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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.