May 20, 2008

Ordinary things

I really enjoy doing ordinary things. Like having coffee and reading the newspaper in the morning. Using public transport. Paying the phone bill. Taking my suit to the dry cleaner’s because a friend accidentally spilt beer on me at a party the previous night. Having a first of May picnic in Kaivopuisto. Spending Friday night with friends. Buying toilet paper. Walking to the Schlossberg on Sunday.
I enjoy doing these normal things because I’m sometimes fed up of feeling like an exception to the rule.

At day care, I was the boy who couldn’t speak a word of Finnish. At elementary school, I could speak Finnish but was still different. I can still hear my overweight and overenthusiastic teacher: “Why don’t you tell the class something about your family, Dani? What sort of food do you eat at home? Children: Dani’s from a DIFFERENT CULTURE. That means he doesn’t necessarily think about things the same way we do”. (I heard she was later fired). On top of all this, I could play the piano, so sometimes whole lessons were spent listening to me accompanying myself while I sang the latest Disney classics. It’s no wonder some people hated me. I can’t really say I was thrilled about myself, either.

It’s difficult not to stand out when you spend your childhood singing sacred music in a boys’ choir, seeing your grandparents once in a blue moon and being familiar with Arabic swear words. Even as an adult, being in a profession many people don’t quite understand and studying a subject nobody knows even exists creates mild suspicion. I remember my school music lessons like yesterday. I was usually the only boy who was able to sing in tune. I remember seriously considering speaking through the songs to avoid uncomfortable looks. Some time later, somebody told me the books I enjoyed reading were meant to be for girls because the main protagonist was a woman who solved mysteries with her feminine colleagues. I got rid of the books at once and made an effort at getting something more acceptable to read. This was difficult, because it seems that boys between 10 and 12 aren’t supposed to read anything but comics and football books. I chose Dickens.

Things have changed since then – or have they? Why does a man who earns his living helping people of all ages express themselves through music seem more out of place than a man who spends his living on drinks? We always seem to look for things which make a person different from us – especially if the person has some qualities we find difficult to understand because we’re afraid to admit our own insecurity. Feelings and thoughts may differ, but our lives are not all that different, especially concerning practical things. There’s nothing remarkable about taking a taxi late at night, paying the rent, or going for a walk in the park. Everyone does it!

I might have spent my childhood listening to Italian opera and watching Little House on the Prairie, but I also enjoy a good Finnish pop song any time. I might know Mozart’s Requiem and Bach’s Matthew Passion by heart from beginning to the end, but I also go to the movies, read a good thriller or enjoy sudoku. My best friends may be church organists, choral conductors or orthodox cantors (or all three things at once), but we have just as much fun at a night club as anybody else. I might like yellow, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have exactly the same feelings as the guy next door who likes blue.

Maybe my teacher in elementary school should have thought of how I would feel about her always pointing me out. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy all the attention as a child – who wouldn’t? – but I can’t help thinking whether she was one of the reasons why it took me too many years to realise there are people who see life just like I do, and spend their free time just like I do, and don’t even flinch when I tell them I think the only thing that will make me feel better now is a Schütz motet. Then again, maybe she should have given her curriculum more thought.

May 12, 2008

Sick bay

My home looks like a bag of lemons has exploded in it. There are yellow pieces of lemon everywhere - nice round slices juicy cubes small wedges and especially lemon seeds all over the place. The lemon is going everywhere - in my tea, my water and my pizza. At least I can try to imagine it will make this stinging pain in my throat go away. I have emptied my medicine bag (which needed sorting out anyway, you never know what you'll fine inside it - cough tablets from 1997 or perhaps a used razor blade) and have a variety of pills and powders decorating my room.

My table is a mess. Harp music my teacher lent me to go through and see what I'd like to play. Post-its filled with scribbled calculations on my financing strategy for the summer (not a very fool-proof strategy). Mikko Heiniö's haunting "Luceat" for mixed choir, open at the place where not one chord seems to be easy to tune. A broken cup I got as a present two days ago, lying next to a tube of superglue with which I have successfully reattached the handle. A wonderful recording of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" I was listening to earlier.

My iPod. A withered white rose I got from my singers two weeks ago. The vase has no more water in it. The newest issue of the Sulasol magazine, an important newsletter on the latest happenings in the choir world. My best friend's picture inside a ball on the front page with his quote: "Choral singing is hip!". Him telling me to shut up when I tease him through messenger. Emails from my cousins in Ecuador and Germany on my laptop screen, part of coordinating the next big family event in October.

My address book. I have just crossed out two addresses - one in Lauttasaari and one in Töölö, and added new ones in Kruununhaka. Someone completely new has been also added. How many people use an address book anymore? A bag full of things my parents brought from their weekend in France (mostly chocolate from the duty free). A blue IKEA bag full of dirty laundry. An unidentified pile of important papers and music - must go through that tomorrow morning.

My bed, with clean sheets. A framed poster of Madama Butterfly above it. A plant I haven't watered in months but it's still going strong. An open window, a late tram rattles by on Helsinginkatu. Capris is still open and some people are hanging out on the other side of the street. A city quickly waking up to the idea of the summer. The moon, shining down on millions of people in cities deserts jungles ships mountains towns tents. My flatmate preparing popcorn and sitting down to watch ice hockey. Me pressing PUBLISH POST and cutting another lemon in half.

May 03, 2008

New shoes

As I was taking the metro to the entrance exams to the choral conducting class of the Sibelius Academy last week, I realised I needed new shoes. I decided I wouldn't postpone getting them any longer, because something told me that tomorrow there would be nothing left of my old shoes anymore. I needed new ones today. And so, after the exams were over, I walked into one of the shoe stores in Kamppi, picked up a dark brown pair, put the old shoes in the new box, carried them with me to Ruoholahti, and threw them into the garbage bin.

It was so easy. And yet – take a moment with me to think of these old shoes of mine. I had managed to wear them for two years. I wore these shoes on the ten-hour flight from Hong Kong to Helsinki. They were the only thing between my feet and the boiling ground during my five-day adventure through Eastern Turkey in 2006. I had these shoes on when I arrived at Merangasse 52, Graz for the very first time. They have accompanied me on countless conducting lessons and choir rehearsals, they have been on my feet on airplanes, trains and buses. I have felt them wear themselves out day by day.

And now picture these shoes all abandoned and alone in a waste basket, with nobody to see them off into oblivion but me, looking at two brown disfigured objects and finding my mind filling up with memories like it always does at the most improbable moments. I feel like striking a wild farewell dance in front of the trash, but then I remember I’m in the real world, where this would look somewhat suspicious. I turn around and leave them there.

A very exciting and busy spring is coming to an end. While March was dominated by preparations for the debut concert of Kamarikuoro Kaamos, April was the month of the Entrance Exams, which, in the end, went very well. The results will be announced in June, by which time I’ll be in Graz, spending a well-earned vacation which will eventually include Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic and Syria in six weeks.

Every year, I tell myself I want to spend most of the summer in Finland. Then, at some point, everything snaps and I find myself escaping abroad for a long stretch of time. However, there will be plenty of time to enjoy the Finnish summer when I return from the trip. I'm looking forward to having a Schlossbergtorte at Strehly with my Austrian colleagues, having a picnic with friends in the Stadtpark, taking the night train from Graz to Bologna, celebrating a wedding at a city outside Prague, flying Austrian Airlines flight 841 from VIE to DAM for the hundredth time, getting lost in the old city of Aleppo and lying on the sofa next to my grandmother and her cat.

And, what’s more, I’ll be wearing my new shoes all the way.

The pictures on this post were taken on the last days of winter in March 08.