Guest Post by Naomi & Andrew: First week in Italy
Among the artmonks-in-residence in Labro this summer are Andrew Pulkrabek, a fantastic bassist & beatboxer, and Naomi Hummel, a fabulous dancer & aerialist. They’ll be sharing their adventures over at their new blog. Read their first post here:
First week in Italy
Hello friends! We have survived our first week at the Art Monastery, and boy, has it been an adventure.
Where to start…
First, our home. We had seen a few pictures prior to our arrival, but nothing could have prepared us for this. We are out in the middle of beautiful nowhere in the mountain village of Labro, which was founded around 900 AD and strongly resembles Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings movies. We live across the valley from this medieval wonderland in the Colle di Costa, a 14th-century monastery that has been partially converted into a hotel. Most of the original structure and adjacent church have been preserved, and the contemporary additions give the place a very cool feel. The modern additions include conference rooms, a restaurant and a small theater that has housed most of our creative endeavors. It’s so quiet that the neighborhood birds form a thunderous morning chorus, and the view from the belltower is breathtaking.
Our days begin at 8:00 AM with a chilly jog across the valley to Labro, where Naomi leads the assembled Artmonks in a rigorous physical training regimen. Such things are far less common in Italy and the locals who have wandered by regard us with a mixture of confusion and amusement. We then retire to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, which in Italy means coffee, juice, cake and six kinds of cookies. Not just tea biscuits, mind you, but cookies specifically designed and advertised for breakfast consumption. Needless to say, this is a little challenging for a health-conscious vegetarian/gluten intolerant pair like ourselves, but we’ve found some delicious ways around this little hitch. Lunch is at 1:00, followed by individual training and projects until dinner at 8:00. After dinner we gather in the monastery’s church to do a compline service, a twenty-minute segment of Gregorian chant and meditation that winds us down at the close of the day. The rest of our schedule will be in flux for the rest of the summer, but here’s a brief overview of our recent activities
For the last week we have spent our mornings doing a Gregorian chant intensive and are now in full-on Artmonk mode. Our instructor is a jolly old Belgian man named Eugeen (pronounced OY-gen), who we simply refer to as “The Boss.” He has been studying Gregorian chant for over twenty years and is a very knowledgeable (albeit demanding) authority on this esoteric subject. Despite the fact that this music is sung in unison over a range of less than an octave, it turns out that Gregorian chant is very hard to do. It is even harder to learn, as it is written using an archaic notation system that implies no meter and delineates a variety of almost-imperceptibly different dynamics and articulations using one of about twenty kinds of squiggles. Virtually every rule has multiple contextual exceptions, melody lines change without notation or textual warning and most melodies must be constantly modified to fit lyrics which never repeat and are written independently from the actual music. Did we mention that this is all done in Latin?
We’ve also done several performances for the folks of Labro, including a grand debut/presentation of the Art Monastery Project to the community. Andrew melted faces with beatboxing, jazz and a straitjacket escape, while Naomi blew Italian minds with a smoking aerial silks act and several sultry vocal numbers.
We’ve done several Gregorian chant performances this weekend. One was performed with an actual Bishop (!) in the beautiful town of Orvieto. If you are not aware (We weren’t), Orvieto is the home of a beautiful cathedral, the Duomo, that was built to house the bloody altar cloth miracle thingie of Corpus Christie (something something Christian important something…) and has a stunningly ornate exterior. We didn’t go inside cause it cost three Euros. But we strolled around the lovely, if very touristy town, tried four different flavors of gelato, and threw a paper airplane off a cliff.
This next week brings us an experimental music project in which we will start to pull apart our chant work and reassemble it to produce a number of new pieces. With luck we’ll have some recordings to play for you shortly, so stay posted!
~Naomi & Andrew