Basilica of Sts. John and Paul: Perform in the ancient, Italian basilica as part of its timeless history

February 22, 2018 Ward Dilmore

Venturing to Venice with your ensemble? Here’s a question you can pose to your members that will bring a transformational spirit to your visit: What will you do in your lifetime that will last for centuries? The Basilica of Sts. John and Paul will open a portal to a path that leads to an answer.

The Basilica in Venice is more than a magnificent performance venue. It is an allegory wrapped in the rich history of that famous seaport. Grandfathers labored to create its foundation in 1234, their sons toiled every day of their working life to build the 153’ walls, grandsons completed the roof, great-grandsons finished the interior.

A swift completion was never contemplated. Time has always passed at the speed of Life, but for Venetian craftsmen, time meant nothing. Timelessness meant everything. (The ancient 24-hour clock in the chapel has but one hand– the hour hand). Grandfathers who began the structure never saw the basilica’s completion.

Love and devotion endure forever. These were the two main characters in each respective chapter in the building of the church. In the end, the Basilica of Sts. John and Paul is an evolving cascade of skilled craftsmen’s adoration for their city and their faith. Hundreds of years later, millions have paid homage to their dedication.

Entering through the front doors is a breathtaking moment. The basilica’s marble floors and walls contain 25 burial places of Venice’s doges. Its columns are so massive, it takes eight to ten people to wrap arms around them. Smaller chapels extend from the sides of the church, adorned with paintings and frescoes of famous Italian artists and sculptors. The blue-lighted alter is such an immense structure, a 100-piece ensemble is dwarfed by its towering majesty.

The acoustics are a challenge to any ensemble. If you as a director wish to present a lesson in trust, Sts. John and Paul provides the opportunity. Several seconds after the final note is sounded, the reverberations return back to the front of the church filled with a glorious new sound: your spirit harmonized with the voices of nine centuries. 

In order to immerse your ensemble in the history lessons, its walls have protected for centuries, plan for at least two hours in the Basilica before your performance. Ensembles are always intrigued by the paintings of Titian and Tintoretto, and the Chapel of St. Dominic featuring a stunning masterpiece by Piazzetta. In addition to the immense tombs of the doges, the tomb of Bragadin contains the Venetian general’s skin, floating in olive oil. In 1571, he was skinned-alive by the Turks in one of the many battles fought by the armies of Venice through the centuries. Venice is a city of treasures staunchly defended by mighty warriors.

What will you do in this lifetime that will last for centuries? The future is a present from the past. The seeds of love and devotion that we plant today will be the first to last. Today is soon tomorrow’s yesterday, so there’s no better moment to remind ourselves: we can only take a step forward after we step back to remember from whence we came. The Basilica of Sts. John and Paul in Venice provides you with the perfect starting point.

Your performance will add to the enduring story of the Basilica, and you will be warmly received by the locals who will congregate after the performance in the cafes surrounding the equestrian statue of Colleoni outside the church. And here you will realize that you have created a moment that will last: while the residents raise their glasses and shout “bravissimo” as you exit the church, your ensemble members will turn to you and implore you to prepare them for another encore.

And you will have created a story that will be told by generations in the future. 



About the Author

Ward Dilmore

Ward Dilmore is a recently retired music teacher from Wilmington High School, MA where he grew his string orchestra from 12 students to over 450, in large part due to his incorporation of foreign travel into the program. Ward initially traveled with other companies, but once he found Encore, he never looked back. He has taken his ‘Strings Attached’ orchestra overseas with Encore 7 times, in total taking over 1,200 students abroad during his years at Wilmington.

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