Thirty Rogue Valley Chorale members and guests traveled together to Spain for 12 days in late June to share their passion for a cappella singing in some of the great cathedrals of Europe. Ranging in age from 23 to 80, their voices rang out in rich, clear tones in the high ceilings of cathedrals in Barcelona, Madrid and Toledo, giving joy to the Spanish listeners.
The world-famous, unfinished Gaudi’s Cathedral Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) in Barcelona was an exceptional location to perform, drawing an audience from tourists. The new Rogue Valley Chorale director, Laurie Anne Hunter, showed a teary eye of joy after the group sang with beauty and grace in its short repertoire before a throng of tourists in the soundbox of the grand cathedral.
In Madrid, the troupe was enchanted by the 16th-century Royal Palace, with its 3,418 rooms, and the Prado Museum, with the artwork of the genius Renaissance artists El Greco, Velasquez and Goya. Traveling by bus from city to city, we left Madrid and passed through La Mancha (highlands) of Cervantes’ Don Quixote fame, with the windmills (soldiers in Quixote’s mind) still intact, but not operational.
Notable among our group were two young tenors. One is Irish-born Eoghan McDowell, an Ashland High School graduate who sang a duet with retired elementary music teacher Eric Smith, “I’m just a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” The second was standout soloist Colin Campbell, a math/vocal performance graduate of Southern Oregon University who now heads to Boston Conservatory to gain his master’s in vocal performance. He sang solo “Circumdederunt Me” with a small group during the tour.
One singer, group coordinator Beth Gibson, met up with her missionary daughter and son-in- law for a few days along the way near Seville. Our tour director was an energetic 71-year-old, Cristina Vives, a Barcelona-born Catalan who was dynamic in explaining her country. She learned her English by living with a London couple as a young child.
Some of the chorale troupe began 42 years ago, and have gone on all seven of the group's Europe tours starting in 1993. One family, Louis, Patricia and Susan Franks, began with the Chorale in 2012 after singing for 20 years in the San Francisco Bay Area in opera and contemporary music. Most, if not all of the group, have a background in music, with jobs and avocations such as music teachers, choir directors, vocal students and coaches.
Flamenco music (dance, guitar, song) began in the Andalucia region of southern Spain, where our group visited. The music is bitter and sad, portraying the angry Gypsies who were forced to abandon their Islamic faith and accept Catholicism, the only religion permitted. Now there is freedom of religion in Spain, and Flamenco music is popular worldwide.
Bull fighting and soccer are two other passions of the Spaniards. Some famous matadors command huge sums to kill two bulls during a bull fight. When we visited Barcelona, we noted the soccer team has captured the spirit of the city. Everyone knows the Barcelona soccer song, somewhat like a national anthem. For an English translation of the song, see http://youtu.be/dnghhn7f8U0.
The chorale troupe felt more like a large family, some pushing wheelchairs for the less mobile and looking out for each other. Twelve days together drew us close, sharing the wonders of Spain. We all learned to pack light and organize from a AAA presentation. One member of our group had his wallet lifted from his side pocket while being distracted in line for a beverage. Because Spain has been slow to recover from the 2009 global recession, with 27 percent unemployment, pickpockets are prevalent.
Our last performance, in Toledo at the 15th-century Cathedral Saint John of the Kings, met with an excited audience that demanded an encore. The final song, “Ride on King Jesus,” featuring soloist Michelle Cipollone, brought the house down. This capped off an opportunity to sing in some of Spain’s most sacred sites as American ambassadors, while learning some of its history and culture along the way.
If interested in singing with the Rogue Valley Chorale or attending one of its concerts, see roguevalleychorale.org
Don Bolles is a tenor with the Rogue Valley Chorale.