They say that musical performance is much like an iceberg, where the practice part is the enormous amount of ice below the waterline, while the actual performance is comparable to diminutive visual tip of the ice mass.

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Going on tour with Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus allows for more exposure of that tip: seven schedule performances in 11 days, plus the inevitable “drive-bys” that are just what happens when you get a bunch of well-rehearsed singers in an amazingly resonant space.

So, as one of 70 singers, I eagerly report for rehearsal Tuesday and Thursday nights and Saturday mornings, armed with a raft of music, my tuning fork, three sharpened pencils, a large bottle of water and a bag of throat lozenges.

This trip began as a gracious ornate invitation from the capelmeister of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is the 500th (!) anniversary of the choir at the Vatican, and the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus was invited to be part of the year-long celebration. Expanding on that opportunity, we will begin in Dubrovnik, traveling generally north along the Adriatic coastline through Slovenia, and then make a hairpin turn south to Venice, and then on to Rome.

While the opportunity to perform so frequently in a short time is attractive, the real bonus is the opportunity to sing the music composed for the places where we will sing, particularly St. Mark’s in Venice and St. Peter’s in Rome. I had similar experiences in Seville, Leipzig, Salzburg, and Vienna – you can feel the centuries of history rise up around you, envisioning times before, singers before, that made the music ring in these spaces.

While we are still a little more than three weeks from departure, my anticipation grows as we perfect our musical skills with each passing hour of rehearsal.

The beginning of this journey starts on this page.

Not Quite Venice

We arrived at the hotel in time for dinner.  Since we stayed in a hotel in Marcon, about 30 minutes from Venice, we had a mediocre dinner in the hotel.  Tomorrow, we see the city.

Enchanted Lake


Lake Bled, Slovenia

Though we wanted more time in Ljubljana, we were headed into the mountains to Lake Bled.  A quiet and tranquil place, we set off to walk around the lake, even though it was threatening rain. A castle perched on the point above the lake set the scene. We strolled along the lakefront path, about a quarter of the lakeshore. We stopped at a dock to catch a boat to the island in the lake. Hand-oared boat service shuttled us to the shore, where there were 99 steps to take us to the top of the island. Legend has it that the groom must carry his bride up the steps for good luck in their marriage.

More gift shopping, a coffee stop, and then a discussion about returning to the shore.  Kate and Kevin brought their swim suits, so Ellen and I planned to catch the next boat back to shore carrying all of the gear.  Unfortunately for the swimmers, the distance was shorter than they thought, and the wait for the next boat was longer than we thought.  We found the intrepid swimmers shivering at the side of the lake. Kate, relying on the kindness of a friend, had borrowed a fleece.  They quickly changed into dry clothes behind a dumpster, and we took off at a brisk pace for the buses.  We got back in enough time to bolt over to a bakery to purchase bureks (coiled dough stuffed with meat or cheese) before we headed off to Venice.

Road Show


On the road to Ljubljana

Back on the bus, we are excited to see what Slovenia would bring.  It’s a long bus ride: five hours, including the border crossing.  Arrival in Ljubljana was expected about 5:30, with an evening in the old city.

But, the travel gods had other plans for us.

When we reached the border, the line to clear immigration was immense, and was not moving.  Since we were in the special line for tour buses, with a grassy area nearby, many were getting off the bus to stretch.  There was a group of college-aged students out on the grass, and suddenly they started singing.

Well, that was it – we were all soon off of our busses, and the directors met. This was a group of Turkish college students, on their way to Perugia.  Their conductor had studied ancient Christian music of Anatolia, and the music they sang was very interesting – very different harmonies and rhythms compared to the bundle of Renaissance music in our folders.  So, of course, we sang for each other.  It is magical how two different cultures can meet and connect so quickly, on the side of the road.  It was a particularly poignant exchange, considering recent events in Istanbul: who knows what they will face when they return home.  Every embassy should have their own music group – imagine what a different world this could be.

It took three hours to clear the border – apparently the agents there are not amused with losing their jobs once Croatia implements the Schengen agreement.  We were not amused either, arriving in Ljubljana about 10:00pm.

Environmental Art

Another morning in Zadar before we leave for Slovenia. The cruise ship traffic is less crushing than Dubrovnik and Split – real people live here, walking with strollers, small children, dogs.

We head back into the old city, finding our way through the narrow old streets. First stop was the post office, to find postage for post cards back to the US. There were at least five different lines in the post office, and each one of them seemed to require forms filled out in triplicate. Really, this country is joining the EU next Monday – did we really need to fill out forms (in triplicate) for stamps? Not many people spoke English, and none of the signs were in English. We divided to conquer, each standing in a different line in the hopes that one of them was the right one.

Then, I happened to notice that there was a walk-up window that opened out to the sidewalk. On a hunch, I gave up my spot in line and went back outside to the window. Sure enough, not only could I buy stamps (without filling out a form in triplicate), but the clerk spoke English as well.

Mission accomplished, we headed out to the end of the peninsula to hear the sea organ. While you cannot see the sea organ, the holes cut into the concrete steps that lead down to the sea sigh as the motion of the wind and waves “play” the pipes built under the steps. The swell, the wind, the wake of passing boats all change the tones that seem emit from thin air. It is mesmerizing to sit and watch the boats go by while listening to pipes.

Just a few steps away from the organ, a large circular array of photovoltaic cells are embedded in the concrete. There are smaller circles a little ways away – I suddenly realized that this is a scale model of the solar system. The array collects enough power to light all the lights on the waterfront, as well as providing a light show at night.

We could stay there for hours, but we have a bus to meet, and so we are on our way.

Sicut Cervus

Some days just come with their own special magic – all that’s required is to be in the moment. Having already had a great musical exchange in Split, we landed in Zadar in enough time to settle into the hotel and then head to rehearsal in the cathedral.

We found that we were to be part of a program that included 30 minutes of organ music, and that local dignitaries would be attending the performance. We met the cathedral’s choir director, who was invited to direct the chorus in the program opener – the Croatian national anthem. He stepped to the podium: his gestures and his face gave us all the cues we needed to bring us up a few notches.

DSC00912Our holding area/changing room was a 4th century chapel that had been converted to the sacristy. There were bits of old paintings on the surface of the walls, and the antique masonry showed through in some places. The floor was covered with two large pieces of carpet, but the floor felt really uneven underneath.

We had another great concert, despite the local street noise that came filtering through the doors and windows. The audience was appreciative, and the choir director was happy and impressed.

After we had changed back to our street clothes and were ready to leave, the choir director and priest had something to show us. They peeled back the pieces of carpet to reveal a beautiful mosaic, illustrating Psalm 42.1: Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus. English translation: As the deer longs for the running water, my soul longs for you, O God.

Two deer, rendered in tiny square tiles many centuries ago, gracefully drank from a pool. We dropped our bags, and pulled out our music. Encircling the revealed artwork in the floor, we sang Palestrina’s setting of Sicut Cervus. Written in the Renaissance, this beautiful piece, as graceful as the mosaic deer bending to drink, filled the ancient space.

Moments like this cannot be booked, bought or reserved. They come when you connect with others to share the beauty of music, and an appreciation of art and time and history and culture. When they all meld together, it’s simply magic.

Split Time

Today is Statehood Day in Croatia. We spent part of our bus ride rehearsing the Croatian national anthem. Proved to be a cool thing.

Our lunch stop (complete with thousands of cruise ship passengers) was the old city center of Split. With Diocletian’s retirement palace serving as the Roman architecture base, Renaissance, Baroque and most recent architecture styles are all repurposed, connected and reimagined through the centuries.

The entrance peristyle is a wonderful rotund space, even though the ceiling is open to the sky above. We arrived there, music folders in hand, to listen to the six men singing traditional Dalmatian songs. We responded in kind, singing one of the spirituals, My God is a Rock. The men sang another song, and then we all sang the Croatian national anthem together. It was surprisingly moving for me, sharing music with people we just met, and sharing not only a love of music as well as a love for Croatia. Although we have only been here a few days, after hearing the tales of recent war, it is good to be here in a time of peace, on the eve of Croatia’s entry into the European Union. The memory of sharing that music with these gentlemen still brings tears to my eyes.

Cavtat Dinner

One of the real attractions of coming to Europe this time of year is the opportunity to sit outdoors to eat pretty much any time. As a Monterey Bay resident, many attempts at outdoor dining require long pants, wool sock and a fleece turtleneck; you have to eat fast, before your food gets cold. But here at this time of year, the weather is warm, the breeze is welcome, and the pace is relaxed.

After our day trip to Mjlet, it was time to slip out of our salty sunscreen husks and find a delicious spot to wrap up the day. Perusing the menus and vibes of the waterfront restaurants, we settled at one serving bass and bream.

Our dinner opened with an aperitif of grappa, followed a cold plate of ham, cheese and octopus salad. We ordered a bottle of a crisp and refreshing Croatian white wine. Kate and Deborah ordered a bream and vegetables dish steamed in foil, deboned and presented at the table. The rest of us had bass. The food was tasty, and the wait staff was fun.

After two bottles of wine and a tasty dinner, dessert was in order. They had a special: strawberries served in a warm wine sauce. We ordered one strawberry dessert and one cream caramel, and five spoons. The strawberry dessert was best, hands down. I couldn’t resist, and offered my business card in the hopes of securing the recipe for our website at work. We’ll see if they actually contact me. But, after a little recipe diplomacy, the waiter returned to our table bearing five small glasses with an ice cube and a splash of their own limoncello.

It was a perfect end to our day at leisure. We hiked back up to the hill at midnight. We have a 7 a.m. departure, so we headed to our rooms amid great fits of giggling – what a fabulous day!

DSC00787Hotel Croatia: Very nice place perched above the Adriatic. Short walk to Cavtat and city bus into Dubrovnik.


On Vacation

A day off – as rare as snow in July – gave us an opportunity to further explore Dubrovnik and environs. A plucky band of five of us, armed with the city bus schedule and brief notes from the hotel concierge, we downed a quick breakfast at the hotel buffet, packed a few snacks and purloined spoons for yogurt, and hiked down the hill to Cavtat town center to catch the 7am city bus to the new harbor. We arrived 40 minutes later, located our ferry, the Nona Ana, and settled into a morning coffee in the outdoor cafe across from the dock. We were headed for a day on Mjlet.

A bit removed from the hubbub of cruise ships, The island of Mjlet is largely national park, so the souvenir shops are few, but there are plenty of options for hiking, bicycling, swimming and boating. It seemed a nice break from crowds and tour buses, and we were not disappointed.

Once arriving on Mljet, we purchased an all-in-one ticket that got us on the shuttle to and from the lakes, and boating to different locations on the large lake. While everything was conveniently connected, which somewhat “channeled” the tourist traffic, each group set their own pace. We set the dial to “leisurely.”

We boated out to the island for pizza, beer and a swim, and then boated to the small bridge at the juncture between the large and small lakes. Time for another dip, buoyed by the salty water. This time we stayed in long enough to develop “raisin fingers,” and then started strolling our way back to the shuttle stop.

Spotting another good bathing spot, we cooled off again in the ah-mazingly blue waters. Believing that we were not far from the dock, Kate and Kevin decided to swim the rest of the way. Deborah, Ellen and I gathered up all the belongings for the last five minutes or so of the walk.

DSC00875The shuttle deposited us back at the harbor. More al fresco dining was in order: salads, cold plates, pasta, mussels and the regional brew on tap. The icing on the day was a small group of men seated at a table near a dock, harmonizing with each other…perhaps traditional folk music? It was a fitting farewell to Mjlet.

The Nona Ana lulled us to sleep on the ride back to Dubrovnik, where we reversed our tracks on the city bus back to Cavtat.