Sunday, May 29, Tallin/Helsinki Caitlin and Anthony

May 29 – Caitlin Carr, sophomore soprano, music business major

Though on every itinerary for this trip it states that we were to leave Estonia this morning, it was a fact that my body did not want to accept upon waking up. Both countries we have visited have made room for themselves in my heart and knowing that I would shortly be catching my last glimpse of this enchanting city from the back of a ferry made it extraordinarily difficult to pack. Once I was fully conscious, however, I was filled with excitement for the ferry ride to come and getting the most out of our last three days of tour in Finland!

After we had breakfast and got everyone on the bus, we made our way to the cruise ship. Upon arrival at the dock, we had to say farewell to the two bus drivers who had been with us for the first three quarters of our tour, a reminder of how far we have come and how close we are to leaving this beautiful continent. I had been nervous for the boat ride as I had never been on a two-hour boat ride but I was pleasantly surprised to see that our boat was HUGE! I would compare it to the Titanic but I actually have no idea how large the Titanic is in relation to our boat so I will refrain from this comparison.

The first thing that struck me about this ship was how large it was inside. There were silver-lined staircases, multiple restaurants, sleeping quarters and a shopping center, but the most awe-inspiring part of being on the ship was the sea around it. Drake Choir performs a piece called The Sounding Sea which emphasizes the powerful, vast, yet utterly calming presence of the sea. I felt a deep connection with this piece today while we were traveling as I was reflecting while looking off the stern of the boat.

I was sitting with a group of about ten Drake Choir members when I realized how much danger we were in and how bizarre it was that no one seemed to care that the sea could choose to swallow us at any moment. There was also an overwhelming sense of serenity from how alone we were in the middle of this stunning body of water. Dr. ABC always tells us that choir is a metaphor for life, which is true, but I think I have found the sea to be metaphor for Drake Choir. Though the sea is wavy, rough, and dangerous when one is in it, it is majestic, calm, and breath-taking to look at when you get out of the water. This thinking reminded me that sometimes, people get so caught up in the division or tension within individual members of the group that they forget how much they actually love Drake Choir until they look back at how important it was to them and how much beauty it has brought them during their time at Drake.

With fifteen minutes left in our journey to Finland, I got my first glance at Helsinki. At first it didn’t look like much because of all of the construction across the coastline, but then I looked behind it. The first word that came to mind was ‘cosmopolitan’. We had yet to be in a city with this many tall buildings and wide streets while on tour so it was evident that this would be quite a different experience from Riga, Pärnu, and Tallinn. Once we left the boat, hopped on the buses, and made our way to the hotel, I could tell that my suspicions were completely accurate. Our hotel is surrounded by large shopping centers, the art museum, train station, and park. We are placed perfectly in the center of the city and had easy access to almost every tourist attraction in Helsinki.

Once inside the hotel, we were given about five hours of free time before we had to be ready for dinner. Many Drake Choir members took this time to either visit the shops, get a snack, go to the art museum, or catch a few zzz’s. I personally took a short nap and then headed out to explore the streets surrounding our hotel. I was struck with a sense of nostalgia and couldn’t quite put my finger on why until I took a look inside the train station which looks reminded me of Union Station in Chicago. (Side note – it was designed by the famous Finnish architect, Saarinen, who also designed the main wing of the Des Moines Art Center. His son designed Scott Chapel on the Drake campus.) Though Helsinki is much more compact than Chicago is, it seems to be the cultural hub of Finland. There are many different styles and trends that roam the streets and, while there is no Sears Tower, its skyline is wonderful.

When our free time ended, we gathered for dinner at a restaurant near the hotel. I’m always super excited for group dinners because they usually serve great food that would typically be too expensive for me to order on my own. I am also a big fan of fish, which has been adaily part of my diet since we are so close to the ocean.

Group dinners are also wonderful because it’s another opportunity to talk to people you may not have otherwise have the chance to socialize with. Tonight I had the good fortune to sit with Ben Schultz, Colin Glowienke, and Gwen Cartwright, talking about classic movies and Chicago sports. It is moments like these that I wouldn’t trade for the world because even though I may not seem overly ecstatic during the conversation, I feel a sense of joy in getting to know other members of an ensemble that I care for so deeply.

The group dinner eventually came to a close and after an exhausting day of travel it was time to call it quits. A rousing game of cards with some other Drake Choir members marked the end of today’s events. I am extraordinarily excited for tomorrow’s tour of the city and our concert tomorrow night!

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May 29 – Anthony DeFino, first-year tenor, vocal performance major

When telling people that I would be going to Latvia, Finland, and Estonia for our choir tour, there were two questions that immediately followed. Those were “where?” and “why?”. I hope that the former has been sufficiently answered, but I don’t think even we could have fully answered the latter prior to reaching Finland.

Finland definitely has the most western feel of the three countries that we have visited. I’ve heard multiple students say that they don’t feel the need to explore Finland as we had Latvia and Estonia. Helsinki feels modern and commercial; our hotel is situated as close as one would like to be to the city center. There are two H&Ms (which is something that many Iowans are excited about, since we have none in our state), a beautiful train station, and multiple outdoor markets all within walking distance. Helsinki is the city one would most likely recommend to a friend to visit.

Helsinki is an interesting bookend for our trip, though. Like the Baltic states, Finland has a long history of foreign occupation. Finland, however, has had autonomous rule for nearly 100 years, and was never subjugated by the USSR. The absence of communism has led to a stark contrast. Estonia and Latvia have had 25 years since the dissolution of the Iron Curtain to establish diplomatic and social ties to western society, just one fourth of the time that Finland has had.

Something that has really stuck with me on this trip is the ability to see the living consequences of history. The students on this trip are the first generation to grow up in the post-Soviet world. What our parents and grandparents have told us about the Cold War are mere stories. Our older family members and teachers lived in that world; we read about it in history textbooks. This disconnect has led my generation to have an inept knowledge of the impact of the Soviet Union on the peoples over whom it presided. Finland has given us striking juxtaposition. We visited two countries whose progress and global development were fractured and halted by Soviet occupation. To the north, across the Baltic Sea, lies Finland; had Estonia and Latvia been free from Soviet oppression, their national character would be significantly different.

I now know why it is important to travel, especially to places much different than your home. The musical and historical perspectives I have gained from this trip are meaningful and have challenged my American worldview. And, perhaps most importantly, it has yielded a long list of new “why” questions that I hope to answer some day.