A Reflection by Sue Horne

Post-tour Reflection – Sue Horne (mother of singer Rudy Kammel)

As a parent of a Drake Choir student (and a non-music person, I might add!) I was so grateful for the opportunity to travel with the group.  Latvia, Estonia, and Finland have never been on my “must see” list; however, now that I have been there, I highly recommend travel to these countries (with a choir group if you can!).

Each venue the students performed in was a different experience.  The music, the acoustics, the people, the emotions were so moving.  In Latvia I sat in front of a man who spoke very little English.  When the choir sang a Latvian song, the man held his hands over his heart as tears flowed and after, with a huge smile on his face, he kept telling me how beautiful it was.  When the choir sang an Estonian song the audience gave them a standing ovation.  And in Finland the audience was obviously moved when the choir performed a Finnish song.  All meaningful experiences for the choir, for the audiences, and for me to witness what music can do to connect us all.

In each city we visited people were welcoming, the scenery was beautiful, the history was fascinating and moving, and the food was terrific.  Most important, though, was the opportunity to be with so many talented, bright, open-minded young people and to see them connect with others from all over the world.  It gives one hope for the future!

This trip was “easy” for those of us along for the ride.  However, the work that goes into planning a trip of this magnitude for 70+ people and the many people involved in making it flow seamlessly is astonishing!  Dr. Aimee Beckman-Collier had a vision and she made it a reality for all of us on the trip – Thank You seems insufficient, so I hope she knows how many lives she has impacted.  This trip was an excellent example of many people from various countries who had never met before coming together and working towards a common goal.  Every detail was well thought out:  the accommodations, the food, the transportation, the venues for performing, the opportunity for the choir to sing with professionals in Estonia and Finland, the opportunity for the choir to work with a world renowned composer in Latvia, the sight-seeing tours with expert tour guides, even the free time to explore were all pre-arranged by many people all based on Dr. ABC’s vision!  As a parent, I will be forever grateful that my son had the opportunity to study with Dr. ABC these last four years, as well as to travel with and learn from Dr. David Puderbaugh and Dr. Bob Demaree (not to mention the amazing Medieval lunch we had with Dr. Demaree, his lovely wife Becky, and both of our children was pretty cool!).

I would be remiss if I didn’t also thank my son, Rudy Kammel.  Through him I have had the most amazing opportunities to learn about music, to travel with this great group of students to New York last year and this Baltic Tour, and to host students in our home for the regional tour.  And he has learned from the best so now he can go out into the world and influence young people’s lives with music just as his has been!

Finally my hope for the students on the trip is they learned from this phenomenal opportunity about what it takes to work with others, even those they may not particularly “like”, and that they carry that with them as they join the ranks of professionals in whatever line of work they enter.  It’s a big world and we all have to work together every single day to make it a better place for everyone.  Thank you, Drake Choir and Dr. ABC, for sharing your passion, your talent, your joy of life and learning, your warmth and friendship, and your time with us – our lives are better for it!

A Reflection by Dr. David Puderbaugh

FULL CIRCLE – Dr. David Puderbaugh, Drake Choir alumnus; now Associate Director of Choral Activities, The University of Iowa

The older I get, the more I notice situations that have circular significance to them—instances that connect to previous, singular experiences in various and meaningful ways.  While each moment is unique in its link to the past, in all of them I sense the vast expanse of time that has passed since the first instance and, at the same time, the emotions common to both, deepening my awareness and appreciation for the opportunity I have been afforded.  Yes, I am reminded that I am much older now, but I also gain a heightened appreciation for the full life I have been given.  The Drake Choir’s tour of Latvia, Estonia, and Finland overflowed with these moments for me.

I am a Drake Choir alumnus, and was privileged to be part of the Drake Choir’s very first international tour in 1992, with major stops in Prague, Vienna, and Salzburg.  I was a sophomore then, and the tour was my first time outside the U.S.  It is not an overstatement to say that tour was formative to my current worldview and interests.  I visited places I had only read and dreamed about before, and, more than that, I experienced them on a multi-sensory level, singing in acoustics and surrounded by centuries-old architecture that are seldom replicated in relatively youthful America.  That tour, twenty-four years ago, sparked a pretty active international career in music for me, up to the present day.

When Dr. ABC approached me about coming on this year’s tour, I jumped at the opportunity.  The Baltic countries and their music, particularly Estonia, have been a focal point of my career, and I looked forward to sharing my love and knowledge of the area with the singers.  We began our journey in Riga, touring the city center.  As we walked through the medieval quarter, I caught snatches of conversation among the singers, full of awe and excitement at their surroundings:  “I can’t believe I’m here!”  I recall thinking and saying those very words as I traipsed through the streets of Vienna many years before.

One of my most enduring memories of 1992 was an informal sing we held in the monastery at Melk, Austria.  We stood in the center of the church, under the dome, joined hands, and sang Anton Bruckner’s Os justi.  As the harmonies swirled around me and wafted upward, goosebumps infested my arms and spread over my entire body as the intense emotion of the moment overtook me.  While I’ve experienced the sensation hundreds of times over the years through music, never have I felt it so deeply as I did that day.   Twenty-four years later, I witnessed another cohort of Drake Choir singers experience a similar sensation, this time at the episcopal cathedral in Haapsalu, Estonia.  The simply adorned space, the largest single-nave church in the Baltics, resounded with the familiar sounds of Os justi as the Drake Choir once again joined hands and sang not for an audience, but simply for themselves and one another.  As tears streamed down myriad faces, my own memory came into vivid focus, and I sensed that a special gift had been given to yet another generation of the Drake Choir, one that will endure in their hearts and minds for the rest of their lives.

The circularity I encountered reached its apex at the concert in St. John’s church in Tallinn, Estonia, a joint appearance between the Drake Choir and Voces Musicales, a top-notch Estonian choir.  I have a long history with Voces Musicales; when I lived in Tallinn eleven years ago, I was a member of the ensemble, and I have sung with the group many times since then.  Most recently, I conducted Voces Musicales in a concert of American choral music two years ago in Tallinn.  On that program, I conducted the choir in a performance of James Erb’s arrangement of Shenandoah, a much-loved piece that I first sang under the direction of Dr. ABC for our 1992 tour.  To my delight, the Drake Choir’s tour program included Shenandoah this time, too, providing a great opportunity for collaboration between the two ensembles.  The sight of two of my favorite ensembles, singing together a piece that I had learned with one twenty-four years ago and taught to the other two years ago, under the direction of the person who had originally taught it to me, was surreal.  The phrase “worlds colliding” does not do justice to the moment; rather, the two worlds orbited in harmony with each other (“Music of the Spheres”?).  As an observer, it was as if I was in a time machine, flying so rapidly from moment to moment that each instance blended with the other, creating the synergistic event before me.

While I’ve used this opportunity to talk about those connections between my first international tour experience and this one, it is important, too, to talk about the evolution of the Drake Choir itself, which meant that each one of these déjà vu moments was not a precise replication.  Since my first year in the choir (Dr. ABC’s second year at Drake), I have heard the ensemble at various points throughout the years.  Each time, I was struck with the ensemble’s improvement, not only in sound but also in its culture.  Happily, this tour afforded me the chance to observe the ensemble closely over a period of several days, and I would like to say a few words about it.  Today’s Drake Choir is larger; in 1992, we numbered somewhere in the high forties, and this group was seventy strong.  In Austria, the choir was, if memory serves, perhaps 40% music majors; now 80% are in a music degree program.  As before, the non-music majors come from a cross-section of Drake’s curricular offerings.  The Drake Choir still provides a sense of belonging to Drake students of all stripes.

The difference in sound between ’92 and ’16 is startling.  While its vitality remains the same—warm and inviting—it is more polished, and it is obvious that the singers have a stronger sense of ensemble sound than they did in my time.  The balance between sections is impeccable, as is the approach to vocal production, creating a “sonic blanket” that envelops the listener from head to toe.  Equally impressive to me was the consistency with which the singers performed, night after night.  They were obviously fully prepared and perfectly coached, and, more importantly, they clearly bought into the professional ethos their leader had promoted.  In concert after concert, the Drake Choir sang with the same high quality, vigor, precision, and emotional connection.  As a conductor, I was delighted to see and hear this.  Although I have pursued further education since my formative years at Drake, it is obvious there is much I can still learn from my first mentor in choral music.  Drake students who elect to join the choral program today are, indeed, fortunate to be part of an exciting endeavor that will provide them not only with enduring memories and life-learning moments, but a top-of-the-line musical education.  Choral music is alive and well at Drake University, and I am one proud alumnus.

Now back in the States, I have come full circle.  The jet lag I am still experiencing is pretty much the same feeling I had in 1992.  The realization that it is now back to normal day-to-day living for me seems similar, too.  For me, though, my old memories have accrued a new patina of experience, not unlike the weathered green, copper church spires we encountered throughout the Baltics.  Those spires, too, have witnessed countless circular events.  For the Drake Choir singers, however, their experiences are still bright and shiny, awaiting future opportunities to deepen their significance for their owners.

 

Coming Home, June 1, Lindsay and Brandon

June 1 – Lindsay Fiegle, sophomore alto, public relations major

As I sprawl on the floor of O’Hare, the idea of finally reaching Des Moines sounds heavenly. The past two weeks have been exhausting and returning home after being bombarded by new experiences could not sound any more comforting.  That being said, despite beginning our voyage home beginning at 3:40 a.m. Finnish time, I am at peace. I’d love to head back to the Baltics and Scandinavia someday, but right now my bed in Iowa is calling my name. Given a few moments to reflect, now that I’ve gotten a few hours of sleep on the first two flights, I’ve found myself exploring my freshly made memories, and sorting through what I will most remember and most cherish.

In Latvia, I loved exploring Rīga, gleaning my first impressions of what a European city is. Along with the incredible opportunity of working with Eriks Esenvaldts, our first concert there was one of my favorite experiences- singing Kas tie Tadi for a Latvian audience was very moving. As we drove from Latvia to Estonia, the magnificence of the castle ruins in Sigulda and the lush landscapes struck me greatly.

Estonia’s magical highlights included visiting the Song Festival Grounds, singing with the vocal ensemble Voces Musicales at the church in Freedom Square in Tallinn, and our informal sing in Haapsalu. The sheer amount of history in Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, will stay with me long past our departure. I can honestly say that I’ve left my my soul with the Baltic Sea and my heart in the center of Old Tallinn, as I believe many members of Drake Choir have, as well as Dr. ABC.

Though we explored Finland the least, I was so fascinated with the difference in culture there, as it was so vastly different from Rīga and Tallinn. The city center’s aesthetic mix of old and new fit together in a way no city I’ve ever been to has. Exploring the island of Suomenlinna and visiting Sibelius’ monument were other amazing experiences. Our final concert in the Rock Church was not only breathtaking in terms of the space but also because I doubt I’ve ever sung with such emotion. Considering our final moments as a choir evokes emotions that lie too deep for tears.

Beyond remembering any physical act or sensation, I feel an urge to preserve how I felt this trip. I know the smaller moments will fade away, but I find myself revisiting our schedule and attempting to relive how I felt – ranging from stress or exhaustion, to glee, awe, and gratitude. I’m clinging desperately to remember the feelings that accompany memories of wading into the Baltic Sea, climbing a set of ruins in Viljandi, and sunsets that didn’t fully fade until 11:30 p.m. I hope to linger on sensations of cobblestones beneath my feet, consider the European connection with nature, and regard with wonder the hundreds of years of flourishing folk traditions. I want to remember the fulfillment of exploring Helsinki on my own or how it felt to be surrounded by seventy of my closest friends, sharing and forming this experience with me.

I thought I knew Drake Choir before this trip; both our sound and ensemble. This trip, however, proved to me that while we have a core sound, we are constantly changing and rediscovering. Like a living organ that beats or breathes together, we’re flexible and capable of growth in both our sound and our relationships. On this tour, I’ve created new bonds, deepened existing friendships, and gotten to know myself better through my experiences as well. I recognize more fully how we are all subjects of the human experience, and on this trip we committed to live out our experience together. This includes the high points with the lows, as both are part of community and music. Every hug, laugh, and look of wonder has a place. And if I remember the negative, or the exhaustion, that’s okay. It adds value and meaning. It allows us to more greatly appreciate every other moment.

Now as I embark on the homestretch of our journey, I recognize that tour ends now. As much as I wish I could leave for Europe again with this group, or sing Shenandoah with everyone one last time, it’s time to say goodbye. I must leave the trip in my memory and let the moments live within the relationships I hold within the choir.

If I reach past the tiredness and desire for some alone time, all I feel is gratitude. Though my mind and body are drained from all the trip required, my heart is full. I am so appreciative for the opportunity to share our music, and to learn about the rich cultures and countries we visited. I’m inspired by our tour managers, and their knowledge and graciousness. I feel so humbled to have experienced something so much bigger than myself for the past two weeks, though I feel like I’ve settled into who I am more so because of this trip as well. I’m so glad to have been accompanied by everyone in the choir, our non-students, and to have met all the new faces that I did who shared their stories with me.  More than anything, I am grateful to Dr. ABC for seeing the value in touring, for making the tour happen, and for encouraging and including every individual student on the trip.

Content comes close to describing the emotion, but doesn’t reflect the immensity of it. I said it before, but it’s worth restating just due to the expansiveness of the feeling.  I’m appreciative, and my heart could not be fuller. Greater than any souvenir, the music we made and memories we formed will surely stay with me for the rest of my lifetime.


June 1 – Brandon Boelts, junior tenor, pharmacy major

The Drake Choir just landed back in the states, bringing a two-week international excursion to a close. The group spent nearly twenty-five hours traveling home, giving us plenty of time to reflect on the happenings of the tour. We departed from our hotel in Helsinki at four o’clock in the morning and headed for the airport. Our flight from Helsinki took us to Frankfurt, Germany, where we had a two-hour layover. The next flight brought us back to the Chicago. I spent most of the seven-hour layover in Chicago remembering and reflecting upon the most significant musical, informational, and experiential moments that occurred on the tour.

The choir had numerous musical opportunities over the course of the tour. We gave nine separate performances in absolutely stunning venues. Each venue’s acoustic differed drastically from the venue before, forcing the choir to adjust its sound to best fit the unique properties of each space. These constant adjustments pushed each member of the choir to be individually accountable for the sound they contributed to the choir, leaving us better musicians than when we started the tour.

I tried to gather information from other members of the choir to see what their most meaningful musical memory was. The top three answers were the masterclass with Eriks Ensenvalds, the informal singing experience at the medieval church in Haapsalu, Estonia, and the final performance in the Rock Church in Helsinki, Finland. We had the privilege of working in a masterclass with Eriks Ensenvalds, the composer of two songs that the Drake Choir and Chamber Choir sing. The masterclass was not only incredibly informational, but it was a light-hearted experience that, I believe, influenced every performance that occurred afterwards. He reinforced in us the necessity of passion in performances, reminding us that technical execution of pieces is important, but it has no meaning if there isn’t any passion behind the music. I believe this idea carried over to the informal singing experience. The informal singing was a very powerful and moving performance of Os Justi, The Heaven’s Flock, and Shenandoah in the ruins of a castle in Haapsalu, Estonia. The choir stood in a circle, held hands, and it was the moment during the tour where I, personally, felt closest as a choir. It wasn’t a performance that was executed with technical perfection, but the passion that was committed to each song was something that I hadn’t experienced before. The final performance in the Rock Church was one of the most meaningful musical experiences of my life. It was the culmination of nearly nine months of hard work and a very successful international tour. We worked our way through the program, knowing that each piece was being performed for the last time by this Drake Choir. Many of the performances were some of the most moving we had ever performed, especially Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber. It was a wonderful way to close a very impressive year of choir. One of our chaperones, Dr. Bob Demaree (Director of Choral Activities at The University of Wisconsin-Platteville), spoke of how we won’t remember the details of tour, but we will remember the music and the feelings it evoked within us; that feeling will remain with us throughout the entirety of our lives. I can’t begin to describe how incredibly thankful I am for the musical opportunities we were given on this tour. The choir performed at such a high level throughout tour and created musical memories that will hold a special place in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

Over the course of the trip we had the unique opportunity to travel to three different European nations, giving us the chance to explore and learn the history of seven different cities and towns within these nations. As you might expect, the choir was constantly being fed information about the environment around us. There were a vast number of topics that were covered over the course of the tour, and there were very few moments where I felt as though I wasn’t absorbing some new information. The choir learned about a wide range of topics, stretching from architecture in certain districts of the cities to the foundation and values of each nation. Each country had its own set of values, and understanding those values allowed for a better appreciation for the time spent in each city. Understanding the history of these places also allowed us to better appreciate our experiences while singing. A very special musical moment was singing in the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn, Estonia. The choir spent a great deal of time on tour, and before tour, learning about the history of the country of Estonia, its occupation by foreign powers (the German Empire, the Russian Empire, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union) and the importance that is placed on music in that nation. This allowed for a better understanding and appreciation of our act of singing in that sacred space. I’m so thankful to all of our tour managers, city guides and to Dr. ABC because they ensured that we not only enjoyed our time but also learned something significant that made every experience even more meaningful.

This trip was actually my first time ever leaving the United States, so I had no idea what I would experience because I had never been immersed in a culture other than my own. I knew my experiences would differ drastically from anything I had ever taken part in before. I feel as though the choir learned a significant amount of factual information, but we also learned a great deal through our experiences; I came out on the other side confident in the fact I learned a great deal about awareness and appreciating cultures different than my own. Many of the other blog posts have mentioned a heightened sense of awareness that was required over the course of the tour, and I believe that the choir learned a great deal about awareness of the space around you and how you fit in to that space. Rarely do Americans consider situations in a holistic manner, and it seemed as though that way of thinking was engrained in the culture of these nations. As Americans, we can subconsciously, or consciously, buy into the belief that our culture is somehow superior to others around the world. The choir discussed at length throughout the tour the differences in culture that we were experiencing. We spoke of the three countries’ different values with regard to time, relationships, personal liberties, nationalism, and much more. I realized as the tour progressed that these differences didn’t make one culture better or worse than another; it simply made them different. My experiences in each nation with locals, tour guides, and audience members allowed me to recognize and appreciate the differences in culture that existed between us.

This tour gave me meaningful musical experiences that will remain with me for the rest of my life. I learned a vast amount of information about nations that gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the environment around me. I came out of this tour a better global citizen, more equipped to appreciate cultures and beliefs that are different than my own. I am so incredibly thankful to Dr. ABC, the parents who accompanied us, our tour managers, city guides, my fellow choir members, and everyone who donated funds to help make this tour happen. This was an experience that will leave its mark on all of us. Thanks to all of you who made this experience one that I will cherish for a lifetime.

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.

 

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.

 

 

Monday, May 30, 2016 Helsinki Rachael and Sam

 

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!

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May 30 – Sam Nolte, junior bass, vocal performance major

Tervesiä Finland!

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.

 

 

*INTRO to 2016 Drake Choir International Tour

2016 Drake Choir International Tour

The Drake Choir and Chamber Choir are touring Latvia, Estonia, and Finland May 19-June 1, singing in many of the major venues in those countries.  On previous tours the ensembles have sung in Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Wales, Italy, and England.

We are grateful to the more than 300 donors who have helped to make this tour possible.  We are happy to tour under the auspices of Seminars International of Chicago and Sovereign Tourism of London.

Tallinn, Saturday, May 28th Anna, Dustin, and Ben Schultz

 

Please note that there are THREE student blog posts for Saturday May 28.

May 28 – Dustin Eubanks, sophomore bass, international relations major

“Revolution” is not a simple word.

The Drake Choir sang Saturday at the famous Song Festival Grounds in Estonia. The Grounds, characterized by acres of well-cared for grasses and sidewalks—all directing visitors to the expansive white and concrete stage which is built to sort of grow out of the ground—have hosted many Song Festivals, which are an Estonian tradition dating back to 1869. Every five years, Estonians gather in Tallinn to process to the Festival Grounds in a mass choir, which nowadays numbers around 30,000 participants, with an additional hundreds of thousands of audience members often joining the choir in singing the songs of Estonia.

No event on these grounds, though, has been more significant than the “Singing Revolution.” At the end of the 1980’s, as the Soviet Union began to crumble, the Estonian bid for independence was sewn into history’s weave as Estonians at the grounds in 1988 linked arms and sang of their people and heritage. They sang what is now their unofficial national anthem:

Mu isamaa on minu arm (My Fatherland is my love),
kel südant annud ma (to whom I’ve given my heart)…

 In one of the most peaceful revolutions in history, Estonians sang their way to independence. Over 300,000 Estonians gathered at these grounds and defied not only the Soviet occupation, but also their history that is characterized almost entirely by occupation from foreign lands. We, the Drake Choir, learned this song of revolution and did our best to recreate the sentiments associated with it—powerful, defiant, and emotional:

sull’ laulan ma, mo ülem õnn, (to You I sing, my greatest happiness),
mo õitsev Eestimaa! (my flowering Estonia!)

There we stood beneath the arching stage shell that has, for many years, projected pride and identity in their greatest forms to the whole of the Estonian land. A small audience of tourists, training athletes, and the adults with our choir formed as we paid tribute—in the smallest but most significant of ways—to the event that made our visit to the Grounds possible.

So valu südames mul keeb, (Your pain boils in my heart),

so õnn ja rõõm mind rõõmsaks teeb, (Your pride and joy makes me happy),
mu isamaa! (my Fatherland!)

We must acknowledge that we were not singing of culture and nation in the face of armed Soviet troops. We must acknowledge that we do not and cannot know the sentiments associated with the events themselves. We must acknowledge that only Estonia and its neighbors may truly understand what it is to be beaten down for your entire existence—only to eventually rise above.

Mu isamaa on minu arm, (my Fatherland is my Love),
ei teda jäta ma, (I must never leave Him),
ja peaksin sada surma ma (even if I must die a hundred deaths)
see pärast surema! (because of Him!)

After singing Mu isamaa on minu arm, we also sang two of our own pieces: Shenandoah and Os Justi. To truly understand just how large the stage was—and thus, how significant 30,000 singers truly are—we spread out to start Shenandoah, and slowly walked back together as the piece progressed. The longing and passion of the choir’s members was quickly evident in rolling tears and the tightly held hands that formed a circle in which ABC and Dr. David Puderbaugh, a Drake Choir alumnus and the Associate Director of Choral Activities at The University of Iowa (and who was a Fulbright Scholar in Estonia; he was responsible for introducing us to Mu isamaa, teaching us how to sing it in Estonian, and who helped us, via a presentation at Drake early in May and throughout our tour, to understand Estonians’ love for singing, commitment to their country in spite of oppression, and the significance of this special song) took part.

Kas laimab võõra kadedus (Envy makes strangers slander you),
sa siiski elad südames (You are still alive in my heart),
mu isamaa, mu isamaa! (my Fatherland, my Fatherland!)

Through the rest of the day, groups oscillated between the infamous TV tower—where Soviet troops were unable to penetrate the resistance of Estonians to Soviet aggression—and the Museum of Occupations, in which artifacts of the various occupations of Estonia are strewn in cabinets, and videos characterized by historical interviews and news reels capture in images a time of oppression and lost dignity. Both were fascinating; both are heavy in the significance they hold. But optimism rests on the back side of conflict, and to know these are sites for touring comforts us; history is only history because it no longer exists.

Mu isamaa on minu arm, (My Fatherland is my love),

ja tahan puhata, (I want to have a rest).

su rüppe heidan unele (I will lie down in your lap)

Mu püha Eestimaa. (My holy Estonia). 

Peace and rest were gifted to Estonians in an evening concert at St. John’s Church, which is located in Victory Square and was just a short walk from our hotel. In collaboration with the well-known Tallinn-based choir Voces Musicales, Drake Choir and Chamber Choir gave fantastic, heartfelt performances that brought smiles to the sometimes-somber faces of the audience. True, some of them may not have understood what we were saying; but they knew when we were singing of beauty or sadness or sheer joy, and sometimes that is enough. The final song of the concert was none other than Shenandoah, sung jointly by Voces Musicales and the Drake Choir, and it was sung with a glorious and warm sound—a nod to our own folk song on a day in which we chiefly appreciated Estonia’s history and sense of place in the world.

Su linnud und mull’ laulavad, (Your birds are singing me to sleep),

mu põrmust lilled õitsetad, (Flowers are blooming from me),

mu isamaa, (my Fatherland),

mu isamaa! (my Fatherland)!

In song and in graciousness, the revolution of heart that accompanies singing was most certainly the theme of this warm, breezy Saturday in Estonia. We depart Sunday for the final leg of our tour to Helsinki, Finland, and, while excited, I think the choir will greatly miss Tallinn and its role as a capsule for independence, for liberty, and for revolution in the most unconventional—but perhaps most wonderful—of ways: song.

Until next time, Estonia. Here’s to your wonder.

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May 28 – Anna Marceau, junior alto, pharmacy major

Another day here in Tallinn; our last in this city, unfortunately. We started our day with a trip to a place that Estonians hold very dear to their hearts: the Song Festival Grounds. For those of you who haven’t been studying Estonian culture for the past 9 months, Estonia holds a national song festival every 5 years (the next will be in 2019) that celebrates their national heritage through songs both old and new. As a choir, we had been preparing for and looking forward to this particular excursion for quite a while.

You see, to Estonians this festival grounds is much more than a place–it’s a feeling, a sense of pride, the birthplace of the revolution, holy ground. It is here where, during the Soviet occupation, something that seems almost too mythical to accept as reality occurred. Here, at the conclusion of a national festival program, a few voices rose out of the choir singing “Mu isamaa on minu arm”, a song that speaks of the great fatherland, Estonia. A song forbidden by the Soviet regime after its first performance at a national festival slipped by the Soviet censors. And yet, the few voices grew in number, until the conductor was faced with a choice: refuse to acknowledge the singing and leave the podium as planned, or unite these voices in an anthem to Estonia and Estonia alone. He chose the latter, christening what has now become known as the singing revolution. In the United States, we learn about the “shot heard ’round the world” during our own revolution. In contrast to the imagery of a gunshot starting a bloody, violent war, Estonia’s peaceful revolution started with a song. The Drake Choir, with the guidance of Dr. David Puderbaugh (a Drake Choir alumnus who participated in the first internatonial tour in 1992 and a Fullbright scholar who lived in Estonia during his research) learned this piece of music, and this morning we had the opportunity to sing it on the grounds where it was first given life as a revolutionary song, and where it gave life to a revolution years later.

It is impossible to stand on that stage, a stage that holds 30,000 people who gather in traditional national dress and sing songs that have been passed through generations, and not feel a significance, a heaviness, a weight of responsibility to keep this song, and the spirit of Estonia alive and well. After we sang “Mu isamaa on minu arm”, we sang “Shenandoah” in an interesting formation. We began the piece while spread out around the massive stage and then slowly walked back into formation and finished the song as one unit, with no conductor. With limited time to spend at the grounds, we quickly circled up and sang “Os Justi,” a song that, similar to “Shenandoah,” unites all Drake Choir members past and present in common song. To add to the enchantment of it all, Dr. ABC joined the circle to sing. I had the privilege of standing next to her, and it was a powerful experience. I felt like I was doing something beyond singing. I opened my mouth and it was a pure emotion that poured out, feeling the voices of prior members thickly present in the air.

Next, my group headed to the TV Tower, another site for revolutionary activity. During the Soviet regime, Estonia and other Baltic States had begun to discuss declaring independence. Estonian politicians officially declared their independence even as Soviet tanks were looming in the countryside, and Soviet troops descended on the TV Tower to cut off free media communications. Brave volunteers refused to be intimidated by the troops and placed a single matchbox in the door of the elevator such that it would not operate, forcing soldiers to climb the 1,000+ stairs to the top of the towers, where radio controllers were frantically broadcasting the news that the tower was under attack. Soon, a human circle formed around the tower, protecting their free media and, like the entire revolution, peacefully letting it be known that they would be occupied no more. Catapulting into the sky on the elevator of that very tower, I was struck by the fact that a single, simple matchbox, so often used for destruction and violence, helped bring peace and unity to a country and its people.

Next, we took a short trip to the Museum of Occupations, a donor-funded exhibit hall that contains artifacts relating to the Soviet occupation of Estonia. Our local guide, Mal, talked about her own family during this tour, telling us about her aunt, who fled in a boat to Sweden carrying only a small purse and later moved to the United States, never seeing her family or Estonia again. She also mentioned that her husband had been an Estonian dissident who was sentenced to five years of hard labor in Siberia. (He subsequently became a director of this museum.) However, she was one of the lucky ones; many of these small rowboats and fishing boats did not survive the harrowing winter sail.

This museum, I believe, helped us truly grasp the scope of the oppression of the Soviet regime. Mal told us about the 20-year wait lists for things like apartments, cars, even telephones. I think the choir, who of course has known nothing but freedom our entire lives, finally realized how amazing it is that the Baltic States revolted against this world power peacefully and successfully.

After a morning that felt like I had lived an entire lifetime (in the best way possible), it was time to fuel up, don my formalwear, and give a concert. Tonight we collaborated with Voces Musicales, a famous Estonian choir that Dr. David Puderbaugh sang in and later conducted during his time here. Dr. Puderbaugh had taught them the Drake Choir arrangement of “Shenandoah” two years ago when he was living in Estonia while on sabbatical, so we actually had repertoire in common, allowing us to sing a piece together, rather than simply both performing on the same concert. They are an extremely talented group of singers, and I feel honored to have shared a stage and a song with them. Drake Choir, during its portion of the concert truly pushed ourselves to the next level, in my opinion, improving on past successes while overcoming past disappointments. We are getting better with every concert, and how could we not? As I’ve been saying all during our tour, how can you be upset while on a concert trip to Europe with 70 of your closest friends?

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May 28 – Ben Schultz, first-year bass, business major

I asked to do another blog post for this tour today, but I honestly do not even know how to begin putting today into words.

Today, I stood at the threshold of history. I walked on ground that thousands before me walked on. I stood where thousands stood previously. I sang the song that many sang to begin a revolution and continue to sing to celebrate it. Today, I became a part of a nation’s unbelievable history.

You will not be able to understand the gravity of today unless I give you some of the heartbreaking history of the beautifully peaceful Estonian people. In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the USSR and Germany was signed, giving Soviets complete control over Estonia. This was not the first time, and certainly not the last, that Estonia was occupied. From doing extensive research for an essay on pre-WWII and WWII Russia, I can tell you life was inexplicably horrific even for native Russians. Stalin’s plans to industrialize the nation and create a nation that obeyed his every command without a whisper of dissent led to millions of dead from starvation, beatings, poverty, exhaustion, executions, KGB coming in the middle of the night and making people disappear, and being deported to Siberia.

Now imagine all of these staggering evils on a country whose people are not even native Russians. Life as Estonians knew it was forever changed; they could not fight their occupation because they never had an established government or army to stave off this sort of thing, so they lived, oppressed, for centuries, controlled by Sweden, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany. Soviets controlled almost every aspect of life for the people they occupied. Citizens were not allowed phones in their houses, and they had to apply for special licenses just to buy a car. The KGB installed cameras and listening devices in almost every apartment and hotel, spying on citizens to check for any anti-Soviet mutterings. If any was heard, there would be a knock on the door later that night, and the dissenter would likely never be heard from again. Estonians were brutally de-cultured; they were all given Russian ID’s and were banned from displaying the Estonian flag. Everything these beautiful people knew crumbled before their eyes; all they had left was poverty and pain. The occupation went on until 1991, with Germany gaining control during WWII only to directly relinquish control to the Russians again. Estonians were pitted against each other as some worked for the Communist regime. Estonia was losing everything.

Estonia holds a song festival every 5 years dating back to 1869. During Soviet occupation, Soviets controlled what music was sung to make sure nothing anti-Soviet or pro-revolution was being sung. One year, the piece “Mu isamaa on minu arm” slipped by the Communist screening and was sung. The piece glorifies the “Fatherland I love” and was immediately banned from song festivals. After a large crowd at the 1960 song festival began singing the piece, it was included in the program for 1965. After singing the piece once, however, the audience erupted in an encore of a piece they began to cherish as their cultural identity. Even while Soviet military action took place to silence the crowd, the song swelled on. “Mu isamaa” became a symbol for the revolution.

In 1987, the “Singing Revolution” started with “Mu isamaa” sparking Estonians to start singing forbidden national hymns. 1987-1991 was a time of civil disobedience to Soviet rule characterized by the singing of the beloved Estonian song. The Revolution came to a head in 1991 when the Estonian Congress declared their independence. Soviets marched tanks and soldiers on the TV tower in Tallinn that was broadcasting this news, but they were stopped by miles of Estonians standing hand-in-hand on the side of the highway blocking their path and singing independence songs. Tens of thousands of Estonians stood in a line that was miles long to show their support for independence. These people were willing to die for the cause. Eventually, the Soviets had to withdraw from the tower, and by doing so, withdrew from Estonia. 1991. That was the year Estonia became independent. My sister is almost that old. This country has been independent for only 25 years. They suffered through centuries of torture and only became free because of the power of their cultural identity found in that famous song, “Mu isamaa on minu arm.”

That is why today was so important. Music sparked a revolution.

Today, we stood on the festival grounds. The stage is massive. The song festival stage holds 30,000 participants and countless more in the audience. As I looked at the gigantic half-shell making up the festival stage, I couldn’t help but be lost in the grandeur of this moment. I was standing where countless millions have stood before me. I was standing where 30,000 and the entire audience raised their voice in defiance of the abominable Soviet rule to sing a song that united them all under their common cultural identity and sparked a revolution. I looked out onto the massive grounds for audience members to stand in and marvel at the spectacle. How small am I? How small was everyone on that stage when “Mu isamaa” was first sung as an act of defiance? What could make them stand up against Soviet rules, knowing the possible punishments? I imagined the field full of people, people living in fear, not knowing where the next meal would come from, not knowing if they or a loved one would get that ominous knock on the door in the dead of night, not knowing who they are. I imagined myself as one of those brave souls who raised their voice to proclaim their love for their fatherland, and then we sang. We stood on sacred ground and honored Estonia by singing “Mu isamaa.” I was in tears by the end.

Everyone on the grounds stopped. The world stood still while we honored this amazing tradition. I still cannot put this feeling into words. How can you? I will never know what Soviet oppression was like. I will hopefully never know what occupation, extreme poverty, or loss of basic freedoms is like. These are the things we take for granted. These are the things Estonians sang for in 1965, from 1987-1991, and every 5 years at the festival. These are the things I sang for today.

We ended our time there by singing “Shenandoah” and “Os Justi,” but I will forever remember “Mu isamaa.” That is almost certain to be the last time I will ever perform that song. How lucky I am to honor the beautiful, peaceful, musical people of Estonia by singing the song that defines who they are at the place that began the arduous struggle for freedom. I will forever remember this day, and I will probably never be able to put it into words. I could have stayed for hours just sitting on the stage looking at the grounds. I joined history.

After our time at the Song Festival Grounds, we visited both the Museum of Occupation and the TV tower that stood as the final piece in the puzzle of independence. Both were equally breathtaking, educational, and thought-provoking. These Estonian people suffered insurmountably for centuries under Russian rule, never noticed or helped by the outside world until the 90’s. I am beyond blessed and grateful to be born where I was in the situation I was born in. I cannot thank ABC enough for this amazing opportunity.

One of our tour guides, Külli, was actually a member of the line of people standing in resistance to the Soviets, so hearing stories from her is incredible. On top of being an amazing tour guide and doing just about everything in the world, she also does ceramics. After our tour of the TV tower, a group of friends and I stopped by her shop. Most of her stuff was already packed up to head to an art show tomorrow, but there were a few things left that we bought from her. We then bought some groceries from a store and ate a beautiful picnic on the banks of the canal running along the outside of the old town. I enjoyed incredible views and even better friends.

Our concert was held in yet another church named St. John’s and located in the square in which the procession to the Song Festival Grounds take place every five years. The inside of the church was simple, yet beautiful. The walls were not ornately decorated, some of the windows were plain glass, and there was a general lack of decoration many people ascribe to European churches. This church, however, was strikingly beautiful in its own way. I cannot put my finger on it, but the space was incredible. The simplicity of the church was charming and welcoming. The acoustics were very warm and inviting. We sounded incredible in there tonight!

In our pre-concert rehearsal, ABC mentioned that we seemed a little disinterested, and she was not wrong. Honestly, I was a little upset by this because the day had been so incredible to this point that it would have been a travesty to not finish with a beautiful concert. There were definitely distractions at the beginning of the concert, though. In particular, one old man was standing and waving, almost trying to throw all of us off. He was ushered out after our first two songs, but it was incredibly difficult for us to focus during that. In spite of all that lingered over us, this concert was, in my opinion, the best one of tour BY FAR. We sang every phrase with intention and care. We focused all of our energy on ABC, partially in the beginning to keep from being distracted by the old man and then probably because we sounded so incredible we figured we might as well continue. The “Agnus Dei,” my personal favorite piece, a cry for peace and mercy from God, was dedicated to Estonia today. ABC announced before the piece that we were singing it in honor of Estonia nearing its 25th anniversary of independence. (The 25th anniversary will occur on August 20 of this year.) The audience members, most of whom understood, nodded approvingly, put on a smile and sat back, having no idea what was coming. We sang the first note, and every one after flowed. It was truly an out-of-body experience. I was singing every note with intention and purpose while simultaneously seeing audience members shed tears and also thinking of the gravity of the Singing Revolution and dedicating this song to a nation. I had goosebumps the entire song and was moved to tearing up. I will also never be able to put this song into words (maybe I shouldn’t have volunteered to do the post for today), but I can truly say that for everyone who missed this song today, they will never hear anything else in their life comparable to that rendition. I was floored.

Voces Musicales, a semi-professional choir from Estonia, followed Drake Choir in the program. In my opinion, Voces was the best choir I have ever heard. There were less than 30 singers, but they filled the entire space. Every phrase was sung with clarity, direction, and purpose. Their voices blended as one magnificent breath. I was so incredibly inspired by their music that it made me seriously consider doing Fullbright or some sort of English teaching in Estonia (a lot of people at Drake do this after senior year in some capacity) just to live in Estonia and have the chance to be in such an amazing choir. I truly was speechless after their portion of the concert. They were better than I could ever describe, so I am going to stop fumbling with my words before I do them any more injustices by attempting to explain their beauty with words that can never come close to capturing it. All I can say is I was moved in ways I have never been moved before. I clung to every note they sang.

Chamber Choir performed next, and they sounded absolutely fabulous. It must have been extremely difficult to follow Voces with the performance they put on, but did they ever rise to the challenge! They delivered an incredibly emotional and powerful segment, executing their difficult pieces with mastery. I was incredibly moved by their performance as well. Drake Choir finished the performance with 3 pieces, all of which felt like the best performances of them we had ever done, but we were not finished with the concert quite yet. Many of you know that once every four years; that is, in an international tour year, ABC teaches “Shenandoah” and “Os Justi” to her students, a tradition dating back to 1992, coincidentally the year that a certain Dr. David Puderbaugh was in the Drake Choir. This Dr. Puderbaugh is a good friend of ABC’s and is with us on the trip because he sang and conducted Voces years ago when he was a Fulbright Scholar in Estonia (He also participated in the Song Festival. I am SO JEALOUS.) While Dr. Puderbaugh was conducting Voces several years ago, he taught them the same rendition of “Shenandoah” that ABC taught him in college and taught us this year. We closed the concert with Voces joining us on stage for a joint performance of this folk song.

“Shenandoah” has meant an incredible amount to me this year. Obviously in my first year at college, I went through a lot of changes. I found a new home at Drake, but my parents also moved to another state at the end of my first semester. The words to “Shenandoah” speak of a longing for home, an intense passion that burns deep, beckoning one to their roots, and these lyrics took on a life of their own as I am now trying to get used to a new house, city, state, neighborhood, and crowd. The people I love back in my forever home in Missouri are not gone, but seem much further away than ever before, and every time I sing this song, I think of those people. I think of my old home, pretty much the only one I have memories of. I think of my town and everything I know and love and how it will never be the same, and I sing for that. For that reason, this song has incredible meaning to me. Today, though, it meant so much more. I was halfway around the world from my parents, other friends, and my job. I was singing with strangers, but they were singing with the same passion I was. This song unites Drake Choir alums and it had the same effect tonight with the singers in Voces Musicales. It was beyond incredible to see how this piece affects everyone, regardless of age, language, culture, or religion.

This song is powerful! Music is powerful! It unites choirs of people who have seemingly nothing in common, letting them create wonderful music, just as it united an entire country, made them bold enough to lay down their lives to fight for their country, culture, and freedom. Music is powerful. Music is a gift. Music can change the world.

 

Tallinn, May 26, Trevor Wiley and Abbi

 

May 26 – Trevor Wiley, first-Year tenor, music education major

We have been in Europe for one week now, and to say it has been outstanding is an understatement. The culture and history of the countries we have visited is so vast and unlike any other place I have ever visited before.

Today we traveled North from Pärnu to Tallinn. It has been one of the most relaxing days of our tour.  However, we still managed to do a lot and take in a great deal of Estonian culture. We began with a 1.5 hour drive to the small town of Haapsalu. On the way most of the people on my bus caught up on sleep, but I decided to stay awake to observe the areas we drove through and to eat my last two Girl Scout cookies. Peanut Butter Patties are my lifeblood.

Upon arrival in Haapsalu, we visited the Railway Station, which many members commented, “smelled like Play-Doh.” Some used the bathroom, some took pictures with the old trains, and John Collier & Adam Dooley embraced their youth while tossing around a frisbee.

We then hopped back on our buses for a guided bus/walking tour of Haapsalu. Külli, one of our tour managers, lead my group’s tour. We got to see memorials dedicated to Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962), a native of this town, aprominent organizer of Estonian folk music and well-known composer, and the world-famous composer Pjotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), who spent considerable time in Happsalu. Music is an integral part of Estonia’s culture and history, and these memorials go to show how Estonians value those who have contributed to their musical tradition.

Our destination for the walking tour was the Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle and Cathedral. After a little bit of information from tour guides we entered the beautiful cathedral. We formed a circle, joined hands, and informally sang “Shenandoah,” “The Heavens’ Flock,” and “Os Justi.” This was probably my favorite moment of the tour so far! It was some of the most beautiful singing we have ever done because we were all so connected. This was the first informal singing we have done (during this tour) in a really acoustically beautiful place, and it definitively moved some members of the choir to tears.

After our informal singing we had free time to get lunch and explore Haapsalu. I ate with a group at a Chinese restaurant, and many others enjoyed cafes or a pizza restaurant. I had a little time to look through the small shops, which reminded me of the Des Moines East Village and Valley Junction. I even found a birthday present for my mom, whose birthday is tomorrow (May 27)! Happy Birthday, Mom!

Next we made our way to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. After checking in to our hotel we had a couple hours to rest or check out the area. Drake Choir President, Rob Jedlicka, even went for a run through the streets of Tallinn.

To wrap up the day we took a guided tour of Tallinn. Our tour guide, Mall, showed us the most beautiful views of the town and we learned a lot more about the history of Estonia through its long history of foreign occupation. Mall emphasized that their country has a strong emphasis on hope for their country, for their flag when it was banned, and for their independence. We had a delicious dinner in the Old Town of Tallinn, where we all mixed up and sat with people who we don’t necessarily always hang out with, which was a great way for us to continue to build our ensemble dynamic. We had the rest of the night to ourselves to explore Tallinn or relax in the hotel.

All of our experiences have had some kind of impact on me; whether it be physical, emotional, social, spiritual, etc. As we have just passed the midpoint of our tour, I think it is important to reflect on the effects of a tour and why it is important for the Drake Choir to tour. The main reason I think it is important for us to tour is to explore cultures that we are not familiar with. This sense of unfamiliarity influences us to really take in every aspect of the culture. Weather, food, architecture, clothing, and the way people socialize in these countries is different from the United States. However, the main thing that is similar is an appreciation for music. Estonians are some of the most passionate about music, as their singing revolution led to their independence. It has been life-changing to see that the main thing that brings people together is music, and that is true throughout the entire world.


May 26 – Abbi Nelson, sophomore alto, BA Music and international relations major

Today was the first day the sun did not wake me up at 4:30am. The overcast sky made it harder to get out of bed, and I fought a difficult fight trying to pack my suitcase. It was time to leave seaside Pärnu and head north to Haapsalu, before finally ending in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. We boarded the bus and settled in for the short ride to Haapsalu.

While most members used this time to catch up on much needed sleep, I spent most of my time staring out the window. Everything around me was a lush green- first, a forest, then an expansive field… It struck me just how similar this looked to Iowa. When I left America, I was expecting everything to be different (we are in a different country, after all!) and yet I find myself seeing more similarities than differences. The Estonian countryside is just one example. It is a further reminder that this is one world, despite humanity’s desire to slice it with boundaries and social constructions.

We arrived in Haapsalu and dug out our coats for the first time this tour. In the words of Külli (one of our tour guides): “Tourists always ask, ‘When is summer?’ And we Estonians like to say, ‘Well this year summer was on a Tuesday, but I was working Tuesday so I missed it.'” Despite the chilly wind we enjoyed a walking tour around town, seeing sites such as the statue of Cyrillus Creek, writer and collector of Estonian folk songs and a composer of great renown, and a bench where Tchaikovsky sat, perhaps providing him with the inspiration to write Swan Lake. (Coincidentally, there was a swan floating in the lake that is in close proximity to the bench!) The tour concluded with the ruins of an ancient castle, with the walls still essentially intact. It was there that Drake Choir experienced a truly magical moment.

We entered the Bishop’s Cathedral, a 13th century building clad in white stone. We knew we would perform an informal sing there, but I don’t think any member knew just how it surreal it would be. Standing in a circle at the front of the church, we prepared to sing Shenandoah, and I watched a ripple effect take place. One choir member grabbed the hand of another, and soon the entire choir was connected. As we sang the music enveloped us, creating new waves that came from every direction. It was a sound that warmed you from the inside out, and had a profound effect on the choir. So often when we perform, we perform for others, but in this moment we were singing purely for ourselves. The silence that followed our last note was only interrupted by sniffling and the drying of wet eyes.

We had a little free time for lunch, where I discovered a small cafe that served my purpose of finding a warm meal. Sitting with friends, it wasn’t until I was paying the check that I was struck with a surprising thought: I hadn’t checked for wifi once. The old me would have searched for a network the moment I entered a building, but the fact that I forgot shows how this country has affected me. Good food, good company, and meaningful memories are what matter here, and the choir is benefiting from a more relaxed, unconnected atmosphere.

We boarded the bus once again and headed for Tallinn. After arriving and unpacking at the hotel, we embarked on another walking tour. Tallinn is an incrediblely mismatched city that somehow works to create something beautiful. Standing in one spot you can see the ruins of Toompea Castle, the House of Parliament, a breathtaking Russian Orthodox Cathedral, a lush green park, and buildings that look like they came out of a watercolor storybook. Estonia’s history is influenced by many different cultures (both good and bad) and these are reflected in its appearance. Down the cobblestone streets it was like walking through a pastel dollhouse, and every choir members’ eyes were sparkling with excitement and wonder.

The night finished with a picture worthy three-course meal and the sound of laughter and joy. We are very fortunate to be in a place where our cheeks are sore from laughing, our eyes dry from staring, and our feet tired from exploring.

 

Friday, May 27, Annie and Ben S

 

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

 

Control.

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,

Promising tranquility.

 

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,

Relinquish myself,

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.