Home again, home again, jiggety jig!

The Chicago Chorale, composée d’une soixantaine de voix, conceptualise l’amour du chant, propre aux véritables amateurs. Son repertoire, puisé dans les chants sacrés et classiques du XVIè siècle à nos jours, permet aux choristes, sous la direction de Bruce Tammen, de rechercher l’excellence musicale et ainsi ravir le public.-- Eglise du Vigan

Those French… it’s not what they say, exactly, but the way they say it.  Ravir le public…

Chorale has recently returned from a 10-day trip through northern Spain and France, during which we sang five concerts in absolutely glorious venues, all the way from the above-referenced Eglise du Vigan, a Romanesque parish church in the valley of the Dordogne, near Rocamadour, to the monumental Madeleine, in Paris.  Each church we sang in, large or small, was filled with appreciative listeners-- to look out on the crowd filling La Madeleine was thrilling and humbling, but not more so than to see St. Barthélémy in Cahors stuffed practically to it’s windows, or the capacity crowd at the Basilica de Santa Maria d’Igualada, north of Barcelona-- every audience was eager, engaged, responsive, grateful.  At three of our venues—Alzonne, Cahors, and Le Vigan—we were hosted by local choirs, which sang for us, joined us for shared pieces, and feted us with wonderful receptions, featuring the wines of their particular locales.   In preparation, we learned “Se Canto,” which seems to be the national anthem of the Occitan region of Spain and France, and our hosts greeted our singing of it with great enthusiasm.

Our tour agency, Music & Travel Tour Consultants Ltd., based in England, did a splendid job for us, balancing our desire to sing in the best possible venues, for the largest possible audiences, and our wish to see and experience a beautiful part of the world, with our budget constraints.  Had the tour cost the individuals any more than it did, we would have lost singers, and been forced to travel and perform with a less than optimal ensemble—and it did not add up for us, to enjoy larger hotel rooms, but cheat ourselves musically.  The company’s president, Matthew Grocutt, along with the choir’s tour committee, came up with just the right compromises, tweaked things in just the right directions, and provided us with the best experience available to us.

I have performed in Europe with several different organizations, some of them American, some not, and I am all too familiar with the “ugly American” stereotype, and with the manner in which Europeans brace themselves to deal with us.  Indeed, we can be loud, insensitive, demanding, easily disappointed, hard to satisfy. The tours I took with the Gächinger Kantorei were a revelation to me, as I observed the modest and agreeable behavior of the German singers, compared to the behavior of the Americans with whom I sang in the Robert Shaw Choral Workshops, who constantly complained about French pillows and coffee, and required ketchup with their meals.  Fortunately, Chorale behaved beautifully—the singers were flexible, adventurous, excited and pleased by almost everything, and demonstrated both gratitude and a sense of adventure every step of the way.  Chorale is a classy group; its members tend to be more facile than average with languages, unabashedly interested in the things we were seeing and hearing, experienced and comfortable at dealing with strange or unexpected situations.  Along the way, I sensed that the hotel and restaurant staffs relaxed some as they got to know us, and actually enjoyed our business; and I know that the groups which hosted us were happy they had made the effort, and saddened only that we could not stay longer, drink more, after the concerts.

Mostly, though, the tour was about music.  We sang a program which challenged our audiences—but they warmed quickly to us over the course of an evening’s concert, and their enthusiasm by the end of the program was boundless.  We worked hard to prepare this music; we arrived prepared, and we grew with each performance, adjusting to acoustics, to lighting, to the beauty of our surroundings, and to the constant proximity of one another. All of these variables play a huge role in a choral ensemble’s success, and Chorale responded wonderfully to them, becoming a tighter group with each outing.  We return to Chicago with a higher standard for ourselves, and even more enthusiasm for the sort of work we do.

This tour was a great thing for Chicago Chorale.  To all who helped, those who came along and those who supported from home, a huge thank you!