Friday, October 31, 2008

The Cathedral Connection

From the Cathedrals of Europe to the Concert Halls of Orange County.

Bringing America to Europe and Europe to America. Connections in space and time.

This summer, I had the honor of joining the Pacific Chorale, with whom I regularly perform, in a tour of Southern France and Northern Italy. The trip spanned the first 15 days of July and traversed the coastal areas of Provence, the French and Italian Rivieras, and ended in Lake Como. Our performances were held in the Cathedral St. Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence, l'Eglise St. Laurent in Flayosc, Sant'Andrea in Levanto, and the Basilica di San Nicolo in Lecco. As the soprano soloist, I had the opportunity to experience the acoustics of the European Cathedrals in so many wonderful ways, with my own voice and the combined sound of the 50 singers representing the Chorale on this trip. Each Cathedral was different, yet special and unique, and ultimately wonderful. The true "Cathedrals" of Europe can sometimes be so large and segmented that some of the sound is lost, as in St. Sauveur, but even that church had little or no comparison to what we have here in the United States. Something about the ancient construction of these hallowed halls lended themselves to the most beautiful sounds when voices were raised in praise of their creator. In our tour, we represented Italian and French composers -- music that lived in this acoustic and was written for it -- alongside American composers (music such as that by Lauridsen and Whitacre, who have been doubtless inspired by the hope of such sound, but rarely have the pleasure of experiencing it in such a way) in a completely a cappella concert of sacred music.

Months later, to inaugerate the new William J. Gillespie Concert Organ (built by C. B. Fisk), the Chorale began the 2008-09 season with a concert entitled "Cathedral Echoes." Although the program itself bore no relation to the music with which we toured in the summer, the memory of that accoustic sound lingered. Since the new Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall opened two years ago, John Alexander (the inspired and inspiring world-renowned director of the Chorale) has struggled with the overly cautious staff to make adjustments needed (available and built in) to the hall to create a Cathedral-like sound. Finally, this year, after a full day of experiments between John and said staff, we entered a new world of sound for our concert hall, a sound we had always hoped for and been told was possible, but that we had not yet heard in that space. We were where we were supposed to be. All the doors to the acoustic chambers were wide open, and the shell above the stage was raised as high as it would go (consequently revealing the full visual and aural splendor of the new organ). Although we weren't in an actual Cathedral, we could finally compare the acoustics to something much closer than any concert hall has yet achieved.

And so, as I plan my recital, I think of these things -- of acoustics and organs, of the sacred and sublime -- and I wonder how I can achieve so much of what I aspire to with the materials I have to work with. I leave this as my thought for the day, and pray to find the means to fit all I imagine into the reality of my surroundings. I wonder and I pray...

Copyright © 2008. All textual materials are the sole property of Lorraine Joy Welling and may not be reproduced, copied, or used in any way without permission.

1 comment:

  1. Brings back wonderful memories of my choir days. Well presetned blog that brough chivers down my back.