China – Friday to Sunday

Friday was our biggest performance day. Our first concert was at the National Centre for the Performing Arts.

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In between our two performances we visited the Opera House, walked through Tiananmen Square and then made our way to the Forbidden City Concert Hall for the second concert of the day. Our encores were Yimeng Mountain Song and Youth Dance. We had the incredible privilege to perform for the composer himself, and from the audience he gave us a huge thumbs up.

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A common joke among people is that music people are not that physical. We are here to tell you that is not true!  We had some incredibly strong choir members, who braved the intensity of The Great Wall and climbed 700 steps to reach the top. From there we viewed the beautiful changing leaves and saw an incredible view of the town below us. The “walk” along the Great Wall is more like a hike; it’s a series of stairs that you never quite adjust to. On our walk along the wall, you had to crawl through a window to get through the very first watchtower!

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To leave The Great Wall we had many different options. You could choose a ski lift, a slide, or a cable car for our descent. Some of our choir members chose to take the cable car and on their wait in line they struck up a conversation with a nice couple. After exchanging stories and finding out that we were in Beijing touring they asked to sing for them. We sang Shenandoah and gave a “mini” concert for everyone who was in line waiting. A few of our choir members took the slide down and they said it was an experience of a lifetime!

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Our adventurous day ended with a very fancy dinner with the Kaiwen Leadership at the Quanjude restaurant where the choir had Peking Duck and many other exotic foods. Here one of our choir members, Yiran Zhao, taught the rest of us how to eat this delicacy.

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Our last day was spent exploring Beijing and the immediate area we resided in.

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After a very long day of shopping we spent our last night performing at the closing ceremony where we sang selections from our concerts.

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Throughout this trip we were reminded about the unity that music can bring to people. The highlight of our day was after the closing ceremony was finished the South African Choir, Malaysian Choir and Westminster Choir all joined together in a spur of the moment and sang Shosholoza together. The South African Choir brought out their drums and created an environment that only music could.

— Felicia                                                                        — John
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China – Monday -Thursday

Monday: We left for Beijing on Sunday and, after one very long plane ride, we arrived in Beijing! We got settled in our hotel, then we traveled to Tsinghua University for the opening ceremony of the 5th Beijing International Art Week for Youth and International Students Choral Festival.

We actually had Chinese takeout for dinner that night! It wasn’t at all like Chinese takeout we’d have in the US. We also got Pizza Hut that night, which was also different; imagine my surprise when I opened a container I thought had shrimp in it to see broccoli! The fried shrimp was especially delicious. The opening ceremony was wonderful. It was a celebration of all of our different countries and cultures coming together through music. Rachel Feldman, our Graduate Assistant, and Dean Onofrio represented the United States and our school in the procession of the flags of all the different countries at the festival.

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There were lots of performances by Chinese dance groups that showed their traditional culture. One group in particular beautifully depicted the importance of the Yellow River through their incredible choreography.

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Tuesday, we had the morning off, which we used to try and recover from jet lag. After a relaxing morning, we headed off to Golden Sail School for our first concert. It was our first time rehearsing the program in order, and it’s three weeks earlier than we normally would, but it came together really well! In the first half of the concert, we had the pleasure of watching the choir from the Malaysian Institute of Art, conducted by Susanna Saw. Many choir members knew her from her participation in the Summer Choral Festival. We performed on the second half of the concert. After the concert, we congratulated the Malaysian choir on their performance. On a whim, we started singing Shosholoza, one of their pieces, together. It was the highlight of the day and a great way to start the festival!
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Wednesday, we visited the Summer Palace. Our tour guide, Eva, was a blast on the bus ride there! She told us lots about life in Beijing and the story of Cixi, the Dragon Lady, who controlled the lives of three emperors. The Summer Palace was incredibly beautiful. We walked along the Long Corridor, a vividly decorated, very long pavilion with paintings of stories from Chinese culture. We sang the Lutkin for Eva on the bus ride back, and began our afternoon at Kaiwen Academy!
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We spent the afternoon at Kaiwen Academy: we sang for them and they sang for us! Dr. Miller gave them some encouraging words on why we all enjoy music and encouraged them to keep singing.

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We toured Kaiwen and then returned to Tsinghua University, where the opening ceremony was and shared the concert with the Beijing Bayl High School Choir. They were amazing! One of our other bloggers, Emma Daniels, happened to know a Mongolian piece “Naiman Shirag” that the choir knew, and after the concert, she conducted some of them in a little impromptu performance! It’s amazing how much music can bring us together from across thousands of miles and different cultures.
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Thursday morning, we took a tour of the Forbidden City. We had another wonderful tour guide, Manna, who told us all about the history of the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was awe-inspiring to see. It was filled with grandeur and beautiful buildings that are standing after hundreds of years! You could really feel the tradition and culture in that place. It definitely inspired that final scene in Mulan!

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After the Forbidden City, we traveled to Kaiwen Academy’s Chaoyang campus. After eating lunch there, the leadership of Kaiwen gave us a very warm welcome and talked about how excited they were that our schools were coming together. After that, we gave a full workshop for the students. After singing a few selections for them, two choir members gave solo performances, accompanied by Dr. JJ Penna.
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The students came down and sang “Yimeng Mountain Song.” Dr. Miller worked with them and had a lot of fun with them!

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Several of their students played piano for us, followed by a choir member, Yiran Zhao, playing one of her own compositions. It was a really great workshop where we really exchanged our art with each other.

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Later that night, we gave a concert at the school, where we sang and several Kaiwen students performed instrumental works. At this concert, we sang “Youth Dance” as our encore, which was the first time we sang our Chinese pieces in China. As soon as we started singing, the audience became very excited and started clapping along! It completely surprised us, but we were delighted with how much they enjoyed it.

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— Felicia                                                                       — John
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Spoleto to Now

Hello Westminster Choir Blog!

October is upon us and work with the Westminster Choir is in full swing. We enjoyed many exciting successes at Spoleto Festival USA back in June, but now we are back and working toward a trip to Beijing, China in just a few days.

One of my favorite Spoleto memories, besides the incredible food, music and scenery, is the final dress rehearsal/warm up before our last performance of the Martin Mass in Charleston. We had all gathered in concert dress in the beautiful sanctuary of St Mark’s Episcopal Church and Dr. Miller began to warm us up. We were tired, very warm and quite homesick, but we were so happy. Anyone who attended that concert knew that to be true. We were so overjoyed to be sharing the culmination of many months spent with these pieces with everyone in attendance. Although we were sad to say goodbye to the Martin Mass and those graduating, we were happy to celebrate the loving family we built and the anticipation for the album we were anxious to release.

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The celebration continues and grows as we’ve welcomed new members to the group this fall. We had bonded over many a late night memory goal study session or a Thursday morning sectional and snack time, but it’s always hard to find time to really get to know the other members of the choir until retreat. Returning to Crossroads Retreat Center in Port Murray feels like a homecoming. We all set up in the two bunkrooms and almost immediately began to rehearse, but retreat is so much more than that. Thanks to the work of Rachel Feldman, our graduate assistant conductor, and Gloria Wan, the social coordinator, we played games that engaged us in spirited debate as well as some cardio! We were able to forget our stressful, homework filled lives and be present with one another. The first day ended in a campfire, s’mores, and a sky of beautiful stars. Day two brought more rehearsals, and of course, the traditional Sectional Olympics. I’m pleased to announce that thanks to the fabulous leadership of Emma Daniels and Ashley Ross, my section, the Sopranos won sectional Olympics this year!

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In my opinion, the best part of retreat is at the end. We’ve rehearsed for hours, we’ve faced off in Sectional Oympics, and we’re tired. Dr. Miller sits down with all of us and begins to read. He shares things with us that he knows we need. He reminds us that he’s human, and that we are too. It’s easy to forget to check in with ourselves, to remember why we began this quest to study music and be members of this choir. We’re constantly working on a new piece, perfecting the balance between our demanding classwork and other jobs.

This year Dr. Miller read “The Precious Present” by Spencer Johnson. The story describes a young boy who is trying to figure out the secret of happiness, of the “precious present’ that he had heard about from an old man. My favorite quote from this story is from when the young boy has grown up and finally realized the meaning of the precious present is living in the moment, for what it is.

“It felt good for him to be with himself–just the way he was. He felt he knew enough. He felt he had enough. He felt he was enough. Now.” In talking with some of the other choir members afterward we were all in agreement: this was what we needed, this was the truth that would prepare us for the intensity of this year.
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In the weeks since retreat we have spent a lot of time rehearsing our new repertoire. Our concert in China is centered around the exploration of different experiences in relation to love or lack of it. It has not been easy. We are dealing with subject matter that is very real. We are memorizing words that describe truly human experiences, both very beautiful and utterly horrifying. Sometimes it becomes difficult to be so close to these emotions in our music and that is when we lean on each other. I am so thankful for my colleagues, especially in these moments.

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It has been about a month since this year’s Westminster Choir officially met, but it already feels like family. We have worked so hard for these upcoming concerts in Beijing, China. We have felt so much through this work and with the strength we garner together we will fulfill our roles as conduits for important, relevant art.

— Betsy
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Catching Up

Hello, all! Wow, has it been a crazy few months in the Westminster world! Since we last spoke, Westminster Choir has recorded a new CD (out in September 2018!), performed movements from Brahms’s Ein deutches Requiem for the master’ss recital of our graduate assistant, Andrew Cooper; participated in the Westminster Choir College Alumni Reunions, and traveled to Charleston, S.C. to participate in 2018 Spoleto Festival USA!

First year master’s student in Voice Performance and Pedagogy, Kelsey Lewis, described her experience at our CD recording in Troy, NY: “I really loved the recording process. Some people might say that it’s long and grueling, but there’s something really cool about being able to record a passage over and over again until it is really perfect. It’s also cool because you’re not in front of an audience and can move around as you please. It’s liberating.”

In March, the choir traveled to Troy to record the entire Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin, as well as several smaller pieces including Randall Thompson’s Alleluia and two works by Westminster Choir College faculty: Little Lamb by Joel Phillips and Tim Brent’s brand new, recently published Peace Song. During our four-day trip, choir members ate well at Troy’s many wonderful restaurants including Dinosaur BBQ, Little Pecks Café, and Muddaddy Flats Quesadillary. Many singers stretched and did yoga between sessions. On our last day there was a huge snow storm: choir members dragged their suitcases through the snow and sleet to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall before our final session. Many singers resorted to hanging their socks out to dry over space heaters before the trip home!

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In April, Andrew Cooper conducted Westminster Choir in his master’s recital. We sang movements 1, 2, 4, 6, and 7 of Brahms’ Requiem. Andrew did a fantastic job! We look forward to singing the full work at Spoleto with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra Chorus and the full Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra in about a week!

Finally, in May, we sang at Westminster’s Alumni Weekend. What a privilege it was to sing for these wonderful folks with whom we have so much in common! You could feel a palpable sense of connection in the room – we all had studied, performed and made music on this beautiful campus.
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Now, we have just begun our first performances at the Spoleto Festival and are having a fantastic time here in beautiful, sunny Charleston! We will write again soon with details about Westminster Choir’s adventures at Spoleto!

— Emma
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Vivancos, MartIn, and Donizetti, Oh My!

It is hard to believe we are already back to school, three weeks into our spring semester. The end of tour was quite the whirlwind! I returned home exhausted, but also inspired and elated. There is nothing like an 11-day, 7-concert, 4-workshop bus tour across the Midwest to bring you closer to your choir-mates and to remind you of the extraordinary power of music to bring people together and to serve others. It was such a joy to make music with Westminster Choir on this tour. When we returned, we enjoyed a nice, restful week off before classes started back up again, and the evening of our first day back to classes was our Homecoming Concert!

What an extraordinary concert! Choir members were able to reunite fully rested and with all the rehearsals and concerts and experiences of tour to help make this performance especially strong. The performance was also special because it was our last performance with our senior Music Education majors who will be away student teaching in the spring. This year, Westminster Choir had seven student teachers who are leaving for the spring semester, a larger number than usual. The last time we all sang the Lutkin together was especially meaningful. We will miss our student teachers very much!
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Since we’ve been back to school, Westminster Choir has been preparing for our recording in March and for Spoleto. In March, we will record our tour program, Listen, as well as Lux surgit aurea, a gorgeous a cappella piece written by Bernat Vivancos for Westminster Choir and premiered by the choir at the 11th Symposium on Choral Music in Barcelona last summer. We are currently working on this piece in rehearsals—members who are new this year are learning it for the first time while our returning members are thrilled to be able to sing it again! In our soprano sectionals, our first sopranos have worked on balancing where their high Cs fit amidst a very luscious, immensely sonorous, fortissimo section toward the end of the piece.

In our rehearsals, we’re also focusing on honing in on the nitty-gritty details of the Martin Mass for Double Choir to prepare it for our recording. It is a wonderful feeling to reacquaint yourself with a score you haven’t looked at in months and to discover and rediscover certain intricacies and musical moments.

For Spoleto, we are rehearsing our parts in Donizetti’s opera, Pia de’ Tolomei, a tragic opera in two acts written by Donizetti in 1836-7. At our first rehearsal, Dr. Miller introduced the opera to us by assigning roles to choir members and having us act out the story for each other. It was a blast, and such a great way to start to familiarize ourselves with the story of pious, innocent Pia, who has been horribly betrayed by jealous Ghino, friend of her husband Nello, and his henchmen Ubaldo.

Leanne Contino, soprano and graduate vocal performance major, shares her thoughts about our Listen program: When I listen to this music, I feel safe. The music surrounds me and creates this warm and supportive space where I feel protected. Whatever happened during the day all goes away as soon as the music starts. I feel like I am in a different realm when I listen to this music!

I look forward to another exciting semester with Westminster Choir!

Emma
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2018 Tour — the Last Leg

Caught up on sleep, Westminster Choir is glad to be back in Princeton and enjoying a week off before Monday, when classes will begin and we’ll have our final concert of the tour program until the Spoleto Festival USA. It has been an amazing journey, both in terms of travel, and the emotional and musical journey of the program itself. The final four days of tour were by far the most grueling, with long bus travel and a concert each day. It definitely took a toll on everyone’s voice, and a number of us fell ill. Despite the intense schedule, we had a successful end to tour and formed lasting memories. Here’s everything that happened:

Our Thursday performance was at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, an expansive space that, in terms of acoustics and size, reminded me of the Basilico de San Lorenzo del Escorial from our trip to Spain. It was utterly magnificent, with amazing structures, and with mosaics spread across the entire ceiling. When we sang, our sound traveled for what felt like minutes. Given how sonorous and harmonically oriented our program is, it was a good match for us, the type of space where it’s just fun to perform as a singer.

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After finishing our performance around 10 p.m., we turned right around 10 hours later and hit the road to Indianapolis. On the drive, we encountered our second snowstorm of tour, and here’s another shout-out to our driver Rich, who navigated the conditions deftly and sassily. We arrived at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in the afternoon and enjoyed another wonderful, large, but more modern space for our afternoon rehearsal. Following an excellent dinner (thank you St. Luke’s choir members!), we gave our concert for a small but enthusiastic audience who braved the snow to see us. Afterward, we went home with our generous host families and enjoyed a nice night’s sleep before heading to Columbus, OH the next morning.
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On our way to Columbus, we had an unexpected stop at a place in Ohio that is rather significant in the history of Westminster: none other than Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, the founding site of the Westminster Choir in 1920. It was a special feeling to be a part of the Westminster Choir going back to its birthplace. The sanctuary, feels as though you could have walked in 100 years ago and it would’ve felt similar. We took our time exploring and imagining the music they may have sung 98 years ago. To close our time, we sang the Lutkin Benediction in the choir loft – a very cool moment.  (And took a selfie with Joe Miller.)  Check out the Westminster Choir Facebook page for more pictures!
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In Columbus we performed at First Community Church, a historic, simple, but beautiful space. The acoustic was perhaps the driest we experienced over tour, which means everything is much more exposed. Of course we performed there on the night that we had a full house and were being broadcast! However, throughout the tour it was important for us to continue refreshing the details we built up during the semester, so after a nit-picky rehearsal we were able to have a great performance. A video of the performance is on the church website.  Follow this link and look for it in the Archives tab.

Afterward, we went home with our homestays, before heading off to our final stop in Pittsburgh the next day.
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We performed at Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, a familiar space for Westminster Choir, who sang there for the funeral of Westminster alumna and benefactor Elsie Hilliard Hillman in 2015. Before the concert, Dr. Miller urged us to remember that, while it would be emotional to perform the final concert of tour, we had a job to do, and a homecoming performance left after all! We went out and had a wonderful performance, with an engaged audience, full of many family and friends of choir members.
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That night at the hotel we had our annual banquet to close tour, a time where we look back on the journey by having a little fun handing out Paper Plate Awards and by sharing our gratitude through toasts. It’s a wonderful tradition that had us heading back to Princeton tired, but thankful for the 12 days we spent together and the performance journey we took.
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As a final reflection, here is the response to our program by soprano Sophia Santiago, junior vocal performance major and newcomer to the choir:

When I listen to this music I feel like humans are capable of so much beauty. When I listen to the Martin Mass, I am in a state of being overwhelmed and entirely peaceful at the same time.
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– Scott

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2018 Tour: Bloomfield Hills and Chicago

Hi everyone! Today is day 8 of our Midwest tour. I am writing from the bus – we left our hotel in Chicago this morning and are currently driving down I-55 toward southern Illinois and St. Louis, our next stop!

Since our last tour blog post, we have performed our concert twice more and have participated in three more workshops! After our eventful first days of tour, we left Cleveland to make the trek up to Bloomfield Hills, MI. The drive was not too bad, a mere 3 and a half hours (which was not much compared to our 10 hour trip on day 1). Many choir members slept, taking the time to regroup and relax before our performance in Michigan that evening.

When we arrived to St. Hugo’s of the Hills Church in Bloomfield Hills, we were in awe of the interior design of the church. The space was gorgeous, with beautiful modern architecture and incredible clay stations of the cross, which lined the walls. In the back of the church was a fountain, which trickled water continuously, through our rehearsal and performance. The effect was quite meditating.

We rehearsed in the space and then made our way to a different space to connect with the Eastern Michigan University Choir and their director, Dr. Brandon Johnson. Many of us especially liked their performance of the South African song, “Indodana.” It was a privilege to see this choir perform and to see Dr. Miller work with the choir. Dr. Miller worked on helping the choir to feel and show intent as they sang their pieces, in the musical phrases, the harmony, melody, and rhythm, and on their faces. It has been amazing to see him work with all kinds of other choirs on this tour and as a spectator, watch him rehearse. The performance in Michigan went splendidly and the fountain dripped steadily in the background through it all.

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That evening the choir stayed with our first set of homestays! I, along with most of the other choral conducting students on tour, were lucky enough to stay with the parents of one of our classmates, Kayvon Kashani-Gharavi. His parents were lovely hosts and we especially enjoyed our (second) dinner of DELICIOUS Persian food – hummus, stewed saffron chicken, basmati rice with sautéed barberries, yogurt/cucumber sauce, and more!

In the morning, we got up especially early for two workshops in the area. (Shout-out to the luggage crew who loaded the bus for our 6:30 a.m. call!). We met the choral students of Chelsea High School and Bloomfield High School and were able to perform for them and then see them perform. It was wonderful to see the passion and excitement in their faces and meet such talented young musicians.


After our morning of workshops, we bussed to Naperville, IL, just outside of Chicago, where our third concert would take place. We enjoyed a nice evening and morning off in Naperville before we made our way to the Grace United Methodist Church. Our performance that evening felt very different. With each performance, I can feel us becoming more and more connected as a group and invested in this repertoire and the journey on which it takes us. There was a sense of energy and cohesion and great familiarity with the repertoire, which I could feel truly growing at this performance.
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That evening we stayed with some very lovely families from Naperville, and then in the morning, headed in to the city for our day-off(ish)! Choir members explored the Art Institute, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, and Millennium Park and the Bean, went shopping down the Magnificent Mile, ate deep dish pizza, and quite a few saw the musical Hamilton at the theater next door to our hotel!

In the afternoon, we were able to have an exchange with the Chicago Children’s Choir (CCC) and Associate Director Judy Hanson. I grew up in the choir and was thrilled to witness such a fantastic connection between these two ensembles that have inspired me so much. Our exchange began with a joint performance of “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield. Westminster Choir performed for CCC and then CCC performed for us, and there was not a dry eye in the house. This was an incredibly moving experience! The passion in the hearts and minds of these young singers was so evident and so inspiring. It was clear the amount of work that both choirs put into serving others through music and joy and love.
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John Swedberg, a first year graduate in Sacred Music, shares his thoughts about our program: When I listen to this music, I want to share it with everyone I know. I truly believe this music can be a blessing to anyone, regardless of taste or background.

This tour has been a fantastic experience so far, and I look forward to our next performances in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus, and Pittsburgh!

— Emma
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2018 Tour: Cleveland

Hello from Westminster Choir tour! It’s the fourth day of our Midwest loop, and I write to you from the bus as we depart from Cleveland, our first stop. I’m happy to say that we’ve had a very successful start, if a little eventful, with a snowstorm, workshop, and concert already under our belt. Let’s see if I can thaw out my fingers enough to type this blog…here’s what we’ve been up to.

On the morning of January 4, departure day, we woke up to a snowy Princeton, with poor roads and snow still falling heavily. It certainly made loading luggage interesting. As people finished and got onto the bus, time after time you would just hear a gasp, or “brrrr,” or some exclamation as they entered and began to thaw. If nothing else, the snow made us awake and excited as we hit the road, and our bus driver/life coach Rich handled the conditions deftly, much as a figure skater weaves his way across the ice with grace and precision.
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With such expertise, we got to Cleveland without a hitch and still humming tunes from Moana, which beat out both Princess Bride and The Breakfast Club for our first movie slot (what a world we live in). As we stepped off the bus, we got our first taste of Northern Midwest cold – dry and biting – and promptly grabbed our luggage before sprinting inside the hotel.

On Friday morning we ventured out into the Ohio cold for a high school workshop at Baldwin Wallace University. Unfortunately the snow caused one of our two high schools to cancel, but that also meant that the Baldwin Wallace Motet Choir was grounded from its tour. This was oddly fortunate because it meant they were able to spend the morning with us. We had a wonderful time singing for each other and watching Dr. Miller work. We got to hear the fantastic Midview High School Chamber Choir, and the BW Motet Choir, directed by Dr. Dirk Garner, who excellently performed works by David Lang. As I watched Dr. Miller work with both choirs, being a conducting student, I was blown away by his ability to infuse meaning into the most technical, intellectual works.
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I’m reminded that however intellectually significant a piece may be to a choir, it means nothing unless it can be communicated meaningfully to listeners. Once Dr. Miller worked with them on grounding their techniques in this idea, it truly transformed their performances. We finished the day singing Paulus’ The Road Home together, conducted by Midview’s Justin Caithaml. We wish the BW Motet Choir the best of luck on their tour, and keep up the good work, Midview!

After a relaxing, chilly (did I mention Cleveland is cold) 24 hours of free time, it was time to head to Church of the Covenant for rehearsal and our first performance. This is a fantastic space in which to sing, and it’s always fun to see what adjustments need to be made to the varying performance spaces. In this concert we were able to start our concert, which begins with the Kyrie from the Frank Martin Mass for Double-Choir, in double-choir formation in the opposing lofts. After rehearsal we were treated to an excellent dinner – thank you very much to the church members who made food for us!

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With the performance, I’d say we kicked off tour in good form. Being in such a beautiful space, it was a blast to finally perform the set again, and our audience was very gracious. As I’ve mentioned previously, this program, titled Listen, was designed by Dr. Miller to bring the audience member out of the world he/she is living in, and hopefully allow him/her to reflect on his/her own voice in the midst of such strange times. To prompt this thought, we ask the audience to reflect on they might complete the phrase “When I listen to this music I…” How do you respond to removing yourself from the everyday? We will pose this question to Westminster Choir members throughout our tour and the rest of the school year. Today, newcomer Christina Han, a sophomore vocal performance major, reflects on our tour program: When I listen to this music I feel as though I am in the presence of all the major influences of my life, alive or not.

– Scott
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December!

It’s Winter break! You know the expression: time flies when you sing fantastic music with wonderful people…while also juggling a full course-load…and while maintaining a personal practice regimen…or, maybe that’s just how it goes at WCC? Well, in any case, these three months really have flown, and it’s hard to believe I have only one semester left here. Looking back on the end of the fall semester, in typical Westminster fashion, we raced all the way to the finish line.

Every year Westminster Choir performs a holiday concert at the Racquet & Tennis Club in Manhattan that serves as both a fundraiser and a thank you to the College’s donors. Coat and tie only for gentlemen, and no cell phones — a little fancier than sitting in class! The concert is nice for a few reasons. After two months of continuous, hard memorization work on our tour program, it’s nice to take a break and sing seasonal music with scores in front of us. The trade off is that we have a short amount of time to prepare a full program, but the music is a bit lighter and easier in general.
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It’s also nice because of the audience: donors, alumni, and other interested people, an all-around very engaged crowd. However, many of them got a bit more than they bargained for when we invited them to sing along for our Rudolf the Red-nose Reindeer/Frosty the Snowman medley, but, to be sure, many of them fit right in with the choir!

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One of the coolest parts of this concert is that it tangibly showcases the students of the College. Our Graduate Assistant Conductor, Andrew Cooper, made his WC conducting debut with the Dawson Mary had a baby, featuring a stunning soprano solo by senior B.A.M. major, Jade Blocker — a wonderful showcase of the conducting and vocal talent at WCC. We closed the concert with the most ridiculous arrangement of Jingle Bells you can imagine (Ben Parry), and if you’d like to hear the arrangement, check out Tenebrae’s “What Sweeter Music” album.
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As the Racquet & Tennis event prep was happening, rehearsals for Readings and Carols and Handel’s Messiah with New York Philharmonic were also at full-throttle. Because of the concurrent preparation time for these performances, some students did R&C (Schola Cantorum and some people in Symphonic Choir), and some of us did Messiah (remaining Symphonic people); just an example of how things are adapted to keep up with all the engagements! Both sets of performances were very successful, and I’m struck with how unique they are to WCC students. Where else do you see EVERY student (almost) at a school come together to do a massive performance in a giant gothic chapel, but still make it artistic, dramatic, and ethereal despite its scope?
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Or where else is it “another day in the life” for students to pick-up in the middle of finals week to travel to NYC and perform five performances with a world-renowned orchestra. Not only are people writing term papers or studying during breaks, but Maestro Andrew Manze (an exuberant and very giving conductor) regularly encouraged the orchestra to listen to the way we articulated the text as an indication of style. This just isn’t normal! One can’t help but love our strange little College. To be sure, when all was said and done, people’s hearts were full, but a hard regimen of sleep and relaxation was certainly in order.
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For Westminster Choir, there’s just a short break, a chance to relax and hopefully see loved ones, for many of us it’s full of extra work either at church or otherwise, and then it’s on to tour January 3rd. As for me, I’m currently in Philly for Messiah with the Philadelphia Orchestra, with a choir that has a number of current and former WCC students. After this, I look forward to heading down to VA after a busy day at church on Christmas eve, where Winter Break proper will begin for me. Before we know it, we’ll be off to the Midwest. Until then, safe travels and Happy Holidays from the Westminster Choir!

— Scott
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A Busy Fall at Westminster

So, since I’ve last written, a LOT has happened here at Westminster. We’ve been busy with concerts and run-outs almost every weekend this fall! In early October, Symphonic Choir performed Mozart’s C Minor Mass with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall! We performed under the baton of Pablo Heras-Casado. It was a privilege to be able to work with a world-renowned conductor and to sing at Carnegie!

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At the end of October, the full, almost-200 member Symphonic Choir sang a program of double-choir pieces by William Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast and Coronation Te Deum. We performed at the Princeton University Chapel and were conducted by Dr. Miller! During the first weekend of November, Dr. Quist, Dr. Jordan, Chapel Choir, and Schola Cantorum presented three fantastic performances of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes, collaborating with DanceSpora, a contemporary dance company based in Trenton.

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AND, that same weekend, a small group of women from Symphonic Choir were lucky enough to be able to sing in performances of Gustav Holst’s The Planets with the Philadelphia Orchestra and maestro Cristian Măcelaru. This was all within the span of one month. Typical WCC things, I hear.

Last weekend was our first Westminster Choir concert of the year. While choir members worked tirelessly on the performances mentioned above, they also prepared for the Westminster Choir fall concert, “Listen.” Each Friday we came to rehearsal prepared to sing a new piece or movement from memory. Each week we met in our separate voice part sections to focus in on section-related details with our wonderful section leaders. Before we knew it, our rehearsal chairs were swept aside and we were staging the program!

And before I knew it, I was standing beside the large, ornate doors of the gorgeous Gothic style Saint Mark’s Church in Philadelphia, standing side by side with the sopranos and altos, ready to enter and begin our first performance. It was a surreal experience, performing with this choir for the first time. It truly felt as if we all were experiencing the same emotions completely in sync with each other as the concert went on. You know, those indescribable emotions you have when your choir sings a certain chord, or reaches a certain climax within a piece? When the tuning clicks, when a cut-off is perfectly timed, or when you hear a chord that remains in the air after you’ve finished singing it? When I felt something, I saw it on my fellow choir members’ faces, and I saw it on Dr. Miller’s face and in his gesture. The performance was full of these amazing magical musical moments.

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The concert in Philadelphia on Saturday gave us the chance to experience a complete performance of our program, with all its transitions, both staging and musical. On Sunday afternoon, we performed back home in Princeton, in Bristol Chapel. It was nice to bring the program home and share it with folks in a beautiful space on the campus we all love so much. At both performances, it was incredible to feel the amount of support in the room! There was an impressive showing of Westminster alumni, as well as family and friends and current students and faculty.

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It was such a privilege to be able to sing such a timely and thought-provoking program of music with this choir. The program encouraged audience members to sit back and listen, to reflect on themes of beauty, peace, and shared humanity, to think about music’s ability to bring different people together, and to listen introspectively to their own voice. I am looking forward to taking it on tour with the choir in January! If you are in the Midwest (in Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Columbus, Pittsburgh, or nearby!), you should absolutely come join us for one of our performances! More details here.
— Emma
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