Monday, May 31, 2010

Arts in London 2010 - Commentary and Reflections 3

The first month of my summer is given to Arts in London, one of the Conservatory’s two alternating “Wheaton in the World” summer programs. Eighteen students, including me, and a handful of faculty chaperones will spend just under four weeks primarily in London but with excursions to nearby locales and also a weekend in Paris. I will post about a week’s worth of commentary and reflections at a time.

Monday, May 24

The third week began with the warmest temperatures thus far on our trip. The first item of business was a class session for Musical Theater. Michael led a discussion of the life and work of Stephen Sondheim, one of the giants of musical theater in the second half of the twentieth century. We also talked briefly about musicals that had crossed the Atlantic and the changes in the production on the other side.

I had the early afternoon off, so I spent some of it at Starbucks, uploading Commentary and Reflections 2, and the rest of it at the hotel, doing homework. Late in the afternoon, I headed to Russell Square and the University of London for the first of three World Music field trips to see performance exams at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Tonight’s recitals featured music of East and Central Asia.

Tuesday, May 25

Dr. Payne and his wife and art professor David Hooker had arrived the previous day, and I ran into them all for the first time at Tuesday breakfast. They all were a little travel-worn, but happy to be in London and we were happy to have them join us. I did not have a morning class, so after a leisurely breakfast I spent some time journaling/doing homework and then meeting with my Musical Theater project group.

World Music had a double bill in the afternoon. The first was a regular class session: Geoff Weaver was with us again, this time to talk about the global worship scene. He started his presentation by passing around a series of images of Christ from different cultures. None of them were the stereotypical blue-eyed blonde Jesus of Western tradition. Different cultures, as Mr. Weaver explained, see Christ as identifying with their experiences, and so their images of Christ reflect their experiences. Mr. Weaver passed around a book of his arrangements of worship choruses from different cultures, and we sang through a few of them. My cross-cultural experiences have been limited in my lifetime, so I really enjoyed this presentation.

After a break, we all me up again at SOAS for another set of recitals, this time featuring musical traditions of the Middle East. I enjoyed this set of performances much more than the first set we had seen – the repertoire was much more engaging and there was a lot more chamber music, and thus more to listen and respond to.

Wednesday, May 26

Musical Theater class had a double bill spread out across the day. The first obligation was a morning class session. We discussed production values: the uses of sets, costumes, lighting, and sound in musical theater.

After an afternoon off, I headed to the West End to rejoin the class and a few other members of the group to see Sweet Charity. After our morning discussion of production values, I was keenly aware of those elements of the show. I noticed in particular that the set design was somewhat deemphasized (still well-designed, but not extravagant) in favor of the lighting design. Aside from the production aspects, I was also very impressed by the phenomenal choreography. On the whole, though, I would not recommend this show. There was very little plot, and the show was, in my opinion, unnecessarily risqué.

Thursday, May 27

World Music again went off-site, this time to another locale in the north of London, Arsenal, to meet with Sona Jobarte. Ms. Jobarte comes from a family steeped in the Griot (oral history/praise singer) tradition of West Africa, and Ms. Jobarte is an active performer and teacher in that musical style in Britain. She gave us a presentation and demonstration of her music, and even allowed us to try some of her instruments at the end of the presentation.

After a free afternoon, I headed to the Southbank Centre (on the south side of the Thames near the bend) to enjoy a performance by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Royal Festival Hall. On the program were two Rossini overtures, Mendelssohn’s violin concerto, and a Schubert symphony. I have to confess that I had begun to feel somewhat burned out during the third week of the trip, and this concert, my first classical concert of the trip, incidentally, turned out to be just what I needed to lift my spirits. I ran into Dr. Payne before the concert, and we had good conversation before and after about the London experience and about projects back home.

Friday, May 28

The third weekend of Arts in London was dedicated to a weekend excursion to Paris, France. We had some complications in departing, but we were on time for our 9:32 Eurostar train from London St. Pancras International nonstop to Paris Gare du Nord. The thirty-four minutes of the trip under the English Channel were nothing terribly exciting. We met our guides for the afternoon, a woman from our travel agency and also Al, a Wheaton alumnus doing Christian ministry in Paris. The weather in Paris was great – warm and sunny.

Paris is a world of its own. My first impression, as we went via motorcoach to our hotel, was that there are twice as many options at each intersection than in most cities. The first order of business after dropping off luggage at the hotel was a late lunch/early dinner at a local restaurant. The meal, our first exposure to French cuisine, was excellent. I myself had a cheese and tomato salad, steak and potatoes, and chocolate cake.

We returned to our hotel, getting oriented to the nearest Metro station, and then after a brief break to settle in to our rooms, we headed right back out to go to the most-visited museum in the world, the Louvre. Nigel Halliday, the British art historian who is teaching the Art Survey class along with Professor Hooker, took the whole group through the Italian painting galleries, stopping to briefly lecture on a dozen or so works. We saw the Mona Lisa, too.

After the museum visit, our group split up, with most of us heading to the Eiffel Tower, about a half-hour’s walk away (though it took longer because we took the scenic walk along the River Seine past many impressive government buildings and monuments. By the time we arrived at the park it dark, which made the tower look so much bigger than it is – though even in reality it was bigger than I thought it would be. The group I was with (Andy, both Emilys, Hilary, and Nathaniel and I) decided that it was a bit too late to go up, so after admiring the structure from all angles we made our way back to the hotel.

Saturday, May 29

After another fantastic meal in the form of continental breakfast at the hotel (we were all most excited about the fresh baguettes), we headed out for a day of exploring Paris. Elisabeth, Emily (M), Hilary and I first went to Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris. I was a little surprised at the lack of décor inside the cathedral, though the architecture was of course stunning. We checked out a nearby craft market, and then decided to walk up the Champs Élysées from the Place de la Concorde at the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe. Along the way, we stopped at a kisok in the park-like spaces lining the avenue for nutella crepes.

When we arrived at the Arc, we ran into some other members of our group: Andy, Ethan, Kelly, Mandy, and Nathaniel. Our group of four headed toward the Eiffel Tower. It was, in my opinion, a zoo of tourists (and rugby fans) underneath and around the Tower. We were not planning to go up until nearer to dusk, so we went to find a restaurant, and settled on a modest café not far from the Tower’s hill. We returned to the Tower, bought tickets (I do love student discounts), and rode a lift to the second of the Tower’s three floors.

I was impressed by how much there was to do on the Eiffel Tower. The second floor, which had two decks, housed a snack shop, a fancy restaurant (23 euros for a brownie), two small gift shops, some exhibits, and of course open deck space all the way around for visitors to take in the views of the city.

At dusk, after the Tower had lit up, we got in the queue to take a lift to the third and highest floor. While in line, we met an American missionary couple stationed in Germany. He had heard of Wheaton College through reading about our most famous alumnus, Billy Graham. Also while in line, we ran into Elyssa, Ethan, Jordan, Mandy, and Taylor. We rode the lift to the top floor, which also has two decks. The lower deck is enclosed with large windows, and the upper deck is open to the air (and features a champagne bar). We spent some time up there, taking pictures, and then headed back down to the first floor, as we had not had a chance to see that on the way up. The first floor had another fancy restaurant, a lounge/club, a large gift shop, a movie theater which showed a movie about the Tower, more exhibits, and a large open area for seasonal installments: currently, it was a garden of planters, and I read that in the winter it becomes an ice-skating rink. After making our final souvenir purchases we headed to the ground and headed back to the hotel.

Sunday, May 30

I was woken promptly at 6:49 AM by the hotel fire alarm. After a bleary-eyed walk around the building, I went back to my room, showered and packed up, and headed down to breakfast. We departed a few minutes after eight, arriving just in time for mass at Trinity Church. One of the choir members at Trinity is a Wheaton alumnus, so we had tea with her and some of her fellow choir members after Mass. Al joined us as well, and after tea, he escorted us back to the rail station for our trip back to London.

After arriving in London, it was a fairly painless getting back to the hotel, reclaiming stored luggage, and moving into new rooms (Ethan and I were very happy to have a bigger room this time). Andy, both Emilys, Kate, Michelle, Nathaniel, Riley and I went out for dinner at a small but excellent Italian restaurant near St. Bart’s that Phil had recommended to us earlier in the month. We returned to the hotel, where both Emilys, Michelle, Riley and I, joined by Hilary, played cards for a few hours. It was a really fun, relaxing evening.


More to come!

This is Rubio, over and out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Arts in London 2010 - Commentary and Reflections 2

The first month of my summer is given to Arts in London, one of the Conservatory’s two alternating “Wheaton in the World” summer programs. Eighteen students, including me, and a handful of faculty chaperones will spend just under four weeks primarily in London but with excursions to nearby locales and also a weekend in Paris. I will post about a week’s worth of commentary and reflections at a time.

Monday, May 17

“Even in London, it’s Monday.” That was the quote for the day. But it turned out to be a great Monday. Musical Theater met this morning, for a discussion of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and the musical theater developments of the 1950s. I had a break in the early afternoon, and late in the afternoon the class met up near the with David Erik Gross, an American Christian active in the West End and the lead in the show we were to see that night, Dirty Dancing. David talked with us at a coffee shop for over an hour about how he ended up in London, how he lives his faith at work, and some of his experiences through his career. It was such a blessing to hear his testimony. He was definitely an American, by the way – when he met us, he was wearing Adidas running suit and a Blackhawks hat.

After an hour’s free time for dinner, we went to the Aldwych Theatre for the evening show. Dirty Dancing was quite different from the other West End shows I had seen so far. The emphasis here was very much on the dancing and the spectacle, with substantially less focus on acting and singing.

Tuesday, May 18

My morning was again dedicated to Musical Theater class. We discussed Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and development in the sixties and into the seventies. I had another class in the afternoon, so I went up to the Cloister Café at St. Bart’s to read and relax.

The afternoon session was World Music. Because we had had a guest presentation at our last class session and Dr. Buis had wanted to give the guests as much time as possible, we had not yet had a chance to go over the full syllabus, so Dr. Buis allowed some time for clarification of requirements for course work and so on. We then began presentations: each music major in the class had been assigned an article (or, more accurately, a chapter from a book on ethnomusicology) to read thoroughly and present to the class.

After classes our group had a special treat. St. Bart’s has been used as a location for shooting in over a dozen films, so Philip wanted to share two music videos that had been filmed in St. Bart’s. The first was a documentary-type piece about Christmas carols, and the second was a short oratorio about Herod. It was interesting to see the church as a setting for a film.

After watching the videos the group split up into smaller groups to pursue various evening activities. Andy, Emily (L), Ethan, Michelle, and I stopped at a Subway and went back to the hotel to drop off our bags and devise a plan for the evening. We decided to walk to Parliament. We set off from the hotel, with our first major sightseeing stop being St. Paul’s Cathedral. We crossed the Thames, again via the Millennium Bridge, and turned east. It was a lengthy, leisurely walk along the river. We passed the Jubilee Gardens (tree- and bench-lined paths from Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977), the National Aquarium, the Royal Festival Hall, and the National Theatre – all most impressive sights. We finally rounded a bend and saw the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben, with the tower of Westminster Abbey behind it, all lit up across the river. It was quite a sight.

Wednesday, May 19

The first (and only) required event of the day for me was a World Music field trip to the Barbican Centre to see an exhibit in The Curve exhibit hall. This particular exhibit featured a large, well-lit room, with boardwalks built over a sand-covered floor. Not all of the sand was covered, however, and each “sand pit” had one or two boom stands, some with electric guitars or electric bass guitars mounted parallel to the floor and/or a cymbal mounted on a cymbal stand. There was also a flock of zebra finches in the room, perching on the various stands and instruments. The cymbals, all mounted upside-down, had either water or bird feed. Finally, each instrument was wired to one of many speakers along the base of the wall. Every time one of the birds moved on a string or on the cymbal, it would generate noise through the speakers. It was a unique and fascinating exhibit.

After the field trip, Emily (L) and I made a brief excursion to a street market near the Liverpool rail station, and then I returned to the hotel to rest and do homework.

In the evening, I went down to Westminster Abbey for a walking prayer tour. Dr. Hart had found a brochure over the previous weekend advertising a Pentecost Festival. One of the many events was a series of walking tours of different parts of London; each tour would include stopping to pray at strategic locations for significant people, groups, events, and issues. Dr. Buis and I met at the Abbey for the start of this evening’s tour, which included stops at the Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament, the Treasury and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Downing Street, Banqueting Hall, Trafalgar Square, St. James’ Palace/Clarence House, and finally Buckingham Palace. (The weather that evening was perfect for a walking tour.) It was quite moving to see the British Christians in prayer for their leaders and their nation. Dr. Buis and I also met an American-born minister, who had quite a story of being called to ministry in London, and also an American navy pilot and his wife, in London on holiday. It was fascinating to run into other Americans in London and share stories.

Thursday, May 20

The first order of business was World Music. Today’s session featured a guest lecturer, Geoff Weaver. He spoke to us about the English cathedral music tradition, a topic of great interest to me (there had originally been a full course for Arts in London on that tradition, but it had been cancelled for this summer). He took us through the history of English cathedral music, playing us many examples along the way.

Immediately after class, a group of us went to the Lyceum Theatre in the West End to secure tickets for that evening’s performance of The Lion King. We found a fantastic deal for students (really good seats, too), and I spent the entire afternoon looking forward to the show.

I own a copy of the original Broadway cast recording of The Lion King, so I am quite familiar with the music. The production we saw was somewhat different from what I had been picturing in my head from listening to the recording many times over the past years, but I was still very pleased with the show. The set design was incredible, and the live musicians were fantastic. This particular production had the world percussion sections in boxes, so the audience had a clear view of the activity. I was particularly struck at this performance by the demands of the music director’s role. One must have an incredible sense of rhythm to conduct a score with African music influences, and the music director of this production, Fraser Skeoch, whom I took time to watch from time to time, did an excellent job.

After the show, we went around the building to the stage door, and got the autographs of the actors who had played Simba, Nala, Rafiki, Zazu, Timón, and Scar. It was my first experience as an autograph hound, incidentally.

Friday, May 21

Our group increased by one today with the arrival of Michael Stauffer, theater professor at Wheaton and Dr. Hart’s partner in teaching Musical Theater London. For the morning class session, we reviewed for Michael’s benefit our three major experiences as part of the course – Oliver!, the conversation with David Erik, and Dirty Dancing. I had had no formal (and extremely minimal informal) interaction with Michael prior to this trip, but I had heard many good things about him and his work, and his presence added much to our discussion.

After class, our whole group gathered in the Cloister Café at St. Bart’s to enjoy a catered lunch from Florence, the Café’s chef. She made two quiches, salad, and brownies. It was really good to have the whole group together as that does not formally happen the way the schedule is arranged.

After lunch, Emily (L), Hilary, and I went south to Greenwich to see the Royal Observatory. We walked through the two museums (one about astronomy and the other about the work of the historical Royal Observatory), walked over the prime meridian, and then, because it was such a nice day, sat down on Greenwich Park’s spacious lawns to enjoy the warm sun.

We went back to our hotel to rest for a while and then the three of us along with Taylor went down to the Globe Theatre, where we met up with Lindsey and Lissa, and went to see a stellar performance of Henry VIII. This performance was actually only the second time I had seen a professional staging of a Shakespeare play (the other time being Romeo and Juliet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater seven or eight years ago), and I was quite impressed by this production. The Globe’s twist is that it produces plays as the original Globe would have, in terms of set and production design. It was a very enjoyable experience.

Saturday, May 22

Adventures in as of Yet Unexplored Parts of London would be a good description of the day. The first excursion was a World Music field trip to Finsbury Park in the north of London, where we met with a contact of Dr. Buis’s, Dr. Michael La Rose, for a lecture on the Caribbean carnival tradition.

In the afternoon, about half the group went to the west of London to the Portobello Road Market. (We could not have had better weather for being at an outdoor street market all day.) It was fun, wandering through the maze of booths, featuring clothes, souvenirs, household items, and food. I mostly bought small bits of food. After a day full of walking, I spent the evening relaxing at the hotel.

Sunday, May 23

Half the group went to All Soul’s Langham Place for a morning informal worship service, the church of which David Erik Gross and his family are members. After the service, we sat down with David Erik and his wife, Kelly (their children, Joshua Caleb and Bella Faith, were there also) and continued our conversation from almost a week ago. We talked a little about Dirty Dancing, and then he gave us some insight into the audition experience and the differences between the performing arts scenes in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Hart had given David Erik an honorarium in exchange for his time, and he had decided to donate the money to his recording project and list our group as donors. That, to me, is the essence of Wheaton in the World – building relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe.

I spent the afternoon relaxing, at Starbucks and the hotel, and then in the evening many of us went to evensong at St. Bart’s. It was a beautiful Pentecost Day service. Philip told us afterward how much he appreciates having us here at St. Bart’s for this month because he is excited to see students like us engaging the arts at such a deep level – something he never did when he was our age. We returned to our hotel to spend the evening hanging out together over cards.


More to come!

This is Rubio, over and out.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Arts in London 2010 - Commentary and Reflections 1

The first month of my summer is given to Arts in London, one of the Conservatory’s two alternating “Wheaton in the World” summer programs. Eighteen students, including me, and a handful of faculty chaperones will spend just under four weeks primarily in London but with excursions to nearby locales and also a weekend in Paris. I will post about a week’s worth of commentary and reflections at a time.

Monday, May 10 and Tuesday, May 11

Arts in London 2010 formally began when the whole group, with various family members, friends, and professors, met at the Conservatory on Wheaton’s main campus. The AiL group itself received final handouts from Susan Brinkman (one of the department secretaries) and Dr. Tony Payne (the program director). We departed for O’Hare just after four, arriving in plenty of time to check-in, check baggage, and have dinner. The ash cloud from the volcano eruption in Iceland several weeks previous was still affecting air travel in and to Europe, so our flight was delayed well over an hour. We finally departed Chicago at about nine thirty PM, and had a very comfortable flight to London.

After arrival, we proceeded through immigration and customs without incident and transferred to our hotel in Central London’s business district via motorcoach. After check-in, we had a couple of hours to rest before meeting in the lobby with the trip leaders, Dr. Johann Buis and Dr. Carolyn Hart, for instructions for the next day (the first day of class). A free evening before us, Andy, Ethan, Riley, and I wandered the area for an hour or so, stopping at a quiet café for dinner.

Wednesday, May 12

After breakfast at the hotel, the whole group met up and Drs. Buis and Hart escorted us to the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, which was providing classroom space for us for the month. The verger (caretaker), Philip Stewart, met us at the door. Drs. Buis and Hart had been surprised to learn the previous evening that Philip was a 1969 alumnus of the Wheaton Conservatory! Philip proved to be such a blessing to our group, from making sure we had what we needed in our classroom to offering tips for local inexpensive dining options.

After a brief tour of the church, Dr. Hart and seven of us students gathered in the classroom for the first session of Musical Theater London. The two topics for the day were the posing of some questions we would be considering through the course, and then a lecture on the origins of the genre of musical theater.

That night we were all planning to go see Les Miserables, so while the Art Survey class was in session, Taylor and I went to Queen’s Theatre in the West End (via the London Underground, figuring out the route for that evening) to get tickets. We found ourselves a fantastic deal, and returned to our neighborhood to relax for a while.

Late in the afternoon, we all attended an Evensong service at St. Bart’s and then headed straight back to the West End. Les Mis was a great experience for me. I am familiar with the music from the show, but had never seen it performed before, and I really enjoyed it.

Thursday, May 13

I had two classes today. In the morning I again had Musical Theater London. We finished our discussion of origins of the genre and moved on to discussing a landmark work, Showboat. In the afternoon was the first session of World Music with Dr. Buis; the day’s agenda included a guest presentation of Northern Indian Music by a tabla (a set of hand drums) and sarangi (a bowed melodic instrument) team.

The evening was dedicated to seeing a performance of Oliver! at the Drury Lane Theatre, which technically was a field trip for Musical Theatre London but was a very fun evening nonetheless. We had great sets for the show, too. I was impressed by many components of this show – set design, talent of all the children in the cast, the choreography, and the singing.

Friday, May 14

Most of this day was given to a World Music field trip to the Open University in Milton Keynes, about a forty-minute train ride from London. We had a series of three lectures at the University’s Ethnomusicology Lab: “British Black Jazz,” “Interaction and Entrainment in Musical Performance,” and “Bhangra.” My favorite lecture was the second one – it involved a lot of theory and math, two areas where I excel and always enjoy connecting to music performance. When we returned to London, as I had been out the previous two evenings, I decided to relax at the hotel.

Saturday, May 15

Today the group took a day trip to Cambridge, about an hour and fifteen-minute train ride from London. We arrived just after midday, and had a few free hours to wander the city. The small group I was with visited a street market and then walked along the River Cam and through a few parks. Late afternoon, we met at the entrance of King’s College to meet with Jeremy Begbie, a Christian theologian-musician with some connections at Wheaton College. He talked to us for twenty minutes or so about Cambridge University and his work. Immediately after, we attended the Evensong service at King’s College Chapel (Dr. Begbie had reserved seats for us near the choir). It had been a fun day, but exhausting, so I was glad to return to London.

Sunday, May 16

After a later breakfast, Emily (M), Hilary, Riley and I headed in the direction of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was overcast that morning, but still clear enough for a perfect first view of the cathedral’s magnificent dome. We still had over an hour before mass, so we crossed the River Thames via the Millennium Bridge (a pedestrian-only crossing) to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre to get tickets for our group for a performance later in the week.

We re-crossed the river and returned to St. Paul’s, finding seats in the cathedral under the dome. This morning was the first time I had been to an Anglican mass, and what a place for a first time! This particular service used Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, led by a fantastic men and boys choir (we estimated that the reverb inside the cathedral to be about six or seven seconds).

After mass, Andy, Ethan, Hilary and I went to Baker Street, near Regent’s Park, to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum. It was a hands-on museum: guests could actually touch some of the artifacts in the recreated house on which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based his stories. We had a late lunch of fish and chips at a nearby restaurant, and returned to our neighborhood to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing among friends.


More to come!

This is Rubio, over and out.