Path of Miracles at the Spoleto Festival USA

Hello, everyone! After an incredibly challenging year, culminating in our memorized performance of Path of Miracles, we immediately began our next challenge: staging Path for the Spoleto Festival USA. Simply learning and memorizing the music was an immense journey all its own. We had no idea what the staging was going to be until the last week of classes, when we began our staging work in Princeton. Our director, John La Bouchardière, had previously worked with the choir in 2014 for a production of John Adams’ El Niño. I was immensely excited to meet him and begin the staging.

Before we met, he asked us to create a character that we would portray in our performance. At our very first day of rehearsal, he asked every single choir member to talk about our character and explain why they were going on the Camino. It was remarkable to hear the detailed, specific backstories that everybody had devised for their characters.

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Sharing our character’s story.

Then, we got to work. For the most part, the staging was very general: we had points to hit or big stage pictures to make at certain points, but the focus was on our individual narratives. A note we all heard time and again was, “You have to know why you’re moving. You have to decide to move.”

Fitting our characters into the music was tricky at first. Not only our actions but our singing had to be motivated by our characters. In between periods of staging, we broke off into groups and played games to help with our improvisation and acting. After three long days, we had staged most of the work and were ready to continue our work in Charleston the next week.

When we arrived at our first staging rehearsal in Charleston, we all noticed one thing: the size of the rocks. As part of our pilgrimage, we all carried rocks for the majority of the show. We had been practicing with small bags of sand in Princeton but these in no way prepared us for the size of the rocks. Along with our rocks getting heavier, our rehearsal days got longer.
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That first week, all my memories of Charleston are from the ballroom in the Gaillard. Some of the director’s original ideas for the staging ended up not working when he saw them in real life, so we had to rework a lot of the staging. A lot of the staging was done through experiment: our director would suggest something and we would try it; if it didn’t work, we’d try something else until we got it right. The fourth and final movement, in particular, was difficult to stage in a way that did not get boring after too long, since it’s a long, joyous celebration of our arrival in Santiago, the end of our pilgrimage. After a lot of work, though, we had the staging locked in, so we started adding costumes.

The costumes were full of rich, flashing colors and patterns, drawn from the colors of stained glass windows. Many of our costumes came from our own clothes, so we looked like ordinary people who might be attending a concert at Spoleto. These clothes also reflected different class backgrounds of our characters.

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Photo credit: William Struhs, Spoleto Festival USA.

As we made our pilgrimage towards Santiago, we shed our bright, colorful outer clothing to reveal simple, neutral underclothes. The costumes aided in John’s broad concept for the piece: no matter our background at the beginning of the pilgrimage, we all realize that we are truly equal by the journey’s end. Like our rocks that we could finally set down, we leave our old selves behind to walk into our new lives.

After several arduous days in the ballroom, we began rehearsing in the concert hall of the Gaillard, our performance venue. Everything felt a little bit different when we went in the hall. The stakes felt so much higher. We did a full run-through of the show for the very first time in the hall. That run-through took an immense amount of concentration and focus, both musically and dramatically. I really can’t overstate how hard it is to sing for an hour in all sorts of contorted positions and delivering a subtle performance of my character’s inner journey, all the while holding a rock!

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Photo credit: William Struhs, Spoleto Festival USA.

Somehow, we got through it. Afterward, we continued to work on our staging, tweaking this and polishing that, all for the sake of clarifying the story for the audience.

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John La Bouchardière checking the stage during rehearsal.

Finally, we got to opening night. Not only was it the opening night for Path of Miracles, but it was our very first performance at Spoleto this year. We were all ready to share our story with the audience. As part of the narrative that we were ordinary audience members taking this journey, we actually began in the audience! I was seated next to Roy DeMarco, a tenor, and an audience member. I give the pitch to begin the show, so I was the very first person to sing. Let me tell you, it was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life! Normally, we have some distance between ourselves and the audience and other people are singing with us, so making a mistake isn’t the absolute end of the world. Being a foot from an audience member and singing totally alone, however, left no room for error.

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Photo credit: William Struhs, Spoleto Festival USA

After that frightening beginning, we walked onto the stage and began our journey. All through the show, I felt the energy and excitement carrying me along. The hardest thing about performing Path was staying absolutely focused on the music without ever breaking character or losing track of the narrative. It took a lot of energy and focus, but we were able to walk that tightrope and sing beautifully while enacting a powerful story, both as a choir and as individual characters. We end by processing out of the hall, followed by a speedy return for bows. The energy when we walked back into the hall was astonishing. I have never before seen an audience jump up to give a standing ovation! We were all ecstatic that we had performed Path of Miracles, fully staged, for the first time ever.

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A final bow.

I was wondering what drew so many people to these performances. Were they coming based on our reputation as a choir, or was it the story of the Camino de Santiago that they were coming to see? After hearing from several people, I think it was both. I was amazed to discover just how many people have made this pilgrimage. Two choir members talked about family friends who had made the pilgrimage, as did several audience members I had the opportunity to speak with after the performance. Although we did not actually walk the Camino de Santiago, staging Path of Miracles was an incredible journey. The level of sensitive acting and performance that was demanded of us for this performance is way above what is normally demanded of a choir. It’s rare that we are asked to be completely individual in a performance, while still singing together. Still, we stepped way out of our comfort zones to bring the audience on a journey with us. This performance was absolutely the most impactful performance I’ve been able to be a part of, not only for the audience but for myself and for the choir. The music was already so powerful, and the staging only amplified that power. Taking that journey, although only a performance, led me to reflect on who I am and who I want to become. I left Spoleto resolving to be kinder and more giving going forward, to help everyone who’s going through struggles. I spoke to a few other choir members and asked them what their thoughts were after performing Path of Miracles. Here’s what they had to say:

“Staging Path of Miracles taught me how to be patient, flexible, and creative. In high school theater, I was used to tons of structure and specific direction when staging plays and musicals. This process was quite different because of the individuality of our characters and the minimalist design of the production. It taught me a lot about the process of stage direction and how to develop my own character. I also learned how to use my voice and body all day without becoming tired. Knowing when to mark and when to sing full out was extremely important to reduce vocal fatigue, and getting adequate sleep and taking meditative breaks helped with bodily fatigue.” – Jess Huetteman

“My biggest takeaway is that storytelling is vital to choral music. Through this process we got to tell the story of our pilgrims through the staging along with the incredible music. This process reminds me that we need to do this with all of our pieces, staged or not, and continue to tell the stories of all the characters and texts we come across as choral performers.” – Scott Aucoin

“Path of Miracles wasn’t a performance, it was a journey and an experience. Our humanity and personal experiences are represented with each of our own individual movements and interactions with each other through this music. It was a chance to represent who we are as people while singing.” – Felicia Villa

Path of Miracles is a performance I’ll never forget. It was an incredible honor to make this journey with Westminster Choir. Really, this whole year was a pilgrimage. We began as strangers, but through our travels and tribulations, preparing dozens of concerts, we became closer than ever, and we’ve each come out stronger, with new resolve for making music and facing the world. I’d like to close with the words of our inimitable director, John: “Whatever their starting point in time and place, pilgrims travel towards the light, peeling back the veil to see the world unmasked. The change is theirs and, ultimately, comes from within: the miracles of the path are the people who walk it.

Thank you, Westminster Choir, for an incredible journey. Here’s to a whirlwind year just finished and another year of miracles yet to come.

— John
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The Year…..so far, and on The Path of Miracles

Hello Westminster Blog Readers (aka my mom)

This year has been a whirlwind. I am so grateful for the opportunities to travel, meet new people and grow. Let me just take a moment to rewind the year and meditate on the gratitude I feel for my Westminster Choir family and those who support us.

September
We auditioned for the choir. The callbacks for Westminster Choir remind me of a quote from Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles: “that we are here is a miracle.” I know I speak for the choir when I say that no one feels worthy to sing the repertoire that we do, where we do, and with the collaborators and conductors we do. We spent September learning music as fast and as well as we could. We grew closer as a family through retreat and enjoyed the crisp autumn air with an unrivaled bonfire.
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October
We went to China! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have the opportunity to experience the beautifully different culture of Beijing, China. We performed in 7 concerts over 9 days and the audiences loved what we had to offer. It was also incredible to see the hometown of my seat buddy/soprano 4 sister, Yiran Zhao!
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November
Preparing for tour and our annual concert at the Racquet and Tennis club in New York City. We all adore singing the arrangement of Jingle Bells made famous by Tenebrae!

December
We enjoyed a very successful Racquet and Tennis performance and the upperclassmen of Westminster Choir performed Handel’s Messiah as a part of the Westminster Symphonic Choir with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. We also continued to prepare for tour and went on winter break.
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January
TOUR! Our tour of Texas and Oklahoma was nothing short of amazing! I was so inspired by such incredible high school teachers and students. The choral music culture of Texas gives me such hope for the future of music as a whole. We also enjoyed incredible food and welcoming homestays. Not to mention the beautiful weather!
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February
Rachel Feldman, our graduate assistant conductor, prepared us and conducted us in her degree recital. It is always so fun to show our love through singing to someone who has worked so much behind the scenes for us.

March
We began working on our latest project; the aforementioned Path of Miracles by Joby Talbot. This piece employs the entire choir working at our highest capacity due to the fact that there are 5 soprano parts, 4 alto parts, 4 tenor parts, and 4 bass parts.

April
Work continued but our schedules increased in intensity as many of us went on run outs with the Philadelphia Orchestra, performed degree recitals and were involved in the graduate opera. This is the month that we truly began to memorize the hour of music required for Path of Miracles.

May
This month we made our Path debut at the Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, NJ. We managed to perform off book, always our goal, with semi-staging created by Dr. Miller.
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This coming week we began staging with the world famous John La Bouchardière, who is the stage director for our production of Path of Miracles at the Spoleto Festival USA. A great deal of our choir members graduate this coming Friday and then we are off to Charleston SC for Spoleto!

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I realize everyone might not know much about Path of Miracles so I am going to take a quick moment to synthesize what I know about it for those who might come see us perform in Charleston (and my mom, because she reads my blog posts and I love her.)

In 2005, Tenebrae, a professional choral group based in the UK, commissioned film composer Joby Talbot to write a piece for them. The subject matter follows a pilgrim’s journey on the Camino de Santiago, the road taken by disciples of St. James to return his remains to his native land in Spain. Joby Talbot and librettist Robert Dickinson utilize many religious and secular texts in Greek, Latin, Spanish, Basque, French, English and German to tell the perilous and enchanting story of the road. I first saw Tenebrae perform this piece at the Princeton University Chapel last spring. Between the soaring vocal lines, incredibly rhythmic sections, and use of staging, I had a truly spiritual experience. I can only hope that our production at the Spoleto Festival will capture a similar essence.

As we held our final academic choir rehearsal of the year, we reflected with Dr. Miller about how learning Path of Miracles has been a path in itself for us. We have all had a very difficult year with a very intense performance schedule, some of us overloading on classes, working many jobs and just trying to survive the general chaos of being a college student who wants to do it all. For me, there is great peace in coming together at the end of a long day and working to create something truly magical through music. I am so grateful to every single member of the choir for helping create a safe place for us to vulnerably experience the electricity of deeply conceptual music.

I hope you are able to join us in Spoleto to experience the path…

— Betsy
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Catching Up In April

Hello, all!

We had a fantastic experience at ACDA! Since then, Westminster Choir has been focused on preparing for our performances this summer as part of the Spoleto Festival. We are working hard and soaking up all we can of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles and Bach’s St. John Passion (which are an incredibly fun pairing of pieces to work on simultaneously).

In the last few weeks, we have begun the process of memorizing Path of Miracles! As of yesterday, we have met our memory goals for both the first and second movements, which add up to more than 30 minutes of music! I am continuously impressed by the amount of music this choir can memorize and perform with great finesse and detail and beautiful artistry.

Also since ACDA, members of Symphonic Choir have performed in two run-outs with the New York Philharmonic. In March, we performed Mozart’s Requiem with maestro Manfred Honeck. What a superb conductor and take on the work! The full concert was a wonderfully crafted medley of Mozart, featuring his Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat, Masonic Funeral Music, and Ave Verum Corpus along with the Requiem. Three of the four works were written in 1791, his last year of life and the year he composed his Requiem. The second half of the performance was pulled together with short interludes of slowly rung bells reminiscent of church bells in a square in Vienna.
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The first week of April, we performed with the New York Philharmonic as part of their Phil the Hall concert. This was a very special concert, aimed at bringing together first responders, volunteers, and other service professionals from the New York area with just $5 tickets! The repertoire included Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, Copland’s Hoe-Down, and two compositions by 11-year-olds who are part of the Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers program. (It was absolutely inspiring to hear such sophisticated and expressive pieces written by these young composers!). Symphonic Choir joined the orchestra for the Star Spangled Banner, Copland’s The Promise of Living, and part of the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. With music from John Williams’s Star Wars played as an encore, the full concert was an incredibly moving and joyful experience for the audience and for us on stage!
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Westminster Choir has just a few weeks before we perform the Path of Miracles in Trenton at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral! If you are not able to make it to Charleston this summer, we hope you can join us in Trenton!  Here’s a link to details about the Trenton concert.  And here’s one to the Spoleto USA concerts.

— Emma
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ACDA

Well, the day has finally come to go to ACDA (American Choral Directors Association National Conference). As a Music Education major, I am beyond excited to travel to Kansas City and partake in this convention. The Westminster Choir started off our day by loading onto the busses with just a bit of snow on the ground. Once we got to the hotel we had just enough time to catch some of the night concerts and eat some fantastic BBQ!

On Friday morning we all began our day with a 2-hour rehearsal. During this rehearsal, we fine-tuned our ACDA program and honed in on our musicianship with the instruments. After that, we had a free day. A lot of the students went to the information sessions that ACDA provided. Even though we were performers, as participating members of ACDA sessions were available to us. 

As a future music teacher, I completely utilized my free day to go to as many sessions as possible. One of the sessions I went to talk about different positions of your choir. It was very amusing at one point to hear people discussing Dr. James Jordan’s positioning of his choir. I felt incredibly honored that I not only knew who they were talking about, but also that I had sung under his direction last year as a sophomore. That night there were multiple concerts that blew everyone away. Following that was the Alumni Reception.

While talking to other students about ACDA Westminster Choir member and graduate student John Swedberg said, “It was my first time at ACDA and I really enjoyed it! It was cool to realize just how huge the choral community is in the USA. It was also fun for me to hear some choirs whose CDs I like but who I had not heard live before. Probably my favorite memories involve Kansas City BBQ!”

Saturday morning I woke up to some incredibly sad news. Dr. Joseph Flummerfelt, a legend in the music world and an incredible backbone of Westminster Choir College, passed away. At that moment every Westminster Choir member knew that our concerts today would be about honoring him, his legacy and what he has done for the world. By the end of our last concert, we all felt Dr. Flummerfelt’s spirit in our souls. We all barely got off the stage where Dr. Miller pulled us to the side, and we sang the Lutkin in his honor. It was an incredibly moving and emotional experience for all of us. Just last year on tour I had the privilege of singing the Lutkin under Dr. Flummerfelt’s direction in Indianapolis, and it was a powerful moment for all of the choir members.

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It was an incredible experience and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to go to ACDA.

— Felicia
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Grad Recital and ACDA Prep

Woo finally back from tour! We practically just got off the plane and, as our usual busy Westminster selves, buried ourselves into a new project! On Sunday we all had the incredible opportunity to sing under our own classmate and graduate assistant, Rachel Feldman.

Putting on a concert is very difficult. Putting on your graduate conducting recital is also incredibly difficult. BUT, teaching, and conducting a full concert with instrumentalists in less than 2 weeks?! How could that even be possible? Yet somehow Rachel performed with the integrity of someone who has had a whole semester to prepare. “I was extremely excited to work with an incredibly musical group. I learned so much in such a short amount of time, and without Dr. Miller’s guidance I would have never been able to learn as much as I did,” Rachel said during our discussion about her recital. She was so excited to be given the opportunity to work with instrumentalists for the first time, and loved the way the concert turned out. Her passion for conducting exuded with every gesture, explanation and song choice. We are all incredibly proud of Rachel and her beautiful work.
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Every breath we give is dedicated to our music. Each choir member believes that the heart of humanity lies in music. That is why we are so excited to perform at ACDA. It is an opportunity for us to show all the future music educators, choral directors and audience members what we believe in. The music we will be performing is the same as our Texas tour, all revolving around the piece Consent by Ted Hearne. This concert explores different themes and emotions of love. Returning to this music brings up a lot of excitement for us because we can look at it with fresh eyes. Every day our musical knowledge, life knowledge and attitude toward music is constantly shifting and growing. And, just as our minds grow, our beliefs about the music we sing grows too. We are looking at our music with a great magnifying glass that gives us energy and excitement. Under Dr. Miller’s incredible direction we keep exploring new ways to look at our pieces and are constantly striving to make the pieces better than before.

The next time I will write to you, I will be discussing our time at ACDA. I can’t wait to update you on all the exciting things we have learned.

— Felicia
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Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, and Our Homecoming Concert

Our time in Fort Worth was just lovely! In the morning, we attended our final workshop at Red Oak High School, where we were greeted warmly by the school’s director of choirs and Westminster alumnus, Keith Lathrom! It was great to see Keith in his element and to see some of the fantastic work he’s been doing with his program. Keith was also a graduate of Westminster’s Master in Choral Conducting program, so for me personally, it was wonderful to see firsthand what graduates of my program can go out and do!

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That afternoon we had a bit of down time before we rehearsed and performed our concert at the First Presbyterian Church of Fort Worth. Some of us grabbed coffee or even took naps in comfy chairs around the church. The rehearsal and performance went very smoothly, and we had a wonderful audience! Plus, the chicken dinner church provided for us was absolutely scrumptious.

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Thanking our host Ahreum Han Congdon, a WCC alumna.

The next morning we drove up to our stop in Oklahoma City, which was, quite honestly, a perfect close to the tour. We were able to perform at the First Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City. Beloved voice teacher, church music pedagogue, and children’s choir clinician, Helen Kemp, had worked at the church for many years. Helen and her husband John Kemp attended and served on the faculty of Westminster Choir College and were also deeply connected to our school. To be able to connect with the community of their church in Oklahoma City was such a special moment! You could feel a palpable sense of empathy and connectedness in the church that evening.

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That feeling of connectedness remained through the rest of our evening. When we returned to our hotel that final night of tour, we had our annual tour banquet. We stood in a circle and made toasts to each other, which was so emotional! We also had our traditional paper plate awards ceremony in which all members of the choir and tour staff received creative and meaningful awards drawn on paper plates! Some of my favorite awards presented were the “Taco Bell Belle” award, “Most Distinctive Laugh” award, and the “Anne in Training” award, presented to fellow blogger Enrique De Silva for his impressive social media skills.

The next day, we all traveled home on a connecting flight through Houston and before we knew it, we were back in Princeton!

Our Homecoming concert, which occurred a week later, was a wonderful way to close our full tour experience with a final bang! What a fantastic concert! We were all well-rested after a week off. Our sound was very cohesive, due to all the singing together we’d done earlier that month. AND, Richardson Auditorium is a beautiful space to perform in. We said goodbye to our student teacher, tenor Sam Denler, and wished him well in his semester of student teaching! Before we knew it, we were back on campus rehearsing Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles for Spoleto as well as repertoire for the recital of our grad assistant, Rachel Feldman!

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Looking forward to a packed Spring and Summer ahead!

— Emma
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Tour San Antonio & Dallas

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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!
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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.
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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!
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

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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.
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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.

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Betsy                                                John

 

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2019 Texas Tour: Days 1 – 4

Note: This is our first bi-lingual post, thanks to bloggers Felicia Villa (English) and Enrique Silva Gil (Spanish).
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Pre- Tour
Howdy Y’all! Welcome to our first Texas blog of the tour!

We started off the tour with a 6 hour rehearsal where we caught up on our break and reviewed our music. It was a long day full of singing, concentration, laughter, and SURPRISE more singing.

Hola a todos! 

Bienvenidos a nuestro primer post de nuestra gira por Texas!
El día previo a nuestro viaje tuvimos en nuestro campus el ensayo final de 6 horas (si, seis horas). Fue un largo día pero lleno de lindos momentos, emociones, música y más música.

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Day 1
There is no better way to start off our tour than with a 6:35am call time to a bus. We all arrived to the airport bundled up in our winter clothes ready for the weather, but happily found out that upon arriving in Houston, Texas the weather was 60 degrees! Bonjour Summer and Adieu winter!

Most of us spent the free night walking around downtown Houston. There were plenty of holiday lights up which created such a beautiful (AND WARM both figuratively and literally) atmosphere.

Día 1
No hubo mejor manera de comenzar nuestra gira que levantándonos 5:30am para luego encontrarnos todos frente al bus a las 6:30am. Así, nos fuimos al aeropuerto muertos de frío y envueltos en nuestra ropa de invierno pero al llegar a Houston, para nuestra suerte, hacían unos primaverales 18 grados centígrados. Hola primavera, adiós invierno!

Muchos de nosotros salimos de noches a pasear por las calles de Houston, y a comer en restaurantes cerca de nuestro hotel. La ciudad tenía una iluminación fantástica que lograba crear una magnífica atmósfera para caminar por la noche.
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Day 2
Good- beautiful and sunny- morning!! What another incredible morning of sunshine. Today was the day where we had the incredible opportunity to work with high schoolers. We first visited Friendswood High School. There we shared some of our music including Long Road by Eriks Ešenvalds. Much to our glee we found out that the choir was also singing a piece by Ešenvalds called Nunc Dimittis. We then switched places and heard them sing for us and WOW, what an amazing sounding choir. We heard a piece that highlighted one of their All-State singers who truly embodied what it meant to be an expressive singer. All of the students showed compassion and excitement on their face.

Our next stop was the Cinco Ranch High School. As perpetually hungry college students all of us were blown away by their warm Texas welcome of…… food and the best sugar cookie I have ever tasted in my life!!! Of course the singers there were equally as amazing as the sugar cookie and sandwiches. My favorite part of the day was not singing for the students, but singing with them. The choir was learning Sleep by Eric Whitacre, and fortunately for most of us, we learned that piece when the Maestro Eric Whitacre himself visited Westminster Choir College in 2016. While singing this piece at Cinco Ranch we experienced 2 choirs becoming 1, united in song.

Our Last stop was at Beck Junior High School. Here we heard the female middle school choir sing, and wow were they incredible! Their diction was fantastic and those girls were not afraid to show us what they were capable of. I loved this stop because amongst a choir of many there was one little girl who stood out. Her face was so engaged in the music she sang and it was obvious to everyone that music was where her heart lay. During each workshop we give scholarships for our summer programs to the choral director to distribute among his students. Upon finding this out that expressive little girl fell to the ground crying with joy. One of our choir members Katie Arnold spoke to her and talked to her about the school.

That moment reminded me how lucky we are. Here at Westminster Choir College we make this incredible music every day. And, under the direction of Dr. Miller we are inspired to become more musical and expressive than any of us have thought. Because of that, we touched the life of one little girl who saw how lucky we are and how much this music means to us. It was just an eye opener and a reminder of how fortunate we are to do what we love every day.

Día 2
Hoy, el día amaneció maravilloso. Un sol brillante y la temperatura perfecta!
Durante la mañana tuvimos la gran oportunidad de realizar talleres con alumnos de colegios locales que también cantaban en los coros de sus instituciones.  El primer colegio que visitamos fue el Colegio Friendswood en donde presentamos parte de nuestro repertorio, incluyendo Long Road por Eriks Ešenvalds. Para nuestro asombro, ellos también interpretaron una obra de Ešenvalds llamada “Nunc Dimittis” y WOW, qué increíble sonido que tenían!  Otra de las obras que interpretaron, resaltó la hermosa voz de uno de los integrantes del All-State singers, que verdaderamente nos demostró lo que significa cantar con expresividad.  Todos los estudiantes mostraron con sus rostros todo tipo de sentimientos que hicieron de su interpretación algo inolvidable.

Nuestra siguiente parada fue el Colegio Cinco Ranch y como el grupo de hambrientos que somos, nos quedamos gratamente sorprendidos con la gran bienvenida texana que era….. comida y las mejores galletas de azúcar que jamás hayamos probado. Por supuesto los integrantes del coro del colegio fueron tan increíbles como sus galletas de azúcar y sus sánduches.

Nuestra parte favorita del día fue no cantar para los estudiantes, sino con ellos, uniéndonos para interpretar Sleep de Eric Whitacre juntos. Para nuestra suerte, nosotros aprendimos la obra cuando el Maestro Eric Whitacre en persona visitó Westminster Choir College en 2016. Al cantar con ellos, pudimos sentir como nuestros dos coros se unían en una sola canción.

Nuestra última parada fue Beck Junior High School, en donde pudimos escuchar cantar al coro femenino escolar. Fue impresionante! Su dicción era fantástica y en ningún momento dudaron en demostrarnos lo que eran capaces de hacer. Entre ellas había una pequeña niña que sobresalía por sus expresiones faciales, que estuvieron siempre muy conectadas con la música que interpretaba, lo que hizo evidente para todos nosotros que la pequeña estaba cantando cada frase desde lo más profundo de su corazón.

En cada taller, el Dr. Miller hace entrega de becas al director de cada coro colegial que visitamos para que cuatro de sus estudiantes puedan asistir a nuestros programas de verano en Westminster Choir College, y cuando esta pequeña se enteró de estas becas se puso a llorar de la emoción. Luego, una de nuestras coristas se le acercó para hablarle sobre nuestra escuela, lo cual nos hizo darnos cuenta de la suerte tenemos de ser parte de Westminster Choir College, en donde podemos hacer música todos los días, y donde el Dr. Miller, a través de su dirección, nos inspira a ser más musicales y expresivos de lo que jamás pensamos. Gracias a eso, tocamos la vida de esa pequeña quien se dio cuenta la suerte tenemos de estar donde estamos y el rol tan importante que la música cumple en nuestras vida.

 

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Workshop at Friendswood High School

 

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It was a joy to sing Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” with the choir at Rancho Cinco High School.

 

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Our workshop at Beck Junior High School.

Day 3
We were very fortunate to also have a free morning. That time was spent exploring the historic sites, discovering that there was an elaborate set of man made underground tunnels all throughout the city, and of course having Whataburger.

Our night ended in having a concert in one of the most incredible churches we have ever seen. The acoustics of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was a space that singers can only dream of. In between our rehearsal and concert we loved the space so much that we couldn’t help but sing other pieces. Fortunately for our voices, there was a wedding rehearsal so we had to vacate the church. In hindsight if it wasn’t for the wedding rehearsal I don’t think we would have stopped singing! The night was spend with all of us going home with our homestays and learning about their experiences and life in downtown Houston.

Día 3
Tuvimos mucha suerte de tener la mañana libre (no es algo a lo que estemos muy acostumbrados durante nuestras giras). Esa mañana la utilizamos para visitar algunos lugares históricos, y también nos sirvió para descubrir la enorme red de túneles y caminos subterráneos de la ciudad y por supuesto, no podíamos irnos sin probar las deliciosas hamburguesas de Whataburger!

Nuestro día terminó con nuestra presentación en una de las iglesias más bellas en las que hayamos cantado. La acústica de la Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart era de otro mundo! Era tan increíble que entre nuestro ensayo y el concierto no pudimos aguantarnos las ganas de cantar otras piezas solo para poder seguir disfrutando del espacio. Por suerte (para nuestras voces) había un ensayo para una boda y tuvimos que salir de la iglesia, pero de no haber sido por aquel ensayo, hubiéramos seguido cantando. Luego de nuestro concierto nos encontramos con nuestras familias de acogida con las cuales pudimos intercambiar experiencias y conocer más sobre la vida en Houston.

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Rehearsing in the incredible Co-Cathedral in Houston.

 

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Performing at Co-Cathedral.

Day 4
Whoop whoop Corpus Christi and Jim Moore here we come!!! Stepping off of the bus onto the campus was like stepping through the Wardrobe that led to Narnia. We got off the bus and BOOM there was the ocean! The beautiful, 70-degree ocean that sparkled under the bright beams of the sun. Most of us grabbed our luggage from the bus, put it on the side and immediately walked to the view of the ocean. Much to our sadness of leaving the beautiful weather and view, there was work to be done and a rehearsal to be had. But fear not Ocean!! We would be back after this hour rehearsal.

Naturally, We can’t be all work and no play! After our rehearsal and dinner, all of us walked to the ocean. Some of us even put our feet in the water! There was something so relaxing about hearing the sounds of the ocean. It was a great way to put us in a good and relaxing headspace to prepare for our second concert of the tour.

Día 4
Hola Corpus Christi y Jim Moore!!!
Bajarnos del bus fue como atravesar el ropero de Narnia. Nos bajamos del bus y BOOM, teníamos el océano brillando bajo los rayos de sol frente a nosotros, así que lo primero que hicimos luego de sacar nuestras maletas del bus, fue acercarnos al mar para disfrutar de esa maravillosa vista.

Luego, muy a nuestro pesar, tuvimos que volver para irnos a nuestro ensayo previo al concierto, sin embargo, terminado al finalizar, muchos de nosotros regresamos a la playa para sentir la brisa y algunos incluso se arremangaron los pantalones para entrar a tomarse fotos al agua. Escuchar el océano es una sensación tan relajante, que fue la mejor forma de despejar nuestra mente antes del concierto que daríamos en el Performing Arts Center de Corpus Christi.

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Hello Corpus Christi!

 

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Our concert at the Texas A&M Corpus Christi Performing Arts Center.

— Felicia
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— Enrique
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December!

It has been another few exciting weeks here at Westminster since our last blog post! Two weeks after we returned from our adventure in China, Westminster Choir put on two fall concerts, one in Red Bank, NJ at the Tower Hill Church and one at home in Bristol Chapel. We sang the repertoire we had performed in China (the program we put together in a mere 5 weeks!), which included Monteverdi’s madrigal “Hor che’l ciel e la terra,” “Let Him Kiss Me” from Sandström’s Four Songs of Love, and “Consent” by Ted Hearne – a wonderful mix of pieces with differing reflections on love and relationships. We also presented Brahms’ Schisalslied, Op. 54, a set of bluegrass pieces, and a set of pieces by Westminster composers, which included one of our new favorites, Tim Brent’s Peace Song, which we released as a single this past September.
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Typically, these concerts represent our first official performances of the year as Westminster Choir. This year was unique – we were able to have performed this program multiple times in China beforehand and by the time we were performing in November, the group was really gelling. Plus, there’s nothing like going on a whirlwind trip to China to bring people together. The tour was an excellent opportunity to get to know each other better over delicious meals of hot pot and Peking duck, extensive treks across the Great Wall, and superbly long plane rides.

The concert in Red Bank was especially enjoyable due to the amazing support of Westminster alumni from Tower Hill Church. We enjoyed eating a delicious, pre-concert meal provided for us by the church and chatting with lovely church members over dinner.

After our fall concerts, Westminster Choir began preparing holiday repertoire for our annual performance at the Racquet and Tennis Club in Manhattan. This past Monday, we traveled to New York for this concert, and performed some of our favorites along with a few new pieces. The program included “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Holst, “A Hymn to the Virgin” by Britten, fantastic arrangements of “Fum, Fum, Fum” and “Jingle Bells,” and a brand new arrangement of Christmas songs by Westminster Choir member, Christopher Fludd. The performance was a blast!

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Now, Westminster students have a VERY busy end of the semester, with our annual Readings and Carols concerts at Princeton University Chapel, Symphonic Choir’s 8 performances of Handel’s Messiah with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, and, of course, finals! We look forward to a restful couple of weeks off for the holidays before we return to campus to January to depart for our tour of Texas and Oklahoma! Happy holidays to all!

— Emma
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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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