Nashville and Birmingham

Having given three performances in three different states over the span of six days, it’s safe to say that the Westminster Choir is right in the heart of its tour across the South (and Cincinnati). We have another six days left to go before we head home from Ft. Lauderdale, and a number of feelings and sensations have begun to permeate the atmosphere as we grow accustomed to traveling and performing.

First is familiarity with our program. By this point in time we are confident in our ability to perform our concert program well. Furthermore, we now really know what it feels like to DO the program in terms of our physical and mental energy. As any performer knows, this is both a blessing and a curse: we have a sense of trust in each other and ourselves when we do the program, which allows us to have a sense of freedom. However, we must always be on our guard to not let our attention to detail slip; what makes the beautiful whole is the sum of its working parts – it’s up to us to have just as much attention to the wonderful minutia as when we were first learning these pieces.

Second, this familiarity extends to the relationships among our fellow singers, director, and performance management staff – we are all learning more about each other. Our favorite Wisconsonian/ite/Packers fan, Jacob Truby, organized a really cool Q&A sheet for each member of the choir, so we’ve been able to look at those and learn more about each other that way. We are also discovering what it feels like to be around one another for much of the day. Constant contact brings out the reality of people, and in this group that is a wonderful thing since there are so many vibrant, dynamic, intriguing personalities. Of course, you also learn the balance of, perhaps, when to leave someone alone, or, if you’re feeling a certain way, maybe take some alone time. All in all, it’s a great learning experience for everyone, including myself, and these building relationships and learning will certainly impact our music making and memories of this experience.

The third sensation is a simple one – physical energy! It’s that point in the tour where irregular sleep, travel, and taxing concerts begin to take their toll on our bodies, and a few of our ranks have already felt the result. Dr. Miller always insists on taking care of your body first, so if you’re sick, there is never pressure, only concern/support from the choir. Illness is also just a reminder that we need to be careful during this crazy final week, and you can bet that there will be mass amounts of water and vitamin C consumed!

*          *          *

How about a little of what we actually did? Well, over the course of days four through six we’ve been to Nashville, Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama, two interesting and very distinct places. We got to experience Nashville in particular because we had a performance day on Saturday, followed by a free day to explore on Sunday. Both Dr. Miller and our graduate assistant, Grant Farmer, are from Tennessee, and Grant is actually from the Nashville area, so we got to learn a lot about the city and get the inside scoop on where to visit.

Our performance venue was the beautiful West End United Methodist Church, which apparently contains the largest organ in the state of Tennessee! We immediately fell in love with the sanctuary once we started rehearsing; it had such wonderful acoustic and spiritual energy. We had a nice catered dinner, and many of us just spent some time relaxing afterward. Personally, I went to the back of the sanctuary and absorbed the space for a bit – I find that each congregational place has its own meaning and, of course, aesthetic, and trying to understand it for just a short time can lead to such a more meaningful performance experience. Before it was time to go on, Dr. Miller shared his own Today I will statement with us, saying that he would work hard to relinquish control – he wanted us to really begin to take the program into our own hands. With that in mind, we had another wonderful concert in front of an audience that had A LOT of Grant’s family and friends, as well as a number of WCC alumni, including Mark Thompson, the grandson of our college’s founder, John Finley Williamson. Many of the aforementioned family and friends of Grant ended up graciously hosting us for our homestays, which were again wonderful experiences – thank you to all who hosted!

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Sunday was our much-needed free day when we got to roam around Nashville. Many of us visited the famous Ryman auditorium, a cool experience to be in a space that has so much history and has hosted so many pop-music icons over the years. Some of us went and explored the Parthenon replica in Centennial Park. There are so many cool places to visit, and to eat, drink, and listen to live music; we were able to have a full, and very fun day. The evening brought sectional dinners for the basses and altos, as well as more fun, listening, and exploring!
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Monday morning we hopped on the bus to Birmingham, an easy two and a half hour skip down south. We arrived at the stunning Independent Presbyterian Church, a deeply colored space with mahogany hue, beautiful stained glass, wonderfully polished organ pipes, and a tall choir loft. This space brought the greatest need for adaptation yet encountered, remembering that we seek to embrace the space and let it couple with us, rather than try to force ourselves to keep things a certain way. This meant that we began both halves of our program in the choir loft, a really cool effect and sound, and had new standing formations when on the floor. Additionally, there was a pretty big football game on Monday night that involved the University of Alabama! This meant that audience members weren’t quite as numerous as we had previously experienced. However, considering these new elements, Dr. Miller encouraged us to let these added factors enhance our experience, rather than distract us. He encouraged us to love the new way of hearing, and to embrace a smaller audience, never knowing who might need to hear our music at what time. As a result of that, it was a cool experience performing in this different space, and the audience, which had many Westminster alumni, was very appreciative. Time to give a shout-out to my wonderful grandmother who drove all the way from Pensacola, FL to hear us perform! Her encouragement over the years is a big reason I am at this college and sing in this choir – much love to you, Vovo!

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Following the performance, we traveled to the magnificent home of alumna Louise Beard, a Tony Award winning Broadway producer and huge supporter of the Westminster Choir College. She hosted a wonderful reception for Westminster people at the concert, and speaking of which we were happy to be joined by Dean Shaftel at the concert and reception as well!

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Currently, I’m finishing up this post as we conclude our bus trip to Atlanta! We’re excited for another performance tonight at the All Saints’ Episcopal Church. As we continue to learn and build experiences with one another, and battle through our physical exhaustion, we continually seek meaning in the performance of our program at these different locations. This means that we take our Today I will statements with us and use them to inspire us during the concerts. Today we’ll hear from junior music education majors Gabriel Harley and Noël Zucchero:

Today I will learn from my mistakes and change.
             – Gabe

Today I will not be afraid to be vulnerable.
– Noël

– Scott
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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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One Response to Nashville and Birmingham

  1. Again and again I appreciate the posts, Scott. Your comments on the spaces you perform in is especially interesting (I could have said “resonant” but it’s early in the morning for me) because of my recent and ongoing research into ancient architectural spaces. It centers on the concept that building spaces are much more than the obvious “bricks and mortar”, Each space thus created becomes also a sensory space of sight, sound, tactility (feeling). What a thrill it must be to explore those spaces and find those harmonic nodes where the sound is magnified, and the space becomes fluid, dynamic, organic.
    Best Wishes to all and safe travels.

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