36 Years Ago

36 Years Ago, Vienna 1971—A Student Journal

Day 070: Music theory, in German


Vienna 1971—A Student Journal
A year of music, study, travel, sightseeing & friends.

Day 70 — Music theory, in German
11-October-1971 (Mon.)


Registered at school.

Much better than usual horn lesson—maybe the first sign of improvement. I doubt it.

Had my first theory class—unbelievable. It’s elementary theory, and I think the theory will be extremely easy. However, the teacher was speaking a mile-a-minute in German, usually $50 words and everything else. It all went over my head and even though the music might be easy, the understanding is going to be rough. Obviously, without complete understanding, I’ll never learn as much. But I hope I get my money’s worth.

Starting [to] write down my ideas for my opera—“Johnny.” (?) I wonder, if it will really ever get done. I like some of my thoughts though.

Also wrote the words for another song, which I would like to send to Anjali.


I think my writing is becoming more casual and less correct. Believe me, I never thought anyone would be reading this. Perhaps, that’s what makes it a bit interesting.

I’m in school. Yes, I registered for school. That means they let me in. What would have happened if they didn’t?

A good lesson. See, there is some improvement in my 2nd horn lesson. Yes. I’m certain that “real change” will take a reasonable amount of time. I’m a little bit cynical. Of course, my playing will go up and down.

Music theory class, in German. Oh boy, today I’m learning that I may be in trouble. Music is the universal language—notes are notes. I understand the music theory, it’s even easy (Day 1). The only issue—I can’t understand what the professor is saying! He’s speaking in German. Very fast. With words I don’t understand. What was I expecting? This is Vienna. What am I going to do?

Notice my literary technique: using italics to create emphasis, fragmenting the sentences, chopping up ideas, using short bursts, hammering exclamation points, and ending with a question mark? Drama. Tension and excitement builds.
Grammar girl (link) would be proud of me for the effect, but not for the grammar.

After that day, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. We’ll see, soon enough. My conversational German was fine but not sufficient to get me through a college class. This wasn’t Music Theory 101 for Foreign Students, this was Music Theory.

Learning as a foreign student. Reading this journal reminded me of how difficult it is for foreign students to study and learn when they are learning a foreign language and sitting in classrooms. What I’ll tell you is, put yourself in that person's position. In my theory class they gave me a book written in German, filled with words I did not know. I listened to the professor, hearing many words I did not understand. Vocabulary, grammar, and comprehension were the issues.

From ESL to Chaucer. Again, put yourself in a similar position. It is not easy to be in any classroom where you truly don’t know the language. As an example, my two stepsons came to this country without knowing any English. They had difficulty in the beginning and then they both were fine in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. Their biggest difficulty came when they were taken out of ESL and placed in standard classes. For example, the students got a very thick book of English literature. Throughout the year, the students were asked to read, discuss, write about, evaluate, and ponder such things as Elizabethan poetry and old-English writers—Chaucer, Poe, Shakespeare, and others—as well as many other literary challenges. How would you do with a Russian, Chinese, Italian, or Spanish book in front of you? I felt bad for my kids. Going from ESL to evaluating Elizabethan poetry is a bit much. I wish that the ESL path could be adjusted in such cases. Just a thought.

I don’t want to put a damper on studying overseas, and in fact, still recommend it if you will be able to handle the language issue. I ended up having a great year, learned more German, and feel today that it was all worth it. I would do it all again. I would study German for much longer before leaving.

An opera and a song. I don’t remember anything at all about my multimedia opera, “Johnny.” Certainly, it was never done. Now, I’m curious. I wonder what I was thinking. Too bad I didn’t take down more notes. Happy

Then I write some lyrics for a new song for Anjali. Yes, I still miss her. Again, I don’t write about it but I must be thinking about her.

Take notes. Nowadays, I would advise people to keep notebooks and take notes of things they want to do. Note taking helps to crystallize your thoughts. It also helps you sleep better by getting things off of your mind. For the last several years, I have been writing down notes for ideas and projects that I might want to do. My advice, keep a notebook to jot down thoughts. Leonardo da Vinci did it, and he was no slouch.

Thanks for reading. See ya.


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