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Blinkers off ! (Musica Sacra 2006 threatened)

Marktoberdorf is on the cultural world map. The fame of its Music Festivals and Choral Music Competitions has spread far and wide. Musical Pointers heard about these events long before ever attempting a visit to Allgäu. Musica Sacra International has since 1992 been renowned as a unique contribution to international understanding (see Musica Sacra International 2004).

This year we have been reminded again of the first rate standards of music making at this small German town, and of the superlative choral festival/competition organisation, headed by Dolf Rabus of the Bavarian Music Academy, Marktoberdorf, as director and leader of a very experienced and friendly team. A loyal volunteer force plays an essential part in assuring happy experiences for musical visitors to East Allgau. It is quite remarkable how many local householders receive people from foreign lands and cultures into their midsts, hosting them in their own houses.

Needless to say, the ripples of such highly regarded cultural events spread far beyond the local, social and the spiritual into economic benefits. Marktoberdorf has not only imported music making of the highest order but exported its good name and fame, and thereby the region's too, across the world.

In an important sense this applies particularly to the bi-annual Musica Sacra International Festival, devoted to music-making with a religious-spiritual emphasis from different cultures, an innovation of Dolf Rabus. Musica Sacra is unique and as remarkable as it is to come across the myriad historic Bavarian churches around Marktoberdorf, real architectural jewels dotted around the countryside in this part of Southern Germany.

Shared experiences in the area's most sacred spaces, with the support of local clergy since its inception, has proved truly inspirational for those fortunate enough to be present. The individual and communal threads which have been woven across the world through and within these encounters have transmitted immeasurable and lasting benefits.

It therefore comes as a shock to learn that blinkered visions are now threatening to withdraw the life-blood from Musica Sacra, one of Marktoberdorf's twin-brothers, by denying access to the churches for non judeo-christian performing groups, the central focus of this acclaimed festival. The diocesian administration at Augsburg has deemed it impermissible that, for example, Buddhist temple dance and Hindu or Islamic ritual should continue to be seen in their churches.

This child of our time is thereby at risk of diminution tantamount to destruction in 2006 on very questionable religious grounds. It would be a grave loss to make the exquisite gems of local churches forbidden territory, even refusing access to Marktoberdorf's home church next to the Music Academy for the traditional closing event at which all participants in Musica Sacra International have always performed together. Daring to share our sacred spaces (the writer comes from a not dissimilar Swiss Catholic background) does not detract from the numinosity of these places. On the contrary, it could be seen to fulfill the needs of human beings across cultures to respectfully step back into special, holy, spaces for reflection, as well as celebration. At this time, in a world of globalisation, strife and international tensions, there is a need to foster caring and sharing, and to counter the seeds of exclusionism which could so easily strangle the few very special, but still vulnerable, flowers such as Musica Sacra has sewn.

This colourful oasis in the midst of economic, social and political difficulties must be preserved as a beacon of light which by now has spread across the globe. We would all be the poorer if it were dimmed.

A vigorous rebuttal to the Bishopric administration's contentions has been mounted, with a petition in the form of an open letter for public signature (mailto:roth-pr@web.de).

Let generosity, good sense and good luck prevail. Musica Sacra, together with the Choral Competition and their visionary and dedicated organisers, deserves nothing less. If Musica Sacra 2006 goes ahead next Spring as planned, whatever your religion (or none) try to be there !

Alexa Woolf



© Peter Grahame Woolf