How do you sum up the experience of a lifetime? How do you parse it into words? How can I possibly write anything that will put a fitting cap on my time in Austria? How can I tell you the profound impact AIMS has had on me – not only vocally and musically, but also as a human being, as a heart and a soul? I remember that my last post ended with the Liederabende, and the delightful freedom I found in my singing. Believe it or not (I know I don’t believe it), it gets better.

A friend took this photo of the aftermath of our Liedermatinée. I love how happy we all look in it.

Dienstag, 12. August was my twentieth birthday. Truth be told, I think I was a little sad that I wasn’t spending it with my family; my incredible mom always knows how to make me feel special. God is so good to me, y’all. I can’t fathom His wonderfulness to me, which is totally undeserved. He gave me what is definitely the best birthday I’ve ever had. I received so many sweet birthday wishes from those around me: my roommates Emily and Kate, my darling friends, all my people at home, my family – the list goes on and on. My favorite wish came from my friend Katie (shoutout to her, if she’s reading this): “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PRETTY SUNSHINE LADY.” My hilarious family had mailed me a card for my birthday, and it arrived on the actual date of my birth, which of course was perfect. Somehow, even a birthday card perfectly captures our family dynamic: our love language is teasing one another.

My birthday card.

I love my family.

We didn’t have Artistry of the German Lied at all this week (that class feels like an incredibly long time ago), so I had a German diction coaching during that time. When I went to my last voice lesson, my precious voice teacher wished me a happy birthday before we resumed work on my Cherubino arias. That lesson was a total gift from God: it showed me that I AM making technical progress, and that I AM doing the right things. Of course, I need the new technical strides I’ve made to become habitual, but that is nothing that practice can’t do, and my middle name is Practice. The most delightful thing that happened during that lesson was my execution of my favorite of Cherubino’s two arias, “Non so più cosa son.” There are a couple of phrases in it that I’ve had trouble with in the past, and in that lesson and in the practice time that followed that afternoon, I sang them perfectly. I told my teacher that that was my birthday present to myself! What sweet encouragement from God.

If you think this wasn't one of the highlights of my birthday, you are so wrong.

As a birthday present for myself, I went to H&M and bought a sweater and a scarf (both of which, incidentally, I am wearing right now). After that I went (in the rain – it was an incredibly rainy and chilly last week) to my last voice studio class. It’s absolutely amazing to watch the progress made by my colleagues in just six weeks. Lory, a precious woman who also plays the flute and has sung heavy metal, sang Violetta’s “Sempre libera” from La traviata – the tension in her singing has decreased so much since I first heard her sing the Queen of the Night (die Königin der Nacht) in the first studio. I sang “Non so più,” and my gosh. I received so much positive feedback from the girls in my studio! My sweet friend Taylor told me that Dr. Colòn was beaming the entire time. Everyone commented on the way I had improved. My friend Suzanne, who has also been kind of my AIMS mom, exclaimed, “You would be the cutest little Cherubino!” Such positive feedback is always a light to the soul, a little gem that you pick up and hold close to your heart for when you’re feeling down. AIMS is full of those gems.

I had made plans with friends to go to dinner after studio for my birthday. The group that ended up going was a mashup of all my friend groups, which delighted me. We went to Il Centro, one of my favorite places in what is known as the Graz Bermuda Triangle, an area off the Hauptplatz where you can get lost amidst all the cafés and bars. Looking back, that was the last time I ate in the Bermuda Triangle. What a perfect last. After dinner, my friends Katie, Matt, and Savannah and I went to a Meisterklasse given by baritone Bo Skovhus. Diese Meisterklasse was designed for work on Lieder, which, of course, is now our specialty. I really enjoyed the work Bo Skovhus did with my colleagues: he has a fantastic way of imparting the feeling of the poem to you. Besides all that, he’s pretty easy on the eyes and the ears. What an incredible sound.

As I said before, throughout my birthday, I received so, so many sweet birthday wishes. All of my friends went above and beyond to make me feel special on that day. I cannot thank them enough for that.

The rose that my sweet friend Lory left on my door for my birthday!

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Mittwoch, Wednesday, was the last day of German class. It was a pretty uneventful day, except for the Meistersinger Competition finals that took place that night. There was much beautiful singing that took place, and all my colleagues did beautifully! Special congratulations go to my fellow Texan, First Prize winner Anne Wright, as well as Lubbock’s own Daniel Hogan, who won Audience Favorite. I was so proud of everyone!

We were on the back of the Meistersinger program. No big deal.

Donnerstag, Thursday, was the beginning of what is, to me, a bizarre period of time. The incredible soprano Barbara Bonney gave the last AIMS Meisterklasse, which was fantastic. I learned so much from watching her work with my friends. That evening, we had the AIMS Farewell Party at Gösser. For the most part, my eyes stayed pretty dry, until I saw Gustavo. Gustavo is one of the AIMS voice teachers, and it was he that heard me at my audition. With tears spilling down my face, I said, “Thank you for taking me.” I’m sure he does know what he did for me when he accepted me to this program, but I feel like the impact was so great that even I won’t ever know. When I saw Sarah, Gustavo’s wife, I cried too – she’s the Executive Director of the program, and she’s done so much for us. I think, though, I cried the most with Andrea, our ATS teacher. She has encouraged and uplifted me so much, and never more than in those last few moments. She gave me a gigantic hug and said, “Sara. You fully-realized artist, you!” She told me that she could see that I was beginning to believe in what I had, for the first time. She said, “You can do this. You ARE doing this. You DO this.” She kissed me on the head and I cried. Never have I felt so loved in all my life.

A lot of pictures were taken, and a lot of hugs were given. After the Farewell Party, I and my friends Katie and Matt met Elizabeth across the street at La Meskla. La Meskla is a restaurant owned by a Peruvian woman, and the AIMSers have frequented this place all summer. They had never heard opera before, so Elizabeth planned to remedy that. A small group of AIMSers sang different things for them. Katie sang a Brahms Lied, Daniel sang something from Moulin Rouge!, Kim sang “Donde lieta usci,” and I sang my “Non so più.” The woman who ran the restaurant was so impressed and pleased to hear us – but we weren’t done, not by a long shot. In addition to her aria, Elizabeth sang some jazz, and then all of us started singing group numbers: spirituals, country numbers, and even a mini-mashup that Daniel created on the spot. And I received some beautiful encouragement from Kim. It was a beautiful night, and absolutely the perfect way to spend the last official night of AIMS.

Kim singing Mimì

Katie!

Me as Cherubino

Matt and I left to go back to the Heim, and I was going to go to bed, but I met up with my main friend crew in their kitchen: Katie and Daniel Pitts, Laura, Jen, Emily, Aldo, Kim, and more. They were what my best friend would call “un-sober,” and they were very loud, but it was so much fun to be with them. These are the people that were my family group for all of AIMS, and I love them so much. After a time, they got too warm in the kitchen and left for Jen and Laura’s room, but I stayed there to chat with Kim, Katie, and Kelly. Katie and Kelly are so sweet, and they told me that they thought I was going to do great things as a singer. I cannot get over the sweetness of people to me. Matt came and joined us, and he, Katie, and I walked around die Heim, where a lot of partying was going on. We hung out with some people from the orchestra for a while, and afterward we joined most of my Yellow Kitchen Crew in the hallway and just chilled. It was so nice just to talk. One by one, people filtered off to bed, leaving only a few of us in the hallway, including Katie, Matt, and I. Katie’s roommate Virginia (possibly one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met) left in the wee hours of the morning, as did several other AIMSers. I was so tired, but around 3:30 am I got a second wind and was more awake. I had a short breakfast and went for a run around 6:30 am, after which I slept hard until about 1 pm. I went and joined some friends at Margit’s for a last lunch, and Katie, Matt, and I hung out for a while afterward. I cooked some of my leftover food, and they, I, and a couple of others just sat in my kitchen and chatted. The conversation ranged from feminism and my understanding of Biblical submission to much lighter topics. Good discussion with good friends is so sweet.

Aldo, with a gummy bear on his face. This is basically the theme of the last evening.

Around dinner, we met a larger group going to Vapiano. Since Friday was a holiday (Mariahimmelfahrt – the Ascension of Mary), nothing was open, but my friends Kelly and Seth wanted to buy a few things, so we went to the only grocery store in town that was open: the Spar at the Hauptbahnhof. Katie, Matt, and I each found one thing (mine was a fruit salad – go figure), and once we had made our purchases, we went back to the Heim. We decided to spend our last night in Graz by climbing the Schloßberg one last time. Graz was wet and cold, but I know that all three of us are glad we did this. Graz sparkles. You can see a carpet of twinkling lights stretched out for miles, ending only at the mountains. When we ascended, there were still streaks of lighter blue in the sky to the west. I cannot describe to you the beauty of this city. I wanted to capture it and keep the image with me forever, but I know that as long as I live I will never forget standing on the Schloßberg with freezing legs and two of my favorite people in the world while Graz glimmered beneath us.

Around midnight, we returned to the Heim and curled up in Katie’s room to spend a last few hours together. Katie and I laughed a lot; she is truly a kindred spirit. Matt fell asleep on us, but soon woke up again, by degrees. My shuttle to the airport would leave the Heim at 4:30 that morning, and I knew I needed to get ready at 3, which came all too soon. Matt and Katie said goodbye to me – they give the best hugs in the world. Katie lives in Texas, so I knew I would see her again – hopefully soon! And we made Matt promise to visit Texas (he would fit right in). I was dry-eyed during all these farewells, because I knew I would see these people again before long. I don’t think friendships or programs like these ever truly end. I cannot see the end of what AIMS will bring me. Andrea said it best when she said that months or years from now, we will still be unpacking things from what we learned here. I know she’s so right. I can’t even begin to fathom everything I’ve learned and everything I’ve gained from this experience. Not only have I advanced technically, but I have a new confidence in my abilities, and fantastic friends to boot. I have a new understanding and love for the German language. I have some incredible memories in a foreign city that has become my home. I have had so much performance experience and so many wonderful lessons and classes that have taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I think my favorite thing that I’ve gotten out of AIMS (as of this moment) is all the incredible encouragement I have received from those around me. It’s wonderful to hear affirmation from your teachers, but it means more coming from your colleagues. It’s so lovely and sweet to have people who believe in me and know that I can do this thing. Thank you all, so, so much.

As I said, my shuttle left the Heim at 4:30 am, and my flight from Graz to Frankfurt left at 6 am. The flight was mostly uneventful – I slept. My flight home to Dallas from Frankfurt, though, was not a connection – it was on a separate airline altogether, so I had to go through the entire checking process again, which took a ridiculously long time and was a huge hassle. Thank God for leading me to another AIMSer, who was on my Dallas flight as well. The plane was late taking off, but at long last, I was en route to my home. When we finally landed and I finally got through customs, I was reunited with my four favorite people in the world: my mama, my daddy, and my two goofy, ridiculous, light-bringing brothers. Mom and I cried. There is nothing better than being back in the arms of my family.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my apartment in Lubbock. We’ve had a day of opera rehearsals and I’ve been in the process of moving for the last couple of days. School starts in a week, and I have a lot to do between now and then. I haven’t really stopped going since I got home on Saturday. I can’t really think of a way to wrap up my account of my time at AIMS. I don’t think I can summarize it neatly, put a bow on it, and call it a day. Like I said, I don’t think experiences like this ever truly end, so I don’t think I can sum it up like it’s a thing of the past. You have all read my accounts of my story, and I know I’ll be unpacking memories for months, and lessons for longer, possibly the rest of my life. I don’t know where the path will take me, but I know I’m on the right one, and I know I can trust Christ. I know that I’m equipped to make the most out of where He leads me.

To my AIMS family: thank you. Thank you for all the beauty you have given to me and shared with me. Thank you for your hearts and souls and encouragement. Thank you for making memories with me. Thank you for all that you are, and I can’t wait to see all that we will be.

Many thanks to all of you who followed me on this journey. Many of you have told me how much you enjoy my writing, and I couldn’t be more grateful for such kindness. I plan to continue my blog with stories of what’s going on in school and how I’m learning to trust Christ and live the adventure He’s given me. If you’re interested, feel free to follow along! There’s a lot going on this semester, and I cannot wait to get started next Monday!

The end of AIMS is not the closing of a chapter, because this is only a gateway. The end of AIMS, in all reality, is the opening of one chapter to a much bigger, greater story than anything I could ever dream. Adventures don’t end, y’all. They carry on and on. As Sam Gamgee says, great tales never really end. As long as I’m living, my part in the great tale will carry on and on throughout all the portions of my life. From AIMS to junior year, here I go.

Just for fun: Mom sent me this photo of Luke and Coop on the first day of school.

So stay tuned! This fall, we’re putting on Suor Angelica at Tech. We had our first coaching yesterday, and I’m so psyched. Stick around for rehearsal stories, lots of running and singing, tales from my classes, my unavoidable confusion of German and French (maybe eventually I’ll be trilingual), adventures with my best friends, church and GC shenanigans, and my human attempts to trust Christ no matter what.

Safe is nice, but Jesus is better.

Be wild and fresh and wonderful.

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