Friday, July 6, 2012

Praha: Chorale Tour, Days 7-8

I'm writing from home, and yesterday was a grueling 24 hours of airports and airplanes. I won't bore you with that, so let me give you a recap of the last two days of our tour.

We transferred from Vienna to Prague on Tuesday morning, and it was immediately clear when we crossed the Czech border. The language was totally foreign to me, and the roads were rougher. In larger towns like Brno and Praha, you could see the remnants of the former Communist regime: featureless residential towers that have, since the fall of Communism, been painted many colors. The climate was also markedly different. Unlike sunny Austria, the weather in the Czech Republic was cooler and wetter. I won't go so far as to say that this is typical, but the rain of Praha made me miss the sun of Salzburg and Vienna. We were all grateful for the cooler temps.

Tuesday afternoon, we toured Prague Castle (Vysehrad) and St. Vidus cathedral, with its incredibly intricate stained glass windows. The castle afforded stunning vistas of the River Moldau and Old Town Prague. My friends were right; Prague is stunning. We crossed the Charles Bridge - you haven't been to Praha until you cross the bridge - and walked through the Old Town Square. I should mention at this time that our tour guide was named Vladimir, a man in his retirement, and whose voice surely bore testament to his smoking history. Then we checked into the hotel to enjoy our dinner. A few of us on that first night wanted to be adventurous, so we took the metro back to downtown to wander a bit, maybe find a bar. Well, we got lost. The streets are tiny and twisty, and signs are not in English (or German!). And it was cold. And rainy. And dark. After an hour, we find a group of Americans to direct us to a Metro station, and we were all wet and tired. To be honest, I was bit discouraged, but Wednesday was a new day.

On Wednesday morning, we toured Terezin, the concentration camp and Jewish ghetto situated about an hour north of Praha. I don't know how to write about this place; one does not "enjoy" or "admire" a concentration camp. Our tour took us through the entrance of the prison, a tour of the tiny cells, the interrogation and torture chambers, the showers (which were showers; this was not an extermination camp), the underground garrisons, and ultimately the execution field. A place like Terezin is a visceral reminder of dark history and man's own sinfulness. How the hell could one nation - Nazi Germany - justify the systematic destruction of an entire ethnicity? What reminders and lessons does a place like Terezin and her counterparts at Dachau and Auschwitz offer us in the 21st century? Terezin is unsettling; I don't know if it can offer many answers but only a reminder: Don't let this happen again.

Our afternoon was simple. Three free hours to do what we wanted, so I museum the Kafka Museum. His messed up life explains twisted nature of what he wrote (EG Metamorphosis  and The Penal Colony). We gave our final concert at St. Francis Church to a full and appreciative audience. We enjoyed our final meal together. And finally, I and some of our twenty-something basses and tenors (four of us in total!) went back to downtown Praha to find a bar and celebrate Fourth of July late late late in the night.

So now I'm home. Did all that really just happen? Did I really tour Austria and the Czech Republic? Yes. I miss it already, but I'm glad to be home where it is quieter.

The Moldau, looking towards Vsyehrad.

St. Vidus Cathedral. This nave was built in the 14th century.

One of many beautiful windows at St. Vidus

Beautiful Praha as seen from Vysehrad

The entrance to Terezin. "Arbeit Macht Frei" means "Work makes you free."

Praha. What the hell is this?

St. Francis Church, scene of our final concert.

Astronomical Clock and Tyn Church in Old Town Square

Chales Bridge by night, as seen from our Fourth of July bar.
Until next time,

Monday, July 2, 2012

Vienna: Chorale Tour, Day 6

It's late, so I'll give you the cliff notes version of today.

We started with a tour of Scholß Schönbrunn (Beautiful Fountain Palace), the summer palace of the Hapsburg Family. It's modeled after Versailles, but only about 1/4 of the size, meaning that Schönbrunn is a paltry 1,000+ rooms compared to Versailles 4,000 rooms. I cannot impress upon you how beautiful and stately this place was. 

We then took a driving tour around downtown Vienna, passing by the Nachstmarket, Musikverein, Staats Operhaus, Hofburg, Carlsplatz, Parliament, and Teater Wien. We had no time to stop in these places...sadly. We also ventured out to Central Cemetery to pay our respects at the graves of Brahms, Beethoven, J. Strauss, and Schubert. I need you to think about this for a second: I stood before the graves of some of history's most important composers. It was another transcendent moment.

We had a brief, and I do mean brief, rehearsal at the St. Stephensdom for our 8:30 PM concert, and then we were given the entire afternoon to go play. I made my way to The Belvedere, a large estate owned by the Hapsburgs for the sole purpose of storing their art. This museum is notable for its large college of fin-de-siècle paintings, including an extensive gallery of original works by Klimt and Schiele. High point: standing before Klimt's "The Kiss." It's one thing to see it on paper; it's quite another to see this enormous piece in person. 

We had a great dinner and then a FABULOUS concert at St. Stephensdom with 400 people in attendance. 

And now we're home in our hotels preparing to leave for Praha (Prague) in the morning!

I will surely miss Austria...

Schünbrunn Palace

Maestro Bill and Organist Jane in front of our poster.

The interior of St. Stephansdom

Life goal: throw a frisbee on every continent. I have completed this task on N. America, S. America, Asia, and with the help of Brian, Europe. Africa, Australia, and Antarctica are left!

The Vienna Staatsoper Haus. SIGH.

You just can't get away from home...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lobet den Herrn: Chorale Tour, Day 5

Every once in a while, you get to have a profound moment that will forever change your perspective on a certain thing, and this morning was one of those moments. The choir was given the opportunity to sing Mass at the Salzburg Dom this morning under the direction of their music director, Janos Czifras. We sang Mozart's Missa Solemnis, K. 337 not as a concert piece but as liturgical worship. I want to put something in perspective for you. Mozart wrote this piece of music specifically for the space in which we sung. We sung the piece in the precise place where Mozart's choir and orchestra would have sung it. The organ upon which the organist played was the very organ that Mozart would have played. Prof. Czifras has the exact same job that Mozart's father, Leopold, had nearly 300 years ago.

In other words, we were truly living and partaking the communion of the saints; we were living, breathing, and singing in a small part of human history.

Furthermore, to sing the Mass as a liturgical aid in worship, not as a concert piece, brought a whole new level of understanding and depth to the work. The fermatas before changes in tempi are not just for aesthetic or dramatic effect. Mozart was accommodating for the reverberation of the space. The lengthy "Agnus Dei" was not only a theological statement; Mozart chose a slower tempo for the final movement because everyone in the cathedral would have taken communion during the singing of "Agnus." Indeed, in the time it took to perform the final movement this morning, everybody had taken of Christ's blood and body.

And even though the liturgy was in German, I still had a general idea of pace. The rhythms of our sacred liturgies are almost universal; every Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Offertory has its fixed place. When the congregation prayed a Vater Unser, I knew to pray an Our Father with them. One holy, catholic, apostolic Church, indeed.

I think I realized more than ever today that music, even the sacred music of the great masters, can be more than a relic for the museum-like concert hall. It can breathe life and carry significant meaning and weight. Music is not merely a vague aid to some kind of spiritual insight; music can be and should be a tool to proclaim the Gospel itself.

In the choir loft at the Dom - the same one the Mozarts used - to sing at Mass.
The Dom from the Choir Loft, before service.

Schift Melk monastery.

The chapel at Melk.

We're in Vienna now, and we have a huge day that will culminate with a concert at St. Stephensdom, the flagship Cathedral of Austria. I have been told that we are doing the impossible: an American guest choir singing a formal evening concert. For me to be part of the choir that will give a concert - let alone being a member of the Mozart solo quartet and to sing a Gospel solo - is a bit overwhelming.

But until then...


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Gloria in Excelsis Deo! Chorale Tour, Days 3-4

Grüß Gott! Sorry for not posting yesterday, but what can I say. We're having too much fun in Europe to be blogging every day.

On Thursday, I spent the day being a tourist with our big group, but I chose not to do the big group tours yesterday or this morning. Rather, I spent Friday and Saturday on my own and with my friend Luke. Thanks to all my walking, I now have downtown Salzburg fairly memorized, and I know how the bus system works (all in time for me to leave town tomorrow!). I've even eaten lunch in restaurants where I hardly used any English (in fact, at lunch today, ich sprach kein Anglish; ich sprach nur Deutsch!). It was a lot more fun to experience Salzburg on my own schedule, and besides, my mind and body needed some time to be a little quieter, and a little less rushed. AND I was not waking up at 5:30 AM on concert day for a boat ride. Sorry. Was not happening.

Yes, concert. Today was the big concert day in the Salzburg Dom, and we sang everything to a packed house. It was glorious to see a multi-national audience take in Mozart's Missa Solemnis (I feel the need to tell you that Mozart served as the choir master in the Dom for a season working under Archbishop of Colleredo, so the mass we sung was written specifically for the space in which was sang tonight. Yeah.), Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, and a few Moses Hogan spirituals. I had the solo on "My God is So High," and I was rather pleased with my performance! Except that I practically blew a gasket on the high A, but life goes on. So does the show. It truly was a wonderful experience, and tomorrow, we get to sing the Mozart mass for Mass! That's right. We're singing the Missa Solemnis as a liturgical work, not a concert piece, so that should be wonderful.

Picture time.

Prof. Janos Czifra, director of music at the Dom, leads us in a rehearsal

Just a beautiful day for a walk on the Salzach River

The famous Mirabel Gardens with a world-famous view of the Dom and Fortress

A Croation Catholic Church

On left: God's Word is a light onto my path
On Right: Blessed are those who hear the word of God and understand

Luke, my Aussie friend, with me at the end of our concert at the Dom. Notice the tie sits down. Don't judge.
We leave for Vienna after mass tomorrow, and it's a bittersweet farewell. I loved, loved, loved Salzburg with its mountain charm and sunny skies, but I'm eager to see the music capital of the world. Thank you, Salzburg, for a great 4 days of Weinerschnitzel, Weißbeir, and beautiful music.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Walk Together Children: Choral Tour, Day 2

Today was our first full day in Salzburg. In the morning, we were tourists, and in the evening, we were musicians.

After a full Austrian breakfast - and by full, I mean oatmeal, fruits, cold cuts, cheeses, eggs, bacon, sausage, cereals, a wide variety of bread (so yes, FULL breakfast) - we made our way towards the old city (Altstadt) for a tour of the Mirabel Gardens, or the gardens of the royal family, which was the same garden where Julie Andrews and the von Trapps sang "Do Re Mi"in The Sound of Music. After galavanting about the gardens, we crossed the river Salzach to see the Mozart Gebortshaus; translation: the house in which Mozart was born. Meaning: I walked through the tiny apartment that the young W. A. Mozart grew up in, and I stood in the very room where Mozart was birthed. To say it was a transcendent experience would be an understatement. When we departed the Mozart Gebortshaus, we toured around Altstadt, including the catacombs that inspired the climactic final scene of The Sound of Music, and we made our way up to the Fortress atop the mountain to take in some fan-freaking-tastic views of the city.

And then we made our way into the Salzburg Dom, or the cathedral. When I walked in, my jaw dropped. High ceilings. Marbled floors. Paintings and sculptures in the style of the Italian Baroque. Five, count 'em, FIVE pipe organs in the cathedral. And, oh yeah, I will be singing in a concert in this space where Mozart was the Kappellmeister.

Oh fine, I hear you screaming, "PICTURES!" Let me give you a few.

Mirabel Gardens

This is a fence on the pedestrian bridge over the Salzach River. These locks are placed on the fence by star-crossed lovers who are making their commitments to one another. They lock the lock on the fence and throw the key in the river.
Crowded street in Altstadt 
Of all the things I find in Salzburg, I find an Andean harp being played by an Ecuadorian. 

The Dom. I'm singing here. O. M. G.

Look up!

The view from the Fortress, looking towards the German border. I think I found my retirement home.

So after a busy morning of walking, we ate lunch and had our first (THREE-HOUR) rehearsal of the trip in preparation for Saturday's concert. After rehearsal, I took my tired body to meet my friend Luke who is visiting us from Australia for some local cuisine, and then we went back for two more hours of rehearsal.

Skoog leading us in rehearsal.

True Austrian Weinerschnitzel with cranberry sauce and potatoes. And of course, a Weißbeir.
And here we are, about ready to pass out again. We have another rehearsal in the morning, and then I'm branching away from the group to join Luke, and we're going to have a build-our-own-Salzburg-adventure kind of afternoon. I don't even know what we're going to do besides walk, but I'm looking forward to it!

Until then, Tchüss!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Grüß Gott! Chorale Tour, Day 1

Grüß Gott! My friends, we made it over to Salzburg. Let me give you a few highlights from our first day of tour.

Our flight was flawless. Let me tell you that Lufthansa knows what they are doing with International Travel. The flight crew exhibited utmost professionalism, and the airplane felt like a spaceship gliding through the clouds with not one bit of turbulence.

We landed in Munich and made our way through customs. After grabbing our bags, our coach whisked us to the Marienplatz in München for an afternoon of shopping, sightseeing, and eating...und bier zu trinken! Man, I thought beer was great, and then I had an authentic Paulaner Hefeweizen in an outdoor market int he Marienplatz...never again will I be able to drink that beer over here. After a lunch of Weißwürst and Kartoffleknöppeln, we did a bit of church hopping. Oh here, let me just show you some pictures.

Best beer ever. Or at least in a long time. 
Lunch, which doesn't include the AMAZING pretzel I had.

A view inside the Heiligekirche, a church that was built in the 1300s. NBD.

A view of Michaelskirche.

Beautiful fountain

The Rathause in the Marienplatz
I also bought a Deutschland Fussball-Bund scarf to get me in the spirit of the huge football championships. 

Then we transferred to Salzburg for dinner. We're all on the verge of passing out, so I'll keep this short. Here's one more picture for the road. 

Or rather, from the road.
Just a view of the Alps on our way to Salzburg. No big deal. So tomorrow we get to explore the Mozarthaus, Mozarteum, and the Fortress, along with other palaces and such (I hear Eddie Izzard now: "You Americans think we're up to f______ here with castles. And we are!")

But for now, it's time for Operation Stabilize Circadian Rhythms.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Auf Wiedersehen: Rhodes MasterSingers Chorale on Tour, 2012

My friends, take a gander at these three pictures:

Beautiful Salzburg
Picturesque Vienna
Magnificent Prague
This is where I will spend the next 10 days with the Rhodes MasterSingers Chorale on tour. We will sing Mozart's Missa Solemnis, K. 337, Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna, and three spirituals by Moses Hogan.

It's okay if you're jealous! I've been looking forward to this trip for the last 10 months, and tomorrow, I'm going to get on that Europe-bound plane and not come back...for ten days.

I want to invite you to join me on my journeys. I'll be providing tour updates as often as I can complete with pictures, so check back often. 

Until then, Auf Wiedersehen!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rhodes (Chamber) Singers Tour, Day 4

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have come to the end of our tour, and what a tour it was. The Rhodes Singers and Chamber Singers offered some a cappella anthems for Broadway Baptist's 10:50 AM service, and you could tell that the congregation thoroughly enjoyed our music. The pastor gave an excellent sermon based on John's account of Jesus turning over the tables of the Temple and thereby chastising the swindling merchants for turning His Father's House into a common marketplace. The crux of his sermon was this: we should not read this passage with the intent of joining Jesus to clean house. Rather, we should allow Jesus to turn over the injustices and evils of our heart, and perhaps it is our own spirits that need cleansing more than anything else around us. Fresh take on a familiar passage.

Entrance for the gardens.

Aerated pool

Feet in Water
Active Pool

Mom and I went to lunch at Taco Cabana (mmmmm), and then I spent the afternoon wandering around the Ft. Worth Water Gardens. Dear reader, if you ever find yourself in this fantastic city, be sure to stop by the Water Gardens. Designed in the 1970s, this park features three large pools each with a different nature. The Quiet Pool was a still body of water with gently cascading water falls along the boundary of the pool. The Active Pool was quite the opposite, with loud waterfalls and swirling rapids. In this pool, you could descend down the side of the falls into the gathering area of the water; the roar of the water was quite deafening by the time I reached the bottom of the trail. Finally there was the Aerated Pool with plenty of jets to create the illusion of a tiled water path. This was a great place to center; water, whether still or active, is a powerful image for me. It reminds me that most of my body is made of water, that water is a symbol of cleaning and sanctification in the Bible, and that water is a vital element of life.

Final rehearsal before showtime
After a relaxing afternoon, it was showtime. We went back to the church at 5:00 for dinner, rehearsal at 5:30 PM, and concert at 7:00. We had a pretty full house, and my entire family was there: sister, two nieces, mom (yes, this constitutes roughly 85% of my family), so I was glad that they came. I think that this was my younger niece's first choral concert, so I'm glad that I could provide that for her. The choirs were excellent. The Fauré Requiem was exquisite. Chamber Singers were impeccable in that beautiful sanctuary, and their Locus Iste was magnificent. Rhodes Singers were in top form; I haven't heard them that musical in a very, very long time. I'm very proud of my choir, and I can't wait to share them with a Memphis crowd on April 15!

So tomorrow we perform at Oak Ridge High School, and then we make our long trek back to Memphis. Tomorrow's blog post will be less of a summary of the day's events and more of a  meditation on why tour is important for choral ensembles. For now, we sleep heartily (and I'm sure the students party hard). We'll see you back in Memphis!
Rhodes Chamber Singers 2012
Until next time,