The Antioch Chorus | The Alumni Chorus of Antioch College
The 1973 Tour CD: The Tour

By John Ronsheim
October 1997

On the 32nd day since leaving NYC for Amsterdam, on July 26, 1973, in our 50 passenger-filled French bus, Pierre drove us from Burgundy's Chalon-sur-Saône to Le Corbusier's Ronchamp Chapel, located on nearly the last slope of the Vosges massif in eastern France "overlooking" Switzerland and Germany dedicated to a "totally free architecture" of three cylindrical towers with light shafts of listening "ears" and "chiseled" deep windows making light inside that is at once glowing and tranquil. With the chorus exhausted, one or two members missing, and traveling with no recording equipment, Antioch's faithful, giving, insightful "French French" educational coordinator Dominique Grossard rented a commercial home recorder tape machine for several hours (if only we had recorded our most exhilarating performance possible when we were invited to sing for 500 guests -- some were semi-professional choristers -- with a food and wine "coda" at the 11th to 15th century Priory of Saint-Cosme where the "Prince of Poets," Ronsard died and was Prior, and when Antioch alum and assistant music conductor Michael Eckert secretly prepared the chorus in order to surprise this author by singing one of our wine cellar "entertainments" -- the Kyrie from Ockeghem's Cuiusvis toni, "Mass in any mode you wish" -- in the bright "major" sounding Mixolydian mode: it was a fabulous surprise adding to an unforgettable evening of great harmony of music for both invited groups -- thanks to Tours' Claude Panterne), so the listener has the grandest music possible in perhaps our worst performance ... no excuses but our raggedy performance and recording is all we have to offer and it is a music permanently entwined within our breath, e.g., the 1973 chorus members who returned for the reunion of both European choruses in 1996 could not get enough of it: after several days of rehearsing some of what is on this CD, the '73 members had to sing through all of what we had sung in Europe the following morning on the steps of main building; the '75 did theirs soon after the reunion's public performance.

What is the genesis of these two European tours? Why did it all happen? Well, theory and practice of 16th c. music, the Palestrina style, "the model of classical Renaissance polyphony," was about as far back as the academics accepted until at least the 1970s (even Antioch had a regular course imitating this style until I came: my course began with emulating Gregorian Chant and into polyphony as it historically happened). The Palestrina style was kept "alive" via the 17th c. stile antico, Fux's 1725 book, and the 20th c. modal counterpoint book of Jeppesen; music history students after WW II read the names of Dufay and Ockeghem but little was heard or considered worth performing; Dufay's music "was aimless" and Ockeghem's was "pure cerebralist ..., expression was for him a secondary consideration, if indeed it existed at all ... the Karl Marx of music." Both of the Ockeghem masses we sang were not available in a modern edition, hence we transcribed, so one can understand the uniqueness of these performances in Europe in 1973. Perhaps we literally "returned" Dufay back to Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo on August 19, 1973 when we sang Missa "Ave Regina": Dufay's motet Nuper rosarum was written for the March 25, 1436 consecration of that cathedral. My first bout with the Antioch chorus was winter quarter of '68 when I experimented with Ockeghem's Requiem and Dunstable (with the orchestra in the fall of '67, I did Flos florum and Landini with instruments and a soloist): from then on almost every time I rehearsed the chorus, I threw out the sentence, "we should perform these works in the places where they were first performed in Europe." These choruses in my early Antioch years sang Ockeghem's Missa Mi-Mi and the Requiem, and on the last Sunday of June 1972, after successfully singing the complete Missa "Ave Regina," the gained musical "high" presented this: I walked into the department the following morning with half of the chorus listening to the recorded performance, and they passionately took up my "wager," and along with senior Joan Hoag, I planned, in several days, a tour to begin in several weeks (we won AEA by a 3 to 2 margin); at this time I want to thank all of those who graduated and did not go when it was postponed until the following summer. So how did we manage to prepare such an enormous undertaking when that fatal spring Antioch strike struck? Thanks to Saint Paul's Church, we rehearsed rigorously for hours every morning until we left, in spite of a few chorus members guarding buildings on campus all night long, etc. Sequences had to be changed as it was mandatory for all to be there that spring, and music had to be memorized -- out of the 93 in both European tour choruses, a great number had hardly any musical background (I never refused anyone in joining the chorus, it was the experience that counted, not how well we could "perfect"... it was the Antioch ideal to "take the leap" with sincerity albeit sometimes quite naively ...), nor any real knowledge of even how to go about preparing the art subjects each participant had chosen to encounter and teach: Vermeer, Van Gogh and Hals in Holland; Van Eyck, Bruegel, Bosch, etc., in Belgium; Flemish and French tapestries; stained glass at Chartres, Romanesque vs. Gothic -- the latter at Chartres; Gauguin, Paris, Burgundy, sculpture at Amiens, Loire, Venice, Florence, Assisi, Urbino, landscape, the Black Plague, the history and technique of the Ravenna mosaics, Giotto, Masaccio, Lippi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Leonardo and the Florentine environment in the late 15th century, Savonarola, 15th century Sienese history and art in context, Brunelleschi, the Bible in painting, Saint Francis, history of places visited, and Rome, where we ended. So this gives one an idea and scope of the art studied. Imagine what it must have been like for the students to have come upon the subjects they had prepared but had never encountered in person to have to give their lectures in front of it. Ten credits for this and helping each other out in grasping the significance of all that was chosen to be seen (they were helped in this by Cambridge, England's John Cherniavsky).

Not sure of our "rookie" musical abilities to be able to not falter in acoustically dangerous situations, etc. (one could hear upwards of eight or nine echoes in the Amiens Cathedral, or one could not hear oneself sing in the lower church in the Basilica of S. Francesco, an odd feeling indeed, when one is thinking one is giving 100% but not knowing if it is so), I thought it best to have a little "spring training" up north in the Netherlands, where Protestants and Capitalists flourished at one time, before heading south, so we went to Breukelen (between Amsterdam and Utrecht, the original Brooklyn), to a moated castle where Dutch foreign service diplomats were schooled. Our four day "spring training" ended when we offered to give a concert for the town to express our gratitude for their hospitality. After the concert, the director addressed the audience about how he had at first been appalled by the hippie appearance, etc., and how would we ever have the discipline to be able to sing such difficult music. In this I am sure there were lessons to be learned by all. But for him, he had grown to respect the degree of seriousness and discipline displayed, proven by what he had heard. He then proceeded to give roses to all the women. To demonstrate the tour's tenor on that first day, before bedtime, we were back in Amsterdam after unpacking and eating lunch viewing intense Van Gogh in the new V.G. Museum and ending a long two days in one by rehearsing after supper. Then the following Dutch days in the magnificent Rijksmuseum, the canals and "the show" in Amsterdam, to a cheese farm outside Gouda having a lesson in making non-commercial Gouda from the proprietress who condemned the big firms, and tasting different aged Gouda. Next, to Haarlem and Frans Hals, to Utrecht to rehearse in the Domkerk, to Rotterdam and Naum Gabo's 50-meter commissioned structure celebrating the reconstruction of Rotterdam after WW II and the rush to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, just giving us enough time to view what Proust wrote of Vermeer, "the greatest of all painters ... as soon as I set eyes on The View of Delft, I knew that I had seen the loveliest picture in the world." Then on to Ghent for 4 nights to view Belgium with its old houses on the quay and all those Flemish masters, more or less contemporaries of our Dufay and Ockeghem, to practice at every available moment, e.g., on a charming old foot bridge next to a museum during noontime lunch closing in preparation for our first test at 10 AM Sunday mass in Cathédrale St-Michel on the first day of July. But what we really had to do was to keep learning the Requiem for that Amiens concert ... with Ave Regina we probably were safe ... so on our way from Ghent to Amiens on the fourth of July, to our biggest challenge of the whole trip, we made a side trip to a notable illustration of the development of Romanesque and early Gothic architecture found in one edifice, the Tournai Cathedral (the first musical Mass was named after this cathedral but it was a compilation; Machaut, 14th century, was the first to compose a complete Mass -- sung several times at Antioch: this '73 chorus sang Machaut's motet Super omnes speciosa but did not record it at Ronchamp because of exhaustion). Dufay's identity stems from Cambrai, not far from Tournai but "his" cathedral was demolished after the French Revolution; hence, we did not pay homage (the '75 chorus paid homage to Ockeghem at Okegem). As our bus entered Amiens the afternoon of the fourth of July, 1973, we screamed: we saw posters along the highway announcing that we, the choir from Antioch College ...; we had a job to do and don't ever think it was an easy task as it took intense team effort; for this XIIIeme semaine Musicale d'Amiens at 20h 30 we sang all of our music including the Machaut motet. We shared the evening with a German instrumental ensemble from Dortmund. We again thank the maitre de Chapelle de la Cathédrale, René Reboud. We immediately left for Paris where we studied and explored all the things we had to do in that area: the art, sculpture, architecture, history, special wine and cheese tastings in cellars, etc. (the late Odette Kahn of the Revue du Vin de France was very gracious in allowing me -- on both tours -- to use her name and connections in finding the finest that France could offer in those two latter subjects). On Sunday, the 8th, we drove to Reims to sing mass at 11:15 AM in the perfect example of that 13th century Gothic cathedral. Next came another unique experience: after mass, we drove to the tiny town of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ in the heart of the finest Champagne terroir to be with a most civilized specimen of human beings, Michel Collard-Philipponnat, long time mayor of this famous wine village, pianist (one of his sons is the well-known pianist, Jean-Philippe Collard), many times the conductor of the Epernay Symphony Orchestra, the church choir leader and in charge of their Champagne; he interrupted his vacation to be with us, so we studied the process of making the world's most famous wine, tasted one of Champagne's most unique wines, Clos des Goisses (needs 15+ years to reach its apogee and character) and sang our music for the town in his little church. Mass at Chartres was next on the 15th at 11:30 AM and after studying this "visible expression of medieval thought: nothing important was left out," off to the Loire at Tours: after singing our most unforgettable performance, Pierre, our bus driver, entered a narrow street, couldn't retrograde, so our musical "high" provided the super strengths to pick up all the cars blocking us and gently place them on the sidewalk. Thanks from both choruses to one of the most considered French wine scientists, taster and historian and the modern "father" of Loire wines, perhaps the world's most profound expert on finding relations between food and wine, présidents de l'Académe Internationale du vin and de l'Union Nationale de oenologues, also director of the laboratory involving wine research/analyses in the Loire and creator of the Institute of Taste for scientists, sociologists, vignerons, chefs and philosophers, Jacques Puisais. He arranged 3 days of "heavy duty" wine and food studies and tastings including a special dinner at Tortiniere at Montbazon (I was told that we were the best behaved group of students they ever had; it was a restaurant of great quality and the president of France had just eaten there), lecture on the physiology of wine at the University by Prof. Rougereau, visit to the fromage de chévre chez M. Vasereau at La Roche Clermault and the vignobles of Bourgueil and Chinon (Rabelais owned vineyards here and we were taken and lectured to on this property), and at Ambroise, across the river from where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years at the famous Chateau, we entered the communal wine cave dug out of the Loire river's bank: for lunch, dozens of food dishes were brought by the winemaker's wives, bottles opened (their best later on), seven University of Tours graduate students of our physiology professor came up from Tours to play an early style of jazz and we danced together the whole afternoon, the wives with our tenors and basses, the winemaking husbands with our sopranos and altos, a "warm" afternoon never to be forgotten -- these peasants had never personally encountered an American. On our way to Bourges, we stopped at Chenonceaux; the following day we drove to Sancerre where we studied its wine at Domaine René Laporte in St. Satur, and then proceeded to the village of Chavignol, where, outside in the village square, on empty barrels, we tasted the Bourgeois family wines; we were then given lunch with a tasting of red Pinot Noir Sancerre, etc., drove through the vineyards and ended the day up at the Caves Co-operative of Sancerre. Next, Burgundy for 5 days before Ronchamp, closing out the first half of the trip. On our way to Chalon-sur-Saône (our Burgundy sleeping quarters) we stopped at Vézelay to sing and study its marvel, the Basilica. We were the first group to be allowed to taste at Louis Latour's Aloxe-Corton cuverie which is in a vineyard, and as we were standing around the round stone tasting tables in candlelight in this old stone building, I shouted out the word aristocrat (for two reasons: one, to demonstrate differences of qualities: we had just been in the Loire and as good as a red Chinon can be, it can never reach the fineness of a non-compromised red burgundy coming from an impeccable maker and vineyard; the second reason was in part cultural, political and aesthetic... a subject for another time). Also thanks to Robert Drouhin for his help in both tours: in '73, we had a broad tasting in his ancient Dukes of Burgundy cellars in Beaune, and in 1975, we picked his grapes in the Clos des Mouches vineyard and he fed and wined us (and now he has an Oregon vineyard next to one of our '75 choristers who has a fine restaurant, and the wine is made by his daughter Véronique, who, when a child, came to see us pick their grapes); we were given a tasting by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin at the Chateau du Clos de Vougeot, studied tapestries, visited the Hospices de Beaune, a wine museum, etc. Then came Ronchamp and the recordings heard here.

We all met in Venice on Tuesday evening, August 7, after an eleven-day break. From here we made day trips to Ravenna, a city of 6th century basilicas and mosaics, Giotto in the Arena Chapel at Padua (the "first movie"?), and Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vincenza where our theater major did some impromptu performing. Not only did we see and study old Venice, but Peggy Guggenheim's house as well, filled with contemporary art. We had to be in Verona for Ponchielli's opera La Gioconda Sunday night and the candle drama as well, when everyone simultaneously lights their candle in silence, eventually resulting in a big roar, and, in a sense, taking the place of a curtain, all performed in the 22,000 seat Roman 1st century amphitheatre arena. Also, Juliet's balcony and the remarkable Romanesque church of S. Zeno with its bronze doors, cloisters, etc., and a side trip to Mantova and its Palazzo Ducale -- if my memory serves me correctly. Then on to Florence (studying this "crown jewel" of the Renaissance, singing mass at the Duomo on Sunday the 19th, giving a private performance of the Requiem for my late friend and former teacher, Luigi Dallapiccola, in the refectory attached to the Carmine Basilica -- where the '75 Chorus recorded) via Modena and Bologna and its environs: San Gimignano, crumbling Volterra (contemporary Japanese artists covered the buildings in painted cloths at that time, hence, one could see Roman, Etruscan, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and present civilizations in one glance), Siena, Pisa (combined with a Mediterranean swim at Castiglioncello) and a stop in Chianti country at Greve to load up with a variety of Chianti to have with the food we brought for a picnic at a farmhouse owned by a Florentine friend. (Some chorus members clamoured for some other music to sing so it was sent from Yellow Springs, but they had already forgotten how long it took to get where we were with what we had! Also, some of us stood silently above the house looking at and absorbing the ancient civilized landscape which was the result of centuries of human care and toil: it was a lesson in time, humanism and related to why the Renaissance began in Italy.) On Friday the 24th, we studied Piero della Francesca at Arezzo on our way to Assisi where we sang Sunday mass in the lower church, made a side trip to medieval Gubbio, and Urbino to study the magnificent Palazzo Ducale filled with artistic treasures, e.g., the Duke's study with wooden inlays designed by Botticelli, and finally Rome via Orvieto. Besides trying to cram more on more, etc., we, on the last two days, had blind wine tastings and discussions, and attempted to summarize the whole artistic and learning experience. AEA Director Fred Klein, Interim Dean Erma Adams and former faculty member Walter Anderson (at that time, head of NEA's music division) came to Rome in order to make this program a showcase for Antioch's Education Abroad. We ended our performances in the highest ranking of Catholic churches, S. Giovanni in Laterano, and I was taken, along with the above party from Antioch, to meet and be thanked by the highest officials of the Bishop of Rome. Well, we thank and praise them for allowing one-hundred-plus varied humanists to enter their churches and participate as we did in the sacred services of the Roman Catholic Church from Aalst, Brussels in Belgium, France and Italy to Rome, on tours in 1973 and 1975. Their gracious giving taught us something about their ecumenical nature. There were interesting incidents (for example, in 1975 at Reims, where some of us took communion -- hardly a soul in either chorus had anything to do with organized religion) that caused a rather intense discussion the following morning in our classroom bus. Let it be known that underneath all the secular and immediate sensuous activity, those words we sang had everything to do with our composers, which, in turn, had everything to do with why we could take on such an enormous task: the musical spirit still seems to shine through this music we continue to sing. This was the very thing that held both trips together.

John Ronsheim
October 1997

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The 1973 Music Notes

The 1975 Tour Notes

The 1975 Music Notes