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.