Wednesday, July 9, 2014

More Prague

St. Vitus Cathedral, the biggest and most important church in the Czech Republic, is located within the Prague Castle complex. And though we had seen it the day before (because really, how can you not..the thing is huge) it wasn't until the next day that we were really able to get up close and personal with it.

And the inside was every bit as incredible as the out. The stained-glass windows were especially wow.
The place was super crowded so really, could you ask for a better time to flash mob? So right there in the middle of the cathedral we gathered close together and started singing "Ave Maria." The sound lifted and swirled through the whole music is wont to do in acoustically grand places such as St. Vitus. Pretty quick we caught attention and passers-by were stopping to listen and take video. Well received as it was, we also sang "Lux Aurumque" as an encore of sorts, before deciding that maybe we'd pushed our luck far enough. As cool as the spectators thought it was, I'm not sure the cathedral powers-that-be were quite as thrilled....

And do you see the iPhone in my hand? I was planning to take a selfie of Linda and me...just waiting to finish singing the song. When going through my pictures a bit later I was surprised to find a selfie I hadn't intentionally or knowingly taken....
We were let loose to explore a bit after our flash mob experience, but rather than stay in the cathedral, Katie, Linda, Robby and I headed outside, through the castle complex and past the Golden Lane to find an art vendor that we had seen the day before. We had limited time and the vendor was further away than I had originally thought. But we bought a few paintings from the man and then realized we were going to seriously have to book it in order to make it back to the meeting place on time so as to not get left, or worse...publicly dressed down by our tour guide, Nicole. So we ran. Do you know how difficult it is to run up hill, in a maxi skirt, on cobblestones? But we made it in time. Breathing heavily and with jello legs...but hey, we got our exercise for the day, yes? And I had an awesome painting of the Charles Bridge to show for it.

With the group back together we boarded the bus and headed to the Strahovsky Klaster Monastery. Up on the hillside, it gave us stunning views of the city below.

And this is a picture of Melissa and me climbing onto our big, pink(ish) luxury bus...our home away from home, Home Sweet know, just for reference and posterity sake and all of that.

Our concert in Prague was at the Church of St. Salvador. The least elaborate in terms of ornamental finery, it did in fact have the best acoustical sound of the three concert venues on our tour. But despite its more simplistic decor, it was still very beautiful.
For this, our final concert, we had a string trio to accompany us on the Hadyn Mass...the Missa Brevis. Chris, our accompanist, had also received permission (after previously proving his musical worthiness) to play the massive organ during the Haydn. And this was especially cool for me, seeing as my Benedictus soprano solo was in the Haydn Mass.

We began our concerts surrounding the audience and sang four songs there before moving up to the front of the hall. I found myself standing right in front of an older Czech gentleman who was missing a few teeth...something that was obvious to me as he watched me intently throughout our first few numbers with a huge grin on his face. As we sang our third number, the "Ave Maria," his smile gave way to tears. And after the song was done he leaned over slightly and started talking to me. I was a little taken aback at first...having a conversation with an audience member in between numbers is not usually considered proper concert etiquette. But I couldn't really deny him the opportunity to tell me that "Ave Maria" was his favorite song, and had been sung at his wife's funeral. It was actually a rather sweet moment.

This was our best concert of the tour. Whether it was the great acoustics or just because we knew it was our last, I don't know. Without a doubt, when I was singing the Benedictus I know I was buoyed by the amazing accompaniment. And I sang it the best I ever had. I was having ridiculous amounts of just felt SO good to really nail it, you know? To sing it in concert the way I knew I truly could. This solo in these amazing cathedrals in Europe, to sing Haydn in Budapest, Vienna and truly one of highlights of my life, something I am hugely proud of, but also very much humbled by. I will never forget it.
I love this picture because while I'm blurred, my Mom is in focus....and she's watching me sing. 

Yes, Chris is indeed facing away from the choir and conductor while playing this organ. Believe it or not, he used a rearview mirror to see. I imagine that had to be extremely difficult to watch the music in front of him at the same time he's valiantly trying to focus on Lyle so as to stay with the beat. But Chris did so, admirably. 

One of the songs we performed, "Waters Ripple and Flow," is an old Czech folk song that at one point in time had been banned. Under communism, possibly? One week before we were scheduled to leave, our director Lyle decided that we should learn the song in Czech. Have you ever tried to sing in Czech? It's harder even than German...and German gives me fits. (Thank heavens my solo was in Latin, yes?) We weren't sure we'd be able to truly pull it off. Would our audience just laugh at us? But when Bonnie, the first soloist for the song, sang her first phrase in Czech, we could see the huge smiles and the slight chatter as they realized what song we were singing and that we were singing it in their language. They even started to clap in the middle of the song, they were so delighted! And afterwards, unlike our other concerts, rather than go off stage and into a side room we exited down the aisle and out the back where we were able to shake hands with our audience and talk with them as they left. And oh, how they wanted to talk! Part Czech and part broken English, we mostly were able to understand their words. Such amazing people...stoic on the outside, genuine and beautiful on the inside. It truly was a great concert...a perfect way to end our Europe concert series.

 After the concert we were let loose to find some dinner and enjoy night life at Old Town Square.

Our final day in Prague was basically a do-whatever-you-want sort of shopping/sightseeing day with no concrete plans other than a dinner cruise later that night.

 We hit the Charles Bridge again...a little more leisurely this time.

 We had lunch at a fabulous little cafe Nicole had recommended...
....and some gelato for dessert. Of course.

Then we headed over to the Lennon Wall. At first I thought it was the Lenin Wall and wasn't quite sure why everyone was so jazzed about a wall commemorating some communist leader. So it made much more sense when I realized that actually it was John Lennon that was referred to. This wall was a place where Czech youth in the late 80's would air their grievances relating to the communist government, but also their hopes for a better world...a movement that was called Lennonism. Clashes between students and security police over this wall was common and even when it was painted over, the very next day it filled up with poems and lyrics and other such graffiti again. The graffiti continues today, a symbol of love and peace.

And we had to laugh a little at Linda when we saw that she had unintentionally placed herself right underneath Lennon's handlebar mustache...

After making a quick stop at the hotel to get fancied up a bit....
...we headed to our dinner cruise on the Moldau River. Call me a music geek if you must but I got a bit of a thrill seeing the Moldau. When I was probably about 10 years old my piano teacher introduced me to "The Moldau" by Smetana, a Czech composer. I still have memories of playing it over and over again on her vinyl record player. It has been one of my favorites ever since...I even learned to play it on the piano as I got older. So to be cruising down the actual Moldau was kind of cool. Plus, the river is very pretty and it was ridiculously awesome floating under the Charles Bridge.

We had a buffet style dinner inside the boat, but spent the majority of our cruise time on top so we could see the view.

Katie caught this silly picture of Nicole...a random shot of her doing a Superman pose. It has become a favorite way to fondly remember Nicole and how energetic and fun she was. We couldn't have asked for a better tour guide.

While on the dinner cruise, we had a "tacky souvenir" that had been forewarned so we could keep an eye out for possible contest entries while we were shopping earlier in the day.
Melissa and I both made it into the finals with her can of Prague air and my "Mona Shrek" painting.

But Lyle took home top honors with his Marijuana sucker (!!!) There were some really great contenders....which meant we laughed really a lot.

"Czech us out!!" These two, Christian and Robby, kept us in stitches throughout the dinner cruise. I'm not sure they even remember how it got started but somehow they decided that it would be rather hilarious to sing all of our concert songs in a Swedish Chef know, from the Muppets? It was the final day of the trip after all so maybe it was just exhaustion setting in, but they were laughing so hard they had tears rolling down their cheeks. I don't think I will ever think of the Swedish Chef in the same way again. He will always and forever be intrinsically linked with this trip.

It was a gorgeous evening....filled with a lot of laughter and singing. And I can't think of a better way to spend our last night in Prague.

We were loading luggage onto the bus by 6:00 AM the next morning, heading to the airport. Our glorious European singing tour was done. Good heavens, what incredibly wonderful and memorable adventures we had!
(Granted, we had no idea the adventures that were still in store just trying to get home....)

There has already been talk about another tour in 2-3 years...this time to the British Isles. I hope so. Because I already miss these people so much!

Eisenstadt and the dead composers club
More Vienna
Vienna: Lipizzaner Stallions, a Vineyard and Karlskirche


Sara said...

Sarah, I really enjoyed reading about your adventures. It actually gave me chills to read about your singing experiences.

Lori said...

Jon has several Smetana cd's if you eve need a fix. ;)

Thank you for sharing! and I want to see your painting of the Charles!