Sunday July 3, 2016 – Vienna, Austria – MoTab European Tour Journal
Today is one of the longest days of our tour so far. And this is one of my longest posts. But, if you hang on for the ride I promise to share a great story, and include lots of photos!
Today is the Sabbath day, so this is a very unusual thing for members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to not only be missing a church service but also giving a paid performance – however, with the blessing of our prophet we are consecrating this day in the service of the Lord as His musical missionaries, and participating in charity service.
We were up at 5:00 am with breakfast buffet at 6:00 am, and loading the bus by 7:00 am. Our itinerary indicates the drive from Munich to Vienna will be 6 hours, with no rest stops.
As we pass through the beautiful countryside of Germany and enter the mountainous region of Austria I can’t help thinking of the early converts to the church who left this beautiful place behind to faithfully “gather to Zion” – and how their hearts must have ached for home when they saw that dry, barren desert landscape of Utah. It is vividly clear why so many of them settled in the verdant Heber Valley, east of Salt Lake City at the base of the Timpanogos Mountain. It looks very similar to their homeland.
Every little village here has a church with its spire reaching up like a plea to heaven for blessings on its community. These are such good people here, with a long history of tremendous faith. I wonder about their lives. How do they make a living? What are their jobs and duties? What are their hopes and dreams? What are their worries? Where do they shop, and what do they do for “fun” in these tiny villages?
Just random thoughts as we drive by.
When we pass the famous Salzburg, Austria you can hear a lot of ooh’s and ahh’s from our bus travelers. I snap one shot before it disappears from view. Perhaps someday I will get to visit! Meanwhile, time for a nap.
One of the most romantic cities in the world. The birthplace of the Waltz. The cradle of Classical Music. Home to so many of the greatest composers of all time. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, all 3 Johann Strausses, Léhar, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern… the ultimate dream team! I am in Vienna!
Ironically, when I wake my very first image of Vienna is … wait for it…
…a tattoo parlor.
Thankfully, a few minutes later our bus turns a corner to the “historic” side of town and I start to glimpse more of what I imagine when I think of Vienna – grand monuments, ornate structures carved from marble and everything gilded in gold.
We arrived at our destination. The stunning Vienna Rathaus! With its Gothic style, it looks more like a cathedral than a Town Hall. It was built in the late nineteenth century by a man named Friedrich Schmidt. This beautiful building is now the seat of the municipal administration in Vienna, as well as a site for elegant dinners, balls and other special occasions.
We are dining for lunch in the Weiner Rathauskeller [the very elegant ‘basement’ of the Rathaus], and as we have learned, these are not your typical basements. We would return to dine in the upper ballroom for dinner.
I went a bit crazy with the photography here. I couldn’t help myself. It seemed everywhere I turned was another amazing image!!
After that amazing lunch, all of the performers boarded buses be taken to the venue for our rehearsal and sound check, while our guests received a guided walking tour of the city.
What I Didn’t See
Here are the 3 photos Mr. Mo chose to share from his walking tour of Vienna. The first two are gorgeous, and the third is … well, rather hilarious.
The Golden Hall
Weiner Musikverein – traditionally shortened to Musikverein – was built in 1870. It is home to the Vienna Philharmonic. The principal conductor here from 1872-75 was Johannes Brahms, and from 1898-1901 Gustav Mahler took the helm. This place is nothing short of a shrine for all Classical Music lovers!
The Musikverein’s grand “Goldener Saal” (Golden Hall)- is considered one of the finest concert halls in the world acoustically. Not to mention it’s unsurpassed beauty.
And all of that stunning GOLD!!! In fact, even the tickets are golden.
The sound in this hall is simply magnificent.
It is also preserved “in its original” – meaning, there is no air conditioning and it is very tight quarters. To say that a Choir and orchestra of our size is “difficult to fit” would be an understatement, but somehow our seating captain Deb did a tremendous job of squeezing us all in. The Altos and Tenors were seated on the main stage behind the orchestra, and the Sopranos and Baritones seated in the balcony. Several Sopranos and Tenors standing in the far corners of the balcony cannot see the conductor at all, and are performing via faith and prayers, and employing all of their excellent musical skills under such difficult circumstances. It is also very difficult for the performers to hear each other as a whole from our divided areas. However, if we did our job right, and from all accounts we did, no one in the audience ever suspected.
Dinner In The Ballroom
Before our big concert we are taken back to the Rathaus, and gain admittance with a special ticket to walk up the red carpet to the royal ballroom! Oh my Goodness. I don’t believe I will ever dine in a fancier, more royal and romantic place! I was Cinderella tonight.
At the last minute I was moved from standing in the corner to standing nearest to the organist on the narrow front-and-center balcony. My view of our conductor was unobstructed, although I was looking nearly straight down – which caused more than a bit of vertigo. In fact, each time I swung my bell during the interludes I had this terrifying thought I would ring once too enthusiastically and tumble over the banister to my dramatic death! Much worse than death, I would ruin the concert. And that would be unforgivable. So, I rang mindfully, and thankfully, I stay put!
There are moments during this concert I felt like I was singing in an other-worldly place. And other moments I felt transported back in time. I would not have been surprised at all to look down and see Brahms or Mahler standing at the podium. This is probably the most stunning place I will ever be privileged to sing. Just imagining the history here taok my breath away. To think “I am raising my voice and creating music where so many of the worlds greatest performers have been raising their voices and creating music for the past 150 years” … it is just, humbling. Amazing. Thrilling. And, since I had some friends in the audience looking for me, I felt double blessed they might actually be able to see me.
I think knowing the incredibly historic significance of where we were singing added another level of pressure to the Choir and orchestra to give our very best for this performance. Despite the challenges we were facing with the heat, the sight lines, and hearing each other I feel that we were all united in such intense concentration throughout the performance that God took that unity of purpose and desire and combined it with our hours and years of preparation, and He made up the difference into something glorious.
There were definitely angels singing with us. And, I also like to think that many spirits of the Masters kept audience with us this night.
The hall seats exactly 1,774 people with standing room behind a gate on the lower level for up to another 300 people. Our concert was completely sold out – including the Standing Room! Bless their dear hearts! Because I am a bell ringer in this concert, I stand the entire first half which runs 45 minutes. It’s a challenge for my back and my feet. So, I am especially touched that so many people were not only willing to stand – but even paid for the privilege – and not only for the first 45 minutes, but for the entire 2 hour concert. I noticed there were children in the group as well as adults. I sincerely hope they all found a place to sit and rest during intermission.
When I look out at these vast audiences I realize I don’t know who they are – I don’t know their stories, I don’t know their hopes and dreams and hurts and fears – but I do know that something moved each one of them to be here in this place at this time for this concert. And, I believe God had a hand in it. I feel an overwhelming love for each of them welling up inside me that I can’t explain. And then, as the concert progresses, I gradually begin to feel an overwhelming love radiating from each of them to me as I sing. There is a sacred communion between a performer and their audience that only music can create.
A quote by a beloved LDS businessman comes to mind:
“To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground” – Stephen R. Covey
I believe we were all walking on holy ground tonight in Vienna at the Musikverein.
They Came 2500 Miles
I have heard that many people are coming from great distances all across Europe to attend our concerts during this tour. I am only aware of a handful of them personally.
One of my dear blog readers lives in the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain. [isn’t that cool?!] When he heard last year about our upcoming tour he and 3 friends actually bought tickets for the Vienna Concert, and booked flights to attend our concert! [Isn’t that amazing?] Unfortunately, I was unable to connect with him prior to the concer, and we never found each other after the concert which causes me so much sadness. 😥 I would have loved that so much! It touched my heart deeply that he and his friends were there (and yes, I DID see you Angél – and your friends! I counted the rows and seats to where you told me you would be!]
I will never forget how they made such a tremendous sacrifice to attend our concert! No doubt there are similar untold stories happening in all of our concerts.
I’d like to share an excerpt from a wonderful message he sent to me about their experience:
“The concert was – well, there are not words to describe what we felt. You were indeed a choir of Angels, descended from the royal courts on high to bless us, poor earthly souls, and touch our hearts and lift up our souls with your heavenly accords.
Five minutes after the beginning, one of my friends was shedding tears of joy. She told me that she would never attend another choir concert, after enjoying the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She said that the whole sound you create is unique, and no other choir would reach your sound quality and superb performance.” – Ángel Martín
For The Least Of These…
At the conclusion of this concert, our host Lloyd Newell announced to the audience that all of the proceeds from this Choir and Orchestra concert were being donated to the charitable organization, Caritas Austria.
The contribution will also include additional funds from the Humanitarian Fund of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These combined funds will support Caritas projects for local needy citizens and refugees.
Our Sabbath day performance truly was consecrated and sanctified for the benefit and salvation of others. Imagine the ripple effect – who knows how many souls will benefit from this special night when we sang in Vienna?
Hang On, Only 6 More Hours To Go!
Tired and sweaty our day wasn’t over yet. We changed as quickly as possible, grabbed our day bags and loaded our buses for our “red-eye” return trip to Munich. I admit, a little part of me dies each time I have to board the bus. I prayed somehow I could slip into a coma for the return trip. It’s one thing to be able to see beautiful countryside as you endure 6 plus hours of non-stop driving. Its quite another thing to be trapped in close quarters in the endless dark….
And now for a brief word about our bus drivers
In Europe bus drivers are held to incredibly strict union rules. Much more strict than the USA. They are only allowed a certain number of minutes within a 24 hour period on the clock of the wheel, and if they go over they will not only be fined thousands of dollars, they can and often do, lose their license. Which means losing their livelihood. So, this was a serious concern throughout our tour- especially for these long drive days. During this tour, there are always two drivers assigned per bus, so that they can trade off. There’s even a special jump seat in the front of the bus for the second driver, and a sleeping berth underneath the bus [accessed from the front stairs] for them to use as needed. However, we were warned that we could not have any delays loading the buses after the concert tonight or we just may find ourselves parked at a rest stop for the night with our drivers unable to continue. We also learned there was only a 30 minute leeway to successfully pull off this epic out-and-back Munich to Vienna undertaking. Yikes!
Our bus drivers are truly the unseen, unheralded rock stars of a MoTab Choir Tour. Thanks to their expertise tonight [and probably to a few ‘speed limitless’ zones on the autobahn] we made it back to Munich by 4 am. No one had to stay the night in a rest stop [although, as we have previously seen of German Rest Stops, that may not have been too unbearable – but a bed always trumps a bus].
Tomorrow … rather, “today” – is another much needed rest and recovery day.
So Tired but #soblessed and if you actually read all the way to the end, you deserve a rest, too! – MoSop
This is part of a 3-week series sharing my experience with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s European Tour from June 28-July 16, 2016. Due to security concerns, tour participants were not allowed to share anything on social media until our return.
Check back each day for a new installment!