Moonlighting as Roadie/Photog in Germany Part 4: Speyer and Mannheim

Day four of the CNU Wind Ensemble’s 2017 Germany Tour was a mixture of sightseeing and performing. We departed our home base in Sembach and headed for Mannheim, where the ensemble would be performing at the Palace Church (Schlosskirche), reputedly a venue at which Mozart once conducted. On the way, we stopped for a few hours’ worth of sightseeing in the little town of Speyer, most of which was spent wandering around the immense cathedral there, built in 1061. Personally, I find the whole idea of the “relics” on display down in the crypts–allegedly the bones of saints–to be a bit bizarre. You’re looking through glass at what appears to be someone’s shinbone, and it’s wrapped, festively, in ribbon. Stranger things have been done in the name of religion, I suppose, but it all seems very Monty Python to me.

The town itself is gorgeous, full of tourist shops, and completely dominated by the cathedral, which glowers down upon the main street like a patriarch at the head of his dinner table. Very much that way, actually, and deliberately so, I’m sure.

At Mannheim, our bus parked just in front of the Palace Church, which is situated at one end of the “U” formed by the Mannheim Palace. Before unpacking, our host, Professor Tobias Mahl, walked us a few blocks to a small rehearsal room where the Mannheim Conservatory Trombone Choir was practicing for an upcoming performance. Despite having already practiced several hours, the ensemble treated us to a couple of pieces, with some interpretive lecturing provided by Prof. Toni Scholl, the conductor. This was a very advanced group, made up from graduate students and faculty, and their performance was flawless. Our students got a giggle at seeing the massive contrabass trombone (far right in the photographs), which apparently is not seen every day. One really enjoyable aspect of these trips for me is that they serve as a series of late-life music appreciation seminars.

Returning to the church, our bunch unpacked and rehearsed. After rehearsal, we were given dinner in the university dining hall, which was within the palace itself and reached by simply walking across the huge cobblestone courtyard. It is interesting to me to see historic buildings being kept in use in this way. From the outside, the palace still looks quite palatial, but it is still earning its keep by serving day-to-day functions within its stone walls. Eavesdropping on the undergraduate conversations taking place around me in the dining hall (those that were being conducted in English, at least) confirmed that great minds in training are the same today in Germany as they were thirty years ago in Virginia, which is to say, largely preoccupied with matters concerning the opposite sex.

After lunch our musicians changed into their formal attire and gave their performance to a respectably-sized audience. We had wondered how many people would show up, given that classical music performances in university settings back home are often sparsely attended. Professor Mahl did a good job of advertising this one. Actually, we had good audiences everywhere we played in Germany.

For this performance, Dr. Lopez’s trombone quartet played their opening Beethoven piece from the organ balcony, and that worked very well. I will say that during rehearsal, we were concerned about the accoustics in the church. Somber, church-like pieces sounded fine, but marches and other pieces conducted at a faster pace were sounding muddled, with the echos playing havoc. Dr. Reimer and the soloists experimented with multiple configurations to try to project the solos into the audience, and in the end they were only moderately satisfied. Turns out what the space needed was a bunch of human bodies to act as big, squishy sound-dampeners. With the large audience in attendance, the performance sounded great all around.

After the performance (and after the packing), we were treated to a champagne social. After the bus ride back to Sembach, we were wiped out. It was a long day.

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