Tour Day 3
Day three of tour and our third and final day in Milwaukee. Tonight was our first concert, and we performed for the Wisconsin Choral Director’s Association conference. Because the performance was later this evening, we had a later call time and the luxury of sleeping late.
One of the best parts of touring with the choir is the opportunity to share our music with family and friends who, due to time and circumstance, may not be able to travel to Princeton to hear us in concert. Today, while a good portion of the choir headed to Culver’s for another dose of cheese curds (of which I have certainly had my share!!), I went with a couple other conducting students and some Midwest friends to dine at the lovely Coquette Café in downtown Milwaukee. After a lunch of steamed curry mussels and roasted beet salad, there was just enough time to grab a cup of coffee before getting on the bus for a sound-check rehearsal at the Basilica of St. Josaphat.
This venue is astonishing. It is modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features one of the largest copper domes in the world. If the outer image of the Basilica is impressive (and it is), the interior is truly spectacular. On the walls and inner domes, detailed oil paintings depicting biblical scenes are decorated with Polish words of praise. Ornamented plasterwork glints in the soft light, and the sheen of the gold leaf set in the columns casts a heavenly glow augmented by the light of the lavish stained glass windows. And if this wasn’t enough beauty to absorb, the Basilica is still decorated for the winter holidays: frosted garland hung from every light fixture and brilliant red poinsettias warmed the marble stairs.
Our choir is a social group, and silence is rare. As we entered the Basilica, though, we were solemnly awed and hushed by the space. It was as if the grandeur invited reflection, and it was evident looking around at the faces of the singers that every person was anxious to impart our music here. I have poured on about the aesthetics of the venue, but have neglected thus far to mention the acoustics – they were as wonderful as you might imagine. The gentle cushion around the sound and the impossibly long decay brought us to a new level in Gustav Holst’s Nunc Dimitis, and alternatively made us work for every single sixteenth note in J.S. Bach’s Der Geist Hilft. Our audience was engaging – of course! It was full of Wisconsin’s choral directors.
When we were downstairs preparing for the performance, one of the most talented tenors I have ever heard in person and also one of my favorite people on the earth, Kyle van Schoonhoven, announced that he had in fact lost his size 13 black performance shoes somewhere in the Basilica. It is not unusual that someone will leave music on the bus and have to backtrack for it or forget a black knee-high stocking and have to borrow one. This is the first time, though, that someone managed to lose shoes. Luckily, even though they were lost in the largest possible venue, they were located in enough time for Kyle to be comfortably and fully dressed for the performance.
Just before we took our places to sing, we were lined up outside of the sanctuary in a hallway. We had to ‘part the waters’ to let the Wisconsin Collegiate Honor Choir exit, and we made a love bridge with our hands over their heads as a gesture of silent congratulation and congeniality. My heart floods in these moments, though they are not at all scarce. It is a common occurrence for the members to dispense love in everyday actions, and when this unsolicited goodwill is multiplied 40+ times, it is just…really nice.