When my wife Kat and I (or kids) go shopping, and we lose each other in a store, we've used this strategy to help locate each other.
True story. Those who know us wouldn't doubt my anecdote for a second!
What most probably know is that Mr. Polo is a real historical figure. What you may not know, is that one house he lived in while in Venice, Italy, is presently a small hostel for rent above a pizzeria restaurant. Another is now an opera house.
Opera was born in Italy, so much of Italy's music history revolves around it.
Vivaldi, Verdi, Monteverdi, Correli, Pavarotti - the list of Italian composers, opera singers and musicians is staggering.
I was in Venice recently while celebrating 25 years of marriage to my loving and beautiful wife. We were also in Spain, Croatia, Slovenia, Rome and France.
As a music educator, I was particularly interested in the musical culture of the above countries, and I couldn't wait to experience what these different locales had to offer. My ears were longing to hear something new!
Upon landing in Barcelona, Spain, it didn't take long to figure out the musical taste of the city. The airport, train stations, coffee shops, shoe stores, restaurants - all were consistent with their background music.
The first three songs, in order, that I heard in Barcelona were: "Legs," by ZZ Top, "Like a Virgin" by Madonna, and "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye. All cool tunes, especially that last one. But ... huh?!
Sigh - classic tunes are classic tunes, and I do like all of those. But ... huh?!
I laughed to myself. I knew I just needed to spend a bit more time in these alien countries. In the mean time, "She's got legs, and she knoooows how to use 'em ..."
While visiting various cities within the countries, I began taking pictures of musical concert posters I came across. An interesting task I relinquished to myself - considering I don't speak or read Spanish, Croatian, Slovic, Italian or French. Well, a little Spanish, Italian and French. At least, the important stuff.
On the one hand, the musical tastes displayed on the posters were very much like my own: They varied wildly and were hard to pin down. On the other hand, specific cultural tendencies could be found. For example: I'm used to seeing Disney and Sesame Street performing live, "on ice." In Italy, they do opera on ice. I'm sure it's amazing, but until I experience Poveratti belting out an aria while gliding across ice on two narrow blades, well, this whole thing is kind of hard for me to picture (ignore the hyperbole of this description - ha!). Now I'm curious.
This is a city steeped in architectural and musical history. From the Barcelona Olympic Stadium finished in 1929 -- but that wasn't actually used until 1992 due to the Spanish Civil War -- to Antoni Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia.
When Kat and I reached Gaudi's work, words were just not enough for the architectural genius we were witnessing: Gothic design, with a futuristic nod. Mr. Gaudi was way ahead of his time.
Musically, the known history of traditional Spanish Flamenco goes back to about the 16th century. Many say Spanish Gypsies created it. It is a style that incorporates singing, dance and guitar being played simultaneously - as well as punctuation with hand claps and other methods. It was passed on via oral tradition and is historically the musical outlet of the poor and oppressed.
An intriguing poster referenced "Electronic Flamenco." All music, even 16th century Spanish Gypsy music, evolves.
Here, I accompany a Flamenco composition with educator Sande Becker, and her student Brittany, at an Academy School of Performance concert.
As I'd mentioned, Opera was born in Italy and is big, but it isn't the only thing going in this country. Jazz is fairly widespread as well, as they have the Venezia Jazz Festival. I also saw a poster that listed Rock, Soul, Blues, Reggae and Funk, among other styles. It was for the "Feelin' Alright" Musical Festival.
At the Arte Musica Venezia concert hall (a church, actually. Most concerts in Venice make use of churches do to extreme city space constraints), the music of Vivaldi, Bach and Paganini were featured.
In contrast, I found out there's a burgeoning Punk Rock and Rap movement in Italy as well.
When celebrating a wedding anniversary in Venice, one must take a romantic gondola ride down the city's rivers that serve as "streets."
Kat and I did. Very memorable.
We went under many bridges, heard music being played in the streets and from other gondolas, saw many flowers perched on wrought iron balcony railings - just a very theatrical setting.
When our ride was finished and we'd started exploring more of Venice from the paved streets, we could still hear music being performed from the gondolas because the rivers are everywhere.
A gondola neared us with an accordionist playing in it, no doubt performing a very romantic Italian composition.
Kat: "Is that 'Roll Out the Barrel' he's playing?"
Campania, Italy - Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius is considered by most to be the world's most dangerous volcano.
So, Kat and I hiked to its summit.
It is the volcano that destroyed Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculanium. Most are stirred when seeing archaeologists' plaster casts of Pompeii residents "frozen" in time. They were cooked from the inside out, and covered by the volcano's pyroclastic debris.
The bodies ceased to exist after decaying, but left hollow spaces within the volcano's ash. When archaeologists realized what they'd found, they began filling the hollow pockets with plaster. This produced almost perfect molds of some Pompeii residents at the exact moment they were baked by the hot ash and gasses.
Very eerie, very real "snapshots" of history.
On the brighter side, Pompeii actually had plumbing pipes within the stone walls of their homes. These were more advanced folk than one would initially think.
Geologically, Vesuvius released a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of the Hiroshema nuclear bomb.
As a percussionist, I can respect that kind of power.
Croatia has a long history of being at war, even as recently as 1995. Culturally, this is represented in its art.
In the city of Trogir, we came across the city's symbol carved on the side of one of its wells - a winged lion holding a book.
This particular relief held special significance. The book that the winged lion was holding is open. This is rare. Most reliefs show the book closed. The closed book in their symbol meant the country was at war at the time of the carving. Closed, because while at war, there wasn't time for anything else.
The open book meant that during the rare time of peace this relief was carved, one had the time to explore culture: reading, theater, art and music.
While disembarking from our ship in Slovenia, we were fortunate to have our good friend meet us: Misko Kranjec. Upon setting out, he had an incredible surprise for us.
After journeying on the Slovenian motorway through the Alps and their many tunnels, and one quick "off-ramp jolt" (Misko - ha!), we arrived at Postojna cave. It is the most visited tourist cave in Europe, and one of the largest in the world. The scale of the cave's structures is unbelievable!
A Neanderthal picked up the bone of a young cave bear and crafted a bone whistle from it. Carbon dated to 45,000 years ago, the whistle was made from the diaphysis of the bear's left femur.
As an aside, while our friend drove us though the city of Koper, I noticed a billboard advertising the musical taste of some of the locals. It mentioned an upcoming concert for the rock group Korn.
Fayence is a small village in France with densely packed homes and narrow, cobblestone streets. How cramped? Let me say it this way - our bus driver's skills made him the man!
Following a nibble on some croissants and other French delicacies, Kat and I came across a building labeled "Ecole De Musique." We went back to the shop we'd bought some candies from, showed her a picture of the shop, and asked for a translation. You guessed it: "School of Music."
I've said this many times to my family and students, "Music is something one never retires from. The task at hand may change throughout the years, but if it's your passion, it will always find you."
Even in a tiny, claustrophobic village, barely touched by tourists, thousands of miles away from home - in France.
We ended up in Rome on a record-breaking heat day - 105 degrees. We hardly noticed. The history we were witnessing was jaw-dropping: the Colliseum, the prison where apostles John and Paul were held, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain ... too many locations to list. All were incredible. We also came across a small fountain that was built 500 years ago - still in operation. 500 years old. That's about two and a half times how old our entire country's history is. Yet, this was just one measly, non-descript little fountain in the middle of Rome.
The Colliseum is as advertised. I only needed to touch the stone blocks to feel the history surge through me.
Per our tour guide, only a few modern day acts have performed inside the Colliseum. Among them - Sir Paul McCartney and Luciano Poveratti.
The beauty of the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica is overwhelming. The many arches, mosaics, carved marble statues, high domes - and the overall humility displayed by all visitors. The apostle Peter was buried at this location in 64 AD.
While touring the Basilica, a section was closed off. I could hear the sounds of a pipe organ coming from inside. It's pitch was terribly out of tune. As I listened, the notes changed for the better. The organ was being tuned for the next service!
Immediately, my wife quipped the most profound statement of our trip: "It just goes to show. No matter who you play for, you've gotta start with the basics."
Amen, and je t'aime, my dear!
Interested in percussion lessons? Or, just curious about my studio? Please contact me via my studio's Facebook page. You'll find much to explore - including all of my past blog posts. Hit the "like" button to let me know you've visited. Thanks - I appreciate you!
My studio can also be followed on Twitter: @JimKubeDrums.
Interested in guitar lessons with Sande Becker? Please call 414-530-6529.
Enjoy photography? Misko Kranjec's photo essays are amazing! Check them out here.