May 30 – Rachael Demaree, sophomore soprano, music education and bachelor of arts in music major
Hello, all! The choir is doing its best to fit in a few more incredible experiences before our return to the States, and today was no exception. After breakfasting at our hotel, we loaded ourselves onto the buses for a two-hour riding/walking city tour. I will admit to knowing very little about Finland before this trip, but our local guide did a great job getting everyone acquainted with the history of Finland, especially that of Helsinki. We visited the city square, which boasted the former Finnish Senate house; the oldest building in the city (constructed in 1757, it is now a museum); the University of Helsinki; the National Library of Finland; the imposing Helsinki Cathedral; and a statue of Alexander II. Most of the buildings on the square are yellow in color and were designed by neoclassical architect Carl Ludvig Engel. The choir also stopped at the monument to Jean Sibelius, arguably Finland’s most famous composer.
After this educational tour (and some excellent photo opportunities, of course!), the group arrived back at the hotel and students dispersed to take advantage of their free time in a myriad of ways. Our guide had mentioned that there were a number of museums near the hotel, so after procuring directions I set out with Eve Thomas, my companion for the day’s excursions. We made our way to the Amos Anderson Art Museum and I quickly realized that we had discovered the most fascinating art exhibit I have ever been to in my life. The main exhibit was called Helsinki Noir; Finnish modernist visual art was paired with a murder mystery story based on actual historical events! The viewer is instructed to read each chapter at a specific time as they make their way through the exhibit, and scenes from the story are chillingly realized by the artwork. Eve and I had to learn the ending from the security guard—the extra fourteenth chapter was only available in Finnish and Swedish, and (how I blush to admit it) my Swedish is a little rusty. I would be remiss to reveal how the story ends here, of course, but next time you’re in Helsinki I highly recommend checking it out!
Delighted with our museum find, Eve and I next headed to one of Helsinki’s covered markets. Conceptually analogous to a large outdoor flea market, we browsed clothing racks, tchotchkes, dishes, and more! Although you have to dig through a lot of 35€ jackets that look like they came directly from a 1980s dance club, the 2 or 3€ treasures were definitely worth it (if you frequent thrift stores like me, at least). After a quick stop at one of Helsinki’s many ice cream trucks, Eve and I headed back to the hotel to get ready for the evening’s concert. (Side note: I had pear ice cream, which was both refreshing and delicious. I have noticed that Europeans seem to put more stock in the pear flavor profile than we do back home, and I for one will miss this particular taste after our return.)
We shared our 7:00 concert with members of the Akademen Choir (The Academic Male Voices Choir of Helsinki), a male ensemble with members between ages 22 and 35. They are usually about 50 in number, but we unfortunately only got to hear 8 perform, as the group had only recently returned from their tour to Copenhagen and Iceland. The venue for the evening, St. John’s, was visually stunning and provided an incredible acoustic as well. One of my great joys personally on this tour has been that my parents were both able to come on the trip with us. It has been a real blessing to have them along. So, I enjoyed joking with them about the somewhat uncanny resemblance St. John’s shares with the church my mother attended growing up (“Did we take a wrong turn somewhere and end up in Indiana?”). I thought last night was one of our best performances, and for the first time all tour not a single audience member’s cell phone rang during the concert! After the concert we got to socialize with members of the Akademen Choir over bread and salad, and a performance by the Brocal Chords may have garnered them a new recruit from the Finnish chorus!
It was a remarkable day, as they all have been, and I’m still pretending that tomorrow isn’t our last. Signing off from Helsinki, here’s to tired bodies, incredible sights, shared experiences, and full hearts!
May 30 – Sam Nolte, junior bass, vocal performance major
Hi, everyone. Sam Nolte here, delivering a message from Helsinki, the capital of Finland. We only arrived yesterday, and already all of us are enamored with the culture, food, the bustling city, and the excellent views of the Baltic Sea (my personal favorite part of Helsinki.)
We started today with a city tour, headed by two wonderful city guides. I was in the group with Ralph, who was very to the point, and injected great humor into the tour. We traveled through the city by coach, and saw the downtown markets by the bay, the stunning Evangelical Lutheran Church of Helsinki (the White Cathedral), and the monument to Jean Sibelius, a late 19th, early 20th century Finnish composer who composed many works that helped Finland maintain a national identity despite its oppression from Russia. Oppression by other countries is a theme we have explored throughout all three of the countries that we have visited. We listened to his well-known tone poem, Finlandia, on the way back to the hotel, truly soaking in the musical legacy of this country, of which Sibelius was an eloquent example.
After the tour, we were given a fair amount of free time to spend exploring Helsinki. I joined a group with a few other guys to go to the downtown market to eat lunch and look at all of the handmade goods being sold. We picked up some sandwiches and pastries, and found a park that overlooked the bay where we ate. Within such a busy city as Helsinki, it was nice to be able to sit down and take in the natural beauty of Finland, as we are housed in a heavily urban area.
Later on, we got ready for our concert in the evening at St. John’s Lutheran Church. The first thing that struck me as we entered the space was how elaborate and ornate the inside was. I will not say that any of the churches we sang at in Latvia and Estonia were “plain”, but this church fell more in line with what I perceive as a Western European style of architecture. The choir sat down before the concert, and we had a great discussion about the differences that we have seen between the U.S. and our experiences abroad, as well as what we personally saw as cultural landmarks of the American lifestyle. This conversation was a great one, and really made me homesick by the end.
Tonight’s concert was shared with a male double quartet from the larger group called The Academic Male Voice Choir of Helsinki (or Akademen for short). This group is based out of the University of Helsinki and has about 60 active members. They had just returned from a tour of Iceland and Copenhagen, so they were only able to have a double quarter available to sing with us, but boy, their sound was incredible! They sang two pieces, an early Baroque piece and a piece by Franz Schubert, and both were excellent. They served as great role models, displaying immense professionalism and masterful artistry in the music. The concert on all fronts was fabulous.
After the concert, the choir and Akademen all went to a restaurant close to our hotel, and had a reception with drinks and a very light meal. It was wonderful for us to be able to talk to the group, whose ages range from 22 to 35 and who are studying or have pursued diverse academic disciplines, and share stories and ask questions about the culture in the Nordic countries. Also, the Brocal Chords performed a couple of songs, which helped us really all have a lot of fun at the reception.
As we approach the last day of the tour tomorrow, I’m in the mindset that I could go home. I miss a lot of things about America. I miss driving my car, I miss one dollar 52 oz. drinks from Kum & Go, and I mostly miss my family and friends. However, I know that tomorrow will be a tough day for all of the choir. We have all grown so much as people and friends on this tour, and to say goodbye to our friends after all of this time together will be a real challenge, especially our seniors who are singing their last concert ever tomorrow.
However, I know that I can always cherish the great moments that we had on this tour: making music with each other in incredible venues, getting lost in the middle of expansive European cities, or even just talking over a coffee at the local cafe. I will cherish these moments for the rest of my life, and I know that I will have special connections with these people forever. All will come back whenever I hear Shenandoah and remember the adventures that this group of people took over this two week period.
Until next time, thank you for reading this blog and following us through Europe. We are ready to see all of you again.