Update to German Learning Morning: FSI

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 11.11.06

In the past few months, as part of my German morning reading, I’ve read several full books of comics in German including three Asterix books and one giant Lucky Luke volume. In the past week, I’ve pivoted back to using the Foreign Service Institue German course.

However, it’s not just reading. These are courses developed by the US government for diplomats and which are now in the public domain. The course comprises dialogues and then exercises where you alter sentences or just try to say the translation as quickly as possible. Each accompanying audio track is between 20 and 30 minutes, and if you want to feel like you’ve worked your brain to exhaustion, then this will do it.

This is a tedious way to learn to be sure, but I did this faithfully before moving to Germany, and it was invaluable. When you begin speaking the translations fluently without thinking too hard and without pauses, then it can feel very good. The course is brilliant at drilling sentence structure and flow into your mind, and the vocabulary is usually very useful. I also find that it makes certain concepts, such as the cases (nominative, dative, accusative, genitive), feel instinctive in a way I never got from other learning methods. I can also use their pre-made vocabulary lists at the end of each unit for my morning journaling. Any extra words still get added to my monthly Evernote note.

There are a few negatives about using the FSI German course, of which you should be aware:

  • They use some outdated words, and you have to be careful using them. I’ve never heard anyone refer to a bus as an “Omnibus” or a taxi as a “Taxe”, even though those are legitimate words. And I would never refer to anyone as “Fräulein”, even though the speakers of the FSI course do regularly. This is Mad Men era German, and you should have other sources to provide you with more modern language.
  • The audio quality is very degraded, and sometimes it can be hard to understand what the readers are saying without reading along, which sometimes defeats the purpose.
  • Again, because this is Mad Men era German, it’s very male dominant. It’s usually men speaking to other men about business. When women are around, they tend to be secretaries or housewives.
  • The vocabulary is very tilted towards diplomatic relations. There’s lots of talk about embassies and consul generals and such, which is irrelevant to most people.

Nevertheless, I still find them valuable. Even with the limitations listed above, most of the situations are still situations you’ll find yourself in in modern Germany.

Singers Getting Paid

Good article from Cindy Sadler writing for Classical Singer:

Know when to say no..If they are paying everybody but the singer, they don’t deserve professional quality work. They should be getting a student or an amateur for whom the event could be important and worthwhile. They should be getting what they pay for.

This is one of those difficult issues for young singers, and for every person it’s different. The sooner you ask yourself what you feel you’re worth, however, the better. Listen to your feelings before and after jobs and ask yourself if you felt appropriately compensated for your time, effort and expenses.

Then stick up for yourself. Very few will do it for you.

On An Overgrown Path: Think on these things

With those words of the Buddha from the Kalama Sutta and a photo from my travels on the the Manali to Leh highway in Jammu and Kashmir I leave you to spin again on the wheel of life. Take care but also take risks.

via On An Overgrown Path: Think on these things.

This read like a farewell blog post, and so far there hasn’t been another from On an Overgrown Path.

Although quoting that particular passage of the Buddha’s teachings seems a good way to close a blog, I hope it’s not the last we hear from its author. Overgrown Path is consistently one of the blogs I read that feels substantial. The ideas are provocative, and the intersection of western and eastern and middle-eastern values and traditions and art forms offers a fresh look at what art and life can be. There’s a kind of myopic focus that exists in any field, whether classical music or otherwise, and I appreciate On and Overgrown Path for breaking free of the nonsense and looking for real meaning, both via the questions it asks and the answers it suggests.

Nevertheless, if that is the final post, then I wish its author the best.

UPDATE: He’s still blogging. All is well.

Opera is for Everyone…Opera is Not for Everyone

Opera is not for everyone. That’s right. It’s not for everyone. I love it, lots of people love it (thank goodness or we wouldn’t have anyone to sing to) but it really isn’t for ‘all.’ Now, wait: I did NOT just say that opera is elitist, or exclusive, or too hard for the average joe or jane to understand…just that it’s not for EVERYONE. Some people just don’t like opera. Not for political reasons, not because they don’t have access to it, not because they feel excluded by it, but because they don’t actually like it. They have tried it, and it doesn’t do it for them.

via Voicing the unspeakable? Opera is NOT for everyone. | Scribblings of a Mad Soprano.

I’m conflicted about this. On the one hand, I’ve long believed that if we compare opera to the movies, then we’ll find that many people like some movies but aren’t “movie people”. Real film lovers are a unique breed, and most people who watch movies are not fans in that way. This could potentially be the case with most art forms. The people in the audience just need to enjoy themselves enough to come back again at some point, though the real fans will come to much more.

Practically speaking though, opera requires a certain amount of commitment just to get in the door. The ticket is more expensive (though probably cheaper than most people think). There are fewer times slots. And, yes, the language is often one the audience doesn’t speak in a musical style that is rarely fashionable. It’s a higher bar to entry than movies, especially as movies move closer to being internet products available on demand at home at any time.