Thank heavens for Delta airlines

Thumbs up DeltaThis weekend I am full of gratitude for Delta Airlines and for a particular symphony administrator. You’ll see why if you read on.

Since I didn’t fly enough on American last year and therefore lost my Gold status — a blow after five years of being special — Delta is my new favorite airline. Their credit card lets me check a bag for free, they often fly to the places I’m going at convenient times, and so far I’ve always had good experiences with staff and limited travel snafus (one mechanical delay several years ago led to a free night in a nice hotel at the Mall of America, which was fun).

I’m also a big fan of multi-leg flight itineraries. When I have gigs back to back, a three-way ticket is usually much less expensive than two separate round trips, and a more efficient use of my time away from home. So when I began shopping for this week’s Raleigh to New York to Grand Rapids to Raleigh ticket, I was excited to find a complete trip on Delta at a very good price. There was even a direct flight from New York to Grand Rapids that landed just before noon — the perfect time to allow some rest before my evening rehearsal with the symphony there.

Now, I buy a lot of plane tickets. For most of my travels I buy my own flights and am reimbursed by the ensembles who hire me. I travel for fun too. I spend an inordinate amount of time on travel and airline websites, trying to find the perfect flight at the perfect price. I search repeatedly over several days. I stew. And I am fastidious about double-checking times and dates. Except this time, somehow I wasn’t…

…and I bought my flight for the wrong time! I didn’t even realize it for months, not until the week before the gig when I got my itinerary from the Grand Rapids Symphony. At first I thought it was an error. Why didn’t they have me scheduled to attend the evening rehearsal the day I arrived? And then I realized with utter terror that I’d bought my ticket for the perfect time PM, not AM.

I panicked. I shed some tears. I emailed the Symphony’s Operations Manager, Julie Nystedt, to apologize and ask what I should do. The same flight the previous day was now prohibitively expensive. Before I could spend too much time researching flights to Chicago or Detroit plus one-way car rentals, she emailed that she had a solution.

The Symphony has some vouchers from Delta, and Julie was willing to use one to book me a new one-way the previous day. She was completely gracious and progressional about the whole thing; she even tried to get me an extra night in the symphony’s hotel and although it was booked she gave me the name of another hotel that has a special rate for orchestra guests. Saved! Now I just had to deal with Delta.

I called Delta. The employee I spoke to, Scott, confirmed my suspicion that I’d have to officially cancel my original New York-Grand Rapids leg and pay $223 (the change fee plus difference in fare), because if I just didn’t show up for that flight my final homeward-bound leg would be cancelled. I asked if I really had to pay the change fee since I was not taking the flight and already had another version of the same flight (which he could see in my record). He asked if it was for a medical or other emergency. I replied no, it was my own foolish error and that I’d bought a ticket for PM instead of AM.

There was no reason for Scott to entertain my request, but he put me on hold and came back very quickly to say that he could waive the change fee but I still had to pay the fare difference. I think he expected me to argue with him over the fare difference, but I have never in my life been so happy to pay 23 dollars. I quickly offered up my Delta AmEx number, thanked Scott profusely for his help, and heaved a sigh of relief.

Embarrassment remains, but total disaster averted. This misadventure has only cost me a small fare difference, a discount hotel stay, and some sweat and tears. And I will never make this particular mistake again.

So, thank you to Julie (who will get a bar of chocolate when I meet her), thank you to Scott (who would get chocolate if I knew where to send it), and thank you to Delta for supporting the Grand Rapids Symphony with vouchers and for being flexible with errant customers. Now I can concentrate on the music.

The happy resolution got even better when I checked in for my Raleigh to New York flight today and found that I somehow had a new seat in first class, and better still when the flight attendant brought me my G&T with this note:
Delta note
Ahhhhh.
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Music for a Siege

Ever since grad school I’ve been interested in Latin American baroque music. I always jump at an opportunity to sing it, so I was excited when my friend Pablo Mahave-Veglia invited me back to Grand Valley State University in Michigan to perform Bolivian composer Estanislao Miguel Leyseca’s Miserere with faculty and students there.

GVSU early music ensemble

Early European music from Central and South America is a hot topic in the musicology world these days — after all, there’s not much new classical music left to be discovered in the Old World, but scholars are busy digging up manuscripts from church and cathedral archives on this side of the pond, and creating new editions like this one.

Leyseca score and program

The Leyseca Miserere is not actually baroque. It was written in 1781, and that date would place it in the Classical period. However, music from Latin America of that time is a fascinating mix of styles and periods. Because Spanish settlements in the New World were separated from Europe by so much time and space, there wasn’t the same concept of current fashion or of musical elements going out of style. Composers were free to draw on whatever influences and traditions they chose. In the Miserere there were grand choral movements reminiscent of Monteverdi’s great Vespers of 1610, solo movements that made me think of the Mozart C Minor Mass (written one year after Leyseca’s work) I was preparing at the same time, and a little of everything in between. It was wacky, but a lot of fun, kind of like A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas but for real.

I’m glad I attended the pre-concert lecture by Dr. Bernardo Illari, the musicologist who prepared our performing edition. He gave the context for the Miserere, which Leyseca (who immigrated to Bolivia from Sevilla, Spain) composed during a siege. While a group of the native Aymara people trapped the inhabitants of La Paz inside the city for six months, Leyseca wrote the Miserere as a musical show of strength and European dominance. I had never before thought of the political implications of Latin American classical music. Now I’m not sure what to think about this fascinating music, written and usually performed entirely by Europeans, to subjugate a native population whose land and power had already been stolen.

Dr. Illari’s lecture has given me something to ponder, and not just in the case of Latin American colonial music. Doesn’t so much music throughout the course of history have a political agenda? Performers can get away with ignoring this fact; musicologists can’t. Since I didn’t have all the answers in time for last Saturday’s performance, I decided to appreciate Leyseca’s Miserere for what it is musically — eclectic and charming — to have fun making music with good people, and to enjoy my time in the pretty city of Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids