Manitoba violinist back home after 'surreal' gig at Vatican

It's a far cry from the fields of gold Rosemary Siemens is accustomed to: the self-proclaimed farm girl just returned home from a successful gig at the Vatican in Rome.

Rosemary Siemens' trip to Rome included near arrest while playing impromptu hymn at Colosseum

Manitoba violinist Rosemary Siemens recently returned from playing the world premiere of the Courtial Concerto at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. (Supplied by Rosemary Siemens)

It's a far cry from the fields of gold Rosemary Siemens is accustomed to: the self-proclaimed farm girl just returned home after a successful gig at the Vatican in Rome.

"It was a trip of a lifetime," said the violinist from Plum Coulee, Man., who first picked up a violin at three. "It just could not be more surreal and beautiful."

Siemens performed her Courtial Concerto at St. Peter's Basilica for Hans-Albert Courtial, who's known as the honorary ambassador of Rome to the world.

Siemens said she was honoured to play for the ambassador at the Fondazione Pro Musica e Arte Sacra, an event Courtial founded that she called "the biggest sacred music festival in the world."

Siemens has performed for distinguished audiences in the past, including former president Jimmy Carter, and has played at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. She was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her contributions to Canada's arts scene.

But she admitted she and her pianist, Roy Tan, felt a tad nervous about performing the new tune, which they wrote right before the show while on a cruise of the Panama Canal.

"We had written it one day and I had to memorize in my head, flying [to Rome] basically," she said. "We didn't actually have a chance to practise until the day before."

Sparkle at the Colosseum

Siemens, who has visited Rome before, brought her parents along this time and played her 1714 violin, named Sparkle, at the Colosseum.

Rosemary Siemens plays Holy, Holy, Holy at the Colosseum in Rome. (Supplied by Rosemary Siemens)

That impromptu set was cut short when Siemens was told to stop or risk arrest. Officers yelled at her as she was finishing a hymn atop the towering relic.

"I thought, 'Well, if I am at the Colosseum, I should get a video,'" she said, adding her tour guide warned her it wasn't allowed but said if she played discreetly it would probably be OK. 

"I was literally playing my last note and look up and who is there but the police, and they were like, 'You can't play here! You can't play here!'

"They escorted myself and my parents to the security office ... and made me delete all of my video ... but I knew they were going to do that, so I sent one to my boyfriend before they could get them all."

What's to come

Siemens's line of work has taken her around the world and back home to her parents' farm in Plum Coulee, about 90 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, where she spent the holidays.

"My goal with music is to touch and inspire and bring a smile to people and bring a little sparkle to people's lives," Siemens said.

She hopes the adventures keep coming in 2017.

"I think it's only going to get busier," she said, with gigs booked in Asia, Panama and Mexico over the next few months, as well as a Canadian tour with her new bluegrass band, Rosemary & the Sweet Sound Revival.

"The love of improvising has allowed me to just play so many different genres, which is really what I love."