Goodbye, But Hopefully Not For Long

Well, this post is long overdue, but the jet lag really was a lot more than I expected returning home. Be prepared to take naps, and for early mornings when returning from the other side of the pond. So, away we go!

After a very emotionally and physically tiring Tuesday, we still had more to do for Wednesday!! We finally made it to our own concert, which was at 7:30 p.m. But, we have to go back a little before that for the day.

Starting the day off with breakfast again in the morning, and afterwards we had our closing ceremony for the program. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn both spoke a little on how well everything went this year, the progress everyone made, and overall how incredible the program was for everyone. Dr. Abrahams and Dr. Pilkington also spoke briefly, and our very own new dean, Matthew Shaftel, spoke as well. I completely dropped the ball earlier in not including the news that Dean Shaftel came all the way out to Oxford with his wife to see the Choral Institute!!! Spending time with him has allowed the choir to get to know him, speak with him, and develop a connection with him that has been nice. He seems eager to begin working, and his interaction with the students and everyone at the Institute is honest and inviting.

After speeches, the certificates were handed out upon finishing the program, and we then exited the church to prepare for lunch. We ate quickly, and then at 1:30, Williamson had our dress rehearsal with the conductors to prepare for our final concert of the year. The University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford is quite a beautiful church. The space was grand, with older wooden pews and plenty of space to walk around and an upper floor to sit as well. The architecture is incredible, and we admired the building inside and out, but rehearsal started shortly after we arrived. We rehearsed our program, running segments of each piece and working with each conductor. After the rehearsal, we practiced walking on and off stage, as every group needs to do, and eventually determined the best way to proceed into the church.

A buffet for was prepared for everyone after the rehearsal. The food yet again was excellent, and soon we headed back to the church dressed and got ready for our concert.

One amazing part of our concert Wednesday evening was that it was the 50th anniversary of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms to the day, which I think was a really neat opportunity. Who can say that they performed a great work on the 50th anniversary? Not many I bet, so singing this in our concert was a great feeling. The other part of this concert was that it would be the last time that this group of people in the Williamson Voices would sing together in the choir. We had many seniors and graduate students who graduated this year, and this would be their final experience as members of the Williamson Voices family. I don’t think many of us thought about that at all with the smiles on everyone’s faces and the joy we could see in our eyes, but the thought in my head appeared before and after the concert. The concert itself went well; we sang our hearts out and enjoyed being able to sing together again for that one last time. Everyone gave their all to the conductors to make the concert the best it could be, and we could not have asked for anything more. Our audience seemed to love the concert, and our conducting friends were always quick on their feet to give standing ovations, which was fun to see as we could see them smile and laugh toward the back of the church.
Final Concert

Once the concert ended, we all changed and proceeded to enjoy our last night in Oxford. The feeling was very strange, as it finally began to dawn on me that we were leaving, yet it felt as though we had just arrived. The way I could walk through the town was as if I had done this my whole life. I could remember where places were, what streets to take, and recognize stores all with ease. Yet, this was the last night we would have for our trip.

We enjoyed our last night at the Cape of Good Hope down the road from St Stephen’s, so everyone quickly changed and headed over to spend some quality time for one last night. Everyone talked and laughed, sang to music and enjoyed the time we had left both together with one another and the time we had in Oxford. Seeing everyone together smiling and having a good time reminded me of how much I love the people in this choir, and even though this year with the Williamson Voices has just about ended, I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store, should Dr. Jordan have me back of course!

We woke up Thursday morning and had our last Oxford breakfast, and then ran back to pack our bags, relax for the morning, and maybe run out and pick up some last minute souvenirs. Once 12:00 rolled around, those of us taking the group flight back home packed our bags onto the bus and made our way to Heathrow Airport for our flight. We said our goodbyes to those who wouldn’t make the flight with us, and wished them safe travels until we’d see them again. Getting through the airport was surprisingly quick and easy, and then we all played the waiting game until our flight at 5:10 p.m. Once we boarded our flight, we enjoyed some airplane food and movies, along with some very entertaining group flight chatting the airline offered, and the seven-hour flight went quickly.

From there, many of us went separate ways, some back to Princeton, some back home, etc. I went back to Princeton after the flight as I would go back to working my job on campus in the morning and then head back home afterwards to see my family.

As quickly as we had arrived in Oxford and been amazed at everything in store, our time in Oxford went even faster. Thinking about all of our memories of the Choral Music Institute, with meeting and spending time with the conductors, taking fun trips around the city, crazy punting adventures, and more, it still surprises me that the trip happened and that I am back in Princeton. Everything about the trip was incredible, and so valuable to me as a choral singer, as a conductor, as a teacher, and more importantly, as a person. I have learned many values and ideas that I need to carry on in my life from this experience that I don’t believe I could have learned elsewhere. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn have been amazing teachers, as well as the conductors, and the memories I have of the trip will stay with me the rest of my life.

I see the posts on Facebook and read the texts of friends after getting back of the pictures and the happiness from the Choral Institute, from both conductors and choir members, and I see nothing but happiness and thankfulness. Everyone I see is so grateful for the opportunity to experience the Institute and to travel abroad to Oxford, and feels blessed to have taken part. While talking to others who could not go, they express the desire to go next year, and feel that no matter what, whether they take part in the choir, or as a conductor, or even can audit, they feel that this trip offers so much to learn from.

I can say without question that this trip may be one of the best experiences I will ever have. I am so grateful that I could go and be a part of the Williamson Voices again and to learn so much and grow so much from the Institute. I hope that the Choral Institute at Oxford will continue, as the lessons that each and every person learn will stay in the hearts of all for the rest of their lives, and the memories will be something we will remember the rest of our lives.

To everyone who was there, thank you. Words cannot express how thankful I am that I could spend time with you all, meet you in the first place, and see you become part of the growing Williamson Voices family. You have taught me so much in such a little time, and I will remember you all forever.

To everyone who helped make this trip happen, thank you. If you all had not helped support this trip, whether that be financially, or physically making the trip happen, supporting someone else, or whatever it was, you have helped more than I think you will ever know. You have helped change lives and change the way that we look at music and the world.

To Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn, thank you. Your lessons during the Choral Institute have made, and will make, such an impact on my life, and I know I will only continue to learn more from you both in the future. Your work is appreciated by every last one of us, and cannot thank you enough for all that you do in our lives. You have opened our hearts, and taught us the importance of love and honesty in the music we make with others, as that is when the magic in music appears.

I guess for now this is goodbye, but it is definitely not the end. I know I will see everyone again, some sooner than later, but I cannot wait to see what next year holds in store!! Goodbye!

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Words Just Cannot Cut It

Tuesday was an astounding today. I don’t think we could have packed any more into the day with lectures and a rehearsal for our concert on Wednesday, as well as our two small Conductor’s Concerts at 4:30 and 8:30. I think about everything that happened and the music that was made, the emotions we felt as one group, and I can’t put words to it, no matter how hard I try. Every conductor evoked honesty, heart-felt emotion, and beauty with each song, and the room was filled with awe.

We awoke for breakfast in the morning, followed by a lecture by Stephen Darlington, who spoke on Francesco Durante’s Requiem in C minor as a model for Mozart. The lecture was interesting, and everyone had music to sing during the lecture as well which, I thought, was a nice warmup for the busy day ahead. Lunch followed, and soon enough we were back on the way to the church for our rehearsal with Daniel Hyde!

The rehearsal was a lot of fun, singing again as the full choir, and working with Daniel Hyde. He had a very calming presence and had fun with the choir’s sound, finding new ways to make music out of the Chichester Psalms, which we worked so hard on in the spring semester. Mr. Hyde also brought with him a boy soprano for the solo in the second movement of the Psalms, who also happened to be named Max, and he did a phenomenal job with the music. He sang beautifully and seemed to enjoy working with the choir, and the girls all melted over him, which was amusing of course. In addition to working with Mr. Hyde, we also rehearsed some of our other pieces, including Os Justi by Bruckner, Entreat me not to leave you by Forrest, Beati quorum via by Stanford, Salve Regina by Arvo Pärt, and A Prayer of Cardinal Newman and All Shall Be Amen And Alleluia by James Whitbourn. We felt at home and comfortable once we began singing some of our other repertoire that we loved so much throughout the year. Once the rehearsal ended, we then changed and enjoyed teatime before our first Conductor’s Concert.

The first concert went well, where conductors would come up to show what they had worked on with the choir for the past eight or nine days, and everything went beautifully. One and the next, they would come up in front of us as we smiled at them and the connection that each one had developed with the choir in such a short time was incredible. I know I felt great singing for each conductor as you would see them look around at each member of the choir, and see the smiles and the happiness in their eyes. The conductors afterward would take a picture with the choir as we smiled and would applaud each on their success and growth in such a short amount of time.

We followed the first concert with some relaxing free time as well as dinner, but soon enough we were right back to the church and singing in the second of our Concerts that night. Again, each conductor was brilliant and full of life and emotion throughout, giving every piece of themselves to the choir and making the most honest and open music they could. The night was stunning, and seeing the looks on both Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn was just as exciting as you could see how excited and joyful they were for each conductor.

Following the second concert, the choir was shocked when the conductors asked us to stay where we were on in front of them, and for us to take a seat. We followed their instruction, having no clue where this was going, and boy, were we in for it. Some of the conductors read out loud a letter for the choir, where they spoke to us about grace, gratitude and more. They thanked us for everything that we had done throughout the week as we worked with them side by side, and grown close personally to each. The letter was beautiful, and in no time the choir was in tears. We were very moved by everything they had to say, sad as this was the last day we would work with our newest friends and family, and thankful for everything that had occurred in time we spent with each conductor. The conductors shared another treat as well, in that they sang a song for us, and we cried and laughed at the work they did and the gift they shared with us. The night was beautiful, and I was not prepared for that whatsoever. We all came together and gave hugs and said thanks for everything, and saying how wonderful everyone had done. I cannot put words to the emotions or the music that we created and felt on Tuesday night, nor will I try, because words could not describe how inspiring and incredible the night was. I will also try to get a copy of the letter for all to see, so hopefully that comes soon!!

The conductors, I would say, have become a part of the Williamson Voices family, and I know I cherish the time we spent with each. They have taught me many valuable lessons in the week we spent working with them, whether in the rehearsals or not. I am excited to see what the future holds for each, knowing that they will go on and spread the ideas we value to their own lives. I also hope to see them again, as many of us develop friendships with our new family members.

This night reminded me of how important it is that I am here in Oxford with the Westminster Williamson Voices. I can see how this choir touches the hearts of those we sing and work with, and there is nothing greater. The love that this choir brings to all that we do is truly remarkable, and Tuesday night only proves that yet again.

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Busy Was An Understatement!

Monday was definitely one of our busier days. Everyone stayed busy from 8 in the morning until Compline, which ended shortly before 10 p.m.

We all had breakfast in the morning first thing, and followed with lectures by Dr. Jordan and Dr. Pilkington. Dr. Jordan spoke on the ideas involving conducting, and specifically about harmonic rhythm. Once you understand the harmonic rhythm of a piece, the musical line develops and an energy appears in the music that could not exist before. In addition, he mentioned some of the Laban terms briefly for all to see quickly, as he had much to cover in one hour.

Dr. Pilkington followed from 11 until noon with a lecture on what it takes to make it in the professional world of music. We watched segments from different video clips, in which one of the judges of choreography for a work detailing Michael Jackson’s life described having, if I am correct, the “Ooze and Gooze.” I take it as that something special inside you, that you use to set you apart from others. The woman in the video said that if you do not have the “Ooze and Gooze,” you could not make it any farther until you found that. Dr. Pilkington then took those clips as well as the poetry he brought to the next level, going deeper in, dissecting the works more and more, and giving more of his ideas into how to be successful.

From there, we went on to our lunch break, savoring every moment we could sit and relax as we knew afterwards, we had lots of singing and work to do. Good and fun work though of course, as we looked forward to working with each of the conductors with the full choir.

Once 2 p.m. hit, the singing commenced. Each conductor was able to take the time to run through the piece they would conduct in the concert Tuesday night, and get an idea of final preparations and how things differed between working with half of the choir compared to the full. Singing with everyone continues to feel better each day, as we get back into the swing of things, listening in again and finding that sound that we love so much. Each of the first 12 conductors went through their pieces, as we sang with everything we had for each one. Seeing the smiles and the feelings they expressed was so uplifting and inspiring, as we could see the growth each one is making and seeing that we are the ones that are helping to teach them just as much as Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn do. Both Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn continued to say that we were the teachers, but it hasn’t been until recently that I could really start to see that fact.

Following the first session, we enjoyed our teatime, our precious half an hour of relaxation, de-stressing, and delicious snacks and drink. I wish we could implement the teatime into our lives at Westminster, as it is one of those times where I feel time slows down and we can enjoy each other’s company and forget about the things in life that run us up the walls. It works so well here; it would be interesting to see something like that occur back at school during the year.

After teatime, we continued working with the second half of the conductors, again with each running through their song as Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn sat silently writing little notes for each to consider for their last night to practice. The second session went as well as the first, and quickly, which was great since I was starving. I grabbed a quick dinner at Sainbury’s, which has been the best place for a quick bite, or snacks, huge two liter water bottles, and more!!! Finally to finish the night out, we had another lecture about meaning in 17th and 18th century music from Edward Higginbottom, and a Compline service as well. The lecture was interesting and went pretty quickly, and the Compline service was beautiful again.

To end the night, the sophomores tried to get together as best as possible with our graduate assistants Dom and Emily, as this trip will be one of our last times together with the two of them. We had a nice night spending some time together, talking and joking as we enjoyed the company of friends after a successful and memorable year.

The crazy part is that our time here is almost over, and that we will soon return home after such an amazing trip. Tuesday and Wednesday will be emotional days with the two concerts and as our last two full days in Oxford before catching our flight home Thursday night. But, the only thing we can do is enjoy them as much as possible, spend as much time with each other as we can, and cherish the moments we have, not regret those we missed. This trip continues to stun me, and I can only expect more and more as we close out our time across the pond.

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A Day Much Needed

Saturday night as people joined in the cabaret fun was hilarious and incredible. Many choir members and conductors sang, including songs from old and new shows, and even some Disney numbers (yes, Let It Go was belted, and in a much higher key than normal). Everyone sounded great as we would clap and join in certain songs for sing-alongs, and had a group number or two as well!! Alexander, one of the conductors participating in the Institute this week accompanied everyone, and did a beautiful job, whether he sight-read a new piece, played another from memory, or anything else he could think of. In addition to providing amazing accompaniment, he also provided food and drink for all to enjoy for the night. The night he put on with everyone was very entertaining and fun as we all awaited our day off on Sunday.

When Sunday came, many of us knew that sleeping in would be good idea. Most of us slept in, while others went sightseeing in London or in Oxford, and spent the day touring all around. Meanwhile, I had other plans!!!

After waking up late, I went to grab a bite with friends, and then we went punting with a group of friends. We also had a guest appearance by our friend Grant, which was really cool as well! We started our punting experience with a struggle as we tried to get out of the starting area, which was also a good bit my fault, but soon enough we were off! Along came our next obstacle however. . . . As Sara was our punter, we were stuck under a very short bridge, and as she tried to climb over the wooden beam under the bridge, the boat decided to continue on its journey. Sara was left to hang on the crossbeam for a good minute and a half, holding herself out of the water the entire time until we could finally get back to her. The pictures of it will come once I can get someone to send it to me, but they are incredible.

Once we could recover Sara, we switched our punters and started really making some progress on our trip, we made it back to the start within the hour, and managed to receive our deposit back! Not too shabby for a rough 15 minute start and for a punter over board!!

Then, we waited to join up with another two groups to finish their punting and made our way to one of the oldest spots in Oxford, The Bear Inn. The pub dates back to 1242, and is hidden away in Oxford, and as I have now tasted, is home to one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. Our large group walked into the city for a couple minutes, and we ventured down a small alley to arrive at the pub. We ordered our Grizzly Burgers, and anxiously awaited the burger we had all heard so much about. Once they arrived, we ate everything, and I do mean everything. The burger was amazing, and definitely lived up to the expectations, to the point where the others and I seriously considered ordering a second. However, we felt it was best to keep moving and see some other parts of the city. We moved around, walking through the city, stopping at a pub to see some sights and take a look, and around 7:15 ( 2:15 back home) we broke off for a little and and planned to regroup soon.

Eventually, we met back up in our common room at St. Stephens and joined in some card games, and then proceeded to head out again and enjoy the night in Oxford. The day off was very relaxing and entertaining, filled with good food, and great laughs. I cannot believe the trip is coming to a close soon, as our days have been so eventful and fun.

Our Monday holds a lot in store as we will have three lectures/sessions along with two rehearsals with the conductors to prepare for our concert, a Compline service, and a guest appearance as well, so it should be an entertaining day!!! I’ll keep you posted!!

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The Feelings You Can’t Quite Describe

What does heaven sound like? This question was presented to us by Ayla Lepine in our 10 a.m. session, which really made everyone think for a moment. I know I had never a question like that before, and I started to think what it could be. Would it sound like something of Mozart, or Bach? Maybe we would hear church hymns constantly, or plainchant? Ayla began her speech about some of the history and architecture behind Oxford and specifically St. Stephen’s. The information was fascinating, involving various people who impacted the movement involving the Gothic-style revival and their artwork and other accomplishments, as well as the details of the church in St. Stephen’s that we sit in every day.

When talking about her final question of what heaven sounds like, we were all stumped. We could not think of answers right away, or so it seemed from the silence in the room, or the, “whoa, I never thought about that” answers. Ayla Lepine then explained what her ideas on the matter were and the answer that she believed in. Hopefully I understood correctly, but she touched on the idea that sensory details and the art works that we see and interact with, as well as the churches that become contact points between our world and heaven, may be the key. Another explanation she shared was that the sound of heaven is the upbeat of an entrance in music, as the best way I can describe it. When she showed us what she meant, it really made me think about what Dr. Jordan tells us about fantasizing what the sound is when you first conduct and start a piece. If you do not have that idea and fantasy of what the music sounds like, the music will not be what it has the potential to be. Once you have the idea and can hear that music, the music will come to life. Maybe this is what Dr. Jordan is talking about? I feel as though these ideas are linked, but maybe you can decide. Back on to the lecture though, learning about the architecture and the beauty behind the work that many did to establish the arts and buildings that exist today was incredible, as I felt I was starting to understand more behind being in Oxford.

After lunch, the FULL Williamson Voices came together for rehearsal to prepare for our concert at the end of the program. The feeling of having the whole family back together, singing as one, felt like I was home. This choir really is my family, and being together with everyone again, working toward one goal as a collective group felt like the missing piece to my summer found its spot in the puzzle. We rehearsed from 2 until 4, and worked on everything we have for our concert, including Berstein’s Chichester Psalms. Teatime followed, and again we were back into two choirs, rehearsing and working with our conducting friends.

The conductors are growing more and more every day, and seeing each conduct and work with Dr. Jordan is informational and fun. The conductors have very open hearts and minds to learning more and more each day, and really seem to love working with the choirs. Each time they conduct, the preparation they have come in with helps them, but then once they step in front, both James Jordan and James Whitbourn only find more and more ways to take their conducting from one level to the next.

Dinner involved a little bit of searching, but Jon, Gui, Peter and I eventually stopped at the Pink Giraffe. Hats off to them as our food was delicious, and we quickly headed back to St. Stephen’s for our next Compline service (and I do recommend grabbing a bite at the Pink Giraffe, just don’t expect a giraffe — they don’t have one).

Compline continues to get better, even after our second service. Isabella Burns rehearsed with us before starting our service, cleaning up some details and refining a little. Once the service started, everything went smoothly, as we are all starting to become one voice during the service. It is beautiful as we come together, though we may not share the same opinions or beliefs, to sing through the Compline and chant together, sing together, speak together, and I think, act together, as one rather than 75. I spent extra time afterwards to reflect on what has happened thus far on the trip, how I got here, and how lucky I really am. I know I have said this before, but I would not being doing this choir justice without saying it. This choir is amazing. I do not think you could find any choir anywhere else on Earth that cares for each other, supports each other, loves each other, and believes in each other like we do. If you don’t believe me, listen to the sound. I can hear in the sound that we make that there is an openness, honesty, and love that we all bring to the table when we come together and sing, that cannot be replicated anywhere else. We all joke about hashtag blessed, and tease, but I think it is a blessing that I have somehow been allowed to sing with this choir, and that we have all been given the opportunity, by Dr. Jordan, and whatever else it is, to come together as the family we are and to sing together.

That was all Friday though, and so now here is Saturday!!

The Choral Institute offered everyone an opportunity to go to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where we could take a small tour inside to see some original, hand written by composer’s themselves, works, including a manuscript of the Elijah by Mendelssohn (and yes we saw a little of Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen über dir), pieces by Byrd and Tallis, and plenty more. Seeing these original scores and old manuscripts was incredible, as I thought about how much preservation it took to maintain the pieces and works. While talking with Emily Sung, my Schola Graduate Assistant this past year, she said it is interesting how we do not even think to maintain our copies of music, since we can always copy and print a new one. However, with the originals, if anyone had treated those scores the way we treat our copies, maybe the music we have today would not exist.

Luckily, I was in the last group to see the manuscripts and pieces at the Library, so I was able to sleep in. Thank. Goodness. The sleep was necessary, as we have had some long days at the Institute. Waking up for breakfast each morning at 8:30, and having classes and sessions throughout the day until about 6:30 every day, the Institute packs quite a bit into each day. We do have breaks though, so don’t worry too much!

Afterwards, our next conducting session occurred and wow, there was some real magic in the church today where my half of the choir rehearsed. One after another, each conductor made magic, connecting with the choir and stirring emotions that we thought we couldn’t find. No matter the song, no matter how late in rehearsal, the conductors evoked beauty from the choir. We shared beautiful moments, seeing Ryan as one of the choir, take the podium and conduct us through Sine paenitentia, or one of my favorites of the day, Alan, who touched our hearts while conducting Lux Aeterna by Thomas LaVoy.

Ryan said something today that really struck me. He said that while talking to Dr. Jordan, he realized that he took singing in the choir for granted (hope he doesn’t mind me posting!!!) and I realized that I do this far too often. I realized that during the year, I would show up to choir and I would be so glad I had that time to be with my family, but that wasn’t enough. I remember sitting out sick one day, hearing the sound, and feeling awful for not just going up and singing anyway, even if I would have felt worse after. I feel as though I need to appreciate the moments I have with the Williamson Voices more than I have in the past, because even as this week goes faster and faster, my time at Westminster continues to go faster as well. There is nothing I enjoy more while at Westminster than the time I have in Bristol Chapel, 4:30-6:00, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday every week with my favorite people.

But back to the entertaining things, I am now sitting in our common room with a great number of us, both choir and conductors, who are singing musical theater songs for all our enjoyment, with snacks and sodas, as we spend quality time together. This night is so much fun thus far, and I can’t wait to see who else will sing!!

For now, take care and I keep you posted more as we go! Tomorrow is our free day, and supposedly it involves some outdoors activity, the burger of everyone’s dreams, and more!! Have a good night!! I know I will!

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The Beauty of Text and Honesty

Today must have been one of the busiest days we will have during the Institute, as it felt like we constantly moved from class, to a meal, to a master class, then teatime, to rehearsal, and finally an amazing concert after dinner. As busy as we were, however, the feeling after a long and fun day is great, as we continue to grow and mature musically and personally.

We started the day again with breakfast followed by a lecture given by James Whitbourn on the importance of words in composition. The lecture was incredible to take part in, as James used many musical examples, as well as others, to show the importance of the text in music, and the presentation of the music. As a group, we read the Apostle’s Creed, and afterwards, James made the point that we could barely be understood, sounding as if we mumbled throughout. He had a point… we sounded awful just speaking. Then, when we started to speak with intention and meaning, the text began to come to life. The text, when speaking, must have pitch, rhythm, and intention to bring the text to life and provide the meaning and beauty it must convey. Other important ideas that I gained were that we should never take the text for granted or try to surpass the text in any way. The text is what usually evokes the music in a composer’s mind, and if the text holds such meaning in their life that they would write music to it, we must take as much time as possible to connect the music and the text to bring the work’s entirety to life. Also, when we try to surpass the text, and focus on the vowels or skip the words and focus on the sounds and music of the piece, we do not bring the work justice as again, the text holds great meaning within the piece along with the music.

Lunch ensued, with baked potatoes, chili, salad, and more, which we all ate happily. At 2:00 p.m., the majority of us watched the master class as our fellow students worked with Elin Manahan Thomas, a famous soprano who has worked with the Westminster Williamson Voices on previous occasions. She is absolutely amazing!!! She is incredibly down to earth, kind, caring, and more. Watching her work with Emily, Moira, Jon, Sara, Austin, and Storm was incredible, find ways to bring out the best in each singer in the small amount of time provided for each. Asking our friends to find more ways to connect with the music, or find the character inside, or even to open up more than they could, each student grew tremendously, and continued to grow and develop while working with Mrs. Thomas. The conductors also took time during the masterclass to meet with Frank Abrahams, who taught a valuable and informational class as the choir finished their time with Mrs. Thomas. After the masterclass, she answered any questions thrown her way, speaking about her career, how to start a career as a singer, experiences she has had, and about what her ideas were on aspects of singing. The Q & A was insightful, and for someone who is terrified to sing in front of others individually (those of you who know, taking contacts out is my permanent answer from now on for juries), learning more about her career and seeing her opinion that someone’s attitude can make or break a career, was reassuring and comforting.

Master class participants: Storm Koveleski, Moira Gannon, Austin Turner, Sara Munson, Emily Johnston, Jonathan Feinstein, Elin Manahan Thomas, and Jonathan Palmer Lakeland '14, accompanist for the masterclass and Administrator for the Institute.

Master class participants: Storm Koveleski, Moira Gannon, Austin Turner, Sara Munson, Emily Johnston, Jonathan Feinstein, Elin Manahan Thomas, and Jonathan Palmer Lakeland ’14, accompanist for the masterclass and Administrator for the Institute.

Teatime was brief so that we could take this time to warm up, but everyone is starting to get back into their voice after the fatigue is slowly disappearing. I never thought the flight and the jet lag would mess with us as much as it did, but everyone sounds great and keeps feeling better and better, which is even better for our conductor friends!! This time, my half of the choir worked with James Jordan, while working with the same conductors as yesterday. We continued to work through Sine paenitentia by Cortlandt Matthews; Os Justi by Bruckner; Video Caelos Apertos, Of one that is so fair and bright, and Crown my Heart by James Whitbourn; Salve Regina by Poulenc; and I Wonder as I Wander by Steve Pilkington, with each of the conductors participating in the institute. Each conductor continues to grow so much as we work together, learning more through trial and error, James Jordan taught the value of breathing with the choir, conducting through beat three rather than emphasizing beat one, and fantasizing about the sound before conducting. As each conductor improved and added each of these elements into their conducting, the sound that each conductor could evoke from the choir became something of absolute beauty. The room became filled with beautiful, honest, and open music that made us smile, cry tears of joy, and feel so appreciative of the moments we would create.

Finally, the concert tonight that Elin Manahan Thomas provided was stunning! Her voice constantly soared, singing beautifully with music that she enjoyed singing and that the audience loved hearing. There was such an honestly and connection between her and the music that was really amazing to see, and I hope that I develop that connection in my own singing.

It is strange to think that we have only been in Oxford for three days. As I walk around the city, exploring more each day and growing more comfortable, I feel as if I could live here. Members of the choir remind us to cherish each moment as the trip goes extremely quickly, and that Oxford will feel like another home. Everything about this trip has been incredible, and I hope that time starts to slow down. There is so much to do here, and many of us wish we could stay longer than the nine days we have. With as much as we love Oxford, I am finding more how Oxford brings out the best in each of us, allowing us to grow individually, as well as a group. We all grow together as we spend a great deal of time together, and I find that this program fosters a great deal of honesty, connection, and inner beauty that I don’t think can be done anywhere else. I love being with my second family, and I can’t imagine being with any other group in the world.

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Our (Actual) First Full Day

It really is incredible to wake up, go about the day with your schedule in mind, as you also recover from the jet lag, and still try to remember how amazing it is to be in Oxford. Waking up this morning, I treated it like nothing different from any other morning. Got out of bed, made sure I looked decent and wouldn’t scare anyone if I smile at them and said hello, and made my way to breakfast.

Breakfast was delicious, with ham, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, and more, all waiting for us as we arose from our slumbers. We all needed the night’s rest as we recovered from the lack of sleep after our plane ride, and waking up to a fresh and filling breakfast was what we all needed. We all had plenty of food available as well as apple and orange juice and coffee for all.

Following breakfast, the time had come. All of the new members who were able to come to Oxford looked forward to this moment like none other. We would finally receive our Oxford polos, where I joked that it was almost as if we finally were a part of the choir. Not after the tuxedos or dresses we brought for our concerts, but with the black Oxford polos that every member seemed to have. We went to the store to pick them up, walking through the city, which was absolutely beautiful. The architecture of the city is stunningly beautiful, passing through stores and other parts of Oxford University. The buildings look incredible and I know at some point during the week when we have more time, I plan to walk around more and explore and admire. Another fun part of our journey back to St. Stephen’s was walking through the streets and accidentally walking through, what we think, was the shooting of the television show Inspector Morris. I had no idea when walking through, but others understood as we hurried through, asking how I never caught the camera. But on the bright side, I probably never broke the fourth wall!!

Afterwards, we enjoyed a lecture about the history of the church and the school, and followed with asking questions about the religion’s influence on the school. The class was very interesting to gain a better understanding, and afterwards, we all gathered in the dining hall for lunch. Again, the food was fantastic with vegetables, salad, chicken and potatoes, all of which tasted great!

Dr. Jordan held a class for the conductors titled Sound as Teacher, while choir members were given free time to relax and recover some more. Many of us took naps, and now I think we have all finished dealing with our jet lag. Thank goodness.

Everyone gathered again for tea time to enjoy the down time and talk to one another, with some guest appearances by Thomas LaVoy, who is staying for the rest of the Institute, which is fantastic as we love working and spending time with him, as well as the famous Jaakko Mäntyjärvi. Dr. Jordan has worked on music of his with his choirs. Having time with each will be much appreciated as I am sure we will learn tremendous amounts from during our time here.

We all then broke off into our two choirs, to work with each of the conductors and either James Jordan or James Whitbourn. My choir worked with James Whitbourn today as well as 12 of the conductors participating in the institute. Each had 10 minutes to work with our choir, going through the entire piece, and then working on little details after. Working with the conductors was incredible as each has prepared so much for this as we can tell quickly. They each bring a great deal of personality, inspiration, and honesty to the piece they conduct, and the choir can tell instantly. While working through the piece, James Whitbourn would find little things to work on with each conductor, or ask how the conductor felt in the experience, or ask the choir for advice as well. Everyone received the advice very well, and seemed so willing to work on anything that might arrive while continuing to learn as much as possible in the short amount of time. I know I have learned a lot not only as a choir member but also as a conductor through watching and carefully observing as each conductor works with the choir.

Dinnertime quickly arrived, where we all dispersed throughout town to grab a quick bite. Remembering that chips are our equivalent to fries, crisps to chips, and bacon now to ham, might take a little work, but so far I haven’t made any mistakes with food that will kill me!!

Compline occurred at 8:30 (our time), where we rehearsed the compline service through, gaining a better understanding of chant and how we must sing the chant to make music of it. After rehearsing for some time, we ran the service as we will three other times this week, and it was quite beautiful. Seeing everyone together, singing through the chants and acting as one unified group was amazing. Mistakes do not matter, as we all work through the service together, and the sound that develops as we slowly develop from 75 independent singers into one collective group continued to grow in its beauty. I am really excited to see how the compline service adapts and evolves throughout the week, as I am sure the magic will soon take hold.

Well, it is REALLY late as I finish up here tonight (almost 2 a.m. in Oxford), so I shall say good night to all, and to all a good night. There is more music to be sung, more magic to be made, and more memories to be shared. I cannot wait to see what is in store tomorrow with our master classes and more time working with the conductors!!

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