Italy - May 1996|
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By this trip, we had decided to make this concert tour one in which
the choir would be mostly or all alumni. Singers had to undergo a tape
audition procedure and a group was chosen that was balanced vocally and
musically. Other alumni were also welcome to join us as non-singers and
many did after the initial four days of rehearsal on Reichenau Island.
Yes, the 1993 tour format had worked so well, we decided to begin with that
The overall philosophy remained the same: Center on a few places and
not try to see everything. Instead, take the time to become involved
in the local culture and people. However, this time we upped the
ante as far as our expectations of ourselves. Not only did we decide
to attract audiences for concert performances, we only decided to
serve as a visiting choir for one church service, again at the Konstanz
Cathedral with our friend Wilm Geismann.
The travel locale was to be different also. This time we were heading south
to Italy. After the tape audition procedure completed in 1995, the following
SDSM&T singers got together on Reichenau for rehearsal with two weeks of
concertizing to follow:
|Gloria Cannon - EE '86|
Patricia Cihak - Math '90
Heidi Guymon - MetE '96
Lisa Warne - ME '91
Stefanie Merkel - IE ' 93
Connie Sue Oliver - IS '98
|Tami Nelson - MetE '86|
Lorie Schleusener - MetE '89
Hollie Nygard - Chem '91
Jennifer Carlson - MetE '98
Antonette Logar - faculty
Karen Whitehead - faculty
|David Herbst - EE '85|
Kelly Whiting - Math '89
Corey Jacobs - ME '91
Adam Stone - Csc '95
John Wellhouse - EE '96
|Steve Larson - EE '84|
Thomas Hill - EE '88
Edward Corwin - faculty
Daniel Herbst - MetE '94
John Carter - ME '90
Bob Fallbeck - IS '96
The choral group was very good. Nearly every alumnus had worked on his/her voice
since graduation and improved as a singer and a musician. The group was able to
do some fairly tricky music with fine style and good ensemble sense. In addition
there were eight THEM guys (Carter, Fallbeck, Herbst, Herbst, Jacobs, Stone,
Wellhouse, Whiting) and a new group which had formed as a result of the last
trip - TOG (the Other Group), comprised of Cihak, Cannon, Nelson, Schleusener,
who managed to throw together some very good pop music numbers.Notes
We checked into the Löcherhaus, a grand hotel on the
edge of the lake. We then commenced our
first rehearsal at the island
school. The repertory for the trip had been carefully selected based on the
concert opportunities and personnel. Although the rehearsal days were marred by
less than perfect weather due to frequent rain showers, no one seemed to mind
much, since the order of business was to get ready for a concert by Saturday
evening. That was a tall order, since our only full rehearsal days were
Thursday and Friday. In between rehearsals we did manage to discover and
sample some of the island's attractions - good food, good wine, restful
lifestyle, and even some water-skiing.
Standing room only. Time to begin the 8:15 concert and people are still trying
to cram their way into the hall! Do we get nervous? You bet! The first
piece is the Billings, a four-part round done in four corners. The second piece
is our first concert formation piece - the Berger - and we blow the opening chord
and the following 16 bars. But we then settled down and did a creditable job
(for 3 days rehearsal). Tremendous ovation at end. Sent in THEM and they
did two numbers. Still applause. Sent in TOG and they did a number. Still
applause. Finally went in and repeated the Dawson and they let us go.
Sunday morning and afternoon were free. Some of us got some water-skiing
in before a tremendous thunderstorm blew in from Switzerland. We left
Reichenau to go back to the cathedral for a Sunday evening Mass performance.
Afterwards we went to a very nice restaurant outside Konstanz (which means
Switzerland) called the Seeburg. Fine time.
Up the next morning (20th) to pack and move to the Hotel Mago in
This was the day that the non-singers group arrived. Some of us in particular
were looking forward to seeing spouses and other close friends or siblings.
As we awaited Harald and the bus in the lobby of the Löcherhaus, a review
of Saturday's concert was discovered in the local newspaper. Very kind.
Said that the Berger began with a "somewhat vague tone". Hah! But the
rest was quite complimentary.
When the new group arrived, it added another THEM alumnus, Gary Hargens - EE '91,
as well as various siblings, spouses, and friends. Everybody took a
walking tour of Konstanz which ended at the
Haffenhalle for a welcome dinner.
And who shows up at the dinner but Simonetta, our tour guide from the last trip
and for this one; accompanied by Marco, the bus driver. These two live near
each other, are native Italians and are eager to show us their country.
Tuesday morning/afternoon was free. Simonetta and Marco took a group to
Switzerland. Harald took some people around the lake. Others of us just
bopped around Konstanz or took a ferry somewhere. Concert that night on
Reichenau was split between the cathedral there and the school since the local
priest did not want secular music in the church. There were a number of technical
errors on our part but the audience seemed to love everything we did.
||Concert: Church of Santa Maria Formosa
Wednesday morning the 22nd was the day we were all dreading - a long bus ride
from Konstanz to Venice. Luckily for us, Simon had decided to take the scenic
route east along the lake up over the mountains into Austria, giving us a
lunch break and some sight-seeing time in Innsbruck. This was a bonus,
especially for those of us who had been there during Christmas 1989, because
now we had the chance to see it in the summer as well. The cathedral had just
been renovated (it was closed for three years right after our visit in 1989)
and the flowers were out. After a quick stop at the Wiltener basilica near
the Olympic ski-jump, we hopped onto the autobahn to Italy. We arrived in
Venice about 6:00pm after numerous stops along the highway.
After a walk into
the city itself (no motorized vehicles except on the canals) we checked into
the Hotel Nationale just on the back side of the Grand Canal and then had a
traditional Venetian meal - little fried fish complete with heads and eyes, yumm!
After the meal most everyone had to do some exploring before heading to bed,
getting the hang of not getting lost in this complicated city!
For a musician, Venice is central to much of the music history of
Western Europe. It was here that the two main strains to emerge from the
Renaissance (secular opera and sacred concerted style) were combined by the
great Claudio Monteverdi, maestro di capella of the basilica of San Marco.
It was to Venice that young musicians from all over Europe began to flock to
study in the late sixteenth century learning the new style and then returning
home to Germany and England and France to spread the gospel of the Baroque.
On Thursday (23rd) nearly everyone went on a short
gondola ride, complete
with (bad) singing by the gondolieri. That
little trip did take us past the
burned-out shell of La Fenice - one of the most famous operas houses in the
world until it burned last spring. After that, many went to the Murano glass
factory while others dispersed to taste the varied attractions of this
incredible city. Beautiful churches on every corner, great art museums,
good shopping, and just the thrill of Venice with its al fresco dining,
canals, and (most of all) gelato - the Italian ice cream (somehow calling
gelato ice cream is like calling Mt. Rushmore a carving).
Friday included an optional trip to Padua and Verona which many took, but
others passed on that because there was still much to see in Venice and wanted
to do that before beginning preparations for the evening concert. There
were no real expectations for this concert. We had seen posters all over
Venice for concerts of every imaginable type (except ours) for all times
so thought we'd be lucky to see 20 people in the audience. We got to the church
for rehearsal and found one audience member already
there. It was a young woman, Monika Fahrnberger, who, having heard of the tour
via the ChoralNet,
had traveled all the way down from Vienna, Austria just to hear the concert!
We began our rehearsing and experimented with the acoustics. The priest
showed up and turned out to be the most pleasant and personable fellow
imaginable. He told us (via Simon) to move anything necessary and do
whatever we wanted. We got set and then, as people began streaming in,
had to wait at least fifteen minutes before they stopped coming to start
the concert. By that time, the church was full!
The performance went well but, as expected, the real enthusiasm was for the
American things. We did the arrangements of folksongs and spirituals to
increasing applause. We had left out the secular things such as Jamaican
Market, etc.; but since the audience wouldn't let us go, the priest stood
at the back of the church and told us to go ahead and do anything we wanted.
So we did. The crowd loved it and then I sent THEM in and the crowd went nuts.
Then everybody came back on and finished with Lonesome Road. We lingered after
the concert speaking with many of the audience and the priest. A wholly
wonderful evening. We discovered after my return to the states that Monika
went back to Vienna, wrote up a very nice review
and posted it on ChoralNet.
Saturday, May 25 - We left Venice early in the morning, a little sad but
eager to go somewhere a little less crowded and touristy. Traveling south
along the Adriatic Sea, we stopped in Ravenna for a visit to some of the most
ancient churches in Europe - Ravenna having been the last capital of the
Roman Empire before the collapse of the Dark Ages. Incredible mosaics, but
also a lot of crowds. We had lunch there and continued on across the Apennine
Mountains to Tuscany. After a quick stop overlooking Florence, we arrived in
Siena at the Hotel
Moderno, just outside the old city walls. A wonderful hotel, to be our
home for five nights in this old historic city in Tuscany.
||Concert: Assisi Town Hall
Concert: Florence Palazzo Vecchio
Sunday, May 26, Pentecost Sunday. On this day, many people went to Rome with
Simonetta and Marco. Others rented a car and drove to Orvieto, which has what has
been described as the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Europe (they confirmed this).
A few, having spent plenty of time on a bus recently, stayed in Siena and began
exploring one the most unique and picturesque small
cities in Europe. A beautiful day, spent at leisure seeing great
architecture and soaking up the culture of Italy,
unhassled by restraints of time.
Monday, May 27. Nothing was scheduled for today until we had to leave for Assisi
for a rehearsal and concert at 5:30pm. The group was exceedingly pleased because
they had a chance
to sleep in, get up at leisure and still poke around Siena which has great shopping
as well as spectacular architecture, one of the finest cathedrals in Italy, and a
historic background as one of the centers of the late Middle Ages.
On Reichenau, the choir had expressed a desire to have a full-blown rehearsal
somewhere in the middle of the tour, after some concerts had been experienced.
Today was the day. After an hour and a half ride through the beautiful Italian
countryside in the late afternoon, we arrived at Assisi; birthplace of St.
Francis, the first monastery of his Franciscan order of monks, and the basilica
built to honor his memory. We were to perform in the audience chamber of the
(10th-century?) town hall. Great acoustics. A little over an hour was spent
in cleaning up some of the problems in the music we'd experienced thus far.
The director of tourism for Assisi came to
express his gratitude for our performing in the town hall rather than
the basilica. It seems that the town is often neglected by visiting artists, who
perform at the church instead, and this concert made the town feel very honored!
We had about an hour free between the rehearsal and time to return for pre-concert
preparation. Most people grabbed a bite to eat. Other wandered around the town.
Some ran to see some of the monastery and basilica. For the first time since we
had arrived in Italy, the weather began to look as if it might turn to rain.
Sure, enough, by the time the concert started, rain was coming down and the concert
had to be delayed because many people were slowed by it. Come to think of it, not
a single concert in Italy started on time. It seems that everyone expects
the starting time to be fifteen minutes later than the posted time. (Italy!) Another
packed house for the concert. Another enthusiastic response to our music.
Tuesday, May 28. On this lovely day the air was even fresher and cleaner from the
previous evening's thunderstorm. The entire group left at about 9:00 for a tour of
the Tuscany countryside. First stop: a two-hour visit to the abbey of Monte Oliveto
Maggiore. This place sits on top of a mountain in the most peaceful and picturesque
setting imaginable. Absolute quiet. The grounds include a guesthouse, which
accommodates about forty and a worldclass restaurant which, unfortunately we were
not able to investigate. The abbey has some very important frescos and other artwork
throughout the buildings
and also has a drop-dead gorgeous Baroque church - in which we had a chance to sing
a little. We were given a very informative tour by a very knowledgeable monk.
Next stop: the abbey of Sant Antimo, one of the oldest abbeys in Italy. It dates from
the 10th century and sits in a valley far from any other towns or villages. We heard
a group of eight monks
sing the office of None - one of the six regular services held daily in traditional
monasteries. We also had a chance to sing some chant
after the service was finished. What a treat to hear our voices linger on for a full
five seconds after we stopped!
From Sant Antimo we went to Montalcino, a lovely hilltop town typical of
Tuscany. Here we had a chance to wander around, grab a late lunch, and explore the
old city castle and other experiences of a medieval Italian town. By now we were
pretty tired from the day's adventures and were almost relieved when another afternoon
thundershower rolled in, forcing us all onto the bus and back to Siena earlier than
Wednesday, May 29 - Our last day in Tuscany and finally we were going to what to most
people is the only thing they see in Tuscany .. Florence. A early start, complicated
by the fact that we were also to have a concert in Florence that evening so were
bringing our concert attire. Upon arrival in Florence, Simonetta took some of
the group to a leather factory. Others immediately began to visit some
of the cultural shrines in Florence, such as the church of San Croce - burial
place of the who's who of Italian culture including Michelangelo, Rossini,
Machiavelli, and too many others to remember. Lunchtime found many of the group
eating outdoors in the central square of Florence, facing the Palazzo Vecchio.
Florence is simply overwhelming. Michelangelo's David. Botticelli's David. The Duomo. The Uffizi. We needed a week here to appreciate it and
didn't have it.
That afternoon we changed clothes and proceeded to the Palazzo
Vecchio for the concert in the Salon de Cinquecento. This hall is impossible
to describe. First of all, murals by some of the leading lights of the Renaissance.
Sculptures in the room by Michelangelo. Incredible acoustics. The palace was
originally built by the Medici as their seat of government in the heart of town.
It became the town hall. The sense of history and artistic awe is breathtaking.
Oh, did I mention that it is large enough to seat at least a thousand people?
There were chairs set up for about 500. We knew we'd be lucky to fill half of them.
Concert time came. So did the American Consul to Florence. So did the President
of the Tuscany-American League. So did enough people to fill every seat in the
house. Electricity was in the air. That sounds like a cliche, but all of us
felt that this evening was going to be special. And so it was. It's
difficult to explain but we had reached a point where we could really focus
on "communicating" the sense of the music rather than simply "making" it.
The audience was also aware of it because they called for more and more encores
when we had finished. We left Florence very late and didn't get back to Siena
until after midnight. The next morning we were to leave early and had to pack.
Darn these concerts! They kept getting in the way of vacation!
||May 30 - June 3
||Concert: Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, Milan|
Concert: San Stefano, Biella
Concert: St. Ambrogio, Stresa
Thursday, May 30 - We left the medieval
walls of Siena behind and began the trek north, once again skirting Florence
(and seeing Brunelleschi's dome over the Duomo again) and hooking up with a major
autostrade outside Florence. By 2:00pm we had arrived in Milan. The downtown is
similar to many
large bustling U.S. cities - except for the fourth-largest Gothic cathedral in
the world sitting in the middle of it. Everyone dispersed to personal pursuits.
Some went to La Scala, one of the most famous opera houses in the world, some
to the Galleria which is an entire city block that was roofed over in the late
19th century and is a very pricey shopping area. Others spent most of the time
in the cathedral.
There is a place in Milan that is a retirement home for elderly musicians. Founded
by the great Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi and the site of his tomb, the Casa di
Riposo per Musicisti is the home of many former instrumentalists and vocalists
from La Scala and elsewhere. The list of benefactors to this place (listed
on plaques on the wall) reads like a who's who of the professional music world.
This evening, even though it was going to make us very late getting to our final
destination, and although we'd been traveling all day and were tired, and even though none
of the singers in this ensemble had ever been or ever would be professional
musicians; we were now going to perform for an audience of retired professional
musicians! Is this making sense?
We dressed and prepared. The crowd was very small .. maybe 30-40 people. The hall
was very small and we had to share the stage with a mammoth grand piano. But it was,
once again, something that will stay with us forever. The faces of the audience were
intensely expressive of everything we did. One very old gentleman came in
after we started and began whispering (loudly and in an agitated manner) to
Simonetta in the back of the crowd. We wondered what he was hearing that was
SO bad. But when we had concluded and the sopranos hit the high B for the end of
"Soon Ah Will Be Done" one of the women in the front row of chairs pumped her
arm emphatically as if to say "yes!". We were then just swarmed upon by these former
musicians all speaking at once and (it seemed) expressing delight for our music.
The old guy in the back turned out to be a retired cellist from La Scala who was,
indeed, angry. He was angry because he felt that the entire city should have been told
about this concert and heard it, because it was rare for them to hear an entire
concert of a cappella music and, in his opinion, it was absolutely beautiful.
What a confirmation of all our hard work!
Back on the bus (by now it was 10:30pm) and another one and a half hours to our
destination for the last four nights of the tour - Stresa, a resort town on Lago
Maggiore. We drove for what seemed an eternity, through many tunnels, and in the
dark. Most everyone was asleep. Suddenly, we rounded a bend and saw in the darkness
a vast pool of water surrounded by mountains and, reflecting off it, sparkling lights
from many towns around the lake. The "ooh" and "aahs" of the few woke the rest of the
bus and soon everyone was "oohing" and "aahing".
The best was saved for last however, when we pulled up in front of the Grand Hotel
Bristol and saw the tremendous palace arranged for our final hotel
stay. All lit up, facing the lake, with impeccable grounds covered with gardens
and outdoor comforts such as recliners, tables, swimming pool, etc.; the Bristol
seemed like something out of a fairy tale. Simone said on the microphone, "So here
is our hotel.." and someone in the back of the bus interrupted and said, "You're
kidding, right?" No, she wasn't. We were in Stresa.
Friday, May 31 - We awoke to a glorious day, with nothing on the schedule until evening.
The Hotel Bristol was located on a major thoroughfare that edged the lake. As
mentioned earlier, the grounds were exquisite in themselves, with uncounted rose
gardens, a huge outdoor pool (as well as indoor pool and sauna) replete with sunlounges
and tables. The hotel faced Lago Maggiore with one of the more famous islands in view:
Isola Bella, home to the Borromeos of Italian nobility
since the middle ages. Those of us who were in Vienna in 1989/1990 and sang at the
Karlskirche twice were surprised
to learn that the "Karl" is "St. Charles" who was one of the Borromeos.
Outside the hotel grounds one could cross the street and walk into the lake, or turn
left to walk down to the next little town which was really just a gathering of
shops and houses around a ferry dock and cable which went up into the mountains
surrounding Lago Maggiore. Turning right, one ended up in downtown Stresa. Stresa
is a resort town, visited by Europeans on vacation, not so much by
Americans. We did not, however, have any trouble finding English-speaking
waiters/shopkeepers/officials (neither did we in the rest of Italy). In Stresa the
sun shone gloriously and most everyone was able to kick back and hit the pool, or
spend languid long lunches outdoors, or go shopping to spend that last little bit
left on the credit card limit.
That evening at around 5:30pm we left for Biella. The cathedral in Biella afforded
us probably the best acoustical space yet in terms of resonance. The setting was
Gothic, with a early Christian era Baptistry just outside the building (probably
6th-century). A television crew was there taking pictures .. hmm, maybe we ought
to get copies of that film. The bishop showed up and sat in the back with the priest
while we kept thinking, "Okay, they throw us out after *this* number". But they
never did. Instead they expressed delight afterwards at the champagne and snacks
reception they hosted for us.
Saturday, June 1. Uh-oh. May was gone and June was here. The end was not far off.
Another glorious day. Everybody met downstairs before going to the evening concert
for group photos in front of the hotel such as:
The lake made a great background. The last
concert was taking place just down the street in the main church in Stresa.
Probably because it was our last shot at this music, we were fairly keyed up. The
priest was an absolute stitch, introducing us like the announcer at a Chicago Bulls
game. The church was absolutely crammed with people (estimated 200-300) standing
in every available space - and this was not a tiny church either. We
were having a blast performing and sounding like it. Everyone pulled out their
last reserves of vocal quality after three weeks of little sleep and some abuse.
It was truly a fine concert.
Sunday, June 2 - This was a completely free day, with only the farewell dinner
planned for the evening in the Bristol. The
was, as most things like that
are, tinged with both happiness and sadness. Another good dinner. Another good
evening. Afterwards we took over the hotel bar and sang every THEM song and anything
else possible, including a couple of premiere performances of original songs by
some SDSM&T faculty. Who knows how long the party went on? Monday, June 3. Not much
to say about travel home. It's always a pain, no matter
how painless one tries to make it.
|Missa IX (cum jubilo)||Gregorian Chant mass|
|Alleluia. Veni sancte Spiritus||Heinrich Isaac|
trans./edited by J. Feiszli
|Veni creator Spiritus||Gregorian Chant sequence|
|Credo from Missa Brevis||G. P. da Palestrina|
|Veni sancte Spiritus||Gregorian Chant antiphon|
|The Eyes of All||Jean Berger|
|Sing Praises||Lloyd Pfautsch|
|My Shepherd Will Supply My Need||Virgil Thomson|
|When Jesus Wept||William Billings|
|No Bird||Alan Dorsey|
|Walkin' On the Green Grass||Michael Hennagin|
|I Got Shoes||African-American spiritual,|
arr: A. Parker
|Soon-Ah Will Be Done||African-American spiritual,|
arr: W. Dawson
|Hush! Somebody's Callin' My Name||African-American spiritual,|
arr: B. Dennard
|Jamaican Market Woman||Jamaican folksong,|
arr: L. Farrow
arr: J. Erb
|My Old Kentucky Home||Stephen Foster,|
arr: D. Moore
|Lonesome Road||James Taylor,|
arr: Kings Singers