James Gaffigan: What travel has taught me

ADMIRATION

While finishing an Asia tour with the Luzern Symphony Orchestra in Mumbai, India, I walked through a densely populated, economically poor region (no running water, no sewerage system). A foundation had organised a meeting between some music students and the orchestra and me. What struck me was their passion and open minds. I explained how most Western music is in meters of two (like a march) or three (like a waltz), while much of Indian music was in five, making it more difficult. A young girl said, "Well Maestro, excuse me, but God has given us five fingers on our hand, hasn't he?"

TRANSCENDENCE

My wife (then girlfriend) Camilla came to visit me in Washington DC while I was working there. Among all the noise and traffic around the White House we came across a sign that said "an introduction to Transcendental Meditation (TM)". We were drawn to do it. We are now believers in the power of TM, a method that opens up one's awareness, and cuts through anxieties which promotes clarity of thoughts. It has changed our lives in a profound way. It's simple. It's a gift. And anyone can do it.

NOSTALGIA

I've been to many beautiful and interesting countries, mostly for work. Since I first met my wife, she was convincing me that I needed to learn to shut off. She offered a visit to a small apartment owned by her parents in the old town of Antibes, France. I had never been good at "vacations". But as we walked from the apartment to a small private rocky beach on the Mediterranean, I was struck by the biggest wave of nostalgia, as if I knew that body of water, and as if I lived my life somewhere on the coast of the sea. My mother's family comes from Sicily, and I like to think that had something to do with it.

WONDER

My daughter Sofia, eight, is extremely energetic, smart, beautiful, and a total character. When we experience a new ocean or beach, whether it's Venice in LA, Ocean City Maryland, Manly in Sydney, the coast of Norway, she spends about 30 seconds at the shore just looking at the ocean. She does it every time. I admire that wonder in her eyes. Is something calling her? Perhaps it's the urge to travel and discover. Perhaps it's just a young girl being at one with our beautiful planet.

FORESIGHT

I was 19 when I first went to Vienna. I knew I wanted to be a conductor, and was very excited about the history of Vienna and its composers. I visited many music-related sites, including Mahler's grave, and most importantly to me, the Vienna State Opera, where I took a backstage tour. This included a visit to see Mahler's (one-time music director of the opera house) practice piano. It was all very emotional for me. Little did I realise that in less than a decade, I'd be conducting my debut of La Boheme for that very company.

American James Gaffigan is chief conductor of the Lucerne Symphony in Switzerland and the principal guest conductor for the Netherlands' Radio Philharmonic Orchestra.

Alongside superstar Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova, he performs with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, August 30, 31 and September 2. See jamesgaffigan.com; mso.com.au

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