A Benediction

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hello again, dear friends. I know you thought you wouldn’t be hearing from me for a while, but I’m back! I thought it would be fitting to give you an update from home now that the wonder of Oxford is really starting to sink in. Most of us have made it home by now, while a few others remain in Europe to continue exploring. Sitting here at my dining room table in Princeton, though, I can’t help but wonder what our legacy in Oxford will be. While I was there and writing to you all, I wasn’t even thinking about that; I was trying so hard just to soak everything up that I really couldn’t even think that far ahead. Now, though, as the experience solidifies into a memory, all I can think about is what others will remember about us.

It’s always interesting to ponder things from another’s perspective; I know what I will remember of Oxford, but from the perspective of Oxford herself, what will be remembered of us? As advocates for beauty and honesty, and as representatives of Westminster Choir College, we certainly hope that we are remembered as a choir of integrity and humility. But what I think we as choir members and as conducting fellows hope above all else is that our time in Oxford left a positive and everlasting impression. Our mission as musicians is to enact positive change in the world, and my deepest wish is that we left Oxford a little better off than when we arrived. In high school, a conductor once said to me that you know you’ve had a successful day at work when you’ve left a piece of yourself in the room; from then on, your voice will mingle with all those who came before you in the hallowed space that is the performance hall. I dare say that we did indeed leave many pieces of ourselves in Oxford. Not the least of which will forever hang in the halls of St. Stephen’s House.

After our final concert together Wednesday night, Dr. Jordan asked the conductors and audience members to remain in the church while he “kidnapped” the choir for a few minutes. As he led us down the maze of hallways within St. Stephen’s, we all were a bit confused but very excited. You could feel a tangible buzz of energy as our initial strolling accelerated into a full-on power walk to our unknown destination. Finally, Dr. Jordan stopped near a window that looks out onto the cloister of St. Stephen’s (our favorite place for a game of croquet).

As soon as we saw it, the tears started pouring. Taped to one of the panes of the iconic triple-paned windows of the House was a piece of paper with the following words on it: Choral Institute Oxford Williamson Voices Window. Once we realized that this was our very own place in our beloved St. Stephen’s, it was all over. Unless you’ve seen Williamson Voices in action you may not believe it when I say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the place nor an arm that wasn’t wrapped around somebody’s shoulder. As a family, we held on tightly to one another as Dr. Jordan explained to us that this window was ours and will forever stand as a testament to our time here and our precious memories of our home across the pond. Our work here and the mission of CIO will be memorialized as will the deep friendship and partnership of Williamson Voices, James Jordan, and James Whitbourn. Without the work of all involved, especially our dear friend and mentor, James Whitbourn, this amazing commemoration would not be possible. Thank you, James, for believing in us and giving us a home here at Oxford. This unlikely and indelible partnership will be commemorated on our window in the form of the following inscription surrounding the seal of Westminster Choir College:

Choral Institute at Oxford
Westminster Choir College of Rider University
Westminster Williamson Voices
James Jordan, conductor

photo 1 St. Stephens Window

I’m not sure I can accurately describe what it feels like to know that we will never be forgotten in Oxford. This window will live on in this most sacred place that in itself stands as a tribute to brotherhood and familial love. If Westminster Williamson Voices stands for anything it is just that. We are a family of musicians who share a common belief in the power of honest, humble, spiritual music. To know that our message has a permanent home in Oxford, of all places, is unbelievably humbling and moving.

To commemorate and dedicate this window to the members of Williamson Voices, past, present, and future, we sang the Lutkin Benediction in true Westminster fashion. As we sang, our voices rang through the halls of St. Stephen’s, just as our memory will reverberate and cause ripples forever. This life-affirming moment will forever be embedded in my memory and I will always be proud to know that the spirit of the Williamson family is spreading. Dr. Jordan always says that if the spirit is right, the sound will follow. I think we can now say that if the spirit is the right, the world will follow.

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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