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A Medieval Wonderland

March 14, 2018

Today was our first "Moving Day". That means getting all that stuff back into your bags to go to the next hotel. 

We had another early wake up, although we had an extra half hour today. We had breakfast and then came the parade of 207 people down to the lobby with luggage. (this quaint old hotel has one elevator that will hold three people and the bags at a time.) Even with that, it was one of the most efficient moves in recent trips.

We loaded up and had a two hour trip to the medieval city of Siena. Most students (and several adults) took the opportunity to grab a few more ZZZZZ on the way. 

Siena.....WOW. This place is from the 12th century. It was one of the wealthiest cities in Italy because it was a center for banking. They built a huge wall around it to protect it from invaders. 

There is so much to talk about with Siena that I can't cover it all. You should look it up sometime, because the stories are really incredible.

It is the home of a famous Italian Saint, Saint Catherine.  Catherine was self-educated and was one of the most powerful people in Italy. In the medieval times, that was pretty uncommon for a woman. When she died, the pope wanted her body in Rome, so Siena made a deal to get her head and one finger sent back home so they could build a basilica for her.

 

These relics are proudly on display in a case in the church on the edge of town. Like many Italian towns, buses can't come in, so we parked outside of town, split into our smaller touring groups, met our local guides, got our "whisper" systems and walked in.

Siena is divided into 17 districts, called Contrada. They are cities within a city. They have their own banks, churches and customs.  

What Siena is most famous for is the Palio. This is a horse race that happens twice a year. The best way to describe what happens there is to think of a combination of "Survivor" the "Hunger Games". Each Contrada tries to acquire the best horse, pay the best jockey and make secret alliances to figure out ways to sabotage the chances of their rival districts. A month or so before the race, the horses are brought into the city and housed in stables in each district. They take turns standing 24 hour guard on the horses, as rivals have been known to sneak in and steal or drug them. This has been going on since the 1500's and is an amazing tradition still. You will have to look it up to really get the whole story.

We serpentined up and down the cobblestone streets of this iconic city. Outside of the modern signs on stores, you feel as if you have been put in a time machine and sent way back in the past. We made our way up to the Siena Cathedral, Because the streets of the city are so narrow and the buildings so tall, you don't see the church until you're right on it, and then Wham!, it is such an awe-inspiring sight!

 All of our groups reached the cathedral at the same time, as we were scheduled to sing two songs there. We filed in and were dumb-struck by its beauty and decadence.

We made our way to the front and spread out in our concert formation. There were a few hundred people touring the church, and they quickly realized something was about to happen so they crowded around in the pews and alcoves. We sang Sicut Cervus. (As the deer longs for the stream, so do I long for you o God) I've mentioned this song a few times in the blog, as it was one I picked because it was written by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, He is considered the greatest sacred choral composer of the Renaissance. It is the perfect song for these buildings as the slow moving harmonic progression was meant to join with the live acoustic and waft the sound around the room to create a reverent atmosphere. I like to think we accomplished that today. Then we sang the powerful "Vieni Nel Mio Cuore" (Come Into My Heart) and if we thought the last chord lasted a while after the cutoff yesterday in Pisa, it was three times as long here. It may still be ringing for all I know.

 The we had some time to look around the church and take pictures. Being a musician and having been here before I was aware of one of the most important rooms I have ever seen in a church. They have a library that was built by one of the richest people in the city to house about 20 amazing 3 foot tall books of Gregorian Chant. They were made so big so they could put it in front of many singers and they could all read it at once (individual copies were not a thing).

 Gregorian Chant was the very first written form of music. It is where all music notation started. As a huge believer in the importance of music literacy with my students, this room is like going to musical Mecca!

After the church we went back outside, got in our touring groups again and worked our way down to the Piazza il Campo. This is the huge plaza in the center of town where the horse race takes place. We were dismissed for a the whole afternoon to eat, shop and explore this marvelous place.

When we met back up in the Piazza, Of course we had to do a Flash Mob. There were a whole lot of people out there and were very intrigued when we started in on "Ride The Chariot". During that song, they started flocking down in front of us from all reaches of this huge open square. People were opening windows and looking down on us.

We then sang "Old Irish Blessing" and one of parents told me later there was a old Italian man behind him who started crying as we sang. That's the power of this universal language. We then sang an upbeat Italian song called "Non Capisco Niente," (I Don't Know Anything) The crowd was very enthusiastic. We closed our impromptu concert with the SME School Song and then went to our chaperone groups to go back to the coaches.

We had a two hour ride to our next destination, Assisi!

We moved in, ate dinner, had a meeting and had a bit of time to socialize and unwind from the day before room checks. The students were rejoicing when we said wakeup was at 8:30. 

It was a fantastic day in one of my favorite towns and now I am off to get refreshed for tomorrow as we tour the other of my favorites, Assisi!

Each day seems a little better than the last. I want everyone to know that in a world where for many, Spring Break means getting crazy and partying with your friends, These students are making the world a little better place by spreading joy through our music. I am so proud of them, proud to be their teacher, and so Proud To Be A Lancer!!!!!

 

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