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.