G Choir Struts in in Stratford, Oxford, and Paris

Posted on January 27th, 2015 by

Good evening from Paris! Despite Logan Boese ’16 claiming “huh, looks like South Dakota” upon spying the French countryside for the first time, we are thrilled to have reached such a treasured city.

The last three days allowed us the chance to explore two tremendous pillars of England’s influence on learning the world over: the birth and resting places of William Shakespeare, and the dreaming spires of Oxford University.

Our day in Stratford began with a tour of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, a well-preserved Tudor farmhouse once occupied by Shakespeare’s wife. From there, the group moved through Shakespeare’s birthplace and childhood home. Many of us were surprised to learn Shakespeare was the son of a wealthy leather merchant, and that he achieved a degree of notable wealth and fame in his lifetime. Walking through testaments to Shakespeare’s life made his tremendous legacy come to life in a dynamic way.

As part of the choir’s tour preparation course taught by Minnesota’s Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen, we each selected and learned a Shakespearian sonnet. Shakespeare’s sonnets revolve around a few themes, including romance, aging, and procreation. The following sonnet (No. 8) belongs to the latter category, drawing comparisons between a lover leading a lonely life and a single string plucked on an instrument.

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly? 
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy.
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy? 
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds, 
By unions married, do offend thine ear, 
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear. 
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another, 
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering, 
Resembling sire and child and happy mother 
Who all in one, one pleasing note do sing: 
    Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
    Sings this to thee: ‘Thou single wilt prove none.’

The grave of William Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church.

The grave of William Shakespeare at Holy Trinity Church.

 William Shakespeare, Sonnet 8

After visiting the sites of Shakespeare’s birth, courtship, and residence, the choir prepared for Evensong at Holy Trinity Church, final resting place of the famous playwright. The intimate service followed the same structure as that of St. Paul’s in London, featuring a stirring sermon from the church’s young vicar. His message centered around the conversion of the apostle Paul from persecuting early Christians to joining the church. The choir sings a stunning arrangement of this piece by composer Z. Randall Stroope, which transitions from shouted Latin cries for persecution to a lush crescendo on the phrase,

Fall down on your knees,
Turn hatred into love.
Fall down, Saul,
Turn darkness into light.
Z. Randall Stroope, “The Conversion of Saul”

 After Evensong, the choir shared recitations of our sonnets mere feet from the grave of their author. Organ student David Lim was also invited to play the Holy Trinity organ, leading the choir and companions in the classic hymn, “Praise to the Lord.”

VIDEO: David Lim on the Holy Trinity Organ

From Stratford-upon-Avon, the group moved on to Oxford, home to one of the world’s finest universities which is often referred to as the European version of Gustavus Adolphus College. Oxford follows an entirely different structure of education, with the university’s students attending one of 38 colleges within the university network. At these colleges, students learn, dine, lodge, and socialize, though they do often take courses through other Oxford colleges.

A highlight of our time in Christ Church was a small-group tour highlighting the church’s connections to global history. A memorial to philosopher John Locke prompted our guide to argue that Locke virtually wrote the entire US Constitution, and that American Independence came about in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, rather than 1776 with our Declaration. While we may have disagreed slightly with the details of American history (and whether or not America should still be a member of the British Commonwealth), we certainly agreed that Oxford University has shaped many of the world’s greatest thinkers.

The choir was thrilled to have two distinguished guests in addition to our loyal companion tour mates in the audience at Christ Church: a young alumna with her new baby (Class of 2037?) who was sporting a “Future Gustie” bib. The alum’s husband (also a Gustie Grad) is a tenured professor of optical physics at Oxford.

After our afternoon concert, the tour group was free to split up to explore Oxford at will. Destinations included tours of Brasenose College, climbs up Oxford’s many towers, visits to antique shops, Oxford sweatshirt purchases, and two pubs frequented by authors T.S. Elliot, J.R.R Tolkien, Graham Greene, Thomas Hardy, and C.S. Lewis.

Though we are sad to have departed the United Kingdom, we left with full, grateful hearts for the culture, hospitality, and beauty we were able to take in. From the treasures of London, to the charm of small English towns, to the warmth of Welsh fellowship halls, this tour took in all we could in ten short days.

As we move into four days of Parisian adventures and begin to turn our eyes homeward, our closing piece “Homeward Bound” will continue to take on more and more meaning.

If you find its me you’re missing,
If you’re hoping I’ll return,
To your thoughts I’ll soon be listening,
In the road I’ll stop and turn.

Then the wind will set me racing,
As my journey nears its end,
And the path I’ll be retracing,
When I’m homeward bound again.

Marta Keen and Jay Althouse, “Homeward Bound”

 

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