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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The new year begins!

Hello again from Westminster Choir! I’m thrilled to return to the choir, and to blog again for this incredible group of people. It seems only yesterday that we stepped off the plane from Spain, but somehow school has been back in session for a month, and there’s an air of excitement for the upcoming year. New freshmen and graduate students have completed their first (hectic, I’m sure) month, returners have begun accomplishing new goals, choirs have set new rosters and gotten to work — Symphonic Choir has already done a Beethoven 9 with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra! You know, WCC things.
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Westminster Choir certainly hit the ground running, with four pieces already memorized, and the annual retreat come and gone. This year our program is centered on the idea of taking the audience member out of the world that he/she is living in, and allowing him/her to have a human experience independent of the everyday. In what can often feel like such vitriolic times, the necessity of zooming out from our bubbles and gaining perspective is more necessary than ever. We in the choir are all certainly invested in this idea, and cannot wait to bring it to life through our program.

I am glad to be in the role of a returner this year. Nothing will ever replace the wonderful whirlwind (often trial by fire) of being a first year graduate student at this place, but it’s nice to know a thing or two, and to be a little more comfortable and open to the various happenings. Speaking of first year, I’m happy to have Emma, first year choral conducting student, blog with me this year! It will be a great mix of perspective between returner and newcomer, and to have such a wonderful writer as a partner. Below she offers her perspective of the Westminster Choir retreat, and it’s an absolute blast!

It’s going to be a wonderful, fulfilling year, and I can’t wait to share the experiences with the blog audience. First performance in just over a month!

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Scott

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Wow, I could not have predicted how much the Westminster Choir retreat would mean to me. What an incredible group of lovely humans! What a fantastic choir, and what beautiful sound! What a gorgeous setting, so relaxing and isolated! It seems hard to put my first retreat experience into words, but I’ll try my best to capture a few moments that stood out to me.

On Friday afternoon, I drove up to Cross Roads, the camp where our retreat took place, with a full car of five choral conducting grad students. Our first two memory goals of the semester were due that evening. (Memory goals are what we call our deadlines for memorizing certain pieces or movements on our current program). So, for most of our car ride to camp, the five of us reviewed and prepared for the deadlines, singing through the Kyrie movement of Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and our Swedish piece by Öhrwall. This actually worked out pretty well, given that we had 1 soprano, 2 altos, a tenor, and a bass, and had most voice parts covered. (Admittedly, we did not have all parts covered for the double choir Kyrie…but so it goes). We had a pretty good time memorizing on the road. I think I can officially say that I am a fan of the choir car-rehearsal.

After our Friday evening rehearsal, we played team-building games, organized by one of my fellow conducting graduate students, Alex Simon. These games were very well-chosen- Alex did a fantastic job! My personal favorites were the circle game and the shoulder-tapping game. In the circle game, we all stood in a circle while one person stood in the middle. That person said something about themselves and anyone in the circle for whom that fact was also true would have to leave their spot to look for a new open spot. The middle person would take over an empty spot and then we’d have a new person in the middle, with a new fact about themselves to share! Through this game, I learned who the other Midwesterners are and who shares my loves for sushi and Game of Thrones. In the shoulder tapping game, we all sat in a circle (we really love the circle games in this choir) and each took a turn moving around the circle while all others had their eyes closed, tapping those on the shoulder we had been enjoying getting to know and wanted to get to know more, and tapping those on the head we had already felt strongly influenced by. As a brand new member in the choir, it was incredibly moving to feel so appreciated and so loved. You could tell there were a lot of good feels in the room that night.

On Saturday, I participated in the legendary Westminster Choir Sectional Olympics. Sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses split into teams for a series of daunting, physical tasks, in competition with one another (the sopranos had by far the best costumes, but of course, I’m a little biased!). There were egg walks, human caterpillars, dizzy bat challenges, and impressive human pyramids! There were skits in which each section made fun of another section, with some pretty creative rhymes thrown in there! The Olympics finished with final games of capture the flag, and in the end, the tenors pulled through with the win. Sopranos technically won second, but I think it was universally understood that we were the best competitors and really had deserved to win (at least due to our feisty spirit and enthusiasm).

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The Basses

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The Altos

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The Sopranos

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On Saturday evening, we were all exhausted after having rehearsed and run around in the hot sun for many hours (I think it was in the 80s for most of the weekend). As we were finishing up our last evening rehearsal, Dr. Miller pulled out a book of poetry. He shared poems that mean a great deal to him, and as he read, there was barely a dry eye in the room. He read so genuinely and vulnerably. I felt lucky to be able to know such a wonderful artist, teacher and human. I could tell that the choir members all admired and look up to Dr. Miller so much, and that he admires us in return. It was an amazing moment of empathy and connection, which made me look forward to getting to know all these people even better as the year goes on. This retreat represented just the beginning of what I think will be an incredibly moving, transformative, and special experience with Westminster Choir. I look forward to a fantastic year ahead!

Retreat- Joe Miller

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Emma

 

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Spain July 25-30 & the final blog post of 2016-2017

Here’s what happened in part two of Westminster Choir’s trip to Spain:

Tuesday, July 25 was our final day in the Madrid region, central Spain. We took a tour of the Royal Palace in the morning (the Spanish royal history is really weird. But interesting!), and then departed for Segovia, our performance location, where we got to see the incredible aqueduct system and Alcazar de Segovia. Our performance took place in the Iglesia de San Juan de los Caballeros, a simple, reverent space that carried our choir’s sound beautifully. Until that day, I had never seen the choir so excited following a performance of our concert program – everyone was thrilled afterward in the dressing room, and we were excited to keep it going in Barcelona.
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The following morning we said goodbye to our wonderful guide, Quique, and hopped on the high-speed train from Madrid to Barcelona (when are we going to get these, America!).

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Barcelona, a coastal city located in the Catalonia region, was a very different place from Madrid. More humid, for starters, and our dorms were located well outside of downtown where the Symposium was. That night after we got settled, most of the choir went to the magnificent Sagrada Familia, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Guadi, for a concert. Many people said they had never seen such a beautiful space.

Thursday the 27th people had some free time during the day. Some went to events at the Symposium, some went to the beach, and some just took time for themselves. It was a relaxing day that culminated in one of our most interesting and beautiful concerts of the tour. We traveled to tiny Puig-Reig, a 1,000-person village north of Barcelona, and set up camp in a gymnasium. To be completely honest, people were confused at first as to how we landed in a gym for our evening performance. Personally, however, (and I think most people came to agree) there was something very humble and beautiful about it. Dr. Miller said it reminded him of home and reminded us that we are bringing to the population an art they may not normally get to experience. It was a wonderful, fun concert that much of the village attended. Perhaps the most cherished part of the night was when the town members thanked us after the concert by breaking into song with a local folk tune. Needless to say, the choir took this tune and made it the rallying cry for the rest of the trip. We are very thankful to the residents of Puig-Reig!

Friday was the “big day,” so to speak — our main performance for the Symposium. The concert hall was a totally choir-friendly space and very different than the churches (or gym) in which we had performed previously. We were in a large hall, on a stage with lighting that separates you from the audience. Our performance closed a long concert that included three other fantastic choirs, and we were a little concerned it may not be well attended by the time we got on stage. We were wrong. The space was full of choir nerds, and they were thrilled to hear us sing. Following a little confusion about how to line up back stage, the choir left all stress at the door and adopted a focus I had never seen in us before. It felt like everyone was on a mission – to perform excellently. It was one of our biggest, most distinguished audiences of the year in terms of musical literacy, and we had been preparing for this concert for the entire year. They absolutely loved it. It was the quickest standing ovation I’ve ever seen for Westminster Choir, an outpouring of love for the music. We were simply thrilled, a night I think we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

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Riding the high from the previous night, our final day in Catalonia brought us on a winding drive up Montserrat. It’s impossible to really describe the mountain, but it is one of the most unique geological structures I’ve personally seen, with startlingly beautiful panoramic views of Catalonia. Many of us had a great time exploring the trails before the performance. Our final concert of the year took place in the Montserrat Abbey, and is actually available to view on the Westminster Choir College YouTube channel. My advice is to watch it and see for yourself what it was like, because it’s difficult to describe the feeling of performing for the final time with an ensemble that has been together for nearly 11 months. Needless to say, emotions were strong and love for one another was at an all time high. Tough to explain! So, take a look.

The next day we were out the door at 6:20 a.m. and headed for the U.S., happy to be heading home and eager to regain our energy. Undoubtedly, most everyone in the choir will cherish the trip to Spain for the rest of their lives. The opportunity to perform in historic spaces and to see a landscape and culture so different from what we know. Just an example of the beautiful opportunities our small college offers to spread what we’re about. Here’s to many more in the future!
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September 7 to July 30 — the year for the 2016-2017 Westminster Choir has finally come to an end, and it is overwhelming to consider. We’ve said goodbye to the graduates for the final time, and those of us still here look forward to starting anew in only a month (what?!). I look back on the first blog post that Claire and I wrote about the retreat, both of us newcomers to the choir. We couldn’t have imagined what was coming. We have memorized hours of music and staging – tour concert program, Anthracite Fields, Eugene Onegin. We have traveled and performed across the southern east coast – Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina. We have endured uncertainty about the future of our cherished school and have protested to protect it. We toured Spain, performing in magnificent spaces and for choral musicians from around the world. We have made music together, finding new beauty in each performance and in each other. Most importantly, we have given ourselves to spreading a message greater than any one of us:

“Do all your work as though you had a thousand years to live, and as you would if you knew you must die tomorrow.”

How will we live in our present, not knowing our future? We have learned to respond:

Today I will…

give up control.
think of faraway friends and family.
appreciate the people around me as well as myself.
enjoy the company of my family.
eat New York cheesecake.
be the best possible version of myself.
enjoy my surroundings.
pray.
hear, and not just hear, but listen.
learn from my mistakes and change.
not be afraid to be vulnerable.
smile at everyone I meet.
savor the process.
share my passion for music with everyone I meet.
take time to enjoy the good things in life.
stay calm.
breathe and be present.
GIVE PRAISE!
seek to understand rather than seek to be understood.
see through my eyes and NOT my screen.
tell my kids I love them.
live for me.
honor and love my communities, past and present.
go to the beach!
stop and plant a seed of love every place I go.

Thank you for following the Westminster Choir blog this year!

– Scott
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Spain! July 21 – 24

Saludos desde España! Hello from Spain! After 11 months of waiting, we’re finally here! It has been completely surreal to arrive at our final project of the year, something we have been looking forward to and planning since our first rehearsal back in September. We are honored and wholly excited not only to represent the United States at the World Symposium for Choral Music, but also to have many other performance and exploration opportunities along the way. So far, we’ve had an amazing first three days dipping our feet in this beautiful country.

Have you even been awake, more or less continuously, for 31 hours? Everyone in Westminster Choir can now say that they have! On July 21 excited singers woke up around 8 or 9 a.m. had the strange experience of a six-hour flight that lasted from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (due to time change), and didn’t get to bed until roughly 10 p.m. local time on July 22. You can imagine the exhaustion upon arriving in Madrid, but this didn’t do anything to mute the excitement of finally being in Spain! When we got off the flight we met our guide, Enrique (“Quique”), and he is simply wonderful — an energetic, hilarious, and easy-going Spanish native who hasn’t lost his youthful energy. He led us on a tour of the city and then took us to our first tapas dinner in Spain. It was a long and exhausting, but very fun first day that ended with the majority of the choir immediately crashing upon getting back to the hotel. The rest was much needed because the following day brought our two concerts.

A blue, cloudless Spanish sky greeted us in the morning as we embarked on a trip into the mountains. Our destination was the Convento de Santo Domingo y San Pablo, a 16th-century convent in Las Navas del Marquez that sits atop a 1,800 meter mountain. The winding drive was magnificent – panoramic views of the layered, tan mountainside abounded. One could be reminded of the American Southwest. Our concert was part of the Festival de Música Vocal de Navas del Márquez, and it was one of the many different programs we’ll do; same music from the year, but varying orders and combinations according to the venue. One of the fun parts of this particular concert was sharing the American folksongs from our program — Dr. Miller specifically selected these pieces at the beginning of the year with our trip to Spain in mind, in order to share the music of the United States. _DSC1311_DSC1339_DSC1366

It was a wonderful, engaged audience, and shout-out to graduate conducting student Francisco Ortiz-Ramos for translating Dr. Miller’s words of welcome into Spanish very effectively!

Our next location for the second concert of our day brought us down along another mountainside to the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial. Words can’t do it justice. It is a profoundly magnificent structure that looks out over the mountain, complemented by artfully precise hedges in the courtyard. The basilica, our performance space, is itself an awesome structure, and it is something of a choral singer’s dream acoustically. Bass Matt Marinelli joked, “Don’t mess up, because if you do it’ll last for eight seconds!” Such a joy to sing in an unforgettable space, and we were fortunate to have a large, receptive audience again.

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Now it’s day four and most people are caught up on sleep. This has been a day off from performing, so we traveled to “Holy Toledo” where we saw a beautiful panoramic view of the city and took a tour, then went back to Madrid for a little R&R. Some people are seeing museums or doing some shopping, some people stuck around in Toledo and are riding the train back tonight — it’s nice to just enjoy Spain for the evening! Tomorrow we’re back at it with a concert in Segovia, and then the following day we’re off to Barcelona for the Symposium!

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As a way of remaining present throughout this wonderful experience in Spain, here is a closing Today I will… from recently graduated vocal performance student, Kelsey Lewis (who is on to her M.M. at WCC next year!): Today I will stop and plant a seed of love every place I go.

— Scott
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