Fort Lauderdale and going home

Ed. Note:  This post was mislaid in cyberspace for a few months.  It’s too good to miss publishing, even at this late date.  Thanks for sharing this, Claire.

As I write my final post about tour, I am back in the cold of Princeton, New Jersey, so it is with wistful nostalgia that I think of the summery temperatures in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, our final destination. I had a lovely homestay with Craig and Anne, who had a beautiful home with a pool and a dock backing onto the water. Soon it became a crossover homestay, with two other families coming to visit; Mike and Jacob (both tenors in the choir), arrived in style, rocking up by boat. As we had all the voice parts on the dock, we were able to give them a mini concert, which progressed into a sing-song by their piano. Andrew (fellow alto) and I both played a little, and Craig asked if we could sing his favourite song, Lenard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Funnily enough I’d just been playing that song on the ukulele at my first homestay so I had it covered: it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift…easy enough really. It made him so happy and they were all so thankful. He was initially not going to come to the concert the next day as there was a game on that night, but after the evening we had, he decided he would come after all. Success! Performing to hundreds of people with the whole choir is one thing, but there is something special about making those small connections through music like we did that night. Noel, Emily, Chelsea, Kelsey, Andrew, Alex, Mike and Jacob: what a wonderful homestay we had!

Also I may or may not have walked head on into a door. They have the clear windows with netting so it looked like it was not a door. Alas, I can confirm that it was in fact a door.

The next morning was the day of our last performance, but first we had the morning off. We spent much of that morning at the beach. Some people played (American) football but most of us just enjoyed the waves. With an intense semester on the horizon, the time to relax on the beach is very much appreciated.
After some wandering, some lunch and ice cream, we returned to the bus and took our stuff to our hotel. We took an hour to de-beachify ourselves and headed on to the church for rehearsal. As a thanks to Louise Beard for inviting us over back in Birmingham, Dr Miller asked us to bring our tiny pigs that she had given us to the rehearsal, so that we could record a performance of I got a Hog and a Pig complete with tiny pigs. You can find it on our YouTube Channel.  It’s hard to tell, but if you saw that video out of context, that’s what we are holding in the video!

At this point in the tour, we know our tour program very well, so in rehearsal we were working on logistics and on details in the music. I’ve found that one of the dangers with spending so much time with one program is of falling into complacency. Yes we know the music but we can never afford to go into autopilot, as that would be doing the audiences who have not heard the program an injustice. I thought about each performance as its own entity, rather than a repeat of the previous performance.

The First Presbyterian Church treated us wonderfully, and I must say the churches throughout this tour have been greatly accommodating and have fed us very well. It is no small feat to feed a choir, so thank you! In the time we had before the performance, I took a moment to go for a wander and sit by the water for a bit. I love working with people but I also need time alone. I thought about how I came to be where I was at that point in time, how strange it all is and how lucky I am. As it started to rain, I headed back, refreshed and ready for our final performance. That performance felt more emotionally charged than any other we had done before. From us, to Dr. Miller, to the audience, we all felt connected. Mistakes were made it’s true, it was not by any means a perfect performance (fellow alto 1’s you know what I’m talking about!), but in the end that didn’t matter. I saw many with tears in their eyes, choir and audience members alike; I even felt myself welling up a little bit…
Elated with post-performance adrenaline, we headed back to the hotel, and after sprucing up, we all came together for the end of tour banquet. Banquet is a misleading name, as the refreshments consisted of champagne (for anyone over 21 who wanted to imbibe), sparkling cider and emotions. Our social chair Jacob Truby (side note: such a trooper this tour, he got pretty sick but handled it like a pro!), hosted an awards ceremony of sorts, with the help of Chelsea, Emily and Brett. Each of us was given an expertly illustrated award on a paper plate (photos of this can be seen on the Facebook page, subtle plug). Mine was the ‘bubble and squeak’ award for the small humorous comments I tend to make. I’ll gladly accept such an honour!
We then distributed liquid refreshment and began to give toasts, sharing our experiences, and our gratitude to each other. My only regret of the entire tour was that I did not step forward and give my own toast. I certainly had people to thank and my own story to tell, but I didn’t quite have the courage. I’m proud of the people who did step forward and to spoke openly in front of the choir. Emotions were running high and after the toasts, we had had our own conversations (and many many hugs), expressing our appreciation for each other. A younger, pre-Westminster version of myself would have found that experience uncomfortable and a little sappy, but one of the lessons I’ve learnt through my time here and especially through our ‘Today I will’ program, is to be more comfortable with expressing emotion, it’s part of living in the moment.

We had a 7:30 a.m. bus call the next morning, which was not fun at all. I apologise to my roomies, Xiaosha and Liska, for being so grumpy and unresponsive that morning. People who know me, know that I am NOT a morning person, as hard as I try. Throughout this tour, Xiaosha has complained about the disaster zone that was my suitcase. I believe in keeping my suitcase in my own way, and leaving you to keep your suitcase in yours, but apparently, they did not agree… Coming out of the bathroom that morning, I caught them red-handed, folding my clothes and putting them neatly into my suitcase! Despicable behaviour. I was appalled. And then we all burst out laughing: I think at this point we all needed a good night’s sleep!

It was a little sad to be at the airport and on the plane home but all good things must come to an end, and part of me was looking forward to being at home and sleeping in my own bed again. The air hostess had heard that the Westminister (we had to correct her on the name multiple times) choir was on board and asked us to sing. The problem was that sound doesn’t travel on an aeroplane, and she couldn’t hear us, so she just assumed she was busy and interrupted us mid-Lutkin benediction. Never mind! It was a nice idea of hers, even if she couldn’t hear us in the end…

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The memories of this tour will stay with me for a long time. The places we’ve been, the people we have met and the people I have got to know better: I’ve played in the snow in Cincinnati, got a spontaneous haircut and gone line dancing in Nashville, wined and dined in Alabama, attended my first music education conference and enjoyed summer beach weather in January in Florida. I’ve been part of something very special, performing and spending time with a fantastic group of people, and I’ve seen how we were able to inspire people to enjoy choral music in our high school sessions. I’ve also seen the group grow and develop through the exploration of our tour program. I think that as a conductor, your choir reflects what you put into it, and if you give enough it starts to reflect who you are as a person. In this choir, each member takes responsibility for their own contributions and we have learnt to value each other for our strengths and weaknesses. I don’t believe I have been part of a choir that looks out for each other in the way that this choir does, even though we have our disputes. I hope to lead my own choir one day, and I cannot help but wonder what this choir would be, what in me they might reflect.

A new semester approaches. Scott and I will continue to keep you updated. It has been a pleasure to meet some of you on our travels. I have a better understanding now of the people I am talking to when I write these posts. Thank you for taking the time to read and to engage!

A selection from Twitter, search #wcctodayiwill to see for yourself…

Today I will share my passion for music with everyone I meet.

Today I will take time to enjoy the good things in life.

Today I will stay calm.

Today I will breathe and be present.

Today I will GIVE PRAISE!

Today I will seek to understand rather than to seek to be understood.

Today I will see though my eyes and NOT my screen.

Today I will tell my kids I love them.

Today I will live for me.

— Claire

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 Fort Lauderdale and going home

  1. Louise H. Beard says:

    This entry was just fabulous! Thanks so much for documenting this year’s tour!
    Louise H. Beard

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