Kaixo, mi amigos! Grant here: Second Bass, first year grad student and newbie blogger. Eskerrik asko [thank you] for reading!
It’s amazing we slept at all last night. The fall (harvest?) festival outside in Musika Plaza roared on unabated till 3 am. Ah, the dulcet strains of the guitar intro to “Sweet Home Alabama”. Over and over again. Like a lawnmower that won’t start. In spite of that, I felt unusually refreshed and centered the next morning, ready for a focused rehearsal at the music school. We walked a rather more circuitous route than intended, but we were all, like, “who cares?! We’re in Spain!” Also overheard many times along the way: “I’m so happy right now!” and “I’m so glad to be here” and “I’m so glad you’re here!” Did I mention I love this choir?
After we all photographed the adorable little turtles basking outside by the duck pond, Ethan gave us a serious workout: Vowel unification, diction, dynamics, slow and meticulous tuning of major and minor chords—a choir nerd couldn’t ask for more. During momentary pauses, I found myself wondering about the people who rehearsed in the years and decades before us in that little room; the stories behind each of the portraits, certificates, and awards hanging on the walls; how many in this faraway place might have rehearsed the very same music as we? (I mean, like, “Ametsetan” and “Niño Dios”, of course. I’m hoping however that “Hallelujah” just might someday enter the canon of regional repertoire!)
We may have gotten slightly cranky during the photo shoot on the stairs. Thanks for your patience, Chase – We were probably just hungry for the paella that awaited us back at the hotel. I had never even seen, much less tasted paella before. Did I mention that the food here is INCREDIBLE?!
And then, off to la Colegiata de Santa Maria in Borja, our first performance site! It was a long (3 hour) bus ride. Close to our destination, the yellow bluffs were riddled with wind turbines. Awaking from a doze, I momentarily mistook the scenery for the eastern Columbia Gorge.
I’ll let the concert recording speak, or sing, for itself. The audience was eager to applaud (a few couldn’t even wait till the end of “Hodie Christus”) and wouldn’t stop till we offered two encores. Ethan confirmed that it was as fine a concert as Chamber Choir has ever sung, and in a resplendent acoustic that magnified all the energy and nuance throughout. We were rewarded with gifts of wine and a private tour of the church. Halloween seemed to arrive a bit early, as a realistic skeleton greeted us at the crypt, his scythe inscribed with: A NINGUNO PERDONO (“To no one pardon”).
The massive 16th Century pipe organ façade in the rear gallery had fascinated me since we first entered the building – especially its marvelous display of horizontal trumpets, and the way it leaned noticeably to the right after centuries of “settling.” But I wasn’t expecting our tour guide to suddenly ask, “are there any organists here among you?” Colin instantly outed me as such, and the parish organist led me up to the organ loft as everyone else gathered in the monks’ stalls below. Now, I’ve played historic instruments in Europe and Mexico, but this unprompted invitation struck me as particularly special. I was worried about not knowing any Spanish Baroque music, but the organist explained that the functioning parts inside the instrument were actually of more recent (18th C.) Romantic style. He suggested I sight-read a Spanish piece he particularly liked, followed by the rest of the choir singing an impromptu “Hear My Prayer O Lord”.
More fantastic food and wine awaited us after the tour, and we thanked our hosts by singing “Give Me Jesus” and “Hallelujah”. None less than the mayor of Borja was in attendance. I was sure I misunderstood his words, his compliments were so effusive, but I confirmed later he really did say what I heard: “En nuestra ciudad, el recuerdo de este concierto nunca morirá” … In our city, the memory of this concert will never die”.
Nor in our memories, mayor. Buenas noches!
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Portland State Chamber Choir
PSU School of Music
1620 SW Park Ave, Lincoln Hall 231
Portland, OR 97201