The second week of the Vocal Institute is brought to you by a brutal heat wave, and spectacular memories. It is interesting to observe this unique community as familiarity increases – individuals encounter other individuals with whom they naturally resonate, and people consciously determine with whom to spend free time. The amazing feature of the Vocal Institute population, however, is the fluid nature of the groups. There is an ease and sincere graciousness that is indiscriminate – the antithesis of the proverbial high school cafeteria with clique-lines clearly drawn.
There is an article that has recently buzzed around social media that describes the way in which choral members heartbeats synch as an ensemble. What interesting perspectives policy-makers might have to live in an intense choral environment for two weeks, and observe the effects of music-making and close proximity on the behaviors of the musicians. I feel encouraged by the way the VI participants treat each other, because it moves beyond purely polite behavior to a deep and abiding interest in the artistry of others. These authentic encounters are heightened and magnified by the music they make together, and it is so much more than warm fuzzy feelings. It is those, to be sure, but it is also the development of specific, applicable skill rehearsed in a way that is reminiscent of great athletic coaches like John Wooden and Herb Brooks. ‘Faster’, ‘slower’, ‘less legato’, ‘be responsible for the shape of the phrase’, ‘what evidence exists in the score that supports your choice of dynamic?’ and so on. The combination of defined, measurable, meaningful practice with emotional and social value is about ideal in terms of human development.
The heat wave during the second week of camp was rough, but we (the VI counselor team) combatted it with a romp through the sprinklers on the final night. There were shrieks and giggles as about 80 people ran around on the grass, under the stars. We had our final goodnight circle – we stood together, and passed a pulse through a chain of held hands. Each person had the opportunity to address the group, and the love, acceptance, and appreciation shared was a meaningful foundation for the final concert the following afternoon.
The full choir met in the Playhouse at 4:30pm the next day for the 5:00 pm performance. As Dr. Quist entered the space, the participants stood and sang Peter Lutkin’s The Lord Bless You and Keep You, the traditional benediction held in high honor by Westminsterites far and wide. The counseling team had taught the participants this work in secret so that it could be given as a gift from the choir to their conductor. They sang it beautifully, and Dr. Quist was visibly moved.
Later, as I watched the concert from the back of Bristol Chapel, I felt as though I was watching a movie with a most poignant soundtrack. I saw faces in the sounds – people who have been a part of my daily life at Westminster whom I will miss as much as the music. I saw John, an officer of Public Safety, who has been friendly and helpful from the moment I met him, and who surprised me at Commencement with a beautiful bracelet (he makes sensational jewelry as a hobby, and generously shares it with students). I thought of Victor and Nikki who work with a team of good-natured and hard-working people to keep all of the facilities on campus running smoothly, and how I will miss Victor’s kind smile and awesome Caribbean accent. Of course Paul in OIT, Fred in the copy center, Elaine in the Dean’s Office, Kim and Scott in Continuing Education, Rena and Devin in the library, Ryan, Jim and Anne in performance management and external affairs – all of these interesting, skilled, open individuals who didn’t teach my classes but were integral to my education. When the VI chorus began its final set with Ballade to the Moon by Daniel Elder, a close, treasured friend, tears were flowing freely as the sweet pains of leaving melded with the humility and awe of hearing people that you love make fantastic art.
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”
Writing this blog has been cathartic and inspiring, and I am thankful to have been able to share my experiences. When I started writing like this during Spoleto USA 2012, it did not really occur to me that people other than my family and friends would be interested. I seriously underestimated the power of this school, and the family of alumni around the world whose time on this tiny campus informed and shaped their lives. Thank you for the support and encouragement – I will carry your comments and notes with me through the next chapter and beyond. You have also inspired me to continue writing – if you would like to read about my time as a doctoral student at Florida State University, please feel free to visit me here: www.jordansaul.weebly.com.
Thank you for this illuminating encounter – it has been my joy and honor.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you, Jordan, for your thought-provoking and insightful posts. We wish you great success at Florida State University. To the Westminster Choir Blog followers: we’ll introduce the 2013-2014 blogger very soon. Stay tuned!