Chamber Orchestra and Choir Members Experience and Exchange Culture During Concerts in Portugal

The trip provided an opportunity for members to go on sightseeing tours of Portugal while performing in concerts in different cities.

As the rest of the group held a single, soft note, the soprano voices started the gentle melody to the piece “Unclouded Day,” composed by Josiah Kelley Alwood. The song gained intensity as the rest of the parts joined in one by one, before finally the entire choir was harmonizing to the gentle but upbeat melody about a home on an unclouded day.
This song was the opening piece for the Chamber Choir while they toured Portugal during the first week of Spring Break. Evan Tsai ’21 said that the group was comfortable enough with the piece to perform it anywhere.
“When you travel with a choir, anywhere can become a stage. We gave a couple impromptu ‘performances’ on the streets of Porto and in a restaurant in Lisbon,” said Chamber Choir member Abigail Johnson ’19.
The trip was a Performing in the World Trip organized by the Tang Institute. The group, composed of members of Choir, Fidelio, and Chamber Orchestra, traveled around the country and put on concerts in three locations: Maya, Figueira da Foz, and Lisbon.
The Music Department organizes music trips every year, with locations ranging from the international stages of Spain and China to the domestic cities of San Francisco and New York City.
Derek Jacoby, Instructor in Music and Conductor for Chamber Orchestra, said, “The department has been going on trips for 40 years. I would hope that the tradition will continue and it is something our music ensembles look forward to.”
At one of their concerts, the group performed for the kids at the St. Peter’s International School. They had the opportunity talk to the kids and to do a “cultural exchange” with them, since the Chamber Orchestra incorporated Portuguese songs into their repertoire. The kids also prepared shows, including a traditional dance called the flamenco, as well as a rendition of the song “Shallow” from the movie “A Star is Born.”
“My favorite [piece] was “Celebrai!” which was the song with the most Portuguese in it… Dr. [Abbey] Siegfried [School Organist and Instructor in Music] talked about how it was a courtesy thing to do a thing in their language… If you go to another country, you can’t just bring your own things to share. You have to try and make a connection in some way,” said Chloe Webster ’20, a member of Chamber Choir.
Several members said that one of their favorite aspects of the trip was how they grew closer to one another. According to Johnson, spending long hours together on plane and bus rides helped the group develop bonds, allowing them to better rely on each other while performing in unfamiliar venues.
“By the end, we were comfortable enough with each other that we could make changes to our concert program while we were on stage or belt show tunes from the back of the bus… I love the times when we are in the middle of a song and everyone in the group suddenly seems to realize that this is the best we’ve ever sung that song yet. Those are the times when I feel most challenged and yet most supported,” said Johnson.
Christina Cho ’19, cellist in Chamber Orchestra, also felt that concerts and the traveling that the group participated in provided a unique opportunity for the students to get to know one another. According to Cho, the newly formed bond carried over to the stage, causing the groups’ teamwork and communication during performances to improve as well.
Cho added, “We had a lot of shared inside jokes from everyday experiences like riding on the bus together [and] doing tours together. I also think that translated into our playing because we played more together. We were looking up at each other, making an effort to smile during our performances. I think bonding outside of rehearsals and actually playing our instruments definitely helped us as an orchestra.”
Jacoby said that the orchestra’s dedication allowed them to master the performance and have fun in the process.
“The students did really, really well and played with such energy and focus, energy and focus they can’t always get at school because they have so much to do and so many different things to think about. When they’re focused on just one thing, only making the best music they can, they can go to a much higher level. I had a lot of fun in [the performances], it seemed as though all the students were having a lot of fun too,” said Jacoby.