The Antioch Chorus | The Alumni Chorus of Antioch College
The 1975 Tour CD: The Tour

By John Ronsheim
in Florence, December, 1975

The best way to describe the Antioch Chorus European tour, from September 29th through December 11th, 1975, would be to let you, the reader, be its critic. Yes, it was true, in spite of the constant "casualties," that almost all sixty of us participated in: picking grapes all day in the fine Burgundian vineyard, Clos des Mouches, and drinking the wine made from these grapes, along with a lunch, bought for us by Robert Drouhin, the owner and wine maker; studying vineyards and tasting their wines in Chablis, St. Bris, Alsace, Champagne, Amboise, Vouvray, Bourgueil, Barolo at La Morra, Brunello in Montalcino; observing an enormous commercial and famous firm producing Cognac and then going, for contrast, to the rare Ragnaud-Briand Cognac farm to study and see brandy being made, and warm our palate with their 1934, in preparation for a tasting of their pre-phylloxera (nineteenth-century) Cognac that was pure delicacy and satin, but still living within its healthy and full body; studying and tasting the white and red Graves (Bordeaux) Domaine de Chevalier, singing "our" Dufay and Ockeghem in warm October sun and entering M. Ricard's living room to hear his sensitive performance of Chopin; driving to Sauternes to picnic on the vast lawns of the Chateau Filhot, where the English had once trampled and lived, and to taste their elegant wine; attending a long lecture on the physiology of tasting in Tours and going to the Charles Barrier restaurant to eat for more than three hours a meal (prepared for us by M. Barrier, who is one of the greatest living chefs) consisting of a paté made from a migrating bird, nuts, truffles, etc., a fish (sandre) from the nearby Loire river "smothered" in a rich crayfish sauce, hare cooked in a dark, rich, wine and blood sauce, at least a dozen cheeses, and a strawberry soufflé glace with petits fours, all served with Touraine wine and ending with a rich pourriture noble 1959 Vouvray: eating long lunches in wine caves, e.g., Ambroise and Bourgueil, with food prepared by the wives of the wine makers within the social co-operatives (and as much wine as we could drink from their own cellars); watching goats, listening to a lecture on the making of goat's cheese, and then tasting the cheeses at their different mature stages; spending an afternoon with the Henri Krug family, eating, drinking dozens of bottles of their great champagne, and tasting an extraordinary 1969 Blanc de Blancs that will arrive in the U.S.A. in 1977; beginning with (given so generously by the Gian Bovio Hotel-restaurant in La Morra) seven delectable antipasti (including a plate of delicate but richly prepared raw veal), following with fresh white truffles sliced over prepared rice, guinea fowl, and regional cheese, drinking Marchese Cordero's great, rare, and last remaining bottles of his 1971 Barolo wine, and finishing with an unbelievably silky textured crema caramello dessert; in Modena tasting and studying the Giusti family's Balsamico (a vinegar made so delicious, sensuous, and "sweet" that you will have to ask a chorus member for a taste--we rudely bought one-tenth of his year's supply), and licking from the backs of our hands the thirty-year-old vinegar made in exactly the same place and same way since 1605; eating at least a dozen different Tuscan country dishes on the Biondi-Santi estate in medieval Montalcino, where the food was grown and prepared by the family (including vegetable dishes, crude ham, salami, Siena fruit cake called panforte, etc.), all served in the hearth kitchen of the enormous old villa, and "washed down" by one of the world's most expensive wines, the Biondi-Santi (1967 and 1970) Brunello; taking long wine-tasting examinations, too long for most taste buds (including a "blind" tasting exam in Rome), and keeping a mandatory notebook of everything we ate and drank, full of facts, perceptions, etc.; singing our first European performance (six days after our New York City performance at St. Patrick's) on a Saturday evening in Tournus, then singing masses in Autun and Ronchamp (Le Corbusier design) on the following day (this was difficult considering the music); studying the Grünewald altarpiece, tasting Alsace wine at Eguisheim, driving five hours to the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ to study and taste the Champagne Philipponnat with M. Collard and sing for the commune, followed by another tasting before driving to Reims for the night; attempting to sing mass specially arranged for us at Reims Cathedral after that day with the Krugs; singing with difficulty (illness and exhaustion) the following day in the Amiens Cathedral, and finally finding our "voice" once again in the Antwerp Cathedral (after Ludo Abicht led us through the "old" town); running into the Aalst Cathedral on a Sunday morning ten minutes late and wondering if we had the correct cathedral as, upon entering, we viewed another choir amidst the large congregation, and then singing our Ockeghem near Ockeghem's birthplace and celebrating all this by being served "too much" sparkling German wine with tidbits by the Bishop of the Cathedral, and then driving to the village of Okegem, where the mayor and dignitaries were waiting for us to make a toast to Ockeghem and sing on the doorsteps of their Town Hall; singing a Saturday evening mass at Notre Dame in Paris to a packed congregation and being led down into the crypt to enjoy a snack given by our appreciative hosts; singing masses at Chartres, Tours, and an All Souls mass in Bourges, after which we entered the crypt to sing, for an assembled congregation, the Bishop, and Archbishop, our Dufay and the Introitus from the Ockeghem Requiem; singing an evening (8:30) Fellini-like mass in a Baroque church in the commune of La Morra in Piedmont for a packed and enthusiastic congregation (after eating that enormous meal at the Gian Bovio Hotel-restaurant), then eating supper following the mass, and singing the "missed" Sanctus; singing masses in Padua, San Marco in Venice, the Duomo in Siena and Florence, St. Francis' Basilica in Assisi, Orvieto's Duomo at noon on Immaculate Conception Day, where we were served a meal with wine by the Bishop, and in Rome's San Giovanni.

Now, interlace the food, wine, and Ockeghem with the visual, and you will perceive how we spent our time on the trip. Pierre, the same French driver who chauffeured us in the summer 1973 tour, was waiting to take us in his sixty-passenger bus to that wonderful hill town of Vézelay, where we disembarked and ascended to the top of the hill on foot in order to study and see the Basilica with its marvelous tympanum and capitals (and "warm up" our voices), and then, on the following day, take us into the heart of Burgundy (via Chablis) to view cathedrals, tympana, tapestries, and the Hospice at Beaune.

After the Antioch Chorus had left Burgundy, we zigzagged a path north, viewing masterpieces by Le Corbusier (Ronchamp Cathedral), Grünewald, the Cathedrals at Reims, Amiens, and Tournai, and entering the country of Jan van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, Memling, Bosch, and Bruegel. (All of this opportunity to absorb the visual was strongly led by Jennifer Cook, a Harvard teaching fellow who had previously studied for a few years in Europe, specializing in Medieval and Renaissance Italian art. The visual studies demanded from each student ten out of the full twenty credits given for the tour, the normal Antioch load; the other ten credits came from studying the wine and food and singing. Besides studying every work of art seen with the group, each student prepared a specific subject and presented it at the logical and necessary time.)

At Brussels we "split" for a ten-day break and a much needed rest, after which we once again became deeply involved in Paris with its Louvre, Jeu de Paume, Versailles, Musée de Cluny, and the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where we spent our last minutes singing before Pierre took us on to Chartres, then Tours via the Loire Valley chateaux at Blois, Chambord, Chaumont, and Indre's Azay-le-Rideau, where we had the good fortune to view the light from the changing sun that was setting on that harmonious chateau in both direct light and light mirrored and reflected from the filled moat, making one wonder which image was "real." Then, on to Bourges (via Chenonceaux) to see the Jacques Coeur palace and perform our All Souls mass in the cathedral. Except for Poitier, Moissac, with its fabulous portals, and Albi (where we sang an impromptu "concert"), and Matisse's lovely Vence chapel, tastings and wine studies were dominant until after our second "splitting" at Narbonne. Italy was twenty-five days of viewing art, architecture, and history without a break: studying Verona's S. Zeno church and its extraordinary doors, Mantua's Ducal Palace and its Mantegna, Alberti, and "paying witness to decadence," so to speak, at the Palazzo del Te; viewing the Piazza Commune and some rare early violins in Cremona; Palladio at Venice and Vicenza (with an impromptu soliloquy given by one of our gifted theater students, in the marvelous Olympic Theatre), and Venice with its Bellini, Tintoretto at San Rocco, walks through canal-lined streets and San Marco; Giotto at Padua, Florence, and Assisi; Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Lippi, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Verrocchio, etc., in Florence; the mosaics at Ravenna and the Duomo in Modena; the palaces in Siena, Urbino (with that incredible Duke's study with its wonderful inlays), and Florence; Pisa with its Piazza del Duomo and all of the Pisano family works; the walks down from Fiesole and the Tuscan landscape; Piero della Francesca at Arezzo; Saint Francis and Assisi; the Orvieto Duomo with its masterful facade and Signorelli frescoes; and Rome, our most southern point, where it all finished, and from where Pierre went north with some of us, full of perceptions and "people" and our sensory overload; the trek back "home," loaded with vinegar and olive oil pressed from 500-year-old trees; memories of "our" turkey dinner on Thanksgiving at our pensione in Florence, the rich Robiglio desserts, and the wines we had at the last two suppers in Florence; the Florentine Perché No? ice cream; Pierre aggravated by all those (were they necessary?) "pee-pee" stops: the lack of privacy; the, at times, many frustrated vegetarians; the fortunate weather throughout the whole trip; the long months of preparation, making possible this rich, memorable, and intense trip, which should, we hope, become part of us for the rest of our lives and make us more conscious of everything we hear, see, taste, and smell , how they all relate, and how important they are to us apropos the quality of their essences.

Compared to the summer 1973 trip, this one had twice or thrice the level of intensity and information possibility, in spite of its being five days shorter in actual bus travel. It had twice the wine and food input, and we sang twice as often. Thanks must go to our assistants; Jinny Law, Steven Dembski, Kim Mitchell; Chorus members: Forrest Lowe (for taping), Adam Haas (and John Pacht) for the video, Mark Trexler for assisting in Italy; Sherri Roberts' father for donating the wool material to make the women's chorus skirts, the alumni who generously housed us in New York City, Rosemary Hite from the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen-Journal, Antioch Education Abroad, and especially to their French representative, M. Dominique Grossard, on whom so many of us depended; to all others who at some time helped (including our Chancellor, Frank Shea, who gave us the permission to go), and to all of those kind and authentic Europeans who so generously gave us their time, knowledge, and what they so well produce, making it possible for all that happened.

John Ronsheim
Florence, December, 1975

First printed in The Antiochian, March & May, Volume 47, #3 & 4, 1976. The reader might refer to the Tour Notes of the 1973 Tour CD -- it is apropos to the above ending.


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