Saludos desde España! Hello from Spain! After 11 months of waiting, we’re finally here! It has been completely surreal to arrive at our final project of the year, something we have been looking forward to and planning since our first rehearsal back in September. We are honored and wholly excited not only to represent the United States at the World Symposium for Choral Music, but also to have many other performance and exploration opportunities along the way. So far, we’ve had an amazing first three days dipping our feet in this beautiful country.
Have you even been awake, more or less continuously, for 31 hours? Everyone in Westminster Choir can now say that they have! On July 21 excited singers woke up around 8 or 9 a.m. had the strange experience of a six-hour flight that lasted from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (due to time change), and didn’t get to bed until roughly 10 p.m. local time on July 22. You can imagine the exhaustion upon arriving in Madrid, but this didn’t do anything to mute the excitement of finally being in Spain! When we got off the flight we met our guide, Enrique (“Quique”), and he is simply wonderful — an energetic, hilarious, and easy-going Spanish native who hasn’t lost his youthful energy. He led us on a tour of the city and then took us to our first tapas dinner in Spain. It was a long and exhausting, but very fun first day that ended with the majority of the choir immediately crashing upon getting back to the hotel. The rest was much needed because the following day brought our two concerts.
A blue, cloudless Spanish sky greeted us in the morning as we embarked on a trip into the mountains. Our destination was the Convento de Santo Domingo y San Pablo, a 16th-century convent in Las Navas del Marquez that sits atop a 1,800 meter mountain. The winding drive was magnificent – panoramic views of the layered, tan mountainside abounded. One could be reminded of the American Southwest. Our concert was part of the Festival de Música Vocal de Navas del Márquez, and it was one of the many different programs we’ll do; same music from the year, but varying orders and combinations according to the venue. One of the fun parts of this particular concert was sharing the American folksongs from our program — Dr. Miller specifically selected these pieces at the beginning of the year with our trip to Spain in mind, in order to share the music of the United States.
It was a wonderful, engaged audience, and shout-out to graduate conducting student Francisco Ortiz-Ramos for translating Dr. Miller’s words of welcome into Spanish very effectively!
Our next location for the second concert of our day brought us down along another mountainside to the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial. Words can’t do it justice. It is a profoundly magnificent structure that looks out over the mountain, complemented by artfully precise hedges in the courtyard. The basilica, our performance space, is itself an awesome structure, and it is something of a choral singer’s dream acoustically. Bass Matt Marinelli joked, “Don’t mess up, because if you do it’ll last for eight seconds!” Such a joy to sing in an unforgettable space, and we were fortunate to have a large, receptive audience again.
Now it’s day four and most people are caught up on sleep. This has been a day off from performing, so we traveled to “Holy Toledo” where we saw a beautiful panoramic view of the city and took a tour, then went back to Madrid for a little R&R. Some people are seeing museums or doing some shopping, some people stuck around in Toledo and are riding the train back tonight — it’s nice to just enjoy Spain for the evening! Tomorrow we’re back at it with a concert in Segovia, and then the following day we’re off to Barcelona for the Symposium!
As a way of remaining present throughout this wonderful experience in Spain, here is a closing Today I will… from recently graduated vocal performance student, Kelsey Lewis (who is on to her M.M. at WCC next year!): Today I will stop and plant a seed of love every place I go.