Passport Approved: My Summer Travel and Music Plans

Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God.
Kurt Vonnegut

I am currently listening to the latest from Passport Approved, which credits itself as “an internationally syndicated tastemaker import radio show.”  That can only mean one thing: there is travel on my horizon.

I have noticed particular peculiar propensities that power up inside me when the travel bug bites.  The first is, as you might expect, an adjustment in the music that I listen to.  Normally, I sail down the street each day listening to my local Minneapolis radio station The Current (which I highly recommend), but there are some international feels that it does not satisfy.

My plan is to go to Austria in July and participate in Mid-Europe, an international wind band festival in Schladming, Austria.  After reading about this small town, I learned that it has hosted the World Championship for the International Ski Federation twice, which means pretty mountains live there.

I am going to teach my saxophone how to yodel.

I am going to teach my saxophone how to yodel.

Mid-Europe has an honor band call the World Youth Wind Orchestra Project that I have submitted an audition recording for, and now I simply lay in wait for the result.  I am not getting my hopes up; in fact, I am quite prepared for a rejection.

I wanted the most well-qualified recording that I could come up with, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a piano accompaniment.  Unfortunately, the microphone was a bit too close to the piano, and our recording process was very rushed so I did not have the wherewithal to do a sound check. (We were pressed in between the end of the school day when I finished teaching and when the pianist had to go pick up her daughter from school.  Safety Warning: No tempos were injured in the recording of our music.) Additionally, I have learned that because I play the saxophone, I must always be prepared for rejection.

Accepting that rejection is all right was actually an easy conversation to have with myself.  If I do not pass the audition, I will simply attend the conducting masterclasses as a passive participant and bask in the beautiful light of wind band knowledge.  Then again, nothing is stopping me from at least applying as an active participant and actually conducting (SCARY).

I will come clean, though.  This week-long conference is going to be couched in about a month or more of personal travel that, for all intents and purposes, will be #@$%ing amazing.  So whether or not I perform at Mid-Europe, I will still learn a great deal about wind bands, meet important figures in our shared field, and take time to explore new parts of the world.  Now would be a good time for you to set up a date for coffee with me in Prague.

A brief journey with the classical saxophone

My name is Linus. I am a saxophone player, and I do not play jazz.


I have spent many, many hours in agony.  I take my saxophone out of its case, put on the mouthpiece and reed, and just before I play my first note, I weep.  The saxophone in my lap lays in silent sadness, unable to make a sound since there is no music besides jazz.

Well, no.  Not really.

I am certainly disappointed in myself for not tackling jazz while I grew up, but I had a different set of experiences instead that I need to justify to myself as good.  If I get around to studying jazz more seriously, I will be a late bloomer.  Or, I could learn how to rock climb.

“What else do saxophone players do?” you ask. The answer:

Marijuana.  Salsa music.  Rock music.  Funk.  Ska.  Fusion.  Punk.  Rap.  R&B.  Mostly, I myself have trained to play classical saxophone.


Linus, you’re confusing the babies.

The saxophone was invented in France by Adolphe Sax 173 years ago.  One of the primary reasons for its invention was to invent an instrument that could sound like both a brass instrument and a woodwind instrument.  Mr. Sax actually invented a lot of bizarre instruments, like something called the “saxotromba” — which has gone extinct — and the expanded the clarinet family with the bass and contrabass clarinet.


From left: Phillis, Billy, Susan, Bass, and Contrabass.

One of the most recognizable pieces of classical (orchestral) music that includes saxophones is Bolero by French composer Maurice Ravel.  Last night, I attended a performance of the Minnesota Orchestra, which included this piece on the program.  The sound of the saxophones playing was so liquid, so sultry, that it was difficult to discern whether it was really a saxophone or another reed instrument like the oboe or English horn.  Even though I have performed this piece and heard it many times, I was still fooled and found myself looking through the wrong section of the orchestra when I heard the saxophone.  D’oh!

My future family, from left: Sopranino, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass. (Not pictured: John and Susan)

The recording below is the second movement of a sonata for alto saxophone and piano by American composer William Albright.  If you are interested in a bit of explanation about this piece, read below the video.  Otherwise, enjoy a performance of classical saxophone.

Sonata, Mvt. II: “La Follia Nuova”
William Albright

William Alright wrote in his program notes:

Of all of the movements, the second perhaps most deserves comment. This
movement is dedicated to the memory of the composer George Cacioppo who
died unexpectedly on April 8, 1984. Co-founder of the ONCE group and mentor
to two generations of composers, Cacioppo and his music and personality rest at
the foundation of my thinking. He would have very much appreciated the use of
the traditional title “La follia” (the madness) in my reincarnation as “La follia
nuova.” Like its Baroque antecedents, the movement is in a chaconne-variation
form, although at one point the sections jumble together, or intersect. The fact that
the key is F-sharp minor may be important, or it may not be.

Throughout the piece, there is a consistent descent.  The piano line is always going downwards, as a symbol for the descent of life into death, and the descent of a body into a grave.  Optimistically, Albright gives ascending lines to the saxophone to highlight the hope for an ascent into heaven.  Despite these efforts, I find this piece is horribly tragic, and it seems as though it ends without completing the mourning process.  The saxophone player is asked to step away from the piano and play distantly; usually, the performer turns their back to the audience and walks toward the rear wall, playing the final hymn melody by memory.  They remain facing away from you while the piano painfully performs the sounds of agonizing funeral bells.  The pianist is told to play as many repetitions of the bell chords as they wish, which can create a very elongated, sad, and uncomfortable moment. (source)


There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
Paulo Coelho

After I graduated with my bachelors, I strongly considered finding a job that was not at all teaching-related (to the point of sending out resumes to museums and theater houses because porque no).  This was in direct opposition to the voices that spoke through their lapels with bad PowerPoint backdrops that said, “find a way to stay involved in teaching, and you will be more prepared when you finally do get that teaching job.”

Yes, teachers think that way: you will not get a job.  Es la verdad.  But there is always a subbing temp agency with a smiling face waiting to call you at 6:00 am and send you off to magical places.

The reality of substitute teaching (at my particular temp agency) was that we had to call them.  Talk about a strange conversation.

“Thank you for calling __________ ____________,” she said, in a happy tone.

“Hi.  This is Linus.  Reporting for, er, calling.  Calling in.  Calling in for work.”

“Hi Linus,” the voice suddenly became dry and ill-humored.  The weight of her oppressive morning — reporting to work at 5:00 AM or earlier, listening to hundreds of voicemails from schools asking for subs, and dealing with subs de mala leche who had petty excuses to skip work — shone through that voice like a Lite Brite.  “Nothing yet.  We’ll call you back as soon as that changes.”

“Okay, thank you.”

Hallelujah!  Now I could continue eating my cereal, or continue lying in bed, or whatever activity that did not involve preparing myself for a long day of educating young minds.  Glory be!

Unfortunately, they usually did call back; but, there were those wonderful days when the phone never rang again.  And I never pushed it by calling them myself to find out if something went wrong.  Too much cat petting was at stake.

At the end of spring, I went in for two job interviews in my campo of music teaching.  One was for high school and junior high band (yay for waving a baton around!), the other for bilingual elementary-general music (yay for practicing my Spanish!).  The first interview was at the elementary school, an urban school with plenty of that savory diversity that I could just sink my teeth into.  Both principal (USA) and associate principal (Colombia) were present, though the principal did the majority of the talking, including the questions in Spanish.  Aunque no sabía mucho español, me puso nervioso porque lo intentó al menos, without fear of failure.  Although my Spanish was decent, my fear of failure was too.  And elementary music was not what I wanted for my life.  Was speaking Spanish worth the intimidation of lying about confidence?

I left in that type of daze “that-they-never-teach-you-about-in-college.”  Several days later, I interviewed for the band position.  This was a subject that was more familiar to me.  I could talk your orejas off about band.  Everything seemed to go well, I think, maybe, whatever, it was systematic and quick and clean and, well, I had no sense of fear in my stomach throughout any of it, though, well, maybe, I think, I wish I had, I wish I had fear, I missed it, I missed having fear, having fear, having fear was more alive.

I was asked to return to the elementary school to teach a mini-lesson.  To second-graders.  On the penultimate day of school.  For fifteen minutes.  If you know niños, or enseñanza, you know that it was going to be a fifteen minute classroom management nightmare.  Which it was.  Pero me dijo que mi español was great.  Then, I had a small post-interview interview thing.  What I did not tell the principal (USA) in that post-entrevista entrevista was that earlier that day, while I was subbing for a fired Spanish teacher for the third day in a row, I received a call from the high school and was offered the band job.  I did not tell the principal that I would not give a direct answer until after teaching the fifteen minute lesson.  I did not tell her that I wanted that band job more than I wanted to feel alive and intimidated and afraid.

No le dije que sentí un miedo que quiero.  Hay un miedo que quiero experimentar de nuevo… el miedo de viaje, de no saber qué or quién or cual… de ponerme en puestos imposibles y luchar a liberarme.  Soy un hombre sentimental y egocéntrico, y nervous, y afraid, porque I’m in my 20s, porque I received advice about nothing but how to better yourself, Linus, because you’re in your 20s and need to find balance.  Linus, oh Linus, you need to.  Then, turn around and say: but it’s not all about you.

When put in such a corner, how can one fear appropriately, productively?


The Liebster Award

The great thing about living is that there is too much to “blog” about to ever have the chance to sit down and actually blog.  My friend Lu over at Point of Focus nominated me for a Liebster Award as a way to get us both back into the blogging game, and hopefully to get others to do the same.  Read on to learn about this “award” and check out what we’ve been up to.

The Liebster Award is an award distributed by bloggers for blogs with under 200 followers.  Supposedly, it started in Germany, as a way for readers and bloggers to discover new blogs to follow.  It connects the blogging community and helps web surfers expand their horizons!


The Rules:
1. Choose 11 other up-and-coming bloggers and link to them in your Liebster post.
2. Answer the 11 questions the previous blogger set for you, then create 11 different ones for the bloggers you will choose.
3. Let those bloggers know you nominated them.
4. No tag backs. No mulligans. No puppy guarding. Okay, just don’t tag the person who nominated you.
5. Display the Liebster logo.

So, Lu sent me the following questions that I’m excited to answer!  Then, I’ve created questions of my own that I want my “nominees” to answer on their blogs.  Here goes!

1. If you could go back and do college over again, what would you major in?

The answer to this question will probably change over time, but at the moment I would say that I would major in global studies or international relations or something of that nature.  I am not terribly interested in politics.  Instead, I am interested in different cultures that live in the same community.  For me, living around others from different parts of the world has made me evaluate and reevaluate nearly everything about myself and my own culture, from my quirky Minnesotan accent to my bathroom ritual.  If we could understand how different people can cohabit in peaceful and productive ways, we would be on our way to amazing things.  Like Tex-Mex.

2.  Who is your favorite TV character, and why?

Lieutenant Kara Thrace (“Starbuck”) from Battlestar Galactica, played by Katee Sackhoff.  She toggles between dangerous spontaneity and calculated predetermination, though always chooses the option that is the most ill-suited for the situation.  In the end, she usually saves the day, whether or not anybody is happy about it.  I do not identify with her character in any way, and that’s probably why she’s my favorite.  Maybe Starbuck could teach me to be more extemporaneous.


Fun fact: the original Starbuck from the 1978 series was male, played by Dirk Benedict.

3.  You get one question to ask to one famous person who is no longer living. Who is the person, and what is the question?

I want to ask Charles Schulz why Snoopy doesn’t look like a real-life beagle.


4.  What accessory can you “not live without?”

I have two watches that I rotate through.  One of them is a silver metal that I received from my grandfather when he emptied a few drawers after moving to a new elder care home.  The other is a leather-banded Citizen watch that was a gift from my family on my graduation from college.

I should add that I always wear analog watches.  I like seeing the pie graph of time passing by. Mmm, pie.

5.  Paper or plastic?

The nice thing about living in Earth-friendly Minneapolis is that I know where I can recycle both forms of bag.  That being said, I always ask for paper.  Not only is it easier to recycle, but it is perfect to use as a cooling pad for hot, fresh cookies that came out of the oven.  Can you do that with a plastic bag?  No.  Unless you want a plastic glaze on the bottom.

6.  Describe a favorite memory you have with a friend.

The two of us were high school students (or maybe young college students, I don’t remember).  We were laying on the floor of her parents’ basement, wondering what our parents’ lives had been like when they were our age, playing their records on her dad’s record player.  The top choice of the night was Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  The bass is a lot more fuerte when your head’s on the floor.

7.  What is your favorite beverage?


(You thought I was going to say coffee, didn’t you?)

Even though it is coffee that gets the day started, it is water that keeps the day going.  When I have not had enough water, I lack the mental and physical energy to do anything, sometimes even have an intelligent conversation.  My mind will tell me I’m thirsty before my mouth does by being distracted and unfocused.  On top of that, getting up from my desk to refill my water bottle provides me with a nice movement break after a lot of work.  “When the butt goes numb, the mind goes dumb.”

8.  What smell reminds you of home?

Flavored coffee.

Wild rice soup.

Homemade fudge.

Maple syrup.


9.  Coffee or tea? Why? (I really need to know. I can’t decide.)

Coffee.  And I will tell you why.  But, before I do, I will say that any tea drinker will probably have the same or similar reasons for drinking tea, so whatever you take away from my opinions is totally up to you.

1) It smells so, so good.

2) It wakes you up.

3) It’s a great socializing drink.

4) It tastes like it smells.  (Believe me on this one, haters.)

5) Making it taste good is an art.  I am still a young painter’s apprentice.

6) I would not have a good day without it.  That’s probably a negative reason, but it’s still a reason.

10.  What is your favorite word?



And now, the Liebster Award Nominees from Minus the Linus

Rumor has it that the original Liebster Award only requires 3-6 bloggers to be nominated, so that’s what I’m going to do.


2) So it goes.

3) Listen Learn and Do

4) Los Viajes de la Hojita

Your questions are:

1) What is a hobby that you wish you had, but currently do not?

2) Where is a place that you would like to travel?

3) What other language would you like to speak?

4) What decade do you wish you were born in?

5) If you could be any animal, what would it be?

6) What are you most afraid of?

7) Imagine yourself as part of a film (production, acting, etc.). Which role or job would you have?

8) What type of food would you never eat?

9) Who do you look up to most, either dead or alive?

10) What is your favorite season?

11) What is your favorite seasoning?

St. Paddy’s Day: Six Songs about Drinking

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! Time to celebrate that good ol’ English saint who came to Ireland to spread the dominating religion of Christianity!

For some interesting misconceptions about this holiday, check this website out:

Whether or not you are celebrating St. Paddy’s day as a reflective Catholic holiday, or crowded around your family and an Irish soda bread, or out with friends getting completely un-Irish, friendship and hospitality are valued by all of us. This are a few of my favorite songs about that people-connector, socializer, and friend-maker, the drink.

Note: These are not “drinking songs.” These are songs that sing about drinking, and the social life surrounding it. If you have any songs you would like to share, please do so in the comments!

FUN.: We Are Young

Mason Jennings: Drinking As Religion

What Made Milwaukee Famous: Cheap Wine

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: You and Me and the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight

Billy Joel: Piano Man

This last is my favorite. The recording by Liam Clancy is probably the most evocative and true to the lyrics of the song. Folks like Loreena McKennit and the Wailin’ Jennys have recorded beautiful, whispering renditions, but this is not the type of song that is meant to be sad. The character is content with himself and happy to be surrounded by friends, which I hope you yourself will be tonight. Slainte.

Liam Clancy: The Parting Glass

Over and out

I’m currently in San Pedro de Atacama, and have written on paper some of the things I’ve done. Here are those entries, more or less, up until day 3.

Sunday (day 2, after traveling).

My eyes cracked open and I couldn’t see anything. In confusion, I swung my head around in a sleepy attempt to shake off any blanket that covered it. I then caught sight of the faint grey outline of the window on the other side of our room. Outside was a rumbling of voices – French, German, Spanish, and English – that, when mixed together, formed an amiable din like laughter.

Unfortunately, this joviality made sleeping difficult.

Even with our long, final day of sad goodbyes over, even with the late journey alone out to Santiago and the overnight wait in the airport, even with a half-hour nap on the flight and the 2-hour van ride in the morning to our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, sleeping soundly was like balancing a wine bottle in its cork.

After our less-than-peaceful night of rest in the hostel, we woke up at 3:30 am to be picked up for a tour of nearby geysers. Within 2 hours, our bus ascended 4,000 meters into the high plains of the Andes above San Pedro. Surrounded by dozens of volcanoes – many of whom have long lost their names due to the death of the ancient, indigenous language – was a geothermic plain, flat and filled with geysers and hot springs. The temperature was about -6C or -10C, with a fierce wind that bit. Unfortunately, this wind dispersed the geysers’ steam. Supposedly, the steam rises many, many meters into the air and forms a dome over the entire plain. If the conditions are right, this dome may even snow.

And that’s way we woke up at 3:30 in there morning.

In the plain, we ate a chilly but delicious breakfast. Traditional flat, round bread to make cheese sandwiches, hot milk, coffee, cakes and jelly. We drove a short while to see a hot spring, gawking for four minutes (certainly not five) at the youth of our world who dared to swim in the frigid climate (it wasn’t the going in, it was the getting out).

Along our way home was a tiny pueblo that I will mention. It was about 2,000 meters lower and once held many more people. As a result of the exploitation of work opportunities and natural resources by big companies and the government, they are limited to surviving solely on tourism. Now, there are only 4 or 5 inhabitants, and they make handmade crafts and homemade food.

Delicious homemade food.

Because of the wind, they could not have an asado (a big barbecue of chicken and slabs of pork). Because of bad timing, they were not making sopaipilla (small, flat fried dough). But I ate two unbelievable cheese empanadas while walking through the few houses and peeking at the white Spanish church in the center. Every house had a cross on the roof, but they existed in South America long before the Spanish came and represented the Southern Cross in the night sky. It felt good – morally good – to buy those empanadas. The image of that church beneath a snowy mountain will always bring back the memory, though I’m afraid that my own memory of it will go beyond the inevitable end of what once was a hard-working, hard-earned pueblo in the high plains of the northern Chilean Andes.

After that is when we get to where I am writing this in my journal. We arrived back in San Pedro in the middle of the day, with barely a horizon except clouds of sand. We covered our faces with scarves while walking back to the hostel, though it didn’t keep sand out of my teeth and we still comically swiveled around when a particularly violent gust blew. Everything inside our room had a fine layer of dust, which accumulated, even with the door closed, within minutes. I suppose that’s what might happen in the driest desert in the world. The power, also, was out, which provided an atmosphere where the best option for activity was sleep.


It’s now nighttime. I ate two empanadas de pino and a monjar pastry for dinner, which I bought from a small store a block away. We also split a liter of chocolate milk, which is incredibly delicious here in Chile. The winds are still raging, though there’s less sand. I’ve always enjoyed sitting warmly indoors and listening to the wind batter the walls outside. The large group of French people in the hostel attacked the showers earlier today when we got water (which we didn’t have for a day or two), and now they are sitting in the kitchen, where I would have heated up the milk if they weren’t, chased out of the courtyard by the wind. This probably means a quieter night for us sleepy-heads.

Food, food, food: the belly-fillers

By popular demand, I’m writing a blog post about food.

(Though you knew it was coming.)

Overall, I am very familiar with most things. There are lots of potatoes, vegetables, chicken, beef, sausage, rice, pasta, wine, etc. The great differences are the way the flavors mix, and the seafood.


Now, I’m not someone who finds great pleasure taking pictures of my plates of food. I just eat it. Then I talk about it later. Because you can’t take a picture of flavor, only food. And food looks like food.

All philosophies aside, I wish I’d taken some pictures of what I’ve eaten here. Perhaps in the future, but probably not. Enjoy the Google-zies.

That’s the Mercado Central in Santiago, where I had my first Chilean seafood (marisco). It was a fried fish with mashed potatoes. If I had turned the camera 45 degrees south, you would have seen it.

First of all, it was an entire fish, fried. Tail, spine, etc. Well, I guess the head was gone. Secondly, it was delicious. The meat inside was surprisingly smooth, almost creamy, and pure white with seasonings. It was probably alive a few hours before, who knows? Happily swimming in saltwater unaware of its future in my belly.

Next, this:

It’s called chupe, or chupe de marisco if it’s made with seafood, which mine was. My host parents have been making me all kinds of delicious Chilean standards, and this was one of them. It’s a mixture of fish and a few veggies that’s put into a stone bowl and cooked in the oven. The result is a crispy top that’s sprinkled with cheese, and a creamy warm inside that heats your bones on a cold day. Good with white wine.

What’s more, Chileans eat bread like crazy. In fact, they are the second largest consumer of bread in the world, second only to France. Every meal of the day is served with bread. You can top it with a pico de gallo-like blend of veggies.

So, veggies. Since Chile is such a long country, there is always a part of it with in-season produce. Buying fresh produce is cheaper and tastier than the packaged and shipped stuff in grocery stores. On every busy street are street venders selling veggies, fruit, snacks, etc. Unfortunately, I need to be careful with these guys, as they might not clean their produce that well. Woe is my weak Minnesotan stomach.

I could go on and on about different meals that I’ve eaten, but that would take days. There’s one more that I would like to mention, and that is chorillana.

What does it look like to you? I’ll tell you what it looks like to me. A pile of crap. French fries, fried onions, scrambled eggs, beef, and sausages. And that’s what it is. And it’s absolutely amazing.

More to come.