Well, this post is long overdue, but the jet lag really was a lot more than I expected returning home. Be prepared to take naps, and for early mornings when returning from the other side of the pond. So, away we go!
After a very emotionally and physically tiring Tuesday, we still had more to do for Wednesday!! We finally made it to our own concert, which was at 7:30 p.m. But, we have to go back a little before that for the day.
Starting the day off with breakfast again in the morning, and afterwards we had our closing ceremony for the program. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn both spoke a little on how well everything went this year, the progress everyone made, and overall how incredible the program was for everyone. Dr. Abrahams and Dr. Pilkington also spoke briefly, and our very own new dean, Matthew Shaftel, spoke as well. I completely dropped the ball earlier in not including the news that Dean Shaftel came all the way out to Oxford with his wife to see the Choral Institute!!! Spending time with him has allowed the choir to get to know him, speak with him, and develop a connection with him that has been nice. He seems eager to begin working, and his interaction with the students and everyone at the Institute is honest and inviting.
After speeches, the certificates were handed out upon finishing the program, and we then exited the church to prepare for lunch. We ate quickly, and then at 1:30, Williamson had our dress rehearsal with the conductors to prepare for our final concert of the year. The University Church of St Mary the Virgin in Oxford is quite a beautiful church. The space was grand, with older wooden pews and plenty of space to walk around and an upper floor to sit as well. The architecture is incredible, and we admired the building inside and out, but rehearsal started shortly after we arrived. We rehearsed our program, running segments of each piece and working with each conductor. After the rehearsal, we practiced walking on and off stage, as every group needs to do, and eventually determined the best way to proceed into the church.
A buffet for was prepared for everyone after the rehearsal. The food yet again was excellent, and soon we headed back to the church dressed and got ready for our concert.
One amazing part of our concert Wednesday evening was that it was the 50th anniversary of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms to the day, which I think was a really neat opportunity. Who can say that they performed a great work on the 50th anniversary? Not many I bet, so singing this in our concert was a great feeling. The other part of this concert was that it would be the last time that this group of people in the Williamson Voices would sing together in the choir. We had many seniors and graduate students who graduated this year, and this would be their final experience as members of the Williamson Voices family. I don’t think many of us thought about that at all with the smiles on everyone’s faces and the joy we could see in our eyes, but the thought in my head appeared before and after the concert. The concert itself went well; we sang our hearts out and enjoyed being able to sing together again for that one last time. Everyone gave their all to the conductors to make the concert the best it could be, and we could not have asked for anything more. Our audience seemed to love the concert, and our conducting friends were always quick on their feet to give standing ovations, which was fun to see as we could see them smile and laugh toward the back of the church.
Once the concert ended, we all changed and proceeded to enjoy our last night in Oxford. The feeling was very strange, as it finally began to dawn on me that we were leaving, yet it felt as though we had just arrived. The way I could walk through the town was as if I had done this my whole life. I could remember where places were, what streets to take, and recognize stores all with ease. Yet, this was the last night we would have for our trip.
We enjoyed our last night at the Cape of Good Hope down the road from St Stephen’s, so everyone quickly changed and headed over to spend some quality time for one last night. Everyone talked and laughed, sang to music and enjoyed the time we had left both together with one another and the time we had in Oxford. Seeing everyone together smiling and having a good time reminded me of how much I love the people in this choir, and even though this year with the Williamson Voices has just about ended, I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store, should Dr. Jordan have me back of course!
We woke up Thursday morning and had our last Oxford breakfast, and then ran back to pack our bags, relax for the morning, and maybe run out and pick up some last minute souvenirs. Once 12:00 rolled around, those of us taking the group flight back home packed our bags onto the bus and made our way to Heathrow Airport for our flight. We said our goodbyes to those who wouldn’t make the flight with us, and wished them safe travels until we’d see them again. Getting through the airport was surprisingly quick and easy, and then we all played the waiting game until our flight at 5:10 p.m. Once we boarded our flight, we enjoyed some airplane food and movies, along with some very entertaining group flight chatting the airline offered, and the seven-hour flight went quickly.
From there, many of us went separate ways, some back to Princeton, some back home, etc. I went back to Princeton after the flight as I would go back to working my job on campus in the morning and then head back home afterwards to see my family.
As quickly as we had arrived in Oxford and been amazed at everything in store, our time in Oxford went even faster. Thinking about all of our memories of the Choral Music Institute, with meeting and spending time with the conductors, taking fun trips around the city, crazy punting adventures, and more, it still surprises me that the trip happened and that I am back in Princeton. Everything about the trip was incredible, and so valuable to me as a choral singer, as a conductor, as a teacher, and more importantly, as a person. I have learned many values and ideas that I need to carry on in my life from this experience that I don’t believe I could have learned elsewhere. Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn have been amazing teachers, as well as the conductors, and the memories I have of the trip will stay with me the rest of my life.
I see the posts on Facebook and read the texts of friends after getting back of the pictures and the happiness from the Choral Institute, from both conductors and choir members, and I see nothing but happiness and thankfulness. Everyone I see is so grateful for the opportunity to experience the Institute and to travel abroad to Oxford, and feels blessed to have taken part. While talking to others who could not go, they express the desire to go next year, and feel that no matter what, whether they take part in the choir, or as a conductor, or even can audit, they feel that this trip offers so much to learn from.
I can say without question that this trip may be one of the best experiences I will ever have. I am so grateful that I could go and be a part of the Williamson Voices again and to learn so much and grow so much from the Institute. I hope that the Choral Institute at Oxford will continue, as the lessons that each and every person learn will stay in the hearts of all for the rest of their lives, and the memories will be something we will remember the rest of our lives.
To everyone who was there, thank you. Words cannot express how thankful I am that I could spend time with you all, meet you in the first place, and see you become part of the growing Williamson Voices family. You have taught me so much in such a little time, and I will remember you all forever.
To everyone who helped make this trip happen, thank you. If you all had not helped support this trip, whether that be financially, or physically making the trip happen, supporting someone else, or whatever it was, you have helped more than I think you will ever know. You have helped change lives and change the way that we look at music and the world.
To Dr. Jordan and Dr. Whitbourn, thank you. Your lessons during the Choral Institute have made, and will make, such an impact on my life, and I know I will only continue to learn more from you both in the future. Your work is appreciated by every last one of us, and cannot thank you enough for all that you do in our lives. You have opened our hearts, and taught us the importance of love and honesty in the music we make with others, as that is when the magic in music appears.
I guess for now this is goodbye, but it is definitely not the end. I know I will see everyone again, some sooner than later, but I cannot wait to see what next year holds in store!! Goodbye!