Columnist reflects on experience during a tour of New York City with the Symphonic Choir

By Victoria Slater, ’12

New York City, in a sense, is a choir. The blare of car horns, the shuffle of pedestrians’ feet against the aged sidewalks, the coos of pigeons and the rumble of the subway train beneath the streets blend together to form one, harmonized sound. While the songs of the UAHS Symphonic Choir are much different than the naturally melodic tunes of the Big Apple, we did have an incredible opportunity to mingle our sounds with the city during the 2011 Symphonic Choir East Coast Tour.

The Symphonic Choir is a group of about a hundred students who gather to share a love of singing. While it has disparities in personality and music background, Symphonic Choir is a savvy, cohesive singing group that stands as one of the top in Ohio. This excellence is, for the most part, the product of director Eric Kauffman’s daily aphorisms and metaphors, which inspire and instruct members to utilize correct vowel sounds and maintain “purpose and integrity” (this year’s choir’s motto).

I am proud that I have sung in a UA choir each of my three years at the high school; although I have endured countless performances over the years (times in which I dressed up as a flamingo or a hula dancer), I admit that I had the best experiences with choir when we toured New York City over five days in April.

We departed for our East Coast Tour on March 31, a five-day jaunt the Symphonic Choir takes every other year. All 88 of us, including three bags of luggage each, crammed into two buses for an 11-hour drive. I quickly realized I had overpacked when I struggled to heave my 100-pound suitcase into the bus along with a carry-on bag bigger than myself.

Our first stop was Parkersburg High School, an immense facility that appears somewhat out of place in the rolling, cow-dotted hills of West Virginia. I reveled in the well-blended, sublime music the a cappella choir presented and enjoyed scurrying across the narrow hallways and up the countless stairwells throughout the old-fashioned high school.

Exhausted from the performance travelling the day before, and dizzy with anticipation, we arrived in New York City mid-morning on Friday, April 1. Although the skyscrapers were blurred by the steady sleet, Times Square’s vibrant, gleaming lights stood out against the precipitation. On our bus ride to our first performance at St. John the Divine—the largest Gothic cathedral in North America—we counted each and every Starbucks that we passed (my total: about 20).

For the next three days, each minute that passed was spent either singing, strolling or sightseeing. We toured every New York City landmark: the Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Times Square and the Empire State Building. Although our main source of transportation was our tour bus, we experienced a subway train ride to and from Central Park. (My friends and I somehow got on the wrong one and were thankfully pulled off right before it carried us away to Brooklyn.)

Between the excursions throughout various Manhattan tour sites, we performed our selection of mostly Latin works in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and at Sunday morning mass at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal church. My favorite of our four gigs took place in the midst of spontaneity, where we chanted, completely a cappella, our gospel hit, “Roll Jordan Roll”, front and center on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We caught the eyes of a handful of passersby, stopped taxis in the middle of the street and even briefly transformed a native New Yorker into a choir conductor.

We finished our first two nights in the city with dinner out and a Broadway musical after. Anything Goes and the 2010 Tony-Award-winning Memphis showcased the talent that exists on a Broadway stage.

On the third and final night in the Big Apple, our choir cruised the New York harbor on a yacht that carried us beneath the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and inches away from the exquisite Statue of Liberty. I could not have asked for a more quintessential ending to our trip; we attained a picturesque view of the city skyline reflected in the harbor water and finished the night with a choir-bonding dance to “Friday” by the infamous Rebecca Black.

Years from now, if I am to reminisce on my many high school experiences, the 2011 Symphonic Choir East Coast Tour is where my memory will quickly stray. I’m convinced the trip has strengthened the Symphonic Choir as a whole, and it matured us while allowing us to explore the world through teenage eyes. There is nothing that can compare to the sound of your own music reverberating off famous skyscrapers in a city where dreams come true. •