Mozart played on kazoos? Welcome to Salzburg!
It was the kazoos that got my attention. Since I had arrived in Salzburg, Austria, days earlier, it seemed that I couldn't get away from the city's famous son. He dogged my steps.
As I crossed the Mozartplatz on my way to the center of the Altstadt (the historical part of the city), I felt his eyes watching me from atop his marble pedestal in the center of the square.
As I rode the funicular up to the top of the Hohensalzburg fortress, the headphones that seemed permanently attached to the ears of the young man next to me were blaring the maestro's Piano Sonata in C minor, as opposed to the heavy metal music I anticipated from the way he was dressed.
Each night, as I returned to my hotel, I was greeted by the man as he lounged comfortably on my bed pillow, his portrait adorning the chocolate Mozartkugeln (candy) that was included in the hotel's turndown service.
I had expected some of it. After all, Salzburg is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and where he got his illustrious start as a child prodigy and then as a world-famous composer.
But I hadn't come to the city for him. I hadn't come to Salzburg for the music at all. I saw the city as my gateway to the Alps – a stopping point on my way to the quaint village of Berchtesgaden, Germany, and the majestic views of Obersalzbergmountain.
A visit to one of the several Mozart-related attractions was not high on my to-do list. And yet, one day as I made my way through the Altstadt, past the cathedral, I heard the distinct, shrill sound in the distance. A group of 20-odd youngsters were performing Eine Kleine Nachtmusik completely on kazoos for the enjoyment – and possibly amazement – of tourists who walked by.
Despite the peculiar choice of instruments, it was a true small-scale symphony, with each noisemaker representing a particular instrument with a precision that was hard to ignore.
Behind them, a large poster advertising concerts at the main hall of the Mozarteum adorned the wall, with a portrait of Mozart prominently displayed in the center. And as he looked on at this diverse crew of musicians, it seemed to me that he seemed delighted by this silly incarnation of his genius.
I must admit, I was, too. How absurd, and yet how fitting!
When the music finished and the small crowd that had gathered to listen dispersed, I found the melody stuck in my head as I made my way back toward the river. I hummed aloud as I crossed by the Hotel Sacher and somehow found myself in front of Mozart Wohnhaus or residence, where he lived with his family until 1780. It seemed I couldn't get away from Herr Mozart. Perhaps it was time to stop trying.
Once I opened my mind (and my ears) to Mozart, Salzburg blossomed in a whole new way for me. As I walked through the Altstadt each day, I now heard the music of the city.
These "sounds of music" included the marked percussion of horse hooves on cobblestones, as the fiakers(horse-drawn coaches) made their way through the town. The symphony of voices, in all octaves and languages, as tourists attempted to elucidate their enchantment with the views from the Hohensalzburg. The clink of ceramic coffee cups when placed back on their saucers in the outdoor cafes, as street musicians played in the background. The lapping of the river against stone fortifications. The church bells resounding through the town. And yes, those kazoos.
I had not come to Salzburg for the music. But it found me nonetheless.