A Part of History

Salzburg Festival 2019
by Kenny Hadden, Worship & Music Director

Click here to hear the bells of Salzburg.

“If you remember one thing from your time in Salzburg, I hope it is the sound of the bells.”

That’s what Salzburger Dom Music Director János Czifra told us in his tentative English as we wrapped up our final rehearsal. It was noon, and the bells of the cathedral were ringing loudly across the ancient square into the windows of our rehearsal space. When the ringing started, Janus stopped conducting abruptly and bowed his head. The 160 singers in the room followed his lead immediately, and we all enjoyed about two minutes of prayer, enveloped by the mesmerizing sound.

The PCJH choir was in Salzburg, Austria July 2-8 for a festival celebrating Salzburg’s most famous native son, W. A. Mozart. The trip was a collaboration with Cathedral Voices Chamber Choir, and was the culmination of 5 months of hard work and preparation. After singing portions of the festival repertoire in worship on Sundays, during the Easter cantata, and then again in the Cathedral Voices Spring Concert at the Center for the Arts, the choir was well prepared to join five other choirs and sing Mozart’s Coronation Mass in the cathedral for which the music was written. 

On our first day in Salzburg, we walked through the 13th-century Old Town with its narrow streets and passageways and wrought-iron hanging signs, past the towering cathedral to the original 8th century monastery, which is built into a cliff face below the Roman-era fortress. It felt like a walk back in time – as we were on a tour curated specifically for visitors wanting to experience Historic Salzburg: The hometown of Mozart. But as we stepped off the mosaic stone street and entered the doors of the rehearsal space, the movie-set appearance of the buildings changed in my mind. We went from observing history to being a part of it.

Indeed, even when the Mozart family walked these streets, the town was already many hundreds of years old, and felt very much like it did for us on a hot July day. Starting in 1763, the position of Vice Kapellmeister was held by Leopold Mozart, and from 1779 on, the court musician who played and composed for services in the Dom was his wunderkind son, Wolfgang. The Coronation Mass was debuted on Easter Sunday of that same year – a showcase of the new organist’s talents. The original choir certainly wrestled with the complex music just as much as we did, and spent countless hours drilling the notes and nuances of each line in that rehearsal room. And they also likely stood in awe, as we did, when the sound of the final chord rang throughout the magnificent cathedral for a full 6 seconds after the cut-off.

In our practice room that day, as the echo of the bells faded, János began to sing Dona Nobis Pacem, an old, simple round meaning “give us peace.” The singers joined in, and sound filled the room and overflowed out the open windows into the square. It was a moment of spiritual cohesion, with one another and with history. We finished the song, and walked purposefully toward the cathedral to prepare to lead Sunday Mass.

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