I am thinking of a moment in Rome, a warm evening in the spring of 1998, twenty years ago, but at the time it was utterly Now. The choir of the Church of Christ the King, Frankfurt am Main, was in Rome to sing at the church of Maria Maggiore. We were great singers and great friends, directed by the best singer and dearest friend of all, Kathleen Blackwell Berthold Bird. We sat together at an open air restaurant on a cobblestone piazza as darkness crept across the sky. Under enormous yellow umbrellas fading to grey, around candles flickering in amber glass, we reveled in the perfect weather, the food and wine of Rome, our musical power, and each other’s company. And our youth, although we didn’t know that at the time.
The piazza in front of that round building, dammit, what’s its name? It’s famous as hell. The Colosseum? No, not that round building, the other one; It begins with a P. Parthenon? No, that’s Athens. Come on, it’s in all the art history books, the one with the oculus, a coffered ceiling, bread and circuses. Perineum? Definitely not. Finally I give up and google “that round building in Rome with the oculus.” Of course, the Pantheon. Rectangular vestibule. Getting old is frustrating. Or was it always like this?
We speculated on the meaning of the initials SPQR we saw on every antiquity and utility casting. Stop Poking Queasy Rabbits. Stuffed Prawns Quiver Rarely. Some People are Quite Revolting. It was before everyone carried an encyclopedia in her, his, their, its or zir pocket. Finally we asked our handsome and hardworking waiter waiter. Sono porci, questi romani!” he told us. (“They are pigs, these Romans!”)
Ha, we are musicians, singers, we know Latin and Italian, we are not tourists who will fall for such faradiddle! He gets a big laugh. No really, we want to know, we tell him, and he tells us about the Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and People of Rome. To show our appreciation, and to show our power, and for the sheer pleasure and delight of it, we sing for him. If Ye Love Me. Our voices twine and blend and rise, as we sing the notes written five hundred years ago, the words almost two thousand years old, nearly as old as the SPQR itself. The perfect sound fills the dusk and hangs, suspended, vibrating, eternal, in the night sky.