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A Summer Solstice To Remember

June 22, 2009

After performing amazing music by the Milanese Benedictine nun
Sister Chiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c1678) with my early music vocal ensemble, San Francisco Renaissance Voices, in Berkeley yesterday afternoon, I toddled off in the sunshine to the Julia Morgan-designed Chapel of the Chimes columbarium in Oakland to experience a musical event which I will not forget in a hurry.

Organized by the innovative Berkeley-based concert pianist and radio broadcaster Sarah Cahill, the Garden of Memory is a yearly event which invites members of the public to stroll through the crazy-beautiful maze of Morgan's home for human ashes and happen upon dozens of miniature live concerts by contemporary musicians and composers of all stripes.

I spent a few happy hours listening and wandering around and could have stayed all night, had the event gone on past 9 pm.

Though I relished the the performances by the likes of Kitka, The Paul Dresher Ensemble, Amy X Neuberg, Pamela Z and Cahill that I made an actual bee-line to hear and see, one of the most enchanting aspects of Garden of Memory is the opportunity the event affords to chance upon music rather than plan to hear it.

The map provided by the event's organizer's is fairly useless, which in a way is a good thing. At first, I tried to make my way to specific rooms in the Chapel. But then I gave up trying to read the tiny writing on the map, stuck it in my back pocket and took off in a random direction to see what I could find.

Many rooms in the columbarium offered up sonic surprises. In one space, a clarinet quartet played long, throbbing notes while a guy sitting in the back with a doctored trumpet attached with two very long tubes that snaked all the way around the room made voluminous honking noises. The sound was as eerie as it was captivating. Elsewhere, a group of studious-looking individuals dressed in black sawed and scraped an electronic wire using bits of bone and other implements. In a third enclave, a solo guitarist created a luxuriously ambient soundscape.

At one point towards the end of the evening, I found a little nook overlooking one of the Chapel's many cloisters and parked myself down on a chair. I sat there for about 10 minutes resting and listening. As the sounds of footsteps and quiet conversation mingled with with spiraling music coming at me from all sides, I felt a sense of complete and utter happiness.

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