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.