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.
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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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).
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!