The journey home was long and emotional for many of us. Members broke off from the group at each step, some leaving us as early as the Lisbon airport, where they caught flights to other European countries to conduct research or visit friends, and others peeling off during our layover in Newark, choosing to fly straight home. Those who made it back to baggage claim in Atlanta gave hugs and tried to stretch out goodbyes. Eventually, emotion gave way to exhaustion, and after 10 days spent sharing this incredible experience, we headed our separate ways.
For me, the journey of this tour didn’t begin just 10 days ago. It didn’t even begin this semester, when we received our tour repertoire, or in the fall, when this year’s new members first joined our ranks. Instead, it began over two years ago, during a dinner conversation with Dr. Nelson. I had just been invited to be vice president (and subsequently president) of the ensemble, and our conversation had turned towards long term planning. Dr. Nelson brought up Concert Choir’s rich tradition of international tours, and how the economic downturn had put that tradition on hold. And then he said the magic words: “I think it’s time for us to go again.” I was beyond excited, and stayed up late into the night browsing tour companies and potential locations, crunching numbers in my head to figure out how we could ensure that all members could afford to participate, and dreaming about what this tour might be like.
Throughout the years of planning, I struggled to articulate clearly exactly why we needed to go on this tour. I knew that this tour would help us, that it would define our iteration of this ensemble in a way that nothing else could, and that we would come home as better musicians. I never had any doubt of what the tour would do for us, and could feel in the core of my being why I personally needed to go on this tour, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to phrase it in a way that everyone I spoke to, musician or not, would understand.
Now that I am home, I realize why this was so hard to articulate. There was not just one reason why this tour was so important. Each singer found their own “why” each day of the tour. They experienced moments that would not have happened anywhere but on this tour, had realizations that they could not have had singing back in Schwartz, and learned things they could not have read in a textbook. The “why” was too complicated for me to explain, because there are as many reasons why as there are moments on the trip and members in the ensemble.
That said, there are a few of my personal reasons “why” that I think many other members share:
1. Singing music in the spaces for which it was written has made me a better musician
After singing in some of these cathedrals, pieces that I was barely invested in at the beginning of the semester became some of my favorites. I finally understood what they were meant to sound like, and felt a visceral connection to them that was absent during rehearsals and performances in Schwartz. Subtle changes had to be made to each piece as we adjusted to the echo and acoustic in each room, and we could feel what it must have been like to sing there centuries ago. In the cathedral in Jaen, the echo lasted for so long that monophonic chant sounded like harmony, as each note remained in the air long after the next note was sung. As these harmonies appeared around us, we could feel the influence of the monks from centuries ago, who first laid the groundwork for the music that we make today. Actively singing and simply being in these spaces made us better musicians than we were 10 days ago.
2. Experiencing another country and culture has made my life more interesting.
In between our incredible rehearsals and concerts, we found time for both guided sight-seeing tours and individual exploration. Visiting cultural landmarks in Spain and Portugal helped the history of those countries jump out of the textbook, and ignited conversations about religion and politics that were fascinating and rewarding. But even our little individual adventures had a huge impact. We got lost in the cobblestone alleys in Granada, danced with locals on the streets of Seville, and went to traditional guitar concerts in Faro. We ate incredible tapas and less than incredible flamenquín, and grabbed drinks with flamenco dancers. I realize that as a tourist here for only 10 days, I could only experience the tiniest bit of Spanish and Portuguese culture, but what I did experience impacted not just my perception of those countries but of my own.
3. Watching music transcend cultural boundaries made my heart soar.
When we embarked on this tour, we had no idea what our audiences would be like. We braced ourselves to sing for five or six tourists who happened to be wandering through the church at the time of our concert, and wondered if those who did come would have an appreciation for what we did. We in no way expected to sing each concert to a full house, and to receive standing ovations and effusive praise after each performance. Audience members snuck videos during our more lightweight songs, and cried when we sang of grief and loss. Back home, we so often sing concerts for an audience made up mostly of family and friends, who appreciate a decent concert just as much as a phenomenal one as long as their relative or friend is up there making the music. Here, we sang for strangers. They connected with us, despite our different backgrounds and languages, because they could connect to the music we made. Their reactions will stick with me forever.
4. Making music and sharing these experiences with the other members of Concert Choir has made me a better person.
As tour ends, and my time as choir president ends with it, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude. Before we end this blog, there are a few thank you’s that must be said:
First, thank you to every choir member who contributed to this blog. By taking time out of the tour to write your post, you have not only allowed us to share our experience with those back home, but have given us the opportunity to one day go back, reread your words, and relive this experience.
Second, thank you to Dr. Nelson for challenging us as musicians, for caring about us as people, and for giving us this once in a lifetime experience. We are all forever in your debt for the impact you have made on our lives. On a personal note, thank you for giving me the chance to help coordinate this tour. Working with you has shown me the kind of leader, musician, and person I aspire to be, and getting to cap off our time together with this tour was such a gift.
Next, thank you to each and every member of Concert Choir. It has been an absolute honor to share the stage with each of you. You made music that touched people around the world, brought the work ethic, intelligence, and heart that define Concert Choir to each performance, and helped to restart a tradition that will shape the lives of future singers who pass through our program. Returning members, it is now your responsibility to continue to push this group further, to strive each and every day to make the best music you are capable of. These 10 days have shown us just how much we can grow when we throw our hearts, souls, and minds into the music we create. Never forget that, and continue to grow each time you sing, stateside or abroad.
Last, I want to thank all of you who supported us throughout this tour. Whether you helped fund a student, attended one of our concerts stateside as we prepared this repertoire, or simply followed along through this blog, this experience would not have been the same without you.
With more love and gratitude than I can put into words,
Concert Choir President, Class of 2017