By Tom Florian, senior tenor
Majors: Marketing and Finance
We enjoyed one final dinner, complete with the customary tour awards, after seeing Les Miserables Tuesday evening and then caught a few precious hours of sleep before our extensive day of travel. Our coach whizzed through London, making its way to Heathrow. Luggage in hand, choir members filed into the terminal, many giving Anita, our beloved guide, a warm hug of thanks. Then, after a total of 18 hours, we set foot into the frozen tundra of Des Moines. After spending 12 days together, we each went our separate ways. Our tour through England is history, but the learning that took place will continue for a long time to come.
It can be difficult to identify things that were learned by individual members and the choir as a whole. I can assure you that 99.9 percent of the time, the choir is not learning notes. Of course, musical learning and growth occurs throughout and fine details can be sharpened. Choir tours provide the ensemble the opportunity to develop consistency since we are called upon to do multiple rehearsals and performances (we did 8 in England, as well as the pre-tour concert on the evening before our departure). The ability to perform at a high level of concentration, expressivity, and physical engagement is challenging. However, this Chamber Choir never experienced a shortcoming. I will say that consistency was present throughout and each performance was better than the previous in certain ways. Resiliency was a major test and the choir passed with flying colors.
Another lesson learned by the ensemble was trust. Not a single thing went awry aside from a sticky situation when our bus found itself in the mud. Even then, no one pointed fingers, no one complained, but every single person looked to one another and came together to solve the issue at hand. A sense of community is important in any group, especially when the group relies so heavily on each member to do his or her part. Whether we acknowledged it or not, all of us relied on one another to stay positive, keep us on track, maintain energy, and be a friend. This was not just a choir tour of 30 individual choir members. This was a choir tour of a 30-person ensemble. Even to the last minute, when we claimed our baggage in Des Moines, choir members enjoyed each other’s company.
Professionalism in stressful situations was another large lesson learned on this tour. Singing Evensong in Gloucester Cathedral and St. Paul’s Cathedral was a new experience for every member of the choir. Although we had learned the music needed for the service, we still had to rehearse the intricate details of the processional and overall pacing of the evening. In Gloucester, we found ourselves in a time crunch, since we were expected to learn new music, which had not been sent ahead or even mentioned to Dr. ABC, at the last minute. But everyone remained calm and pulled through. After this test of professionalism, the choir was ready to handle whatever was thrown its way, even a motor coach stuck in the mud.
And let me not forget to mention the historical knowledge gained by each student as well as the cultural experiences that occurred throughout the tour. Thanks to Anita Baker, our brilliant guide, each of us learned more in 12 days by listening to her than we could have reading any tourism guidebook. In addition, we found ourselves immersed in English culture for nearly two weeks. I am a strong believer in the idea that the best way to learn about a culture is to dive right in and absorb every possible detail. The best example I can think of is our Friday night concert in Witham, a town in Essex. Halfway through the concert, we broke for what is called an interval (similar to what we call intermission). The glorious thing about the interval is that audience members and performers meet and greet one another over snacks and drinks. It was such a memorable and moving experience to converse with local English citizens about their lives, experiences in music, and so much more.
Traveling abroad with a group of 33 other people sounds a bit daunting, but in reality, I would do it all over again. Every single person learned something new about themselves, about each other, about the group as whole, and more. Magical moments presented themselves each and every day.
As we look towards the new semester and look back on our journey abroad, I can confidently say that all of us have changed for the better. We have grown as individuals and as a group. We have gained intellectual knowledge and have developed musical and professional skills that only the pressure of tour can provide.
And so we come to the end of a magnificent journey. As a soon-to-be college graduate, I am thankful to have shared this experience with the best group of students I know. Not only did I learn about each of them, but they helped me to learn more about myself, too. Now that’s something that doesn’t always happen in a classroom. The benefits of touring may not be easily visible to the outside observer, but I assure you that an immense amount of learning occurs. And to make things better, everyone had a wonderful time throughout. What more could you ask for?