Saturday, September 24, 2011

Music is a language without words

Tonight I went to a Swedish choir concert held in an old catholic church in the center of Florence. Sounds a little conflicted, I know. It looked like it too. All those Scandinavian looking people wearing white with pink and lavender scarves lined up in front of the alter next to a statue of the Virgin Mary while a devout (we'll give her the benefit of the doubt) woman lit candles to Mary next to the alto section. People in the  audience looked at the confessional booths and wondered what the heck they were for? I think the couple in front of me told their child that's where bad little kids have to sit. Applause was you clap because they were so good or do you not because after all you're in church? The group seemed to feel that no more than ten seconds of discreet applause was appropriate. Obviously a Protestant crowd.

They were very good. I didn't understand a single word they sang, because they didn't sing the "thank you, goodbye" song, the "I love you" song, or the "hugs and kisses" song, which is the extent of my vocabulary. Oops, I forgot I also know "cinnamon bun" but they didn't sing that song either. But you know what? I didn't need to understand the words, because the harmonies and rhythms were pure protestant. I could have been in any church in Minnesota listening to the church choir there. They were sounds I have been listening to and making since I was born.

Most of the women looked like lunch ladies from small town central Minnesota schools or possibly home ec teachers, except for the eighty-nine year old woman. She just looked old. The six men who were talked into joining the group looked like librarians. But they all sang beautifully, and with great emotion. More than I would have thought possible from Swedes. In this small group of people, complete strangers from a strange country, I saw the people from my church family in Minnesota. I saw Marg and Marlys reaching every high note and glorying in the sound that came back to them from the vaulted ceilings. They had their own tenor equivalent of Jim Johnson (whoa, he might have actually been a Jim Johnson!) and their accompanist was Aggie through and through.

And I cried.

Silly, I know. I don't know why I cried, except that it reminded me of life before all the big changes. It's kind of like remembering something so very sweet and knowing that it had to end but sad that it did at the same time. Like remembering Christmas when you were six and all the grandparents were still alive and it was a great day. Except I wouldn't want to be six again. And I didn't really heaving sobs, heck I didn't even need a tissue. More like misty eyed, really. But I'm glad I went.

PS Dad, I think that there is only one textbook on conducting techniques for choir directors. It has been translated so well that Swedish directors look exactly like directors from Minnesota. And you would have loved the organ here. They have regular organ concerts (glad we don't live close to that church) and one set of pipes is laid horizontally across the choir balcony and has bells like trumpets. He played part of the Hallelujah Chorus before we left. Yikes. Of course the Swedish choir started singing along. You would have too. It's hard to resist.

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