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 same setup.

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.
Locale Dates Performances
Lake Constance May 18 - 22 Concert: Konstanz Cathedral
Easter VII Mass: Konstanz Cathedral
Concert: Reichenau Cathedral & community school
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 Konstanz. 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.
Locale Dates Performances
Venice, Ravenna May 22-25 Concert: Church of Santa Maria Formosa

Notes 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.
Locale Dates Performances
Tuscany May 25-30 Concert: Assisi Town Hall
Concert: Florence Palazzo Vecchio

Notes 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. Highly recommended.

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 planned.

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!
Locale Dates Performances
Milan/Lago Maggiore May 30 - June 3 Concert: Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, Milan
Concert: San Stefano, Biella
Concert: St. Ambrogio, Stresa

Notes 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 dinner 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.


Repertory
Missa IX (cum jubilo)Gregorian Chant mass
Alleluia. Veni sancte SpiritusHeinrich Isaac
trans./edited by J. Feiszli
Veni creator SpiritusGregorian Chant sequence
Credo from Missa BrevisG. P. da Palestrina
Veni sancte SpiritusGregorian Chant antiphon
The Eyes of AllJean Berger
Sing PraisesLloyd Pfautsch
My Shepherd Will Supply My NeedVirgil Thomson
AlleluiaRandall Thompson
When Jesus WeptWilliam Billings
No BirdAlan Dorsey
Walkin' On the Green GrassMichael Hennagin
I Got ShoesAfrican-American spiritual,
arr: A. Parker
Soon-Ah Will Be DoneAfrican-American spiritual,
arr: W. Dawson
Hush! Somebody's Callin' My NameAfrican-American spiritual,
arr: B. Dennard
Jamaican Market WomanJamaican folksong,
arr: L. Farrow
ShenandoahAmerican folksong,
arr: J. Erb
My Old Kentucky HomeStephen Foster,
arr: D. Moore
Lonesome RoadJames Taylor,
arr: Kings Singers