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.