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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We're back in the States! - Days 9, 10, 11, and 12!

I'm back at home, so I finally have internet! We all got up at 4am London time - it was so early! We flew from Gatwick to Houston, and those of us that live in the Houston area got home early. The rest of the group then flew to Dallas and then drove to Shreveport! I think they should be on their way to Shreveport as I write this.

I think I left off on Saturday as we were leaving to see Wicked. We took the subway to the theatre instead of walking there. I mentioned the soccer game in my last post. Well, it seemed like all the Chelsea fans were on the subway with us. A fight almost broke out between a fan from the winning team and a fan of the losing team! It was a little scary - luckily, we got off at the next stop. We stopped at a sandwich place across the street from the Apollo Victoria for a quick dinner before the show. Wicked was amazing! I am so glad we got tickets. Most people in choir saw shows on Saturday as well. About half of the choir saw Mary Poppins and loved it! I think we all enjoyed taking a break from our own concerts to watch professionals perform.

On Sunday we took a walking tour of London. We took pictures of the Parliament buildings and Big Ben. We also watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We then went to the tower of London. It was not crowded at all, so I did not have to fight to see the crown jewels! I want a tiara! After a long day of being a tourist, most of us used the rest of the evening to begin packing to come home.

On Monday we left London for Canterbury to perform in Canterbury Cathedral. Before our concert we took a group picture in the cathedral. We then gave our last performance of the year, which was extra-emotional because it was also our last concert with Will directing. Most of us held our composure until our last song, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," when several of us teared up. For me it was a very surreal moment. I thought back three years to my audition for the choir and to my first choir camp. It was impossible to keep from crying when looking back on all the wonderful memories with Will and the choir that have had such an impact on my college experience. After regaining our compose, we explored the cathedral, did a little shopping, and had lunch before busing back to London.

Monday night we had our annual end of the year banquet where we honor the graduating seniors as they sign the Branding Board. The Branding Board is signed my choir members when they become alumni of the choir. We then circled Will and the seniors and sang "The Lord Bless You and Keep You." I do not think there was a dry eye in the room when we finished singing. I think we were all focusing on what the choir has meant to us and how thankful we are for Will's guidance. I am still in denial that Will is retiring, but I am excited to be in the choir during this transition period. I am really looking forward to this new chapter in the choir's history.

The End. Love, Margaret

Saturday, May 19, 2007

We're in Great Britain! - Days 5, 6, 7, and 8!

Sorry it has taken me so long to update – we have not had internet connections at our past three hotels! I’ve had these blogs written on my laptop, but I have not been able to get an internet connection for my computer. Our hotel in London has internet that is not free, so I may not be updating everyday we are here.

On Tuesday we left Ireland for Wales on a ferry. The ferry was huge! Our buses drove onto the ferry, and then we got off the bus to go to the food court. It took about two hours to get to Wales, and I think a few people may have gotten sea sick! Once we docked in Wales, we all got back on the bus and drove off of the ferry.

We then had a two hour bus ride through Snowdonia, a mountainous region in northern Wales, on our way to Rydal Penrhos School for an afternoon recital. This school was a private school for middle school aged children. We gave a performance of a variety of music and tried to include all of our up beat pieces to entertain the youthful audience. I think they really enjoyed the concert, especially when we sang “Dry Bones”! After our concert we all boarded back on the buses for a ride to Chester, England. Once in Chester, we checked into our hotel and then broke up into groups for dinner.

Wednesday morning we all gathered in the lobby with our bags to load the bus since we would not be returning to that hotel. As we were loading the bus, it began to rain. Unfortunately we had a walking tour of Chester that morning! We broke up into four groups, and guides took us around the city while giving us a brief history of Chester. By the end of the tour we were all freezing and soaked, but I think we all enjoyed getting to walk around after all of our time on the bus.

Wednesday afternoon was a highlight for many on the trip. We went to Chatsworth House, which was Pemberly (Mr. Darcy’s House) in the film versions of Pride and Prejudice! All the Jane Austen fans were very excited. If you have seen the latest version of Pride and Prejudice, you may remember a scene when Elizabeth is in the sculpture gallery at Pemberly and sees a bust of Mr. Darcy. Well, that bust was given to Chatsworth House and was in the sculpture gallery! There was a swarm of girls around it to take pictures of Mr. Darcy! After leaving Chatsworth House we had another bus ride to Lincoln.

On Thursday we gave our third performance of tour. We took a bus up to Lincoln Cathedral and did some shopping in the gift shop. Then we broke up into four groups and went on a tour of the cathedral. I was really excited to see Lincoln Cathedral because I studied last summer at Oxford, and just like with the Book of Kells, I really enjoy seeing in person what I study in school. Today we learned about the history of the cathedral and how it was built and destroyed and rebuilt. We also heard stories behind the people buried in the cathedral. After our tour, many of us ate lunch in the café in the cathedral while others explored the area around the cathedral for a place to eat.

We all thought that we would be giving our performance in the cathedral, but we ended up singing in the Chapter House where parts of the Da Vinci Code were filmed. Just like with Chatsworth House and Pride and Prejudice, many people in the choir had fun acting our scenes from the Da Vinci Code while in the cathedral. We then lined up in the Cloister and went back into the Chapter House to give a performance of sacred music. Although the crowd began small, more and more people came to listen to us sing throughout the concert.

After we finished singing, we received a very special compliment from one of the women who works at Lincoln Cathedral. She told us that the way the choir works together to make music shows that diverse groups of people really can successfully work together to produce something beautiful. She also commented that we helped aid in worship on the Ascension Day. Her comments were so meaningful because as a choir we strive to work together, respect one another, and trust one another. On a trip when we are together at all times, sometimes it can be hard to always be respectful of one another. I think her comment reminded us all of our main purpose on this trip, which is to work together to make music.

On Friday (my 21st birthday!) we left Lincoln for Walsall, and on the way, we stopped at Royal Crown Derby for a factory tour and some shopping. Several people bought tea cups and saucers, while others bought paper weights. I got a small figure of an angel.

We then made our way to Walsall for our last full concert of the year. We sang at local Methodist Church, and we had a great turnout! We sang a wide variety of songs including “Big River,” “Old West Medley,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I was so surprised that the audience knew the words to so many of our songs – they sang along with us! I think we all really enjoyed this performance because the audience seemed to enjoy it so much.

Today (Saturday) we left Walsall for London! Once in London, we visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, went to Harrods department store, and went to the Natural History Museum. We also got tickets to go see Wicked at the West End! I am so excited! Hopefully we will be able to navigate the subway system to get to the theatre! We are getting ready to go right now while watching a “football” (soccer) match between Chelsea and Manchester United. Apparently it is a really important game – I’m not really sure. Our guide told us to avoid Trafalgar Square tonight because all the sports fans would be there celebrating if their respective team won.

Tomorrow we are taking a bus tour of London and then we have the afternoon to explore!

The End. Love, Margaret

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Quick Update

Sorry I haven't updated - we haven't had internet. I have several blogs saved on my laptop, but I can't get internet on my laptop to post the blogs. Hopefully we will have internet soon so I can actually update on what all is going on !

The End. Love, Margaret

Monday, May 14, 2007

Our First Concert and Adventures in Dublin - Day 4

Wow - what a day! Today has been my favorite so far! This morning we left our hotel at 9am dressed in matching white sweaters and khakis to wear for our first performance. We began our day with a bus tour of Dublin where we were joined by a local tour guide who told us about Dublin's history and landmarks as we looked out the window. We saw the home of Oscar Wilde, the Guinness Factory, Trinity College and several cathedrals. At one point in the tour we stopped at a park where a giant cross was placed for a visit by Pope John Paul II. We used this stop as an opportunity to take pictures in our performance outfits.

Brittany, Ashley, Maureen, Bret, and Caitlin thought our outfits looked like 1950s cheerleaders' uniforms.

Chelsea and I decided to pose with our director Will and President Schwab.
After all of our picture taking, we got back on the buses and headed for St. Patrick's Cathedral for our first concert of the tour. We gave a 30 minute performance of several selections of sacred music. We began with "Tenebrae Factae Sunt," which is a very special piece to the choir. We sing this song at all of our concerts and invite choir alumni to join us. We then sang a few of the songs we learned especially to sing on tour. My favorite part of the performance was when we would end a song and could hear the reverberation for several more seconds! The cathedral had amazing acoustics! We ended our performance by singing "The Lord Bless You and Keep You," which we close all of our concerts with.
After the performance, we all had to change out of our performance outfits so we would not get them dirty. The rather uncomfortable part of this was that the only place there was for us to change was in the Lady Chapel of St. Patrick's which is situated behind the altar. The ladies and gentlemen took turns changing in the chapel while others guarded the area to make sure no one wandered into the makeshift dressing room. We then left the cathedral at about 2pm for a free afternoon in Dublin.
For safety we always break up into good size groups during our free time. Chelsea, Caitlin, Virginia, Nolan, Jeremy, Maureen, and I began our afternoon at Trinity College to see The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript. I was so excited to get to see it because I studied illuminated manuscripts last summer with the British Studies at Oxford program. I always enjoy getting to experience first hand the things I study in school! We then found a place for a late lunch and did a little shopping. We had hoped to visit Dublin's many museums, but unfortunately, all museums are closed on Monday! We then went to the tourist information center for suggestions on what we should do in Dublin before 8pm when the buses were coming back to get us. We were told that everything would be closed by 5:30pm except for places to eat, so we decided to take a bus back to the hotel. Two hours and two buses later, we finally made it back to the hotel after getting off at the wrong stop once or twice. It was quite an adventure, but I think our bus trip will be one of the most memorable moments for the seven of us.
I am now back at the hotel and watching the news. The biggest stories in Ireland have been about Tony Blair stepping down as Britain's Prime Minister and the kidnapping of four year old Madeleine McCann. The search for Madeleine has been constantly on the news since we have been here, and it looks like they may have found a new lead in the case.
Tomorrow we are leaving Ireland on a ferry for Great Britain. We have a concert tomorrow at a school in Wales and then we are continuing on to Chester, England. I hope we will have internet in our next hotel so I can easily update with all of our activities!
The End. Love, Margaret

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mothers' Day from Dublin - Day 3

Hello again! We are now in our hotel on the outskirts of Dublin, and we have internet!!! I am so happy to be writing this blog from my own laptop instead of in the internet cafe where the keyboards are different than our US keyboards!

We had an early start this morning with wake up calls at 6:30am! Getting up this early would not have been so bad if the pub outside our window had not been so popular until 2am! Even with earplugs I could hear all of Killarney having fun while I was trying to sleep! Today we had to pack up all of our bags and get on the bus by 8:45 so we could make our way to Dublin. Although most all of us were ready to leave at 8:30 (we have a saying in choir - if you're 15 minutes early you are on time, if you are on time you are late, and if you are late you are toast!), two young men did not receive wake up calls like the rest of us and did not make it to the bus until 9am. Needless to say - they were toast!

Once we got on the road, we had a two hour ride to Blarney Castle. Unfortunately our weather today was not as lovely as our weather yesterday, and it began to rain as we arrived at Blarney Castle. In the rain we all climbed to the top on the castle up very narrow staircases to kiss the Blarney Stone. However, we did not know to kiss the Blarney Stone you had to lay on your back and lean over the side of the castle upside down! Because of the slippery conditions due to the rain most of us opted not to risk our lives to kiss the Blarney Stone. This was probably not much of a loss - I think we already have enough blarney amongst us.

After leaving Blarney, we had another two hour bus ride to Cashel Rock. After spending a few hours at Blarney Castle to see a stone, we were not too excited about going to see a rock. What we did not know is that Cashel Rock is not really a rock, it is actually the site of a fort of Munster and is home to one of the oldest Medieval cathedrals. The best part of the tour of Cashel, however, was our tour guide Denis. All the girls thought he was so cute! (I know someone has a picture of him, so I'll try to add one later!) He was close to the age of the choir members and adapted the tour to highlight things that we would find interesting. The only problem with the tour was that all the buildings were in ruins and did not have ceilings, and it was raining and so windy!

We were drenched and freezing cold by the time we got back on the bus for a three hour drive to our hotel in Dublin. We did not have dinner until 8pm tonight and did not finish dinner until 10pm! We were all so tired because we are still a little jet lagged. Now it's 11:30 and finally bed time! Tomorrow we have our first concert in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and then we are going to see the Book of Kells!

The End. Love, Margaret

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Greetings from Ireland! - Days 1 and 2 (Now with pictures!!!)

We are safely in Ireland! I am writing this blog from an internet cafe in Killarney because our hotel does not have internet access. I think about half the choir is in here too to check their emails and get in touch with friends and family back home!

Today is already Day Two, so I guess I should backtrack and explain what all it takes to get 95 people from the States across the pond to Ireland. For most of us, our Thursdays started at about 4:45am! Many took a bus from Centenary to the Dallas airport - my mom drove me to Dallas from Houston early Thursday morning to meet those coming from Shreveport. Our flight from Dallas to Newark was delayed, so we had plenty of time in the airport to get something to eat and exchange money. Our first flight was about four hours, and as we were landing in the Newark airport, we could see New York City and the Statue of Liberty! Once we got to Newark we quickly took a shuttle to a different terminal in time to board the flight to Shannon, Ireland. Our second flight was about 6 hours long, so I was hoping to get a little sleep to make the time pass quickly. Unfortunately, I did not get any sleep on the plane - middle seats are not comfortable.

We finally landed in Shannon at 6:45am Ireland time. We then boarded two buses and drove to a small tourist stop in Adare. Since it was so early, nothing was open, so most of us just got back on the buses and tried to stay awake and adjust to the new time zone. We then bused to our hotel in Killarney. After all that travel, my roommate Chelsea and I decided we needed showers and time to get organized. We watched the news to get caught up with current events - it felt like we had been in such a time warp since leaving the States. At 6pm the entire group met in the hotel restaurant for a buffet meal. A small group of us then went exploring in Killarney to find a local pub. After 30 minutes of sitting in the pub and trying to blend in with the locals, we succumbed to our fatigue and headed back to the hotel. My roommate and I were both asleep by 8:30! It was still light outside! I slept well until about midnight when the rest of Killarney went to the pub next door to our hotel - luckily I was so tired from all the traveling that I quickly went back to sleep.

This morning we got up at about 7:30 this morning and had an Irish breakfast at the hotel before getting on the buses to travel around the Ring of Kerry. We stopped several times for photo opportunities in picturesque spots along the coast.

The following picture is of Carrie, myself, Michael, Rachel, and Jack on the Ring of Kerry.

We stopped in the small town of Waterville for lunch. On a side note, Charlie Chaplin spent his summers vacationing here. We ate in a local pub and then shopped in the tourist shops before getting back on the bus for more sightseeing.
This picture is of myself, Caitlin, Chelsea, and Virginia on the beach in Waterville.

On family vacations, I usually don't enjoy looking out the window at the sights, but I could have stayed on the bus all day just looking at the Irish countryside. The only thing I did not enjoy about the bus ride was the very narrow roads that wound around the mountains. At times it seemed like we were about to fall off a cliff, but of course, we did not. Now we are back in Killarney and have the rest of the evening free. A group of us plan on going to the local grocery to make a picnic for dinner and then may go enjoy a Saturday night in Killarney. Tomorrow we are going to kiss the Blarney stone (so maybe my next post will be a little more eloquent) and then go to Dublin!

The End. Love, Margaret

P.S. If I am unable to find a computer with internet tomorrow, I was to wish a Happy Mothers' Day to my mom a day early!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Hitting the road

The Centenary College Choir leaves Thursday for an international tour, stopping this year in Ireland, Wales and England.

It will be the final tour under 33-year Choir director Will K. Andress, who will conduct the group for the final time during a concert at Canterbury Cathedral in England on May 21.

A total of 94 people will participate in the tour, including 69 students and 25 others. Andress will retire effective June 30, after 33 years as director and four years as a member of the Centenary College Choir. His successor, David A. Hobson, will join the Centenary music faculty effective July 1.

Margaret McDonald will share her experiences from the tour here. Check back for photos and stories from the trip.