Tonight I was aurally transported. I attended a choral concert of Gabriel Faure’s Requiem in Falls Church, Virginia, and instantly, my mind went to Salzburg, Austria in the spring of 1974. Hearing this elegant, ethereal, even transluscent, piece of music brought back many memories.

I was a young college student spending six months studying abroad in Salzburg with a group of 55 students. Our dormitory was an old hotel that had been rented by the university in Elsbethen, a small town about an hour from the city. Our meals were prepared for us in the hotel. I’d never been a potato eater, but I soon learned that I would starve if I didn’t potatoes. I ended up gaining 20 pounds. Everything tasted so good. Across the street was a small grocery with a barn next to it. The smells of rural Austria in the spring were pungent and new to me.

Part of our educational experience in Salzburg included an agreement between our university and the Mozarteum, a music conservatory in the city, that we students who wanted to could sing in the Mozarteum choir. Many of us also studied piano, cello, and in my case, harpsichord. (That’s another story.) The choir rehearsed every Tuesday afternoon as I recall.

Our choir director was a graduate student in conducting who was preparing a spring concert as his final project before graduation. He was in his twenties. He had long brown hair, very bad teeth, and smoked during rehearsals. He wore tight blue jeans, white T-shirt, boots, and a leather jacket. He looked, to me, like he belonged on a Harley or in a rock-n-roll band, more than as a classical musician wielding a baton. He sat on a stool with his back hunched as he studied the music score in front of him. His English was better than my German which made me nervous as he spoke German when he was frustrated.

We practiced and practiced over many weeks. I grew to know this music so that I heard it in my mind while I walked the foothills, while I did my homework, while I fell asleep. My religious background did not include learning the Latin words of the traditional Requiem form, but I came to feel the power of the text:

Kyrie Eleison
Agnus Dei
Pie Jesu
Libera Me, Domine
In Paradisum

I stood next to my friend, Anne, on the night of the performance. I remember looking out at a large audience of strangers in this very old, but grand, concert hall. Then our conductor came out on stage, transformed (as men always are) in a tuxedo. Everything came together that night into an evening of transcendence for me as a young musician. I experienced something I had never known before and can’t really describe, but I know it as something that satisfies me deeply on a level that is unequaled. Sound, energy, heart, vibration, community, unity. It’s the most alive experience to participate in a musical ensemble. It was sheer beauty. Maybe for me, that performance was like a first successful marathon, or a first view of Grand Canyon, or being at the feet of Jesus.

I returned there tonight.

Related image

The Mozarteum, Salzburg, Austria
(wikipedia photo)

Here’s a link to In Paradisum, sung by The Cambridge Singers:


9 thoughts on “Transported

  1. I’m so glad you share this moment, memory and music. I just listened to your link it is beautiful. I am looking for more music in my life, I will use your list to begin. I also like your description of the young German conductor, transformed by the tuxedo.

  2. Music has a way of transporting us to places we have never been to, or back to a place we remember fondly. A beautiful post and a beautiful piece of music.

  3. So lovely to read of how you time traveled while listening to music. You made me feel like I was there beside you practicing week after week and then the transcendence of your evening’s performance!

  4. Ah, I’m so happy you posted this. I hadn’t heard this music for years — then picked it back up in the fall, then dropped after thing after my Mom passed.

    Listening to this and reading your post revived my soul and reminded me not to forget what I love.

    Thank you (I love this so much). 🙂

  5. I love so much about this piece. First, you have so many stories to share that I don’t know about! I loved learning about this one. A favorite line: transformed (as men always are) in a tuxedo
    Best comparison sentence: that performance was like a first successful marathon, or a first view of Grand Canyon, or being at the feet of Jesus.
    And so glad you added the image and the video. Awesome post!
    Sorry you are busy tomorrow.
    But I’ll look for you in NYC on Sat. I plan to arrive early!

  6. Music really can transport us, can’t it? I am not a musician, and I envy experiences like this one. Oh, to know music as you described, “so that I heard it in my mind while I walked the foothills, while I did my homework, while I fell asleep.” Thank you for the link, too. I listened with pleasure.

  7. Thank you for including a recording of the song – it added to the loveliness of your piece. Your description of sheer beauty – first marathon, sight of the Grand Canyon or sitting at the feet of Jesus was my favorite line.

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