I didn’t think it was possible to experience more musical delights in one week, but we did!
Late last week (the week of March 7) we finally connected with the folks we had met on the trail (see this post) a few weeks back. Christina had been trying to reach me via phone but because we hadn’t really learned these new phones yet, we were a) unaware we had received calls and b)couldn’t retrieve a voice mail message at all. So, after taking ourselves back to the phone store and finding the same clerk who helped us before, we managed to install a system for voice mail. I hope that after the rapidGermanthatIcannotunderstand finishes, I can just enter my pin and listen! Texting (or SMSing here in Europe) is infinitely more reliable, once you figure out how to do it! (my adult children can stop rolling their eyes, now!)
Christina and Gernot invited us to a concert in, she said, “the church near the school where I teach.” She said some of her students and former students would be performing. We were thinking, ‘kids’ choir concert’ but we were so wrong and completely blown away by what we encountered! (side note: Concerts happen in churches all the time here in Europe. When we were in Prague in the mid-90’s, there were at least 2 or 3 different concerts a day in various churches — all open to the public usually for a small fee. Here, they tend to be more formal and people dress up!)
They picked us up near the corner market (how to tell someone where we live?) and we drove about 20 km east of Graz on winding, narrow back roads to the charming town of Nestelbach bei Graz.
It was apparent right from the start that this was no small ‘kids concert’ because right away, even though we had arrived 1/2 hour early, there was NO PLACE to park! (note: in Austria, there are very few parking lots; you have to find a place on the street, usually, and in big cities like Graz, you must put two of the wheels up onto the sidewalk if you don’t want your car to get clipped by a tram!) And as we walked into the church, there was also NO PLACE to sit. Ahh, but Christina’s friend (a mom of a student) had, without being asked, saved us seats. What seats they were! We were about 3 rows back from the front and we felt like we were sitting IN the orchestra. Yes, full orchestra! Behind them, after the beginning instrumental piece, the choral group – about 30 singers, mostly adults but some youth and one little girl (10 years old) – filed in.
What proceeded, after the Allegro in G by Vivaldi, was an amazing concert of alterations of readings from the Bible (creation through the passion, resurrection and ascension of Christ) and choral (satb) or instrumental works. The very first choral piece was the Gloria from Vivaldi (yes! another point of familiarity!). These people were not professionals: mostly it was the church choir and church members, with some students from the university community. 14 pieces in all, mostly choral but the orchestra played on every one. Absolutely impressive and sung and performed from the heart. The Austrian audience very respectfully did not clap until the end, but when the last note was sung in the Benedictus, there was uproarious applause, so much so that the groups performed 3 encores!
The choir leader has had no ‘formal’ training as a conductor. He reads music and he put together the entire program, re-arranging some of the pieces for his groups, and published a 9-page glossy program with photos to accompany the text of the songs. It’s title was “es werde Licht!” or “Let there be Light!” The groups had been working on this for about 5 months, and it is something they do each year, especially during Lent. This was the second of two performances this weekend. Is there something in the leitungswasser (tap water) that leads to such musical talent in this small country? If so, it is time to drink up!
Afterward, there was a reception in the parish hall, with beer, wine, water, Pfirsich-Nektar (peach nectar, right from the orchard up the street), sandwiches and some kind of sweet bread shaped like a treble clef. Am I in music heaven or what? Bill and Gernot chatted (we found out he is some kind of sound engineer working with the Austrian highway department — you know those walls you often see separating the interstates from residential areas? That’s what he designs!) and I went with Christina as she met all the other people in the room, or so it seemed. I tried a little German and they tried a lot of English! We laughed and smiled, and it was just a ‘super’ time! It was clear she is a much beloved teacher and the feeling between her, her students or former students, and their families is mutual.
At the Fulbright Orientation in Vienna, the program’s director mentioned that Austrians tend to appear outwardly ‘gruff’ but once you got to know them, they are delightfully warm and hospitable. As we’ve walked around Graz, we have noticed that. Most people do not look you in the eye or if they do, they rarely smile or speak even if you speak to them. Bill is sure that is just ‘big city’ culture but this Montana girl was starting to feel a little discouraged, after so many smiles and Grüss gott’s were not returned.
After our visit to Nestelbach bei Graz, it was like the world had changed! We felt such joy at being with the people there! In the program notes, the director wrote about this time of Lent being thought of as morose and shadowy. While he wanted to present a contemplative program, he did not want to ‘sing the blues’. And after that night, we couldn’t agree more!