Today, I visited one of the most famous places known to brass players - St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. It's where Giovanni Gabrieli first cut his teeth on antiphonal brass music back in 1598 or so. To see the space, especially the balconies, up close was a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
Before heading to Italy, I reached out to Marco Gemmani, the Maestro di cappella of the church. He wrote back quickly and we set up a chance to meet after this morning's service. The choir sang during much of the service and it was a glorious sound in the space. They sing in two choirs facing each other from the balconies above the open space in the middle of the church. They are far enough from one another to need two conductors who face each other and conduct the group across from them, mirroring motions exactly. It made me want to go home and try that in Old South Church where I do so many concerts each year. We do antiphonal music, but with only one conductor, usually standing in the middle. What if we used two? Hmmmm...
Afterwards, Maestro Gemmani took us up into the gallery for an exclusive, behind the scenes look. Gratefully, his wife, Cristina, who speaks excellent English, joined us for the tour. It was brief, but long enough to see the layout and get one photo. She told us that he organizes and performs in over 70 services per year - weekly services plus all of the major holidays and celebrations. She also pointed out four organs in the church, all in different locations used for different purposes. It sounds like he has quite a big job. On a local note, their daughter did a year abroad in Boston at Mount Holyoke College. Another reminder of how small the world can be.
Since they are not seen by the parishioners, the choir doesn't need to dress up. Gratefully though, their music-making was anything but casual!
The impromptu tour ended quickly as another service was about to start, but not before I could get a photo of us together with my cousin Laura Bernard. This was a day not to be forgotten and I look forward to sharing what I saw and learned with the players at home.