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 31
The fourth week began with Bank Holiday in Britain and Memorial Day back in America. In keeping with the national holiday spirit, we had no classes today. After a later breakfast, I spent much of the day (productively) doing homework, but with a fair amount of relaxing also. I went to an excellent evensong service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the late afternoon.
In the evening was the fourth and final show to see as part of Musical Theater, Hair, at the Gielgud Theatre. I had played a medley of tunes from this show in junior high band, so I was somewhat familiar with the music and the setting. I have to admit that I came into the show with low expectations because the hippie culture is not something that interests or attracts me. Despite some offensive content, however, I was surprised at how fun the show was. Not my favorite of the four that we saw for class, but still a good way to round out the field experience part of the course.
Tuesday, June 1
The first day of the month was the first time I used my umbrella on the trip. The day had two business items for me. In the morning Musical Theater class met. We debriefed Sweet Charity and Hair and then discussed current trends in musical theater, based in part on this year’s nominees for Tony Awards. After class, we had the opportunity to meet and greet two Wheaton alumni. Dr. Payne had contacted Wheaton alumni in the area and invited them to come meet our group at St. Bart’s during our time here. I always enjoy meeting Wheaton alumni, because they are always genuinely interested in my experiences at Wheaton, and this occasion was no exception.
In the late afternoon, World Music met for the third and final time at SOAS for a set of recitals. This time, we heard Latin American music, specifically from Cuba and Colombia. It was Western instruments; the style was non-Western.
Wednesday, June 2
I had a rare weekday free of required activities, so I used it to be both productive and fun. In the morning, my Musical Theater project group met to finish up our final project. We were quite productive (more about our project on Friday, the day of the presentation, below).
I had the afternoon off, so I used it to relax and take a much-needed nap. In the evening, Emily (L) and I went to Her Majesty’s Theatre in the West End to see The Phantom of the Opera. I had not planned to see any more shows, but Emily had been looking at breakfast for someone to join her, and I had a free evening and was mildly interested in the show, so I decided to go. I was glad I did. The singing and design of the show were all fantastic, and I was most impressed by the pit orchestra. It was larger than that of the other West End shows I had seen, and its sound was in proportion.
Thursday, June 3
The morning featured the final classroom session of World Music. Dr. Buis lectured briefly on methods and practices of ethnomusicology, and then turned the time over to presentations of assigned readings. We discussed a number of issues, including ethics in cultural studies, the value of musical training to musical listening, and the conservatory culture.
After a couple hours’ down time at the hotel, I received a call from Dr. Payne. He invited me to join him and his wife to meet with Charlie Siem, a British solo violinist on the coming season of the Artist Series, and his manager. Being who I am, I jumped at the offer, and we sat at a pub for a while, snacking and discussing some logistics of Mr. Siem’s visit but mostly his career and our program. Mr. Siem was a really friendly young man, and seemed very excited for the time he will spend in Chicago this winter.
Later that evening was the final World Music event: an informal Morris Dancing performance outside Westminster Abbey. We all sat on the ground of the abbey just outside the north transept watching the performance, and then returned to our hotel to relax.
Friday, June 4
The last class session of the trip was on the last morning: Musical Theater met to present final projects. Each of the two groups presented their scene from a conceptualized musical. My group based our story on the life of a woman trapped in the routine of life in London, whose life is given meaning again by an experience in a church (modeled after St. Bart’s). Our one scene took place on the London Underground, describing that experience. After the presentations, we had a last discussion about our experiences with musical theater in London. Taylor posed an interesting question as part of a return to our discussion from the first week of whether it is okay to go to a show simply for entertainment: he asked whether something can be considered art if its primary purpose is to bring joy to the audience. It is a question I think I might return to in my career as a Christian artist.
I said good-bye to Phil and the other friends at St. Bart’s, and then used the afternoon to rest. Seven of us went out for pizza dinner at an Italian restaurant not far from the hotel. Afterward it was back to the hotel to relax and pack.
Saturday, June 5
We were up early on the last day to get to the airport. We departed the hotel, transferred to Heathrow, and checked in with no problems, and then had a couple of hours to relax. We actually ran into the Wheaton in East Africa group, returning to Chicago via London on the same flight. Our flight back to Chicago was quite comfortable, as our outgoing flight had been. I cleared immigration and customs quickly (“Welcome home, Mr. Rubio”) and my parents picked me up to bring me back to Oak Park, where the first order of business was laundry.
Would I come back to London? Most definitely. I remember hearing once that when traveling, one should always assume that one will come back. I tried to keep that in mind over the four weeks as I planned activities. If I am a native of Chicago and have yet to experience everything Chicago has to offer, I have no chance of experiencing all of London’s offerings in such a relatively short time – trying to would have lessened the enjoyment of each experience. But I did get quite a broad taste of London: the performing arts, the government and history, and, most particularly, the worship scene.
What I enjoyed most about this particular trip, beyond all the fun performances, were all the Christians we met, both American-born Christians like Philip and David Erik (and Al in Paris), and British natives like Jeremy Begbie, Geoff Weaver, and Paul Knight. Arts in London is only my second trip outside my home country, but just as on my missions trip to Costa Rica five summers ago, I have seen God at work through these people’s presence in this part of the world.
It all comes back to God, if we think about it. He brought everyone in our group to Wheaton College from different places, and brought us together to travel to London. God has really blessed this year’s Arts in London group, from the gracious hospitality of Philip and St. Bart’s, to safety and lack of complications in travel, and in countless other ways. Soli Deo Gloria!
This is Rubio, over and out.