Friday, May 27 – Annie Howard, Sophomore Alto, English major
I’m writing this post as we ride through the Estonian countryside from the small town of Rakvere back to Tallinn. I’ve joked with several people that this whole country is one giant Bob Ross painting, it’s that picturesque. I feel like I should be enjoying this scenery from the seat of a private train car, sipping on a latte as I stare out the window wistfully thinking of years gone by.
But I’m not on a train in a private car; I’m on a bus with forty other people, and this isn’t some glamorous scene from a romantic French film. This tour has been remarkable, but it has also been grounded in reality and therefore has been imperfect, and today was a difficult day for the Drake Choir. Unsurprisingly, spending two weeks with seventy of your peers can cause internal and external tension, and we as a choir are beginning to understand how this tension manifests itself. Today, some brewing frustrations and negativity toward each other and our trip finally surfaced, and addressing these issues as a group has caused a substantial amount of discomfort and uncertainty, and the state of Drake Choir feels a bit less stable than it has in the past.
However, out of the darkness comes the light, and I know that Drake Choir will grow and already has grown stronger from this friction. Our concert tonight in Rakvere, for example, was, in my opinion as well as in the opinions of several other members, the most moving and sort of visceral experience we’ve had on this tour. ABC dedicated our performance of Barber’s “Agnus Dei” to finding peace within Drake Choir, and afterward called the experience “spiritual” in nature. I responded particularly to our performance of “Os Justi” tonight. The Holy Trinity Church, first erected in the 15th century, was not a particularly resonant space, and our performance was less than perfect, but I feel that for the first time I understood the significance that the song bears in the context of the Drake Choir choral tradition. The song, which time and time again has been communicated to us as a powerful piece meant to connect us to past, present, and future members of the choir, had lost most of its magnitude in my mind, and it wasn’t until tonight, when the bond we’ve been cultivating all year suddenly felt unstable, that I truly felt a renewed connection to the piece and those with whom I sing it. This performance was raw and and therefore indicative of the day we’ve had, but it produced one of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced in Drake Choir thus far, and it has laid a strong foundation so that we can rekindle the sense of community that has so long pervaded the choir.
Earlier today, rather than partaking in previously scheduled activities, we were given the entire morning to spend however we chose, and many of us dedicated our time to exploring the old town area of Tallinn, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some walked in groups, some in pairs, some alone as we traversed the cobbled streets and occasionally ran into each other and intermingled. No two people had the exact same experience this morning or felt the exact same sensations, but I think we all feel that Tallinn and its various ancient spaces possess some primal, ineffable power that we all feed off of and admire. And this realization and recognition aids in reminding all of us on this international tour that the tensions experienced today or any other day are one collective blip in the midst of an unforgettable and monumental moment in our lives. And when we reminisce about this time years from now–perhaps while glancing wistfully out of a train window with latte in hand–we won’t fixate on the negative or less-than-ideal moments of this trip but rather on the truly beautiful and exceptional opportunity we have to exist with these people in these places at this brief blink in time.
May 27 – Ben Schultz, first-year bass, business major
That enchanting siren
That sings on yonder shore,
Distracting, convoluting, ensnaring.
And I, feebly reaching
As a child hopelessly heaving ignorant limbs
To grasp that misty figure taunting me,
Each day, it calls to me,
Like the songbird that disrupts my sleep.
Each morning promising hope from a distant tree
But fleeing when I follow.
Peace is not found in control.
For control is beguiling,
A whisper in the dark
Beckoning me to devote everything
To finding this fleeting feeling.
And peace is like the sand.
For when I extend, struggle,
And attempt in vain to grasp it,
It sifts through my hands.
Only when I dismiss that tantalizing vision,
And lie down on the beach
Am I enraptured,
Swallowed by such unspeakable bliss.
For that which I seek,
I will not find.
Only in surrender
Will I achieve serendipity.
-Ben Schultz (me) (I promise this is relevant)
Hey all! I opened my blog article with this poem I wrote today because I feel like it is incredibly relevant to this tour. The past few days have been pretty stressful for everyone. There has been some tension (more on that later), and a lot of people have been distracted. I found myself unable to focus on performances, tours, or the sheer beauty of this incredible experience. When I sat down and thought about why everyone was so distracted, I realized it really all boiled down to one thing: control. We all wanted to be in control of things. We wanted to know how long we were going to be where we were, what we were doing, how long the concert would be, why we couldn’t cut anything from our rep for the concert, when we would get our next meal, when we would get back to the hotel, etc.
After going through another year of college (or for myself and other freshman, our first-year), we are all accustomed to being in charge of our own life. We decide when we wake up, what we eat, when we do homework, when we spend time with friends. Everything we decide is our own decision to make. Then we come on tour, and suddenly all our control is gone. Someone else regiments our day. No longer can we decide what we do and how long we do it. Our freedom is stripped. I think this kept a lot of us from truly enjoying the tour to this point; it certainly did for me.
I’m not quite sure what flipped the switch for me, but at some point over the last day, I shook off the negativity that was going around and decided to be present and stop trying to control the tour. Looking back, I should have done this a lot sooner. This is probably going to be the last time in my life that I do not have to be in charge of my day. All I have to do is show up where we are meeting at that time, take care of myself, and not worry about taking charge of the day (the latter is much harder than you might imagine). Everything else is taken care of! I am FREE! What a relief it is to know that I do not have to worry about what is going on because it doesn’t change anything. Once I realized this, I adopted a mindset of just going with the flow. This could be the last time I am ever here, and I need to cherish it and the fact that I am not in control. Worrying about our day is pointless. Other people are in charge for a reason. I can just sit back and relax. And now, for my day…
Dr. ABC cancelled all of our events for the morning to give us time to explore the city and have some much-needed free time. I went to breakfast, ate with some people I had not yet spent much time with on this tour, and decided I was going to do my own thing today. I had sort of already planned this because I needed time to get into the mindset I do not usually inhabit, and I am so glad I did! I just set off on a walk through the too-beautiful-for-words Old City of Tallinn, promising myself to be present. I noticed on my walk that I have a tendency to speed-walk (I’m 6’6”, so it is rather easy to do), but I had nowhere to go. For once, I could just go at my own pace and be where I was…because I was not in control. I floated around the old district, ran into several people, poked my head awkwardly in several souvenir shops, spent way too much money, but overall just walked and enjoyed being present. Then, the best part of my morning happened.
I was walking towards the back wall of the old district, and I noticed I could climb to the top of the wall for only 3 Euro. I paid and walked to the top of the tower and found a window at floor level providing the most gorgeous view of the city I have ever seen. I was absolutely floored. I sat down at this window and wrote the above poem. I was inspired by the fact that I was present, that I was relinquishing control. I had no worries on my mind at all. I was here. I spent over an hour crouched in the corner of a tower, staring out the window in complete awe of this amazing city and opportunity. If I was worrying about the time or what we were doing today, I would have completely missed this opportunity. I truly lost myself in the splendor of this amazing city and the power of being free from responsibility for the last week of this tour. The rest of my morning was spent eating groceries at a park in the middle of the old district, taking artsy pictures of my coffee in the park, and trying not to get attacked by birds. I honestly lost myself there as well. Tallinn is beautiful beyond words, and I hope everyone gets a chance to go there and actually BE there. I am so glad I was present today and enjoying the wonder of what went on. Truly incredible beyond what I can ever hope to describe.
From what I gathered from my peers, their mornings were all different, but nobody wasted the extra time. Friends went to art museums, different cafes, souvenir shopping, exploring more of the city, eating at multiple places, and overall enjoying this opportunity. I truly believe coming to Tallinn did something to people. We all wanted to be there. I do not think anyone was worrying about what was coming later. I truly believe we all relinquished control as soon as we came here, and we have been present, enjoying every moment and not worrying. The air of positivity on the bus ride to our concert today was overwhelming, further proof that something happened where we all embraced the freedom and joy of not being in control and seized the day.
We stopped for a bathroom break in this village (Viitna) at their local tavern (Körts). After hopping off the bus, a group of us went over to a gigantic wooden swing. We had absolutely no idea how to work it, but we finally figured out how to shift our bodies forward and backward to make this triangular swing move. Our tour guide, Gerard, was with us and was making the swing go incredibly high. At one point, he almost fell off and said in his adorable French accent, “We had better calm down. If one of you falls off, Dr. ABC would KILL me!”
The second half of the bus ride was hard. Over the past few days, a lot of people complained about negativity and exclusion in general and from specific people. ABC read some things students had to say about their frustrations with the trip, and a lot of it had to do with that. It was definitely difficult to listen to so many of my friends being upset and hurt, but it was necessary to go through it. When we got off the bus, everyone was emotionally drained. Both buses heard the same comments, and everyone was in shock and wondering how we could pull off a concert tonight.
Our concert was held in the lovely little town of Rakvere. It looked extremely small and quaint. The church we sang at had a beautiful pond out front with a serene bridge. The church itself was nothing special compared to the places we sang at earlier on the trip, but something about it felt different. There was no 12-second reverberation that would help us sound excellent without us giving our best effort. There was, in fact, almost no reverb. We needed to come together as a choir and all give our all to this concert, and we did just that. From the moment rehearsal started, I felt like it was going to be a special night. Everyone was completely focused on singing together. After all, can music not be a distraction from the world? I have no idea how to even begin describing the atmosphere of tonight, but we all knew what we needed to do. The emotion from the past few days and bus ride could not be fixed by anything other than everyone devoting all of themselves to this concert, and let me tell you, we came through.
As we sang our concert, I could feel the pain slowly washing away. Every song was better than the last. I could see nothing from my peers but total dedication to providing the best concert of our tour. I will be the first to tell you that I cry a lot when music moves me, but this concert was unreal. I was moved by nearly every song, and I found myself with tears staining my cheeks in at least 4 of them. There was nothing but positive energy and dedication from my peers, and I was honestly moved beyond what I have ever been in my life.
Music is a gift. It can heal. In Estonia, the country we are currently in, one song propelled them to revolt and eventually gain independence from years of oppressive Soviet rule. In some ways, music is the best way to heal. That was certainly the case tonight. I feel like I am repeating myself, but the performance tonight blew me away. I have never felt more at home or at peace performing than I did tonight. Our performance truly moved the audience, and it healed us as a group. There is obvious work we can still do both musically and as a group, but I think that after that concert, we are only going up. I am truly blessed and honored to be a part of this choir. Whoever in the choir you are reading this for, you are blessed to know them. Every person in Drake Choir is special to this ensemble and myself in their own unique way, and I think we all realized that tonight. I could not be happier to be on tour with these people, and I am so thankful for the week we have left to make amazing memories and truly change the lives of audience members and ourselves with our performances.
Today was the best day I have had in a long time because I have never felt more connected to this choir. These people will forever hold a place in my heart, and I am blessed beyond belief to be a part of this group. I hope you realize how special the people in this choir are. I hope you find time to relinquish control and find peace. I hope you realize the power of music.