As I sit in one of the busiest airports in the world, I am stunned at the fact that it already time to leave — the city I grew to love – meeting locals, having favorite spots or restaurants, the sheer beauty and history of it.
Over Monday to Wednesday, we had countless more sessions and workshops with the conductors. Dr. Higginbottom’s session was brilliantly insightful and I struggled to keep up with all of his knowledge, but we all tried to soak in any information we could grasp. He spoke on “understanding music through French and Italian eyes,” which consisted of Williamson Voices singing excerpts from pre-selected French and Italian music, about which Dr. Higginbottom went into great detail, discussing the nuances of the culture and the role of the passionate object against non-vocal objects. These are times where I truly wish my brain was a sponge so that I could just absorb everything fully.
On Tuesday we performed a Choral Evensong at Merton College, which is another college in the University of Oxford. We sang a traditional evensong, which included a psalmody sung in the form of chant, the performance of Dr. Whibourn’s “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis,” Lord’s Prayer, reading, etc. I have never experienced services quite like compline or an evensong before, especially in the spaces in which we were able to have them. I have never seen anything like the cathedrals and chapels in the UK. Beautiful open spaces with colorful stained glass, gorgeous organs, and intricate ceiling and woodcarvings. Best of all is the immense amount of history. A conductor told me that after the evensong, someone attending the evensong said it was the most moving service they have ever been to.
On the last day, the choir had a session with Daniel Hyde at Magdalen College. We entered the session with a packet of music that had just been distributed and that we had prepared ourselves. He worked through a session of sight-reading with Williamson Voices, which showed me a great deal about how to lead a choir through quickly learning a piece. The ways you can challenge, encourage, and secure that musicianship is developed in every step of learning the music and saved for the end. We were all reading music in time signatures with which we may have had not a whole of experience, so it was definitely a huge learning opportunity. In addition, for someone who is not the best at sight-reading (like myself) – it gave me some strategies and really challenged me.
When the conductors each conducted for the last time before the concert, I was already emotional. So many people had opened up and had really taken in all that they were learning from us and the Choral Institute. It was amazing. I can confidently say that each conductor grew as a musician and human being from this Institute. It was obvious in the ways people conducted and connected with the choir in our music.
When the time for the last concert hit, I could not believe it. There were several points during the concert where I had to stop singing because I was so emotionally affected by their connection with us. Singing “Even When He is Silent” by Kim Andre Arnesen led me to finally completely break down in tears. Seeing the growth in each conductor was truly incredible. They cared so deeply for our choir and it showed during the concert. Having someone who is almost a stranger care so much about people they have really just connected with through music is a beautiful feeling.
Before all of the “thank-yous” were exchanged, Williamson Voices had one gift for the conductors. We sang Dan Forrest’s “Abide.” This is a song that has been extremely impactful for each of us individually, and one the choir has worked on over the spring semester. It reaches deep – and that shows in our sound, I think. Anyone who was trying to refrain from crying could not avoid it at this point in the concert. Something really special happened for me in that moment. I felt a lot of weight release from my body and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. I just felt really content – not that I was in any kind of distress, but there was a release of sorts. It’s difficult for me to explain. It is then that I realized that singing and music, if performed with intent, is a way to open the channel into one’s emotional energy and that a person then has access to the energy and emotions that he or she may be trying to hide. I always get people who say, “I didn’t know I needed to hear that music, but I did.” They did because, through music, they were able to access a part of themselves that was difficult to deal with otherwise. That is such a gift to be able to give to others, and to ourselves for that matter. I spent hours during my traveling the next day thinking about this – and to think that it was spurred from five minutes of music. Pretty incredible.
The night ended with the conductors singing FOR US. They sang “There’s a place for us” and it was the perfect way to end the night. If that doesn’t say that they were touched by this program, I am not sure what would. It is so reaffirming to see such beautiful individuals invested in our passion and our work.
I have made my way out of Oxford and it is time to say goodbye – but not for long! I take solace in the fact that I could, if money allowed, go next year. The sound we’ve made is now buried in the walls of St. Stephen’s House, but definitely not forgotten. This experience is unlike any other musical experience I have ever had; and I mean that in the best way. Knowing that more than 14 conductors and an entire choir feels that way makes me so excited to come back to the enchanting city of Oxford, to see my family – which includes the new and returning conductors – and make more music.
Thank you for allowing me to be the blogger this year and reading my posts! Until next time Choral Institute at Oxford.