Yesterday, the Morgan State University choir had a remarkable day in Vienna, Austria! Typically, one may need a few days to adjust to the six-hour time zone change; however, for some reason, most of the choir had a great night sleep the night before at an Ibis hotel. The hotel was quaint, just right for a brief overnight stay. Following the complimentary breakfast, the students were ready to take on the adventure that lay ahead.
The day’s first stop was the Vienna Central Cemetery or auf German: Wiener ZentralFreidfhof. When it comes to foreign language translations, there’s a type of poetry in the meanings. Friedhof, the German word for cemetery could also be interpreted as “courtyard of peace” which is far more beautiful when you think of it. And this particular peaceful courtyard just happened to be the final resting places for some of the world’s most famous composers such as Beethoven, Brahms, Salieri, Schoenberg, Schubert and both Strausses.
Located a mere 20 minutes from the city’s center, its home since 1863, the cemetery demanded a huge plot of land for it catered to number of different denominations, dedicating parcels of the property to Catholics, Protestants, and those of the Jewish faith. If you were a musician, going to the final resting places for some of the most renowned composers, was a great honor. Even for the non- musician, one could not help but to be in awe knowing the historical significance. There was also a majestic beauty to cemetery, as the tombs and mausoleums were quite ornate and well kept. We even learned that the Viennese have a famous joke about this cemetery that goes, “it is half the size of Zurich, but twice as much fun.” While we were certain about the validity of the joke, we did enjoy our time at the cemetery and wished we could have stayed a little longer.
After lunch, we visited the House of Music Museum which opened in the year 2000. The museum featured elaborate exhibits commemorating the aforementioned composers. It kind of reminded us of the Maryland Science Center which is known for its educational offerings and hi-tech interactive exhibits. Some of the exhibits at this museum allowed visitors to virtually conduct an orchestra. Also, as you climbed a staircase in the museum, you could play a chromatic scale with every step and there were displays of the actual instruments that Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven used when they were alive. In all, the museum was a great complement to our earlier stop at the Vienna Central Cemetery.
Finally, after a day of exploring music history, it was time to perform at the Choir’s first concert at the famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral or “Stephansdom” in German. The cathedral serves as the mother church of Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and was consecrated in the year 1147. It is one of the most well-known cathedrals in all of Europe. In relationship to other huge cathedrals where the Morgan Choir has performed in the past, this Vienna cathedral certainly compares well with St. Vitus in Prague, Czech Republic in stature.
Before our performance, which was following a scheduled mass, our guide explained how selective it is for a choir to be invited to perform at the cathedral. It is a great honor for a choir to perform at this venue and a number of them desire the consideration. In order to make the cut to appear, they must first obtain permission and then audition virtually, which is all a part of the vetting process before being allowed to sing such a prestigious and highly coveted location. However, after hearing Morgan’s choir perform, cathedral administrators invited the University and its students to share its music.
The doors opened up at 8:15 PM after the mass and the audience quickly swelled. There were as many as 500 people present to hear Morgan’s Choir, each shelling out the 20 Euros ticket price, which would be used to to support the restoration of the cathedral’s spiral. Acoustically, the cathedral was better than most despite the huge space. The music filled the space during the hour-long concert and in the end the choir was well-received. There was even a call for two encore performances, the first was the German rendition of the Brahms lullaby and the second was the Choir’s signature international encore of “Oh, Happy Day!”
All in all, this was a great first concert! Although there would be other significant performances during this tour, none would be more significant than this performance.