Pack up the bags one more time. We’re moving from Ljubljana to Salzburg. Ljubljana is such a beautiful city…and what a spectacular way to bid farewell to Slovenia.
One advantage of touring with the Singers is that after a while, I didn’t need to watch the choir. I knew where they would stand for Peace Like a River. I knew what they would be doing in Great American Cowboy. I was even ready to jump in as a last-second dancer replacement in Oklahoma! (Fortunately for American-European relations, that emergency never transpired.)
Not focusing on the choir allowed me the luxury of focusing on the audience. I got to see their delighted reaction to Adam Griffiths’ soaring tenor solo in Dekla Je Na Pragu Stalo, and their hand-clapping joy when Olivia Woolley and Ricky Parkinson let loose in Worthy to be Praised. I watched people burst into grins when Steve Knell and Riley Soter leaped forward for their solos in Bile Them Cabbage Down, and saw them sit in open-mouthed amazement as the last notes of Jubilate Deo hung in the air for long seconds after the Singers finished.
Every performance was good — different in its own way because of the venue — but for me every concert was defined by the audience. And sometimes that took just one person.
In Koper, it was a little grandma with a soft round face, wrinkled and care worn. She sat quietly near a woman I judged to be her daughter, wrapped in a clean white blouse with her hands clasped tightly in her lap…a tiny bundle of a woman in the immense darkness of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Her dark hair, threaded now with grey, was brushed back in a shapeless and thoroughly utilitarian style, and she lacked only the babushka scarf to be the archetype of every elderly Eastern European babica.
At last the Singers reached the end of the concert and began to sing Pa Se Slis. As the first words spilled into the hall, a trace of a smile creased her eyes and her mouth formed a tiny “oh.” And then, too softly for even her daughter to hear, she began to sing along with the choir. And as she sang her face softened, her tiny body relaxed and I could almost see the years slipping away. Was she thinking of all the times she sang that lullaby to her children, I wondered? Or was she hearing all the times her mother sang it to her? I will never know…but when the Singers finished that number she sat for a long time without moving, lost in the memories the choir had brought to life for her.
In Ljubljana, the experience was less about an individual in the audience (although there was the old gentleman in work clothes who quite literally did double fist-pumps overhead when the Singers began to sing the Slovenian folk tunes). Rather, it was the size and sound of the audience, squeezed as it was into a beautiful church on the edge of the Old Town in Ljubljana. That evening brought literal meaning to the phrase “packed to the rafters,” and the result was a concert noisy with applause and, yes, outright cheering. And then there was that moment–during the final verse of Pa Se Slis, of course–when the entire cathedral became so utterly still that it seemed suspended in time. It was a span of pin-drop silence, crytal in its perfection, followed by a tsunami of applause and cheers.
It was in Ljubljana where the Singers performed together with the Chamber Choir Mysterium, a very talented local choir whose conductor will be starting her doctoral program at the U this fall. I think both choirs enjoyed singing together and it was a treat to share music with new friends (even if they could sing Slovenian faster than we could!).