And Gutenberg Lived Here: A Night In A Romanesque Horsebarn

This was originally written as part of a good-natured bet

with a member of a group I once wrote for,

right before:

the rain fell,

my internet page collapsed,

” a piece of it landed on my head….”

So anyway, and without more histrionics,

I, as part of this above-mentioned well-intentioned bet,

swore solemnly to produce the story of Harald’s and my honeymoon,

trapped by a train malfunction in the middle of Ireland,

in a haunted ancient stone farmhouse,

with turret,

non-English speaking servant,

and a breakfast that tasted strangely of…

and I will write it…

I promise.


But first, I can’t let this writers’ group,

which turned out to not really be one,

(the whole thing was a fake page, unfortunately-

hey, it happens)

get by with setting up a topic like “the oddest place I have ever slept,”

without at least sending my own, musical, version.

Which, in my case,

was on the stone floor of the horse barn of an early romanesque monastery,

in the hills of a town so small the horses were round-shouldered from walking in circles.

(Always read the fine print when it says room and board guaranteed.

Hey, at least they did toss in a bed roll and some hay.)

So there we were,

Harald and I,

part of a small semi- as in music students, and full professional vocal ensemble

singing the Bach St. Matthew’s Passion,

before a huge audience,

including a bus full of  tourists to the “Swabian Alps,”

but mostly consisting of nuns and priests,

local dignitaries in mayoral robes,

the local school teacher, who in small towns, is also the local organist,

and in this case, as we found out later, had “won his exam in the lottery”


that the licensing inspector was kept down below,

drinking coffee and eating carefully planned fancy cake,

while above in the loft,

a small music student ran around on all fours and played the foot pedals.

(happens more than you think)

So anyway,

after a two-hour drive to nowhere,

(through gorgeous tree and mountain scenery)

a gigantic cathedral suddenly appeared on a hill in front of us.

And after about a half hour of driving serpentine curves,

slugging anti-sea-sick and concert-nerves tea as we went,

at the bottom of the hill, was the town.

Notice, please, that I said bottom.

From which the church was:   five miles.

Straight up.

By footpath.

(There was actually a cart provided for the larger orchestra instruments, thank heavens.)

So, arriving about two,  we put our concert kit into the cart

(long black formal wear and shoes, music, music stands, long sweaters and ski

underwear – churches in Germany are almost never heated-  you get pneumonia, you

don’t sing. And the draft from the underground crypts and over the altar across your

back and up your legs, is purely marvelous.)

Add in large thermos jug of tea and special singer food, and you get the picture.


sorry, singers always have to practice Latin, at least the European ones,

we finally got there, claimed our kit, unpacked, practiced, did a sound check,

and were about to change into concert clothes when we discovered:

we were invited to coffee-  the one thing no singer in their right minds ever drinks.

(it swells the vocal chords)

(the preferred drink, not for me but for most, is champagne.)

And that the reception, for which they wouldn’t take no for an answer,

was five miles down the hill.

Where we carefully drank our own tea,

chose the lightest cake we could find so as to not insult the good ladies,

and tried not to talk,

since we were warmed up, and talking ruins all the warm-up work.

We left when they started smoking.

And then discovered, on arriving back at the church, that there were no changing rooms.

No problem.

Musicians are nothing if not McGyvers.


we headed up to the loft,

where we pulled open the wide wings of the organ,

and were behind them changing,

when the mother superior of the convent came up the stairs to welcome us.

Probably the shortest welcome in the history of the church.

After which, fearing the worst,

we stumbled, down the stairs,

to applause,

to discover that  the harpsichord player,

who we all found exceeding loud at rehearsal,

was swearing at a closed

and locked,

harpsichord lid.

(Leaving it playable, but with no place for the sound to come out)

But since this was a major occasion, with the mayor speaking,

then the priest, and a full prayer for the evening’s success,

we forgot everything and threw ourselves into the work.

And kept focussed, even when the cart driver appeared with a crowbar,

and the harpsichordist,

apparently frustrated that he couldn’t take part  in the loudest section,

broke the lock, loudly, and…

at the exact moment when the three front rows of priests, dignitaries, and nuns,

were in silent prayer, tears rolling down more than a few cheeks,

started throwing the approximately twelve rolls of toilet paper our frustrated solo tenor

had packed the harpsichord with, over his shoulder.

And into the audience.

Whose  unified  look of amazement was something I have not  seen the like of  since.

Oh yes, and the horse barn was cold, cold, freezing cold.

It’s a good thing the press photo the next day

didn’t show us in our staw-covered bedrolls,

and pajama-topped long ski underwear.

copyright  2015 All rights reserved

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