The past few weeks have been momentous. I traveled with the Western Michigan University Chorale to the Baltics. For those of you who might say, “Where?,” the Baltics are a set of three very small countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia) in north-eastern Europe. They were part of the former Soviet Union, although they would be the first ones to tell you that it was not a willing union :).
How was a trip to three little countries life-changing? Well, it boils down to three things: 1) What we did, 2) What we saw, and 3) Who I was with.
Western Michigan University is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated music schools in the country. Most people haven’t heard of it, yet its graduates are regularly admitted to top schools, gain consistent employment, and perform in music ensembles across the country. In the choral world, the only American member of Voces8 as well as two current members of Chanticleer are WMU alumni.
With this in mind, the Chorale was one of the best groups I have ever had the pleasure of performing with, particularly this year. We sang superbly and sensitively, and we brought this musicianship to the Baltics. The first three days were spent in a resort town, where we competed in the Kaunas Cantat against choirs from all over northern and eastern Europe. Some of them were quite good. The Chorale performed admirably, and we won the overall competition. Not only that, but we were able to sing with other groups and form relationships. It was truly a wonderful time.
We also got to tour these three countries. Growing up in America, it is easy to think of the Soviet Union in abstract terms. Visiting these three countries made its evil real. Twenty-something years after they gained freedom, they are still struggling to rebuild from the repression and economic depression of communist Russia. Monuments to freedom were erected in every country.
I would not have enjoyed this trip nearly as much if it weren’t for the fact that I traveled with such great people. This wonderful group of humans continually amazed me. They were open to me randomly coming and sitting with them. During the awards ceremony (where we did quite well), they cheered every other group that was mentioned. This was not was not arrogant patronizing either. Chorale members were genuinely happy for other people’s success. Incidentally, this is something that has not always been the case at other schools I have attended.
I entitled this post “Old Friends in New Places.” I meant that in a couple ways. First, it was truly an honor to sing with the kind, talented people I have gotten to know over the past two years. I will miss them greatly. Second, we sang pieces that I have come to know and love over my career. We even sang a few that I performed back in high school (my high school choir was pretty good). It’s fascinating to return to pieces and see how you’ve grown as a musician both in appreciating them and in performing them. All in all, I was blessed during this trip. We made great music, met incredible people, saw fascinating sights, and forged strong relationships which will hopefully last a lifetime.
Now, back to real life…