May 16, 2013

The day shall not be up so soon as I,

To try the fair adventure of tomorrow.

~William Shakespeare

4:45 a.m.   That was our call time this morning, packed and ready in the lobby of our Charleston home in order to meet the vans that took us to the airport.  Once we arrived and made it, en masse, through the TSA security screening, the only logical thing to do was find ice cream.  Mary and I managed to procure a cookie ice cream sandwich and a Häagan-Dazs vanilla almond bar instead of coffee, which proved an effective (if not entirely healthy) strategy for plane-napping.  The sugar rush wore off just as we were airborne, and we, along with most of the choir, were sleeping like angels while our puddle-jumper took us to Charlotte for a brief layover.  

Once on the plane to Newark, it was back to sleep about as fast as we could get there.  I was sitting in a row with sopranos Allison Miller and Maggie Montoney, and we realized after being seated and belted that we should switch around so Allison could be on the aisle (she was at first by the window).  By the time we thought of this, the fasten seatbelt sign was already on and the plane was rolling toward take off.  In hindsight, we could have just filed out of our seats and filed back in again, but in our state of over-tired delirium, the logical process was to crawl over one another so as to technically not leave our seats.  The result of this was Maggie kneeling on the middle seat with her derriere pointed toward the cockpit, Allison slipped and somehow fit herself under seat in front of her, and I was laughing so hard that I could hardly move as I squeezed myself around Maggie, over Allison,  just to smash my face into the window.  We were seated and belted in time to see the admonishing looks from the flight crew who were by then prepared for take off.     

At Newark airport, I parted from the choir, most of whom were taking the train back to Princeton.  My life-partner, best friend, and fellow musician Drew Andreatta picked me up from the airport (he recently celebrated his own graduation – he was hooded and now officially holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Arizona for percussion performance.  Two graduations in one week – exciting time!) On our way home, we planned our time off to maximize our time together before I head back to Charleston.

At the start of the school year, I encouraged my family to travel for my recital rather than for graduation.  I knew that with professional and familial obligations, it would be challenging for them to make both trips, and since I would only be home for about 36 hours to graduate, I downplayed the ceremony so no one would feel bad about not being able to attend. 

Commencement photoNow, WCC alums, students, faculty and staff know that this ceremony is not easy to down play.  It happens in the Princeton University Chapel, a historic and epic space, and it is an event of the highest ritual and tradition.  All graduates are robed in black and hooded with regalia decorated in purple, yellow (Westminster colors), and pink (the interscholastic color for the field of music).   The best part, though, like any event of Westminster Choir College, is the singing.  There are collective hymns printed in the programs, which all with a voice in the chapel are invited to sing (can you imagine the sound and the visceral sensation as 1000 + people fill a massive stone cathedral with singing?).  There are works for the student body to sing together, there is an anthem by a student composer sung by the graduates, and there is music before the ceremony begins to set the stage.  It is incredible

As the day neared, I lamented quietly and to myself that I would not be sharing this monument with my family, though I knew they would be there with me in spirit.  Drew took me out to Inifini-T to lift my spirits and help me wake up for the Commencement rehearsal (7-11 p.m.), and as he led me to the back corner of the restaurant I saw two people reading newspapers.  As they lowered them to reveal huge grins, it took me a moment to process that these were indeed my parents.  They, along with help from Drew and Dr. Jordan, had arranged to travel and surprise me!  Of course I was a puddle of tears in an instant and deeply thankful to share the Westminster Commencement with them. 

At the rehearsal, we sang through all of the pieces and walked through the procession.  I was honored earlier in the semester to serve on the Commencement committee, which is a collection of five students who choose the music for the service and determine who among the faculty will deliver the Charge to the Graduating Classes.  As we sang the hymns so carefully selected, especially my favorite O Spirit All Embracing (a setting of the Jupiter theme by Gustav Holst, and the closing hymn of the ceremony), I actually bit the insides of my cheeks to keep from crying.  I didn’t want to miss singing a single note, but goodness those emotions threatened each moment to overflow.  After running through and briefly rehearsing the works we all sang together, the graduates moved into the pews for the Anthem of Dedication.  The only strategy here to keep the tears at bay was to listen intensely and critically to Schola, to see if they indeed executed the markings and articulations we had so carefully rehearsed in weeks prior.  They were excellent, as evidenced by the lack of rehearsal in particularly challenging sections.  I was so proud, and so sad that our time together was actually over: our rehearsals and performances complete, and never again would we work just as the family we had been.  But so is the nature of ensemble singing, and a constant reminder to be grateful for the time we do have together.

Rehearsal ended, and I met up with my parents and Drew to get coffee.  We four were sitting outside, enjoying the beauty of Nassau Street, and someone came up behind me and put their hands over my eyes.  I ascertained immediately that it was a man, and started to file through who among my classmates this could be.  Finally, he made a noise and I realized that not only had my parents travelled to surprise me but so had my father and step-mother!  I was completely overcome, and the tears that I had held back during the rehearsal flowed freely.  Sleep came easy that night – I was blanketed in the love of my family, of my life partner, and of a community unique in the world that gives its soul to song.

About Westminster Choir

Westminster Choir is composed of students at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, a center for music study in Princeton, N.J.
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2 Responses to May 16, 2013

  1. Erin Lynn Cassel-Mahon says:

    I so enjoy the journal that you so graciously share! As my son doesn’t always elaborate on the happenings of the choral journey, much less in the elegant manner that you do, it is a pleasure to be able to read about your journey.
    I write today because I was so touched by your descriptive portrayal of commencement. Tears stream down my face and I am overwhelmed reliving the ceremony. Thank you for sharing and congratulations!

  2. Stephen says:

    It is all of that and so much more. This time was special for me also as it was my 45th anniversary and for the first time, my family got a chance to experience a bit of what Westminster really is. And I got a chance to applaud in the narthex as you walked by.
    Thank you for your posts. Sing On!

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