A gorgeous Sunday morning as we arrive in Innsbruck, the capital city of the Austrian Tirol. We are part of a fleet of buses, trains and private vehicles descending on this ancient beautiful city. In addition to our choir of 17 voices, there are more than 1000 singers representing 40 choirs and other types of vocal ensembles arriving to celebrate a very special occasion…the 150th birthday of the Tiroler Saengerbund. This is a celebration of camaraderie…a huge family of voices sharing in a celebration of song.
The TSB is the umbrella organization for more than 430 choral organizations and other vocal ensembles (that’s approximately 9,000 singers!!) located throughout the Austrian Tirol. The TSB provides a series of special programs, courses and events for member choirs. These include workshops for Choral Directors and singers, competitions, seminars, performances and other forms of support. The TSB is also the home of a collection of musical resources as well, including many scores and recordings. The TSB keeps its membership informed of music-making throughout the Tirol and news of choirs by way of its occasional journal, TSB Chor Tirol. You can learn more about the TSB by visiting their website at: http://www.tirolersaengerbund.at
On this celebratory Sunday in Innsbruck, this vast array of singers bring with them a deep love and appreciation of Tirolean culture, history, language and dress. Many wear volks costume…women in their beautiful colored dirndls and men in uniforms and jopes..the short cut away jacket made of loden or other fine materials. Upon many a breast is pinned a host of large medals commemorating years of service to music in Austria.
Mixed choirs, mens choirs, chamber and concert choirs, quartets…classical, folk, jazz and gospel singers…young, old and in-between…all are in Innsbruck on this Sunday when the blustery warm Sahara-like winds (the Föhn) throw sheets of music in the air and singers push away the hair from their note-reading eyes.
The day commences with a concert in Innsbruck’s Kongresshaus. The Dogana is a massive hall, built over the ancient stones of the palace that once stood here. The acoustics being what they are, it is better suited to a conference or ball than a concert. Still, we are here, filling the massive hall to capacity. Maestro Howard Arman and his massed choir (consisting of four choral groups…the Kammerchor Innsbruck, the Collegium vocale, Vocapella, the Pitztalchor and the Tiroler Motettenchor from Wörgl), soloists (Isabel Hindersin as the witch of Endor, Jennifer Chamandy (Soprano), Lysianne Tremblay (Alto), Albrecht Sack (Tenor) und Stephan Rehm (Narrator), and Tiroler Symphonieorchester of Innsbruck perform the massive dramatic oratorio, King David, written by the Swiss-French composer, Arthur Honegger. This work is bold and complex…a mixture of Mendelssohn Romantic, allusions to Bach (whose work had long been studied and beloved by Honegger) and the lyrical tonal explorations of French music that so characterized the times in which Honegger lived. The concert brought this work to light to many who had not heard it before.
It is after the concert that Innsbruck comes alive in choral song. The 40 choirs were located throughout the city, performing in venues including main city squares, cultural centers, tourist watering spots as well as other pedestrian thoroughfares.
The Ulrichschor first joins four other choirs from the town of Reutte and surrounding villages to form a large ‘Bezirkschor’ (District Choir). We gather in the late morning heat to sing at our designated location on the square (platz) in front of the Innsbruck Landestheater. Bezirkschor Director, Susanne Becke, conducts works by Melchior Franck, Friedrich Silcher, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Volkslieder from Austria and Bavaria. It is a short performance, listened to with great appreciation by members of other choirs, passersby who stop to see what is happening, and to those sipping an espresso at a nearby Cafe.
As quickly as it started, the performance is over. We now slowly make our way past the majestic palace, the Hofburg (now a lovely museum), past the Hofburg Chapel, under a medieval arch and over to the Franziskanerplatz. It is a cozy niche lined on one side by shops and a splendid ice creamery. On the other side of the walk is the wall that bordered this area with what was the garden of the nearby Franciscan Abbey. Close by is the outdoor Cafe of the Ritterstueben. There customers are sitting in the sun, enjoying their midday meals.
It is here that the Ulrichschor makes its first solo performance. Ulrichschor Director, Joseph Pressl, conducts our 17 male and female voices in a selection of much beloved works from the choir’s extensive repertoire of traditional Austrian folk music. The music, the ambience, the weather and (I am delighted to say) the singing are all lovely and very well received indeed.
At the close of our performance, we all linger to listen to two other choirs from Reutte and environs (Chor InTakt and the Choir of Breitenwang) perform. They are both wonderful.
We then wander slowly through Innsbruck’s historic center. At the square beneath the The Golden Roof (Goldener Dachl), we pause briefly to listen to a young jazz and Gospel choir sing. As we depart, a marvelous Men’s ensemble begin to make splendid music. Sadly, we cannot tarry, as we must now head back to the Landestheaterplatz to sing our final set of works for the day. It is getting late, the Fall sun is beginning to set and the warm winds are beginning to bite.
The final performance…not as many listeners this time, but those that surround the platz respond with loud and sustained applause. We are finished…our day of singing is not over just yet, however. We make our way back to the Ritterstueben where we join our colleagues in a fine warm dinner…schnitzel and rice and many a beer disappear with great rapidity. The 18th century room is filled with the sounds of joy and harmony. It is a fellowship of musicians that we celebrate on this great day..a feast of sweet music that stays with us as our bus back to Pinswang winds the steep curves up and over the magnificent Fernpass separating Innsbruckerland from the Ausserfern…and into the crisp star-bedecked Tirolean night.