Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Days 7 and 8 as told by student, Elena S.

On the 7th day of our incredible trip, we transferred from Vienna to Prague. Everyone woke up at 7 to finish packing and get ready to go!! The night before, there was no hot water and there was very little in the morning as well, so many of your very own skyline choir members took cold showers. Then, we went to breakfast where there was a buffet with breads, fruit, cereal, and more! This wasn’t my favorite breakfast, but I especially loved the breakfast at Salzburg. I am a very slow packer, so I quickly ate my breakfast and returned to my room to do the last minute packing. (So typical of me!) We brought our bags out of our room and waited to get checked and receive the okay to head out to the bus. Everyday, one of my favorite parts was looking out of the window of the bus and talking to Loey who sat next to me. The views in Austria and Prague were like none I’ve ever seen before. This was my first time across the ocean and seeing new sights and architecture made me fall in love with traveling! I also loved singing in the beautiful churches. The sound created by the spaces was so full and the sound resonated in the air for what seemed like forever. This was especially true at the church inside of the cemetery we went to. The cemetery had the graves of those deemed worthy of being buried there such as the great Beethoven. It seemed that his grave had been visited many times because of all of the flowers laid there. When everyone was done, we went into the church and were in awe of its beauty and sound. We first sang Ubi Caritas but that wasn’t enough! Everyone begged to do another song, so as I remember it, we sang one of our louder and less calm pieces of music. When we left the cemetery, we drove to the House of Music. It had a room dedicated to some of the world’s greatest composers. It also had some rooms that allowed us to learn about sound waves and how they effect our perception of sound. I think many of us would’ve hoped to have more time to do the interactive activities but our schedule was packed full! We left the museum and walked with Pascal to the spot where we would meet to get in the bus to head to Prague.  Many of the groups went to local stands and the gelato place on the corner. Many of us got pizza, a hot dog of sorts, or others like me got food from the mediterranean type booth. I got a felafel wrap and ate some of it there and saved some for the 5 hour long drive we had ahead of us! We stopped at a two rest stops. One of which some of us just got out to walk around and some to go to the bathrooms. But, a few of us with Pascal decided to play tag, pet the goats, and have fun doing trust falls. Loey was the brave soul who went first! At the second rest stop, we exchanged our euros into korunas and bought some snacks. We then continued on the last leg to Prague. When we got there we checked into our hotel rooms and had dinner at the hotel. We had a very seemingly common meal consisting of a piece of meat and potatoes! I greatly enjoyed the new food aspect of this trip. After dinner although all of us were facing great exhaustion, we had a two hour rehearsal to prepare for our clinic with the Czech musician the next day. After working on our music, we had our daily meeting to get all of the updates for the next day and then went up to our rooms to go to sleep. 

Day 8

 On the 8th day, we enjoyed our first day traveling around and exploring Prague. We 
woke up early and wore professional clothing for our clinic later in the day. I regret wearing my heels for all of the walking around, my feet were so sore at the end of the day! But, I loved going on the tour of the castle. We learned that when the leader of the Czech Republic is in the country they have the flag up at the castle and when he’s not, they take it down. I thought that was very interesting! The lines to get into the church part of the castle were very long, but the beauty shown inside was completely worth it! We also were shown other places such as the Golden Lane, Daliborka towers, and the Astronomical Clock! Our tour guide told us many things about great leaders and many of the names came up while in Austria as well, such as Maria Theresa and her family. After our guided tour, we were at the town square where the easter market would be held the next day and near St Nicolas church where we would perform for the Easter Mass. My group went to lunch at a little Italian place right on the square. We all enjoyed it greatly! The other half of our group (we split up) went to a nicer restaurant that we all ended up going to together the next day. At the Italian Restaurant I got gnocchi, Izzy got a pizza that she shared and the rest of us got some type of noodle dish. After lunch, we all met up and went to our clinic with a very impactful person. He demanded that we always use musicality such as dynamics, syllabic stress, and more. Not only this, he taught us the pronunciations of Czech words and also wanted to work with us on our song Adoramus Te. Although he didn’t speak very good english, he used descriptions and demonstrations emphatically to impress upon us his point and what he wanted us to gain from him. He seemed very pleased with our progress with him and often would say “Brava!” which I loved. After the clinic, we had free time to do whatever within our chaperone groups. My group went to a cafĂ© where we got smoothies, cappuccinos and Loey got a fun little dessert. We walked around and explored a little bit too! After free time we met back up with everyone and Pascal led us to the restaurant. The restaurant was dome shaped and we all ate SO MUCH BREAD at my table. The dinner was good but we especially loved the live music and many of us wanted to dance but we got in the way of the waiters so we had to stop :( We had a very interesting fruit sundae with ice cream for dessert. After, we went back to the hotel for a last minute 2 hour rehearsal to prepare for our Easter mass the next day. After this, we were all completely exhausted and wanted to go to bed after the fun filled day. 

Days 4 and 5 as told by student participant, Amanda W.

Day 4- 
After our beautiful time in Salzburg, I and the rest of my peers could not wait to see what the future towns and cities of our trip had to offer. With much excitement, we boarded the bus and headed to the town of Melk, Austria where we would visit the Melk Abbey. I hadn’t heard of the abbey before looking at the itinerary, so, to satisfy my curious mind, I looked up a picture of the place. When I first looked at a picture of the abbey on Google (shot on a gorgeous sunny day), I didn’t think the actual building could be as astonishing since it was quite a dreary and rainy day. But, I was soon proven wrong. As we drove into Melk and saw the abbey in the distance, everyone’s jaws unanimously dropped in awe. The detailed architecture and combination of colors was nothing like any of us had ever seen — it seemed like a forbidden palace, too delicate to touch. 

We arrived at the Abbey and took a detailed tour of the site with one of the most passionate and well-spoken tour guides I have ever encountered. She spoke of the abbey’s history, specifically the core values of the monks that have served there for hundreds of years and the significant individuals that resided in the abbey’s guest rooms (one being the previous Empress of Austria, Maria Teresa Hapsburg). Our guide also led us through the abbey’s marble hall, used for dining and events, as well as the library which is home to thousands of books and intricate wooden carvings.  

After the tour of the abbey’s rooms, we moved to the most beautiful part of the site — the abbey’s church. Unlike the other cathedrals we saw in Salzburg, the Melk Abbey Church was covered in intricate gold detailing. The place was so sacred that we weren’t allowed to take photos like we were in other places. Although disappointing that we couldn’t share personal pictures of the church, I found something very honorable about the rule. There is something very special about having to see the church in person, because there is no possible way to capture all of its beauty within a photograph. 

To top off our experience at the abbey, the employees invited us to sing inside the church. Personally, I was quite nervous for this impromptu performance. I woke up with a terrible cough that day and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do our repertoire (including a solo) justice in the beautiful space. However, once I took in the beauty of the church and thought about our tour guide’s immense passion for the abbey, I knew that it was an honor to sing in this gorgeous and historically significant place, no matter the quality of my voice at that particular moment. 

Melk was an incredible town, but it was only the first part of our eventful day. After exploring the abbey, we continued our journey to Vienna, where we arrived in the evening and prepared for our performance at Karlskirche (Charles Church) later that night. Once we entered the city, I knew that Vienna would be my favorite destination of our trip, and it was. We initiated our glorious time in Vienna with an hour long concert in one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. No church in Europe fails to disappoint, but Karlskirche’s exterior architecture surpasses everything else in Vienna. Although the space was freezing cold (so cold that Ms. Cie’s hands went numb and accidentally played wrong notes on her iPad piano app), we gave an incredible performance to local Austrians. Our performance in Karlskirche (full of jaw dropping acoustics) will be something that I will never forget. 

-Amanda Wilhoit (Senior) 

Day 5- 

Today was by far my favorite day of the entire trip. The morning was spent touring the historical sites of Vienna with a local city guide, and in the afternoon we were given nearly six hours to explore the city within our chaperone groups. I am an avid journalist, and I insist on writing down my day’s happiest moments. When I sat down in my hotel room this night, I had too many wonderful moments to record. To spare you from my immensely long list of memories from this day, I will share my favorites and elaborate on those few! 

1. Vienna Summer Palace

The majority of our morning tour was spent at Vienna’s Summer Palace — an incredible sight that was home to Austria’s ruling family named the Hapsburgs. On this tour we saw the outside garden of the palace which is filled with roses in the late spring/early summer, dozens of greek statues and a gorgeous hill with another structure on top. We then entered the palace where we toured a dozen of the Hapsburgs originally furnished rooms, each with a different purpose. Two of my favorite rooms were the ballroom, where large galas and events were held, and a bedroom furnished and decorated with blue asian pottery. A fun fact I learned in the ballroom is that the Hapsburg family would choose candles based off of how much they liked their guests and how long they wanted them to stay at the palace. If they wanted the event to end quickly and to get rid of their guests, they would burn shorter length candles so that the room would get dark quicker and their guests would be forced to leave. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the day because we learned so much about the Hapsburg family, especially Maria Teresa, who was the only empress that ever ruled the empire. 

2. Japanese Choir’s Church Performance

When roaming the city, we had the opportunity to pop in on another traveling choir’s performance. This group, from Japan, sang in the St. Peter’s church of central Vienna, and was hands down the most beautiful choral ensemble that I have ever heard. It was incredible to be able to hear another group that worked immensely hard just like we did leading up to this trip, especially in such a beautiful and resonant church. 

3. Rude Austrian Waiter, Great Cappuccino

 During our free time, my chaperone group also chose to stop at a pastry and coffee house that was recommended by Pascal (our right hand local man throughout the trip). When we entered the cafe, not a single waiter acknowledged our presence. So, after a group of people finally finished their coffee (the place was PACKED), we sat down on our own. A waiter finally approached us and I asked for a menu, but he replied with a firm “No menu. Coffee, tea, water.” We were quite alarmed to say the least. So, with much fear, everyone at the table quickly asked for a cappuccino and nothing else. Despite the rude service, I am very glad we decided to stop, because that was one of the best cappuccinos I have EVER had. Plus, we finally built up the courage to ask for a pastry that we noticed on a nearby table which, surprisingly, he let us order and was incredibly delicious. (It was a cheese pastry, almost like a flaky, fluffy cheesecake.) 

4. Dinner with Entertainment

After a long day of exploring within our individual chaperone groups, the whole group met up for dinner at a restaurant within the building of the Vienna Opera House. Although the food (vegetable soup, pork schnitzel & apple strudel) was delicious, the best part of the meal was the restaurant’s dinner entertainment. Along with our dinner, we were accompanied by an accordion player who not only knew numerous iconic songs on the accordion, but also sang to us! As a group, we burst out into song when he played La Bamba, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Do Re Mi and many other classic sing along. But, the best part of the night was when he played a Russian song that one of our lovely chaperones knew, and they sang a beautiful duet for the entire group. 

5. Pascal’s Favorite Gelato Shop

Even though we had dessert at the restaurant, our guide for the entire trip promised to bring us to his favorite ice cream place in Vienna as our evening activity. So, as a group, we walked the narrow and intricate streets of the city and made our way to Pascal’s favorite gelato shop. I got some delicious raspberry gelato, but it wasn’t the gelato that made the night so special. During our visit to the shop, the people on the trip bonded more than ever. It was this night that I not only learned more about Pascal’s interesting life and his travels, but also became closer to many choir kids that I didn’t know on a personal level before we left Michigan. 

- Amanda Wilhoit (Senior) 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Day 2!

We all experienced a fantastic morning walking tour of Salzburg in which we saw the Mirabel Gardens (with the steps from the Do Re Mi Song from Sound of Music , Sselcach (Salt River) and it’s beautiful bridge with thousands of locks locked into the gate, the Fortress, Mozart’s birth house, some Easter markets, and Salzburg Dom. Highlights included the cable car ride up the mountain, eating pretzels and wurst (sausage), singing on the Do Re Mi steps, and taking fun pictures in the gardens. Lowlights included the pouring rain and a it of sleet. We finished the morning tour with a performance in the incredible space that is the Salzburg Dom. The church was incredibly beautiful and the acoustics were amazing. The looks of the students faces when they heard the chords ring in the air was priceless! After lunch, we boarded the bus to our performance at St. Michael’s in Mondsee. This is a very special church because it is the one featured in the wedding scene of the Sound of Music! The performance was once again beautiful and moving and the acoustics are stunning (really, the experience of our sound ringing in the air forever just cannot be replicated anywhere in the US). We had a little time to explore Mondsee and then we headed back to dinner. That night we ate delicious baked chicken, fries, and ice cream. We still had more energy so we headed to the infamous Sachre Hotel to have some amazing Schokolade Torte. We have eaten dessert at least three times a day as the Austrian’s are very fond of cake and sweets!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Austria update! Day 1

After a easy couple of flights, we boarded our bus and met our driver, Martin and our tour guide, Pascal. We then visited the Concentration Camp Memorial site at Dachau. While a difficult thing to do especially on the first day, the students learned a great deal and were respectfully moved by the powerful stories, images, and monuments. The students expressed various sentiments about the experience-the most common being that learning from horrific experiences in the past may help them understand how to avoid them in the future. Following their reflections and emotional support for one another, we continued our journey to Salzburg. Before checking into our hotel, we stopped at Helburn Palace to visit the park there and to sing and dance at the Sound of Music Gazebo! We had many great picture opportunities although the weather was quite cloudy and chilly! After that, we checked into our hotel, had a great buffet dinner (the macaroons were a favorite!) and got some much needed sleep!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The last two days!

The last two days of the trip were fantastic! We have had an amazing and wonder time! On Saturday, we performed at St. Nicholas and at Galway Cathedral! The acoustics were incredible and the lunchtime concert was completely full! Both concerts were so fun to sing. The mass was a little intense because we weren't exactly sure where we were supposed to sing each piece, but overall, we figured it out and it went well! Two performances in one day was tiring, but rewarding. On Sunday, we had a long drive back to Dublin and then we performed alongside soloist, Mary Fogerty and the Frank Kelly Family ensemble. It was very cool to hear the different sounds that the Irish sang with and the performance raised nearly 1000 euro for the County Wicklow Alzheimer's Association! We were proud to be a part of it and the trip was a huge success! We'll be sharing photos and links to videos as we get them sorted :-) 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Day 6

Today we had a beautiful excursion to the Ring of Kerry and the three lakes of Kilarney. We stopped in Kenmare, and had some time to explore a little town. The lakes and mountains were incredible and we got to take some good sheep selfies! We also visited the grounds of Muckcross House, which contain stunning gardens and paths to walk. The trees are covered in lovely, bright green moss, which is particularly cool looking as the leaves are off and spring is just beginning. Some flowers are blooming and it's rained a little everyday. This evening, we arrived in Limerick and had an awesome time at the madrigal dinner inside of Bunratty Castle! The castle has been there since the 11th century (although the current structure was built in the 1500s). Our dinner was great and the music was great as well! Of course, we got to sing there too. We've been singing EVERYWHERE! People find out we're a choir and always ask us. We've sung in and out of churches, inside castles, at dinner, all the time. It is wonderful! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A bit of excitement

Early morning (false) fire alarm! It got a little scary, but of course, everyone and everything is fine!