Halloween in the Swiss Alps

A not-so-scary story about pumpkins, opera singers and church history.

Meet Brünnhilde, the operatic jack-o-lantern! I put Brünnhilde on my doorstep last October and she was a very successful singing pumpkin. She could even sing “Ho-jo-to-ho!” with a candle in her mouth. I almost sent her on her own European audition tour! 😉

Holidays are fun. When I lived at International House in New York City, we made a point of celebrating every holiday in the world.  This was not an attempt to be hyperpolitical or pantheistic, but just to truly appreciate every unique culture… and to make sure that life is a constant party!

So I hope you’re having a happy Halloween. But I just have to ask: has anyone wished you a Happy Reformation Day today?  Because 494 years ago today, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. And soon afterward, Huldrych Zwingli  began working on the first German translation of the Bible in Zürich. These guys were radical Protestants.

As the daughter of a church historian, I have a special place in my heart for these cool historical details.  I can’t stroll through Zürich without thinking about all the other people who have walked on the same cobblestones — not only great composers like Honegger and Wagner, but also great theologians like Zwingli and Bullinger.

So when I was invited to sing at the International Protestant Church of Zürich on Reformation Sunday, in the very church where Bullinger and the Huguenots worshipped, I was pretty stoked. I bought a train ticket and embarked on a “Reformation Road Trip” to Zürich!

Watch a short clip of me singing Gabriel Fauré’s Pie Jesu in the église reformée française in Zürich on October 30, 2011:

Of course, knowing too much about church history can make things awkward for a soprano.  You see, Zwingli did not actually approve of having musical instruments in worship!  He was an excellent musician himself, but he did not feel that it was appropriate in church.  I disagree with Zwingli on that one (and so did Luther!) but I do admire the bold, exciting way that he loved Christ. So that’s what I tried to convey in my singing, even though we broke some of Zwingli’s rules by using that gorgeous organ. Since Huldrych was a bit of a rule-breaker himself, I hope he’ll understand. I returned home to Salzburg feeling very grateful that I’d had an opportunity to sing there.

Protestants aren’t the only ones who are celebrating this week. There are some beautiful Catholic holidays coming up.  In Austria, we will celebrate All Saint’s Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2).  Hermann von Gilm wrote a marvelous poem about All Souls’ Day (“Allerseelen”), set to music by Richard Strauss.

So that’s my Halloween update from the Alps. I wish you a happy holiday. Just remember to watch out for singing pumpkins in pigtails. Auf Wiedersehen!

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