Venice is famous for its many bridges. One of its bridges is not well-known elsewhere, the use of music in La Serenissima to bring people together.
Through an on-line introduction to the Director by a friend of my wife from Oz (Australia), we had been invited to “listen in” on a rehearsal of the Venetian Joy Singers at San Giovanni Chrisostomo, not far from the Rialto Bridge.
No further instructions other than time and parish were provided, and we already knew how to reach that historic church. After we arrived at the sprawling San Giovanni Chrisostomo complex, our search for the unidentified practice venue allowed a discrete and gentle inspection of us by staff and parishioners working on social ministry projects, to assure that we were the expected couple and not an apparent threat, before the remainder of our route was revealed to us.
A “surprise” public transit strike had occurred that day – not called a “strike” for legal reasons, but referred to as an “unscheduled work action”. Those actions are (of course!) known to all sentient beings at least 24 hours prior to an occurance, so the adult section of the Choir, which included many members who commuted from the mainland by vaporetto (water bus), had been canceled well in advance. The members of the two children’s’ sections were all residents of the Venetian archipelago, and could simply walk to their rehearsal, which therefore proceeded as scheduled.
After arriving at the correct hall, we introduced ourselves to the Director, Andrea D’Alpaos, and spoke briefly with him about our backgrounds and interests while the children gathered. Then, he introduced us to the gathered throng.
To our very great surprise (mostly my wife’s!), he announced that my wife, a gifted soprano, would be assisting him in teaching the children a Christian song of American origin that the group would be performing in English during the upcoming concert season.
It was a song that my wife did not know!
Any song that the chorus performed was to be sung in its original language, and perfecting use of a non-native tongue whenever possible would be an added benefit of their instruction. All of the children were Italian and through good education already spoke English well, but theirs was the accented English of second language learners.
The group of about forty ranged in age from around 6 to 14 years of age, and the children were without exception bright, animated but attentive, and eager to learn. Many of their mothers were in attendance on the sidelines, and clearly engaged themselves in the whole enterprise with visible but silent enthusiasm.
Andrea used a number of innovative competitive musical games to teach attentiveness, listening, tonal scales and word enunciation skills to the children while we sat “on display” at the front of the hall. His great musical skill, enthusiasm and ability to engage the children was wonderful to observe, and rapidly reduced our anxiety over the task ahead.
He then had the children practice the new song several times before asking my wife to stand and assist him. Her role was to bring to the children the “American English” pronunciation of the words in the song.
Through their warm-up, the children taught my wife the song, and we were soon singing along with the choir. Then, with her assistance, the children were quick to learn the nuances of “American English” pronunciation, and soon sang forth sounding as American as apple pie in a stately building centuries old!
The experience that evening is a treasure that will remain with us forever. Strangers in a legendary, historical city brought together with its future – its youth – through the kindness of people we had never met (Thanks Yvonne! Thanks Andrea!) because of one amazing thing that we shared, the love of music! What a bridge!
Music unites people!