Oxford: Day 8

Well, here we are at the end.

Now brace yourselves for some major cheesiness, for there is no stopping me now.

What can I possibly say about the last day that hasn’t been said already by so many of us who have been touched by what has happened this past week?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am only one voice out of many, and I thank those of you who have patiently waited for and read my blog posts. It was honor to have been chosen to represent the choir I love in this way.

Well, let’s hop to it, shall we?

Perhaps it is wise to begin with the conductors. These 20 conductors were the brave inaugural members of this institution who were able to trust in Mr. Whitbourn, Dr. Jordan, and in their own instincts that this was going to be a program worth coming for. And let me tell you, it was awe-inspiring to see how all 20 conductors were transformed in just a week.

However, it is not all in the sense of conducting techniques. No, by the last rehearsal each and every one of them was able to become an integral part of the ensemble: breathing, feeling and making music with us. What was truly remarkable was how they were so open to instruction, suggestions, and change. I know the conductors marveled at our sparkling attitudes even after hours of singing the same repertoire. But, as a fellow Westminster Williamson Voices member has put it, it was because THEY were the ones who emanated positive auras throughout. We opened to them because they opened to us, for choirs are mirrors of the conductors themselves. Even now what I remember most about almost all of them is their smiles and how my cheekbones had a distinctive ache after each person stepped down from the podium.

Yep, they were definitely ready for their performance in the evening.

But before I talk about that, I think it is only proper that I get to indulge in addressing our two ‘Jameses.’

Both very different (especially in fashion), but both extremely dedicated to what they do. Indeed, we are lucky to know such great musicians who are also invested in being great teachers. I have known Dr. J for two years and boy, is he good at what he loves to do. I’d like to be like him someday, although with a little less of those colorful pants and neon shoes he likes to wear.

And also, Mr. Whitbourn. His music is truly beautiful, ladies and gentlemen. I know this word has been used way too much in the course of time, and has probably lost some of its significance. But I hope you know that whenever I did use it, I implied its full depth in meaning. Indeed, his music is the kind that resonates in your ears long after it has been sung. And he conducts and teaches both with passion and high expectations; two major characteristics of a great teacher.

Fun fact: he plays croquet like a BOSS. It’s to a point where he does this getting-on-all-fours-and-squinting-at-the-ball-analyzing-all-possible-angles-of-contact-with-the-mallet-which-would-send-the-ball-to-the-right-place sort of playing.

He’s legit, ya’ll.

And he even tried to teach me how to play. It didn’t really work; but hey, it wasn’t his fault.

What I loved about this trip was that it revealed just how much both Jameses would take the time and effort to reach out to us beyond the music. And that, to me, is something I deeply respect about both of them.

Well, now that I’m on a roll with addressing people, I’m going to talk a bit about our accompanist, Jonathan Lakeland. I know we thank him regularly after performances, but we don’t often truly listen to his playing during our countless rehearsals leading up to this institution, but you can always count on him to play musically.


Even when he’s just giving out pitches, he does it in style. I’ve never heard him just plunking notes for the sake of it. When he plays, the piano sings with energy and color. So, thank you Lakeland. Not often do choirs get accompanists who can sing with the choir through their playing.

So, with John at the piano and the two Jameses casting watchful eyes, the conductors’ concert began.

Despite the fact that they all did wonderfully, the performance of our last night in Oxford was tough to say the least. Not just because there were 20 pieces to sing, but because more than half the time many of my Williamson family were trying not to cry. I myself was hanging on to each note, because it was the last ones I would sing with this particular group I love so much.

After the concert when everybody had taken their bows, the conductors gave a spectacular surprise performance of an arrangement of “What I did for Love” from A Chorus Line. Well, our chances of shedding minimal tears flew out the window as many started to weep and laugh at the same time.

Then when we sang The Lord Bless You and Keep You at the very end, I was surprised to find that this piece meant more to me than it has ever before.

The funny thing is, it’s just two words repeated over and over again.

“Thank you.”

Thank you Dr. Jordan and Mr. Whitbourn, for not only dreaming this dream, but for working hard to make it come true. Thank you to all 20 conductors who took a chance. Thank you Dr. Abrahams, Liz, Guisella, and every single body and soul involved in organizing and making things happen for this trip. I know there are many of you who are unnamed, and we are so blessed to have had your support. Thank you to all the speakers, many of whom shared valuable knowledge on early choral music. Thank you Oxford for opening the doors to the most glorious venues I have ever been in my entire life. Being in Oxford brought us closer to the roots of choral music than I have ever experienced before. Thank you to the donors who made coming to Oxford for so many of us possible. Thank you composers past and present for creating such wonderful music that brought us all together.

And finally, thank you Westminster Williamson Voices. I guess it’ll take time for us to overcome our Williamson withdrawal symptoms (heck, I’ve been listening to the recording of our O Magnum Mysterium and Verleih Uns Frieden on repeat for about 5 hours straight now). Graduates, now that this has ended, you have ahead of you whole new beginnings that will take you to so many other places in the world, maybe places even further and more wonderful than Oxford. Yes, even you Jake 🙂

Keep on singing ya’ll. We’ll keep things going here, I promise.

And you. Thank you so much for reading till the end.

I hope my posts have shed some light on the amazing experiences we’ve had in Oxford.

Who knows, perhaps you’ll care to join us next year?

Remember ladies and gentlemen, there’s tea-time! ♥






About choralmusicinstitute

Presented by Westminster Choir College of Rider University and Oxford University's St. Stephen's House, the one-week institute provides instruction to all levels of conductors.
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One Response to Oxford: Day 8

  1. musicmb0 says:

    Sometimes, out of nowhere, incredibly profound and unexpected experiences find their way into our lives almost serendipitously. Such was the case with the inaugural Choral Institute at Oxford in early July.

    I was probably the oldest participant at the institute. I’ve been around, and have participated in a considerable number of events of various sorts. But, what happened to me at Oxford, both professionally, spiritually, and emotionally was something I can barely describe in words. It was overwhelming, and has completely changed my life as a musician and a person. All the dreams of James Jordan and James Whitbourn were surely realized far beyond what they could imagine. To have been a part of this incredible union of teachers, singers (Westminster Williamson Voices), and twenty choral director participants was cathartic.

    In addition to challenging musical work, James Jordan asked us to do two things: 1) allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and 2) trust those with whom we were in community. That is exactly what happened a couple of days into the institute, and that is when the miracles began to occur. Honestly, as a professional musician and a human being looking for meaning that truly matters through music, I have NEVER seen or experienced anything like this in my entire life. It was pure magic! And, it was from the depths of one’s soul. To make music saturated with this atmosphere is something that you will rarely see on this planet.

    The Westminster Williamson Voices gave all of us everything they had. They can “turn on a dime” and will sing exactly how you conduct them. I could not believe the joy they were experiencing through helping us. They told me so. What more could one ask for? The conductors bonded together, all striving to achieve and experience the lofty goals set forth by James Jordan and James Whitbourn. But, to pour one’s passion out before a choir like this and have them reciprocate is just….well…there aren’t words to describe this kind of emotional and spiritual experience.

    But more than anything (for me at least), was being able to let down my barriers and discover and experience that magical spiritual element that breathes deeply through the most beautiful language of all…music. It’s an authentic journey, and honest in every way.

    For me, James Jordan and James Whitbourn stand at beacons of these aspirations. It is where they live. They are passionate about what they do, and best of all, they live to share it with others. For that, I offer my deepest thanks and appreciation. The two of you, the Westminster Williamson Voices, my colleagues, and the stunning city of Oxford, have completely changed me forever. The inspiration I experienced will be a treasure shared with others for life.

    I can only imagine what they are planning for next year! It will be awesome.

    Scott Bennett
    Grace Episcopal Church
    Charleston, SC

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