For a while I've been wondering what to call this post. I'm into one-word titles that say a lot, and after a while they become hard to pin down. This one is very fitting, though, because the work is only beginning. These first few days have been some of my busiest ever. The first week of AIMS is full of kinds of "housekeeping" events: intros to everything, first German classes, orientation, hearings, and the like. Of course, we've been masterclass-ing (Meisterklassen) all over the place, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Saturday feels like such a long time ago; so much has happened since then. After I ran, Emily and I went that morning to the farmer's market. I believe there are fifteen farmer's markets in Graz, but we were told that the one behind the Opernhaus (Opera House) is the best. Fortunately, that's not far, but Emily has a much better grasp on the distance between things and on how different parts of Graz connect to other parts. The farmer's market did not disappoint. I got some veggies there (onions are very strong here) and Emily got peaches, one for each of us. They were nothing short of divine. I have never had such good peaches in my life. Mine exploded juice all over me when I tried to eat it. It was awesome.

After I had practiced, Emily and I went to find our way to Karl-Franzens Universität. Every weekday, AIMSers can eat lunch at the MENSA there. Fortunately, we were able to tag along with a group that knew the way. That was the first day I took the Straßenbahn; the MENSA is a fair distance from the Heim. After lunch, we walked to the nearby Elisabethschule, a Mittelschule (middle school) with fun, funky colors on the outside. We have a lot of functions in a Turnsaal there, including Orientation 1.0. This included introductions of the administrative staff, the lovely, marvelous people who make this amazing program happen. Immediately after, the Executive Director of AIMS showed us where we could find some of the other important AIMS sites: St. Leonhardkirche (St. Leonhard's Church) and the Odilien Institut (yes, I left off the "e" on purpose). In our handbook, which also contains the secrets to life as we know it, we are told which Straßenbahn Linien (lines) and Haltestellen (stops) to take for these locations. Fun Fact: Odilien is named after a saint, Odilie, who is the patron saint of the blind. The Institute is for the blind, which I think is sweet.

On the way home (Heim = home), Emily and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things we thought we would need. Allow me to be the first one to tell you that while finding low-fat Greek yogurt is harder here, it's the best Greek yogurt I've ever had. Also, they don't refrigerate their milk (Milch) here. In the store we went to, it's sold on a shelf near the bread.

That night, I had my rehearsal with my pianist for my hearing. She is a precious Bulgarian lady named Ina, and like all the staff pianists here, she is a boss. I went down to do laundry after, but was invited by new friends to go to the simulcast of a Mozart concert. A well-known conductor was directing the orchestra in Graz in several Mozart Sinfonien (symphonies) and other works, and it was being shown live on a screen in the courtyard of the Landhaus. We had trouble finding it, but once we did, it was worth it. Such beautiful music! Mozart is one of my favorite composers; God broke the mold with him. It was only after we returned that I did my laundry, and went to bed much later than I would have liked.

Every Sunday and Wednesday AIMS receives breakfast at the restaurant next door, Gösser Bräu. Emily and I drank our tea in the garden of the restaurant; it was such a perfect morning for it. The mornings here in Graz are usually very lovely and refreshing. I practiced before my hearing, but I was feeling pretty tight because of my lack of sleep recently. As always, though, Jesus was with me -- it is only He Who controls and shapes my voice -- and the hearing went very well! I received a couple of compliments from the professors after the fact, which is always nice.

Green tea at Gösser

Immediately after, I went to a lecture on living and singing in Europe, presented by Roberta Cunningham, a soprano (Sopran) who has made her career in Germany. I want this woman to be my best friend. A former AIMSer herself, Roberta has firsthand experience, and she regaled us with hilarious stories of auditions. Her stories were sprinkled with wonderful life advice. She's hysterically funny and wonderfully wise, and altogether delightful.

That night, we had a social hour and Welcome Dinner at Gösser. German class assignments were posted the next day -- I'm in 8 AM German I. This sounds a lot worse than it actually is. For one thing, I love German. It's a gorgeous language and I love speaking it. For another, days in this part of the world are WAY longer than days in Texas -- or any part of the US. Here, the light in my window usually wakes me at 5:30 in the morning, and it doesn't get fully dark till 10 PM. This makes for a very productive, but very long and often very tiring day. I would already be up at that time anyway, so why not have German at 8 AM?

My first day of German (Monday) was so much fun! I learned a lot of helpful expressions, including, "Ich bin Ausländer, und ich spreche nicht viel Deutsch" -- I'm a foreigner, and I don't speak much German. After that, I rode the Straßenbahn BY MYSELF to St. Leonhard, where I was scheduled singen in eine Meisterklasse (to sing in a masterclass). I'm a real Grazer now, folks; I took the Straßenbahn by my single solitary self. Also, I want you all to appreciate the work I just did to find out whether "Meisterklasse" is masculine or feminine.

Die Meisterklasse was taught by a Gabriele Lechner. There are no words for this woman. She. Is. Fantastic. And that's a fact. When she demonstrated how she wanted something done, there was a collective jaw-drop in the room. She's ridiculous. Emily sang before me, and she did so well! When it was my turn, I sang the aria that I think is getting to be a common denominator in my life: "In uomini, in soldati" from Mozart's Cosí fan tutte. Ms. Lechner set right to work with me. Some of what she said had immediate effect, and some didn't, but all of it was relevant, and all of it was good. At one point, I made a sound that I had never felt before and never heard myself make. If I can say so, it was glorious -- it felt glorious. It was a great moment; I want to tap into that! I learned so much that I can work on and take away from that class alone. I cannot WAIT to start lessons.

After die Meisterklasse, Emily and I went to lunch. She wanted to get a German planner, so we walked to this little stationery store she knew. I bought pencils and erasers and a notepad for my Klassen here. We walked back to the Heim to change clothes -- it was hot, and we were sweating in our masterclass clothes. After we had changed, we walked in the opposite direction to der Altstadt. We wanted to see the old armory. This museum isn't laid out like a museum; inside, it looks like an actual armory, with guns and weapons and armor waiting for the soldiers to grab them. I learned a lot of history, and we also got student prices! It was a win-win-win, as they say on The Office. From the windows in the armory (Landeszeughaus), you have a perfect view of the courtyard of the Landhaus. The Landhaus is the parliament building for Graz and der Steirmark (Styria -- the region of which Graz is the capital). The courtyard is incredibly splendid. The architecture and carvings in the white stone are beautiful. The view of this courtyard from the armory is amazing, and from the last window on the top floor, you can see the Schloßberg, perfectly framed between buildings, with the Uhrtum (the clock tower and symbol of Graz) in the center. It was beautiful. We couldn't take pictures in the armory, but I wanted to stay there in the window forever and preserve the mental picture I had of the beautiful courtyard and the hill in the golden, afternoon sunlight.

While walking around town, a woman stopped Emily and I in the street and began speaking to us very quickly in German. Part of me is flattered that she didn't automatically know we were foreigners! Of course, we had no idea what she was saying, but when she stopped, I managed, "Um, ich spreche nicht viel Deutsch." She excused herself and left. I cannot tell you how excited I was that I had communicated with someone in German, and they had understood me! It was a big day.

Our poster!

AIMS in Graz Sommerkonzerte

Emily and I rode the Straßenbahn to St. Leonhard again to hear Roberta Cunningham (aka everyone's best buddy) give a presentation on breathing and posture for singers. I don't know if anything else I've recently experienced has fundamentally altered my perception as much as this. On the one hand, that's awesome! On the other hand, it makes me want to tear my hair out because learning this is a process, which means I can't pick it up overnight and be perfect at it right away as I would like. I'm trusting Jesus, though; He has never let me down.

To start, she had us all lie down on the floor (praise the Lord). Within a few minutes of the exercise I was asleep. The church bells chiming 5 PM woke me, and I shook for a few minutes before trying to carry on with the exercise. Afterward, she worked with us on our posture (I have trouble keeping my hips under my shoulders, but that's another topic). She talked with us about openness in the body, and about passive inhalation, letting the breath drop in. My mind is still blown from this experience. It's so much to absorb, but it's something to work on! I practiced these new techniques this morning (Tuesday morning), and it's already making a giant difference. I'm so excited to see what God does in my voice here!

There was a small group of us that were so blown away by the breathing workshop that we stayed longer, and afterwards we went to dinner at Margit's Imbiss, across from St. Leonhard's. Apparently it's a traditional AIMS place; all the teachers were there, as well as some of our fellow AIMSers. The salad I had was greens and chicken and it was still one of the best meals I've had while I was here! Also their green tea was great, so bonus points to them.

Today, Tuesday, has been one of the most relaxed days I've had since I've been at AIMS. This morning after my run, I had German class and an introductory diction meeting. Diction coachings are as-needed, but I went ahead and signed up for a time to see if there's anything I need to work on. On my way back to the Heim from this meeting, I stopped at the farmer's market behind das Opernhaus again. Let's all take a moment to appreciate the fact that I bought apples (Äpfel), peaches (Pfirsiche), blueberries (Heidelbeeren), and raspberries (Himbeeren) without spending over zehn Euros (ten euros). Never mind the fact that I had eaten all the raspberries by the time I got back to the Heim. The Austrians know how to grow some delicious produce.

The Tuesday sunrise through the window of the Heim

After spending some down time at the Heim, I decided to make some lunch in our hall kitchen. We have very few utensils, and what knives we have aren't very sharp, but we make do. It was 1:15 PM and I was sitting down to eat when I realized that I had a meeting with the rest of the Concert Studio at 1:30 at St. Leonhard! I scarfed down my lunch and washed the dishes quickly before I power-walked to Jakominiplatz and hopped on a too-slow Straßenbahn to St. Leonhard. When I arrived, I was very happy to discover that I've been placed in the coaching studio of the coach I preferred! My coach is German and overflowing with energy; I'm so excited to get started working with him -- and to find out who my lesson teacher will be! We have our first coachings on Thursday!

After a quick stop at the Zielpunkt grocery store (Emily: chocolate. Me: Greek yogurt), we are both back at our room in the Heim. Tonight there is a teaser for the Operetta program, which Emily really loves and wants to be a part of. Our coaches told us that if we were asked to be in another concert, please only pick one. There are several different concerts I'd like to be part of, so I'm asking God what He would have me sing. It may not be that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, but I want to do what He has for me while I'm here. Later tonight, there is a travel fair here at the Heim for all the different excursions we can take during our time here: Vienna (auf Deutsch: Wien), Salzburg, Budapest... As I've said before, there is so much to do here, and I'm sure I'll never be able to absorb it all. But I want this city to be my city, and this place to be my place, so I want to experience it in all its fullness. After all, this is my adventure that God has given me.

The day begins pretty early here and runs pretty late, so I'm finding it harder to spend the time with Christ that I so love and adore. I usually manage to find a couple of hours in my day, but it's just harder. I'm so thankful that you read this, but if you would pray for me in addition to that, I would so appreciate it. I don't want my closeness with Jesus to weaken while I'm here. He's the Only One, after all.

Still to come: lessons, first coachings, hopefully more victories in German, Orientation 2.0, and the opening ceremonies. Also the reception at the Schloß, which will involve AIMS and all our evening finery (pretty dresses hooray!). Thank you all so much for your love and prayers and support. Until next time: Auf wiederschau'n!

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