We asked five of our music students to share some “jewels” they’ve collected throughout their experiences here in Italy thus far, both in and out of the classroom. Read on to hear Stephanie, Kerby, Amanda, Paul, and Kevin’s favorite moments of their semester abroad!
Stephanie Simon (Furman University, SC)
Over the course of my time at the Accademia, I’ve collected many “academic jewels” found in lessons, classes, and performances. The jewel I prize the most is the Vox Cordis concert I attended on October 8th.
Vox Cordis is a choral ensemble led by composer and choral conductor Lorenzo Donati. Vox Cordis and Vocale Lux Harmonica (led by Bernadetta Nofri) performed music from the 1600’s to the present day. The performance was dedicated to, the recently deceased, Michela Agnolucci. Selections such as “Weep, o mine eyes” by John Bennet, and “Angel Fly” by Manolo da Rold were only a few of the pieces selected to honor this woman’s memory. The concert took place in the Pieve at nine in the evening.
I arrived at the Pieve an hour before the performance, partially due to the fact Stefano’s, my hideaway, was closing. An older gentleman began a conversation with me, who was also waiting to go in. He was delighted to know I was a student of Lorenzo and he ushered me into the church. I found out shortly after that the gentleman was a singer of Vox Cordis. I heard another choir rehearsing their music. This ensemble was smaller than I imagined, and led by a woman. I came to realize this ensemble was Ensemble Vocale Lux Harmonica, led by Bernadetta Nofri. The choir’s sound was warm, their pronunciation appropriate for the space, and the dedication was authentic. It was so authentic to the point that one gentleman got frustrated, slapped his binder on the chair and a scowl formed across his face due to a small mistake. Ms. Nofri impressed me the most. Her conducting was very clear, matching the emotion of the music, and her singing was very pure and filled the room with clear, beautiful, harmony after she sang a simple arpeggio. Lorenzo Donati only warmed up his choir briefly before clearing the stage.
During the period I waited for the concert to begin, people began filling the room. Each of them greeted one another as if they were family. I felt as if I had stumbled into a family reunion uninvited. One gentleman tried to take my program. I was slightly bewildered by this, and the gentleman recognized he had made a mistake. I then proceeded to steal a program from another seat for him to have. When I gave the program to him, his expression was sincere. He thanked me and took hold of my hand; I was no longer a stranger.
Lorenzo began the concert by way of welcome, explanation of the program and the group Vox Cordis. Ensemble Lux Harmonica was the first group to sing. The selections that I enjoyed the most were “Weep, o mine eyes” by John Bennet and “Travestimento secondo” by Lorenzo Donati. The text for “Weep, o mine eyes” was in English, thus I connected to it right away. I was impressed with the pronunciation and the emotion with which it was sung. As one who has sung pieces in foreign languages, I can say it is much harder for me to connect to the meaning and emotion of a work in a different language. Yet, for this group, the emotion was so tangible despite the language. Lorenzo’s piece “Travestimento secondo” called for an electric keyboard and choir. Although I grimaced at the sight of the instrument, Lorenzo played beautifully. The piece was all simplicity and beauty. It seemed to personify the lady who was loved and lost way too early.
Vox Cordis then separated into the women’s, men’s, and children’s groups. I only had the privilege of hearing the women’s and men’s choirs before needing to exit. Lorenzo directed the women’s choir. His directing was clear, precise, modeled the musical atmosphere, and took complete command of the ensemble. Their selections were “Bo Yovo Haboker”- a Coanzone ebroica, and “Salve Regina” by Miklos Koscar. I left directly after “Quatre petites prieres de Saint Francois d’Assise” by Francis Poulenc.
This performance experience heightened my love for choral music. Each piece was executed with the greatest care, and it broadened my known repertoire for choral music. I also gained a much deeper respect and admiration for my teacher, Lorenzo Donati, through witnessing his conducting, playing, and singing. As a leader, he is very gentle; he never raised his voice and was very endearing toward each member of his group. His attitude reminds me of the way Haydn conducted and interacted with his ensemble. Overall, it was a performance I will treasure for years to come.
Kerby Baier (Furman University, SC)
Typical day at ADA for Kerby Baier:
8:25am: roll out of bed, change clothes (maybe –but why not stay in sweats if no one’s going to judge?)
8:30am: Go to breakfast. No matter how much I try, forget to get a drink after sitting down with all of my food. See Kristen’s smiling, singing face.
9:00am: Class. If it’s Italian class: laugh at my cluelessness about the language. If it’s movement: laugh with Dory about my cluelessness about my body.
11:00-ish am: Maybe another music class, maybe not, maybe I’ll practice, maybe not, maybe get a 60 cent coffee, maybe not, maybe do some homework, maybe not, maybe socialize, maybe not.
1:00pm: lunch, lunch, lunch lunch lunch, lunch. I always get pumped for some insalata mista and bread with endless olive oil.
1:30-ish pm: Singing, study, socialize, siesta, walk into town, do whatever you want time.
Pause: So this is my favorite time of day. And it is in the context of my afternoon activities that I think it is best to explain how Italy has affected me.
Before I came to the ADA, I was at Furman. In the Furman world, every valuable hour of the day is scheduled and filled for you. Therefore any work or anything you want to do must quickly happen between your many obligations (some are meaningful, some aren’t – such is life), or in the late hours of the night. So when I came to Arezzo, and had free afternoons, I legitimately did not know what to do with myself. If I ever had free time at Furman or at home, I constantly felt the obligation to be doing something productive. But usually I was not motivated to do such productive things or I was stressed out while doing them. The outcome of this time is just inefficient working and/or work that I wasn’t satisfied with.
In Italy, I’ve learned to take my time (Italy time is usually 15-30 minutes later than everywhere else anyway), and to do what I feel is best. By that, I mean if I am not certain that I will not be able to give my all to whatever I’m doing, I won’t do it. I’ve learned that there is a time for everything. So why force myself to practice singing when I know that I will just get frustrated with myself and ended up smashing the piano? And why keep studying for a music history test when all I want to do is sing? And if I really need to do laundry, but an opportunity arose to walk into town with a new friend and talk – then why waste that opportunity? Of course, we all have important obligations, and sometimes we have to do things we may not want to. But why always force ourselves to do things we don’t want to?
So I’ve been singing when I want to sing. Studying when I want to study. Bonding with people when the opportunities arise. And doing laundry when I run out of clean underwear, and I have no other choice. End of pause.
7:30pm: Dinner (hopefully it’s pesto).
8:00pm: Walk into town for gelato/hang in the living room/anything you want till you desire to go to sleep.
I love life at ADA. And my experience of this concept of time is certainly a gem I will take back with me.
Amanda Burth (Furman University, SC)
So far during my time in Italy, I have run across many hidden gems including gelato places, unique stores and fascinating places. The most dazzling gem I have come across so far was during my past week over fall break. The town of Erice in Sicily was a true Italian gem. It is tucked away on the top of a giant mountain that overlooks the city of Trapani. It is very remote and is accessible by a long car ride or a cable car! The views from Erice are truly stunning. You can see for miles and it feels like you are on top of the world. You can see mountains, valleys, towns, beaches and the sea. In the town there are amazing churches that include the Duomo with a carved marble ceiling! The town had some unique stores and restaurants. The true attraction of Erice was the Castle of Venus. The castle is now in ruins but there is so much history and myth coming from inside the walls! The beautiful views from Erice were what really made the town incredibly special. Erice was a truly amazing hidden gem of Italy and would be an incredible place to visit again in the future.
Paul Haarala (Furman University, SC)
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of Italian culture that is talked endlessly about is the food in Italy. Most everything is local, seasonal, and absolutely delicious. Even the natives of Italy who don’t work in restaurants often grow their own vegetables, make their own mozzarella, and care for their own vineyards. Finding a place with bad tasting food is a lot harder than finding a delicious meal at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Traveling to Berlin and Salzburg gave me the experience of good meals as well, but quality restaurants weren’t nearly as frequent and fresh as they are in any given Italian city.
Because of this, my mom, my sister, and I went through the experience of a cooking class at the Buco di Baco Hotel in Positano. This is one experience I would highly recommend to anyone who spends time in Italy. Our instructions upon arrival were to eat only a “light brunch” before our cooking class. We made and ate antipasti (spinach pie), primo piato (gnocchi), secondo piato (eggplant parmesan), and dolce (chocolate cake). Not only were chefs Giuseppe and Luigi incredibly helpful with learning to cook these dishes, but we met 3 other people from New York who were just as invested as we were. The cooking class lasted for 2 hours, during which we sipped on sparkling wine and learned differences between Italian and American culture. After the class, the staff reserved a table for the 6 of us to eat our home-cooked meal. Along with our meal, we received recipe books, aprons, and chef hats!
Kevin Edens (Furman University, SC)
Over the course of this semester, I have spent some time wrestling the concept of renewal. How does that which is old and antiquated become new and relevant?
Since I am a free-time obsessive political junkie, this question seems like a fair one to ask Europe. How do old economies modernize themselves, and what happens when the average age of the workforce continues to rise? Something has to give, and let’s hope it is not a national or regional economy, or a shared currency. As you may know, Europe is experiencing an historic, unprecedented level of immigration from the Middle East. By the ten thousands, Syrians are fleeing their homeland to escape the brutality of the Assad regime. Their destination, you ask? …..Europe.
Over fall break, I traveled to Germany to visit a former exchange partner of mine from 2011. I was astonished to see that there were at least 75 refugees in his tiny hometown, all of which had arrived within the past week. Before year’s end, a total of 1.5 million refugees are expected to seek asylum in Germany, much more than in any other European country. The political situation is a bit difficult to comprehend. Germans of every political stripe seem to oppose the open arms their Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has extended to the refugees. “She has too big of a heart,” says one local. “We want to help, but we can’t take them all,” says another. “What does this mean for German culture? An end,” says a third. I think history is a sore reminder of what happens when we seek to erect imaginary lines, only to turn around and use them to exclude our neighbors.
To me (and I’ve never been a big fan of Angela Merkel), I think her decision is a rather wise one. She seems to understand the concept of renewal. How does the EU’s largest national economy maintain and expand itself with a workforce whose average age continues to rise? By not placing a limit on how many refugees can seek protection in Germany, she is entertaining the opportunity for renewal. Renewal…I think she gets it.
Now, back to Arezzo, where renewal has become a big thing for me. As you may know, I play the organ. Please allow me to translate: The instrument I play has one of the richest histories known to humanity. The organ has, of course, evolved with time, but it has been around and existed in various mediums for a damned long time. On top of that, its sounds have been heard mainly in churches—institutions that, from time to time have went to great lengths to draw imaginary lines that exclude people. The question I keep asking myself is not theological, but it still has no easy answer: How do I bring a bit of relevance (renewal, perhaps) to this historic instrument? Its literature is far too great to fall by the wayside of history.
Do I play to entertain people? Do I play because I can? Do I teach to pass down great literature to a new generation of players? Do I teach because I think being a college professor would make for a kick-ass career? Do I play because a weekly church gig is great secondary income? All of these things are true to a degree, but they aren’t enough. Like all of you, I am an artist primarily because I find a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure from my art, and the process of mastering it continues to fascinate me. Hopefully, we all seek renewals and recreation through our arts. I am convinced that dinosaurs were the first musicians (not quite); nonetheless, music-making is no post-modern invention. Its renewal and relevance lies within those who create it. If you ever find yourself thinking about your own art and the means of its future, you don’t need to go much farther than the closest mirror.