Saturday, June 18, 2005

Trondheim Pilgrimage

June 17

Our pilgrimage is over. For all of us — Study Travelersa and the band, choir and orchestra entourage — it ended in Trondheim, for centuries the destination of pilgrims to St. Olav's burial site.

Some of us went to Stiklestad, where King Olav died in battle in 1030, and to Snåsa. “Why you go to Snåsa?” asked eminently sensible driver Ove. It’s a St. Olaf College pilgrimage. The college’s founder, Bernt Julius Muus, was born in Snåsa, and virtually every St. Olaf entourage make a stop in this tiny quiet town. And virtually every citizen comes out to hear St. Olaf ensembles when they perform here.

The guest speaker for Study Travelers in Snåsa just had to be Reidar Dittmann. If you don’t know why, read the Norway issue of the St. Olaf magazine online at You’ll understand.

All three ensembles played in Stiklestad. The band played one night in Snåsa, and the orchestra played the next. Literally, there wasn’t room in town (or host homes) for both at the same time. I’ll let the reviews in separate blog items speak for themselves.

Truly we have arrived at the end of a pilgrimage. Tired, exhilarated, part of a community. We had church on the Fram! Fram! bus last Sunday, the loveliest, most personal service I've ever been part of.

Valhalla trooped off to a conference room for church that night after dinner. We had church today at Nidaros Cathedral. I’ve lost my voice so couldn’t sing. It made me sad, for this was a magnificent congregation. But the imposed silence made me look. It made me look at John Ferguson, so familiar in the organ loft of Boe Chapel, now equally at home playing “Big Bertha” in Nidaros Cathedral. It made me look at a congregation of musicians and learners united by music, St. Olaf, heritage, curiosity, whatever. And tied forever by this common experience. It made me rejoice.

The Final Concert
The final common experience was extraordinary. Nidaros is an enormous cathedral in a city busy and sophisticated enough to ignore visiting college ensembles. But they didn’t ignore the three from St. Olaf. They came out in force and filled the place.

And how the musicians filled this space where sound reverberates for nearly six seconds! With spirit and passion, they filled it from weary bodies, raising bells, bows and voices to ring – first for those six seconds, but ultimately forever in all our hearts.

The band made a powerful benediction of “Sleep.” The choir blessed us with Grieg’s “The Blessed Morn.”

The orchestra capped the whole three weeks with Samuel Barber’s Second Essay. Expressing Barber’s feelings about war, it starts with solo flute, tuba and clarinet. The thunder clap that jolted much of the audience was as close to the real thing as instruments come. From there, Steve Amundson, in full masterful flight, drew with and from the orchestra an impossibly long, inexorable line of pure passion to a transcendent climax.

Leaving no more to be written or said.


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