The Sound of Music

While Freiburg isn’t quite the same as the Austrian alps, and though you’re not very likely to see dirndls here, the streets of Freiburg are frequently “alive” with music. Whether it’s the bells of the Munster, the burbling of the Bächle, or street performers, Downtown Freiburg is quite a musical place.

Children watch in rapt attention as this street musician controls an electronic band of stuffed animals on the main street of Freiburg.

I’ve been involved with music ensembles constantly since the 5th grade, so it made sense to try to continue this in Germany. I couldn’t bring my violin with me this semester, so I decided to find a choir in Freiburg.

During my first couple of weeks here, I identified a few possible choirs and eventually had found three that I might like to try out, but I didn’t know how to decide. That weekend, I went to church at the Munster and heard the Freiburg Cathedral Boy’s Choir singing, and they were fantastic! My only problem then was that I’m not a prepubescent boy. After some online investigation, though, I found out that there’s four choirs at the Munster, two of which are for adults, and I emailed the director- and he was very quick to reply with an invitation to join!

This building on the town square used to be where the bishops lived, but now it’s the Cathedral Vocal School. We rehearse on the second floor. The flags are there in honor of the bishop’s ordination- the Munster and many other buildings around the city were also flying banners for the occasion!

The choir I joined is one of the smaller choirs that sings at the Cathedral, but it still has about 25 members, who range from my age to retirees. The music we sing is fairly rigorous classical pieces, in Latin, German, or sometimes English! I always find it a little jarring when the Germans here suddenly start speaking perfectly competent English, because I’m so used to them speaking German.

The services at the Freiburger Munster can be pretty big deals, and I joined the choir just in time to sing for Maundy Thursday! This is one of the biggest holy days of the year, because it kicks off the Triduum (the three days leading up to Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead). A couple weeks after Easter, I got to sing for the ordination of a new bishop as well, Bishop Peter Birkhofer. These were both completely unique experiences than I’ve ever had back home, and I’m glad I got to participate in the choir instead of just watching from the pews. The bishop’s ordination was recorded and posted to YouTube, and the video can be found here. In the coming weeks, the choir is singing for the ordination of new priests, the Feast of the Ascension, vespers on Pentecost, and a concert.

This is the bulletin from the Ordination for the new bishop of Freiburg.

After we do anything as a group, be it rehearsal, singing for a service, or performing at a concert, we all hang out in the Vocal School’s kitchen for snacks, drinks, and socialization after. Through this, I’ve gotten to know the other members of the choir fairly well. Everyone’s really nice and friendly, and it’s nice to be able to get away from my little “IES bubble” of other American exchange students. It’s very easy to only spend time with the other IES students, but that’s not the way to get the most immersive study abroad experience.

After the Bishop’s ordination, there was a huge garden party in the courtyard of the seminary, and I attended it with other choir members. For the new bishop, this ordination is somewhat analogous to a wedding (as is any ordination), but it’s the church community who’s the “bride” in this case- so we were all invited to the reception! There were tons of drinks, finger foods, and schnitzel sandwiches, which I was very glad to see as I’d been busy with the choir for about four hours at that point and had developed an appetite!

At the reception after the Bishop’s ordination were song and dance exhibitions, in which these women participated.
The folks in the long white robes are members of the choir heading into the Munster to sing!

Click here to hear a short clip of the choir Agnus Dei Choral. I took this video during our rehearsal prior to the Bishop’s Ordination. The piece is “Mass in G-Minor Op. 76” by Carl Maria von Weber.

Through my involvement in the choir, I’ve gotten to really meet people in the community here, as well as practice my German. I was quite excited the other day when as I was walking to class in the morning, a woman from the choir happened to ride her bike past and greet me by name. It’s nice to feel like I’m starting to integrate a bit as a resident of Freiburg, and I get to do something that I love while I’m at it!

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