How Awesome Is My Choir? Let Me Count The Ways . . .

The children love music.  That’s why they’re here, not because someone makes them, or they got bored, or they need the arts credit or it’s required for their music minor.  There aren’t any divas who have decided the choir is all about them, we all just enjoy singing with other singers (If it seems to me like there’s no divas in the choir, does that mean that I am the diva and I never noticed?).  They are fun to be around, and it’s nice for me to interact with students outside of my “teacher” role.  I get really excited when I discover that one of my English or Spanish students also sings with the choir.

The music is worth loving!  It’s far less challenging than the Denison University Chamber Singers, for obvious reasons, but quite varied and very satisfying to sing.  Our repertoire ranges from orthodox liturgy music in Olde Czech to a choral arrangement of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”.  We’re also singing Carol of the Bells for our advent concert, in Ukrainian.

I pretend I’m a tenor.  The tenor section is very small and mostly female, but quite enthusiastic.  While I’m not converting to tenorism any time soon, I must admit I never felt as important as a soprano or alto.  Though the bass and tenor sections are small, I’m pleasantly surprised at the confidence and skill that the choral men bring to the choir.

The dear children have mercy on their ignorant Anglophone comrade.  Honestly, students here are so good at English that I feel no shame just grabbing whoever is closest and making them tell me what’s going on if I get confused.  The students are quite generous with their efforts to help me, and for the most part English, Spanish, and charades are more than sufficient.  As language goes, I’ve learned “stand up,” “sit down,” and “shut up,” as well as “and-a-one, two three–”.  I also pretend that terms like forte and mezzopiano are Czech words I absorbed through my natural gift for the learning of languages.

THEY LET ME CONDUCT.  Actually, they let me arrange music, teach the songs, AND conduct.  I am indecently excited to share music I love with others who love music.  It’s such a thrill to imagine just how I’ve always wanted a piece to sound, and then hear forty voices creating just that sound before my very eyes (ears?).  Any feeble buds of conducting skills amassed in my semester-long course have abandoned me long ago, but I can’t wait to see how I improve as the year goes on.  I try to coach myself by parroting the wisdom drilled into me for those three months—breathing, beat patterns, preparation, squares, triangles.  I still can’t lift the proverbial piano, but I like to think I’ll have a shot at it by the end of the year.

Arranging music was never something I seriously considered as a student, but I’m LOVING it.  There’s so much still to learn, and I can’t deny that I’m sometimes a diva about it (somehow the altos always end up with the melody) but it’s opening up for me a whole new way of thinking about music composition.  By now I have far more ideas arranged than I will get a chance to explore with this choir, which is a shame because I couldn’t ask for a better group of guinea pigs!

We have a great director.  I learn a lot from his approach to the music, the choir, the students, and his own role as director.  It’s really good for me to see how choral “philosophies” differ from one director to another, and how results differ accordingly.  He has succeeded in creating a process and product that everyone can feel proud of, which I quite admire.  I’m also very grateful for the risk he took in handing me this opportunity/responsibility without really having a clue what he was getting himself into.

If you had asked me last May to be really honest about what I wanted to do with my music education, I would have said among other things that someday I want to work with a choir.  I’d love to share great music with young people who enjoy the opportunity to sing together.  I want to make the enthusiastic-yet-focused music community I got a taste of in Denison’s Music department and Gospel choir come to life for people who’ve never experienced so much freedom and fun in singing.  I feel like the world is full of more qualified musicians than me, but I’d like to find some way or someplace where the music knowledge and experience I have is a gift worth giving.



I not English

A Distinguished Leader can never get too far from the spire of Swasey–but an English major can still fall far from Barney-Davis standards.

I sick.  I not English.  I not food except apples very apples.  Today I have my the three classes, one good class one quiet class and one on laptop have math homework want sleeping class.  I want sleeping to.

I resting two layers of the pajama for heat turned up ears ringing
probably nebo poprve
prilis bramboracky a knedliky nebo

oh I was so happy still am so happily even body aches and  bruised from enjoying life.  I compete very well to myself and winningly.

but now quiet and slowly type and have to Psych with my the laptop.

wish it were Christmas.  Wish for explain imagination to my the students.  Or Creativity.  Or “It’s okay to lie”.  They having better, today asked all class to come to job interviews for a circus.  Hard to be very honest when I asking “why do you make a good trapeze artist?”

Congratulations.  Well Done.  Watch Out!  Be Careful!
Stop stealing his bookbag.  You lost your pen where?  Do you have three sentences yet?  You–yes–I saw that–Watch Out?  Thank you for using your vocabulary correctly.

I have my birthday

I have my name day

“TODAY IS my birthday.”  “TODAY IS my name day.”

English is strangely,
fatly, slimmly,
coldly, hotly,
redly, brownly,
smally, fastly,

“I miss the bus always.”  Good job.
“I do my homework never.”  I never do; well done.
“I is everything perfectly.”  Thank you, yes, congratulations.

Greetings from . . .

[Paraphrased directions to my seventh graders]

And now I’d like each of you to write me a postcard.  It can be from your summer holiday, from here in Hradec, from the moon if you like!

Ten minutes later, I read the following:

Hi Marisa,

I’m had a fantastic time in Mars.  Aliens family was really nice.  Yesterday we saw Curiosity.  Curiosity is NASA space project it was really fun.  We went to fantastic space boat trip next.  The Mars library is really boring—I’m not into books.  I don’t like Mars sand storm.  And we went Mars tower it is larger than Eifel tower.  You must see Mars too!

Bye bye!

And I remembered again why I like teaching.

I Look Like A Teacher

Four mornings a week, I wake up and pretend to be a teacher.  I dress up in my teacher-clothes, then I stroll into school holding my chin slightly higher than the students (but lower than the Real Teachers.  I don’t wish to appear pretentious).  I settle down into my Teacher Desk in the Teacher Office, where I shuffle around papers and books, jot notes to myself, and drink tea.  At appropriate moments I draft outlines, make copies, or gather supplies.  Then, when I hear the bell ring (not the first bell.  The first bell means class is over.  Most teachers don’t even leave the office until after the second bell, which in the US would correspond to  the “class starts now” bell), I stride confidently to my classroom, where the students all stand up to greet me.  Then I conduct a 45 minute arrangement of themed activities.  My students read, write, and converse.  Sometimes they draw, mingle, sing, present, or even make paper airplanes (I worried that I was having too much fun with that one.  But then I noticed the Real Teacher working twice as hard as than most of the student were.  He won the contest by a full 3 seconds).  After class, the students say goodbye!  I return to the office, shuffle more papers, and repeat until it’s time to go home.

I asked one of the Real Teachers to take a few pictures of me today while I taught.  And I was honestly surprised by how teacher-y I look just standing next to a chalkboard, soaking in the admiring gazes of my young pupils.

See what I mean?

Playing Teacher is great fun.  And it’s so kind of them all to play along!


If I were a good blogger, I would have a brief but engaging description of my weekend at Oktoberfest, along with a few tastefully chosen pictures.

I am not a good blogger.

But the next best thing is to take a good blogger with me to Oktoberfest!  My travel buddy for the weekend was the crafty and theatrical Helena.  We had a marvelous time together, and she has done us all the favor of documenting the whole trip in her own blog, including pictures of me!

Thanks, Helena, for a great weekend and a lovely blog!


I feel the need to apologize for not posting regularly on adventures and such.  I’ve travelled to Prague and to Munich.  I’ve met a hundred new people, and gathered long-winded One Month Reflections on my time here.  So it’s not for lack of material that I’ve kept to myself.

The difference might be that, now that I feel more settled, my new goal is to lead a boring life.  I want to find “normal” and bask in it.  I want to pretend that my life here is “ordinary” even if it continues to astound me in small and large ways.  While it is fun and exciting, Oktoberfest doesn’t seem nearly as significant to my life as grocery shopping does.  When my ambitions have become “really great grocery-shopping skills”, I start to wonder if that’s worth a blog post.

But I’ve decided to write them anyway!  So before I forge ahead to more posts full of unabashed enthusiasm for mundane life details, here’s a quick snapshot of today.

Today was beautiful.

Noon bells ring on and on through autumn clarity, while pigeons swoop over chapel towers, looking for a comfortable corner to enjoy the sounds.  I think that in some secret layer of metaphysics, overtones and angels are actually the same.  And the angels were everywhere.  Today the sky and trees and air were all busy saying yes yes yes to each other and themselves.  Not a single piece of today was Maybe.  There might be ladybugs in my hair, there might be grass between my toes, and I already know I’m going to sleep well.

Today I cooked adventures and made enough to share.  Today I ran with joy through fields and trees and windfuls of sunshine.  Today I talked to friends and strangers.  I sang my heart out, sang like I haven’t sung in months, and the overtones are still ringing behind me.

There was chocolate and wine today, Mexican food and Czech company.  There were memories and dreams today, with plenty of right-now in between them.  Today a colleague gave me a basket full of apples, today my flowers got to soak up sunshine for hours.  The windows were all the way open.  I read a good book.  I told jokes.  I made plans.

Today my life was simple.  It was full of lovely things.  Today I didn’t miss excitement or ambitions; when standing still is this breathtaking it seems foolish to peer around corners just because they’re there.  The sun belongs to me today, and I don’t need anyone to tell me who I am.


Thanks, Giraffe!

This week I have lied to children.  Repeatedly and almost shamelessly.  I pause as if to calculate what the most popular video game in the US must be, delving deep into my mental database of entertainment statistics in order to provide the most accurate response.  I take a moment to briefly count every resident of my hometown (because I know all of them) so I can recount its exact population.  But these pauses are actually a quick mental debate:  I Don’t Know vs. Confident Lie.  Perhaps there is middle ground somewhere, a Confident I Don’t Know.  What I do know is that I picked lie every time.

Part of this is because I felt ashamed for being a bad American.  A fellow expat-teacher told me, “if you were a normal American, you would be in America.”  Still, it’s hard not to feel like I’m letting them down a little.


-No one has heard of my favorite music
-I am not related to Indians
-I don’t know any movie stars
-I don’t even have a favorite movie star (I panicked on this one and my pause was probably a little too long to be plausibly for thinking)
-I don’t play a sport
-I don’t have a pet

One child even tried to helpfully follow up by asking me what pet I would like to have.  “Oh I’m fine, thank you,” didn’t seem like the tactful answer.  So I thought about the last time I wanted a pet, and announced that I would like a llama.  Clearly this was not the tactful answer either.  They all knew what a llama is, and stared at me to make sure I knew what a llama was, then did their best to forget I’d said anything.

All that to say, when I was asked, “What is your favorite animal?” my pause for “mental calculations” felt even more dire.


“I don’t really like animals that much”



Giraffes.  Giraffes were the first interesting creature that came to mind, and why not decide they were my favorite?  I kept it up from class to class just for consistency.  Now I feel quite indebted to the creatures for making me look like a relatable person with some degree of good taste.  Everyone knows what a giraffe is.  And even if it’s not their favorite animal, no one can question my personal choice.  In fact, it’s unique enough that I don’t even have to worry about anyone asking me why I am so keen on this species (or when I last saw one).  And it has since proved to be quite a useful addition to my teaching toolbox.

Oh faithful giraffe.  You are quiet.  You are slower than a lion.  You are the tallest animal in Africa.  Thanks for just being you.  Thanks for being there for me.  I’m so very grateful.

Living With Nuns

Yes friends, this lovely convent is home to me for the next few months.  It might be a short bus ride away from the rest of civilization, but it certainly has its charms as you shall soon behold.–Sunset over the orchard–
The next two are the view from my bedroom window.Other nunnery perks include: free breakfast four days a week, free pianos before 10pm, free wi-fi in my room, lots of quiet places if I need them, an amply furnished kitchen, and friendly nuns who are willing to talk to me in whatever mix of English, Spanish, Italian, and Czech it takes to make ourselves understood.  I’m not taking vows anytime soon, but I’m very grateful for their hospitality and generosity.

Words That are Not the Same



Exercise 1a: Fill in the blank with the appropriate vocabulary word.

1) Wow, her _______ is so good-looking!

2) Is it just me or does her _______ smell really bad?

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *



Exercise 1b: Fill in the blank with the appropriate vocabulary word.

1) I have ______, let’s get something to eat.

2) My _______ is the biggest one in the country.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Random Fun Fact

I learned today that “pretty as a puppet” is one way to say a girl is cute or attractive.  I don’t know how you ladies feel, but in my limited experience with puppets I cannot consider this a flattering comparison.  Maybe after I’ve experienced some of CR’s cutting-edge puppet theatre I will change my mind.