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June 2, 2009
The Florence Voice Seminar is here. Music fills every nook and cranny of the church during their three-week residency: in the sancuary and the undercroft, even outside in the garden, students work on arias and duets, practice blocking, fill the air with the strange sounds of their vocal warmups.

Two other young opera singers are here as well, from Juilliard, a mezzo soprano and a bass baritone. A tenor appeared this morning. They're all studying Italian, so that they might better speak the beautiful language they already sing. I cannot encourage them enough in this; I did a wedding the other day in German, a language I sing but do not speak, and it was touch and go the whole time, although the families were kind enough to pretend that it was fine.

I think two of the organ grinders will be back next week. They pop in now and then to help the new organ settle into its new home. We just sent the last two organists from the inaugural concert back to New York a few days ago.

Three concerts and an opera this week, plus an early evening sampling for young children of the funniest scenes from Il Barbiere di Siviglia -- billed as a pajama party. They will come in their pajamas, have a snack and watch the scenes, then go to sleep (one can always hope) in the care of the teenagers while their parents watch the whole opera. It might work. It can't hurt, anyway.

All in all, this is not a place for people who need a lot of quiet.

But I cannot complain. Much of the noise is noise that I have caused, or at least allowed. I have thought it a delight to welcome artists here, to use this place to encourage what the city of Florence has always encouraged: people creating beauty. And it has been that, a thorough delight. There's just a lot of laundry.

How art enobles! And how delighted artists are in each other! How appreciative of good stuff, and, at their best, how willing to let beginners be beginners. They have journeyed to this city for centuries, to teach and to learn, to create. Human beings fully using the gifts God gave them are embodied signs of God's presence in the world, and this is true no matter how secular the art form.

We sit at the breakfast table and an unlovely squeak emerges from a young throat across the driveway. I wince a bit, and one of my young friends from Juilliard, where you don't go unless you're already very good at what you do, smiles gently. We all have to start somewhere, he tells me.

The Florence Voice Seminar is a program of Westminster Choir College and Rider University. It meets at St. James in late May and early June each year. To learn more, visit
Second Looks at Favorite Books meets this Friday at 6:30 in the rectory to consider Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Richard Quaintance has copies; email him at
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