Sunday, November 12
Wellington Street Theatre
Spiritual peaks were scaled in downtown
Kingston this past Sunday. An evening at the Wellington Theatre
set the stage
for a musical and visual journey along the El Camino, or “the
way”. This legendary pilgrimage traces a route across the
southern hills of France into the mountains and plains of Spain.
For almost a thousand years people have followed this well worn
path of religious pilgrimage; today many of the hikers are artists,
photographers, long distance walkers whose motivation for undertaking
the journey varies from the spiritual to the physical. Travelers
set out from any one of four starting points in France: Tours, Velezay,
Le Puy and Arles, to reach the “Town of the Apostle”,
where it is believed the remains of the first Christian martyr,
St James the Apostle lay at rest.
In May of 2004 Oliver Schroer , a Canadian violinist and composer,
along with his friend Peter Coffman who is an Assistant Professor
in the Department of Art at Queen’s University, and their
wives Elena and Diane, walked the 800 kilometre length of El Camino.
In addition to his backpack where every ounce counted, Schroer carried
a portable sound recording studio and his violin. “I carried
my violin like a wooden chalice, like my own precious relic”.
He played his instrument in ancient sanctuaries ranging from small
rural churches to massive Romanesque cathedrals and recorded each
Schroer walked onto the stage and launched into a performance
of the “Ultreia”, while images of the pilgrimage were
projected onto a screen behind him. We were on our way forward.
His five string acoustic fiddle, a combination of violin and viola,
resonated through the hall. The music echoed off the four walls
of the building and one could visualize standing inside the nave
of a great Romanesque cathedral. The lush and haunting melodies
were enhanced with a background of stark black and white photographs.
Coffman’s superb images added a dramatic element to the performance.
The effect of music and visuals was hypnotic. We were transfixed.
Schroer regaled the audience with stories of the many strange
and marvelous encounters with innkeepers, locals and fellow pilgrims
along the way. Nearing the end of his journey, he suffered a sprained
foot, yet managed to complete the journey and celebrate the “Pilgrim’s
Mass” in the cathedral of Santiago. At one point during his
recollections of the journey, he asked how many in the audience
had traveled “El Camino” and several hands shot up from
the crowd. One can only imagine the spiritual elation which many
of these individuals must have experienced in response to the music
and the images of familiar landmarks portrayed on the screen. To
re-live a journey so eloquently portrayed, must have revived a deep
bond with pilgrims dating back to the 12th century.
Schroer’s playing reminded me of a performance I attended
over thirty years ago when I was a student at Leuven University
in Belgium. A young student was playing Bach partitas for solo violin
in the Cathedral of Our Lady. The notes rose high into the ceiling
overhead and floated for a short time before dissipating. Oliver
Schroer took me back to the music of a time I had long forgotten.
For many of those in the audience, Schroer conveyed the conviction
through the unique style of his performance that “we walk
together, but from our first step to the last cobblestone, for each
of us, the Camino is our own”.
His CD, aptly titled “Camino” is an exquisitely designed
recording of his physical and spiritual journey along the pilgrim’s
path. It echoes with the sounds of tapping footsteps marching along
the pilgrim’s route, the sudden peeling of church bells, the
clanging of cow bells, and the subdued conversations of pilgrims.
Oliver Schroer will return to Kingston in May of 2007. For many
of us in the audience, I can guarantee that we will all welcome
his return. Once again we will re-live the experience of traveling
the pilgrim’s route to the field of stars, in Santiago de
by Wayne Smith
Wayne Smith is a graduate of Queen’s University and University
of Leuven with degrees in Philosophy. He works at Queen’s
and hosts a monthly series of writer’s workshops for Kingston
authors. One of his major goals in life is to walk the Camino.