"Meanwhile, Back in Albi . . . "
The year 2000, when the thought of opening my own design business hadn't even finished forming in my mind - I spent two glorious weeks in the South of France - touring with my chamber choir through tiny villages and beautiful cathedrals. We were there from July 1st through July 16th - a trip beginning a few days before our celebration of independence and spanning until a few days after theirs. I always liked the symmetry of that! And even from a distance of ten years, so much of that trip is astoundingly clear in my mind.
We were scheduled to sing one evening in Albi Cathedral. A huge red brick fortress of a place - completed in the early 1400's. Amazing space. Amazing acoustics. Breathtaking frescoes on the ceiling.
Our little 24 voice choir had gathered back in the Sacristy before the concert. We'd done maybe 7 or 8 concerts in a row - but, based on the specific building - and what instruments we would have available - the concert repertoire and order changed nightly. So invariably just before any concert, there was a general sense of confusion . . . music being shuffled around . . . whispers of "what do we sing after the Faure?" and the inevitable concerns about what order we'd be standing in . . . "are we standing in voice parts for the spirituals?" "or in mixed pairs?"
There were times that my music scores had more notes about where I supposed to stand - than what I was supposed to be singing . . . lol
So from that flurry of activity - we walked out into . . .
. . . . this. Now, I've sung at the National Cathedral in Washington. In Westminster Abbey in London. And in Mission Dolores here in San Francisco. Hell, I've sung under the dome at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. But, this was truly breathtaking. And it was PACKED. A huge crowd gathered a see this visiting American choir from San Francisco.
And frankly, we sang a hell of a good concert. A collection of American folk songs contrasted with great works from French composers. We were in great form. And in great spirits. And the audience applauded madly at the conclusion of the program. Encore. Another standing ovation. Another encore.
So afterwards - we were back in the Sacristy again - getting out of our tuxedos. Figuring out which car we were going to take back to the hotel. "Where do sing tomorrow night?" "Are we singing the spirituals standing in voice parts or in mixed pairs?"
And when we walked back out into the empty church - this lovely little man - the janitor - stood up and applauded us once again. Just one singular person. The sound of this one man clapping echoing through the massive space. I think he might have actually been crying. The connections that music can make surpass language and emotion.
So we decided to sing again just for him. One of the pieces from our concert that - by this point - I think all of us had memorized. So we gathered in the back of the church. Made a circle. Put our music down. Wrapped our arms around each other. And let the janitor stand in the center.
And sang this. An all-time favourite. I heard it again last Sunday at church service . . . and the memories came flooding back . . . enjoy . . . I can't find our recording of this - so, let this one fill that place for the moment . . .
Happy Bastille Day,