We spent the better part of last week roadtripping through Eau Claire and Madison, Wisconsin. As we drove north towards Eau Claire, we watched the landscape freeze before our eyes. By the time we reached Eau Claire, we were back in the heart of winter, with snow on the ground and frigid temperatures that we thought we’d seen the last of in Chicago. But the hearts are warm, and we reunited with composer Chiayu Hsu, whom the group met waaaaay back in their Norfolk Festival days, like, in 1997 or so. We met her composition students and read through three of their pieces, then went out to a delicious meal at one of Chiayu’s favorite places.

We stayed at the Oxbow Hotel,¬†which couldn’t be cuter (Justin Vernon’s influence, surely). Retro furniture, record players, and a collection of vinyls near the front desk from which to choose, french press coffee delivered to your room for free – what more can one ask for? Just across the street was Ramone’s ice cream¬† (the flavor named Exhausted Parent is just what this exhausted parent needed).

We left Eau Claire for warmer climes in Madison, where we were told to go to Old Fashioned for cheese curds. We had those, some onion strings, and a few burgers to boot. Delicious? Yes. Wise? No. I’m glad I know what cheese curds are all about now, but I think I’ll be happy to observe others indulging from now on. We were also told we could walk out on the frozen lake. I’m happy to report all of us were wise enough not to try that.

Nathalie and I spoke with the School of Business about our organization – it’s the first time a university has asked us to speak with non-musicians. There were some music majors that crept into the class, but mostly we had French majors with a business focus. They asked us some really astute questions, were genuinely shocked when we told them how our organization runs, and used some terminology I only pretended to understand. Best part was the professor offered us candy at the end.

After our performance, we drove back home to Chicago (we had to drag Michael kicking and screaming away from Madison). We were really charmed by our time there and I can’t help wondering: is all of Wisconsin is that cute?

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