Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First Community Impact Project

Today was our first day of community impact projects. The cast and I loaded into buses and spent the first two hours of the day on a ride into the mountains. We were told that we would be part of the Haymen fire restoration project. The Haymen fire which occurred over six years ago, was the largest wildfire ever to occur in the state of Colorado. As we entered the area of devastation, we drove through miles of burnt trees and charred ground cover. Finally, the busses struggled up a long dirt road, which led to the top of a 330 acre plot of land. The gentleman who owned the property had lost everything but the area around his house. The dirt drive was littered with charred powerboats and frames of antique cars. His agricultural equipment lay rusting on either side of our bus. I could tell that each piece of equipment had rusted over because the fire had burned the weatherproof paint from each piece of steel.

After receiving hard helmets, the cast was split up into three groups. Our day consisted of taking down trees and dragging them into erosion ditches. My portion of the cast planted 150 pine trees along a crispy hillside. The awesome thing about Up With People community impact projects is that we do more than improve the environment of one person. We worked side-by-side with state and community organizations to complete jobs that require a large work force. With the time we are given, Up With People works to improve situations of people that will eventually help themselves. Up With People CI Days are not a part of a mission trip! We do not plant a seed and pray for a better tomorrow. We impact communities and discuss matters with officials that deal with the issues daily.

I have never felt closer to my cast than I did today. It is awesome to see how the true personality of a person comes out when they are placed under pressure. As you can see from the pictures, we had fun with the hard helmet thing and even got creative with our photography at the end of the day.

Colleen and Jug took Ryan, Javi, and me out to dinner at Taco Loco for a bit of classic Denver dining. It is still sunny in Colorado!!!

12 Days Left of Staging

Clips of songs from the 1950’s - studying this compilation is an excellent way to become familiar with traditional guitar phrasing and rhythm. For example, one of the clips that is sampled is " Sherry," a song that many people know from the movie Back to The Future or Denny's Satellite Radio. A clip like this one demonstrates the versatility of brush strumming which was a common technique of 50's and 60's bebop. After finding out that I would be performing in this piece of the show, I have been eager to hear what it will sound like with the entire group. Several of my friends have been awed by the classic tones that I have been able to get out of my touring guitar. Wired by my dad, my 2001 US Legacy G&L Stratocaster sounds incredible because of its customized pickups and wiring configuration. I can only imagine how good it will sound on Thursday when our band and cast rehearse together for the first time, on the big stage.

I have a feeling that this week will turn out to be a good one. I was able to get a lot of sleep on Sunday after getting home from a trip into the mountains. Getting some sleep really paid off because today happened to be the day that vocal soloists were called back for final assessments. As of today, it looks like I may be singing the "Ounce of Positive" solo. Throughout this song I may be the lead singer as well as the guitar player. I am really excited to be given this opportunity because the song is challenging and will expand my blues/country vocal interests. The song is traditionally sung by one male and three female backup singers. If I am given this role, I will be the first student of Up With People to sing this solo and perform in the band at the same time.

Tomorrow is a CI Day or Community Impact Day, I believe that I will be planting trees, so I suppose I will get to bed. Here are some pictures from the weekend.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Stepping Out Side of Rehearsal

It is Thursday and already this week has been incredible. I apologize for my lack of blogging. With an extreme lack of sleep and an intense rehearsal schedule, I have been left with little time to sit at my computer, but I am starting to get adjusted to the rhythm of my new lifestyle.

For the first time in two weeks, rehearsal has begun to sound good. The band is really starting to nail "Oye El Boom" and "Ayiko", two of the hardest pieces of the show. During the first half of this week, I found myself truly doubting my success as a musician, but the accomplishment of the group has been awesome and very encouraging. We have less than three weeks to learn two hours of material. The thought of perfection is overwhelming, but what we have accomplished so far has made for a strong foundation. While the band rehearses in the basement, dance, movement, and vocal rehearsals take place on the other three floors. Today, the cast began working on show blocking/staging. Judging by the talent I've seen in the group so far, it won't be long until band rehearsals are combined with the rest of the cast.

I have spent a lot of time in my blog discussing my feelings towards the music and arts of Up With People, but I was given the chance to witness our program’s effect on the community. Tuesday morning we were able to begin our first community interaction seminar. The cast and I were able to meet with local corporate sponsors. Some of the individuals we met with included the President of the Children's Museum of Denver and the Director of Health and Interaction from the Center for African-American Health. I found that I really had a connection with National Leadership Development Officer Morris W. Price, Jr. His view of society and generation really caused me to reflect on my position in current affairs. Price informed us that any individual student receiving a college degree today may work in over eight different professions in their adult career. He then told the group that four of these eight positions do not yet exist today. Price had many statistics and interesting facts that expanded my view of the future, but the most important element of his conversation with us was his value of the time consumed in preparation for the future. He believed that he was successful because he knew that his greatest fortune was his ability to move forward. He encouraged us to take advantage of every moment we were given, because our interests for exploration, that exist within us today, will carry us towards the future.

Tomorrow, we will be taking a break from rehearsal to visit the local courthouse and meet other individuals of Denver's society to hear their opinions on current events. Next week the band will rehearse with the cast and begin putting the show together as one.

Living so far away from the city, it has been very difficult to transport my guitar back and forth between the Sherman Center and Colleen's house so I was able to purchase a backup guitar at Musicians Warehouse in Denver. Mom and Dad! Don't worry, the price was right and look its PINK!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Host Family Day

Today was our host family day. Colleen took the boys and I over to one of the other hosts family's house for a pool party. It was good to see so many of the cast members without having to be at practice. I was really able to connect with many of the other students. It’s fun to be with students from other countries in social situations! I never realized how different European culture is from American traditions. For example, we all planned to go to the movies to see Batman and one of the girls from Germany told us that the European movie theaters sell tickets for individual seats in the theater instead of a ticket of general admission. She was blown away to find out that you could sit anywhere in the theater after paying one price.

Colleen really is fun; hanging out with her all day was a blast. We started off the morning by stopping by the guitar store. We were all able to stock up on our musical needs and then head over to the party. Afterwards, it was really neat to get her perspective on Batman. Tomorrow, we will go back to practice and hopefully Xia from China will not take my position as a guitar player.

I am doing well. Mom, don't worry I am now well rested! Dad, technical issues are going well! And Breck, I hope you are able to get away from your studying every now and then. Love you guys!

Here is a picture of Michael Bowerman and me!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Band Practice

First of all, I would like to apologize to my faithful blog followers. I failed to update my experiences yesterday because I ended up going to bed shortly after getting home from practice. Luckily, yesterday was a very uneventful day. We spent most of our time in logistical seminars, as well as an afternoon "tour band meeting."

Today was a very new experience for me. I spent my seven hours of tour practice sitting in one chair rehearsing three songs that will be a part of this semester's show. Since there are many students trying out for the Up With People Band and no one competing with me for the position of the guitar player, I was expected to play the guitar part for each audition rotation. One would think that I would have mastered the guitar part in each song because I had to play them all day, but for some reason I found it very difficult to maintain consistency as each drummer, bass player, and keyboardist changed every half hour.

I found myself on edge all day because there is a boy flying in from China on Monday who has auditioned as a drummer but can also play guitar. I am sure he will be an excellent addition to this semester’s cast, but we already have Ryan and Javi who are already excellent drummers. This has been somewhat of a concern for me because he may turn his interests towards the guitar. We are in need of two guitar players, but if he turns out to be really good, I may get placed on the back burner. Let me take this time to remind you that everything is always "all about Russ," so hopefully everything will turn out just fine and I can continue my efforts of transforming "Up With People" into "Up With Russ and Us." (A note to those of importance: what you have just read is simply a cast joke; please don't allow it to taint your image of me). On a lighter note, practice has gotten off to a smooth start and tomorrow I will have completed my first week of practice. Three more weeks left until we leave for the road.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

First Live Performance

I like to think of myself as kind of a fly ball. If this is true at all, today was the kind of day that really hit me out of the park. As normal, the day started with the opening ceremony. We discussed world news and received our instructions for the day. The morning activities were very intense. Our staff broke us up into 10 groups in order to isolate us by gender and to focus on individual strengths. Each of the groups visited four modules, testing their ability to sing, dance, public speak and to set up and break down technical equipment. There was also a fifth segment which allowed us to work with costume designers who helped us select our show apparel. By lunchtime they had already posted lead dancing rolls for one of the songs of the show. We spent the afternoon in a culture seminar and attended a three-hour Movement Session. We learned the dance moves for our first piece. I found this Movement session to be very difficult; synchronized dancing is a lot more challenging than it appears. I left Movement early because I was called downstairs for a second vocal audition. I feel that the audition went really well. There are many accomplished singers on the tour and having the opportunity to be called back for a second chance left me with lots of excitement.

This evening was our "Cultural Jam." Given kind of a lame name, this concert is one of the biggest highlights of the tour. The hour-long event, allowed students from around the world to share original and ethic forms of performance that occupied their artistic ability before UWP. I found the evening to be incredible. Each student that performed had been hand-selected to participate in the UWP program so, as you can imagine, the talent of the evening was quite impressive. For me, it was a chance to play my original material outside the State of Maryland. Being able to play "Subscription to Your Love" for 150 people in Denver, Colorado was truly a new experience. It was an excellent time for me to show my ability to the group. Everyone became very excited to find that their excellent singing and dancing would be accompanied by another fine musician. This may sound conceited, but I can now comfortably be a part of the group because I have shown everyone that I am a reliable sound that can add to the greater art of the program.

Tomorrow I will begin practicing with the UWP band and start walking down the road toward becoming a touring guitar player.

Note to blog audience! My evening blog will soon become a bit more academic as I discuss deeper elements of global education, but I will still try my best to entertain you. Please keep visiting my experiences with world travel and enjoy russreitter.com. "It just might change your life!"

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day Three!!!

Today's blog will be shorter than normal because Ryan, Javi and I got home really late and I will be performing the guitar for the group tomorrow, so I must practice. Here are some pictures from my day.

First Day of Rehearsal

Today was incredible! the cast and I were finally able to get past the logistics of orientation and get down to business! Getting up at 6:45 is a little bit challenging for me because I stay up with Ryan and Javi all night, but our morning trip to the Sherman Center is quite an insane feeling. Colleen, our host mom, takes us to the city bus stop near her house. The guys and I have about an hour trip into the city. As we walk to The Sherman Center, I feel as if we are actors in a Sister Act movie. The city of Denver is alive with traffic and pedestrians, but walking from all directions are 18-29 year old singers and dancers dressed in workout cloths. It is simply mind-boggling to see all these students formulating on the streets outside this hundred-year-old building. I am surprised at how clean everything is. You can hear loud music coming from open windows. Since the weather is perfect every day, the building is completely open and students sit on the front steps and in the hallways tapping out rhythms and listening to iPods.

Today was the first day that we were able to start moving after meeting our choreographers and production managers. We spent the first part of the day in a long seminar learning about the history and quality of our performance. We were able to see a short demonstration performed by our dance and aerobic instructors. After the morning seminar, we went down to the ballroom and began our first day of class / educational session. We talked about making goals and the importance of learning from those around us. Many of the movement and educational exercises we did throughout the morning seemed somewhat elementary, but as the day progressed I began to feel an overwhelming sense of belonging. Today was the first day I began to feel concrete relationships beginning to take place. I found lunch to be quite exciting; our food was served on molded plastic trays just like the ones from my Maryland high school. The whole day seemed like some sort of 80's pop dance movie. I truly believe that the past four days of UWP have been the most incredible days of my educational background. The value of this tour is overwhelmingly worth every dollar my family and I have spent getting me here.

Our afternoon activities were unlike anything else I have experienced before. We began learning to dance by taking part in a large group aerobics class. I will begin working with the band and playing the guitar on Thursday, but until then and after, I will be lined up every day in aerobics classes as they evolve into structured dance. I think the highlight of my day was catching chicks as we practiced the Lover's Leap. Surprisingly, no one hit the floor during this exercise.

Tomorrow we will be broken down into small groups and begin auditioning for our singing parts. As for now, the guys and I are sitting around a campfire of Macs. Here are some pictures of the ballroom and the dance presentation we saw.