Out of my comfort zone

I used to be a rather timid kid, the first time I travelled alone by train was to go to the entrance exams for medical school and the first time I boarded an elevator all by myself was when I had to go to the fifth floor for clinical skills training and somehow no one was around. OK, this makes it sound worse than it was – I wasn’t scared but before starting medical school there simply wasn’t a reason to do these things alone – I always travelled with friends, we didn’t have an elevator in our high school. My parents allowed me to go to a fan convention abroad when I was 14 and I did loads of things like that, but I was never completely on my own.

So the first time I had to take a 30-minute bus drive in a new city was quite an adventure. I prepared extremely well, printing several pages worth of public transport details, including all the stops of the bus, the bus and train schedule for the entire day, a map to the bus station, a map from the bus stop to my teacher’s house etc. etc. During the bus ride I spent every minute looking at my lists even though I’d asked the bus driver to warn me when I had to get off the bus.

It’s now almost nine years later and I’m surprised at the number of interesting places music has brought me to. It’s not like I discovered interesting landmarks or really ‘big’ things, but it’s the small things that matter and I love discovering such ‘small things’.

For instance…

…. In the city where my first harp teacher lives, they thank the bus driver when getting off the bus. It was completely new to me, but I picked up the habit, sometimes leading to confused bus drivers.

…. When I went to the Waregemse Harpdag a couple of years ago, I stayed at the house of a very generous and nice family (their daughter also attended the workshops) whom I met through a harp forum. It was a great experience, eating fantastic Belgian bread and sleeping in a luxurious room. If I ever become a millionaire I’d like to have a house like that, an enormous bookcase in the living room that filled an entire wall and went all up to the ceiling, a kitchen island…

…. During my surgery internship I took a lesson with the harp teacher of a friend (whom I also met though a harp forum). It was a very interesting experience – first cycling through another new city trying to find it, then spending two hours working on the Händel concerto with a great teacher. She taught in her living room and her son was playing videogames (with head phones in) during the lesson. The experience of being invited into someone’s home is still special – you get to see where they live, how they personalize their home. That lesson was the first that opened my eyes to really listen to myself and create a musical line, even though I didn’t completely understand her at that time.

….When I was studying medicine I heard that you could get harp lessons by conservatory students for free. Being a poor student, that was perfect. So I’ve have had quite a few free lessons from various great harp players who have gone on to win major competitions. In hindsight, they had just started learning how to teach so the quality of the lessons varied widely. However, the experience of being inside a conservatory, playing on a pedal harp for the first time (the one lever harp they had was too clunky) and focusing on in hindsight way too advanced concepts did make me curious to keep taking lessons. Sometimes I arrived a little early and I was treated to a live performance of the Faure Impromptu or another piece they were practicing for an exam or a competition. And one time they had an ensemble lesson going, it was very interesting to see how different ensemble playing is from just playing on your own.

…. My former harp teacher teaches in her attic. It’s in a nice and cozy house located in a rather old street. Her neighbours have a beautiful canopy in their small garden on the front of their house.

… I took lessons with a Scottish harp teacher for a year (it was almost impossible to combine with rotations so after a year I had to stop). That required travelling to a little train station in the Netherlands, running to transfer trains (you had to cover 200m in 2 minutes, otherwise you’d have to wait for 30 mins) and then a walk through a nice, provincial city. On the way back, when it was all dark, you had to wait for your train on a completely deserted train station, lighted with these yellow lights, so especially hwen it was a little bit misty, it felt a bit otherworldly. The whole ritual of getting back to the major train stations, back to the light – it was a wonderful experience all by itself.


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