european tour

PART III - DEXTER COMMUNITY BAND TOURS EUROPE -ITALY

by Karla Linkner, President of the DCB

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On Sunday July 1, the Dexter Community Band said farewell to their Croatian friends and headed to Italy. Their first stop in Italy was Aquileia, an ancient Roman military settlement dating to 181 B.C. The group enjoyed learning about early Roman settlement and later Christian presence.

Entering the Basilica of Aquileia was a startling experience. The floor of the Basilica was made of four by ten foot panels of clear glass raised three feet above the 4th century Roman mosaic floor. It was like walking on air but gave unobstructed views of the Roman mosaic floor below. However, it was a bit unnerving when a large group passed nearby and one wondered if the one inch thick glass would hold. While semi-confident that they would, most people cowered toward the walls.

The Aquileia Campanile (church tower) was open to visitors and quite an exercise to climb up. The hundred of so Roman steps inside were all a full foot high and took a lot of puffing to climb. From the top you could see the remains of the old Roman Forum (market place), the Circus (chariot racing stadium), and the residential Roman houses.

Refreshed from their stop in Aquileia, the band continued on to Venice. Monday morning, bright and early, the band took a vaporetto (water taxi) into the heart of Venice for a tour of the city by local guides. There are no vehicles in Venice and walking, water taxis, and/or gondolas are the only means of transportation. The tour included the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Piazza San Marco, and a tour of a Venetian glass factory. Every wall and ceiling in the Doge's Palace was covered with large oil or fresco paintings. One oil painting, the largest in the world, was a canvas over forty feet by sixty feet and contained faces of over three hundred of the most prominent Venetians of earlier times.

Venice is a maze of canals, from the large S-shaped Grand Canal which snakes through the middle of Venice to countless smaller canals, some only five foot wide. The streets also are a maze. Many main streets are only eight foot wide and twist and turn constantly, branching into smaller and smaller innumerable alleys that go in every direction. It is very easy to get lost, but Venice being a series of small islands, after time you usually get back to where you started (or by last count, all Dexter Community Band members did).

After enjoying lunch at the many outdoor restaurants, the band members anxiously looked for the water taxi carrying their instruments for their 2:00 p.m. concert. A parade of band members unloaded the boat and carried the three large tympanis, xylophones, stands, instruments, and other paraphernalia several block to the concert site, Campo San Stephan (square by the Music School and St. Stephan's Church). Staring tourists gazed at this unusual procession. The mid-afternoon concert went well and was enjoyed by numerous tourists also visiting Venice. After the concert, many people stopped by the band and expressed their enjoyment of the concert.

Once the instruments were back on the vaporetto and headed for the hotel, the musicians enjoyed leisurely dinners and met for a gondola ride. What fun! The entire band going through the canals of Venice, complete with singing gondoliers! It took 12 gondolas to transport the band for the hour and a half canal tour. They traveled up the busy Grand Canal and then through many narrow side canals. Some canal comers were so tight that there were only inches to spare and low bridges meant a lot of low bending for the gondoliers. It was fascinating to see the buildings of Venice from the canals. Some lower floors were submerged and many, unoccupied. People started living in them at the third floor level or above. The band had a glimpse of Venetian life as numerous lines of wash hung from balconies and inhabitant's personal boats were moored at their canal doorsteps.

The band was able to return to Venice on Tuesday, July 2, until late in the afternoon. Many explored the fine shops in Venice purchasing lace, jewelry, art works, Venetian glass, and Carnival masks. Others enjoyed the many churches including the five-domed San Marco Basilica and the octagonal Santa Maria della Salute cathedral. Others visited the famous Campanile (clock tower) of Piazza San Marco. However, beware or 7:15 pm in the clock towers! At that time, while looking that the huge bells just a few feet overhead, a guide started yelling something loudly in Italian. The band members had no idea what he was saying. Then, all eight of the huge bells started clanging and banging overhead. The whole top of the tower shook and your body shook and even plugging your ears did not stop the bonging as the bells pealed for five minutes!

By late afternoon, it was time to board a vaporetto and depart for a late evening concert in their next Italian city, Verona. The concert venue in Verona was in the Piazza Cortile de Marcato Vecchio. This is the Old Market courtyard of Verona, which is ringed by the historic 15th century judicial buildings and jail, and the Della Ragione Staircase. It is said that once a prisoner had been judged, an official of the court would stand on the staircase and indicated; thumbs up the prisoner lived or thumbs down the prisoner was jailed. The band joked about the ensuing concert. Would it be thumbs up or thumbs down? There was no need to speculate! The piazza was filled to capacity. Even the famous Della Ragione Staircase was full! The crowd energetically applauded Bill Gourley each time he approached the podium. The band received great applause and performed two encores, one of which included the always-popular Colonel Bogey March (Bridge of the River Kwai). It was definitely a thumbs up performance. Again many audience members, who were mainly Italian, came up to talk to the band members and express their thanks for the performance.

Verona is known as the settings for Shakespeare's immortal "Romeo and Juliet" and "The Two Gentlemen of Verona". However there is much more to be seen. Wednesday morning found the band embarking on a combination bus and walking tour of Verona. When Verona became a Roman colony, a circuit of walls was built with two gates into the city. These walls were impressive, complete with a castle. The walking tour included numerous churches, tombs of numerous historic persons, the houses of the Montecchi (Romeo) and the Capuleti (Juliet) families and the magnificent Roman Amphitheater.

The Verona Amphitheater is second in size only to the Coliseum in Rome. However, unlike the Rome Coliseum, the Verona Amphitheater is still intact after two thousand years. Only the outer shell is missing and the Verona Amphitheater is still used today for musical productions, especially during the opera season. As an interesting sidelight, our guide, a young Italian girl, was asked what young people in Verona do in the evening. She looked surprised and said, "It is the opera season. Everybody in Verona goes to the opera during opera season. Rigoletto is tonight." The official tour being complete, the band members then had all afternoon to further explore Verona. Among the numerous sights seen were the central market where fresh fruits could be purchased, a trip to the top of the Municipal Tower, various churches, Castelvecchio (fort), and a Roman theater and archaeological site. That evening the band moved on to Florence.

In Florence, the band had a "tour" day to see the city before their scheduled final concert on Friday, July 6th. Florence is most famous for its two outstanding museums, the Uffizi Museum and the Galleria dell Accademia. Both are world famous and the waiting lines can be hours long if you do not have advanced reservations. The Uffizi Museum is home to the largest collection of Renaissance painting in the world. The Galleria dell Accademia is home to Michelangelo's "David". Also of great interest are the eight unfinished statues of Michelangelo's that seem to be "emerging from the stone".

The group enjoyed the Ponte Vecchio (bridge) in Florence. This is a bridge that was built in the 16th century by the Grand Duke Cosimo. Because the Grand Duke did not want to mingle with the crowds when he went from the Pitti Palace to the Vecchio Palace across the River Arno, he had a second level or "prince's corridor" built for his exclusive use. Shops on the side of the bridge supported the "corridor". Originally, these were butcher shops. However, the smell of meat upset the delicate nose of the Grand Duke. He therefore dictated that only goldsmiths (gold does not smell) could have shops on the Ponte Vecchio (bridge). Hence, the center of Florentine gold jewelry still today is the Ponte Vecchio.

Thursday, the final concert day, was meet with emotions of sadness, tiredness and anticipation. The musicians had most of the day to spend sightseeing in Florence, relaxing, or swimming in the hotel pool. The tour busses departed for Fiesole, a small town in the hills overlooking Florence, at 4:30 p.m. The bus ride to Fiesole was interesting. Navigating the large tour busses up the steep and narrow hillside roads was breathtaking at times.

The small town of Fiesole was having its Festival of San Romolo. Clustered along the one and only main street were many local merchants and vendors. By dusk, a hundred thousand people had filled the town and were awaiting the festival fireworks. The band did a quick "dress rehearsal" in Fiesole's ancient Roman amphitheater called Teatro Romano. After this rehearsal, the band was treated to a wonderful meal at a local outdoor restaurant complete with vine covered grape arbors.

To encourage attendance at this, their final concert, the band's saxophone quartet made up of Laura Kaufman and Narda Wishka on alto sax, Debby Adler on tenor sax, and Dee DeButts on baritone sax were engaged to playa concert at 9:00 p.m. The sax group set up near the tall Fiesole church tower and began playing with numerous festivalgoers stopping by and listening. After a number or two, an ambulance came along and parked next to the sax group with its unique European horns still blatting. (Unbeknownst to the group, another member of the band had slipped and injured her ankle.) The group played on. Then the fireworks started. Unperturbed, they played. Then, as part of the fireworks, pyrotechnic fountains sprayed fire in a twenty-foot plume from the top of the tower. With unnerved concentration, they played on. Minutes later, other fountains on the tower sprayed fire, this time downwards. Finally, with sparks flying around them and worries of their music catching in fire, they interrupted their "hot music" to retreated under a covered arch!

The fireworks were spectacular! Aerial fireworks were shot off from all sides of the town, signifying an historic battle. Fountains, gigantic pinwheels, colored pictures, and other ground fireworks saturated the main square and parks in the town. AIl buildings of the town, as well as the local church, were used to launch fireworks. At one point it appeared the church tower had caught fire and it glowed red in the night sky right next to the band. Later the band commented that even though it was July 6th they all felt they had had the best "Fourth of July" fireworks ever seen; or at least, the most exciting!
The Band's final European concert began at 11:30 that evening in the two thousand year old Roman amphitheater. The band entertained an enthusiastic crowd seated on the original stone seats. The music, the open-air acoustics, and the unobstructed views of the band in the Roman amphitheater were marvelous. What a close to a wonderful concert tour!

Saturday, July 7, was the bands last long bus ride, a ride to Milano. With only a few hours in the city, they visited the famous Duomo (cathedral) of Milan, the late 19th century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (a large late 19th century shopping arcade with a high greenhouse roof five stories above), and the Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Opera Hall).

A farewell dinner was held in the evening and the group prepared for their return to Detroit Metro the next day. Without exception the band members and accompanying friends and family had an exceptional experience and the group looks forward to future adventures. You may view the band's live concert in Zagreb, Croatia at music-club.hinet.hr/DEXTER.ram

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