January 12: Cambridge/Witham, Paxton

Friday, January 12, 2018

By Paxton Gillespie, junior bass
My day started with a bit of a late rise. The weight of the tour thus far, and the exertion therein hung a little heavy on the choir, I think, so extra rest was well-appreciated.   After checking out, several students and I paid a visit to Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, which housed a dizzying collection of artifacts and art dating from the modern era all the way back to thousands of years B.C.  Like many of the other places I’d experienced on the tour, it was a reminder of our deep connection to histories and art forms that had come before us, and the people whose shoulders we stand on. (I was particularly excited to see some original music manuscripts from the great composers, Purcell, Mozart, and Bach!)   Once the group had worked our way through the massive building (including an exploration of an expansive collection of artworks by Degas) we went to the market for a quick bite to eat, and rushed back to the hotel to change and board the coach for our trip from Cambridge to Witham.  The moment we arrived in the small town of Witham, I left behind what I had learned thus far. In opposition to the elaborate city streets and the massive cathedrals we had seen thus far, the town was squat and quiet: a polite intrusion on the otherwise gentle countryside. Our coach rolled through the winding streets and parked outside the parish chapel of St. Nicolas and the nearby house of our host, Madeline Rainbow.   The time leading to the concert was a flurry of bathroom trips in Madeline’s 14th century house, standard rehearsal, and a particularly British pre-performance serving of tea and biscuits. The hospitality of our hosts was humbling and warmed my heart. It was a nice feeling to be welcomed so kindly, so far away from home.  The concert itself was breathtaking. The first half flew by in a hurry, and was followed immediately by one of the most unique experiences that I have had. Instead of the typical intermission one would expect at a choral concert, we were privileged to spend the intermission with the audience, chatting over biscuits and tea, and dissolving the barriers of “audience” and “performer,” that restrict us. In the conversations that the other students and I had with the locals, we formed bonds that allowed us to transcend these boundaries of performance. We were no longer “audience” and “performer.”  Instead, a new community had formed, and the second half of our concert reflected that.   The first half was definitely incredible, but during the second half, the choir operated as one half of a larger singular organism, something unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of. ABC has often said that our goal as a choir is to have “all hearts and minds in one place,” and recently challenged us to question whether it was possible for an audience to be joined with us in that way. Tonight, I think, we proved that such a feat could be accomplished, and it is a feeling that I hope I won’t forget for the rest of my life.