Wow. What an amazing weekend.
After several days of intense singing and work, we had our day off! We were given a day to explore the city, rest our voices, and relax and refocus. Most of the choir stayed up late last night in order to spend time with each other and celebrate the upcoming weekend! Therefore the day started later than it has been starting all week, with everyone – myself included – getting much needed rest.
Once everyone was awake and ready to go, a group of us headed over to the river for an hour of punting! Now, this is truly an English tradition. Lots of people – groups of people, couples, and families – gathered to get their turn to enjoy the sights from the water. Though I can’t say that any of us in my boat were very good, we definitely had a blast. We barely made it around part of the bend, but it was eventful nonetheless; we ran into trees, ran into boats full of people nearby, became entertainment for many onlookers and photo-ops for some local photographers. All in all, punting was super fun and even more so for people who could steer!
The rest of the day was filled with exploring the beautiful city. Some people saw sites from the Harry Potter movies (basically everything looks like Harry Potter – just as an aside), or climbed towers to view the city. The stone streets are filled with an immense amount of history and beauty that it is somewhat incomprehensible. A bunch of my friends and I ventured to a pub called The Bear for lunch. This is the oldest pub in Oxford, dating back to 1242! Given that the U.S. didn’t declare independence until 1776, it completely blows my mind that an establishment that old could still be fully functioning. I have to say that the burger I had at The Bear also may have been the best burger I have EVER HAD.
We all met at the end of our day full of relaxing, exploring, and socializing to join for the CIO cabaret! One of the conductors, Alexander, has led this event every year the Institute has been open. His passion for music making and community has been remarkable to see. Different members from the choir, as well as conductors, performed various pieces or shouted musical theatre lines for hours. Not only was it so fun to watch and participate in a night of pure entertainment, but it is amazing how talented these people are. Sometimes I forget what an honor it is to be surrounded by such talent every day at WCC and in Williamson Voices. Not to mention that one of the conductors sang a rendition of “Glitter and Be Gay” which ended in a monstrous standing ovation. With all of the hard work we do every day with the conductors, it was nice to socialize in a more relaxed setting.
Saturday was just the recharge we needed in order to be ready for Sunday. Yesterday, we performed at Christ’s Hospital Chapel in Sussex with children from two elementary schools and a professional orchestral group called the Bernardi Music Group. The grounds for the school, where the chapel is a part, were absolutely breath taking. Is everything in the UK just stunningly beautiful? Wow.
We drove a lengthy way, but did have the privilege of stopping by William Penn’s house for some tea and coffee. My dad would have been freaking out if he was with us. The amount of history and the building itself were incredible. As I am from Pennsylvania, this history was totally relevant and it is so cool being able to see part of America’s history in another part of the world.
The concert was a part of the Shipley Arts Festival and was themed “A Musical pilgrimage from England to America.” The concert began and ended with traditional Shaker melodies – going along with our lessons on William Penn, Quakers and Shakers. The rest of the concert continued with performances from the Bernardi Music Group, Williamson Voices, Andrew Cleary (organist), and combined groups. The musicianship of the organist and the orchestral group was truly inspiring, especially for someone like myself, who is not surrounded by orchestral music all that often.
I am a music education major, so I absolutely LOVED watching these kids perform. They started off pretty shy, as to be expected as so many unfamiliar faces surrounded them. Dr. Whitbourn led the choir (children and Williamson Voices) through the two British folk songs and reviewed lyrics and so forth. It was incredible to hear that amount of sound that the children could produce when they were asked to sing louder than us. It was so exciting watching them get this experience to sing with a professional orchestral group and university choir at such a young age. The whole day made me feel so lucky and so excited to be in music education. The whole performance I watched wide eyes and open mouths as they listened to the orchestra and Williamson perform. You truly never know what kid is going to leave that day wanting to be a professional singer, be in an orchestral ensemble, become an organist, or simply want to sing concerts like that one. It was a really special performance for me.
Following the long bus ride back, we finally got some sleep – and thank goodness! Today starts another crazy day, which includes listening to and singing for one of the greatest musical minds in the world, Dr. Edward Higginbottom! Wish us luck!