Why Paris?

To inaugurate my blog, I wanted to talk about why I’m now living in Paris. Yes it’s a fabulous city with amazing culture, food, and iconic landmarks. It’s a romantic notion to live in Paris – and also serves the ego at some level (are you successful? Well I live in Paris).

But why do I really live here? I have spent the past few years moving around a lot, finishing my doctoral studies at Wisconsin and at the same time finishing my position as lecturer of cello and music business at the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh. It was a leap of faith to move back to Colorado to give me some stability and look into new opportunities. I was lucky to be offered a one-year position with the Colorado Symphony, which I equate to another year of study (with a focus in orchestral performance). And during this year I took auditions, played chamber music festivals around the US, and applied for new programs, leading to my fellowship here in Paris.

All this moving around was really uncomfortable. I was in a state of discomfort at every transition, and there was a lot of risk involved with leaving the things I knew were great. But I was also uncomfortable with feeling comfortable. I was afraid of letting go big opportunities for growth until I satisfied inner personal and professional desires. A few may know that I have been looking at Europe for several years now as a place I wanted to explore. I have performed in festivals and studied with great mentors in Europe, but it was hard to find an opportunity to really take me over here for some extended time.

The Harriet Hale Woolley Fellowship at the Fondation des États-Unis was just that thing. But it wasn’t a whim that I decided to apply. Four years before in Aspen, my teacher Richard Aaron suggested the program, giving me contacts to help with the application. Yet as I get involved in my doctoral studies, I didn’t see a gap year to spend in Paris before I graduated. It wasn’t until I graduated that I returned to this idea of living in Paris, finally having more time to consider my options.

Luckily I know many amazing people (so so many) and the more I mentioned my ideas, the more this Fellowship came to the forefront. The commitment to the program finally came with an email exchange to my freshman year Italian professor at CU Boulder, who happens to speak all the romance languages. Nivea Soto-Lightbourn has been a huge mentor and supporter of me since I was 18, and when I told her I needed to speak some French to apply, she showed up with literally 20 books on French. If she could be that enthusiastic about the prospect, then why couldn’t I?

So I started putting the pieces together. My mentor Uri Vardi from UW-Madison connected me to his colleague Daniel Grosgurin of the Schola Cantorum de Paris. Together we developed an idea for studying the French-Style of cello playing with a focus on Duport. This was modeled after my dissertation with the Piatti Caprices and so it was fairly straightforward what I wanted to do in France. My friend and mentor Kim Patterson of the University of Memphis connected me with her contacts whom had done the program, and was another source of inspiration to follow through with the proposal.

Letters of recommendation were put together, a dossier was completed, and I sent in the application. Although this was four years in the making, I sent it in at the last possible moment. I felt sick, knowing that this was the last year I could possibly apply for the program at my age. The idea had lived with me for so long, and it was harder to let go of than I foresaw. So I distanced myself, didn’t think about it, and I continued on with other career goals.

The day I found out I made it to the interview round I was ecstatic. I was also incredibly anxious – the interview was the next day! I went back through all my notes, my emails with Monsieur Grosgurin, and prayed that they didn’t expect fluent French. I made sure I knew with whom I was interviewing, went through the website and cultural offerings, and got a good night of sleep.

The morning of the interview was skyped from my parent’s office before a rehearsal with the Colorado Symphony. I put on a suit, went through my notes, and meditated. It was like preparing for a performance: you know that you are prepared but there is that element of the unknown. There was so much possibility, and I focused on how much I could bring to the program and also benefit myself. But I was still shaking knowing how much I wanted this opportunity.

And so it began. Over a static-y reception, I spoke with the directors and head of culture of the Fondation. They were so kind, and immediately put me at ease. Their questions made sense and gave me the chance to share who I was and what I wanted to do. The energy during the conversation felt really great, though I was still anxious on the inside. And then it was over.

I was now in a dangerous place. I felt the interview went really well, and I wanted this more than anything. Every other career opportunity I had in my mind faded to the background, and I started visualizing my life in France. For a week and half I was telling myself that the right thing would work out, but I only wanted one right thing. I have been there before, and the result has not always in been in my favor. But it still doesn’t keep you from wanting it.

And then I got it! A whirlwind of change ensued, completely altering the course of my life. So much went into achieving that goal, and it was only the beginning of a year of incredible experiences. I’m now coming to the close of my Fellowship at the Fondation des États-Unis, but I will be writing further entries about some key experiences and lessons I’ve learned thus far. It has been a year of pushing my boundaries as a person and a musician – the exact experience I was hoping for. Stay posted for these stories in my next blog, and feel free to write in if you have specific questions about my time here in France (or other things!).

À tout à l’heure! Andrew