I am sitting on a train from Zilina, Slovakia, to Prague, Czech Republic. It is the first time in a long while that I haven’t been busy experiencing things! So, a lot to catch up on. I will probably do it out of order, because some things I won’t remember for long. (For the sake of the blog’s order, though, I will publish the stories in chronological order.)
On Monday the 28th, the choir took a day trip to Oxford. It is the home of Oxford University, where many important people have studied-- famous politicians, theologians, and writers throughout history. (I took a picture of Desiderius Erasmus’s dormitory window. Nerdy factoid: Erasmus was a Christian humanist during the Protestant Reformation, who famously debated Martin Luther about free will. I gave a presentation on it.) Of course, though, the most important student at Oxford University is still living-- my boyhood crush, Emma Watson. The tour guide showed us the street where she often walks to class, and I seriously considered spending my free afternoon walking up and down the block.
We took a walking tour of several colleges within the university. (Brief explanation: at Oxford and Cambridge Universities,“college” does not describe an academic deparment, such as the College of Engineering. A “college” is more like a dormitory, funded by third parties and affiliated with the university. As I understand it, professors of various levels of prestige are hired by certain colleges to be the personal tutors of the students in that college who study that professor’s subject. Or something like that!) The edifice of each college is usually a big walled courtyard, with an immaculate lawn and a fountain in the middle. Around the courtyard are fancy old arched doors that lead into various classroom areas, chapels, dining halls, etc. (It looked just like my old Harry Potter computer game. And in fact, at one college in Oxford, we saw the dining hall that inspired the design of the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films.) This design was ideal for monasticism in the early days of the university. After our tour, we rehearsed and performed a brief recital in the Chapel at Christ Chapel. Then I had lunch at a cool pub called the Turf Tavern with David Duba and Sam. As we ate huge club sandwiches, we beheld university students celebrating the completion of their exams: they still wore their mandatory ceremonial black robes and voluntary party hats as they got drunk at 12:00.
Lunch was followed by a clinic with choral biggie Bob Chilcott (he wrote the opening piece that was sung for Christmas at Luther 2011.) He was a bald little man with thick glasses and a twinkle in his eye. He worked with us on our classic English repertoire and endlessly complimented us while helping us explore a brighter, English choral sound. He also unwittingly complimented Dr. Hightower: as we rehearsed Dum Transisset Sabbatum by Tavener, he mentioned an “absolutely marvelous performance” he had heard a few years ago at a choir convention in Miami by a choir from south Texas. It so happened that it was Dr. Hightower’s former choir at Sam Houston State University, and he had directed. Needless to say, Dr. H was beaming with pride for the rest of the day.
We were then dismissed to explore Oxford for a few hours. I had a great time with Paul Atkins, Vanessa Libbey, Marissa Satern, and Kelsi Holmes! We stopped in a few cool stores (perhaps a little longer than I liked, but no worries!), made our way into an organ recital, and walked along a beautiful lawn where students from one college were playing cricket. As always, I greatly enjoyed the satisfaction of searching a map and simply walking around, finding little adventures along the way. Not to mention that great companions makes it all the better!
After a late dinner back at the Hotel in London, I took the Underground to a neighborhood called Camden Town with Alex Nyman (our fearless leader, who had lived in London last summer), Anne Walsh, Katherine Melhoff, Hannah Myott, Molly Clementz, and Lili Petsch-Horvath. (Luke and the Ladies, as I like to say.) Camden Town is an edgy borough, with funky punk shops, rad bars and nightclubs, artwork, outdoor markets, and the like. Although most things were closed in the evening, I enjoyed walking around. Our main success, however, was mastering the Underground trains and the Oyster card (which serves as an electronic transportation pass in London.)