Central Tuscany, 2017

Friday 28 April

1) The first engagement for Oneness-Dream on Friday the 28th was at 10 am at the beautiful Temple of San Biagio near Montepulciano, now open as a museum and place of worship. The spacious church is shaped in a Greek cross plan with a high central dome. Here the choir was met by Dr Gianfranco Costa, founder of the International Centre for Peace among Peoples (Centro Internazionale per la pace fra i popoli) of Assisi, who had known Sri Chinmoy and had presented him with the “Pilgrim of Peace” award in 1998. In 2017, Dr Costa’s Centre for Peace is conducting a Marathon for Peace. this “marathon” comprising not 42 kilometres, but rather 42 concerts for peace internationally. This morning’s performance by Oneness-Dream was chosen to be one of these 42 concerts.

Dr Costa introduced Oneness-Dream and also accorded our choir with a parchment scroll proclaiming “Ambassador of Peace”, along with various momentos after the concert including a banner and a conductor’s baton fashioned from an olive branch. Unfortunately a few members of the choir were missing from this visit as they were on a mission to purchase new audio and video recording devices to replace the equipment stolen from our van in Pisa the previous evening: sadly, no audio or video recordings of this performance and meeting were made. However we shall long remember the kindness and passion for peace of Dr Costa and his associates.

2) At 11.30am Oneness-Dream were fortunate to perform in the spectacular 15th century Duomo of Pienza. The Church of Santa Maria Assunta sits on the precipice of a sheer rock face and the front end of the church behind the altar would seem poised to plunge over the cliff at any moment – large cracks in the floor appear to portend this looming fate. Sadly, no audio or video recordings of this performance were made. Pienza was the ideal location for a stroll through a wonderfully atmospheric mediaeval town and a hearty traditional Tuscan lunch in a local restaurant.

3) In the forested hills near Asciano is the grand Benedictine Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, our next destination at 4pm. Accessed by a drawbridge and passing through various outer buildings and fortifications, there was some confusion about the precise arrangements for our singing, so the choir practised some vocal exercises amongst the pine trees nearby. Inside the cloister, we sat under the gaze of some of the Renaissance’s more renowned frescoes, depicting the “Life of St Benedict” by Luca Signorelli. Once the terms of our assignment were agreed between various authorities, there was precious little time remaining to sing in the main church before the next service would commence. The sublime interior with its immaculately tiled floor and features of white and gold combined simplicity with opulence in a rare refinement of aspiration. Our soloist, Adarsha Kelly sang several solos to make best use of the superb acoustic. On the way out of the abbey, two members spied a small cafe where they sampled what they report to be the best homemade pistachio cake in the world. Look for it when you are next there!

4) Frustrated by the theft of our recording equipment the previous evening in Pisa, and with it some of what we felt were our best recordings, we were on the lookout for a venue with a good acoustic and where we could spend some quality time devoted to recording – singing and re-singing certain songs till we were happy with the performance. The perfect venue presented itself at our final stop for the day, at Basilica dell’Osservanza outside Siena. Dating from the 15th century, the entire complex was destroyed by bombing in 1944, and rebuilt after the war according to its original plans. The car park behind the basilica was guarded by a formidable pair of tenacious geese! The Latin American monks responsible for the venue were very happy to allow us to stay and sing to our hearts’ content, as long into the night as we desired. 17 songs on the CD of the tour were recorded at this superb venue, one of many pinnacle experiences of this tour.

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