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.
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!).
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.
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!
* * *
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.
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.
breathe and be present.
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!