The choir that got off the bus after the seven-hour ride from Atlanta to Tampa looked completely different than the heavily bundled, shivering, cold-shocked choir that got off in Cincinnati just a week earlier. People practically leapt off the bus, thrilled to be wearing just a polo and jeans in complete comfort. Our previous stop in Atlanta was nice and mild, but immediately upon setting foot in Tampa we knew how much this truly warm weather and marine setting would rejuvenate us.
An opening performance at The Florida Music Education Association conference is what brought us to Tampa. We learned that FMEA is apparently the second largest such conference in the United States (behind Texas), and one of the wonderful benefits of being a performer was that we had complete access to any of the sessions/events throughout the day. In such a thriving state in terms of music education, we were truly lucky to have the opportunity to explore — four different All-State choirs to observe; exhibits for universities and products and numerous lectures.
Plenty of people took advantage of the free day by simply relaxing or walking around the area. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, 75 degrees and sunny; Marisa Curcio and I talked about how the water and vegetation really seemed to make the air smell different, to make Tampa feel alive. So, regardless of what people chose to do, it was just nice for everyone to not be on the clock, to not be on the bus and to be in such a comfortable environment.
As fun as our day was, we did have some business to attend to toward the end of it. The grand ballroom in which we performed presented our most different and perhaps challenging space yet. A HUGE, wide-open rectangle with a stage at the front — it’s difficult to explain the sound. It wasn’t necessarily dead because we could hear sound going out into the house, but rather than a magnanimous wave that you perceive in a large church, all we heard was a single “pingy” echo coming back to us. Because of the size, it was also difficult for us to hear each other, so we discovered in our sound check that we really had to trust what we rehearsed and previously performed; in fact, Dr. Miller encouraged us to sing even softer at times to draw out dynamic contrast and prevent over-singing.
The unusually late 9 p.m. performance time and the four-hour break between our sound check and the concert meant that we had to be extremely diligent in pacing our energy and voices throughout the day. It also meant that there was a little bit more anticipation in the air, both from having to wait longer and from the prospect of performing in front of a room full of musicians. Before we went out, as we were standing in our two lines, Dr. Miller told the first row to turn around and face the second. He reminded us that the people in front of us were the source of the music. It’s only through our trust and love in one another that we can possibly create a message greater than ourselves. With this in our hearts and minds, we walked on.
The number of people sitting in front of us, all musicians, was breath taking. The space felt enormous when filled with so many people! When Aaron Ramsey (the birthday boy!) began his opening solo, we knew we’d have to have heightened sensitivity with our ears and eyes to adjust to the room and not get distracted by the number of people.
The first half went well, people were especially receptive to the ring shout (led by incredible Taria and Pauline!), but it seems like we all agree that the second half, after we had adjusted, taken a deep breath, and walked back on, was something special. I’m not sure what it was, Dr. Miller used the word “committed,: but there seemed to be a heightened level of emotional consciousness and comfort. The audience was extremely present, and we were honored to receive a standing ovation from so many incredible musicians at the performance’s end. As always, we expressed our gratitude through the Lutkin Benediction.
It was in this moment that many of us noticed a man in the front row crying, moved by this last piece. We found out after the concert that this was a WCC Class of 1946 alumnus, Robert McClintock. We were absolutely honored to receive a visit from him following the performance, where he thanked us, shared remarkable experiences from his time at Westminster, and encouraged us to realize our potential in this genre of music. His sharpness and vibrancy was certainly something we will all aspire to as we continue to live our lives in this field.
The next morning we had a final meal in Tampa and then hit the road for our four-hour drive to Ft. Lauderdale, our last long bus ride before our flight home on Sunday. We got to drive through the Big Cypress National Preserve and a bit of the Everglades; coming from hilly NJ and VA where we have the Blue Ridge Mountains, I found it remarkable how flat Florida is. When we got to Ft. Lauderdale, we had a brief dinner and then met our hosts for our homestays. Typically homestays happen after the concerts, but this time we actually stayed with the people prior to it. Thank you, as always, to our wonderful hosts! Here’s a special shout-out to Mason and Beth: thanks for the great conversation and grilling hamburgers at 10 p.m!
Now we’re eagerly awaiting our final concert at First Presbyterian Church, and our tour banquet after. It’s hard to believe this journey is almost over; it feels like so much longer than nine days! It has been an incredible first tour experience for me, full of learning and fulfillment through music. In the spirit of new experiences, here is a Today I will statement from another first-timer, first year conducting student Dwight Weaver.
Today I will savor the process.