Tuesday, May 29th

Tuesday, May 29, 2012
by Matt Haupert, junior tenor, 2011-12 choir vice-president, and 2012-13 president

Yesterday, I hopped on a bus at an impossibly early hour in Galway, ate breakfast on a plane in Dublin, went for lunch in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, and fell asleep – for what seemed like the first time in days – back home in Des Moines. And just like that, it was over. After nearly twenty-four consecutive hours of traveling, the two weeks that we’d waited for and dreamed about for nearly three years had come to a close, leaving us with nothing but our own memories – and, of course, a few hundred of Dave Collier’s best photographs.

To say that this trip lived up to the months of hype and anticipation would be a vast understatement. We witnessed breathtaking landscapes at places like the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry that we could never have seen in the US. We experienced the vibrant cultures of major cities like Dublin, Galway, and Liverpool. We gained a better understanding of the true power of music as we inspired complete strangers from across the world on a nightly basis. Most importantly, we got to spend twelve days in the exclusive company of one another.

It’s not often that you get to take a trip to Europe with sixty-four of your closest friends. In fact, it’s not often that you get to be in a choir in which you can legitimately call every single member one of your closest friends. But that’s what makes Drake Choir special – and if there’s anything we’ve learned on this tour, it’s that this is a lot more than just a choir. It’s a community. Over the last couple weeks, people who were distant acquaintances have become best friends and best friends have gotten even closer. At least for me, it’s these relationships and this incredible bond that has shaped who I am today and will continue to shape who I become in the future.

The end of this tour marked the end of a lot more than just another Drake Choir trip. It marks the end of another year, and for the now-graduated seniors, it marks the end of Drake Choir for good. Each of the seniors shared a few words at our farewell banquet on Monday night, and the rest of us got a glimpse of how deeply important Drake Choir was to each of them. The advice they passed down to us ranged from “Cherish every moment you have in this choir” to “Take risks and live without regrets” to perhaps the most important advice of all, “Never cuss in front of ABC!” A general theme seemed to ring true for all of them – being a part of this choir is special. It is unique. And for the rest of our lives, we’ll never be a part of anything like it again. Without these seniors, the Drake Choir will never quite be the same. It might be better, it might be worse - but never the same. The Drake Choir as we know it has sung its final chord, inspired its final audience, and finished off its final pint of authentic Irish Guinness. 

With every end, however, comes a new beginning. Next fall, new faces will fill the risers, standing on the shoulders of those who stood there before them. These new faces will be entering a community of people who truly care for one another. They’ll be entering a choir that knows how to consistently make music that is powerful and moving. They’ll be entering a group of people with a deep understanding of the incredible ability music has to connect people from across the world. And this is all due in large part to the experiences we had on this international tour.The past twelve days have been some of the very best of my life. And though it has all finally come to a bittersweet end, the memories I made and the relationships I reinforced and developed will continue to motivate and inspire me for the rest of my life. 

====This marks the end of BLOG posts for the 21012 Drake Choir International Tour====

Monday, May 28,

Monday, May 28, 2012
by Kayleigh Koester, junior alto

This post marks the final day of our tour in Wales and Ireland.  I write this in our Galway hotel, during what are literally the wee hours of the morn’ (we load our coach at 3:30am) and our last hours of tour. 

The past twenty-four hours have encompassed a variety of experiences.  Today was a special day on tour, for many reasons:  First, it was a free day!  Now accustomed to itineraries and structure, today was a day that was delightfully void of both.  It was a day in which we were free to lollygag and explore, adventure and delight.  Second, today not only marks the end of a tour, but also the end of our current community. This year has been an especially amazing one for the Drake Choir and, therefore, these goodbyes are especially hard.  

So unlike other days, there is no itinerary from which I can relay the choir’s movements and experiences to you.  The most I can do is report the sense of emotion and thoughtfulness that colored our final day.

In the Drake Choir, we spend a significant amount of time discussing community.  We understand that we make our best music when we feel connected to one another.  We also understand that we “stand on the shoulders” of choirs who have come before us, building our program upon the hard work and examples set by the past two decades of Drake Choirs.  However, spending time in Ireland and Wales has completely altered my understanding of time and the place that I occupy within it.   In Ireland and Wales, contemporary buildings stand within 50 feet of prehistoric, Roman, and Medieval ruins.  Many of the sacred and civic spaces in use today predate our own country’s existence!

 It is hard to explain the impact that ancient spaces have upon one’s consciousness.  Unlike the United States—a comparatively young nation—daily activities in Ireland and Wales incorporate near constant reminders of the region’s vast history.  There is an understanding that the contemporary age is only the most recent part of a larger, historical whole.  It is a humbling feeling to acknowledge the impact of ancient peoples upon contemporary spaces and it begs us to reconsider our own place in the vast expanse of time. 

Already considering these themes, we approached today with a heightened understanding that today was our last day as a community.  Though the Drake Choir tradition encompasses hundreds of singers, our Drake Choir—this Drake Choir— can only ever exist with these sixty-four particular people.  We sang together for the last time tonight.  As members of the choir, this is a challenging realization.  Not only must we say goodbye to graduating and departing peers, but we must mourn the end of our community.

So today everything we did had a sense of cherishing our togetherness.  I think it is telling that very few of us chose to formally sightsee.  Today wasn’t about seeing places and things—as beautiful and interesting as they might be.  Today was about being together.  We sat along the river, feeding seagulls our left over “chips.”  We rented bikes to ride through the streets of Galway.  We walked along the Irish shore with our toes in the brisk water.  We lay in the sun talking and laughing at the hilarious happenings of our year together.   On our free day, when we were finally given all the choices in the world, we spent our time just being together.  

When it finally came time for the concert, the same feeling of togetherness continued.  Well, except for the part where we started our tour prank (singing Beethoven’s 9th instead of Os justi) in different tempos and keys.  That part wasn’t maybe the best demonstration of our togetherness.  But from the first breath of the concert, there was a sense of togetherness.  Not only among the sixty-four of us, but with ABC, and with the audience.  This audience was particularly special to me.  The parents who have traveled with us along the way, along with our coach drivers were there, of course.  They shared with us the bittersweet feeling of finality.  But next to them were new friends, fellow travelers from America whose paths had crossed ours throughout the tour, as well as choral specialists from the UK and Ireland.  Their presence was a reminder that an end is never truly final, that every performance is also a beginning and a new opportunity to share music.  Still yet, there were strangers in the audience.  People whose names we did not and may never know.  Yet by the end of the night, they too left a part of our community, bonded by our shared musical experiences.  

The time after the concert was a jumble of hugs, tears, laughter, and jokes.  For our graduating and departing members, the goodbyes were especially poignant.  But each of us grappled with the realization that our beloved year of Drake Choir was over.  

The Chamber Choir sings a beautiful piece called Over havet.  It honors the biographical journey of a Norwegian man who immigrated to Iowa.  The piece recounts his initial voyage across the sea, the harsh work facing him in the New World, and, eventually, the new life that results.  As the man nears the end of his life and considers the entirety of his experiences, he proclaims “Thankful now as I go.”  I have heard the piece countless times but that particular line has never struck me quite like it did tonight.  Dan Forrest sets the text in repetitions that bounce among the voice parts until the chorus seems to be a multitude exclaiming its thanks.  It seems to me the perfect metaphor for this tour. Along the way there have been moments of frustration and extreme joy, each of which seemed in the moment to be isolated incidents on our itinerary.  But with the blessing of retrospect and reflection, they form an interconnected set of experiences that nourished and strengthened our community. 

On Sunday, I looked over at one of my friends and said, “These are going to be the moments we remember in the nursing home, won’t they?”   He smiled. As we leave Ireland, I can truly exclaim, “thankful now as I go!” 

Here is the link to more PHOTOS from Monday, May 28th:

Sunday, May 27,

Sunday, May 27
by Sophie Kopf, sophomore alto

Goodbye to Sunday! I can't believe that we're almost finished with this wonderful adventure of ours. We've waited for this trip all year and now it's gone in the blink of an eye. It feels like we just flew into London yesterday, and already we're on our second to last night! But what an adventure this has been!

As usual, breakfast was delicious, with scones, tea, and toast. We even got to do some singing! Some of the waitstaff wasn't able to make it to our concert last night, so we sang “Shenandoah” for them. They seemed incredibly appreciative of our song and that we were singing specifically for them. It always feels great to share music with people outside of our concert settings.

We were granted another unusually beautiful day here in Ireland, although it did cool off JUST a little. The Drake Choir is going to have an incredibly unrealistic view of Ireland when we return - where's the rain we were promised? Not that any of us are complaining, of course. The warm weather is an absolute blessing, and makes traveling and sight-seeing a whole lot more enjoyable. Although, if I can admit, I am a little sad about not being able to use the pretty little umbrella I bought especially for this trip. What a shame!

We really have been all over Ireland in just a few short days. I can't even list all the counties we've toured, but I think it's somewhere around six. With each county I'm more in awe of this beautiful country. It's green and lush and - I'm sure you've heard all about it in the previous blogs!! Even now I'm still pinching myself to make sure this is real. 
We stopped for our morning coffee break in Adare this morning - which, of course, makes us all feel a bit like Hobbits since it's technically second breakfast for us all and we get a snack for later. Adare is such a cute little town  (it won the “Tidiest Town” award in 2007) with a geneology tracker that a lot of DC members took advantage of. Some even came out with a little plaque with their family crests on it! It was very exciting to see that so many of our members have Irish heritage.

I still can't believe how narrow the roads are here. It's not so bad in bigger cities, but when you get out on country roads and in smaller towns, our buses can barely get through! I always feel as though we're going to smash a car next to us as we're driving along, but our amazing bus drivers always pull through for us.  We'll have to remember to give them our profuse thanks when this trip is over.
Our second stop of the day was to the Cliffs of Moher, which I'm sure you know is the place to visit while you're in Ireland. It's absolutely spectacular. We got incredibly lucky with our clear, sunny day, because it meant we could clearly see the cliffs and the ocean spreading out for miles beyond. Drake Choir spent about an hour exploring the Cliffs and climbing up the large slopes to stand near the edge of the walls. It was an incredible stop! What was even more incredible was that our choir president, Sarah Bannon, has an uncle that contacted one of his friends that lives here in Ireland - near the Cliffs, to be exact! Marquita wanted to have us for tea, but we didn't think she could fit 74 of us in her living room. So she met us on the Cliffs, and we sang “Shenandoah” and “My Soul's Been Anchored in the Lord for her. She looked so grateful that we were singing, happy to hear American songs sung by Americans. And on that note, it was absolutely wonderful to bring her and the others standing around the joy of music. It made the day even more special.

Our third stop was to the Burrens, which are a stretch of land that cover a lot of the seacoast in southwestern Ireland. They are absolutely beautiful - craggy shores that make you really believe that, for a moment, you're in Ireland. They were the kind of thing I've been dying to see all trip, and I finally saw them! Although the rocks are very uneven and slightly shaky, if you walk carefully you can make it to the edge of the rocks, where it slopes down into the sea. You can imagine Drake Choir as we stood there taking our artsy-fartsy photos of ourselves standing on the edge of a cliff or staring pensively out into the ocean.

Dinner and our entertainment for the night were fabulous. If we all thought dinner and dessert was great, then the traditional Irish music and dancing that we witnessed afterwards was even better! We listened to a trio that playe accordian, guitar, and sang, and they regaled us with great reels and jigs - and even taught us a jig, too! I can now say that I have dance an authentic Irish jig with an authentic Irish band. Another check off my bucket list! There were also three traditional Irish dancers that entertained us, and I was in awe of their fast feet and concentration. They looked genuinely please to be there performing for us, and we were all completely happy, of course. I mean, it's Irish music and dancing! You can't get much better than that, I think.

This day has been one that will stay with my forever. Standing on those Cliffs and in the Burren made me realize just how precious this trip has been. I got to spend two weeks of my life in Ireland and Wales, and not many people can say they've done that the week after they've turned twenty. The pictures will be ruined, and I might forget the details, but the beauty will stay with me forever.

We're looking forward to our last concert tomorrow night, and I think I can speak for the whole choir when I say we can't wait to see you all and tell you about our adventures!

TWO photo links:
The Cliffs of Moher        34 photos
The Burren            20 photos

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Saturday, May 26th

Saturday, May 26
by Lukas Olynyk, senior bass

Today, we drove through a cliché. Not a Guinness, leprechaun, and shamrock sort of cliché, but one of true Irish beauty. Any stereotype you’ve ever had about Irish mountains or the Irish waters are completely true; greens and blues like you’ve never seen before surrounded us, kind of a take-your-breath-away-and-knock-your-socks-off-at-the-same-time sort of beauty.

We first headed through the peat bogs toward the Ring of Kerry – which is, in fact, a peninsula. The bogs were intriguing since the “solid” ground is actually 90% water. There are, not sure what to call them, “peat farmers” who basically cut chunks of the bog out, stack them, let them dry over the summer, and when they’re nearly dried, use the peat as a fuel source. I’ve never heard of anything like that before, but it just goes to show how resourceful and adaptive we can actually be.

We made a few stops while in the Ring of Kerry so that we could actually take some time to appreciate the insane beauty we were witnessing. One stop was in the town of Killorglin, where we spent some time on the shores of Dingle Bay – getting our feet wet, skipping stones, seaweed fights – what you would usually expect college kids to do.

After Dingle Bay and prancing around on the Dingle shores, we drove a little further to a location with a view unlike any I’ve seen before. We were basically at the top of a mountain overlooking the ocean and three islands nicknamed the Bull, Cow, and the Calf (I’m assuming related to size) and we could see for miles. The reason this is important to mention is because this is Ireland! It’s supposed to be rainy, foggy, misty, cloudy, and sad. Instead, we get warm, clear skies allowing us to truly see forever (as long as you have decent eyes).

After driving through more of what is comparable to JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth, we ended up in Sneem (gesundheit) where we had a quick lunch at some random local pubs. Although everything, including food, is painfully expensive, you can always find the perfect, quaint pub or shop if you’re willing to get a little lost. We headed back to Killarney after lunch, again stopping to appreciate the view every once in a while, and after a few hours of free time – filled with eating, shopping, or exploring – we started rehearsal.

We put on a great concert in Killarney, for an audience that kept growing during the entire concert, until the church was full, and gave ABC a little Wexford crystal Celtic cross in appreciation of everything she has done for us the past year/our collective college careers. It’s weird being a graduate on this tour, especially since that was our second to last concert – just one more to go. I’m not pursuing music and although music will always be a passion of mine, I don’t find myself joining a choir again, at least not for a long time. That fact makes this so much harder but so much more special. This is by far the best choir I’ve been in with some of the greatest people in one of the most beautiful countries in the world – I’d say this is one heck-of-a-way to graduate from college.

Here are TWO links to Saturday, May 26th photos:

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Friday, May 25

Friday, May 25
by Chris Kimpston, sophomore bass
Without the expectation of a concert later during the day, Drake Choir
departed for the destination of Killarney. After a lovely breakfast,
we set our sights on the day ahead. While riding a couple of hours on
the bus, we had the opportunity to see some of the beautiful landscape
of Ireland. While all of Ireland has been beautiful so far, the free
day of sightseeing provided the perfect opportunity to view the
natural Ireland countryside in its full beauty. Additionally, the
unnaturally warm and sunny weather allowed a clear view from our seats
inside the coaches.

As Anita, one of our tour guides, has told us, Ireland is known for
having “40 shades of green.” Before this tour, I would have laughed
and dismissed this as a clever turn-of-phrase on Ireland's lush
natural landscape. However, after spending time touring both the city
and the countryside, it is easy to see why Ireland is associated with
the color green. While shamrocks and leprechauns occupy the
imagination as defined by stereotypes, it’s evident why the color
would inhabit the stereotypes of Ireland; as we drove past many
different farms and wove through the roads of the different properties
and towns, it was evident just how blessed the Irish land truly is.
We made a stop in Waterford for a coffee/bathroom break, and
had enough time to make a stop at the famous Waterford Crystal store.
Waterford Crystal, founded in 1783, is the best crystal in the world. 
One interesting bit is that the solid pitch emitted by the
object when struck lightly can identify the genuine quality of
Waterford Crystal. It has been used for chandeliers in Westminster
Abbey, the New Year’s giant crystal ball that drops every year in
Times Square, and even the NCAA Football Championship trophy. Needless
to say, it was a beautiful store, and I was sure not to touch
anything. As my grandmother tells me, I can be a “bull in a china
After we departed from Waterford, we traveled to Blarney and
some members of the choir took the opportunity to kiss the famous Blarney 
Stone. It’s located at Blarney Castle, and is said to give anyone who kisses it
“the gift of gab,” meaning the ability to speak
influentially/convincingly. Many of the future businessmen, salesman,
and lawyers of the Drake Choir were sure to try to touch their lips to
the rock in this tradition, and only time will tell if it’s true.
  Ross Castle in Killarney National Park
After arriving in the lovely town of Killarney, we had a great dinner
together here in the International Hotel, and are now energized and
refreshed for another day of touring, as well as another concert. With
only two concerts left, we are enjoying every opportunity to sing, and
will certainly enjoy doing so at St. Mary's Church tomorrow evening.

Here is the link to Friday, May 25th photos: 
Friday, May 25th photos

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Thursday, May 24

Thursday, May 24
by Nick Budden, sophomore bass

Our day began at 9 a.m. but waking was finally easy.  We’d officially adjusted to the time difference and the overall pace of tour.  We said goodbye to the famous Georgian doors of Dublin and anticipated the day ahead.

The entire day could be summarized by just one word: contrast.  Over the span of a few hours we went from the crowded city of Dublin to the wide open spaces of Glendalough, a monastic site that began in the six century.  The gentle hills and city-scape transformed into mountains covered in an ocean of green.  This was the stereotypical Irish landscape that we all had in mind.  Ireland’s forty shades of green were accented by vibrant yellow plants called gorse. The landscape was stunning and we now understand why this countryside was the setting of so many movies.

St. Kevin started the monastery of Glendalough.  Its buildings include a round tower (these are special to Ireland, although there are two in Scotland and one on the Isle of Mann), a cathedral, other small huts for sleeping, and a graveyard, all built between the 500s and about 1200.  Its location was picturesque, centered on a hill between two mountains, a valley, and two lakes (Glendalough, means the glen between two lakes).  A few choristers made references to the Lord of the Rings, which seemed fitting.  We had a short break to explore the area and most of us opted to wander around the lakes.   The setting and free time provided an opportunity for simultaneous self-reflection and community building.

Our tour of Glendalough ended in song. We circled up outside the chapel and near a gently flowing stream that provided the perfect background ambience.  The acoustics of singing outdoors forced us to listen harder than usual, which strengthened our sense of community even further.

Our evening concert was at the parish church in the little town (population 1,000) of Ferns, the hometown of one of our tour managers, Tom Doyle. The space was built in the 1970s, making it by far the newest performance venue to date, and a huge contrast to almost all of the spaces in which we’ve sung, since they were built in the medieval period.  Its warm acoustics were a great match for the warm “Drake Choir sound.”

The concert was very intimate because of the design of the church and the enthusiastic crowd.  “Sleep,” “Os justi,” and “O verbum Patris were top-notch tonight and the parish priest thank us for giving 110% effort.  He also encouraged us to use our talents and to make the most of the long lives ahead of us.  Re-energized, we looked forward to the day ahead in Killarney!

Here is the link to Thursday, May 24th photos:

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Wednesday, May 23

Wednesday, May 23
By Jon Edgeton,  senior tenor

It feels as if we left months ago, the whole choir hopping on a set of planes to Minneapolis, then across the Atlantic to Ireland and Wales. So many experiences, so many memories have already been created. Our time here is precious to all of us, and we’re all making sure not to take it for granted.

I will preface this post by saying one thing: I love Dublin, Ireland. The hustle and bustle of a modern town with the history and character of an ancient city…hundreds of thousands of people, bumping shoulders as they walk on narrow sidewalks through a rather compact downtown area. I felt this place would be a good home away from home for the few days we were staying.

The day started off on a good note, considering we all got to sleep in after a day of hard work singing and walking around. With nothing until our rehearsal in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 11 o’clock, everyone was able to rekindle the spark of energy we needed for the performance and a long day of sight-seeing. Needless to say, we were all overjoyed with the chance to recharge.
When we finally put on our penguin suits and the bus pulled up in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of déjà-vu. It wasn’t until we were standing in the beautiful space that I finally realized that I had been there before…five years ago, when my French class in high school took a trip to Europe, touring France, England, Wales, and Ireland. One of our stops was at that very cathedral, identifiable by the colorful flags and the grave of Jonathan Swift.  If anyone would have told me then that five years down the road I would be singing in that very space with 63 of my good friends, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. 

St. Patrick's Cathedral

After this initial shock of memories subsided, we began rehearsing for our afternoon concert. This performance was a lot different from our others since we were not collaborating with another choir and the space was vast (and very old).  Another difference was the informality of the venue. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the official church of Ireland, making it a hotspot for tourists. The gift shop in the back stayed open throughout, and people were walking around us looking at the stained-glass windows and plaques.

Although this was a bit abnormal, I observed that our concert, despite the setting, was still just as inspiring and magical to the audience and the performers. People who were walking around stopped, listened, and slowed down their tourist-driven day to be a part of the experience.  The audience and the choir still felt connected as we shared our music.

Our bus tour of Dublin was next on the docket for the afternoon. Our tour guide, Dorothy, knew so much about the intriguing city, and the group was excited about walking around and showing us many great places in order to more fully experience Dublin. It was at this time when my fellow Brocal Chords and I began to scope out some good places to sing on the streets that afternoon.

We have a tradition in the Brocal Chords in which we roam, or ‘broam’, and find good places to bring in a crowd. Luckily, Dublin is such a compact and populated city that the task of finding a packed street was easy. Literally hundreds of people decided to stop and watch our impromptu performances, some generous enough to provide the group with Euros for our Brocal fund. Despite our tendency to stop the flow of traffic, and the occasional conversation with the Dublin Garda (police), we managed to sing all afternoon.

This trip has really been a surreal experience of magical music moments, friendly foreign faces, and collective companionship among the choir. I know that I have a new perspective on cultural differences and similarities, both in a musical sense and in aspects of everyday life. The trip has a lot more meaning for those of us on the trip than just traveling and singing,  I believe what we have experienced is re-forming and changing our perspectives and understanding  of each other and the world.
And to think, we still have 5 days left.

Here is the link to photos from WEDNESDAY and ADDITIONAL photos from Tuesday:
WEDNESDAY, May 23rd photos AND additional TUESDAY photos

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Tuesday, May 22

Tuesday, May 22
by Gabe Early, senior tenor

We left from Chester, England this morning and set out for the coast.  The drive was quiet because it was quite early, but I stayed up because I wanted to see the sights. As we approached the shore, I saw giant wind turbines in the distance. It wasn’t until we got a lot closer that I realized they were actually out in the ocean.  Eventually we arrived at the port in Holyhead, Wales.  We were quite early for the ferry so we waited aboard the ship for around forty minutes.  Even in the port, I still didn’t grasp how big the ocean was though.

It wasn’t until we left Holyhead and were out of view of Wales that I understood how vast water could truly be. In one of our songs, the poet talks about a wanderlust that he shares with his people that calls him to travel across the sea for a chance at a better life.  I can’t imagine what sort of thoughts have to run through your mind before you would leave your homeland and set out to sea in a direction with no visible destination on the horizon.  To think that Peder Nerland came to the U.S.A from Norway is almost unbelievable now, having made only a short trip over the Irish Sea.

Once we landed in Dublin, we loaded up the new coaches and set out for our hotel.  Dublin is an interesting city.  It is much more urban than any place we stayed so far. Another surprising difference is the large number of palm trees around the city.  By first impression, Dublin was not what I expected.  We left our hotel for Trinity College this afternoon and were quite excited to see the Book of Kells (the ancient Irish counterpart to the St. John’s Bible which we saw in Minnesota) and the historic Long Room Library.  We concluded the day with a wonderful concert in the Trinity College chapel with the Goethe Institute choir.  The audience was very warm and welcoming and also quite excited to hear us.  I’m not sure if there’s a difference between Irish smiles and Welsh, English, or American ones, but I found myself grinning back at the audience a lot more than ever tonight.

Following the concert we walked over to a pub with the choir from the Goethe Institute and shared stores and favorite songs.  My wife and I were lucky enough to meet a couple that really wanted to see us try Guinness for the first time.  We both did our best to finish the pints, but we eventually called in some friends for help.

Overall, my first impression of Ireland has been surprising.  I didn’t really know what to expect from the audiences in our Irish debut, but their exceptionally warm welcome and excitement  took me by surprise.  I wasn’t expecting to draw the attention of the whole campus as we waited outside in our tuxedos for a over an hour before the concert, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to see so many palm trees!  I’m excited to see what else is in store for us in this wonderful city and this fantastic nation!

Here are two links to MORE photos from Monday AND the photos from Tuesday, May 22nd:

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Monday, May 21

Monday, May 21
by Anna Gebhardt, senior soprano

Waking Up in England
Today, we stayed in England and explored the cities of Chester (where our current hotel is) and Liverpool. Chester is a beautiful and unique town. It has so many distinguishing features, but I’ll just give you the highlights. Our tour guides, Tom and Anita, took us around town early this morning, explaining that it was an important Roman outpost, so people have been here for a long time. There are Roman ruins in several locations, and there is even a ruin of what was an outdoor Roman amphitheatre. The city center is ringed with red stone walls, with the Roman-style gates in the North, South, East and West. All the stone in Chester is supposed to be burnt red, which makes for a beautiful effect. The city is on several little hills, so there is always a lovely change of perspective as you walk around. The winding cobblestone streets are narrow and lined with multiple stories of shops, known as the Chester “rows” because throughout the town, there are rows of shops piled upon each other.

The cathedral is a magnificent sight in the gaps between them, and it’s no less so inside. It was established in 1092, so people have been gathering there to celebrate as a community for more than one thousand years.  In addition to concerts, we enjoy singing informally in beautiful acoustics so we sought permission to sing in Chester Cathedral.  Permission was not granted (we were told that no visitors had been allowed to sing there for many years) but were allowed to sing in the cloister garden.  We stood in a circle around a beautiful sculpture situated in a pool of water.  Our singing attracted the attention of the Vice Dean of the Cathedral, who immediately invited us to sing inside the Cathedral!  We returned to the church, formed a circle around the altar and sang again.  Following that, the Chamber Choir was allowed to sing in the choir of the Cathedral itself.  There we sang “O verbum Patris,” which uses a text by Hildegard of Bingen, who lived just a few years before the the intricate wood carvings in the choir area were begun, early in the fourteenth century.  The gravitas of the ancient building made this experience quite memorable.

And that was just the first half of the day.

We also sang in the cathedral in Liverpool, which isn’t as old (it was begun at the turn of the twentieth century and was designed by a twenty-one year old architect) but its size kind of makes up for its comparative youth. Our sound seemed enchanting in the huge, reverberent space. The thing is gargantuan and inspiring, with its massive height and gorgeous art. It is unbelievable that it took seventy years to build! I don’t know why it’s not considered one of the seven wonders of the world, it is so mind-blowingly huge. (It’s actually the fourth largest cathedral in the world, I think.) It sits on the hill above the riverfront, where there is a nice path along the river that goes by all the newly developed civic attractions, such as the new Liverpool Museum and the Tate Modern, and most importantly for Drake Choir: THE BEATLES STORY, a museum all about the Beatles. It seemed to me that 98% of the choir has been subject to Beatlemania at some point in their lives, so this was certainly a highlight of the day.

Sunday night, after our concert with the Flint Men’s Choir, a member asked me in his thick Welsh accent, “Do you folks have a busy schedule, then?” I described everything we’ve done so far: we flew from Iowa to Minnesota to Heathrow, the airport in London; went directly to the ultimate symbolic landmark of the British Isles, Stonehenge; rode the coach (ahem, bus) across the beautiful British countryside to our hotel in Hereford; sang our first notes in Europe impromptu in the cathedral there; shared an inspiring and joyful night of singing with the Builth Men’s Chorus in LLandrindod Wells, Wales; and toured through the countryside manor, Erddig, learning all about the “upstairs / downstairs” life of the gentry and their servants from centuries past. He seemed to think that was all quite nice, but he blanched when I said, “Yes, this is just our third day.”

His amazement is warranted! I think I speak for all the Drake Choir members when I say that we have packed the maximum amount of wonderful experiences into our first three-and-a-half days on the island. You would think we’d all be sleeping on our feet, a dysfunctional lot of jet-lagged “yankees” (as a Liverpudlian called me today). On the contrary, though, we are running on adrenaline and well, maybe some of us on a seemingly endless supply of tea. We are living in the moment, as there is so much to see, feel and think in each one. We may be jetlagged, but perhaps it adds to the surreal experience of these foreign communities that are so similar, yet so different from our own. I’ve tried to keep track of all these thoughts and many more, but I think they are all summed up in the first thought I had when I woke up in our English hotel. Something about the grey sunshine streaming in the screenless window seems just a little different. It’s a calm excitement, waking up in England. Yes, we are jetlagged. But I think this experience is making our eyes a little brighter.

Here is the link to 57 photos from Monday:

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Sunday, May 20

Sunday, May 20
by Sam Pritchard, sophomore bass

Drake Choir began its second full day in Wales, the “Land of Song”, with a two-hour drive through the beautiful Welsh countryside on our way to the northern part of the country. We passed herds of sheep grazing on rolling hills that reminded us all of being back home in the Midwest.

Our first destination was Erddig, an early 18th-century county estate that is often described as the “jewel in the crown of Welsh country houses.” The house sits on a breath-taking property consisting of lush gardens and scenic views of the neighboring hills. While the building itself has a long and impressive history, most notable was the legacy left by the property’s owners, who maintained a tradition of honoring and preserving the memory of the many servants who worked on the estate.  The landowners not only had portraits painted of the servants, but also wrote humorous  and, often, extended poems to accompany them. For example, Thomas Pritchard, who served as head gardener for 40 years in the nineteenth century, was described with “Our Gardener, old and run to seed, Was once a tall and slender reed.” These paintings, photographs, and rhymes fill the walls in the house’s lower level, and provided a wonderful perspective on the individuals who made the estate what it was, and who are often forgotten by history in favor of the wealthy aristocrats. 

Later we traveled to Flint, Wales, where we joined the Flint Male Voice Choir for our evening concert. In contrast to the grand medieval cathedrals we have seen, this unassuming parish church was an intimate venue in which to share music.   It didn’t take long for our singing to invoke some hearty Welsh praise. The Flint Male Voice Choir performed a wide variety of selections, including a stirring rendition of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” which they learned especially for us.

A custom we have quickly come to love in Welsh singing culture is the social gathering that follows the concert, called an afterglow. The afterglow consists of food, drink, and song, as we were serenaded by the Flint men with a number of traditional Welsh folk songs, sung in true pub fashion. Ill-equipped to return the favor with any comparable American songs, we resorted to joining in and singing with them, which seemed to be more than all right with the “boys.” We truly had a wonderful time sharing song and stories with the people of Flint!

Here is the link to 36 Sunday photos:

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Saturday, May 19

Saturday, May 19, 2012
Mary Honeyman, alto, 20111-2012 Drake Choir officer

After scrubbing off travel grime and collapsing into our beds last night, we were a little slow to start waking up this morning.  Once our sleepy choir made its way through the brisk English air to breakfast, we were much more awake and ready to eat.  The hotel staff greeted us with a beautiful buffet complete with breakfast tea, coffee, fresh berry cocktail, granola cereal, croissants, a variety of jams, and a golden array of fresh bread.  Our English and Welsh bus drivers encouraged us to order the hot traditional English breakfast on top of everything else, so we devoured eggs, boiled tomatoes, pork sausage, mushrooms, baked beans, and the biggest slabs of bacon you’ve ever seen.  We were ready for hibernation, but waddled to the buses and headed to Hereford for local sightseeing.

Our first stop was the Hereford Cathedral, and it was breathtaking.  We shared a quiet moment as the Chaplain prayed for the visitors of the cathedral and the souls of the world each hour.  She welcomed us as guests, and we gathered around the altar to sing “Os Justi” to the visitors of the Cathedral and to ourselves. It was a very refreshing, bonding experience for the choir.  Little moments like that are what make Drake Choir tours unforgettable. Afterwards, we split up and briefly toured the town shops before loading the buses and leaving for Ludlow.

One of our tour managers, Anita, told our bus that Ludlow was known for their castle ruins and variety of town boutique shops.  We were not disappointed; there was an open market in the town square, hundreds of shops to dot the winding streets, and the eerily beautiful ruins of a once magnificent castle, nestled cozily in the rolling English countryside.  The view from the top of the castle was so picturesque, that if it weren’t for the chubby sheep grazing through the pastures, no one would believe it was real.

After Ludlow, we continued across the border and arrived at the Pavilion in Llandrindod, Wales, to begin our rehearsal and prepare for our joint concert tonight.  It was a long concert, but our hosts and audience made every second more dear.  They served us tea before we sang, and everyone was eager to begin the concert!  The Builth Men’s Voice Choir began with three songs before the Drake Choir, Chamber Choir, and Brocal Chords followed suit.  All of the choirs sang beautifully, and after giving “thank you” gifts to the organizers of the concert and to our conductor, Dr. Aimee Beckmann-Collier, the Drake Choir joined the Builth Men’s Voice Choir to sing “Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah,” a popular, beloved hymn in Wales, to conclude the concert.
Showing their outstanding Welsh hospitality again, the people of Llandrindod prepared a small feast after the concert for everyone to enjoy.  It was a great chance for Drake Students to meet the local residents and Builth Choir members. Even more astonishing is that after the “after party,” when the Drake Choir had changed out of our formal wear, the audience sat around in circles and literally sang us back to the bus.  They sang traditional Welsh songs, a couple of German folk songs (there were a significant number of audience members from Llandrindod’s German sister city, Bad Rapenau, visiting), and they even sang “The Rose” so we could at least attempt to join in the singing. They ended their serenade with “Good Night, Ladies” as we waved good-bye and loaded the buses.  Though it was late, past 11:30 pm, no one wanted to leave!  We left satisfied with an excellent performance, and touched by the kindness shown to us by complete strangers in a foreign country.  Through the beauty of music, Drake University will now and always find friends in Llandrindod, Wales. It was a great day.

Here is the link to 23 photos taken Saturday, May 19:

Drake Choir Tour 2012: Friday, May 18

Friday, May 18, 2012
by Sarah Bannon, alto and 2011-2012 Drake Choir President

We made it! I was on the first flight to Minneapolis and after a slight delay we made it to Minneapolis. A large group of us ate dinner together at T.G.I. Fridays and wandered around exploring the airport. We boarded the flight around 8:40pm Minneapolis time and that’s when my nerves started to kick in! I’ve flown internationally before, but the nerves seem to get me every time. I feel like the choir had quite the range from very nervous to flying pros.

Eight hours later we landed in the London-Heathrow airport, got those passport stamps, and we were off!  Our wonderful tour managers, Tom Doyle and Anita Baker, led us to our coaches and we headed towards Stonehenge. We stopped along the way to get a bite to eat and some fresh air. I was able to get some coffee to fight the jet lag (they had a Starbucks where we stopped!) and also some snacks for the road. I love the grocery stores in England because they have so much variety in terms of “grab and go” things, such as sandwiches, salads, and fruit. Yum!

We arrived at Stonehenge an hour or so later and began the audio-guided tour. The tour went in a circle around the site and there were points along the way where you clicked a number on the audio device to hear information about Stonehenge. I started with the first few numbers, but then got distracted by all the photo opportunities! I think my favorite photo of all of them is the one of the entire Drake Choir. We partially blocked the walkway to take the photo, but it’s definitely a good one!

Next we made the trip to Hereford, which is about twenty miles away from Wales. We broke up into our dinner groups and checked in at the hotel. We were treated to a three-course meal – it was a very nice change from airport food and snacks! We had different options to choose from for each course and I think everyone enjoyed their choices.

Now, I am back at the hotel getting ready for bed. It still baffles me that yesterday I was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean! I am looking forward to what the rest of the tour holds for the Drake Choir and our first performance tomorrow evening!

Following is the link to Friday's photos: