May 23, 2011

Santiago de Compostela, Spain. October, 2009

I am always charmed by the music I hear when I travel. A vacation’s enhanced soundtrack. Whether it’s a Mozart symphony in Barcelona’s breathtaking moderniste Palau de la Música Catalana, the Bolshoi Ballet’s Swan Lake at London’s Royal Opera House or a plaintive singer heard while passing a fado house in Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood, somehow it all sounds more exciting when I’m somewhere other than home. (Often I can find recordings to bring back the memories after I’ve returned, but that doesn’t always work. Flamenco, fado, yes. But the wonderful group of Turkish youths who were playing traditional Anatolian instruments in the street on a warm Istanbul night were so much more captivating than several recordings I later found. The student brass quintet at Montreal’s McGill University much more interesting than any CD to be had.) One night while walking through the medieval town of Santiago de Compostela, we heard what sounded like bagpipes. And that’s exactly what it was, a Galician version of this Celtic instrument (not my favorite) that has thrived for centuries in this northwest corner of Atlantic Spain. Much more lovely was the music from this student performer that echoed and resonated through the stone passageways of this pilgrim town as he plucked and coaxed it out of his reverberating harp. A beautiful warm night made all the more magical by the evocative power of music.

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