This started out as what I thought was going to be the longest day in history. Patience truly is a virtue and one that not many college students are blessed with, and having to sit in rehearsal for three and half hours can be hard on one... but surprisingly enough, I think we all fared pretty well.
The bus left the hotel at 8:45 and we drove to rehearsal. We arrived at the hall and after crawling over instruments, made it to our seats where we settled in. The conductors got started right away as we had some ground to cover so we were kept in a constant thought process. Singing foreign languages requires a lot of brain power, but German even more so. "De" is "duh"? And then you have all the umlauts and things that look like crazy eights but mean "ss." Not only do I now feel so much more comfortable with my German singing, but I actually feel like I understood what we were singing by the end of the day. Thank you again Dr. Hart for making me write the translation in my score. It really did help.
Our break in between rehearsals came and we wondered what to do with ourselves for the couple hours we had. The group I was with decided on food and a tour of the Assumption Cathedral. We crossed the main square and headed for the church. Upon reaching it, we were in awe. You just don't see churches like this in Billings, Montana, or in Montana, for that matter... The Assumption Cathedral (which wasn't as old as I thought it was) is the city's main landmark. It was built at the end of the 19th century, of cut stones from ruined fortress walls. Because insufficient funds for its construction were gathered from donations, the municipality held a lottery, thus raising a further 300,000 leva from its citizens. The iconostasis was made by Ivan Filipov, a master craftsman from Debur, and most of the icons were presented as a gift from Russian Tzar Nicholas II, in 1901. The day of the Virgin Mary's assumption into heaven, 15 August, is still the official holiday of the city of Varna. The inside was remarkable. The icons were beautiful, the stained glass stories remarkable, the wooden pulpit and chairs where the royal family sat were intricately carved, and all together created a beautiful cathedral. It gave one goosebumps the moment you walked in the doors once you got past all the tourist information and stands.
Next item on the menu was lunch... ha ha... Our little group wandered back to the main square where we stopped at a cafe called Happy's. I would compare it to an Applebees or something along those lines. It served authentic Bulgarian meals but it also served some American cuisine as well as Fabiano's Brazilian Bread... boy, was he happy. After we ordered our food and our wine, we all began to sit back and relax. We came to realize just how blessed we were to be here sharing good food, good memories, and good times. These people in our choir have become so close to me and I realized just how much closer I had gotten to some people and how much I had learned about others. That realization made me happy and proceeded to carry on for the rest of the day.
We stayed at Happy's for the remainder of our break as it began to rain and we didn't really feel like touring in a downpour. As more of our group kept showing up to get out of the rain, the more we ordered... food, dessert, milkshakes and so on. It was all so good though. The walk back to rehearsal was a quick one though as we all didn't want to get too wet. At least it was still warm out. Humidity is good for something.
The rest of rehearsal went really well. It began to sink in toward the end that tomorrow we would be standing in front of an audience and performing this piece. I only hope that we succeeded in getting the emotion across as Brahm's would have wanted. That's what music is about, after all. We must tell a story or share a memory with others and the expression comes through the tempo, the facial expressions, the dynamics, and so much more. It truly is a work of art and its amazing what we all together can create when we work and sing as one. It's like we all have the same thought and we have to tell it or else we just might explode.... well maybe not quite like that, but you get the idea. Trying to fall asleep was hard. I was just too excited! Tomorrow I actually get to sing the Brahm's Requiem in its entirety! How many people get that chance? Not many, so I just wish to express a huge thank you to all who helped our choir get here. Its a memory I will never forget and an experience I might never get again. Thank you so much.
Today a bunch of us took the opportunity to bus up to Balchik which is a small seaside town in Northern Bulgaria which combines the romance of its steep streets with the beauty of the sea. For a long time it has been known as the White Town for the mainly white colour of its lime rocks. We probably will all remember it for its botanical gardens. We got off the bus and walked down the tiny little streets lined with the vendors getting ready for the day until we reached the gates. There we stopped and listened to the history of the Gardens.
The ancient settlement used to bear the name of the Greek god of wine and revelry, Dionysus until after the end of WWI. Then Balchik was handed over to Romania and it was not until 1940 that Bulgaria reclaimed it after the skillful diplomatic intervention of the then Bulgarian monarch Boris I. While Balchik was under Romanian domination the Romanian Queen Maria fell in love with it and built the palace, which was later converted into a botanical garden. One can see both Christian and Muslim holy buildings hosted by the palace - a church and a mosque. Romanian Queen Maria professed the Baha’i religion, according to which perfect harmony was what mattered most. Little by little the palace became the queen’s best preferred place for relaxation, she often used to write poetry and paint pictures in her leisure time. The Queen’s palace has mysteriously landed on the sea coast – it is a building not that grand in scale, but combining elements of Mediterranean culture and the architecture typical of the Bulgarian national revival period of the early and mid-19th century. Rumour has it that the Romanian Queen was desperately in love with a handsome Turkish pasha, while the then Bulgarian prince Kiril was passionately in love with her. The palace owes its pride to its botanical garden, which is really unique, and whose construction the highly reputed Swiss botany expert Jules Jany began in 1926. At that time the garden was named the Garden of Allah. Today, it is found particularly attractive for its rich collection of cacti and exotic plants. The Romanian Queen would often indulge herself in long walks along the meandering paths, tasting the magnificent atmosphere of the palace she had built.
We wandered through the Gardens were we were able to view the beautiful rows of flowers, the ivy covered walls, stone crosses that decorated special areas, tasted some Bulgarian wine, wandered through buildings, and even stopped for a picture on the what used to be the Queen's private massage table. Her private church was really neat. The icons that covered the walls were beautiful. The best part though were the roses. Bulgaria really is the Land of Roses. They were every shape, size, color, and scent. The coolest ones that I saw were a deep purple and had one of the sweetest scents. One I will always remember.
After the gardens we had some time to wander through the streets. I don't think I will ever forget one of the stores. They had preserved puffer fish in their puffed out position. They hung from strings and you could buy them in mobiles or just as figurines. What a person does with them, not really sure... Probably collectors items or something...
Lunch was amazing! We sat down at our tables which were located on a patio that overlooked the harbor of Balchik. We watched sailboats race through a course while we enjoyed our first course of a salad sample. We had three different salads which were all good, but my favorite was and always will be the shopska salad. The others were flavored heavily with dill as is a lot of their food... it takes some getting used to. The main dish was either stuffed chicken or shark. Shocking, yes. The stuffed chicken was excellent, but the shark was somewhat bland, was what I heard. (I'm not a big fish fan so I chickened out on trying it...) The best part was the dessert. It was a strawberry ice cream cake and was the best thing I have ever eaten. It was couple layers of strawberry ice cream stuck between a spongy white cake and was like eating heaven. It made me feel like a little girl again at a birthday party where we are all wearing tiaras.
Rehearsal was an interesting experience tonight. The orchestra is absolutely incredible to listen to. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in listening to them that I forget my entrance... sorry Dr. Hart... Then listening to us come in over the top of the orchestra and find that perfect balance is one that takes some effort, but when there is that perfect balance, you could listen all day. The conductors have chosen their movements and now we are working on their specific details that they want to incorporate into the pieces which is complicated by the time everything gets translated, but in the end it all comes together and is a reminder of why we are here. To make this beautiful music with these wonderful people and become the musicians we know that we can be--what a beautiful thing.
Please excuse the long delay from the last post until now. During this time the most critical and the most amazing stuff happened, and we didn't have access to Internet to say a thing about it. So in case anybody is still checking up on this blog, there will be more posts and some more pictures forthcoming.
Let me begin with the most important part of the trip--singing the Brahms Requiem! I wish you could have been there; you would have been proud of the Rocky choir. The best way I could describe it is to tell you what the maestro, Dian Tchobanov from Vienna, said of our group's participation. He told us later in the evening that we brought a "noble sound" to the concert; he has heard the choir sing for a number of years previously and he was very complimentary about our being there. I really wish you could have seen us. There will be a video produced of the concert eventually, but for now here is a clip of another group performing one of the 7 movements that we did, so you can get an idea of what we were up to.
Having the opportunity to perform with the Bulgarian choir was a real blessing for us, and in many ways gave us the opportunity to even have a European choir trip. One of the issues a small school--even with the generous support we received--has is taking a balanced choir on tour. There is no way to guarantee that you'll get equal numbers of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses. Our group found itself coping with that issue, with almost half of our participants from just one section. Singing with the "complete" Bulgarian choir afforded us the opportunity to take along whomever wanted to go and could come up with the money, so thanks Bulgaria!
Don't get me wrong though, we weren't without our own tunes. We had a couple opportunities, such as in St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna, to sing on our own pieces that we brought with us. Those times were all really wonderful and gave us a cozy sense of who we were. The idea that we were across the world, far from all that was familiar to us, but together...then seemingly out of nowhere, on some spontaneous impulse (or perhaps inspired by the amazing chambers in which we stood) we would jump into a choir formation and begin singing. Every single time we did this the busy and frantic pace of tourists would come to a halt to focus in on the music filling the room. The solemn and mournful would perk up and enjoy a sense of peace and relief found in the comfort of the lyrics, and we would remember our fortune and blessings--no matter what else, lost luggage, delayed flights, late nights, squabbles, or otherwise frustrating events, we were singing really beautiful music in really beautiful places. We have much to be grateful for!
Musings by Jesse
St. Stephan's Cathedral (Stephansdom"), Vienna, Austria (we sang here once!)