Helsinki, May 31, Emma and Nathan

 

May 31 – Emma Henry, senior soprano, bachelor of arts in music major
Today, the last day of tour, arrived far too quickly for some and perfectly on time for many others. This day filled of last shared meals, bus rides, and concerts began with a ferry departure to Suomenlinna Island for a guided tour of one of Finland’s most visited tourist sites. Our tour guide, Michael, a recent graduate of the University of Helsinki with a degree in the political histories of Europe and the United States, led us around the busy island filled with children on their field day trips celebrating the end of the Finnish school year, as well as various other visitors, of which the island sees over 850,000 per year. The conversations between most Drake Choir members consisted of sharing summer plans and favorite memories from tour. For me, the island tour provided a chance to both reflect on my time spent in Helsinki and on the entirety of my time spent in Drake Choir. After our return from the guided tour of Suomenlinna we were given several hours of free time which were used by many choir members to get lunch with friends, explore the city, and pack suitcases in preparation for the return home.

Our last rehearsal and concert took place at the Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church) in Helsinki. Silence fell over the choir as we entered the space and took in the interior built directly out of solid rock and stood in the church’s natural light which enters through a skylight surrounding a center copper dome. The Rock Church is known for its excellent acoustics which are created by its rough, virtually uncorked rock surfaces.  Our rehearsal time was used to adapt to the space and acoustics of the church and to reflect on our year and the success of the 2015-2016 Drake Choir. Each senior shared his or her favorite piece of text and musical moment from the concert program. Many seniors shared a favorite moment in Shenandoah, a song about longing for home, and a piece that is sung on all international tours and thus unites all past and present members of the Drake Choir. I hold this song particularly close to my heart as I think of Drake Choir and Sheslow stage as being my home throughout my time spent at Drake. To me, Shenandoah represents the place where I made some of my greatest memories and met some of the most important people in my life, my Drake Choir family.

Our last concert boasted our largest audience of the tour and its success was met with a standing ovation. Although I am already beginning to jumble the dates and locations of when and where we sang throughout this tour, the one thing that remains constant and sure in my mind is what it has felt like to sing together. Though I may forget the way the light reflected off the walls, the color of the pews, and the earthy smell of the Rock Church, I will never forget the feelings of love and connectedness I felt tonight when performing with my family. All hearts and minds were truly in one place.

Tuesday, May 31, has been a day filled with many lasts for me and many other members of the Drake Choir. Today I attended my last group dinner, received my last choir award, sang in my last Drake Choir concert, and wore my formal wear and pearls for the last time. It was the last time I will ever fit my voice into the sleeve of the Drake Choir sound.

Although today was a day full of lasts it was not a sad day. I am so grateful for this day and for every other moment spent with Drake Choir and will cherish the memories made on this tour for the rest of my life. Even though many of us will not be returning to Drake Choir in the fall we leave with a great sense of satisfaction in what we have accomplished and with great hope for the future of Drake Choir. There is no such beauty as where we belong. I know the voice of Drake Choir will always be there to lead me home.


May 31 – Nathan Jacobson, junior bass, religion major

Our final day in Helsinki, and our last real day on tour have come upon us. I started out my morning as I have each morning – with a sauna. Our hotel is equipped with these marvelous oven-like rooms that sweat the body out and leave you feeling refreshed and renewed. I won’t lie, my time in the various saunas throughout this trip have been some of my favorite moments, as they are a time to self-reflect, relax, and enjoy the company of my fellow sauna-goers. With sauna-going being one of my favorite activities (I grew up sitting in saunas at my grandparents’ lake cabin during the summers), this core element of Finnish culture has been one I deeply relish.

After my morning in the sauna, our group took a waterbus to Suomenlinna, an island located about 20 minutes off the coast of Helsinki. It dates back to the 18th century, housing Finland’s sea fortress with cannons, an open prison, and one remaining submarine from World War II. It is in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites since 1991 so that it would be preserved as an example of military architecture of its era. Like many of the other places we visited, it was amazing to listen to our guide tell of the rich history the Finnish people have, especially in relation to being occupied by foreign powers. For much of their existence, they have been under either Russian or Swedish rule, a debilitating reality I have a hard time wrapping my mind around.

Next, we had an afternoon free where I briefly wandered the city and took time (probably for the first time this trip) to relax and unwind in preparation for our evening concert. This evening, our concert was located at the Rock Church, a magnificent building built into the granite rocks found in the Helsinki earth. From the outside, the church looks tucked away into the land, sticking out from the 19th-20th century tall buildings surrounding it. The moment I walked into the space, however, a sense of deep silence washed over me. The circular room is lined with enormous slabs of browned stone, stacking up to thin windows that illuminate the room with the almost constant sunlight of the summer months. Turning the gaze upward only further awes the looker, with a giant copper circle encompassing the ceiling, shading the room in a warm glow and instilling a sense of wonder and reverence to the holiness of this space and the Divine Being it points us to.

Our concert in the Rock Church was exactly how I imagined it to be and so much more. For our seniors, this was their last concert singing with the Drake Choir. For the rest of us, this was our last concert with this current Drake Choir before we return to a new choir with new members and a new sound in the fall. Throughout the entire year, our commitment to each other and the music has grown exponentially. This group has transformed from a series of individuals creating unified and cohesive sounds to one entity that moves, breaths, and thinks on the same wavelength. In more places than in any concert, I felt that “all hearts and minds were in the same place,” a phrase ABC regularly brings up about truly singing and being together during a concert.

This was particularly poignant for me during Agnus Dei, a piece by Samuel Barber that is heart-wrenchingly beautiful and extremely challenging. The song contains the lines, “dona nobis pacem”, or “grant us peace”, and, for the first time in a concert, I felt peace in its complex capacities. I felt peace from God in a world that contains so much pain and suffering; peace as we successfully delivered this and the rest of repertoire in such satisfactory and fulfilling ways; peace with my fellow choir members as we shed differences to give the gift of music to each other and our gracious audience; and finally, I experienced a peace of serenity where my worries of the upcoming unknowns that come with post-college life became a little less scary. This concert was a reminder to me of the power of music, and its ability to communicate meaningful messages to its listeners or performers and transcend all of us to something beyond, no matter who they are or where they come from. I am so thankful and honored that I got to experience this with this choir, and look forward to looking back on this for the rest of my life.

Following our concert, we quickly rushed back to our hotel where we shared a final dinner, and one of my favorite choir events: awards! For every regional tour, seniors come up with awards for each choir member that is emblematic of their personality or comments on something weird that a particular choir member did while on tour. For international tour, the job of awards is given to the juniors as a way of passing on the torch to these upcoming seniors and allowing the current seniors a chance to enjoy their last moments with the choir and Drake. My newfound responsibility of observing each choir member and creating awards for them added another layer of appreciation for the weird, kind, and hilarious people I get to surround myself with on this tour. It was a night filled with wonderfully loud laughter and sentimental feelings, and was the perfect way to end this spectacular tour. Just to let readers who are dying to know my award (which I knew you were), I received the “Christina Aguilera” award because of my tendency to riff anything and everything. I love this choir.

Is this tour really over? As I sit on the plane from Helsinki to Frankfurt, it’s beginning to feel real, but I’ll choose to be in denial until we part ways at the Des Moines airport. It is a bittersweet moment – on one hand I long to explore these countries with more depth and detail, while on the other I am excited to return to a sense of routine and comfort that comes from my life in the States. It is hard to wrap my mind around the reality that the past two weeks have actually occurred because they have been such a whirlwind of emotions and experiences, quickly flashing by as we move in these unfamiliar places. There has been strange food, wonderful laughter, new languages, frustrations, and kindness; all the while we sang in some awe-inspiring, magnificent spaces. Within and among the challenges and successes of this tour, my mind has constantly returned to feelings of gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity to venture into places that I would have never thought to visit; gratitude for my fellow choir members as they continue to give me a sense of home and belonging wherever I am in the world; and finally, gratitude for ABC, who makes these experiences available and constantly pushes me to be the best version of myself in musical, intellectual, and personal capacities. I know that the incredible impact of this tour has not hit me yet. As I return to my home for a few days before packing up to be a camp counselor for the summer, I hope to begin to unpack the important messages and experiences of this trip and their application to my life in the future.