Walkin’ Blues, Sonic Gold

Over the weekend the Sooners in Rome briefly became the Sooners in Florence, spending four days and three nights studying the ways of Renaissance greats, skirting up and along the circumference of an architectural/engineering marvel, and buying clothes that can be filed under the “fabulous” tab in both the price and looks category (I am now distinguished by a new sweater that makes me recognizable in any crowd). While all of this is swell, my blog job, blob, is to write about the cultural happenings that Caty and I think might be of interest to you, the reader. This week we thought it would be good to share with you a free source of historic entertainment that comes in the form of Gregorian chant.

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I can’t NOT see a baby chicken with a hat on when I look at this building.

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South of the heart of the city and the Arno river, resting atop the Monte hill, the abbey of San Miniato looks out across the endless sea of terracotta that is Florence. Open free to the public daily, visitors can wander the church with little restrictions and enjoy the Romanesque styling of the beautiful marble interior and vast vertical expanses capped by a highly ornate wooden roof structure. In the early evening after a brief mass, the monks assemble themselves in the sub regions of the church and began their celebratory Gregorian chants, filling the large resonating volume of the church with the full gamut of vocal timbre. The twenty minute chant was concluded with the ringing of the church’s bells.

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It was amazing to finally hear a space of that kind working to its maker’s design. I can’t count the number of naves and aisles I’ve strolled through, being able to only imagine how it would respond sonically. Making things more acoustically interesting, the chanting also took place within the lower, subset region at the back of the church (the crypt). During the chant I walked around a bit to hear how my perception of sound changed with position, ultimately leading me to a ledge one level above the singing, closer to the middle of the church. It’s from this spot that I sat, sketched, listened, and recorded.

Here’s a crookedly drawn sketch to help visualize:

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It was a lot of fun to just sit. Partly because I had been walking all day and my feet felt like they might have been reduced to nubs in my boots, but mainly because of the chants. The sound filled the space all around me in a way no set of speakers or headphones could ever do. It was warm, it was calming, it was a perfect way to spend my last evening in Florence.

If you are ever in the area, put the monks of San Miniato on your “To Listen To” list. The hike, the view, the church…everything is completely worth your time, even though your legs might say otherwise.

Here’s an edited clip of the recording:

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