Good morning from Oxford! What a beautiful place to wake up to.
These international development programs provide so much critical networking and experiences for us as students. I mean where else would I have been able to get to hear professors from Oxford speak about musicology and chant? There are truly no words for how lucky we are to have this experience.
One of my favorite spots in Oxford thus far is a place called Rick’s Café. It’s another favorite WCC spot.
It is quaint and has a lot of personality – which is basically true of most shops/cafes in Oxford near St. Stephen’s House. I have been able to drink tea and blog and hoping that I do not stand out as an American *laughing*.
Speaking of food, where else am I going to get some of the best curry in the world, besides India? The UK! I had my first experience eating authentic Indian food, and man, was it awesome! I don’t know if I would have tried it anywhere else in the world.
I CANNOT believe how beautiful this city is. I have been spending time in one particular courtyard to reflect after our sessions. St. Stephen’s House, as well as apartments that are for graduate students, encloses the courtyard – so one can see the iron-rod decks covered in planted flowers and home décor along the old brick that is brimming with character and stories to tell. The city has a quiet magic, but is enchanting nonetheless.
It was amazing being able to work with the conductors every day. They are all so unique with varying levels of experience. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn keep telling the conductors that even though they are regarded as the teachers in this program, it is actually the choir that teaches them. That our singing and our connection are how they learn. That fills me with such honor and excitement, but it is almost hard to believe because I feel like I have already learned so much by watching them all for only the few minutes they conducted. They have such care and respect for us as musicians, students, and just as people. It is moving.
Watching Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn work with the conductors has taught me more about being an artist and the deep nature of the music than any technique or conducting gesture. Seeing inside Dr. Jordan’s thoughts with each song has enlightened a whole new side to the music we have performed for a year now. Stories and personal connections that he would not necessarily say otherwise, he shares with the conductors and the singers in order to clarify a meaning or greater depth to a piece.
I am moved constantly in these sessions with the conductors. The combination of the intimacy of the program and the truly unique and loving participants has created an environment where trust, honesty, and openness have been a large aspect of where each conductor grows. It is mind-blowing to me how a simple movement of hands can create a sound that is so much more open; how simple eye contact can make a sound more honest; and a conductor’s mindset for the piece can make sound flow in tune. I understand music, this choir, and artistic expression in a way I may have never understood if not for this experience. You can physically feel the changes that a conductor makes. As the singer, you can feel when someone opens up or lets go and trusts. It is remarkable. One of our Westminster Choir College and Williamson Voices alumni is a conductor this year. As he said on the very first day, “I am coming here as a musician trying to become a better person.”
Compline. Compline is an Anglican service that we perform in the evening. We have the privilege of performing the service in one of the chapels that is in St. Stephen’s House. During our time over the school year as well as the Institute, we learn about chant and rehearse it regularly. Luckily, we are in one of the best places in the world to study and perform liturgical music. At the end of the day, where it has been emotionally and physically taxing or if there was endless smiling and laughter, we can all take time to sit and be with ourselves. We can reflect and enjoy being with people who are growing in this experience with us. Whether you are spiritual or not, or believe in God or not, there is something about chant, with the unison line and stillness that follows, that causes an inward sense of being.
Although we did not have Compline last night, we had another beautiful experience in its place. Williamson Voices was able to listen to pieces we have recorded within this past year. All singers know how weird that is. However, it is a different feeling entirely to hear yourself and the people you work with and just feel so affirmed with your work. Williamson Voices is so lucky to have someone like Dr. Whitbourn who cares for the choir the way he does as the producer of our music. The amount of work he has put into our recordings and this program is inspiring. I looked around the common room in St. Stephen’s and saw my colleagues, friends, and basically my family. People in that room have helped me through some of the darkest periods of my life and been there to celebrate some of my greatest moments as well. How can you not feel like the luckiest person? I know I do. I went into this summer feeling discouraged in myself as a musician, student, and educator. Now, I feel a renewed sense of purpose and passion. There is no argument against the impact this has had on everyone involved.