Monday, June 1, 2009

Finals In Florence

4:30PM May 15

The final week of school began with a practice final in Italian. Like the quiz that we'd taken the week before, it was pretty straight forward. Nothing was out of the ordinary, and my confidence was again boosted for the actual final. Curiously, I heard "To Be Determined," a tune written by our pianist, coming from down the hall. John Bishop and I were both tapping out the hits in the tune as we finished the practice exam, but mostly we were eager for class to end so we could check out what must have been the Blue Note Milano video in Antonio's office.

Before I went to see Antonio though, I went to the school administration office to fill out my last teacher evaluation form. As I entered the room, all of the staff there perked up, and one of them said, "hey, you're the guy from that video," to which I kindly replied, "yes."

They continued, saying, "great job. You know, you're like famous? The Blue Note is the biggest club in Italy."

"Thank you."

"Have you seen the video?"

"No, not yet, I was just on my way..."

"It looks fabulous. You're going to be big."

At that point, I'd had enough of the gushing, so I took the evaluation over to Antonio's office to finish it up and where I might be able to see this video for myself. It did look pretty spectacular. We were shot from all different angles, mostly close-ups, especially on Dave, whose body was rarely shown in shots of the piano. For all we know, those hands playing the keys were disembodied like Thing on the Addam's Family. (The Blue Note still has the rights to the recording, so I can't post any of it, but Antonio and his film friend Domenico are putting together a six-minute video which will be on youtube. More details will come when I hear back from them.)

In the afternoon I had what was probably the most intense final of my college career, in music theory. I felt I had a good handle on the material, but our teacher is very demanding, and he often doesn't realize how challenging his assignments are for us students who are just taking on twentieth century music for the first time. I really enjoyed and got a lot out of the class, and the final was definitely fair, but I was caught second-guessing myself a few times.

Afterwards, I headed back downtown and off to ensemble practice. Before rehearsal, we met at the café across the street again for one last coffee. Actually, I remembered Andy saying that in the springtime we'd get proseco and sit outside, so with the glass walls of the café opened up to the gorgeous spring weather on two sides, I ordered a nice cool glass of proseco. It was a great way to recompose myself before practice. During rehearsal, for which we didn't have anything to prepare, we played through a few of the tunes that have become staples of our program, such as "To Be Determined" and "Tuesday Troubles," and then we closed on a new funk piece that Andy brought in. Andy is currently in the process of moving back to Brooklyn after five years or more of living outside Rome, so I'm sure I'll see him plenty more. At the time, John, Dave, and I made plans to meet up with Piero the following night to go out to dinner.

Later that night, for the first time actually, I went to the jam session at La Cité. They have a session there every Monday, but that is usually a long day for me, and I'm just ready to relax most times by 10:00 on a Monday night. I got to sit in on "What Is This Thing Called Love," which didn't go as well as I'd have liked. I felt several times that I came up just short of playing a good string of notes, but ultimately, I don't think my solo went anywhere. Isamu, John, and Piero all sat in on the next tune, so we got to play my original, "Happy-Go-Funky," and it went over really well with the audience. I stayed on for one more tune, "Beautiful Love," which was better than either of the previous two, and I was happy to end on that one. The piano player who runs the session came up to me afterwards and told me he liked the way I played, but he was surprised this was my first time there. It was the first and last, unfortunately.

La Cité Libreria Cafè

Because it was finals week, I didn't have any class until 4:30 on Tuesday, so I slept in, after staying out late at the jam session the previous night. I then gave my politics paper one last read and headed up to campus to work out what I was going to say for my oral exam in Italian the next day. We had to discuss one positive and one negative experience that happened in Florence. My positive experience was about the first weekend, the day that John, Adam, and I met the girls, walked all around Florence, and had a grand feast of a meal. My negative experience, which there were very few of, was about when I came back from spring break and felt that I'd lost so much of my Italian knowledge after barely using it for ten days that I couldn't even ask for stamps at a tabaccheria.

I handed in my paper and took the exam in politics that afternoon, which wasn't too bad. Our teacher didn't want us to spend lots of time studying, so he gave us the choice to answer three out of six essay prompts discussing ideas in European politics.

I then went over to the limonaia, where we'd set up a little party for Antonio. About three or four weeks before the end of the semester I said to Mimi, the student who helped Antonio organize the Gershwin Revue, "we should do something to thank Antonio for all that he did for us." We had opportunities to work with some of the greatest musicians and teachers in Italy, and we had chances to perform all of the time for the greater Florentine and Italian public. He went far above the call of duty, working for us on weekends and whenever else he got the chance. And beyond that, he had become a friend who cared about learning from and with us, giving us every chance to make a real career out of this Italian tour.

Mimi and I talked to John Spencer, who had a great relationship with NYU Florence director David Travis, and we got permission to use the limonaia for a party with a budget for snacks and David Travis got him a bottle of wine as well. I knew that David Travis always liked an excuse for a party, and he got really into it, insisting that it remain a secret. He brought Antonio over to the limonaia under the pretense that the two of them had to "check out the scene of the latest crime." Antonio was pretty blown away when he saw us, and he thanked us for working to take all of the opportunities that he presented us with, far exceeding his own expectations. We snacked for about an hour before staff members from La Pietra told us we had to leave.

That night, Dave, John, and I met up with Piero, who drove us out to a favorite restaurant of his on the periphery of the city. The place didn't look like anything special. There was wood-paneling up the bottom half of the walls, and it reminded me of "Louis' Italian-American Restaurant," from The Godfather. To be more ominous, the signature dish which we all got would roughly translate as, "assassin's pasta." It was really fabulous. Piero insisted before coming that this place made a really simple pasta better than anybody else. It was just spaghetti topped with some chopped tomatoes that were barely even cooked and a nice helping of parmiggiano over top. It was everything Piero talked it up to be: clean, but ever so tasty.

We then went around the block to what was somewhere in between a recreation center and an old union hall. It was a place that a lot of people came after work to chill out instead of going home. They had foosball and ping-pong. Manchester United was playing Arsenal on the television for a packed audience. Oddly enough, Piero described it as a "dopo pensato," the correct translation for our group's name, afterthought. People go there when they don't want to think. We all shared a drink and chatted some more before heading back to Piero's car.

Rather than dropping us off though, we went for one more drink at La Cité, hanging out there for probably another hour. It was close to 1:00 before Piero dropped me off in front of my place, but it was a great night spent amongst friends, and an appropriate way to say "goodbye," at least temporarily, to Piero.

Members of the music department who came to the party surround our leader Antonio Vanni. In the back row from left to right are me, Nicole Haslett (voice), John Spencer (piano), David Travis (NYU Florence director), Adam Price (clarinet), Sean Huston (bassoon), Jeff Hatcher (drums), Isamu McGregor (piano). The front has Tryson Ajani John (voice), Alicia Barrett (violin), Mimi Parroco (voice), Yeaseul Lee (composition), Yvette Villanueva (loyal friend and fan), and Molly Gachigard (composition).

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