Friday, June 16, 2006

Vienna Gospel Sanity

Friday June 16 2006
(Still catching up from my notes)

Who needs sleep? I’m in Vienna!

After our show opens on Wednesday night, we have our days free. I wander around Vienna for 2 of the days, trying to time it right one day at noon to at least see the Lippizaners of the Spanish Riding School ride back to their stables after their practice or performance. But my timing is bad and I miss them – I only see remnants of their passing and grooms sweeping up after them. I resort to a Starbucks on the corner by the Spanish Riding School. (Does this count in any way?)

In fact I have many, many cappuchinos (though only 2 from Starbucks) every day in Vienna. I don’t drink that much coffee (and when I do, it’s always decaff) in the States, but I felt sort of obligated to do this, as many people told me, “Drink a coffee for me!” Of course I am probably taking this to extremes…

Vienna is a very people-friendly city – very easy to get around, very casual, no hassles. Beautiful old buildings, steeped in history, plenty of museums and castles, none of which I went in. I’d been here 17 years ago (and missed the Lippizaners again then), but it was like visiting a new city to me, as I didn’t remember it.

Another day, my friend Tracy (who has come to visit the show from Egypt) and I take a train to another country – Bratislava, Slovakia is only 1 hour away. It’s another old European city, somewhat like Vienna but a little more tired-looking. I wanted that Slovakian stamp in my passport!

I was really craving a nap any of those days, but, being in Vienna, that seemed such a sacrilege, so I put that off till next week.

I’m really enjoying being here with the Gospel people – I see them maybe every 2 or 5 years, and every time we do the show, we suspect it may be our last time, and because everybody knows this, we appreciate the short time we have together.

The show is absolutely awesome – acting great, singing terrific, every night again it moves me. When Caroline hits her high-high note in the next-to-last song (her voice has something like 20 octaves), chills run from my fingertips on the board up through my arms to the tips of my hair. The tech crew claps and dances upstairs during the rocking songs.

It is a terrible shame that after all this work getting it together, we are only doing the show for 5 days. The annual Vienna Festival brings shows like ours into different venues, and they run for a week or 2 and that’s it. We’re hoping another festival or event will bring us in again, someday, somewhere… there are rumors of going to Poland next year. Or maybe Chicago! I’ve always wanted to play in Chicago.

After all the great times I’ve had this week, I think this was the crown jewel. A bus came to pick up a load of people after the shows and take them back to the hotel. Tracy and I happened to get on this one, and while everybody was waiting for it to fill up, some of the choir men and women were casually and quietly singing, trying new songs, laughing when they messed up or tried hitting a different note. Even then, their voices were filled with such intensity. Tracy sat up and said “I have a request. Can you sing Amazing Grace?”

Seven, eight or nine women and a man or two, whoever wanted, started singing this song – OH MY GOD! If you get one chance in your life to sit right in front of a few (or better yet, a whole big) black gospel choir, do it. If it does not move you (and I am not talking God or religion), you are dead inside.

These women and men weren’t belting it out, they were just sitting on a bus at midnight in Vienna passing time waiting to go home, no microphones, no egos, no audience but other fellow cast and crew members and friends, pouring out this precious gift of perfect voices, so effortless but so powerful and moving, so…

There is no human word I know to describe the spiritual power of these voices. It takes hold of your bones deep down inside, wraps around your insides, squeezes the life and spirit not out of but into you, it suffocates and strangles, hurts in a magnificent way. The singers’ eyes were closed, singing quietly with such an extraordinary power – coming up from thousands of years and ages of spirit, up out of their bodies and beings and bones, out and down into my ears, down into my bones and being and spirit. I can’t sing, I can only hear, but through their music, through their exquisite voices, we are all one in this Thing…

I was rocked to my bones and tears were rolling out of my eyes and I will never forget this song or sitting on this bus in Vienna!

This was the Gospel at Vienna – magnificent all around. “This may be the last time, I don’t know” (a Blind Boys of Alabama song)… and maybe not.

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