Musica Sacra, Part II

It was a concert at Mission San Francisco de Borja Adac (Mexico) that lead to the recording of Musica Sacra. Part II of this story talks about what it took to put together a concert at a remote mission where nobody had sung for the passed 200 years. 

Preparations for the concert started a year before, when I began selecting and studying the music to be performed. Since the mission had no instruments for accompaniment, some inventiveness was required. The solution was to pre-record the piano parts, and use those while singing live at the actual concert. Thankfully, the acoustics of the mission were good enough that amplification of my voice wasn’t required. Because there was no electricity in or around the mission, the speakers for the piano accompaniment had to be hooked up to a car battery.  The weeks leading up to the day of the concert were spent checking and double-checking everything. Forgetting even one cable would have been disastrous.

A week prior to the concert we drove the ten hour drive from San Diego to Bahia de los Angeles. After the first hectic hours, traffic slowed down, except for the always present semi trucks that leave terrifying little space to pass. In El Rosario we filled up on gas and had a quick bite to eat at “Mama Espinosa’s“, a classic for Baja travelers.

After El Rosario the landscape turns magical and fills up with boojum trees, cardones, elephant trees and millions of other cacti. I’ve traveled this road many times but will always be moved by its beauty. Just before sunset Bahia de los Angeles appeared in front of us.

The concert was sponsored by Comanji, a Mexican non-profit organisation in charge of raising funds to restore the missions of Baja California. A banquet, catered by Beatriz Bremer, was organized to follow the concert. Father Gabriel, my contact throughout the months that lead up to the event, spent days preparing the mission and was responsible for sending out invitations. It has been a while ago now, but quite some funds to restore the mission were raised by this benefit concert.

A couple of days before the concert the local hairdresser, who provided me with a fresh trim, offered to announce the upcoming concert by radio since, at the time, Bahia de los Angeles did not have phone lines. He also offered to come and do my hair the day of the concert. Unfortunately, that day gas stations in Bahia de los Angeles ran out of gas (not uncommon), and a lot of people who would otherwise have taken the trip to the mission were unable to do so.
My husband and I drove to the mission a day before the concert. It was a bumpy two hour drive over remote, desert-like terrain. It was only March but already very hot. Upon arrival Father Gabriel assigned us a private camping spot behind the mission, and the afternoon was spent on rehearsing and setting up. Everybody around offered their help, and it was a relief when everything worked the way I had planned.
Later that night we hung out behind our camper while listening to howling coyotes and chirping birds in the otherwise silent desert. We talked to father Gabriel about the more serious topics of life while sipping our wine, and took a leisurely stroll to the church where someone was strumming his guitar. A surprising amount of people had decided, just like us, to come up a day early and enjoy the beauty of this serene spot.
The serenity of the place didn’t include “showers”, which turned out to be my next challenge. Fortunately, the mission’s original orchards are still intact with their natural hot springs, which I was able to bathe in the morning of the concert. What a way to prepare for a concert.
Our camper had been turned into a dressing room, and my Italian friend, Simona, helped to get me in shape. A small fan was used to style my hair, since we had no hair dryer. My dress had been bagged in plastic in the camper, as the dust of Baja California gets into everything.  Somehow it all worked out, and I never had as much fun preparing for a concert.

I heard rumors of how well attended the concert was going to be, but was still surprised to be confronted with a packed church. After Father Gabriel introduced me, I walked on stage and  it felt like what the audience expected and what I had to offer were in perfect harmony.

For this concert, I had mostly selected arias from the times that the missions were formed. Bach, Caccini, Gounod, and Sumaya were among the composers I picked.
Carlos Lazcano, journalist and expert on the topic of the missions in Baja California, reviewed the concert in the Ensenada newspaper “El Vigia”. “La mezzo-soprano holandesa Christel Veraart brindó un concierto angelical en el desierto central”  After the concert there was a catered event, and tables had been elegantly set inside the old mission’s buildings, and food and wine were served out front underneath the shade of white tents. We ended up celebrating all day in a wonderful and joyful atmosphere.