It already feels like we've been here for weeks. I was just talking about that phenomenon with a friend. Whenever I come abroad, I feel as though I've been there for much longer than I actually have. I would swear I've been in Oxford for many days. That's the extent to which this city is beginning to feel like home. I can find my way around pretty well. I could make the half-hour walk to St. Anne's College alone on Sunday, my second full day here. I walk to the Tesco (the grocery store) pretty regularly, and as this blog post will show, I find my way around other corners of the city with ease.
And it's not as if we've been up to nothing. A large percentage of our days are scheduled for us. On Sunday, all the CASI-ites sang for the massively famous British soprano, Tessa Cahill. She has sung over 200 performances at Covent Garden (no big deal). She led a delightful masterclass for us. She had some excellent feedback on my "Non so più." Funnily enough (but definitely not by coincidence), what she discussed with me in masterclass dealt directly with what I began work on in my lessons. AIMS started the same way for me, if you recall: a masterclass that got the ball rolling on what I would work on that summer. My first lesson was on Monday, with Dr. Sadlier. Our lessons here are only thirty minutes long, which is kind of a bummer, but my first lesson has already been incredibly instructive. We had another masterclass today with the incredible tenor Dr. Emilio Pons. He was wonderfully straightforward and real with us: he pulled no punches. I really appreciated his honesty on the things I could work on. All these wonderful teachers have discussed the way I tend to muffle my sound by shoving it to the back and down. To amplify this, I've taken to pushing on my sound. The fix for this is amazing: it makes it so easy to sing! All classical singers know (in our heads, at least) that singing should feel easy: if it feels difficult, you're doing something wrong. The better technique that Drs. Sadlier and Pons worked on with me this week is so much easier, and I love it already.
I used to fear that I wouldn't be able to grasp new technique. I used to fear that I wouldn't be able to get it. Over the years I've been singing, I've learned that this simply isn't true. It always works out; I always learn the technique I need to learn, and it always becomes my habit. But, of course, none of this is due to me. Every time I learn something new, I ask God to help me absorb it and apply it well. And, as is His nature, He has never let me down. That's part of the reason I believe that God made me to sing: He has blessed me far beyond what I deserve, and He has made me to prosper in this way.
I'm reading the book of Judges right now, and this morning I read chapter 15, which chronicles the account of Samson's defeat of the Philistines. He killed a thousand men with a donkey's jawbone. A donkey's jawbone, y'all. Like, what. After this incredible feat, he wandered into the desert, where there was no water. He thought he would die of thirst, so he said to God, "Did You give me this great victory just so I could die of thirst?" At that moment, God provided (as He always does): He made water spring out of the rock for Samson.
At first I thought that Samson was being rather presumptuous. I mean, look at the way that he said it! Essentially, he questioned what God was doing.
Funny how it looks that way from the outside, but when we do it, it feels justified.
The number of times I have questioned what God is doing... I cannot count them.
I have asked why. I have begged. I have become angry. I have told Him I thought His plan was stupid -- I wanted to do it my way.
But really, what Samson was doing was calling upon God's faithfulness. God, by His very nature, is faithful. He cannot be otherwise. His disposition is to be faithful to us. To be unfaithful would mean He would cease to be God. Samson knew this, and He called on God, saying, "You have done this great thing for me. Come through for me again."
And doesn't He always? I tell everyone that I can that there has never been a time that God did not come through. And it's true. Samson knew it, so He called upon God to come through.
That's what it feels like for me when I ask God to help me grasp some new technical thing, or something to do with singing. I know very well that in the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter that much. But God has given me this ability, and my job is to be the best singer I can be. That's the art I make, both as a vocational art and by the bearing of the image of God in the world.
He has come through for me in a myriad of ways. I could not count them all. And when I pray for Him to help my singing, I know He will come through again, because He has never failed to do so.
It helps me rest more.
Between all the singing, we have learned a lot about Oxford. On Monday night, we went on a walking tour of this many-spired city. It was led by Greg Martin, a fantastic pianist and musical scholar who received his doctorate here in town, at Worcester College. He went to school with my professor, as did Dr. Sadlier and Dr. Mrs. Sadlier (I swear that's what we call her). When I told him who my teacher was, he was so excited! But the best part? He has written papers on the music of The Lord of the Rings. His specialty is the music of Tolkien.
Excuse me; I just had a mini freakout.
When I told him about my own nerdiness about Lewis and Tolkien, he was delighted. In fact, he took it upon himself to point out all the places the Inklings, especially my main men, frequented in Oxford. It was like a pilgrimage. I reread The Lord of the Rings every summer, and I'm in the middle of the first book right now, so the timing couldn't have been better or sweeter. God is funny like that. I love Him.
We've spent a lot of time learning about World War I, this year's CASI theme. Greg gave us a lecture on Monday morning about some of the famous musicians and authors that were affected by the war. Their stories are so sad. One of my composers, the Spaniard Enrique Granados, did not fight in the Great War, but his story was directly affected by it. He was traveling home from the United States when his ship was hit by a U-boat missile. He could not swim, but he made it into a lifeboat. When he saw that his wife was in the water, he jumped out to save her. They both drowned on that day in 1916, leaving their children behind.
Today in the masterclass, my friend Janell sang an incredibly poignant song by Debussy. The poetry was absolutely gut-wrenching. It tells the story of French children in the devastation of the war. An excerpt of the translation runs like this: "They burned our school, and our teacher, too. They burned the church and the Lord Jesus Christ... Of course, Papa is at the war. Poor Mama is dead." I have no words. I cried.
With all these goings-on, it's amazing that we have any time to sit still, but we do. Last night I hung out with friends for five hours in the lobby of our hostel. Sidebar: our hostel is infested with at least a hundred German teenagers and pre-teens. They are currently surrounding me on all sides. They are a terror. They take up all the lobby and the chairs, and not too long ago they were jumping over the chair next to me. Tuesday morning, I visited Blackwell's, a prominent local bookshop. Their music store has two stories, and the main bookshop has four floors. I spent my entire morning there. I also visited a local coffeeshop, because they had WiFi and I could text my mom. We spend our time exploring the city, sitting in masterclasses, practicing (of course), and sleeping. That's one thing we never seem to get enough of: sleep. I also go running a lot. This morning I tried out a new running track on the other side of our hostel, right next to what looks like the main body of the Thames (but I'm no geography expert). It was so beautiful! I ran down a chalky path in the middle of pastureland flecked with yellow flowers. Daddy used to say those were weeds, but I don't care. They're flowers and they're gorgeous.
I was telling a friend of mine earlier that one of the main things I love about programs like CASI (and AIMS) is that you feel so close to all the people who are there with you in such a short period of time. Part of that is because you have nobody else, and you need one another desperately. But there's also such fun in being around like-minded people. It's like having instant friendships. Currently, I share a room with five other girls (four of them are sitting with me right now), and they're delightful. Last night we sat up late having girl talk. Since CASI is so small, all twenty-something of us are quickly becoming a tightly-knit community of American accents. Music is beautiful, and I love traveling and improving at my art, but I think one of the best results of summer programs is the network of friendships you develop. I have friends across the world because of programs like this one. And I thank my God each time I remember them.
Stay tuned! Our first concert is in two days (eep). We're taking a pretty exciting day trip on Thursday, and on Saturday CASI is relocating. More on that later.
Bonus photo: CASI 2015.