WHERE THE MUSIC IS MAGIC
For some of the most beautiful choir singing you are likely to hear anywhere, visit Montserrat, the Benedictine Monastery 50 km northwest of Barcelona.
Here, in the13th century, the first boys’ choir in Europe – the Escolania – was established. Today their successors, fifty boys, aged 10-14, live at the monastery where they receive their education and sing in the Basilica before immense crowds.
When I visited Montserrat, the church was packed with people waiting for 1pm when the choir would sing the Salve and the Virolai. The Escolania, in their white surplices, filed in promptly and the congregation listened to the Latin Salve in hushed reverence. Then came the Virolai, a hymn in Catalan by the 19th century poet, Verdaguer, in praise of Catalonia’s patron saint, the Virgin of Montserrat. After the first few bars, people began to join in. Before long, most of the congregation was singing in unison with the choir. To this outsider, it sounded very stirring. In fact, less a hymn, more a national anthem.
Montserrat is a popular coach excursion, but come by train or bus if you want time for a walk on the mountain – for example, to the grotto where the statue of the Black Virgin, now enshrined over the Cathedral’s altar, was discovered in the year 880. There are restaurants and shops in Montserrat, so it’s easy to make a day of it.
The Escolania sings at 13:00h and 18:45. Sunday at 13:00 only and not at all in July, Christmas holidays and a few days when they may be performing elsewhere.
For up-to-date information, or for opening hours of the Basilica and grotto (which vary with the season) Tel: 93 877 77 01. Or visit www.escolania.cat