Tuesday, January 24

Bon Voyage

Preparing for our journey home we have much to ponder. We've visited 20-plus churches and have heard and played some spectacular organs. The sounds from these beautiful instruments resounding in gracious acoustics have given new insights into the performance and interpretation of all the music we are playing. We have experienced spirituality in cathedral and church architecture. We have been so graciously received by the many fine organists we have met, most recently Francois Espinasse who gave us a wonderful afternoon of music and learning in the Royal Chapel at Versailles on Friday and also arranged for us to play the organ at St-Severin after mass on Sunday. Merci Francois! And then, of course, there is Paris itself, which is so inspiring. The art, the history, the neighborhoods, all the sights, not to mention the food and wine! We've also enjoyed being together. Traveling is a privilege and we all feel grateful for the experience as we anticipate our happy homecomings. -- GP

Friday, January 20

Qu'ils mangent de la brioche...

Originally built as a (comparatively) small hunting lodge by Louis XIII in 1624, the Palace of Versailles was transformed and greatly enlarged by his son Louis XIV to become what is one of the largest royal palace complexes in the world. Today, on this chilly and wet January day, we joined the nearly three million tourists who come to the palace every year to file past bed chambers and dining rooms, reception halls and fountains to view the most extravagant symbol of the now extinct French monarchy.

We began our day with a discussion, led by Sam Simataa, of François Couperin (1668-1733), a French baroque composer, organist and harpsichordist. Known as Couperin le Grand to distinguish him from other members of the musically inclined Couperin family, François became organist at Saint-Gervais in Paris in 1685. The Couperin dynasty at Saint-Gervais would last for 173 years, from his uncle Louis Couperin’s appointment in 1653 until Gervais-François Couperin’s death in 1826. Couperin le Grand also has ties to Versailles, as he auditioned to become Organiste du Roi at the Chapelle Royale in 1693 and was personally chosen for the position by King Louis XIV who apparently declared that Couperin was the “most experienced” of anyone who auditioned. Other organists at Versailles include Nicholas Lebègue (c.1631-1702), Louis Marchand (a contemporary of Bach, 1669-1732) and Claude Balbastre (who taught harpsichord to Queen Marie-Antoinette, 1724-1799). Mozart also played the organ at Versailles on his trip to Paris in March 1778, and he even hinted in a letter that there was an opening for him at the console, but as the history books tell us, he wasn’t really interested in the post and returned to Germany and Austria in September 1778.

Though the crowds were considerably smaller on this January morning than one would expect to see during the peak tourist season in the summer, it was still hard to imagine the Kings and Queens of France wandering the halls of this vast Château with people snapping photos of every statue, painting, and Royal knick-knack. Maybe it was the time difference between January 2012 and the French Revolution of 1789, or it may have been all the signs leading tourists around rooms that were open for viewing and those that were not, but there was definitely a very large disconnect, even for me as a history major, between what I was seeing and the tremendous history that has occurred in this palace. Not that I didn’t enjoy my visit to Versailles, because it was a very beautiful palace and the gardens were spectacular, even in the dead of winter in the cold rain, but it was incredibly difficult for me to imagine Marie-Antoinette running out of her bedroom to flee the mobs marching on the Palace (just one example) and I didn’t really expect that when I left this morning.

But of course, the main purpose of our visit was not to see just the palace, but to view the organ in the Royal Chapel. We met with organiste co-titulaire François Espinasse (who is also organist at Église Saint-Séverin in Paris, and professor at the Conservatoire in Lyon) who showed us the second French Classical organ we have seen on this trip, after the one at Saint-Gervais. The original organ case was created by Philippe Bertrand in 1708 but the original instrument itself wasn’t completed until 1711 under the direction of Robert Clicquot. The instrument was inaugurated the same year by François Couperin. Additions were made to the organ by Robert’s son Louis-Alexandre Clicquot in 1736, and his grandson François-Henri Clicquot (famous for building the original organ at Saint-Sulpice) in 1762 and Pierre- François Dallery in 1817. A major transformation was carried out by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll in 1873. This original organ was sold to the Séminaire de Châteaugiron in 1936. Victor Gonzalez, a well-known Spanish-born French organ builder responsible for leading French organ building back to the classical principles of the eighteenth century, made a reconstruction of the Clicquot instrument. In 1995, a completely new instrument was created by Jean-Loup Boisseau and Bertrand Cattiaux, aiming to reconstruct the creation of Robert Clicquot with the additions of Louis-Alexandre and François-Henri Clicquot. François Espinasse played a quick improvisation and selections from the Couperin Parish Mass and then set us loose to try out the organ.

The organ was definitely an interesting experience. First, it is tuned to A 415 instead of the usual A 440, and the temperament is a modified Mean Tone, meaning it is based on pure thirds. The pedal board was also very interesting. All the pedals were considerably shorter than a modern pedal board, and the pedals were all straight as compared to the concave pedal boards we are all used to in the United States (the organs we have been playing on in Paris thus far have also had straight pedal boards). Overall the experience at Versailles was incredibly eye opening as we have been so used to American organs or the Romantic organs of Cavaillé-Coll in Paris. The sound differences in the pieces of Couperin or any other classical or baroque composer are stunning when played on the instruments they are meant to be played on.

You know you're in Epernay when...

First, I have to apologize for the space between this blog and the last. I'm on international time, so I hope you understand! However, it is a must that I share the experiences that I have gone through this past week. We all got up early Monday morning, and strolled over to our Place Monge metro station. We rode the metro all the way to the Gare de l'Est station and went to the regional train ticket counter to buy tickets to visit one of the most awaited places on this trip, at least for me: Epernay! For those of you who don't know where Epernay is, according to Wikipedia (now that we all can access it once more), is located some 130 km northeast of Paris on the main line of the Eastern railway to Strasbourg. The train was to depart at 10:36 so we did a little bit of shopping in the station since we had time to kill. Before the train departed, GP handed out the tickets and we all boarded into the second class section of the train. I couldn't believe it was second class...in India this would be comparable to first class on the national train. I guess we're living the life! Riding through the countryside was an amazing experience as it seemed almost therapeutic compared to the hustle and bustle of living in Paris. Even in this "winter," the country side was green and calm: good conditions for me to play Sudoku and the rest to nap. As we were rolling into Epernay it seemed to be quite a charming little town. This was confirmed as soon as we exited the train station (Gare d'Epernay) and walked towards a magnificent looking church, which we soon discovered was the Notre Dame of Epernay. Epernay inhabits about 24, 000 people, but had a Decorah feel to it-- cars would stop for you to cross the road. It was a beautiful and sunny Monday which gave us all a chance to really see the town. The plan was to find our hotel, check in, then head out champagne tasting. Oh...excuse me, I forgot to mention a very important fact: Epernay is champagne capital of the world. So I guess you can now see why I was excited about visiting this place! What a combination: charming little town and champagne capital...I think I might have to relocate here now! Anyway, after a couple wrong turns, we finally found our hotel (Hotel St. Pierre) which felt more like a very cozy B&B, with two lovely hosts, Pierre and Bernadette. After checking in, we made our way to the first champagne spot: Archille Princier. Here we watched a video on champagne production that educated us on the various grapes used, how the champagne was produced thereof, and storage management. We then got to go into an 18th century cellar and see how they were stored: some horizontally, and others diagonally. Before exiting the building, we tasted two types of champagnes as part of the tour. A group favorite was the blanc de blanc, which is 100% chardonnay. Feeling better educated on the matter, we set off for another place called the Perrier Jouet on Avenue de Champagne. I kid you not, the street's name is Avenue de Champagne! Here we got 3 tastes, so we had the brut, one that had a mix between chardonnay and pinot noir, and some rosé champagne. Fancy! After deciding to try one more place, it was time to head back to the hotel for a dinner served by the hosts. It was a fabulous meal: avocado with seafood as an entree, shepherd's pie as a plate, a salad with 4 cheeses as an intermezzo, then topped off with chocolate mousse. After dinner, some went off to bed and the rest indulged in some interesting conversation. We talked about life abroad and the contrast and similarities between people and cultures within and outside cultures. What a segue to another important meeting-- going to bed! The next day we woke up to a wonderful breakfast, with breads and warm beverages, and walked over to Notre-Dame d'Epernay to try out the 1869 Cavaille-Coll organ. The instrument had just been restored and was in great shape. We all got half an hour on the organ and so the playing began. The sound in the church was amazing, especially with the French repertoire we were playing. Even though some of the pieces didn't have stops present, registrations were altered, but still sounded fantastic in the space! After this GP, Sarah, Emily, Tyler and I decided to go visit Reims which is a city about half an hour north of Epernay. Sam H, Sam L and John decided to spend more time on the organ, playing their recital pieces and just exploring the instrument more. Reims (pronounced "Rents") is a metropolitan city, with commuters coming in from places such as Epernay, and has an impressive downtown area. However, we went to go see Notre-Dame de Reims, which is a huge cathedral tucked about on the outskirt of the downtown area. As we entered the cathedral, its height was quite overwhelming. As we toured the place the sense of size and art captivated our attention. GP brought our attention to a stained glass window by Marc Chagall similar to the ones that inspired a recital he did last year with trumpet professor R. Tirk (a piece by Petr Eben). After that we dashed off to the St. Remi Basilica, which is where St. Remi is reputed to have baptized thousands of warriors during the 5th century. It soon started getting dark, so we made our way back to Epernay for dinner. Reims was quite the experience, with so much history learned and experienced in such a modern place. Dinner was once again another feast: quiche as the starter; veal as main course, salad and 4 cheeses as an intermezzo, and caramelized apple topped for dessert.

After another night of great rest, we went to St-Pierre et St-Paul, which was the church on the opposite side of town. It has an 1897 Cavaille-Coll but was not restored. Therefore, some of the keys were dead and/or not sounding the appropriate pipes. But, we still played on it and enjoyed the wondrous sounds it produced and projected. I especially enjoyed the Cortege et Litanie by Dupre played by John: its melody was quite soothing and memorable, and in a sense sums up my experience in Epernay. We left Epernay at 2:30 and came to settle back into the Paris apartments. Looking back on the past few days has been a great adventure and a spy-glass into the smaller France we don't know too well. I guess c'est la vie!
--Sam Simataa

Sunday, January 15

In the Organ Lofts of Paris

In the Organ Lofts of Paris is the title of a 1923 book by Frederic B.Stiven, erstwhile Professor and Director of the School of Music at the University of Illinois (now reprinted with photos). It is a series of vignettes of the various organs he visited during a study-year in Paris in 1910-11. I've been using chapters of this book as a kind of "bedtime story" for our students. What is fascinating is how few things in the organ world of Paris have changed since the 1920's, especially the tradition of inviting visitors into the organ loft to observe the organist during a service. Such was the case this evening when Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin invited us into the loft of St-Sulpice for the 6:45 p.m. mass. We all gathered around the massive console to watch her set the registration for her prelude, a movement from Diptyque Liturgique by Jean-Jacques Grunenwald, successor to Marcel Dupre at St-Sulpice. After she played this piece, she offered a stylistic improvisation as the clergy gathered for the mass, to be said in the choir of this famous church. When she finished, we repaired to the "Widor Room" behind the organ for conversation while the mass progressed. This is also tradition. The grand orgue in the rear gallery is only used for the prelude and postlude (sortie) of the mass as well as the Offertory (offertoire) and improvisation during communion. At the appointed time, we all moved back to the organ console to observe Sophie-Veronique for the aforementioned events. Because everyone is so far up and behind organ pipes and some drapery, it is possible to converse softly while the mass is progressing, discussing registration of the organ and the music that is being used. This, too, is tradition, even to talk to the organist when she or he is playing! It was awe-inspiring to listen to the creative improvisations and musical interpretations of Sophie-Veronique on this fine Cavaille-Coll organ while observing the faithful at mass far below in this stunning church. Merci Sophie-Veronique!

Earlier in the day we enjoyed the Protestant service at the American Church where expert church musician Fred Gramann, Music Director at ACP, played the Bach Prelude and Fugue in A minor and the Prelude in E minor (Wedge). We sang with the full congregation to his spirited hymn playing and enjoyed his choir. He graciously invited Sarah Bieber '12 to perform a handbell solo, Be Still My Soul, arr. by Christine Anderson as part of the morning's musical offerings. Thank you Fred! Sarah offered her music with elegance and conviction, drawing "Amens" from the congregation and also a few tears. What a great representation of Luther's music program! Also, it was fun for me to see the pew donated by the Old South Church in Boston and to meet up with Megan Staley who was a charter member of the Old South Ringers that I formed in 1998. Megan is currently working in Paris and it was fun to reminisce about our days at OSC. I so enjoy the connections that we make and maintain around the world! If this weren't enough, we also took in the weekly organ recital at St-Eustache including works of Bach, Liszt and Alain. A full and satisfying day. We are so privileged to do this, hanging out in the organ lofts of Paris! --GP

Tintinnabulation: A Paris Debut

One may wonder how a non-organist such as myself was granted the opportunity to travel with the Luther College organ seminar this January term. It was not my organ appreciation or my page turning skills that allowed me a spot on the trip--it was my solo handbell ringing abilities. Since the spring of 2010, Dr. Peterson has been in contact with Fred Gramann of the American Church in Paris. Fred is a renowned organist and composer of handbell music. During the Luther Ringers concert in the spring of 2010, the ringers performed "Change Ring Prelude on Divinum Mysterium." This piece beautifully illustrates the allusion of change ringing patterns in the opening measures. The type of sound produced by change ringing has no melody or harmony and, in fact, little musical significance given that it is based on mathematical sequence. This contemporary work gives musical credit to the origin of the handbell as it evolved from change ringing. Fred’s work is unique in that it allows you to hear the way handbell music was played in the past.
By taking this course, I was given the opportunity to work with Fred Gramann and perform a handbell solo at the American Church in Paris. This morning I performed Christine Anderson's arrangement of "Be Still, My Soul" for solo handbells. Fred Gramann accompanied my performance and it was well received by the Parisian community. The choir members and early church goers applauded my rehearsal prior to the service. I was in awe to see that listeners were brought to tears by my playing. Seeing the way my performance of handbell music touched the audience members made my own musical experience that much more wonderful. These musical moments truly feed the soul. Upon seeing and hearing my handbell skills, a pianist I was formerly introduced to asked to see the piano score. Along with her praise and thanks for my performance, Nathalia asked if she could keep the music. I happily told her to keep the music and she in turn handed me her personal card. Nathalia is a 1er prix concert pianist from the Conservatoire de Paris. She was so impressed with my performance that she wanted to accompany me in the future. If I ever consider touring Europe as a handbell soloist I am to get in touch with her. Thank you Dr. Peterson for giving me this wonderful opportunity. My Paris debut was a success!

Saturday, January 14

An epic journey with many characters

     It is difficult to think realistically about our time in Paris, France. I have to continue to remind myself that this is J-term. It is noticeable when GP must keep up on e-mails pertaining to the music department. Otherwise, I don't feel restricted by time at all. I do not know what day it is, when we are going where, etc. It just comes each day and I am thankful to walk out onto the street where you look up and know you are in Paris by what you see. In addition to this, our foraying through the Paris Organ World (which we are often admonished to enjoy) keeps yielding incredible returns on our earnest investments. This, it seems to me is directly because of the personality of each building and instrument we experience. But, it is the people who show us the instruments whose passion and loving way of sharing music and tradition makes this journey one that will be difficult to come down from, and one you may be interested in reading more of.
     Visiting Maurice and Madame Marie Duruflé's apartment, playing at Notre-Dame d'Autueil, and having reign over Messiaen's organ loft at Sainte-de-la-Trinité are experiences that leave me eagerly anticipating what comes next. This is because they were such intimate glimpses into famous composer and organist's lives and work as well as pedagogical gold. Frederic Blanc, as GP explained so eloquently, gave us a lesson in spirituality. He talked about how the veranda of the Duruflé's apartment offered a view of the stone, mechanical city of Paris sprawling below-- which makes up less than 50% of perception. Big as Paris is, the glorious sight is dominated by the sky (which was particularly blue) which Frederic explained as a chiefly spiritual element of living here. The following day he extended the lesson into an impromptu masterclass where he reflected his former teacher's severity. While each of us played he would wrinkle his nose, raise his eyebrows, and scoff before stopping us to fix something (all in good humor). He made us realize that impersonal, technical playing "kills the organ." We need music and personality to prevail over difficult notes and virtuosity or every organist will sound the same and people will no longer attend organ recitals and the organ's power in worship is diminished. 
      Yesterday we discovered Olivier Messiaen, the man and the music, all day long. I was to prepare a brief overview of Messiaen's contributions, which was the first thing on the schedule. Then Chris Murray (Decorah native) arrived to graciously share his doctoral research on Messiaen's habitual and unique way of reusing music in new ways. He took us towards Messiaen's church near the Opera Garnier. We ate at a restaurant across the street aptly named "Entr'acte" where we enjoyed good wine and a view of Garnier's stunning façade. I was greatly anticipating the experience of la Trinité because I spent gobs of time learning the third movement of L'Ascension suite (Transports de joie) for a lesson during the last day of finals so I could continue work at home. Perhaps I should mention my appreciation to those I live with-- Ben, Tom, Paul, Mom, Dad, Jake, and others-- these people know some sections of this piece as well as I do! Thomas (toe-ma) Lacôte is one of three current Titular organists at la Trinité. He demonstrated the marvelous Cavaillé-Coll instrument which Messiaen added stops to in 1935 and 1967 respectively. Then it was time for me to play. This became what seemed to me like an intimate, personal coaching of how to navigate space, gesture, registration, and technique. GP was standing close, observing and visibly mentally taking note so we can start with new perspective come February. I loved hearing the piece fill the room and feel the electric connection between my fingers and the keys. It was an immense but appropriate sound for the "Outburst of joy from a soul before the Glory of Christ which is its own glory." I don't know what other people thought, but for me I was engaged in a way that felt like I was alone in an empty cave-- making noise that penetrates the whole purpose of coming here. There is still a lot of work to be done before I can offer this piece at auditions in the weeks to come, but this was "very special" as Thomas continually remarked. He said that not everything is written on the page-- the room is part of the instrument, thus deserves to be notated in the music. We try to think this way even in our lowly Sundt studio, and the CFL, but here it was clearly evident.
     I liken all this to some epic novel which continues to unfold and urges you to turn pages. Some characters come and go, some stay. Brad is probably experiencing culture shock as he heads for Jackson, MN, and Chris will continue with us for a few days. I am eager to travel to Chez Dupré. I can't wait to see Versailles thinking fondly of the French Revolution scenes in Mel Brook's History of the World Part I ("Don't get saucy with me Bearnaise!")  I am also excited to welcome art savvy Ann Sponberg Peterson. Auntie Ann will bring much joy to our merry band and we expect will make our visits to L'orangerie and Musée d'Orsay well- informed. 
Thanks for reading, be well, hear good organ music! 

Thomas Lacôte navigating the stops at Messiaen's organ (console new in the late 60's) while demonstrating some "very special" passages with distinct character only found on this organ in the "Serene Alleluias" (mvmt. 2, L'ascension). One unique sound was the combination of a 4' flute, tierce (1 3/5'), and 1' piccolo which sounds more like tubular chimes than wind pipes.

Auguste Rodin's Le Penseur (doing what we're doing). We all enjoyed the sculpture garden (seen in Midnight In Paris) and Sarah and I enjoyed the temporary exhibition of nude drawings.
Nave of la Trinité, from the second level right of the organ balcony.