Chiesa de Orsanmichele, Florence, Italy
Maybe it is because Florence is so art and academia-filled, that one cannot help but seek one’s own ‘voice’. While walking around the other day, I lamented to Richard that once I felt I wrote fairly well – from the heart with meaning to me that also sometimes mean something to others as well. But since I had gone back to work full-time that I had somehow ‘lost’ this and it made me sad. Really sad in a painful way, as if somehow I had sinned and that I had allowed (allowed!) a part of me to be removed. I know this may come under the category of warped ‘Lisa theology’ but that’s how it felt. I was hoping that during this Sabbatical that this — (dare I call it a ‘gift’? or is it only an ability – that can come and go, nothing special, something which anyone can really do?) – that this fulfillment with writing would return. Up until now, I’ve mainly journaled and made a few attempts at creative pieces that somehow seem shallow, forced, of duty. And this saddens me that I fail to capture the allusive nemesis muse.
But this night in Florence we are at a concert in a building that has captured too many stories to tell. As we sit and wait in this serene place, I feel an internal ‘tug’. We whisper our marvel at the architecture, the faded frescoed art, the intricately carved marble – which I logically know is cool to the touch, but creates such a feeling of warmth – sitting here waiting, there is a gentle tap on my creative ‘muse’ and the need to express myself with words is released. And I start to write…
Thoughts that Fill the Concert Program
We whisper in reverence to place and moment in time, and then the music starts and all I can think is “Surely, the ear of God is upon this place.” Music glorious music swirls around from back to front, from side to side, from the floors to the rafters. Overhead great women of the Old Testament briefly receive, consume and then radiate and reflect each note upward where all the saints lean in to listen intently.
Sweet note-by-note Schubert Allegro Moderato, then with vigor the notes ripple and resound with a softly intense absorbing echo throughout the church. Even the wooden pews stop creaking as if the grain is filled with the fullness of the music.
As a note is played before a hold, it lingers ever so slightly as if being held for a wisp of a moment by Ester, Miriam, Ruth and Judith; women of the Old Testament who are pillars of virtue, of character. They are the silent quartet that oversees the musicians. Each note does not escape them, it rises and is embraced before they allow it to slowly, deliberately slip onward.
Some would berate the acoustics, the notes played so clearly, so precisely, waft and are muffled in this cavernous space. They wander, rebound, fade and are lost. Somehow, strangely, this adds to the experience for me. It’s not so perfect; it is as if the church itself is a member of the chamber group, following its own score and timing, creating a masterpiece that can only be experienced here and now. I imagine the space as if it is a medieval sound engineer mixing the notes, concocting a musical potion until it transforms to a point where one can see and breathe music.
The cellist ‘feels’ her music. She breaks my heart. I almost expect to see a tear. She closes her eyes and is in a far away place on contentment. Then her hair shakes as her head preens into the arch of her cello and she listens to music within as if they are dear girlfriends sharing secrets. She lifts her eyebrows and glances sideward in answer to the questioning chatter from the viola. Then she and her cello establish dominance, demand attention by holding the room captive with an entrancing note. She has her say.
A string on her bow breaks and frenetically, then languidly, waves with each pass of the bow. The cellist and music make a point, she pauses ever so slightly to listen, but it is a pause that invites a change in the music as the instruments begin to chaotically interrupt one another, speaking over each other’s conversation. They offer varying opinions, passions, volumes; it is uncomfortable like when you unintentionally are caught in the middle of a fight between people you love. Then as if someone opened the window for fresh air, they music changes subject and they continue their convivial conversation as if nothing had happened. Listening, supporting, building upon and finally offering a better whole as individually they each demand, give and earn respect.
The musicians stop, the notes linger, sound vibrates; the cellist runs her fingers through her hair, leaving it tousled and finally she smiles.
There is an intermission, when the musicians return everything about their body language shouts that they are spent, but have are willing to dig just a little deeper for us and give more. Committed, they draw on the energy within and continue the concert with respect and honor to the local artist Cesare Valentini who has written the last pieces of the concert.
Valentini’s music starts discordant, setting the mood for a mystery or the feeling that something scary is about to happen. Earlier today we pass Dante’s home and we discover that neither of us has read “The Comédia Inferno.” (How did that elude us?) The music we now hear seems like it should accompany the visit to Hell as the musicians forcefully pluck the strings, even the pianist reached into the guts of the piano and grabs, no yanks, what seems to be the carotid artery. Doom portends. My muse sulks, then hides. I imagine she’s left for a glass of wine and will return later.
As the last notes’ echoes fade into the walls, the composer Cesare Valentini himself is recognized. It is a good thing that he cannot read my thoughts, as I find this piece uniquely unsettling. Maybe God wants me to know that all is not light and lovely, but there is also beauty in that which is brooding, chaotic, unpleasant – even antagonistic.
My thoughts are provoked, my senses awakened, my muse revived.
Dear Lord, thank you, for tonight, I felt.
Grain Market, Guilds’ Chapel or Church? It doesn’t matter.
The concert was held in what is now called the Chiesa de Orsanmichele which has been around since the 1500s. Originally it was built as the Grain Market for Florence with the grain stored safely on the third floor, offices on the second and trading activities on the first. Later it evolved into a chapel for the various Guilds, each of their patron saints command wall space on the outside of the building, while inside Old Testament men and women demand to be seen. There are two women on the altar piece, which seems unusual, one for sure is Mary with the baby Jesus the other we learn is Saint Anne who is the Protectress of the City of Florence.
It is oddly pleasing that this building is not what it first seems, it is not a church, but it was a place of nourishment, of empowering, of appreciation, of creation.