After a grueling day of travel, Sonos awakens in Saint Louis, Missouri to perform two concerts. If this is your first Sonos tour post, click here to start reading from the beginning of tour.
The view you are greeted with when first entering the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis
Day 10 – Hall of Mosaics: It is hard to describe in words the feelings I had the first time I walked into the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. When you first walk in your eyes are not drawn to the ornately carved doors or beautiful marble floor. Instead your eyes are drawn upwards towards a shimmering gold mosaic that stretches the length of the narthex. Thousands of precisely laid pieces of glass depicted beautiful images of religious history. While I could have stood there all day staring at the intricate artistry of the narthex our performance was to take place in the Basilica itself, so I had to venture forward. Inside your eyes are again drawn upward to the vast ceiling filled with the most gorgeous mosaics I have ever seen in my life. In fact, the Basilica has 83,000 square feet of mosaics soaring to a height of 143 feet above the solid marble floor and simple wooden pews. I think the best way to describe the building came from another visitor there, who commented that the building felt “divinely inspired”. Even through I am not religious, I could still feel a divine power in that space.
Of course we weren’t in Saint Louis to sight see; we did have to perform in the Basilica. Once we got our tables set in a surprisingly small space given the vastness of the hall, it was time to try out the acoustics. Because of the design of the building, our bells carried surprisingly well. I watched the quartet warm up from the back of the Basilica and could hear every note. Granted, they looked about the size of Lego people compared to the giant alter and dome overhead, but they sounded great.
Derek, Michele, and Marquise after setting up for their first concert in the basilica
As a side note to bell ringers, to combat the insane amount of echoing that happens when you perform in a space as large as the Basilica, we set all of our bells to hard and took many of the fast tempos several notches slower. This allows the sound of each bell strike to cut through the echos of the previous notes. While it might sound jarring to you as a ringer, to the audience it sounds great.
In Saint Louis we were also joined by a friend of the group, opera super star Frederica von Stade, better know as “Flicka”. Sonos has been incredibly lucky to have her join us on several concert tours. I first got the chance to meet her on my first Sonos tour when she sang with us in Dallas, Texas and Long Beach, California. She waltzed in so naturally to our first rehearsal I didn’t realize how popular she was until our first concert when I read her biography. From her Wikipedia page (she’s popular enough to have a Wikipedia page) I learned that she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1970 and went onto record over 60 recordings and receive an honor from President Regan in 1983 for her contributions to the arts.
Derek grabbing a quick picture with Flicka after she performed with Sonos
Performing with Flicka is an incredible experience. Her voice is golden and powerful and she filled the vast space of the Basilica with beautiful music. Because of the reverberation around the space, it felt like she was singing all around you. When you perform with her you get the distinct feeling that singing is second nature to her. She effortlessly belts out complicated passages in French or English taking musical liberties in tempo when the mood strikes her. A normal accompanist would have no issue following her singing, but for a bell ensemble the challenge is 12 fold. It felt like a game trying to guess when she would breath or stretch a note and trying to compensate without throwing your neighbor off. Flicka was always in charge though, and you could tell she knew exactly how far she could push the group before the accompaniment would fall apart. Accompanying Flicka is some of the most challenging and rewarding ringing I have ever done.
At our Saturday evening concert we had close to 1,000 people in attendance. Even though the reverb in the Basilica made it hard to perform, the audience enjoyed the concert. We were even joined by the Archdiocesan Choir singing the “Hallelujah Chorus”. While performing that powerful piece in that vast space with the wonderful choir I could feel the divine inspiration flowing through everyone.
— Cathedral Basilica (@cathedralstlmo) December 13, 2015
Day 11 – Saint Louis take two: Our second concert in Saint Louis was carefully timed between two masses. This time 1,100 people filled the 1,300 seats of the Basilica. Now that we had one concert to rehearse, we knew how the reverberation affected the bell playing and our concert was even better. After a quick dinner at the Drunken Fish while we waited for mass to finish, we packed up to leave. By this point in the trip we have packing down to a science.
Marquise would also like me to mention that it was his birthday. Flicka even signed his birthday card.
We left Saint Louis with a renewed sense of purpose and energy. It is hard to spend time in a space as divine as the Basilica and not walk away with a new sense of wonder about the world around you. From Saint Louis we headed south towards Arkansas for more days of touring adventures.