For the past five summers, I have been a staff member of Umbrian Serenades, a program that is truly transformative.
Oh, such a big word for a two-week choral program in the heart of Italy, where you sing in amazing spaces with wonderful people and have incredible food and wine. Well, yes it is a big word, but it's also an accurate one.
After my first year, I came home and knew I had to write a book. Just knew it in my bones. What had been an idea for a long while turned into reality—and if you know me, well, writing the introduction to Hidden in Plain Sight: The Hermann Klein Phono-Vocal Method Based upon the Famous School of Manuel Garcia was a big deal. I had been sitting on it for a long while. Too long in fact. Singing in Italy with Umbrian Serenades was the catalyst for change: I came home knowing what I was going to do, and how I was going to do it. Boom. The introduction practically wrote itself.
Anyone who has spent time singing as a choral artist and a great conductor (Umbrian Serenades will be welcoming new guest conductor DAVID HAYES to the program) knows what I am talking about: singing and making music with others is all about transformation. There is science on this actually, showing that hearts and minds really do sync together when music is being made. Umbrian Serenades simply ups the ante. If you think I am exaggerating, read this and this. This means that participants connect to the deepest part of themselves.
The sacred forest located on top of Monteluco mountain adds to the effect that singing with like-minded participants brings, which I must have climbed at least eight times over thirteen days this past summer. A great workout, climbing Monteluco mountain provided me—and many other program participants—with something of a retreat. You find yourself in a forest that has been protected since Roman times—if not before, and where the trees are more than four thousand years old. You feel the pulse of history as well as the repose of silence. It is a very special place which changes those who are open to its quiet magic.
Since Italy also contains more than sixty percent of the art in the world, there are ample opportunities to see beautiful works by renowned artists—the fresco above of San Francesco di Assisi being but one of many. It can be found in Montefalco, Italy, were participants sang in concert this past summer at the Museo di San Francesco.
Rehearsals for Umbrian Serenades are held in a beautiful space—Sala 17 Settembre—at the Teatro Nuovo Gian Carlo Menotti in Spoleto. And as luck woujld have it, participants from this past summer also had the opportunity to rehearse on the stage—the very same stage where I appeared in La Fancuilla del West in 1985 with the Festival dei Due Mondi. Yes—you can go home again!
The food! My god the incredible food! Here is a beef tartare that I had during lunch at a wonderful bistro in the park, very close to Hotel dei Duchi—a four star hotel where participants stay. Unusual for me, I could not remember the last time I had beef tartare before this past summer. The accompanying grilled vegetables and wine? Heaven. A very rare treat—pun intended!
Having attended the program five times now, I have some favorite dishes, and interestingly—they are simple ones like scrambled eggs with truffles—a regional delicacy that is totally scrumptious. I can't have it too many time while I am in Spoleto.
The wine you see above is a glorious Trebbiano that you can't find anywhere else in the world. Lemony and dry, it was the perfect compliment to my favorite dish.
The freshness of the food is like nothing you have encountered before: simple, beautiful and elegant, the field greens brazed in olive oil were exquisite. This were my second course after the eggs and truffles.
This house red was captured at Il Panciolle, a lovely hotel and restaurant with a great view of the Umbrian Valley, and the site of many Umbrian Serenade gatherings. Famous for its grilled meats which are cooked on an open fire, Il Panciolle is the perfect place to sit and watch the sun set while the twinkling lights above and along the valley appear. Mind you, the photos I have here are only a small example of the culinary riches that participants enjoy.
Another is La Barcaccia, which is a stone's throw from this passage. Walk down this corridor, past the Duomo square, then make a left up a flight of stairs, and you will find fantastic Penne alla Norcia which is made of cream and truffles. Yes! More truffles!
Here is a fresco in the Museo di San Franceso in Montefalco, Italy, where one of our concerts was given. It is a beautifully resonant space with an intimate wooden choir, above which is the wondrous art that you see here.
Another vibrant fresco is located near the front entrance of the building, where a friend an colleague took a moment to sit and look into its depths.
The most ancient place in which program participants gave a concert this past summer was at the basilica of San Salvatore in Spoleto. Combining Roman and Byzantine elements, it dates to the 4th century, if not even earlier.
My friend John standing in a doorway at San Salvatore, right before our third and final concert.
The last day of the program this past summer, we journeyed to a tiny town high in the mountains, which you can see in the distance over my right shoulder. Called Norcia di Castelluccio, it is famous for its lentils, a bag of which I managed to bring home. Perfect with Italian sweet sausage and dry Sagrantino wine, I cooked up a batch for a party of participants recently, and felt myself thousands of miles away, longing for more experience in Umbria, which more and more, feels like home away from home.
Come sing with me in Italy! It will be like nothing you have experienced before. You will sing your heart out and return not only renewed, but full of real purpose. It's that what life is all about? Apply to this wonderful program today!