Man, today was a crazy day already and it’s not even over! Even though I have traveled to Germany by myself and have attended a program abroad, I still found myself so nervous for this adventure. This is my first time in the UK and only my third time leaving the country. For the other trips, I went by myself or with a group of people I met that day, so the excitement of seeing other members of Westminster Williamson Voices overcame the nervousness of the unknown.
After an over night flight and with some very tired eyes, we arrived at St. Stephen’s House! Finally. One of the first things we did was sing through a personal favorite of mine, “Good Night, Dear Heart” by Dan Forrest. Getting to sing together after a month of summer break was so rewarding, even amidst the total jetlag. No matter how long it has been, no feeling can be compared to singing with the people you call your family.
For lunch, we adventured into the streets of Oxford. After getting delicious chicken from Nando’s (a local favorite for Westminster students), I broke off from the group to explore the local bakeshops. The shops were filled with pastries, candies I didn’t recognize, and a million treats I wanted to try. I was surprised to hear so many languages spoken all around me while walking on the streets. I don’t know why I would be surprised – given how easy is it to travel to nearby countries in the UK/Europe.
Oxford is very quaint – it’s a city, but without that big city feeling. One woman I met on the plane, who is from Philadelphia but now lives in London with her boyfriend, described Oxford in the best way. She said, “Most places don’t look like they do in movies. Oxford looks just like it does in films set there. It appears so quaint and magical, and it truly is.” Well, that woman was right.
We, along with the conductors, were then officially welcomed to the Choral Institute by Dr. Whitbourn and Dr. Jordan. All that Dr. Whitbourn had to say in regards to Oxford fascinated me. There are so many colleges that make up Oxford University, and each stand as a different community, which is different than the way we organize “colleges” in the States. It is often just an area of discipline or an “umbrella” of majors, instead of a physical separate building with its own distinct atmosphere and community. I love history, so I enjoyed hearing about the history and story of Oxford, specifically St. Stephen’s House. It has a large focus on theology, which is fitting given the chapels. There are a few throughout the ground of St. Stephen’s, though you may never know because on the street, all you see is a wide section of beautiful brick from the surrounding houses. In reality, there are small courtyards bathed in sunlight, gorgeous open windows lining a concrete walkway, and simple but elegant chapels with influences of medieval architecture.
The connection between St. Stephen’s and Westminster creates a really beautiful experience for us. Westminster was founded as a university with deep connection to religion and faith. Our traditions, like An Evening of Readings and Carols and music at Commencement, are still full of references to God and spiritually. The presence of faith and religion at St. Stephen’s, as well as music, has made it feel like a place I already know. Even though I am filled with awe and admiration of the beauty of this place, it already feels like somewhere I could call home.
Once we were properly welcomed and given the logistics for the week, we departed for our first English dinner all together. I was able to spend time with friends I haven’t seen in a month, and it filled my heart to see that there were almost too many people to sit at the tables. Not only was it a reminder of how lucky I am to be a part of this choir, but also of how lucky we are as a choir to have so many conductors and associate conductors who feel so passionate about their own musicianship that they want to connect on such a personal level with us.
Almost time for my first “tea time” at Oxford before we work with the conductors for the first time! Have to run, but wish me luck!