Friday, June 29, 2012

Day 6: Karlskirche

And David danced before the Lord with all his might. And David was wearing a linen ephod. ~ 2 Samuel 6:14

close-up of unique baroque architecture of
the Karlskirche, dedicated to a saint who
healed plague victims (built 1716-1737)
Tuesday evening The Chorale had a concert at St. Charles Church (Karlskirche), and our tour guide had managed to get Dear Husband more than an hour of practice time on the organ there. While there are different brands of piano (Yahama, Baldwin, Steinway) that have different actions and therefore play slightly differently than one another, they all have 52 white keys, 36 black keys, in the same pattern, everywhere. By contrast, each organ is a unique instrument. They differ in number of manuals, pipes, registers, stops--and in the case of the two old pipe organs DH played on our trip--in the number of keys and pedals. Organs can have different kinds of stops and combinations and therefore sound fairly different. The stops can be in different places on the console. So it's really hard to just sit down and play a new organ without getting some time to "test drive" it first. That's what DH and I did on the morning of Day 6.

This organ dates from some time in the nineteenth century and has two manuals, 30 stops, and a mere octave and a half in the pedals--which means you couldn't play most of J.S. Bach's organ works on it! We spent the first twenty minutes just figuring out which stops went to which manual, how they sounded, and what kinds of combinations he could make with them. I turned pages, took photographs, and tried to remember not to fall off the big step next to the organ. We were up in the organ loft, 75 steps and I don't know how many feet from ground level.

Dear Husband at the organ
The choir director had asked me on rather short notice whether I would like to choreograph a dance to go with one of the pieces, a slow, beautiful lament written after the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. I figured it wouldn't hurt to try, and since I wasn't on the program, if it didn't come together I could bow out at the last minute, and the audience would be none the wiser. So on this morning DH played the piece so I could hear it (for the first time!); over lunch we dissected its structure; and in the plaza next to that afternoon's art museum, I began to compose a dance. I cannibalized a liturgical dance I had done at church a few months ago and added some new themes. The dress rehearsal after dinner was atrocious, as I still hadn't figured out the middle section. But I studied the piece some more after changing (into a borrowed shirt and skirt suitable for dancing, and a patterned shawl as a prop) and devised some "filler" moves in case there was more time before the next phrase--and somehow it did all come together. I processed down the aisle, danced to one side and the other, fluttered the shawl like a flame and like waves, and ended in a pose of supplication to the altar.

The reactions were mixed, but mostly openly positive. I admit I was a little hesitant to dance at all (in a Catholic! church!), which is why I borrowed the t-shirt to wear instead of a strappy tank top (which is more than being naked but less than a linen ephod). But all the movements were dignified and as emotional as I could make them. Apparently I made the tenor section choke up, although they were supposed to be looking at the choir director and not at me. How's that for a European liturgical dance debut? However, one of men noted that at least one audience member was not keen on the idea of my dancing in the House of the Lord, and he wrote the following poem about it.

 "Requiem" by Eliza Gilkeyson,
      arranged for choir 
      by Craig Hella Johnson,
      sung by The Chorale in Vienna

She had come to the church to worship God,
to hear a touring choir sing classics  with
some spirituals--she thought the choir was good.

The young liturgical dancer was lithe,
quite serious as she embodied grief
and bafflement at death from tsunami,
earthquake, and flood. 

                                     The choir prayed for relief,
for understanding from Mother Mary.

The worshiper, offended by the dance,
looked at the floor, her eyes narrow and hard,
her jaw was clenched, her lips were white and thin.

In choir and congregation there were tears
in sympathy with grieving mother, child...

To turn away from beauty is a sin. 

    A Sonnet by Steve Shoemaker
      June, 2012

view from the balcony with altar directly in front, modern artwork
hanging from ceiling above, and the elevator used in the renovations
that tourists can now pay to ride up in for a better view on the right

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