Friday, August 24, 2012

Organ Tour, Part 1 - Marseilles

5/21/10 et seq.

I had essentially NO time during the organ tour to record events and impressions, nor to finish writing about the Italy trip, so I’ll try to do as much of that as possible on this train trip and for the couple of days in London. I will fly out of Heathrow (God willing and the ash-cloud doesn’t return) on Monday morning for Kiev. Hopefully, on that trip, I’ll have more time to write as we ply Russia’s rivers and canals.

I’ll try to reconstruct the extraordinary tour of the south of France (Le Midi) and its marvelous organs from a few tidbits of journal entries, from photographs, and from brief notes scribbled in the booklet for the tour: “Historic Organs of Southern France,” May 9 – 21, 2010, with Michael Barone. American Public Media, Pipedreams. I took lots of photos, and these should help refocus the memory.

Nave of Eglise Saint-Vincent-de-Paul

My photo strategy for the organ tour was to take a couple of photos of a church from the outside, then a couple of the nave inside, and then a couple of the organ, or more specifically, the pipes and casing or cabinetry. If there was something of particular interest in the church itself – special d├ęcor, ancient baptismal font, striking stained-glass windows – I often took photos of that, too. In some cases, I used a video camera (which “disappeared” in Russia) and recorded video and sound, as well.
Organ loft, Eglise Saint-Vincent-de-Paul
The Pipedreams Organ Tour began in the shadow of the Icelandic ash cloud for many of those on the tour, as had this whole trip for me. A few of the participants couldn’t get air flights from Paris to Marseilles and had to take the train. Others were delayed in London and arrived a day late in Marseilles. I arrived the evening before most of the group in the city of Marseilles - once the ancient Greek port of Massilia, and now the largest city of Provence and the second largest city in France. I met Eddie, one of the trip regulars, that first evening and we met again at breakfast.
Eglise Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Marseilles, France
It turns out that many of those on the tour (perhaps half of them) are Michael Barone groupies and return year after year to visit organs in various parts of the world (mostly Europe), to listen to them, often to play them, and to enjoy one another’s idiosyncratic company and the chance to share a passion for music in their own individualistic manner. There were 22 members of the group (or 23, counting Lise Schmidt, Michael’s significant other of 32 years), as well as three leaders – Michael Barone, the host of Pipedreams on Minnesota Public Radio (which airs on Sunday afternoons in Charleston); Janet Tollund, who led our tour and usually organizes the Pipedreams tours (through her tour company, Accolades), although she usually doesn’t lead the tour itself; and Jean-Claude Guidarini, an accomplished organist from Toulouse, who was apparently the major musical contact for the tour, who knew most of the titular organists and organ builders, and who was usually the first person to play the organ (sometimes after the titular organist) to show off its possibilities with skilled improvisations.
Ancient fortifications above the harbor
Eventually I came to realize that several of the churches we visited had once been catholic cathedrals, converted to protestant churches. It was not always clear, however, which were which. Initially it seemed that church (eglise) signalled a protestant church, and cathedrale (or abbaye or basilique) indicated a catholic church, although, in retrospect, I’m dubious of these distinctions. The south of France has had a complex and contorted religious history, with the Albigensian heresy at the center of much persecution and bloodshed, in addition to the Catholic schism with Rome during which popes took up residency in Avignon, followed eventually by the protestant reformation, which was bloody in this part of Europe – perhaps even bloodier than elsewhere.

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