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Dixon Plays Organ at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice during Easter Service
05/10/2002

Dr. Joan DeVee Dixon, an associate professor of music at Frostburg State University and former church musician, received an unusual Easter gift this year. While visiting Venice with her mother during Holy Week this past March, Dixon had the opportunity to play the Prelude and Postlude for Easter Mass at St. Mark's Cathedral.

Dixon was drawn to St. Mark's by her love of organ and brass works by the renowned Renaissance composers Andrea Gabrieli and his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli, who developed a distinctive antiphonal style that made use of the Cathedral's spacious interior.

"As much as anywhere, St. Mark's was one place where art and architecture and music have come together and influenced each other, " Dixon said, noting that some of the Cathedral's mosaics follow choral liturgy. Also piquing her interest was what she called "grand descriptions of the music during Holy Week at San Marco's Cathedral."

The timing was perfect; this year, FSU's spring break just happened to coincide with Holy Week. Dixon's colleague, Dr. Jon Bauman, was on sabbatical from FSU in nearby Adria, where he was teaching at the Stadt Conservatorio di Musica. The weather cooperated with plentiful sunshine to illuminate the charm and grandeur of this city of canals and narrow streets that once dominated the Mediterranean region as a republic.

Dixon credits Bauman for this small miracle. While visiting him in Adria, she mentioned that she hoped to meet the organist at St. Mark's. Through Bauman's Italian connections, Dixon was able to set up a meeting with Robert Micconi, the Cathedral's Maestro di Capella.

The first thing Micconi told Dixon was, "It is not possible to play the organ," in reverence to a tradition that all vocal music is performed acappella from after Maundy Thursday services until the Easter vigil late Saturday night. As a church organist, she was aware of this tradition.

As a thank-you gift to Micconi for meeting with her, Dixon gave him compact discs of her recordings of sacred music composed by Emma Lou Diemer. She had discovered that most European organists hadn't heard works for organ by American composers.

Micconi then treated Dixon and her mother to a grand tour of St. Mark's, including areas off-limits to the general public. He took them outside and around a passageway behind the Cathedral, and said, "These are the same steps that Monteverdi and Gabrieli used when they came to play." They saw the original organ doors, created in 1464 by Giovanni Bellini, and the Sacristy door with a picture of an organ in inlaid wood that was made in 1550. Micconi also showed them the original organs of 1766 and 1720.

On Easter Sunday, Dixon and her mother were invited to sit in the left balcony above the golden altar. While they stood with Micconi before the service, he looked at Dixon and suddenly said, "Okay, play."

"I didn't turn him down," Dixon said, adding that she just happened to have her organ shoes handy. So she improvised a Prelude. Apparently, Micconi was impressed; he asked her to play the Postlude as well.

Dixon left Venice with more than a thrilling memory. While visiting Bauman, she met the Conservatory's director, also an organist. The result was a commitment to an exchange of concerts, in which Dixon would perform at organ festivals in Italy and he would perform in the United States. She also arranged to maintain contact with her new friend, Signor Micconi.

Her sentiments regarding her Holy Week pilgrimage to Venice can probably be best expressed by the beginning of her post-return email to friends: "I had an AWESOME trip to Venice for Holy Week!"

For further information on this release, contact:

Office of News and Media Services
Frostburg State University
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Frostburg, MD  21532-2303

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E-mail: news@frostburg.edu