From Thoronet, we travelled to Aix-en-Provence, the ancient city of fountains! We were thrilled to sing in the Aix Cathedral, Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, as it is so beautiful and the oldest cathedral in France! According to tradition, the original chapel was built by St Maximinius, accompanied by Mary Magdalene herself, in the first century. Later construction around the year 500 incorporated Roman columns from the temple to Apollo which had also been on that site.
In other words, it has been a holy place for a very long time, and we were delighted to sing there!
As only sacred music is to be sung in the Cathedral, we had prepared a special program of sacred pieces, including many medieval songs. This was the first time we had offered a solely sacred and medieval concert! Our first rehearsal there was challenging as we had to learn to work with the enormous space which was not as generous as Thoronet – there any note would carry for many seconds, whereas at the Cathedral, we had to learn to let our voices ring out, or they would fall flat! We worked very hard to give the cathedral the sound it needed! The evening of the event we had been told there would be plainclothes policemen in attendance as tensions were still running high.
We sang our first song from the back of the church, surrounding the audience as we gradually processed up the aisle. Again, we could feel the walls gradually awakening and listening – perhaps they recognized some of the songs that had been sung there hundreds of years before.
Our audience astonished us with the fervency of their applause and and demand for an encore. We found out later that some of them followed us to to Vaison-la-Romaine to hear us again! Our first groupies?
In the words of singer Catherine St Denis – “I was moved to tears today by the lengthy and heartfelt standing ovation we received from our audience. Afterwards, I spoke with an older woman who told me in French that she had been wondering lately what kind of a dark world her eight grandchildren were growing up in, but then our choir came and brought so much love to her and to France at just the right time. Music is a powerful force indeed, and I feel so grateful to be able to help bring a little light into the world.”