Friday, May 30, 2014

R.E.S.P.E.C.T., Swiss Style

Respect for the organist in the organ loft, and respect for the sharing the road -- both signs are from Lutry, Switzerland and give a knowing glimpse into Swiss culture.

Bicycles, motor scooters, and cars are everywhere, so the "mutual respect" traffic sign is a good reminder to be diligent and patient while on the roads.

The sign in the organ loft, this one written in French, is polite and to the point. Even the "Merci!" in little lettering at the bottom has a pleasant wisp of kindness that goes with the reminder to be understanding of those who work on the keyboard.

Both signs add up to R.E.S.P.E.C.T., Swiss Style.

Aretha Franklin would approve.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Winter Pruning

The Seven Sisters climbing rose that lives right outside the kitchen door underwent a severe winter pruning. The elegant plant, so full and luscious last summer, suffered from the Cruel Winter of 2013-2014. Its canes were dead and dry. The plant was really dealt a big blow with the cold and wind.

I pruned it a bit before we left for Switzerland, but it still had long, spiny canes with little new growth to be seen. So I pruned it some more.

With some watering, some warmth and sunlight, and a little fertilizer, the Seven Sisters will be back in pink bloom by mid-July. It's a tough rose. With a little prodding and TLC, it will bounce back from the pruning that Mother Nature handed out so readily last winter.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

They Are Back

A tiny hummingbird was sitting on the shepherd's crook outside my kitchen window yesterday afternoon. The little creature caught me short. The red plastic feeders were in the basement. There wasn't a teaspoon of white sugar in the pantry. Yet, there he was, waiting for dessert.

I bustled to the grocery and picked up two sacks of sugar. I make up nectar fresh -- two cups of filtered water to one cup of sugar, boiled and then cooled -- about every 2-3 days when the hummingbirds are active.

This morning I put the first feeder in place and began weeding the garden beds around it. Within an hour, three hummingbirds were soaring and dipping and stopping to drink the clear sugar water that they love. It's good to know that they are back.

Considering that I'm still tired from the travel back from Switzerland, I got to wondering if birds can get jet lagged from way too much travel? Does it take them a week or two to re acclimate themselves to their northern habitat? Just wondering. . .and still yawning!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sleepy Day

The lilacs at Cedar Bluff are budded. The daffodils have faded. The gardens need weeding. But today was a sleepy day, kind of a recovery day after a long day of travel on Monday.

It was a 22 hour transatlantic travel run from Zurich, Switzerland to Michigan yesterday and today I'm time whacked. I did manage to do some laundry and make myself a meal or two, but every time I sat down to read a bit, I fell asleep.

The time zone difference between Switzerland and Michigan is six hours. My brain kept doing the math. By 9 am this morning, I was hungry for lunch. So I did the math and realized that my body was thinking "it's 3 pm and way beyond lunch."

Since gardens and plants are going to be late this year, I haven't missed too much. The lilacs will be out in a few days and there will be time to get geraniums planted and weed the garden beds. Meantime, I'm catching up on that elusive character that makes all of life better -- sleep.

Monday, May 26, 2014

One More Travel Day

Our trip to Switzerland ends with our travel day back to the U. S. today. While the tour group folks left on various flights yesterday, Ed and I chose to take a collapse day and do a reset. That means that Miss Wanda Jean here got lots of sleep yesterday. There was the ten hour overnight sleep, a good one, and a two hour nap. Sleep makes me into a new person, especially when away from home.

So today will be our travel day. After jaunting around Switzerland's highways and streets via a new motor coach (think seats that move into the aisles; clear, coated windows, funky tray tables), we commented that a few more hours jammed into plane seats will go by quickly.

The art work on today's blog is of the Munster Bridge in Zurich, a most lovely city and one that we would come back to in a heart beat.

Farewell, Switzerland. It's been good to get to know you and your people, and your magnificent pipe organs.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pipedreams Tour Ends

A lovely farewell dinner at a restaurant near Munster Square in Zurich capped the last day of the Pipedreams Switzerland Tour. We said our fond farewells to each other, knowing that there will be yet another tour next year.

Good byes are easy for some and difficult for others. When you share a common bond like music there is a heartwarming undertone that brings people together.

The great reformer Martin Luther said "music is a fair and glorious gift of God."

So is friendship.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Pipedreams Album

I finally made my goal of drawing and writing something in my art journal for every organ that we heard today. Look closely at the treble clef symbol and you will find a very small numeral that designates the order of the organs.

As you can see from the artwork, I'm trying to capture some small slice of design from the building or altar or organ. Sometimes I try to do a more complete drawing that is landscape in nature. I use a travel set of paints and pencils, and a waterbrush to accomplish the painting.

What you can't tell from the art work, I think, is how very, very tired I am tonight! The bus ride, though pleasant, was long, and we had a giant list of organs to see and hear today. Tomorrow will be the very last day of the Pipedreams Trip to Switzerland 2014. And yes, we have a lot of organs to see tomorrow!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Around Lake Lucerne

Day 10: Pipedreams Trip in Switzerland

By bus and by ferry, we have found delightful churches, talented organists, and welcoming smiles on this tenth day with Michael Barone's Pipedreams Tour of Switzerland. Swiss organist Els Biesemans presented demonstrations on organs in two churches very near the River Reuss, within walking distance of the hotel today.

The Jesuit Church, pictured above, is used as a concert hall and has a three manual Metzler organ that Els played. She began the day with the magnificent Bach Prelude and Fugue in G and concluded the first concert with Fanny Mendelssohn's D Major Prelude. 

The ornate ceiling in the Jesuit Church reminds me of brocade fabric. Many of the churches we have seen use scroll work, florals, feather patterns, and spiral flourishes as designs on walls and ceilings.

We boarded a ferry after lunch and enjoyed beautiful Lake Lucerne's scenery as we transited to our afternoon organ visits. Swans along the shoreline add a graceful touch to the docks and shoreline.

The distant mountains with sparkling snow caps contrasted with the wooded hills along Lake Lucerne. The Alpine scenery was breath taking, the air was invigorating, and the day went by quickly as we drank in the beauty sight and sound.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Alpine Day

Two churches in the Swiss alps and travel on Swiss Rail from Munster to Lucerne made this an Alpine day. The organ concert given by Els Biesemans at the Church of Our Lady of Munster highlighted centuries old sounds of an organ that dates from 1685. 

We then traveled by Swiss Rail through tunnels and valleys, enjoying the incredible scenery. 

Lilacs and tulips are blooming in the villages. Meadows are yellow with dandelion blossoms. 

Sheep and cows and goats dot the hillsides. 

We arrived in Lucerne at rush hour when the day was warm and said immediately, "let's go back to the mountains!"

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Along Lake Geneva and Headed East

Reformed Temple, Lutry
NOTE: This post is a digital diary of today's travel that gives a glimpse of a day with the tour group.  I used two apps -- Blogger and Evernote -- to keep a running account of the day's events.

Day 8: Pipedreams Trip in Switzerland

Lutry, Switzerland -- 9 am: Still basking in the rich organ heritage found in western Switzerland, the tour group begins the day by hearing an organ that dates from 1791 in the Reformed Temple. The church is noted for many concerts, including the Lutry Bach concerts held yearly since 1957. 

I played Carl Schalk's 1983 hymn tune set to Jaroslav Vajda's lyrics, "God of the Sparrow, God of the Whale," using gentle stops set for me by Anne-Caroline Prenat who has been the organist at this church for 28 years. Els Biesemans, our Swiss tour organist, said last week about one of the organists who played for us, "he becomes like the instrument." Anne-Caroline's playing and the way that she helped us learn this specific organ reminded me of that comment, for Anne-Caroline talked about her organ with great respect and affection.

Els says that a good organ teaches the organist how to play. "The organist has so much love for the organ. They touch. They grow together," is how she describes the relationship of an organist to the instrument played day after day, month after month.

Valere Basilica -- 1435 organ
Sion, Switzerland -- noon:  Now it is just beyond noon and a good number of us have just completed a difficult walk up a very steep hill to the Valere basilica which is high above Sion. We are listening to the oldest working organ in the world, one that dates from 1435. It's a small instrument that is hung with a swallow's nest, a kind of wood shell, high on one wall of the very, very old church. 

I'm surprised by my persistence and daring at attempting the climb. The stone stairs and walkways are not that hard to navigate, but the steep, constant incline was a real effort for me. But I made it to the top of the hill and the reward was hearing this delightful ancient organ in a setting beyond what any movie director could depict. 

The view of the valley of Valere is expansive. I am imagining the contruction of this church, men and women and animals hauling stone and wood and food and fuel up the hillside. It is an incredible place but not a climb that I would do every day. 

Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Sion
Sion -- 1:30 pm:  We are down the hill and and in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Sion to hear the 1988 three manual organ with 49 stops. The organist, David Waeber, tells us he is the "second organist." His smile and short history lecture show enthusiasm for the organ and this holy space where, he tells us, a cantata is played every Sunday. "Bach is on the first Sunday," he says as he recites the monthly organ schedule of Sundays.

After the long climb I am ready, like Ferdinand the Bull in the children's book, to sit just quietly and smell the flowers. The soothing flutes and reeds flow over the sanctuary, and my heart, having worked overtime to climb the hill, is calmed. I begin to wonder if there is any research that shows that people who listen to organs regularly have less heart problems.

Joe, Ed, Larry, A.B., Lise -- Lunch in Sion
Sion -- 2:15 pm: Lunch was at tables outside a lovely restaurant. I had a salad with warm goat cheese and carmelized walnuts. It was delicious food and good conversation, both of which are typical of the three Pipedreams tours I have been on.

On the highway -- 3:20 pm: The bus is rolling east toward Brig through the Rhone valley where the mountains tower over towns and villages surrounded by fruit growing and farms. 

Leuk --3:45 pm: We are in Leuk to hear the parish organ at the Ringacker Chapel. Our bus driver, Alfred, let us off on a side street, just after a hairpin turn. The church is baroque style with angels and cherubs everywhere. It is used two or three times a year for a Catholic festival days. 

The organ is from 1805 with one manual. Els Biesemans, having never touched these keys before, plays music from various periods that displays the unique stops on  yet another old organ, this one being from 1805, four years before Abraham Lincoln was born. The photo of the stops, keys, and pedals is taken from our tour book, a custom printed 135 page book filled with trip schedules and information.

On the way to Brig -- 5:20 pm: We are headed to Brig and a one stop overnight at the Hotel Alex. Our guide Tim Schmutzler, with high humor and great knowledge, gives a running commentary on roads and trains and bridges and tunnels in the high alps.

Water bottle, knitting, Swiss guide book

I manage to sneak in a very short nap and I also realize that my knitting has been schmushed in the seat pocket in front of me all day. The scenery and the organs have been compelling, the travel has been engaging, and the knitting can wait.

The end of the day is near with dinner at the hotel and time to rest up for another day of Pipedreams travel.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Little Pipes, Big Heart

 Day 7: Pipedreams Tour of Switzerland

One could fall in love with a little pipe organ, the kind that is used for practice or accompanying choral ensembles. The Choir Organ at St. Francis Reformed Church in Geneva certainly fits in the little organ category.

When closed it looks like a giant kitchen cupboard. When open, you see a keyboard, a pedal board and the pipes. Built by Italian builder Formantelli in 1990, it has nine ranks with names like "tromboncini" and "voce humana."

The woodworking in the organ is practical looking, yet beautiful. Various colors of wood accent the keyboard. Stops on either side relate to the upper and lower partitions of the keyboard, depending on their location.

An advantage of a smaller organ lies within the limitation of the instrument. Because there are fewer stops, the organist develops an ear for the delicacy and sweetness of the sounds, often without relying on the big sound of the couplers or the mixtures found in larger organs.

Several of us commented that if we could take home any of the organs that we've been hearing, this would be the one. I'm in total agreement, but sadly enough, even this little instrument won't fit in my rollabout. Instead I will carry the memory of a little Italian organ in a church in Geneva, one with little pipes and a big heart. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sunday Album

Michael Barone meets some Swiss cows
Day 6: Pipedreams Tour in Switzerland

We heard cowbells in the Swiss mountains today. We visited the Swiss Organ Museum and we heard three more instruments, including the incredible American built Fisk organ at the Lausanne Cathedral.

We also discovered how very wonky access to the internet can be and that, dear readers, is why this post is so short. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Day of Light

Day 5: Pipedreams Tour in Switzerland

The overcast days went away in western Switzerland. Skies were blue with high rounded puffs of fair weather clouds. The sun, so welcome, brought marvelous light. In the Abbey at Payerne shafts of light outlined the dust of the ancient building that housed the first organ of the day, an Ahrend built in 1999.

From the old space of the Abbey we walked across the courtyard to Eglisse Paroissale where a 1993 Ahrend, a sister to the first organ, is housed in a sister church building close by. The morning light moved in streams through the stained glass windows, creating lovely patterns on the stone walls of the church.

Mid afternoon light formed shadows and sunspots inside the Fribourg Cathedral as we listened to a magnificent organ in a majestic setting. Here one could feel the heartbeat of the organ. It was like a pulse that would rise and fall, a living movement of sound.

Late afternoon light illuminated the vineyards along the shore of Lake Geneva as we arrived in the Lausanne area. Distant mountains, white with snow cover, glowed in the evening sun.

It was a day of light and sounds in Switzerland with the Pipedreams tour. I'm struck again, at the end of another fine day. with how easy it is for me to show through photography what can be seen. What I can only attempt to describe in words is the luscious sounds of the organs that we are hearing. It is a sound that surrounds you with an indescribable aura and lifts your soul.

I can't put that feeling into a photo, but I can tell you that it is uplifting and satisfying beyond measure.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Colorful Pipedreams Day

Day 4: Pipedreams Tour in Switzerland

Pipedreams travel can be quite colorful. Today's most colorful delight was the golden orange of the back walls in the sanctuary at Holy Trinity Church in Bern where we heard two organs played, including the Italian organ at the front of the church, an instrument that was built in 2008.

Yesterday's colorful highlight was the blue organ in the Jesuit Church at Porrentruy. The church is now used as a concert hall and the acoustics were sharp and specific to the tonalities of this organ. Some of us liked the blue casework on this organ, and some of us were not so sure that we would have chosen this color.

Ed and I spotted this pink trombone while window shopping and strolling the streets in Bern at supper time today. At first I thought it might be a spray painted window decoration, but it was a brand new trombone.

And for today's final color, here are the erdbeeren that I had for dessert tonight. My mother always commented that in German the word for strawberry, erdbeeren, means "earth berry." Mom, who grew up speaking German, thought that was appropriate since you crawl along the earth to pick strawberries.

From orange church walls, to a blue organ, to a pink trombone, and red strawberries, Pipedreams travel is colorful. And the strawberries tasted good, too!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Abbey of Saint Ursanne, And More

Day 3: Pipedreams Tour in Switzerland

Remember the bridge in the musical Brigadoon? It's a magical bridge where where life is storybook lovely on the other side? Today's Pipedreams tour took us across the bridge over the River Doubs into the historic village of Saint Ursanne and it was as if we had stepped into another world.

We visited the Abbey of St. Ursanne and heard a two manual French organ that dates from the 18th century. Bright, sweet sound echoed from walls to ceiling, from nave to transepts. Truly a delight, this organ still has much of its original 1776 piping. The organ was refurbished most recently in 2004.

The Abbey Church, a Romanesque style building, is a delight to the soul and to the eye. With tall marble columns, many arches, and side chapels, the historic church is a highlight of a visit to a village that welcomes visitors and has good places to find lunch.

Pollarded trees in two rows outlined the approach to the church. Pollarding, a method of trimming trees that is used in Europe, creates knots at the ends of limbs. New growth emerges from the knots. Pollarding is used to control the size of trees, both in height and width.

Besides visiting Saint Ursanne, we were in Porrentruy and St. Urban today. Our journey took us through many tunnels that crisscross the Jura Mountains and we eventually ended up in Biel. Before coming to Switzerland, I plugged today's travel into Google maps to illustrate the countryside travel from Basel to Biel. 

Bill and Deb Timby from Rhode Island are enjoying their fifth Pipedreams tour. Deb pulls out her applique needlework after each concert. She gets in a little stitching time while listening to the organists in our group as they get keyboard time on some remarkable instruments.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Wandering Around Basel

Countryside near Seewen

Day 2: Pipedreams Tour in Switzerland

Our tour group wandered in and out of Basel today as we heard three organs in three churches and also visited the Museum of Music Automatons in Seewen. Each organ had characteristics that would make you wish to be someone who was lucky enough to hear that instrument more than once. From resonant reeds to deep bass foundation notes, the organs, though very different, were outstanding.

We kind of spread out when we arrive at a church. Some of us photograph; some of us pull out music so that if there is a chance, we can play the organ; some of us listen; some of us sleep. Whatever each tour member has chosen, the focus is on the music and the organ that is being played. Here you can see today's guest organist Oren Kirschenbaum way up in the organ loft at Karthauserkirche playing the 1994 Edskes two manual organ. Oren characterized this organ as "one of the finest organs in Basel" and delighted us with his skilled performance.

We also get to see the housekeeping sides of the churches that we visit. Even old and elegant buildings have to have things like fire extinguishers, and brooms, and trash bins. Those three big stones under the choir stalls are probably employed as door stops for the huge door that leads from the church to the sacristy.

Later in the day we visited the Museum of Music Automatons in Seween (pronounced zee-ven) where we not only heard a lecture by David Rumsey who is the consultant at the museum working with the restoration and development of the Welte organ, but we also saw and heard many automated instruments like calliopes and player pianos. Think really big music boxes and you will have some idea of what the museum's collection features.

The museum is a Swiss Federal Museum and the Welte organ that is housed there is the organ that was on the Britannica, the sister ship to the Titanic. So, now think really big ships AND really big organs.

On a different note, I did find and photograph some delightful angel musicians in the Heiliggeistkirche, The Holy Ghost Church. These angels remind me of the angels at Bath Abbey which we saw in 2012 on the U. K. Pipedreams tour.

And finally, Ed and I did walk the bridge between Basel, Germany and France tonight right around sunset. The pastel stormy skies up river gave a soft glow to the evening as we watched barges along the Rhein River and marveled at another day of travel which took us from Germany into Switzerland with a short stroll into France, too.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Predigerkirche in Basel, and Three Countries

Day 1: Pipedreams Tour in Switzerland

The best plans laid by mice and men went astray at the Zurich Airport today as members of our tour group were delayed due to the storms in the U.S. As a result, we had a change of plans and ate our lunch at the airport instead of in Basel near the Basel Munster, a landmark church in the center of the town. We had to scratch the Munster's organ from our list, too.

We did, however, hear short concerts on three different organs in the Predigerkirche, also known as the Basel Preacher Church. Else Biesemans, organist from Belgium who has studied at several different music schools in Europe, played the Hauptorge, the Swallow's Nest Organ, and a delightful small pipe organ on wheels that is currently loaned to the church.

The Swallow's Nest Organ is located in a balcony high above the church floor. The organist climbs up a ladder to reach the organ keyboard. The pipes sit above the console; the bellows and pumping apparatus are on the floor of the balcony, below the console but still far above the main floor.

You can see from the photo that sometimes being an organist means that you have to A) not be afraid of heights or tiny ladders; B) be in really good physical shape so that you can clamber up into the organ chamber and then get back down after your performance.

The Swallow's Nest organ was completed in 1985 and is a re-creation of an organ that existed in the Preacher's Church in the 1440's. Guidelines for the original organ were used to build the current organ which has beautiful case work (think skilled woodworking) and a spirited sound that floats sweetly throughout this old church.

The tops of columns in the church were decorated with gold leaves and scrolls which add an understated, yet tasteful touch to the otherwise lightly adorned interior.

An elegantly carved Madonna stood watch over a side door at the front of the church, a reminder of the Roman Catholic heritage of faith that belongs to Predigerkirche.

Our Basel hotel is actually located in Basel, Germany near a shopping mall and a pedestrian bridge. When you walk across the bridge, you soon are in France. Our tour guide, Tim Schmutzler who is from Berlin, says "Where else in the world can you be in three countries in such a short time?"

Honestly, we were too tired after dinner tonight to walk to France. We did Switzerland and Germany today. France will have to wait until tomorrow.