Spring and Spoleto USA

Somehow, it is June. I’m sitting in a café in Charleston, S.C., drinking a particularly delicious iced latte. The choir is hired here as choristers for the Spoleto Festival USA, and this is where we are living for a few weeks. Also somehow, I have graduated from Westminster Choir College with a master’s degree in Choral Conducting. This all seemed so intangibly far away only months ago, yet here we are! The semester was a challenge; I’m grateful to the teachers and friends who were there for me, be it through encouragement or tough love. There is much to process from the last two years; it is a relief to be here in Charleston, with time to think, as well as time to relax and unwind.

As part of this festival, we perform in a variety of concerts and performances, including an orchestral concert of Mozart and Vaughan Williams, performances of our tour repertoire, and our largest project, performing as chorus members in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. A few of the gentlemen in the choir, including my fellow blogger Scott, are on double opera duty, also performing in Vivaldi’s Farnace. My heart goes out to their workload, but they look incredible in their costumes and they sound just terrific! It had been on the cards that we would perform Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields at Spoleto, but sadly this was not meant to be. In April, we performed this piece in an abandoned factory in Trenton, complete with the musicians of Bang on a Can All-Stars, beautiful choreography from Doug Varone and a wonderful dancer Whitney Dufrene. The piece explores the lives and losses of the coal miners of Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century. She brings together a variety of sources that tell these stories and brings them together into a refreshing multimedia creation. The first movement uses the names of the men who lost their lives in the mines: at least, that was her initial intention. However, the sheer number of names was so overwhelming, that she instead used only men named John, with one-syllable surnames. Noticing the name ‘John Hughes,’ I did a little research, just in case there happened to be any connection to my lineage. Alas, my line of Hughes’ were predominantly Welsh sheep farmers. But I digress… I loved being a part of this project, and I would highly recommend looking into this piece if you are not already aware of it.

The State of the Arts television program devoted a segment to the project.  You can view the video here.

On to the present! We’ve had a wonderful time in Charleston so far; the gardens, the history, the food, the bay, the weather. This is certainly a charming part of the world. In terms of our role in the festival, we have performed two nights of opera, our first choir concert, and a collaborative celebration concert. Our first week was all about the opera, as we attended daily rehearsals, bringing together music, staging, principals, lighting, orchestra, costumes etc. It’s been a blast getting to know the other performers and the production team, and getting a chance to do some acting (as a female chorus member, one must master pointing at things with excitement, giggling about male principals, and looking around with a ‘what on earth is going on here?’ expression). The costumes are a lot of fun, from peasant to aristocrat, and as a short-haired woman, I had the added pleasure of wearing a wig on stage. If you do happen to come to one of the performances, I will be the short one with the flowing curly red hair. It helps to get into character when you look nothing like yourself.  Here are some photos of my transformation.

Two members of our choir, Andrew Stack and Grant Farmer, play small principal roles in the show. They are both approaching the roles with utmost professionalism, and absolutely holding their own. Very proud!

As participants in the festival, we are permitted to attend any events that we can make, and there is simply too much to choose from. I hope to attend as much as I can, whether it’s chamber music, dance, or theatre. Over the span of three nights, I attended three plays: I feel culturally spoilt! One night, a one-woman monologue depicting the life of a brave, funny, brilliant woman’s life, and her experience in a 2014 siege in Northern Syria. I cannot stop thinking about this play, how beautiful, devastating and real it was. If you ever get the chance to see Angel by Henry Naylor, please, do it. The next night, I was at a production of Waiting for Godot, and again, thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m hoping to watch it a second time while I’m here if I can. Wonderfully executed, thought provoking, funny, dark, quirky. The third night was a mostly wordless production called Murmurs. Using illusion, puppetry, and dance, we were taken into a surreal and intriguing world, where beauty and insanity seemed to be in delicate balance. I think I’ll leave you on that ambiguous note… We are over the moon to be here, to experience Charleston and to be a part of the festival. Thank you to anybody who has come or is hoping to come to any of our performances: as always, we appreciate your support!

Today I will go to the beach!

— 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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