Saturday, June 9, 2007

Museums, Memorials and Monks

Well the morning began earlier than anticipated for some of us as we heard a loud thunderclap around 4:18 am. Most of the boys slept through it, but a few seemed to think it was a wakeup call. After a continental breakfast at the hotel we headed for the city museum.

The city museum is an abandoned shoe warehouse, which was housed in a 35,000 sq ft space opened in 1997. An eccentric millionaire and his consortium bought the space and converted it into a giant exploring space. The old shoe chutes have been converted into a 4-story slide, which winds down the center of the building. You approach it through a faux cave area known as the enchanted caverns. These are winding passages with stalactites and stalagmites with ramps and caverns, slides and side passages leading up and around three stories. If you tire of that you can go outside to Monstro-city. This is a giant wrought iron enclosed monkey gym for adults and kids alike. Chaperones and adults could be found crawling in a metal tube, climbing up to several airplanes and vehicles suspended at different ends of the structure and in the middle was a giant ball pit. One of the boys called it Chuck E Cheeses’ for teenagers. I’m sure all of our muscles will feel it tomorrow. You could also browse the aquarium, examine posters from classic operas, walk through the vault and run and jump in the skate less skate park where you can use your feet to skid around on giant skateboard park with jumps and rope swings on the inclined ramps. Needless to say we had a full morning and everyone was hungry for lunch at the museum at Samiches.

We then made our way to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. You may better know this as the Gateway Arch. When Jefferson bought the Louisiana territory from the French, the furthest point west was a trading community on the Mississippi named St. Louis. This was named the capital for the Upper Louisiana Territory. This became the last civilization many travelers had as they headed up the Santa Fe Trail or along the Missouri river to settle the lands west of the Mississippi. In 1948 the city of St. Louis wanted to commemorate this time in our nation’s history. So they had a Finnish Architect Eero Seerinen to come up with a design. In many ways the simplistic nature of the arch belies its majesty. Rising 630 feet (192 m) from the shores of the Mississippi River, this now lies as the anchor of a large park, which includes the old courthouse. We had to go through security, and then lined up at 5 person trams, which took us up to the top. There we had a picture perfect day to view the city of St. Louis. After a brief stop in the gift shop we headed back to the hotel to rest for our evening’s performance.

Our venue for the evening was at the St. Louis Abbey. It goes by many names because it includes a Monastery, School and the Parish. The Benedictine Monastery can house up to 35 monks at a time (they house 30 right now). Fr. Gregory said they have room and are looking for a few good men. The second floor is restricted to the monks, and no talking is allowed. They are only allowed to talk at certain times during the day, the evening being one of them and pray seven times during the day. A local businessman, John Walsh, generously provided dinner for all of us. Mr. Walsh is a close friend of Christine Gustafson, who met us there to help with dinner. After dinner and rehearsal, we were given a brief tour of the monastery. The church itself has a very unique design. It consists of two sets of thin parabolic shells, set in 20 identical bays tapering toward the center of a circular plan. It makes for a theatre in the round setting with the altar in the middle representing God as the center of their lives. The main difference between this church from many other Catholic churches is the seating for the monks behind the altar. The result is not only a visually stunning space, but also an auditory masterpiece of a venue. The boys, despite the heat, managed to create a well-received concert and a particularly haunting rendition of, ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’. Because of the sound of the air conditioning, it was turned off for the performance, so in the second half the blazers were discarded for the first time in recent memory. They also had sparse lighting available, so Chattanooga Choo Choo was performed essentially in the dark. But the boys managed the choreography without incident. After the concert concluded, we sold over 30 CDs and we owe much of it to the excellent PR provided to us by Dr. Zahorski who had placed ads in the local paper and in the church bulletin. We hope all the concerts are as well attended. After the concert, most of the boys collapsed into their beds.