Blogs From Limestone College & Community Choir's Austrian Tour (Updated!)

Limestone College and Community Choir in their Austrian hotel.
The Limestone College and Community Choir is entertaining European audiences during their eight-day tour of Vienna and Salzburg, Austria.

You can share in their adventures through this regularly updated blog from Dr. Gena Poovey, Professor of Music and Chair of the Music Department.





Sunday (July 4)

Except for collections of souvenirs and dirty laundry, who could believe our week in Austria was ending? Breakfast was early (6:30) and quick due to our 7:00 departure time. Before leaving we delighted in awarding our gifts of LC Alumni tote bags, LC T-shirts, lanyards, pens and pencils to our bus driver Jorge (as in Ge-orge) and to our tour guide, Claudia. Both were delightful, helpful and fun, and they took such good care of us!

The drive from Salzburg to Munich was scenic and beautiful. The architecture and countryside changed ever so slightly, but distinctly as we left Austria and entered Germany. First, a stop at Terminal 1 to deliver Dr. and Mrs. Thompson to the British Airways gate. Then at Terminal 2 we said our good-byes to Jorge and Claudia, and connected with Michael, our guide and translator through the ticketing process. Somehow the flight back didn't seem quite long as the flight over. We were happy to see Mr. Moss who had a church bus waiting to take us the last stretch home to Gaffney.

It will take some days to make the transition back to our everyday lives. The heat is warmer than last week, but now we aren't on foot across town, carrying music folders, backpacks with concert clothes, and souvenirs, so that's an easy adjustment. The jet lag is not so easy for some - several of us are still wide awake at 1:00 or 3:00 a.m., ready to start the new day that won't actually begin for another three to five hours.

Hopefully gratitude is a major part of our collective attitude - thankful for safe travel, for beautiful and perfect weather, for the many sights and sounds of the Austrian culture, and especially for the opportunity to experience these things, as well as the gift of music - music composed, preserved, rehearsed, performed and shared here and abroad. The improvement and growth in this group as a Chorus was tremendous - how I wish they could all stay and demonstrate their skill throughout next year. But alas, some have graduated and must move on, and we will welcome and begin to train new members of the group, always aspiring to higher and higher levels of musicality.

Thank you to those of you who contributed to our fund raising efforts, who faithfully attend our concerts and performances here at home, and who blanketed us with prayers for safe travel and good experiences. We are blessed!



Saturday (July 3rd)

This long, sunny, final day of our tour began with a tour of Schloss Helbrunn, the grounds and home of an archbishop who enjoyed entertaining his guests with water-works and wonders, more plainly put as "tricks." Fortunately for us grown ups, the children of the Alaska Children's Chorus didn't mind getting wet, and boy, did some of them get drenched. (They were easily dried out by evening concert time).

Hundreds of years old and with no electricity (but natural water pressure and simple physics), these cleverly created surprises continue to work efficiently and consistently. The outdoor picnic table and benches provided quite the showering shock, as did pathways with random water arches. We stood on the path and observed the miniature theatre with fully operating characters (dancers, miller, blacksmith, mayor, horses, etc.) and a calliope type organ, all of which were run by water pressure. The 200+ year-old models have not been replaced and still work well, as do the sprinklers that add to the festivities with arches of water from the front and back.

The water-works as well as the grounds surrounding the palace were major scenarios for the filming of "The Sound of Music." Remember when they were pushing the car without cranking it? That was filmed here. Remember when the captain is driving in and the children are hanging from the trees in their drapery-fabric play clothes? That was flimed here, too.

After lunch at an elegant version of what we might consider a truck stop, we made the final trek to the beautiful town of Mondsee (moon lake). What a beautiful drive by the edge of this tremendous lake filled with sail boats. The area around Basilika St. Michael was a quaint Austrian village to itself with outdoor restaurants and shops. We especially enjoyed the coolness of the gathering room where we would later change clothes and gather for the evening performance. (In case I haven't mentioned it, the whole week has been sunny and hot and beautiful.) The cooling comfort made it a good time to distribute postcards and get thank you notes written to our donors. Each student wrote about 3 notes, and the task was complete!

Everyone enjoyed about 45 minutes to walk to the lake, or visit the Basilika gift shop. Then it was time to get Dr. Thompson to the organ in order to acquaint himself with the instrument and the space. There was actually a choice of organs, but we ended up using the "portable" pipe organ up near the sanctuary. Dr. Thompson had the ultimate "rear view mirror" situation to contend with for seeing the conductor. Apparently, some logistical challenges are universal even for musicians. Finally the hour arrived to rehearse in this fabulous, beautiful space with the Alaska Children's Choir as well as our Salzburg Dom choir members. The glorious sound of voices resonated so freely and fully that the sound seemed to never decay. It's as though the music we made may still be "ringing" in this holy, historic and beautiful place.

Earlier in the week students had described their experience of singing in the cathedral spaces as "ethereal" and "awesome," but this experience probably exceeded all others. When the Mass began and we were a part of the worship experience for the 300+ people attending, "performing" took on a new dimension. No longer the center of attention simply as performers, we now were servants providing a major element of an important experience for others. And yet, we were sharing something very personal with these people. We were "one" with the people, these people of a different culture, of a different language, who we will never know by name or see again - but they and we were joined as one in the beauty of the sanctuary, in the peaceful moments of the mass, and in the expressive and joyous musical strains composed by Mozart - the ultimate in aesthetic and spiritual experiences. "Soli Deo Gloria."

Most of the large congregation stayed to hear our after-mass concert. Like audiences from earlier in the week, they were hearty with applause and lingered afterward to thank and compliment us. After gathering belongings and getting a few more photos, and few more photos, and a few more photos, we walked to our bus for the evening ride back to the hotel. The drive seemed short, and was somehow quieter, but also more content than drives before. Dinner had been whatever we could pack and carry for consuming on the bus, so upon arrival at the hotel, most folks changed quickly and headed for the neighboring Burger King and McDonald's. We all agree that the Masons shoulld add the beef wrap and the broccoli and cheese nuggets to Gaffney's local McDonald's menus. Both are delicious in Salzburg!

Friday (July 2nd)

The itinerary listed a workshop with Professor Janos Czifra in the rehearsal Hall of Dommusik from 9-10 am but no one knew just what to expect. We looked forward to meeting Prof. Czifra, as he holds the position at the Salzburg Cathedral that Mozart held there - a job description that we would describe as organist/choir master. Only, Professor Czifra actually directs 14 different ensembles including an early music consort, 4 children and youth choirs, an instrumental group, and numerous other adult choirs. He and these musicians provide music for over 50 masses and around 12 concerts per year. In the workshop he surprised us with examples of music important to the mass from various time periods. Before we knew it we were sight-singing tunes from Gregorian Chant and early notation, as well as getting a "short course" in the history of solmization (the Do Re Mi system). This was a truly "Ah-Ha" moment for everyone in the room who had ever taken an early music history course. Since Cifra is our conductor for the festival performance of Mozart's "Coronation Mass" tomorrow night, the good news is that he is a fine conductor, he has adequate English skills for communicating in a rehearsal, and he is a gracious, patient, but demanding musician.

After the workshop everyone was elated to have five hours for shopping, people-watching, lunch and even a quick trip back to the hotel for a nap if so desired. By 4:00 folks had found their way around the town and reassembled back at the Hall of Dommusik for our first rehearsal with the Alaska Children's Choir for tomorrow night's festival performance. This rehearsal went well and the primary performance challenge was evident right away. Because of the live acoustics of the cathedrals music must be performed with a light, semi-detached technique so as to keep the music clear rather than garbled in the space where the sound keeps resonating for several seconds. This is so different from most performance spaces in our country so it isn't a technique we shall adopt strictly and employ, but it does give us insight as to the buoyancy and lightness appropriate for Mozart's music - another concept to savor and internalize by way of learning it in the very environment in which it evolved - it's just amazing to sing Mozart's music where Mozart himself worked and made music....yesterday we were in the very apartment where he was born and now this today.... The common comment from everyone in the group was "amazing, simply amazing."

Dinner was at the Sternbrau Gmbh restaurant, just across the street from the pedestrian bridge crossing the river. A smooth, rich potato soup preceded roasted turkey with gravy, served with brussel sprouts. The dessert was the most elegant of all so far, a large portion of layered cake and whipped cream with a congealed strawberry mixture - delightful!

Since Saturday evening's return to the hotel will be so late, packing is on the agenda of many for the evening. Packing and the usual juggle and struggle of converters and chargers, and all things electronic.

Thursday (July 1st)

Singers and fellow travelers on the steps of Mirabel Palace, the inspiration for the "Do Re Mi" song setting in "The Sound of Music."

Thursday morning we awoke and went to breakfast, only to realize the distinct difference between the highly modern decor of our hotel and the ancient style of fortresses, castles and churches visible from the restaurant windows.

What a day of walking and getting to know the old part of town. Our city tour guide, Isabella, was an outright educator - simply brimming with information and so very able to tie all of the facts together in a way that made us feel like we knew the people who brought the city to where it is today. Did you know that "salz" in German means "salt?" Known as white gold, this was the first asset to make the area grow and flourish economically, as far back as the year 696. Our time with Isabella ended after we had ascended the side of the mountain by cable car to the fortress. From there we had the most magnificent view of Salzburg from the outer walls. And deep inside the fortress we found the remains of another "city within the city." As recently as 1994 a chapel that was established around 1090, and refurbished in the 1300's, was discovered and revealed by archaeologists. The realization that we are seeing, touching, walking on and in and out of structures where life has been "bustling" for over a thousand years is just amazing - yes, definitely "awesome."

Considering how tired we were, we opted to have lunch at the small restaurant just outside the fortress. After lunch folks made their way on their own to walk, shop and sightsee at their leisure until it was time to return to Mirabel Palace. This time we were not limited to the gardens. We were actually entertained in the marble room of the palace with juice and cookies, and a welcome from a representative of the major, Roswitha Holz, and a sales and marketing manager with the local tourism organization, Gunda Bleckmann. The director of the Alaska Children's Choir from Anchorage, Alaska, and Dr. Poovey, Director of the Limestone College and Community Chorus, were presented certificates of welcome and recognition, and each group performed a number - all in a room where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, himself, made music on numerous occasions. Yes, another "wow" moment, indeed!

Finally, the request of many of our group was granted - two hours for shopping! Shopping lists included everything from jewelry and chocolate to tea towels, curling irons and fuses - oh the joy of figuring out converters, adapters and electronics in Europe.

Back across the river we went one last time for the day to have dinner at Stiegkeller Restaurant - consume soup (with pancake strips - like the first soup that we had MOnday evening), boiled beef (like our roast beef), potatoes (yes, again), and cottage cheese dumplings (kind of like a really thick gravy with horseradish). Yet another taste treat for dessert - a cheese dumpling with strawberry jam.

Wednesday (June 30th)

Limestone College & Community Choir outside of the Vienna Opera House
Upon arrival in downtown, "old town" Vienna, the chorus was swept into the Curhaus to warm up and prepare for singing at the noon-day mass. With seven minutes to spare we entered into the sanctuary of St. Stephan's Cathedral where mass was held with at least 250 people attending.

Dr. (David) Thompson (Professor of Music) had very little opportunity to get acquainted with the massive pipe organ he was to play, but managed to do his part beautifully. In the very resonant warm-up room the choir sounded really huge. In the cathedral the sound had farther to carry, but the voices resonated beautifully in this amazing, ornate, colorful and holy environment. Selections sung during the mass were musical and reverent, adding inspiration to the worship setting. Immediately after the mass we sang a short concert, including several energetic, upbeat American tunes. Over a hundred of the attendees remained to hear our final note, and rewarded us with vigorous applause.

After changing from concert attire to street clothes, we had an hour and a half to visit shops in the old town and to find lunch on our own in the local cafes and restaurants. We enjoyed an extended tour of the area, including the rich history of the St. Stephan's Cathedral, originally built in 1037 and enlarged in the 1300's. After a winding hike through back streets we made our way to the bus which drove us to Schonbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Habsburg family, one of the final generations to fill the role as emperor.

Other sights visited included the Vienna opera house where community member and fellow traveler Sara Setzer boldly asked a security guard to let us walk through the busy, elegant foyer and, amazingly enough, he agreed! From there we walked to the courtyard of the winter palace of the Habsburg family, and across the way to view several Lipizzan stallions having dinner in their stalls.

After a half hour bus ride back to the hotel we enjoyed dinner at 8:30. Tonight's menu included tomato bisque, roasted turkey, vegetables and a variety of "sweets" including a version of poppy seed cake with a beautiful fruit and gelatin creation on the side.

Tomorrow morning we have an especially early departure in order to arrive at Melk Abbey where we will enjoy a guided tour ending with an a cappella performance. The day will continue with more travel and a performance for evening mass in Mondsee (its church was the site of the "Sound of Music" wedding). These are all simply amazing experiences!

Tuesday (June 29th)
The Limestone College and Community Chorus arrived safely in Vienna Monday (June 28th) to beautiful weather and a warm welcome by our tour guide for the week.

Our first stop was the Central Cemetery in Vienna's District #3 where monuments are erected to the memories of Mozart and Beethoven, and where Brahms, Johann Strauss, Franz Shubert, Hugo Wolfe and other noted composers are buried.

Immediately afterward we traveled to a traditional Austrian restaurant, Kados, where we enjoyed Frittatensuppe (pancake soup), wiener schnitzel (breaded veal) and potatoes, followed by a traditional Austrian chocolate cake dessert called sachertorte.

Changing dollars for Euros and a bus tour around the Ringstrasse were the final activities before arriving at the Eventhotel Pyramide.This morning we have enjoyed a traditional American breakfast and are ready to load the bus and travel to our first performance venue, St. Stephen's Cathedral.  We are the official choir for the noonday mass and will perform a concert immediately thereafter.