The thing about Community Choirs is they’re a great way to bring people together and break down cultural barriers. Even better probably than the football trips we do where players of different nations kick seven shades of crap out of each other on the playing field or the rock tours where junior would-be-rock stars trash foreign bedrooms and each other. So we’ve done two choir trips this month –one to the South of France and now this one to Italy – and, unless I missed it, no-one trashed anybody.
The Voice of the People choir were formed in the Bridgwater Arts Centre a few years back by natural voice practitioner Yvette Staelens. Nowadays they come from all over Sedgemoor , West Somerset and Taunton Deane and every year they come somewhere interesting with Bridgwater International. A few years ago they visited Priverno in Italy only to find themselves singing on the steps of the town hall to a locked door and in a nearby town when no local choir turned up to meet them . Then last year the Mayor changed and suddenly the Bridgwater link has blossomed into overdrive.
Rome on a plane
It’s easy to get to Rome. You go to Bristol and take an aeroplane and you’re there in a couple of hours. 47 of these singists flew out and 46 landed (one arrived the day before). Meeting them by bus we took them the hour or so drive down the Lazio coast to the seaside town of Priverno and the welcoming luxury of the Hotel Oasa di Kufra in the town of Sabaudia. Good food, course after course of it, never ending unfinishable carafes of wine,charming Italian waiters and a beckoning sea just 10 metres from the hotel terrace and they were away.
The autumn sun woke us up next morning, casual breakfast in the casual breakfast room with sunlight streaming in and drawing people magnet like to the beach. A lazy morning. So some of us walked into Sabaudia.
Fascism….Don’t try this at home
The problem with Sabaudia is it’s a great place and you want people to appreciate that…but on the other hand it was built in 1934 as a Fascist New Town by Mussolini so you need to make sure people don’t get ‘too’ attached to the place.
“OO isn’t it lovely”,’no, that’s the former Fascist Party offices’…”Ahh, that’s a nice artistic display they’ve done there” ‘no, that’s pictures of Il Duce laying the first stone of the evil fascist empire!!’…”well, it’s lovely anyway”. Fascism is a bad thing, and on no accounts must you try it at home!!
Luckily in the afternoon we were off to Priverno. Where the Mayor’s a communist. And there he was on the steps to welcome us, along with some other councillors. Since coming to power last year 34 year odl Mayor Angelo Delogu has taken the Bridgwater link to heart and has done everything he can to promote it. Here he was today hosting a concert in the Cathedral with a Priverno choir…who also played Madrigals.
Singing in the cathedral
The concert was the highlight of the trip. Of course. That’s why we were there. The Voice of the People people enchanted their Italian hosts who joined in and sang along, welcomed them in turn to some refreshments in the town hall and even came to see them at the Kufra for a final party the following night.
The wide variety of songs from all over the world echoed out across Priverno amplified and elaborated by the perfect natural sound system that only a Cathedral can bring. We should get one in Bridgwater. Tape loop chants from the Equatorial rainforests mixed with choreographed Hawaiian hand and elbow routines that Busby Berkely would have been proud of. And of course the only National Anthem of the world that people actually like singing ‘kosi sikulele’ from South Africa. (ok I’ll concede la Marseillaise as well, but only because of the scene in Casablanca).
And then it was back to the beach hotel, the food, the wine, the beach, the midnight skinny dipping (although I did have to go half a mile down the coast) (to find some).
A day at the Cassino
Sunday was a special day trip to the nearby hilltop monastery of Monte Cassino. In world war 2 for 5 months, soldiers of many nations fought together to dislodge the Germans from this imposing peak and open the road to Rome to try to end the second world war or at least to liberate Italy. British, New Zealanders, Indians, French all tried to take the summit. The Americans bombed the 5th century monastery to rubble, killing 250 civilians in the process (who were sheltering from the battle inside it)and almost hitting their own commander with over 1,500tonnes dropped including some near his tent.
No one could take the hill until 18th May when the Poles did just that. Today the scene of their final battle near the summit is a spectacularly laid out cemetery with a museum to commemorate the Polish role in world war too.
So it was fitting that we visited the Monte Cassino Monastery, even though it was on top of the windiest road in the world with knuckle whitening hairpin bends every 3 minutes . On the plus side there was a live performance of a mass sung in Latin going on inside and spectacular views across the Appenines and down the lire valley. So well worth it. And the Poles had to make the trip whilst being shot at, so we probably owe it to them for that anyway.
The final evening was party time. We’d invited Damiano and his band from Anzio down to perform some Italian folk music for us. And what a treat. The hotel had laid out an unrivalable buffet, brought out even more wine that we couldn’t finish drinking and Mayor Angelo and our Priverno chums turned up to join in a fun filled finale of frolication.
The highlight for me was everyone singing the anti-nazi anthem of the Italian Partisans ‘Bella Ciao’, clenched fists at the ready.Although this was closely followed by the jaw dropping spectacle of Mayors partner Allesandro and Voice of the Person Claire doing some kind of eastern dance using a table napkin as a pair of pants. International friendship was certainly on its way to being cemented that night.
Rome in a day, well, 4 hours
As the plane back to Bristol doesn’t leave until late afternoon we spent the morning in Rome. As they say “If you haven’t seen Rome, you haven’t been to Rome” (or something like that). But how to see it in 4 hours? That’s right, a route march at Cllr Smedley breakneck pace – past the colloseum, through the forum (‘that’s it over there’) over the mad traffic mess that is piazza venezia, pop into the pantheon and then up the Trevi.
Sadly the Trevi was closed for repairs. There weren’t 3 coins in this fountain just 3 dozen workers putting up scaffolding. That of course didn’t stop Yvette from trying to get the choir members (that hadn’t collapsed of heat stroke on the long march) to sing. One final version of ‘Moon River’ and even the Italian Police couldn’t bring themselves to arrest them.
The link with Priverno was taken an immense leap forward by this trip and looks well on course to becoming a full twinning in 2015. Thanks to Yvette and her choir for making that dream even closer!!!