It's really hard to even begin to summarize the last few weeks of my life. I can't even begin to list the peak experiences, but I've got to share at least a few of the thoughts that have come up.
I've been very lucky in life and had numerous chances to make music with great singers in foreign countries. The recent tour to Spain with The Portland State Chamber Choir was my 18th International tour as either a singer and conductor. There's just nothing like being able to get away from your daily cares and just focus on making music with people you care about. It brings out the best in people. I hope I never tire of this or cease to treat it as special. So far, I feel like as I get older I treasure these moments more and more. Even getting to do this once every year or two doesn't seem like that much. These are special moments.
So now some thoughts on this tour: The Tolosako Abesbatza Lehiaketa (Tolosa International Choral Competition) really knows how to take care of its competing choirs. We sang in five spectacular churches and all but one to standing room only crowds. We had mayors throwing receptions for us, and we were treated like professional touring artists. It really made us feel special, and I wish everyone treated artists and musicians the way you did. THANK YOU!!!!
Biggest Tour Highlight: After our very first performance in Borja, the music director of the church let us into the 15th-century wooden choir stalls and let one of my students play the (500-year-old) organ and let us sing from there. I have had the chance to do this before in some other churches and have generally been disappointed in the acoustics, which I assume is why these sorts of stalls were retired centuries ago. However in this church, or maybe with this choir and the particular piece we sang (Hear My Prayer by Purcell), it was an amazing acoustic phenomena. Different voices kept appearing in my ears as if they were right next to me. It was a much more immediate, direct, and human way to experience the piece. After that the mayor of Borja had a large reception for us. They asked us to sing more (of course) and after we sang one of our Spirituals they asked us to repeat a Guerrero motet we had sung in the concert: Nino Dios d'Amor Herido. This was not a piece I knew prior to the tour, but I selected it because I wanted to sing something from the Renaissance and sing something in Spanish, and Victoria (my favorite) didn't write much in Spanish. Everywhere we went, EVERYONE knew this Guerrero motet. In fact, the mayor and everyone else at this reception SANG IT WITH US and actually knew their parts. Apparently the Renaissance is still alive and well in Northern Spain and that makes me happy. Also to see my students and people from another country brought together by 500-year-old music really validates the timeless power of great music. Awesome!
The competition itself was a little weird as we never got to hear the other choirs. We were sort of competing in a vacuum. We sang our absolute best on that stage, which is all you can hope for. This time we finished in 4th place in both categories, but I feel just as happy about what we did as when we won two years ago. I think all the singers feel the same way. Entering the competition pushed us to sing at our best which really is its own reward. My biggest hope is that we can decide from now on to sing like that regardless of the day or time, because that is really the point of all of this... I do look forward to hearing the other choirs on YouTube when they post the performances.
Final Thought: Traveling with the PSU Chamber Choir is particularly special for me. Most PSU students, including those in Chamber Choir, are paying for college themselves. I'm kind of amazed at the workloads they are able to carry and still succeed in college and in life. Most have never been out of the country. The daily cares they get to leave behind when we tour are immense, much more than what I carried in college. This group really knows how to maximize a tour experience. They take advantage of all the sight-seeing and the chances to party but show up ready to sing at 110% at every single concert. Better still, everyone in the group always takes the time to get to know every other person and not just split into cliques. This includes me: I don't think I've ever felt so close to every member of a large choir as I do to you. Thanks to you all for being such amazing travelers and being so open and inclusive. Thanks also for taking what we share with each other and being willing to be vulnerable on stage and share it with the hundreds of people who came to hear us.