Chamber singers, laughter and schnitzel with music: A few of my favorite things

The University of Illinois Chamber Singers performed with the chamber choir of t

The University of Illinois Chamber Singers performed with the chamber choir of the Vienna School of Music as part of a 12-day European trip this summer. Photo provided by Grace Currie

VIENNA, Austria - I wake up for a full day of music making in beautiful, sunny Vienna. I am one of 26 performers here with the University of Illinois Chamber Singers.

We head to St. Michael’s Church for a dress rehearsal for our concert - “Choral Bridges.” We will perform tonight with the Webern Kammerchor, the chamber choir of the Vienna School of Music. This choir came to Illinois to perform with us last year, and invited us to Vienna to perform with them this summer. I say “hi” to my friends in the choir and chat for a bit, and then the rehearsal starts.

Singing early in the morning is not usually easy, but we share some laughs during vocal warmups as we try (and fail) to pronounce German tongue twisters to improve our diction.

Once the rehearsal begins, I bask in the great acoustics of this church. The sound makes me feel like I am finally living everything I learned about in my music history classes - as though I am living in the time that Haydn composed, while singing in the church in which Mozart premiered his requiem. I can hear my voice and the voices of the choir echoing through the same church in which famous composers, singers and instrumentalists echoed their sounds. Now I cannot wait for tonight.

To pass the time before the concert, some of our Austrian friends - Jakob, Visa and Sophie - take us to a restaurant that serves schnitzel, a traditional Austrian dish. Some of this party are schnitzel experts. I try it for the first time and adore it. Now I finally know what Rodgers and Hammerstein were talking about in “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music!”

The evening brings the long-anticipated concert. As we line up to enter the church, I am nervous and ecstatic for my very first concert in Europe. But I can totally “Handel” it (ha ha). The first downbeat of Benjamin Britten’s “Cantata Misericordium” fills me with emotion as we sing “Beati misericordes” (blessed are the merciful).

Next, we sing Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Theresienmesse.” I dance on my toes (lightly so that the audience doesn’t see, of course) as we sing the Gloria. I feel the austere, huge sound of the closing movement, the Agnus Dei.

The concert is an unforgettable experience for me because I get to perform with my best friends in Chamber Singers and with my new friends from Vienna. The most meaningful musical experience is when we perform with people we love and who share the same passion. I wouldn’t trade the laughter, schnitzel and wonderful music for anything.

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