Tag Archive | Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus

Music to Go – South Africa Edition

“Join a choir – see the world.” It’s true! My passport has collected several stamps in the past nine years: Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, and Cuba. This time: South Africa. The choir is already there, but I stayed behind a few days to take care of some work. Now just waiting to board the big bird for a stopover: Istanbul.


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.

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.

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.

Trial by Fire

Okay, even though the fire is 92,000,000 miles away, it was a HOT day in Dubrovnik. Our hotel restaurant has outdoor seating overlooking the small bay and harbor at Cavtat. It is a blessing to be able to eat outdoors: anywhere indoors just feels oppressive.

We loaded the buses up and took the 30 minute drive to the Pile Gate of the old walled city. The tour gave us a bit of perspective on the older history of Dubrovnik, as well as the more recent disputes. While much has been repaired, pock marks from shrapnel still speckle the facades of some of the older buildings.

After the guided tour, a smaller group of friends did a little shopping, then sought out the breeziest, shadiest spot for a cold beverage and octopus and Greek salads. While it was out of the hubbub of the lower streets, it was nice to be away from the crowds.

We made the rounds to several churches and the synagogue, and then hiked outside the walls to the gondolas that take you to the top of Mount Srd. (No, I did not leave out the vowels – that’s really how it is spelled.) We did a little shopping in the gift shop, and then moved to the outdoor cafe for the breeze and a cold drink. (Notice a pattern here?)

By the time we returned to the old city, the sun was lower, and some cloud cover had moved in. We climbed to the top of the wall: you can walk the entire wall – about 2 kilometers. Beautiful views of the tile rooftops and spires, all set against the blue blue blue Adriatic Sea.

Then, it was on to more shade, breeze and food before our concert. We stuffed ourselves into our concert clothes, and headed off to the cathedral. It was a bit of a small space to squeeze ourselves up in the front, but we had a “full house.” Besides our own “groupies,” we had actually recruited some of our audience on the flights to Dubrovnik, while a few others wandered in when they heard us rehearsing. Particularly surprising was to find two people from Watsonville: a reporter from the local paper, and Nita Gizdich, U-pick farmer, pie-maker extraordinaire, and Watsonville luminary. So nice to see an unexpected face in the crowd!

A scoop of gelato on the way back to the bus after the concert helped to cool off, and a celebratory cocktail at the hotel capped the night. I’m really liking aperol spritzers…

Posting and photos are delayed because the wifi is not working. Hope to have a better connection tomorrow.

Travel Day

It must have looked like the circus had come to town. Nearly 90 of us lined up at the Lufthansa ticket counter, ranging in age from pre-teen to retirement age, all dressed for travel, with a variety of colored suitcases, carry-on totes, backpacks, hats and even a wind wand. (Still can’t believe that the wind wand made it through security…)

SFO GateLong haul flights are never fun, but at least we had on-demand movies and TV to try alleviate some of the figgeties that come with confinement. We were delighted to find that we were also sharing the flight with Peninsula Youth Symphony, heading to Germany for a one-week tour.