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.

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