HOHENFELS, Germany -- Hohenfels Military Community members James and Patricia Hannon joined in the 300th birthday celebration of German composer Christoph Willibald Gluck, recently, as part of an orchestra performing a selection of his works in his hometown of Erasbach, only 26 miles from Hohenfels.
Gluck was one of the most important opera composers of the Classical music era, and his 'radical' reforms, including his most well-known opera, "Orfeo ed Euridice," are considered a turning point in the history of the medium. His work has remained in the operatic repertoire for nearly 300 years and he influenced many later artists, including Mozart.
"I remember the first time we visited Berching, we saw a statue of Gluck and we were like, 'hey here's where Gluck was born, we learned about him in grad school,'" laughed James. "I certainly never expected two years later I'd be playing in the church where he was baptized."
The Hannons have been involved with the Parsberg Chamber Orchestra for roughly two years, and it was contacts within that group that provided the opportunity for the Erasbach concert.
"This was a pick-up gig," Patricia explained. "This orchestra was brought together specifically for this concert. We'd never played together before the first rehearsal."
Patricia played cello, in which she has a master's degree, while James played first violin and served as concert master, the second most significant person in an orchestra after the conductor.
"Basically, it's musical leadership from within the ranks," said Patricia. "(James) also did the bowings for all the string instruments including the cello and base."
James holds three degrees in music, including a doctorate in conducting. He has taught in the U.S., France and Sweden, and has played in orchestras all over Europe.
"I did not come from a musical family," James said. "I started out in public school fourth grade strings."
At 17, James was selected to be part of a monthlong tour through Europe where they played in Brussels, Paris and multiple other cities.
"I was hooked after that," he said.
The following year, two local good Samaritans pitched in for a gift that would make a lasting impression on the young musician - a superb violin, crafted in 1740.
"It's a little piece of history that goes with me each time I play," said James.
James was playing the same violin during Gluck's 300th birthday celebration concert.
"Gluck was born in 1714, so theoretically, by the time he was an adult and composing, that violin could have been in one of his orchestras," James said.
In addition to the 14-piece orchestra, the Teachers' Choir of Neumarkt provided vocals.
"This was a bare bones orchestra, it doesn't get any smaller than that," said Patricia. "This was a little more authentic and you don't get the opportunity to do that very often, let alone in the space -- the church itself -- which is where it was meant to be played."
"It was a beautiful environment, acoustically, and the caliber of musicians was really high," she added.
The appreciation was obviously reciprocated as the Hannons have already been asked to rejoin the ensemble for a concert in October.
Though James learned a smattering of Deutsch before the family moved to Hohenfels four years ago, Patricia spoke none, but they didn't let that keep them hostage on post.
"When I first started with the Parsberg orchestra, I was constantly lost," Jim admitted. "It's a very specific vocabulary. Fortunately, my stand partner really helped me out."
Along with the increased language skills came new friendships and a deeper understanding of their host nation.
"The German people are very welcoming," said Patricia. "It's been a much richer experience becoming involved in a German social club, and we've gotten to know the country a lot better because of it."