I’m Glad I Went
August 19, 2016
| By Julianne Harris
I’ve never cared for castles or cathedrals or tours involving headphones, long lines or crowds. Maybe it’s because I value the sacred mystery of a chapel that tourism exploits. Maybe I’m grouchy. Maybe I just don’t care. I also maybe should have consulted the choir tour itinerary before signing up for a full week of castle and cathedral tours.
Among the chapels we visited early in our trip was Rosslyn Chapel, a Gothic structure that amazes without overwhelming nestled in the Scottish countryside. A little Scottish lady invited us to sit down for a history lesson (hooray!), and I dutifully followed her green laser as it darted around the chapel sharing stories of non-descript stones. She must have been saying interesting, even funny things, because people were chuckling. All I really know, though, is that the womp-womp voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher sounds better with a Scottish accent.
Afterwards, I killed time petting the resident cat, and just when my seeming cat-obsession started to get weird, a heavenly sound began wafting out of the crypt. Vox Nova had gathered for an impromptu concert that brought the hollowed space to life. I rushed toward it. The rest of the choir and tourists followed suit until as many people as could fit made a fire hazard out of this oversized crawl space (imposing a look of horror on the womp-womp lady’s face). We hadn’t planned to sing at this chapel. We were simply moved to. In a place so rich with history and spirit, it sounded as if we were joining our voices with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Whether listening or singing, we all partake in the active partnership that is choral music, each of us doing our part to share and receive. That shared unity and grace filled me with such joy that I emerged from the crypt with an intense connection to the place that had until now been empty in my heart. Our music had restored the spirit and mystery that tourism sometimes tramples, and just like all those whom I’d laughed at before, I pulled out my camera to commemorate the experience more than the place. Yes, it would be the same picture that everyone else had taken, but it would be mine.
As I raced around the chapel trying to take a tourist-free photo, I came to understand the mission of choir tour. Tourism is consumptive, taking in the sights and sounds and tastes of a new place and culture. Certainly we must do all of these things, but to embrace a new culture and share of our gifts builds relationship and bridges in ways that surface-level tourism never will. Just like mission trips, choir tours step beyond consumption into connection; connection to each other, to sacred spaces and to the souls that stop to listen.
Life and culture are not museums to be looked at but never touched. Travel in its richest capacity is to touch everything; to make space in our hearts for a new place and culture, but also to leave a piece of our own. That style of connection will be different for everyone. For the choir, we use music. Now, as I pack for a weekend in Denver, I consider not only the things I carry in my bag but also in my heart, conscious of all I have to give, and in so doing, all I have to receive.
A glimpse of our trip:
Jet lag is real, people.
Look at us, so happy to be on a bus together. How cute.
A house on a hill (aka Edinburgh Castle)
“Sláinte!” as they say in Scotland (ie, cheers/good health). An early dinner on our first night, so as not to fall asleep in our food.
St. Giles Cathedral – Concert #1, just blocks from the hotel.
(also, ‘I’m a pigeon and I’ll stand where I want’)
We found God’s green earth (and softest grass ever) in Scotland, waking up early to hike “Arthur’s Seat.” Definitely the highest point of our trip, if not the highlight.
It rained a lot, but the rainbows were plentiful, reminding us that this too shall pass.
We confirmed that Baa Baa Black Sheep does have wool. The three bags full are yet to be determined.
Rosslyn Chapel – sightseeing tour turned impromptu concert
Vox Nova singing in the crypt of Rosslyn Chapel before the crowds crammed in. (We knocked ’em dead, and no, Dana did not crowd surf).
Durham Cathedral – Concert #2
The ladies of our fabulous trio.
Really, though, how can we keep from singing in such a spirit filled place?
Otherwise closed to the public, we got to see this room featured in Harry Potter movies.
Also prominently featured in Harry Potter movies.
Row, row, row, your boat…
Durham might be one of the best places to wander, or row, or buy the most delicious scone ever only to share it with friends who eat the whole thing in one bite. (Buy two).
York Minster – Concert #3
We sang in the Chapter House, the most chilling acoustic of the whole trip. Later in the afternoon, many of us attended Evensong, sung by a visiting choir from Jersey.
Ripon Cathedral – Concert #4
Tim’s tour debut on the organ – Flawless, as always.
Doug Kinzey – 2 of our 4 hands
The gang’s all here!
Choir Tour new kids
These Choir Tour veterans have never missed a tour.
The veterans of the veterans, these 3 started their choir careers in Variations.
What happens when you put a piano in the dining room where we’re having our last dinner? A singalong, of course.
Nathaniel and Melissa, keeping it festive.
And then we parted ways, each of us bringing both new and renewed friendships back with us. We are excited to be back in church on Sunday! Sláinte