By Betsy Pilkington, senior alto
Major: Music Education
I must begin by saying that this tour was my very last experience not only with choir at Drake, but Drake University in general. I graduated on December 14 and entered our final week of rehearsals before the tour with quite a heavy heart knowing that this was “it” for me. With the overwhelming feeling of goodbye dominating my mind, I boarded the plane that would bring me somewhere I’ve always loved and admired from afar. Our first day was absolutely exhausting, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. That day made it possible for me to push the goodbyes from my mind and focus on the incredible experience I had just been given. From that moment on, I would make it my desire to completely live within the span of moments, instead of weighing my mind heavily on the future. And that’s exactly what I did.
Day 2 brought the fulfillment of a life-long dream: to see the grave of one of the most influential writers in my life, J.R.R. Tolkien. This was a pivotal moment for me that happened extremely early on in the trip. It felt like coming home, in a way – silly, I know, but his series of books have brought me through difficult times. And thus, a better start to the tour could not have been asked for. I began to take the experiences I encountered very deliberately, as if at any moment they could be ripped from me. I took in my surroundings with extraordinary reverence, trying my best to keep silent and thoughtful as I walked. I saw sights I could only dream of and I became overwhelmingly aware of the timelessness of this country. Life moves differently in England, and time there is serenely suspended. I recall walking across the Oxford University campus and thinking about the genius born from this single location--an overwhelming sense of connectivity between and among humanity. Inspiration for knowledge is what would eventually light the world – and this is where much of it began. The concert that night was enlightening, as if to reflect what we had learned and experienced that day.
The days that followed brought much of the same inspiration. Every cathedral we stepped into, every tour we participated in, was an extraordinary testament to the beauty and richness of English history and its huge contributions to Western thought and action. To heighten this historical web of emotion, I stood at the graves of amazing figures like Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare, kings and queens of England, and other monuments that represented England’s incredible contributions to life, literature, government, society, and, perhaps most importantly, music. Every location we sang in brought tears to my eyes. I can still remember staring at the ceiling in Gloucester Cathedral, wondering about every musical sound that had ever been contributed to the space. The Chamber Choir’s sound is now permanently a part of that sound, adding to the centuries of life and love created by the human spirit.
As I grew closer to my colleagues and as time went on, I was once again reminded that this was a goodbye experience for me. I remember driving into London late on Friday night, after our extraordinary experience in singing at Witham, thinking that these were my last days to spend with some of these people. I refused to allow anyone to talk about the end of the trip in my presence. Some might call it denial, I would call it living in the moment (perhaps to the extreme).
Any further acknowledgement of the end only brought us closer to that stinging truth. And that was somewhere I did not want to be. I spent time alone in the city, exploring some incredible sights. I got teary-eyed looking at original manuscripts by Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel. I found my family name in an ancient registry of English family crests. I met people who lived a world away from me, and yet still found plenty of things to discuss and chat about. I tried new things, I reverted to old things, and all the while desperately clung to my final days of bliss.
In reflection, perhaps I was a tad dramatic in refusing to acknowledge the end of the tour. But in a way, I didn’t want to acknowledge what truly was the end of my college education. That’s ultimately what this trip meant to me. It marked the end of an era: a time of exploration, joyful bliss, humor, happiness, meaningful relationships, and most importantly, really, really great choral singing. This, in a nutshell, was my tour experience as well. It occurred to me that I might never experience music-making like this again, and if I’m going to be honest with you, I must say that this really upsets me. I had no idea how much it meant, how fast it all goes, until now that it’s over. There’s so much I wish I would have done. Moments I wish I had clung to, sounds I could have lived in forever, but such is life. We are thankful for what we’ve been given, and the best thing we can do is to turn that into something meaningful for someone else.
At the final concert, I realized something. Throughout this entire experience, our music became the one thing that would consistently lift my spirit. Though our return marked a new and frightening beginning for me, while the Chamber Choir sang, all was well. Every concert renewed my soul and allowed me optimum reflection on all I’ve learned, experienced, and enjoyed throughout my time at Drake. I can honestly say that this group of individuals has been the most consistently musical, wonderfully committed, and graciously joyful I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. When met with challenge, they would always rise to the occasion. Though young, I have no doubt that each and every one of them will grow into incredible human beings (goodness, I sound elderly). It should be known that all of them have shaped me throughout these past couple weeks.
In conclusion, I’d just like to add that I am absolutely terrified by the prospects of what life has in store for me. I constantly doubt if I have the confidence, skill, or courage to go out into the adult world and make something of myself for the world. However, this trip and, truly, all of my time at Drake, has convinced me that no matter what will come, I will keep standing. I will always fight for beauty and perfection, subtlety and nuance. Life is too precious for judgment and ignorance, so I know that I must live for what I love every day.