New Zealand and Australia, 2012
Wow. What a tour. We’re just finishing up our stay in Auckland, New Zealand, some of us exhausted, some of us excited to go home, some of us wishing we could stay longer…and all of us, it seems, in awe of everything that has transpired. (Well, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration—I wouldn’t exactly place going through customs 4 times in the “in awe” category, for example!) Yesterday we sang for another conducting master class, Dr. Scheibe the clinician. Dr. Karen Grylls welcomingly opened up the University of Auckland for us as our home base—it’s been wonderful getting to know her and hearing her sage advice in music. In Auckland we’ve also performed with two fantastic choirs: award-winning Choralation, a high-school group, and the University of Auckland Chamber Choir. Many of our host families are in some way associated with these choirs, and we’re fortunate to meet such wonderful people again! Sightseeing has included visiting the museums, watching (crazy people) SkyJump off the Sky Tower in the city, wandering around the gardens, shopping, hiking up the volcano Mt. Eden (at the top, there are breathtaking views of the city and the crater below the volcano), and more.
Friday evening ended with a tour celebration dinner at a delicious Italian restaurant. It also ended with the presentation of thanks to our awesome tour managers Erin and Dr. Scheibe, and a birthday cake to our teaching assistant tenor Sam, who probably needed the cake after someone severely frightened him by putting a rubber snake in his bag that afternoon. (The person who did so apologizes…but only a little bit, since we all got a good laugh out of it!) All three of them—Erin Winchester, Dr. Jo-Michael Scheibe, and Sam Barbara—indeed deserve our deepest thanks. And to those who are part of our ensemble and could not make it on tour—Robin, Mark, Chris, Rachel, and Rayvon—please know that we missed you greatly.
For me, the greatest part of our USC Chamber Singers tour has been experiencing the bonding among group members, reaching a comfort level that says, “Right now I am 100% myself, and I am 100% happy to be singing and talking and laughing and traveling with YOU all.” I especially felt that during our last concert in Auckland Thursday evening. Yes, we were vocally, physically, and mentally tired, a little sick… But I definitely felt magic again. The magic was a sad magic, slightly pensive because we knew we’d soon end our time together. I detected a transformation of every concert’s personality, from our first grinning excitement of performing in a new country, to this last reminiscent performance tinged with a fading blue tenderness. This concert smiled subtly and lovingly, without teeth. There is a special section in Dale Warland’s Always Singing during which my heart always melts. It says, “I have had pleasure, I have had singing.” Lots of tears fell from lots of eyes as we exited the sanctuary. I think that’s because Dale Warland is right. We have had pleasure, because we have had singing.
Well, hello again—this time from Brisbane, Australia! This is Bronte, reporting on the USC Chamber Singers New Zealand and Australia Tour of 2012!! Exclamation points are absolutely necessary at the moment as I think back on the past two days; let’s just say they’ve been incredibly exciting and inspiring! Not to mention my current airplane view of the rich blue Brisbane River and Pacific Ocean, the white Los Angeles-like skyscrapers along the coast, and the dreamy bubble bath of pure white clouds that drift so low to the city. (It’s been a little wet lately.)
The highlight of this city has definitely been our collaboration with St. Stephen’s Schola, a phenomenal (!) 8-musician choir that regularly sings in our Brisbane performance venue, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, as well as their phenomenal conductor, Ralph Morton. An alumnus of USC, Dr. Morton welcomed us so warmly that I honestly felt like I was greeting an old friend. He even showed up at the airport, holding a hand-written sign labeled “USC Thornton Chamber Singers.” Our first night, St. Stephen’s Schola and we sang in an open-to-the-public master class in the Cathedral. What a sound. My mind keeps returning to the final glorious chord sung by St. Stephen’s Schola, and the interweaving and melding of the rich harmonies as Sam conducted Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of Shenandoah. The acoustics were very different from those of our other venues, and we did have to adapt. After our concert the following evening, one glowing woman, eyes sparkling, told me how gorgeously and delicately we flooded the Cathedral with our voices. The ring of our America the Beautiful (arranged by Frank LaRocca) was especially dazzling, she said. I’m glad we touched our audience. And to perform with St. Stephen’s Schola and Ralph Morton? What an honor.
While in Brisbane, we also held cute koalas, touched and fed dozens of kangaroos, strolled along the river past bridges, rock climbers, and kayakers, shopped around the expansive Queen Street mall area, rested on the beaches of the Gold Coast, visited the art museums, and spent hours talking with such friendly hosts. It’s a big city… I’m sad to leave. Our visit and the people especially will be forever planted in my memory.
As I write this, we (the USC Chamber Singers) are taking off from Sydney, Australia, and heading to Brisbane. The last two days have primarily been sightseeing days. Fantastic sightseeing days, in fact. On Sunday most of us trekked the three or so miles from our youth hostel in central downtown Sydney to the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, traipsing along the beautiful Darling Harbour. What surprised us along the way were the crowded, fancy kids’ parks and lively atmosphere…and the fact that our ultimate destination, the Opera House, was still missing every time we turned a corner and expected it! It was a glorious moment when we finally did spot it; we probably spent 10 minutes taking pictures. Near the Opera house are the Royal Botanical Gardens and a cute upbeat area called The Rocks, where street performers entertain rather massive crowds with their fire-juggling, didgeridoo-playing (a long stick-like wind instrument), and various other musical performances.
Our adventures branched out a bit further in distance on Monday. We began our day with a noon-time performance at St. Andrew’s Cathedral downtown. (Yes, noon-time. Meaning we all finally had the opportunity to sleep 8 or 10 hours! Or 13…) During our sound check, we read and recorded a new composition, Trees, by an emerging young composer, Daniel Brinsmead, who recently won the (Eric Whitacre) Abbey Road Anthem Competition. Yet another opportunity to be inspired, especially for the composers in our choir! Our concert had a decent audience turn-out, the magnificent cathedral in a fairly central location. After the performance, some of us took the ferry to Manly Beach, others to the Taronga Zoo, others to shopping areas, etc. The best part of the evening, in my opinion, was our return ferry ride; we caught the sunset, a bright orange melding into purples and a nighttime navy blue. And accompanying the sunset were dark silhouettes of the bridge, Opera House, and Sydney skyline. Some of the guys and I broke into an impromptu Sure on This Shining Night. (Boy, Morten Lauridsen is sure getting publicity on this “American Voices” program tour of ours!) The hostel provided a kangaroo-sandwich dinner in the evening. What an interesting experience—both the kangaroo and the tour of the city. I have a feeling many of us will be back.