Choir Workshop in Tuscany
Intermezzo in the Abbey of San Galgano
The afternoon light shines brightly through the arched window above the altar of the Abbey of Sant 'Antimo. A Benedictine monk in a white robe walks silently away among the tall pillars. It smells like incense. This place is so quiet that you have to whisper involuntarily.
But we open our mouths: "Alta Trinitá Beata" twelve women and four men sing into the silence; and the walls shake the sounds back and forth like ping-pong balls. Surprised, a few tourists look up from their travel guides, in which they have probably just read that the fantastically chiselled capital in the portico shows the prophet Daniel in the lions' den. Surrounded like the stone Daniel - that's how I feel in the face of our involuntary audience.
Skeptically, I watch our listeners singing out of the corner of our eyes. But no one looks as if he wants to jump up and flee out into the olive grove - or attack us like a lion, to silence us. On the contrary. Some close their eyes, seeming to sink into our program of meandering Gregorian chants and ancient Renaissance harmonies. And then it's over: our final concert. The highlight of our journey.
Singing break: small hike in the surrounding area
"Vocal Expedition - the Sound of the Churches" is the name of the weeklong course to which I registered in the gloomy German early spring. And it does not mean any churches, but the most beautiful in Tuscany. When you call up the homepage of the music holiday provider "Musica Viva", the first thing you see is a cappuccino cup, on the foam of which someone dusted two notes with cocoa powder. Perfect, I thought: Cantare and cappuccino. I love to sing so much that in recent years I have explored extensively "the sound of the bathroom" and trimmed whole arias in the shower. Then the names of the Tuscan churches read like gentle, enticing melodies: Sant 'Antimo, San Galgano, La Mulas. I booked and traveled on Pentecost. The thing with the final concert I had probably overlooked. This performance is still pleasantly far away, as our group sits at lunch on the terrace of our course house - the millennial Castello di Monte Antico between Siena and Grosseto. Round gently rolling hills that ebb in the misty sfumato as in the paintings of old Italian masters; on our plates bruschetta from tomatoes and Tuscan white bread. We make our first contacts: Monika from Wuppertal is the youngest member of the group in her early thirties, Peter - a retired teacher from Zurich - at just under seventy the oldest. Doris brought her husband along for the class. He has booked the trip for a reduced price as a passive companion and forms in the following days in all churches our mostly singular, always stoic audience.
I order the first cappuccino of the holiday. In the creamy milk foam is definitely music in it, even if there are no notes on it. But we get so much from them, because course leader Ute von Genat has organized our singing program tightly: Every morning we do yoga exercises in the sunlit courtyard or under a maple tree in the garden of the Castello, plucking the "tiredness spirits" out of our bodies; suck the air of the Tuscan spring into our lungs, then breathe it out in the music salon again to "Ning" and "Nong".
House facade in Siena
It quickly becomes clear that anyone who wants to sing here must not be embarrassed. In order to feel where the sounds in the body produce the most vibrations, we turn our ears and nose. In another exercise, we push our nostrils upwards - with this expression we could also pose well for a family photo of Miss Piggy.
It is more pleasant to open your nose when we leave the castle area in the afternoon. When the minibus spits us out on one of the streets winding through the hills. Already at the bus stop the scent of broom and lavender beats us along the way. A few ambitious people unpack their walking sticks, but our hiking and church guide Jörg has chosen easy routes. I smell the smell of sage, olive trees, holm oaks - only the fruits of the strawberry tree, which I roll between the palms, give off hardly any aroma: they are not yet ripe. In the fields flecked by poppies, insects are chirping in many voices.
Similar to our group at the first attempts in ensemble vocals, in which our voices murmured in the morning were still a little undecided to "Du Stern des Abend". As a choir, we are not even bad - only the number of men is lacking.Luckily, Jörg knows all the pieces we learn from his earlier vocal expedition work. His bass is our unshakable foundation. And sometimes Ute helps with her perfectly trained mezzo-soprano, if we interpret a melody too freely.
In the valley, the Orcia and the Ombrone flow together
Over time, however, we lose our fear of our own voice. In the Santuario della Madonna della Carità of Seggiano, we really get going: Punching out pointed notes. Long puffing sounds. "Uhhs" and "Ahhs". The sounds and their echoes mingle to form a soundscape that a twelve-tone composer could not have thought up more radically.
Now and then a giggle mingles with the soundscapes. The inhabitants of Seggiano would also laugh if they could see how a few Germans are singing around in their church. Touching along the walls. Jostle against the church stalls: Ute and Jörg blindfolded us before we entered the church through the oak-beam door. So we perceive the sounds that we give when wandering from us much better: Under the dome it echoes stronger. In the side corridor, the voice sounds filigree. Like bats, we try to tell by the echo how high the ceiling is at the place where we are currently tapping. I realize that this vocal expedition explores both inner and outer resonance spaces.
Finally, we make a little polonaise around the benches, without towels, to the pilgrim song "Stella splendens". After all, we are here in a pilgrimage church. The painted Madonna above the altar with lace doilies smiles.
Yoga and breathing exercises in the courtyard
"Try not to rate everything", Ute recommended us on the first afternoon. A good piece of advice - otherwise my unleashed singing rage would probably alienate me a little. My bathroom arias at home were subdued, if only because of the neighbors. Here, on the other hand, I behave as if I were standing on an opera stage all day: When I open the shutters in the morning, I send an "Ave vera virginitas" to the distant volcanic cone of Monte Amiata. Followed by a "Maria Himmelskönigin" when jumping into the pool in the garden. After all, I can still dominate the dinner, which we get served at large wooden tables in the former knights' hall. And do not break out at the sight of orecchiette, crespelle with aubergine filling or lasagne al forno in "hallelujah".
The others are similar. One evening, after ten o'clock, I sneak into the garden to watch the fireflies in the bushes. The ear-worm of the journey in my direction blows through the open arched windows of the music salon: "Two little wolves go in the dark at night". A classic of every choir free time that even the non-connoisseurs of us had on pretty fast. Spurred on by a few glasses of Chianti Classico, most of us gather in the music room every night. The group is now in such a state of flux that they probably blew the roof off the San Galgano Abbey, one of the last stops on our tour. Fortunately, the old walls have not had a roof for a long time anyway.
Now they sing "Evening silence everywhere". Eve? Yes - the constellation of Orion shines above me. Silence? No. But the nearest town, Paganico, is far away. And the operator family of the Castello contributes our presence with composure - and routine: Here are also regularly beginner courses for saxophone instead.
One day a week is free. Time to sweep the notes out of the head. Like most, I drive to nearby Siena. The midday heat is burning on the Campo in front of the town hall, the coffee is three times as expensive as in the Castello, but it is good to just sit there and keep silent. Children ride their scooters over the pavement, orbiting the tourists lying on the Campo in the sun. The others in the choir enjoy their abstinence phase. In the old town our ways intersect, but we greet each other only briefly, strolling ice licking on through the alley, the bags full of sweet Sienese Panforte. Consider the offer of Dolci in "Nanninis" pastry, chew pizza with salsiccia. And find in the crowd crowding on the cathedral square between souvenir stands, the peace that can come to the individual in the crowd.
I enter the striped nave of the cathedral. It's huge compared to the small rural churches we've visited so far. The murmur of the visitors echoes from the ceiling vault, lets me guess the great acoustics of the room. Already I get a relapse - and would like to spontaneously celebrate "Laudamus virginem". At the sight of the many tourists, I make my mouth but then very quickly closed again. I prefer to save my courage. For the final concert.
Travel Info Choir Workshop in Tuscany
Musica Viva.The music holiday organizer offers vocal tours between Siena and Grosseto, in the Arno valley south of Florence and in the South Tyrolean Vinschgau.In the morning vocal exercises and rehearsal of Gregorian and Renaissance works, in the afternoon hikes to churches: Here one explores the effect of the voice on the room (one week double / half board 810 euros, plus 150 euros for bus transfers and hiking guides). www.musica-viva.de
GETTING THERE For example, with Lufthansa from Munich or Frankfurt to Florence: there and back from 99 euros. With TUIfly from Hannover (from April), Cologne / Bonn and Stuttgart (from 12 March) to Pisa: round trip from around 48 euros.
PHONE Area code to Italy 00 39, then always dial the 0 of the local dialing.
READ Tuscany & Umbria. Lonely Planet, for the first time in German language; In addition to many insider tips, the book offers special topic boxes and various route suggestions: a trip to various World Heritage sites, a children's tour, a five-city trip. In detail: The chapter about Florence covers nearly 80 pages (Lonely Planet Publications, 17, 50 Euro). Time for Tuscany. Strolling in Lucca, Cycling in Florence, Treatments in Montecatini Terme: In essays and opulent pictures, author Thomas Migge and photographer Mirko Milovanovic present 33 goals that you can feel comfortable with. With tips for sightseeing, shopping, sleeping and feasting (C. J. Bucher Verlag, 29.90 euros). Tuscany. Literary travelogues that arouse longing: for endless cypress avenues, romantic mountain villages and Brunello. Author Felicitas Mayall describes Tuscany off the beaten tourist track. A sensual book, not only because of the numerous recipes (Sanssouci, 14,90 Euro).
INFO Florence and surroundings: Via Cavour 1 r, I-50129 Florence, Tel. 055/29 08 32, www.firenze turismo.it. ? Maremma and surroundings: Viale Monterosa 206, I-58100 Grosseto, Tel. 05 64/46 26 11, www.lamaremma.info.