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!”