Friday 15 May 2015

The Sounds of Dubrovnik

I don't usually write about music because I find it extraordinarily difficult to articulate, unless in poetry. When I have talked about sounds, it's usually in the context of sound art, which is an entirely different thing. However music and musical inspiration has been unavoidable since I arrived in one of my favourite cities. 

I've forsaken my usual podcasts or music, and left off the headphones which are usually worn to protect my sanity. However the usual London assault on my hearing and consciousness is conspicuous by its absence. The last intelligible commotion was on the plane where a rowdy group were commencing their holidays. Since then it's been a babble of many languages, the frantic cry of swifts, the gentle burble of boats on water, and the clack of feet on marble.

All cities have their percussive chant; London is probably best described as a continuous high octane techno-trance-electonica, pumping out its noise like the recent illegal rave held on my street. The contrast to London, this other ancient city still feels like it moves to the creak and roll of the ships; or the beat of the Roman trireme. Yes there is a pulse but felt in the stillness of the upbeat. So to lose this anticipation of a different song would be most churlish. So the headphones remain unworn.

As if to make this point, arriving on a Friday for a night in town, there was a choice of classical musical entertainments. From orchestral events in the Rectors Palace and the smallest church I've ever seen, to the Dubrovnik Chamber Choir/Graz's Monde musicale, the city is alive with the sounds of instruments and voices. And later no doubt the bars and restaurants will pick up the musical echo.

I opted for the choirs. I perched on a marble step sat waiting for the church to open, and was listening to the male choir members chatting nearby. As a long time choir member I imagined what they are probably saying. Gossiping about the latest night out; being rude about the bossiest alto; who the hottest new soprano/tenor is; planning the next night out; whatever it is, it won't be the repertoire. Given only the most basic knowledge of the language, I can only guess. But I know choirs!

The church is a huge Dominican barn, the old stonework enhanced by the modern windows and art. The altar piece is made up of traditional reverse oil painting on glass, luminescent and vivid. It has clearly been lovingly restored after the city's troubled past. As it to remind the audience we are in a house of God, a silent, white mass of young monks filed in to join us, to enjoy the music.

And what music it was. The two choirs presented a selection of local, national and international pieces, with very different styles. For me, the Croatian choir's 'Stabat Mater in dolore mundi' by Sergio Militello was written for the cavernous, acoustically sympathetic space. Coupled with the sounds of the swifts outside, which were audible in certain sections, it was a poignant and melancholy accompaniment to Mary's tears.

As expected, the sounds of the evening underwent a change as I left the church. It's busy but not obtrusive; live music mixes with the recorded. People murmur their appreciation gently, and hushed church bells announce the next musical set. The shiny marble paving and stones of the buildings provide the same type of reverberation experienced in the church; sending the sound up, up to where the birds were swooping earlier.

As I wound my way out of town via the Pile Gate, a man played some classical guitar. Something tells me I'm not going to need all my carefully downloaded podcasts - as long as I have this soothing holiday soundtrack. And perhaps I should start talking about music.

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