The Odd (and Beautiful) Nikolauskirche in Hall

Dear Reader, I did this little trip to Hall in Tirol more for me than for you, as I knew I needed to get out of the house. Three straight months of rehearsals for three different productions, plus teaching private lessons, left very little time for blog-related excursions (and I was off to Germany any time I had two consecutive days free). Now that I have a little more time, I’ve got to make myself get back outside.
I have been to the St. Nikolaus Parish Church before, once just to look inside, once to sing a mass. But Paschberg recently brought to my attention the existence of its Waldauf Chapel, which we’ll get to in a bit…


From the entrance the visitor can see that the chancel is not aligned with the rest of the building. The chancel is actually part of the earlier incarnation of the building, which by the early 15th century was too small for the growing local population. A wider, longer nave was built but could not be extended out directly in line with the chancel, and so the church has this odd “kink” in its interior.


On the north wall, an apparently complete skeleton, dressed in Baroque finery, over an alter to St. Catherine (Katharinenaltar), but I don’t who this would be behind the glass. S/he is flanked by alleged relics of Ss. Constantine and Agapitus, ensconced in their own wall niches.


Further along in the north transept one enters the Waldaufkapelle, named after one Florian von Waldauf, the 15th-century knight who had the chapel built and who donated his massive collection of holy relics, picked up here and there during his extensive travels.


Among the dozens of adult skulls (and some long bones) sits a very small child’s skull with the word  S Innocentibus* embroidered on its pillow. Who all these saints really were, I don’t know. The Niklauskirche is being renovated but its doors are open to visitors.

* Reader Joe informs me that this name signifies one of the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod shortly after the birth of Jesus. The church’s official guide booklet states that the relics come predominantly from the Roman catacombs.

Posted in Austria, culture, history, lives of others, travel | 2 Comments

Cybertouring Austria 4

Installment 4 of “Top Ten of the Top Five” comes from Carly, an Australian in Vienna (and who, incidentally, loves Tirol).

Posted in assimilation, Austria, blogs, food, language, Life Abroad, lives of others, music, travel | Leave a comment

Forgotten Bavaria: St. Johannes auf der Bergerin

IMG_1713(What’s left of a few signs which may have once indicated the original site./ Was von den Resten übrig blieb, die einmal den ursprünglichen Standort angedeutet haben könnten.)

Many centuries ago, west of the Ammersee in southern Bavaria, the main road from Diessen to Entraching crossed the road from Utting to Dettenschwang about right here in this forest. It was more meadow then, with a hermitage and a cemetery near the church.
Vor vielen Jahrhunderten kreuzte sich westlich des Ammersees in Südbayern die Hauptstraße von Dießen nach Entraching und die Straße von Utting nach Dettenschwang ungefähr hier, in diesem Wald. Damals war es eher eine Wiese, mit einer Kapelle und einem Friedhof daneben.

According to this article in the Augsburg newpaper, a local priest named Karl Emerich is credited for rediscovering the site of the church in 1916, a good hundred years after it had burned down in a fire and been forgotten. Father Emerich posited the theory that the place had been held sacred in pre-Christian times. “It is well known that the German Pagans liked their sacred sites in forests and groves.” The early Christian missionaries “preferred to convert pagan holy sites to Christian ones, and as there was a splendid spring nearby, which may have had religious significance,” they would have found it convenient to build a church here where the local people were used to coming, wrote Emerich.
Nach diesem Artikel aus der Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung ist die Wiederentdeckung des Standorts der Kirche im Jahre 1916, gut hundert Jahre, nachdem sie abbrannte und vergessen wurde, einem örtlichen Priester namens Karl Emerich zu verdanken. Pater Emerich vertrat die Theorie, dass der Ort bereits in vorchristlicher Zeit heilig war.”Die heidnischen Deutschen hatten bekanntlich ihre Heiligtümer gerne in Wäldern und Hainen”. Die christlichen Missionare hätten mit Vorliebe “heidnische Heiligtümer in christliche umgewandelt, und da sich eine prächtige Quelle vorfand, die vielleicht schon im heidnischen Kultus Bedeutung hatte, so lag für die Missionäre wohl nichts näher, als diesen Platz zu einer christlichen Kultusstätte und zwar zu einem Tauforte einzurichten, denn hier strömten die Umwohner ohnehin aus alter Gewohnheit zusammen zu ihren heidnischen Opfern (…)” – so Emerich.


Just down the main road is the rebuilt Johannesbrunnen with some information about the church and its spring. In 1718 the water was declared to hold healing powers. In the mid-eighteenth century it was reported that poachers kept breaking the the church windows and stealing the lead, in order to make bullets from it, and in 1759 Bavarian Elector Maximilian III Joseph arrived with his entourage and stayed around to hunt wild boar. By the end of the century the hermitage was down to just one hermit, and in 1802 the structures were destroyed in a fire.
Gerade am Ende der Hauptstraße steht der wieder errichtete Johannesbrunnen mit einigen Informationstafeln über die Kirche und ihre Quelle. Im Jahre 1718 wurde diese als Heilquelle anerkannt. In der Mitte des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts wurde berichtet, dass Wilderer die Kirchenfenster zerbrachen um die Bleifassungen zu Gewehrkugeln zu verarbeiten. Im Jahre 1759 weilte der bayerische Kurfürsten Maximilian III. Joseph mit seinem Gefolge dort, um Wildschweine zu jagen. Am Ende des Jahrhunderts war die Kapelle bis auf einen verbliebenen Einsiedler heruntergewirtschaftet, und im Jahr 1802 wurde das Gebäude bei einem Brand zerstört.

Now only the fountain remains, and a pretty forest of beech and spruce trees behind it. The site where the church once stood is now occupied by oak trees, which took root there there after the fire.
Heute zeugt nur mehr der Brunnen davon – und ein hübscher Wald aus Buchen und Fichten dahinter. Der Ort, an dem die Kirche stand stehen heute noch Eichen, die nach dem Brand dort aufkamen.

Posted in archaeology, Germany, history, memory, nature, travel | 2 Comments

Cybertouring Austria 3

KC Blau shares with us a few of her favorite (Austrian) things.

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Cybertouring Austria 2

This week’s “Top Ten of the Top Five” is by Emily, who writes the Vienna-based blog A Mommy Abroad. Click the links and take a look around for a completely different Austrian expat experience.

Posted in assimilation, Austria, blogs, food, Life Abroad, lives of others, travel

What I have been doing lately

Three blitzschnell appearances and all of two syllables of singing from me in this short video from ATV (the Rosenkavalier segment begins exactly 11 minutes in), alles auf deutsch but enjoy the sets and costumes.


Posted in culture, current events, Innsbruck, music, opera, singing, theater | 3 Comments

On Gratitude and Amazement

This weekend I jumped in for a sick friend, who could not sing a scheduled concert performance of Mozart’s Requiem.

I will admit right up front that I wasn’t expecting much in the way of musical fulfillment or anything; the concert was with a small church choir out of town, accompanied not by orchestra but rather by four-hand piano. I got the call around noon on Saturday, found some black clothes and my Requiem score, and by 5 PM I was on my way out to the venue for a last-minute rehearsal and then it was showtime.

Two things changed my outlook completely, however. The first was Mozart’s music. As I sang along in the choral parts to keep my voice warm, I was reminded of how incredibly good this music is. As I sang, it occurred to me that, for all I know, this might be the last time I am asked to sing this piece, solo or chorus (which would be a shame, because I am still an excellent choral singer). This thought wasn’t at all depressing, but rather gave me a new appreciation for the moment, for the here and now. I was happy to be there with this music and these musicians, whatever their abilities. We had come together for Mozart. I savored every note of it.

The second thing that happened that evening was that this ensemble inserted, in the very beginning, the middle, and the end of the Requiem, three choral a cappella pieces, making it not simply a concert mass but part of a work of art. I did not recognize the first two works but the third, begun directly after the last chord of the Requiem without so much as a second’s wait, was O Magnum Mysterium by the American composer Morten Lauridsen.

It wasn’t perfect, there were a few shaky moments in the opening chords, and the amateur singers were challenged by the length of this slow, legato, unaccompanied piece. Nevertheless, they managed to create something of quiet and deep beauty, even if only in those few seconds, there in that darkened village church. They created a moment of amazement and wonder in the performance of that gorgeous piece. I was so moved that I nearly cried, with gratitude, with amazement.

When I got home I pulled out an old Princeton Singers recording which features this piece, and have played it probably 25 times in the last 24 hours. I used to sing a lot of this kind of music before I began working in the theater. To hear it again felt like coming home.


Posted in current events, Life Abroad, memory, music, singing | 4 Comments

Cybertouring Austria 1

A few months ago, a Vienna site called The Local put out a list of their Top 5 Expat* Blogs in Austria, and The Practice Room was included. One of the other bloggers, writer K.C. Blau of “Vienna Muses”, decided recently that we and our readers should get to know each other, and asked us if we would each like to be featured at her place this month, by way of a questionnaire about a few of our favorite (Austrian) things (apologies for the song reference.) I happened to answer first and so here I am in the first slot. I’ll post links to the others as they come in, and we can all go on a virtual tour of the country with designated virtual guides.

* It goes without saying that these are English-language sites. I do wonder if there’s a similar scene out there for, say, Spanish or Japanese speaking expats.

Posted in assimilation, Austria, blogs, language, Life Abroad, lives of others, travel

The Glamourous Life Revisited

(Bitte scrollen Sie nach unten für die deutsche Fassung)

Oh, the life of a performing artist.

You want to succeed. You want to give your very best and, when your best isn’t enough, you try to dig deep into yourself to find something untapped, some reserve of strength you didn’t know was there.

All through music school we were encouraged to let our guards down and find those reserves, to be open to criticism for our own betterment, to be all that we can be For Our Art. We learned to be addicted to feedback, since none of us could objectively judge ourselves and our potential, and our own teachers weren’t telling us either. We waited uncomfortably after auditions for any precious feedback and turned every comment over in our minds, be they sensible or stupid; we cringed through listening to our recorded lessons; we made fun of other singers just to make ourselves feel more worthy. Having nothing else to cling to, like a healthy self-esteem and a career path with recognizable milestones, we hung onto any little sign of approval, such as who gets this or that role in a show, or this or that solo in the chorus, who sings opening night, who gets to study with that popular teacher, who wins this school prize.

Is it any wonder, then, that some of that follows us into our working years?

What they do here in Europe isn’t opera. It’s full of singers with little voices who can’t be heard over the orchestra.”
This was said less than three feet from where I was sitting, by other singers. Probably they weren’t even thinking of me (I was looking at my smartphone and partially in the conversation), and the accuracy of that statement is dubious, but nevertheless, it stung.

Ensemble life can be both rewarding and difficult in the best of circumstances, in any theater. Singers get stressed, from the demands of being stretched in all sorts of directions. Having been trained to rise to the challenge, we try to do it all. Perhaps I am doubly cursed in being female and North American, for whom saying “no” comes with a price, even if it is internally applied. Standing up for myself takes all of my energy, not standing up for myself quietly saps it away along with my self esteem.

Which is how I find myself here now — in the middle of a successful run of a really great show, after singing a lovely concert last night of very interesting music, including a world premiere of a song cycle, with wonderful, talented people involved — fretting and wallowing in thoughts of I can’t do all this, I really can’t sing, I have no real talent of any use, I’m a failure, I’m an amateur, a dilettante, a wannabe tipping over into has-been-never-was, a workhorse who’s only good enough to fill small roles. I can do a little of everything, and nothing in particular. I’m too old. I’ll never be what I think I should be.

Of course this is so much bull. Who among us musicians is exactly where they think they should be? Who among us can objectively, clearly, see one’s own talents and limitations and say “I’m OK with that?” (This was not brought on by that comment above, it had been brewing for a while.)

Why am I writing this? Maybe because young singers, looking for information and advice about working in Europe, will find in a google search all sorts of stuff about How To Get Work Here, as if that’s the culmination of all your efforts, congratulations, you landed a job, Happy End. But that’s really only the beginning, and not all of it is the Great Adventure. You bring with you all of your work habits; how you deal with adverse situations; with frenemies; with being unable to express yourself perfectly in your own language, let alone a new one. You bring with you the reasons behind your drive to be a performer — are you seeking approval, and if yes, from whom? Can you appreciate your own talents and strengths when they seem to differ from “What We Are Looking For Right Now”? Can you share joy in the successes of your colleagues, or do you have to hide their Facebook posts? Is it enough to have singing work, when you sacrifice everything else to have it?

I ran into a former colleague on the street yesterday. He’d trained as a school teacher but began a career in opera shortly after his first teaching job. He has a beautiful voice, excellent stage presence, a good attitude, the desire to learn and work hard, and the rare gift of comic timing. He worked in a few opera houses for about ten years, successfully, and then left it all behind him in order to have a private life and some peace of mind. He’s teaching part time now, and singing concerts, and he sounds very happy. I have thought a lot about him over the last several months, because I will be doing something similar at the end of this season. The full-time ensemble life is no longer for me.  All I know right now is that I have to sing on my own terms, or else not do it at all. Singing is something that should bring one happiness. I might find that happiness again, or maybe in something else. It’s time.

Um auf “das glamouröse Leben” zurückzukommen

Oh(je), das Leben eines  Künstlers.

Sie wollen erfolgreich sein. Sie möchten ihr bestes geben, und wenn Ihre Bestes nicht genug ist, versuchen Sie, tief in sich selbst zu suchen, um etwas bisher nicht Genutztes zu finden, eine Kraftreserve, die Sie bisher nicht kannten.

Während unserer musikalischen Ausbildung wurden wir ermutigt, offen zu bleiben um diese Reserven entdecken zu können, offen für Kritik zu unserem eigenen Wohle zu sein, um alles, was wir können für unsere Kunst zu sein. Wir wurden daran gewöhnt süchtig auf Rückmeldungen zu sein, da keiner von uns objektiv beurteilen konnten was unser Potenzial ist – und unsere eigenen Lehrer konnte es uns auch nicht sagen. Wir erwarteten mit Unbehagen nach dem Vorsprechen jede wertvolle Resonanz, drehten und wendeten jeden Kommentar in unseren Köpfen, sei er sinnvoll oder dumm; wir zuckten zusammen, wenn wir unserer eigenen aufgenommene Übungsstunden hörten und machten uns lustig über andere Sänger nur um uns selbst besser zu fühlen. Mit nichts anderem als Stütze, wie z.B. einem gesunden Selbstwertgefühl und eine berufliche Laufbahn mit erkennbaren Meilensteinen​​, hingen wir von jedem kleinen Zeichen der Zustimmung ab, z.B. welche diese oder jene Rolle in einer Show bekommt, oder dieses oder jenes Solo im Chor , wer den Eröffnungsabend singt, wer bei einem bekannten Lehrer studiert, wer den Schulpreis bekommt.

Ist es da verwunderlich, dass einiges davon uns in die Arbeitsjahre verfolgt?

“Was sie hier in Europa machen ist nicht Oper. Sänger mit kleinen Stimmen, die nicht über das Orchester tönen. “
Dies wurde weniger als drei Meter von meinem Platz entfernt von anderen Sängern gesagt. Wahrscheinlich hatten sie nicht einmal an mich gedacht (ich war teilweise in mein Smartphone und teilweise in ein Gespräch vertieft) und die Richtigkeit dieser Aussage ist zweifelhaft, aber dennoch, tat es weh.

Das Leben im Ensemble ist interessant und schwierig zugleich im den besten Sinn des Wortes, in jedem Theater. Sänger sind durch Forderungen aus allen möglichen Richtungen beansprucht. Ausgebildet, um sich der Herausforderung zu stellen, versuchen wir, alles zu tun. Vielleicht bin ich doppelt verflucht – als Frau und Nordamerikanerin, für die jedes “Nein”- sagen teuer zu stehen kommt, auch wenn das wohl nur eine verinnerlichte Schelte ist. Das Eintreten für mich selbst benötigt all meine Energie, das Ignorieren meiner künstlerischen Bedürfnisse nagt hingegen ziemlich an meinem Selbstwertgefühl.

So finde ich mich nun – in der Mitte einer erfolgreichen laufenden wirklich tollen Show, nach dem Singen eines schönes Konzert gestern Abend (mit sehr interessante Musik, darunter eine Uraufführung eines Liederzyklus), zusammen mit anderen wundervollen, talentierten Menschen – dabei von solchen Gedanken zerfressen zu werden: ich kann all dies nicht, ich kann nicht wirklich singen, ich habe kein wirklich brauchbares Talent, ich bin ein Versager, ich bin ein Amateur, ein Dilettant, ein Möchtegern umspringend in ein gewesen / niemals gewesen, ein Arbeitstier, das ist nur gut genug ist, um kleine Rollen zu füllen. Ich kann ein wenig von allem, aber nichts Besonderes. Ich bin zu alt. Ich werde nie das sein, was ich von mir erwartete..

Dies ist natürlich viel Blödsinn. Wer von uns Musikern ist genau dort, wo wir erwarten, dass wir sein sollten? Wer von uns sieht objektiv und klar die eigenen Talente und Grenzen und sagt, ” OK, das bin ich?” (Das alles kam nicht mit der Äußerung in den vorigen Absatz sondern eine Weile schon habe ich darüber gegrübelt.)

Warum schreibe ich das? Vielleicht, weil junge Sänger, auf der Suche nach Informationen und Beratung über die Arbeit in Europa, in Google allerlei Zeug dazu finden, wie Sie Arbeit hier bekommen, als wäre das der Höhepunkt all Ihre Bemühungen, herzlichen Glückwunsch, einen Job, Glücklich gelandet. Ende gut alles gut.

Aber das ist wirklich nur der Anfang, und nicht alles vom Kommenden ist das große Abenteuer. Man bringt eigene Arbeitsgewohnheiten mit; wie mit negativen Situationen umzugehen ist; den Umgang mit “besten Feinden” ; nicht in der Lage, sich perfekt in der eigenen Sprache auszudrücken, geschweige denn in einer fremden. Man bringt die eigenen Beweggründe, Künstler zu sein, mit – Sucht man Anerkennung? Wenn ja, von wem? Kann man die eigenen Talente und Stärken akzeptieren, wenn sie sich von dem “Was wir gerade jetzt suchen” unterscheiden? Freut man sich über Erfolge der Kollegen, oder verbirgt man ihre Facebook-Beiträge? Reicht es aus, durch Singen Arbeit zu haben, wenn man sonst alles im Leben opfert?

Ich begegnete gestern einem ehemaligen Kollegen auf der Straße. Er war Lehrer, aber begann eine Karriere in der Oper kurz nach seiner ersten Lehrerstelle. Er hat eine schöne Stimme, sehr gute Bühnenpräsenz, eine gute Haltung, den Wunsch zu lernen und hart arbeiten, und die seltene Gabe, des komödiantisches Timings. Er arbeitete erfolgreich in einigen Opernhäusern während der letzten zehn Jahre, dann ließ er alles hinter sich, um Privatleben und ein wenig Seelenfrieden zu bekommen. In Teilzeit unterrichtet er jetzt und gibt Gesangskonzerte, und er klingt sehr glücklich. Ich habe viel über ihn in den vergangenen Monaten gedacht, denn ich werde etwas Ähnliches am Ende dieser Saison zu tun. Das Vollzeit-Ensemble Leben ist nichts mehr für mich. Alles was ich im Moment weiß ist, dass ich nur mehr auf meine Art singen möchte. Singen ist etwas, das einen glücklich machen sollte. Ich könnte dieses Glück beim Singen wieder finden, oder vielleicht in etwas anderem. Es ist Zeit.

Posted in assimilation, Life Abroad, music, opera, singing, theater | 5 Comments

„Und, hod’s eahm wos gnutzt?“

An old Bavarian joke: A tourist in Bavaria approaches two workmen and asks for directions. He’s met with blank stares, so he tries to determine their language. “Sprechen Sie deutch?” No reply. “Do you speak English?”  Nothing. “Parlez-vous français? Parla italiano?”. Getting no response from them at all, he continues on, shaking his head. When he’s gone, one Bavarian turns to the other and says “Did you hear that? He speaks four languages!” The second man replies “And what good did it do him?”

Yesterday as I was walking home, I saw an old man standing on the corner of Dreiheiligenstrasse and Weinhartstrasse. He had some kind of bag on a folding metal trolley, and was staring at a photocopied street map, holding a second pair of glasses up to the pair on his nose.
“Do you need some help? Brauchen Sie Hilfe?”
He showed me his map and mumbled something. I caught the word ici and thought, OK, he speaks French. I showed him the spot on the map where we were standing, and tried to tell him in long-forgotten French which roads were which.

He seemed to neither understand me nor believe me. He pointed on the map to the Sill River, to Museumstrasse, to the streets before us but seemed turned around. And he was speaking something not recognizeably French either (A dialect? Corsican? The few words he spoke reminded me somehow of Sicilian but I could understand none of it.) I took the map and turned it 90 degrees so that it lined up with how we were standing, and that confused him even more. He seemed convinced that Dreiheiligenstrasse was Weinhartstrasse, and that I was simply wrong. Eventually he turned away and began to walk in the direction of the Viaduktbogen, at which point I gave up and said, “Na, dann toi toi toi” (Well, good luck) . It was such an odd encounter that I immediately thought to check my pockets, in case he had lifted my phone in the confusion.

I felt bad for him. I hope he found his way back to where he needed to be.

Posted in Innsbruck, language, Life Abroad | 1 Comment