Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tuesday Travels

Hello from...home! The Pacific Lutheran University Chorale arrived safely back in Tacoma yesterday afternoon after a long day of traveling...but I haven't gotten to that part yet! As for now, it's time for me to document the remainder of our winter tour travels. (I apologize for the delay! Often faced with lack of access to the laptop, Wifi, or lack of sleep, it was eventually a choice between catching up on the blog, and spending all day in Disneyworld. You can imagine I was drawn to choose the latter.)

You most recently heard about our Monday of manatees and mishaps, including some questionable bus-rides that were truly unforgettable. (Shout-out to Larry.) But Tuesday, believe it or not, was a day when things actually went quite according to schedule! Though we've adapted to spontaneity and the philosophy of "wingin' it," the rare occasion of things going the way we'd expected them to was quite welcome. Tuesday was also a pleasant day, as the weather forecast was promising, and our last concert was that evening in the beautiful city of Naples. Following our last performance? Fun! A brief time of rest after our occasionally-sleepless, sometimes-stressful month of singing. "Work hard, play hard," Dr. Galante grinned.

On Tuesday morning, our home-stay hosts brought us back to St. Paul Lutheran Church to be picked up by the bus for our umpteenth bus-ride and delivered to the University of South Florida in Tampa for a clinic with the highly accomplished Dr. James Bass. I believe all of us were sleep-deprived (and I vaguely remember whining about coffee...) but greatly looking forward to the exciting opportunity to work with Dr. Bass. We certainly had reason to! (We were also thrilled to be back with Miss Shawn, our original bus driver. We'd had enough adventure for a little while.)

Dr. Bass is a singer (a bass, if you can believe it) and conductor, and is the Director of Choral Studies at the University of South Florida. He is also the chorus master for Seraphic Fire, a highly regarded and Grammy-nominated ensemble that performs throughout South Florida, and also tours nationally. Needless to say, we were working with someone who knew his stuff.

While it is unfortunate that Chorale only had an hour to work with Dr. Bass, the short time we had together was productive and meaningful. The warm-up exercises were especially interesting. Our voices were a bit rusty, the consequence of lots of singing and a likely insufficient amount of sleep. However, Dr. Bass seemed primarily intent on "warming up" our minds. He led us in a series of humming exercises that guided us to practice listening-skills and awareness. More than anything, he seemed most interested in our unity as an ensemble. "You're a vocal family, right?" he asked us. "Then sing like one. Don't compete with one another. Just fill up the space around you with a nice, easy hum." It took nearly a minute of humming one tone together until he finally stopped us and told us he had heard it - the choir coming together as one voice.

The remainder of time was spent concentrating on the two Mendelssohn pieces of our set: "Richte mich Gott" and "Mitten wir im Leben sind." Dr. Bass greatly emphasized the importance of pronouncing the German diction in just the right way. This included proper textual emphasis - which meant we had to know what we were saying. And not just know what we were saying, but feel what we were saying.

"If you're in a play," Dr. Bass told us, "and the character you are portraying has to kill someone, that doesn't mean that you believe in murder. You just have to portray someone who does." Dr. Bass reminded us, whether or not we feel that the text we sing is true for us personally, we must always sing as though it is. 

In addition to helping us with the text, Dr. Bass also provided us with some feedback regarding when to use vibrato, and when to sing with a straight tone (no vibrato). There are two things that he said, however, that were not so much instructions for singing as things to ponder, and that I found most memorable.

Firstly, Dr. Bass pointed out the importance of singing, and the special connection between choirs in accomplishing one single goal of making music - even on opposite sides of the country. Such a goal unites us in a unique way. He discussed how, at all places across the world on a Tuesday morning, millions upon millions of people would be doing such regular and mundane things as driving to work or arriving in the office or watching TV - but we were not doing those things. We were singing "Mitten vir im Leben sind." Perhaps at one moment that morning, he suggested to us, we were the only ones in the world doing that very thing. For some reason, I found that extremely meaningful. We were not doing the mundane that morning, I thought to myself. We were singing. Simply because we had chosen to.

The second thing that Dr. Bass said that I found quite significant was his comparison between a choir and a flock of birds. "It's amazing," he said, "when a flock of birds makes a turn - and every single bird in the flock turns its head at the exact same moment." He explained that he felt a similar thing happened when a group of people all sung the same vowel, with perfect balance, at the same time. It was to encourage us to be unified as an ensemble, and move at the same time, in sync with one another during every second throughout a song. The result when that happened, he told us, was incredible.

With that food for thought, Dr. Bass sent us on our way. We hopped back onto the bus, chatting about the clinic and what we'd learned from it. I heard many say that it was the best clinic they had ever had with a director. We were all left wishing for more time to work with the remarkably talented Dr. Bass, but also thankful that we had any time with him at all.

We departed the (huge!) University of South Florida  bound for Naples! It was a gorgeous day, the kind of day we'd daydreamed of when we packed our suitcases with shorts and swimsuits. The sky was blue and the air was warm - that exquisite temperature just between 70 and 80 degrees. Paired with the Florida humidity, though, it felt even warmer. Especially on the bus.

No strangers to bus-problems this week, we were hardly surprised to discover that the bus whose heater hadn't worked a few days ago also had difficulty with air-conditioning. The crowded bus warmed up quickly and got uncomfortably warm with the mid-day Florida sun streaming through our windows. Fortunately, Miss Shawn had somewhat of a solution to offer us to at least better the circumstances - each rooftop emergency exit was cracked open to let air flow into the vehicle as we made our way to the next destination. It made the bus very loud, but for the queasy and lethargic singers like myself, we just closed our eyes and waited for Naples.

The anticipation surely was worth it. Upon arriving in Naples we gazed outside our windows at fancy establishments, stunning homes, and posh restaurants, complemented nicely with palm trees and a blue sky. We had a few hours completely free, to enjoy the local cuisine, sample shops and boutiques, or even visit the beach. The world was our oyster.

After enjoying lunch, many of us did indeed find each other at the ocean's edge, walking along the water and sticking our toes in. A couple of daring girls even ventured into the water! I personally was content burying my feet in the warm sand and admiring the sea, soaking up sun and serenity.

When we got back on the bus shortly before 4:00, we headed to a La Quinta Inn in Naples, where we would quickly change into concert attire, then head to Naples United Church of Christ, the location for our fourth formal concert, and the last performance of the tour. After walking around and getting a little Vitamin D, we were in high spirits and looking forward to the final performance. It had been a good day. Amazingly, our only delay was a short wait for the bus after getting its air-conditioning fixed. (Yay!) We even had time for a rehearsal that evening before the concert. We could hardly believe it. "What do we do with ourselves?" Dr. Galante joked.

The concert that evening drew a nice crowd that included Dr. Galante's parents who reside part-time in Florida. We performed "A Child, My Choice," Dr. Galante's composition, so they could hear it. We sure hope we made them proud!

Our last concert of the tour was followed by lots of laughs and smiles, "good jobs" and high-fives, and even a nice lady who was giving out hugs like Oprah. ("You get a hug, and YOU get a hug! Everybody gets a hug!") And the evening ended on a high note (get it?!) with a group dinner at The Counter in Naples. We feasted on giant delicious burgers (a few choir members ordering a full pound of meat) and had a great time socializing with the people we had grown closer to in the past month. 

We concluded our late night looking forward to sleeping in, and enjoying the Florida sun (knock on wood) the next day at Pelican Bay Beach Club, then departing to our last stop - Orlando, home to Disneyworld and Universal Studios. 

And the next morning I saw a flock of birds flying above me, and they all turned their heads at the exact same time. I couldn't help but smile.

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