The end of the semester brings a wonderfully exciting time for the Westminster Choir. For the month of May and the beginning of June, we participate in our annual residency in Charleston, SC for the Spoleto Festival USA. This festival brings wonderfully exciting adventures that we wait all year to experience. This gem of a “work vacation,” as it could be called, becomes a fruitful month of building friendships, exploring a town rich in history, and ending our school year with a beautiful finale.
Westminster Choir’s involvement in the festival varies from year to year, but we are one of few regular cogs that keep the wheel of the festival moving at a well-tempered pace. This year, in addition to two performances of our tour repertoire and a choral-orchestral concert with the Charleston Symphony Chorus, we are the opera chorus in two full-stage productions. These productions exemplify the festival’s ideal of putting together avant-garde productions for the Charleston community to experience. These operatic productions are a staged version of John Adams’ oratorio El Niño and Leoš Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová. Such hard work has gone into both of these productions – it’s safe to say that I’ve never had to work so hard to memorize such difficult music as El Niño. What a leap our musicianship has taken since we’ve started preparing for this production. Because our involvement has been significant, our rehearsal schedule has been as intense as it can be. More regular updates will occur from here on forward. Here’s a bit of an overview about our first week in Charleston.
Our travels began on Friday, May 9. The majority of the choir flew, while seven others (myself included) road-tripped down to Charleston from New Jersey. I love the scenic, rustic view of the eastern seaboard as life moves before your eyes. The hustle and bustle of life relaxes me. After about 11 hours on the road, I arrived in Charleston with a greeting that was like I was returning home from years of weary travel. The Southern charm of Charleston extends to you so warmly; I’ve never felt more at home. The choir checked in to our dorms in McConnell Hall at the College of Charleston, explored the city for a few hours, then had a tiny meeting run by this year’s choir managers. Afterwards, celebrations ensued as the choir parted for an evening: some went on frozen yogurt runs, others went out, while many retired for the evening.
An overview of our rehearsal schedule for the week is as follows: Saturday and Sunday were accompanied by double-rehearsals of El Niño. Lasting for the majority of the day, these rehearsals were mostly staging rehearsals. At long last, our principal singers and professional puppeteers were with us in addition to the entire set. It made the director’s artistic vision much clearer to see. What happens afterwards is where intensity comes into play. For El Niño, the choir is on stage for the entire production, since we play such a crucial role in the music. From Monday onward, we had triple rehearsal dates that were difficult to go through. Fortunately for us, the Westminster Choir has unrelenting work ethic and an undying determination to make professional-level music. These rehearsals, combined with staging rehearsals for the Janáček, provided us with wonderful insight on the professional musician community and gave us important experiences to bring back home to our friends and family in Princeton.
On Friday, we flew back to Princeton for our Commencement with the entire school participating. After two wonderful days back, our seniors and graduate students walked across the Princeton University Chapel chancel and received their degrees. The celebrations extended throughout Saturday, and the early Sunday morning bus call back to the airport came quickly.
We boarded a bus at 5:30a.m.(!) and traveled to Newark International Airport for our final returning flight to Charleston. After a few minor delays, we made it safely back for even more rehearsals that extended through Wednesday afternoon. Diligently, we trekked onward in our musical and professional journeys to make each opera a work of art. This week has been fruitful in terms of performances – El Niño opens on Friday, Kát’a opens on Saturday, and our Westminster Choir rehearsals begin for our own concerts.
Today, Thursday, May 22, was our first day off in a while – although we still have one final dress rehearsal for the Janáček opera this evening. Choir members are exploring, beaching, writing, reading, job-hunting, and catching up on much-needed sleep before the festival opens tomorrow. To those reading, be on the look out for special updates, included performance reviews, bios of the 2013-14 choir members, and updates on the pleasures that Charleston holds for our dear Westminster Choir.