords from a lead sheet. But for some reason no one in our fine country has ever seen the need, in my presence, to use such a well designed tool to fill out a small music leading ensemble.

In other news, and I'd be surpised if even one person cared about this one, I was listening to the radio and heard a fascinating piano piece. It was all over the keyboard, it was difficult, it was beautiful, and it sounded strangely like J S Bach. Knowing that Bach did not write for the modern piano and thus did not write anything that would be played in that style, I surmised it must have been a late romantic or modern composer who had studied a lot of Bach or was writing a set of variations or something like that. Turns out I was close. It was a Busoni transcription of a Bach fantasy for violin and orchestra, IIRC. Busoni, for those who don't know, made a career out of doing exactly that sort of thing--trancribing Bach pieces for modern piano. Quite a pianist and composer in his own right as well.

On a similar note, I heard a couple of months ago a transcription of a Bach organ fantasy by Elgar. I thought it was just as good as anything else I'd heard from Elgar. I think Bach is similar to Augustine and Aquinas and Barth, and perhaps Calvin in theology. You could never hope to comprehend their life's work, but you really do need to start somewhere and see what you find.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

In honor of all my Ukrainian friends, I made a big pot of borsch last night. If you haven't tried it, a good borsch is as good as any soup out there. The beets I got were white beets, so mine doesn't have that wonderful blood red color, but the tase seems pretty comparable to what I had in Ukraine. Will share recipe on request.

Monday, August 09, 2004

I think England has now gotten their priorities straight. I knew something had been missing over there for a while. Just couldn't put my finger on it.
I see some discussions from time to time about how we as Christians can get along when we disagree. This looks like a very interesting take on the subject, though I haven't read it through thoroughly yet. I like the title at least.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

I'm fascinated by the research reported here (it's several paragraphs down). I suppose one could consider this objective proof that scripture does not interpret itself.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Picture collections from the Ellisons are here, and Angie's are here. They are more fun for me than for you, since I remember all of these things, but it could give you some idea of our friends and surroundings of last week.
I was reading a little discussion of Christian support of arts and culture (or lack of said support) over at jon's blog, and it got me thinking about a couple of things I saw this past week. I was in Vienna from Sunday night til Wednesday morning. Quite a lovely city, and one where you can walk anywhere, and anywhere is worth walking to--I didn't find any "bad" neighborhoods in my constant wanderings. Anyhow, at one point I remember suggesting to one of my companions that I'd heard about a cool concert that would cost about eighteen bucks to get into. She said for that price she'd rather get a CD she could listen to over and over. I don't say that to embarass her, but rather to point it out as an example of how american typically view culture these days, i.e. something that can occur in the privacy of one's home.

To continue with the narrative, though I never did figure out where that particular concert was being held, we did attend the Vienna summer film festival showing on Tuesday night. That particular night was a concert from St Petersberg from a few years ago. There were probably a thousand people there watching classical music on a giant screen, not counting those who just came for the food and beer. I was trying to imagine how such an event would go over in the US. First of all, they wouldn't serve beer at a state sponsored event. Second, they wouldn't dare attempt to show something with such limited appeal as classical music. Third, people would be asking if they could get a live webcast they could watch at home.

I think perhaps we have become so enamored with our technologies that we are willing to substitute iamges for the real thing. We can control when and where and with whom, if anyone, we play our CD's and our DVD's. Thus we don't need public culture. And thus our souls grow smaller and our recliners grow bigger. Thus we don't need to learn to make music. We can simply push a button and hear the finest musicians in the world.

It's my website and I'll rant if I want to.

Friday, August 06, 2004

And here's another shot. Between the two I think all of my students are there. Some of them missed a few days of class for various reasons, like being translators for the beginning classes. Posted by Hello

Here's my most of my English students from camp. Posted by Hello
I tried putting up a big post yesterday, but it got swallowed into the ether. Save me the advice about how not to let that happen. I have to learn from my own mistakes somehow.

Anyway, I think it will be better to break up what I wnted to say into several posts and expand a bit on them. The general topic is "what I learned over the last two weeks." Sounds like an 11th grade paper, doesn't it? I don't think it is possible to organize these in any coherent way, but if you were looking for coherence, you wouldn't have come to my site in the first place.

My first lesson from Ukraine is that american don't know the meaning of the word "creative." In the seven days we were at the camp in the Carpathians, we must have seen forty to fifty skits performed, most of them written that same day. The skits often involved handmade props and ad hoc decorated signs. We also saw several puppet shows (there were a number of kids present), had a cake decorating contest, made table decorations, and had one night where people had to illustrate bible verses in their hair.

This isn't all be any means. The dining hall was heavily decorated. There was a contest for best door decorations for our dorm rooms. There was a "scret angel" program--just like "secret santa"--but I felt woefully behind as I gave my person only four gifts while I received about a dozen. Woefully behind is how our whole team felt throughout the week as we watched folks shouting out chants during meals--some sort of four line iambic version of "bon appetite" in Ukrainian, rendered by the teen crowd, spawning further counter rhymes by the other tables.

I think perhaps the process of the destruction of the western mind by tv and other media is much closer to completetion than I had realized. The response we got for our meagre efforts to participate in all of this seemed much like how our beginning level English teachers would respond to their students. "Wow. You are doing great! In no time you'll learn how to write your own skits. Just keep at it. In a few years, with hard work and some luck, perhaps we won't even be able to tell you are americans."

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Hey all. Still alive and flourishing in Vienna now. Had an amazing time in Ukraine, but dont have time to write about it. Also, I cannot find apostrophe on this keyboard. Will write MUCH more later, like maybe when I get home.