Touching History | My Family Travels

In the summer of 2010, I traveled with my high school symphony to a small town in the south of France to play in the international music festival, Le Festival Des Anches D’Azur. We performed alongside professionals from all over France, Switzerland, the United States, and Italy. However, we were the first students ever to be invited from the United States. We had a series of performances in France, but one sticks out in my mind among all the rest. 

     Our Chamber Strings ensemble played a short repertoire in a forgotten little sixteenth century church. It was quite a simple church – wooden benches, small statues of the Virgin and Peter and Joseph scattered around, and a few candlesticks used for mass.

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The most modern part of the building was a glass door that led to a back room where priests dressed and we stored our cases. It didn’t have air conditioning or plumbing or an electrical system. But what amazed me most about the building was all the history soaked up in its walls.

     Having French and Catholic descendants, I walked in there wondering if any of my distant ancestors ever saw this church. I thought about all this church must have seen – the French Revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon, two World Wars, and generations of people living in a small town. It astounded me that such an old building could still stand, since there are no buildings this old back in the States. I found it unbelievable that this church withstood the turmoil of numerous wars, and was still in operation today.

    

When I left for France, my mom had placed a note in my suitcase that simply asked me to say a prayer for her in this old church. So when the room became as empty as I could hope for, I stepped into the pew and got on my knees to pray. Looking around me at that point, I could feel the sun radiating in from the stain glass windows, and I felt the security of the cross up front and the statues all around me. I could’ve knelt there forever, just admiring this feeling that only comes when you are surrounded by hundreds of years of ancient tradition. I stayed for as long as I could before our director called us to go unpack and warm up.

     The church sounded as beautiful as it looked. It’s walls shook as we played, and the notes bounced off ever wall into the audience. We played for about an hour, and received wonderful response from the audience, who gave us all nods and half-smiles of approval – something that is hard to achieve with the French. The next day, we were all on the front page of the local newspaper. We sought out the one person in our orchestra who knew was fluent in French, and told us the paper described us as “A great start to the festival” and we played with “energy and emotion.”

     By this time we were beginning to get quite worn out from the trip. But having such a great premier gave us all the motivation to move forward to our grand finale on the main stage in downtown La Croix Valmer. I’ll never forget that first performance in France, and how the venue itself touched me in such a personal way. Playing in that church, I felt like closer than ever to touching history itself than ever before.

 

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