Singing in Spain

This post is the first of several about a vacation we took ten years ago.

The Chamber Singers of the University at Albany, an auditioned à capella chorus directed by David Griggs-Janower, were scheduled to go on a tour of Spain and France in 2007. Not enough students could go, so David recruited a few additional singers and groupies to fill out the ranks (and fill up the bus). My wife and I were among these, and a number of us got together once a week before the trip to rehearse the music, many short pieces from all over the world, including for example “Ubi Caritas et Amor” by Duruflé, and “Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen.

Cathedral at Montserrat
Singers approaching the Montserrat Monastery Basilica, the site of our performance

The first venue was in Spain. We stayed in Sitges, just south of Barcelona, at the Hotel Calipolis, on the beach. We did an open-air concert nearby. The first major concert was at Montserrat Monastery, high in the mountains to the west. There we had a large audience, mostly tourists, and spent a pleasant time taking in the views. The pinkish rock formations above the basilica in the picture give a feel for the setting.

We had some free time to tour around Barcelona, both before and after the concert. I want to mention three striking sites in particular.

The Sardana Dancers

Traditional Catalan Dance

On a small mountain overlooking the city, this sculpture represents a type of dance that is symbolic of Catalan unity. The Catalan people feel distinct from the rest of the population: there are both Catalan and Spanish newspapers in Barcelona.

Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

La Pedrera, Barcelona

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) designed this apartment building which incorporated many curves and other naturalistic forms, even in the service structures on the roof. It is now a museum dedicated to Gaudi’s work and other cultural activities. There is an apartment in the building preserving an example of the original interior design. In the museum there are numerous exhibits including one showing how Gaudi used hanging chains or catenaries to model the best arches. This idea, first advanced by Robert Hooke, and elaborated by many others, is the basis for forming kilns for example. A modification of it was used in the construction of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Gaudi's method for calculating arches
Exhibit of chains at Casa Milà

La Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia

Also designed by Gaudi beginning in 1883, this church is still under construction. From a distance it has a Gothic air, but it is unique.

Sagrada Familia, detail

Sculptures drawn from nature, for example fruit, decorate the building in places where gothic architects would have placed gargoyles. The columns inside resemble tree trunks.

What held all this together for me was the sense of a unique approach to life, a spirit of fun.

Of course there is much more to Barcelona. If you can, you should go.

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