Thursday, 1 July 1999

I mentioned yesterday that after we sang at St. Peter's Basilica, most of the group went on to the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum. I didn't accompany them, being pretty jet-lagged, but this morning I asked how things went. Very well, apparently; they had to move along pretty quickly, but they all were glad they had visited there while they had the chance. They also got in a little extra singing: one large oil painting in the Vatican Museum had Psalm 115:1 carved into its frame: "NON NOBIS DOMINE SED NOMINE TUO DA GLORIAM", or "Not to us, O Lord, but to Your Name be the glory!" This is the text for one of the songs in our repertoire, and they took the opportunity to sing it there. Another nice venue for a song!

Today we didn't have anything scheduled in advance until the evening, so people fanned out to the Coliseum, back to the Vatican, etc. I joined the large group that took one of our two buses and went out to the Catacombs of San Callisto. (I have no photos to post, as they asked us not to use cameras.) This was one of the large underground multiple burial sites used by the early Christians of Rome; it was in use during the persecutions preceding the conversion of the Empire, so many of the marble slabs closing the tombs were marked with a special symbol indicating that the person buried therein had been martyred.

The most famous person buried in this particular site was the martyr St. Cecilia; when the barbarians were moving in a couple of centuries later, the Romans disinterred those buried there to rebury them in better-defended ground, and legend has it that when her tomb was opened, music was heard. Thus there are numerous choirs and musical groups named after her; I don't know my hagiography well enough to tell you if she is considered the particular patron of musicians. We thought it appropriate, though, to add our voices, so in a chapel deep in the catacombs we sang Cantate Domino: "O sing to the Lord a new song."

Then we went on to Tivoli, or rather to lunch. It was a fairly raucous and hungry group that arrived at the Ristorante Monteripoli; we were delayed by some, ah, detours. I for one found it worth the wait, not only for the food but for the entertainment by an in-house group called the Gruppo Folk Classico Monteripoli ... well, if it had been a Mexican restaurant I'd call them a mariachi band! Guitar, mandolin, and accordion, with singing led by the mandolin player, a very strong baritone whom we should have asked to join us at our concert this evening. It developed into an audience participation event; you can see several of our travelers in the photo either dancing or playing percussion (the band had a bunch of tricolored hammer-tambourine-thingys that they would pass around, and some of our folks bought them to take home, plus tapes or CDs by the band). I don't know if you can see our director, Pat Edwards, behind Caroline Rice, who is dancing with a flower in her teeth...

At the Ristorante Monteripoli

After our little party we headed downhill to the town of Tivoli, where we had time for a brief walk through the Villa d'Este. This is a view of the town from a window of the Villa; very Mediterranean...


Visible in the foreground are the steeply terraced gardens of the estate; think of UC Berkeley, but with better landscaping. There were a number of large fountains and pools on the grounds, like this one, and the interiors were decorated wall to wall and floor to roof with frescoes depicting classical myths and biblical stories, and personifications of classical and Christian virtues.

Fountain at Villa d'Este

After returning to the hotel, we rejoined the rest of the group and proceeded to our first full, formal concert, at the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva. "Sopra" means "above"; this church was built in around 800 AD (and rebuilt a couple of times since then) on top of the ruins of a temple of Minerva. Like any such venerable church in Rome, it was full of works by many artists and of many ages; the most famous is "Il Christo" by Michelangelo.

Il Christo by Michelangelo

We had a small audience that turned over a couple of times as people wandered in and out, but a significant number stayed for the whole concert, and I'd say it was well received. At least, our "auxiliaries" didn't have to start the applause too often! We wanted to use the organ for some of our pieces, but since the keyboards are behind the main altar the organist has to use TV monitors to watch the conductor, which as far as we could tell was impossible for someone who didn't play sidesaddle. So we used the portable keyboard that the choir had brought for such occasions, and that worked fine.

Singing in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

This photo was shot by Pauline Stoltenberg using my camera--thanks! After a long, hot day we were almost all ready to turn in right after the concert; tomorrow we have to get up early, too, as we leave Rome and head to Florence, Lucca, and Montecatini Terme.

To next day's adventuresTo Friday, 2 July 1999

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new 1 July 1999, updated 13 July 1999