Dane Johansen's Walk to Fisterra: Part II

Cellist Dane Johansen performs Bach at the church of San Martín de Fromista

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Yesterday I sat with my cello in the nave of San Martín de Fromista in Palencia, Spain (above). Located in the middle of an otherwise empty town square, this 11th-century church is one of the purest examples of Spanish Romanesque architecture along the Camino. Plants and human figures are carved into the capitals of the columns supporting many delicate arches. Each arch seems to be in perfect proportional harmony with all the others and the simple interior lends a feeling of quiet serenity (see below). I had been recording there for several hours, and had watched the light move across the ancient stone, worn soft and smooth by the passing of time.

I have been hiking the Camino de Santiago through Spain for two weeks now, performing Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello every night in ancient churches along the pilgrimage route. Every church I play in is unique, not only visually and stylistically, but acoustically as well. The acoustics in San Martín de Fromista were the most resonant I’ve encountered so far. As in any location, I had to adapt my playing of Bach’s music to suit the church. Sound reverberated in the space for about five seconds, so I had to slow down my tempi and breath as much space and time into the music as possible.

Many fellow pilgrims come night after night to hear Bach’s music in the beautiful churches and San Martín seemed to be a favorite. People expressed feelings of peace in the space and many remarked on the church’s simplicity and the luscious acoustics. One pilgrim expressed how wonderful it was to hear the harmonies bleeding together as a result of the resonance.

While walking today, I wondered if Bach ever heard his Cello Suites performed in a space resonant enough to produce vertical harmony from the linear harmony he composed. I feel there must have been such a space in Köthen, Germany, where he composed the solo cello and violin works.

Though the performances have been successful, the trip is not without challenges. Walking 20-30 kilometres (12-18 miles) every day is no easy feat; each time I arrive in a new town my feet and legs are aching from overuse. Producing a film and recording is a full time job and managing my team of eight is teaching me to anticipate and solve problems and to manage interpersonal dynamics. Choosing to perform concerts every night of this six-week journey makes for an incredible experience, but one that allows little time alone with my instrument. I came to Spain understanding the weather would be quite warm and thinking I could practice outside in the shade. But on the contrary: it has been very cold here which not only limits my ability to practice, but makes performing extremely difficult. The journey continues and thankfully the weather is warming. My cello is drying out and responding more quickly and the churches should start warming up too.

Today I will walk 39 kilometres (24 miles) to Sahagún de Campos. After such a long day on the trail it will be wonderful to disappear into Bach's music and forget about my sore feet.

- Dane Johansen

Visit: www.walktofisterra.com for more information about Dane's journey

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