San Antonio – Betsy
Howdy Westminster Choir Blog Readers!
Texas has truly influenced all of us as we have just finished the middle stretch of our tour in San Antonio and Dallas.
We were so lucky to have been able to perform at Our Lady of Atonement in San Antonio on January 13th. The space was beautiful and, in the words of our own Dr. Miller, felt as if it were in the South of France. It is always a bit nerve-wracking taking a more unconventional program like this one to such a traditional, reverent space. As we performed for the large audience I think it was clearly understood that although the topics we were singing about were difficult in nature, we were addressing them to make an impact and a statement about something we believe in.
That evening, after the concert, my homestay group, Madi, Rachel, Katie, and I had the pleasure of meeting Connie and Maria and they took us to their lovely home a few minutes from the church. When we arrived we were all very excited to have our own beds as well as a home- cooked meal (two things that are hot commodities when on tour). We learned a lot about their love of choral singing and their lives. One of my favorite things about tour is to see how choral music affects different communities in different ways. We heard stories about how this mother and daughter were brought together through singing in the San Antonio Choral Society, and they showed us their beloved choir folders filled with repertoire.
The next day, we headed back to the Our Lady of Atonement campus where we held a workshop with the upper level choirs of Atonement Academy. They sang such beautiful and advanced music – including some Mozart! We have all been so impressed with the level of music making and passion we have seen from all the schools that we have worked with and it was no different at Atonement Academy.
Soon after, we held another workshop at Ronald Reagan High School, a public school where our very own Bass II, Matt Marinelli, attended high school. We could tell it was a truly special moment for him, his teachers, and his family as he was able to share what Westminster Choir College is about with a new group of prospective students. It caused me to think back to my high school choral experience and how I hope to share the same joy with the choir members when we tour California next winter. This group of students truly inspired us, which was a great send off as we left San Antonio for Dallas.
At every concert, Dr. Miller promotes the blog by telling the audience members that you can get a sense of what it’s like to “ride the bus.” I realized recently that we don’t write nearly enough about how we spend our 4-5 hour drives. A few years ago, (to the best of my knowledge) two Westminster Choir students hosted a “talk show” on the bus using the intercom to interview members of the choir and find out about their homestay experiences. Each experience is so different so we spend between 30 minutes and an hour exchanging stories about the people we met, the beautiful homes we stayed in, and (of course) the cute pets. We also watched School of Rock which I swear we watch every bus ride. We also have quite the affinity for memes. We make memes of each other and for each other and send them around the bus. They don’t make sense to people outside of the choir, that’s how we know we spend way too much time together on tour. Other than that, it’s a lot of sleeping, studying scores, composing, reading, watching Netflix, etc. I definitely know that I have become a better traveller by being a member of the choir. I have also invested in an intense memory foam neck pillow.
San Antonio – John
We traveled to Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio for our third concert. The church had a beautiful acoustic, and it was richly colored and decorated. As we pulled up, some of the choir members remarked how much the church looked like a castle! After a productive rehearsal, we had a wonderful afternoon concert. Some of the other choir members and I are brothers of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and some brothers from the local chapter came to see our concert. We talked with them and sang a few songs together.
No matter where we go on tour, we always find friends and make connections through music. We went to a homestay after the concert. Our homestay was a lovely family with six children! I tried chicory for the first time, which is a coffee-like drink. I really liked it! The hospitality of strangers never ceases to amaze me.
We began our day bright and early with a workshop at the Academy of the Atonement, the school attached to the church at which we had just performed. We were delighted to learn that, like us, the students of the academy sing together every day. It’s always a treat to work with another school that puts singing at the core of its education. We warmed up with the choir and sang some of our pieces for them, and then they sang some pieces for us. Dr. Miller worked with them on the “Kyrie” from Mozart’s Missa Brevis. We don’t often get a chance to see Dr. Miller working with a choir that isn’t us, so I always watch him carefully, seeing how he uses the same ideas and style of teaching with high school choirs. After we sang a few more pieces for them, Dr. Miller presented gifts of the solfege poster and our new CD to the students, which elicited an expression of great surprise and delight from one girl in the front row!
Our next workshop was at Ronald Reagan High School, where one of our choir members, Matthew Marinelli, went to high school. One of the pieces we sang at this high school was Ted Hearne’s Consent, a rather dissonant piece about gender inequality, losing agency over one’s own body, and how everyday language can play a role in these inequalities. One of our choral conducting graduate students, Jillian Newton, gave a beautiful introduction for the piece. Here are some of her words about Consent: This piece has had a profound impact on all of us, and we hope that it will continue to open up a dialogue where we acknowledge the presence and usage of this language in our own lives. However, most importantly, we hope that it will remind us to use our words to celebrate the agency that we all have over own bodies, the equality that we share, and the selfless, caring love that we can show each and every person.
Dr. Miller also had Matthew tell his story of growing as a musician through high school and making his way to Westminster.
They sang a couple of pieces that they were preparing for UIL, the statewide choir competition, and blew us away with their impeccable musicianship. After the workshop, we traveled to Dallas, where we settled into our hotel and got a good night’s rest.
Dallas – Betsy
After arriving in Dallas, we had the night off, which I spent with some other sopranos and altos playing Phase 10 and catching up. The next day was our very exciting day off! At 10:45 all ten of the Westminster Choir sopranos met in the lobby of our hotel, hopped in two ubers, and went to brunch at a spot called “Bread Winner’s.” We were lucky enough to have our own private room, and we all sat together and had mimosas, fresh juices, coffee, and some incredible brunch food.
Later that day I went to the Dallas Museum of Art with some other choir members. We were able to see so many masterpieces by Monet, Mondrian, and Frida Kahlo. We spent a couple hours really taking in as much as we could and I personally was inspired by the exhibition dedicated to women artists.
After that Alto, Kelsey, and Soprano, Jess, and I ventured to a coffee bar and roastery to have some delicious drip coffee and buy some beans. We sat and chatted for a few hours before we decided to head back to the hotel where I hosted girls night. We played games, ate delicious pizza and had a lovely bonding night.
The next morning brought another workshop at Colleyville High School. It was really lovely to meet all the choir students and sing with them!
Later we went to Timber Creek High School for another workshop. It was a small group, but their sound was so mighty! The clear collaboration and respect they shared with each other and their conductor was incredible. We truly enjoyed getting to know this group and hope to see them auditioning at Westminster sometime soon!
In the evening we all split off and did our own things, I applied to jobs, journaled, and took some time for myself. The altos had alto bonding night at the Cheesecake Factory and some people went to a basketball game.
The Dallas concert at Church of the Incarnation was exciting because lots of alumni came out to support us, and it was so fun to see old friends.
All in all, San Antonio and Dallas were so much fun and I know we all hope to return soon.
Dallas – John
Today was our free day in Dallas! At Dr. Miller’s recommendation, I went to the JFK memorial with my friend Max. It was quite haunting to see. It seems like such an ordinary spot, with hundreds of people driving over the spot where President Kennedy was assassinated. We also went to the 6th Floor Museum, located on the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository. The exhibit and audio tour was very comprehensive and quite compelling, combining detailed descriptions and photographs with many recordings of people who were present at the assassination and the subsequent investigations. After the museum, we had lunch with Max’s aunt and uncle. His uncle then gave his own personalized tour of Dallas. We had a great time with Max’s family, followed by bass night! On tour, each section gets together and has their own night for celebration and camaraderie. We got dinner and then went go-karting, which was loads of fun. We raced three different times until the track closed. I never knew how competitive some of my section members could be! We had a lot of fun just being together outside of our responsibilities as choir members. The bonding of these times that we hang out and have fun makes us a better choir too.
Today was another day of workshops. Our first workshop was at Coleyville Heritage High School. Their conductor was extremely affable and made us feel right at home. We sang some pieces for them, including a really exquisite rendition of Esenvalds’ Long Road, and they sang Randall Thompson’s Last Words of David for us. They were really energetic and passionate about singing. We had a nice Q&A session with the choir where they asked us about singing together and how we stay so healthy on tour. We said our goodbyes and went to Timber Creek High School.
Timber Creek had another incredible program. Their director introduced as “the Britney Spears of choirs,” which I took as the highest of compliments. From the first note that we sang, the students were enraptured. It was incredible to have such a giving and emotional audience. When they sang for us, they were just as open and spirited as when they listened. Not only were they wonderfully expressive, their sound was incredible! We were all blown away. Dr. Miller worked with the choir on their piece, which seemed like it couldn’t even be improved. We also had a chance to chat with the choir afterwards, which was incredibly fulfilling. Many of the choir members want to go into music and have incredible spirits. I think I speak for all of us when I say that our hearts were full after that workshop.
As Dr. Miller likes to say at every concert, one of our favorite parts of tour is seeing friends and family along the way. So imagine my surprise when my close friend Nichola showed up at our hotel after the workshop! Apparently, she had been planning to surprise me and a few other members of the choir for months. It was such a treat to see her and catch up after not seeing her for a few weeks. Shout out to Carolyn Sauer, our tour manager, for making this surprise possible!
This was our last day in Dallas. We began the day with a workshop at Flower Mound High School. They have an incredible choir program! Their women’s choir sang a Duruflé piece for us, followed by their men’s choir singing a Finzi piece. They concluded their portion of the workshop with an incredible rendition of I’ve Been in the Storm for So Long. Like at Timber Creek, we got a chance to talk to the students after the workshop, which I always enjoy.
We gave our Dallas concert in the lovely Church of the Incarnation. After the concert, I tried Whataburger for the first time, as part of the Texas cultural experience. I enjoyed it quite a lot! Now, onto the last leg of our tour in Fort Worth and Oklahoma City.