We belong in the Zoo!

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When I go to foreign cities my lists of sights to see don’t usually include zoos. I have Jenna and Henry to thank for the wonderful adventure we went on to the oldest zoo in the WORLD! Our last day in Vienna was a free day and we chose to embrace our inner child and venture out. We saw giraffes, elephants (which Jenna literally ran like a child to), polar bears, lions, wolves, and my personal favorite: pandas. The pictures do much more justice than I could describe in a text post but it was a really magical day. Everyone got to see their favorite animals, it was beautiful outside, and we were in Vienna! At the end of a long, emotionally charged trip, it was very nice to relax and watch lots of fluffy things be cute. The Atlanta Zoo is going to be hard to return to after Vienna…

Amanda McKenzie
Amanda McKenzie

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Finding Sanctuary in the Salzburg Cathedral

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The Hodgson Singers have had a fantastic day. Let me tell you what happened.

This afternoon we sang a concert in the Salzburg Cathedral. This is the most spectacular construction I have ever seen! Also, it is where Mozart was baptized. Hopefully now you understand the importance of this event.

I will start by telling you what happened to me earlier in the day. After having ZERO hours of sleep (this whole traveling across the globe thing is not agreeing with me) I decided that it would be a good idea to hike up a mountain. While the experience was totally worth it, as it was the most awe-inspiring view, I was very worried about how my body and voice would handle the afternoon concert. It was probably the most special opportunity I had ever encountered as a singer, yet I didn’t think I was going to be able to sing. Also, everyone was tired… and jetlagged… and sore. Was this opportunity going to be tarnished by a rough performance?

We rehearsed for a little while, and I was left slightly more encouraged. We walked to the cathedral for the first time, stood for some moments in silent amazement, and finally found our places on risers that were on the side of the space (choirs traditionally perform in the side wing of this cathedral, rather than the middle altar space). Then, we gave a “teaser” performance in the square outside the cathedral, thereby drawing a HUGE crowd of extremely impressed people.

Then things got a lot better…

Our host, who was the organist and key-keeper for the cathedral, ran to meet us coming in from our “teaser”. Frantically he was saying “You must move to the alter! Not on the side! Sing in the middle!” Confused, I stopped to listen to him, and quietly, he said “This choir needs to be closer to God.”

They never do that.

So we quickly made our new formation in the front of the cathedral, and we sang. We sang our hearts out. The audience received our heart and our voices with open arms, loud applause, wide eyes, broad smiles, tears of joy, and many, many video cameras.

It. Was. Awesome.

After our concert we met our host again. Hosts usually don’t sit through entire concerts of guest artists, but he did. He spoke so highly of our singing, Dr. Bara’s artistic and touching construction of our pieces, and our overall stunning presentation. He was so touched, in fact, that he wanted to offer us a gift in return for our gift to him.

They never do this either.

Our host took us to a room in the cathedral that wasn’t open to the public. It was the oldest room in the church, filled with valuable and historical ornamentation. He then took us in small groups to the organ loft (another place where most people don’t go) to watch him play a very old and very beautiful organ. I honestly don’t think I have been so honored.

Because I wasn’t in the best voice, I was convinced that this experience was not going to live up to my expectations. But, at the times in the concert when I couldn’t sing, the notes were still present because my beautiful friends were there to pick up the slack. This is something that I love about being in a choir: the idea that we can be better together than we’d ever be alone. Even though I wasn’t at my best, the choir made something amazing.

Olivia Sue Green

Olivia S. Greene

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

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Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and we took the one less travelled.
There is something about the mountains that has always called to me in a way I can’t explain. Perhaps it has something to do with growing up in a very flat part of Georgia and then in a pretty big city. The pure, raw, untouched beauty will never cease to amaze me. Fortunately in this choir there are several people who will consent to drowning their shoes in snow while simultaneously sweating through our shirts. So it was with a party of eight that we left our hotel in search of adventure.

A short bus ride later we found ourselves at the foot of Untersberg Mountain, gazing up at a snow-capped rock face. At this point I was breathless, not only from beauty but because to get to the top you have to ride a cable car to a point near the top. And guess who happens to be terrified of being suspended in the air hundreds of feet off the ground? It was quite a feat for me to get on the cable car and keep my breakfast down but I have some pretty incredible friends who rubbed my back, held my hands, and didn’t judge me for sitting on the floor of the car the whole time. Ten minutes later I couldn’t even think about being scared because of what I was looking at. We began the trek to the peak of the mountain through snow that was three feet deep in places, up and down rocky slopes and traversed by wooden ladders. At the top of the mountain there is a wooden cross that can be seen just barely from the Salzburg Fortress miles and miles away. There are few things in life that can truly take my breath away and I wouldn’t even hesitate to say that was one of them. From one side of the mountain you can see Salzburg sprawling out through the hills. On the other are the rest of the seemingly endless Alps, still covered in snow at the end of May.

We let the beauty overwhelm us for a while (even though we really should have left 30 minutes before we did to make a 14:00 call time!) and then started making our way back down. Before we left the peak David stopped us all and pleaded to let us sing one song atop this beautiful mountain. Henry pulled the F# off of his phone and Hannah and I began Marriage to My Lady Poverty. Chills raced up and down my arms and as we reached the line “We need no more than birds, they sing and wander wherever they please” two small black birds soared overhead and circled us and the cross we stood around.

As amazing as I’m sure everyone’s day was in Salzburg, I can say with full confidence that few things in my life will compare to that morning and hearing Bob Chilcott on the wind on top of that mountain.

Amanda McKenzie

Amanda McKenzie

Salzburg Dreamin’

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When I first got off the bus in Salzburg today, I heard so many voices say, “I already know this is going to be my favorite city,” or “I had a feeling I would really love this place.” And I have to say that I agree. There is something about being surrounded by mountains (the Alps, in this case) and historical architecture that makes you immediately fall in love with a place.

We began our Salzburg journey with a walking tour of the city. Being the intelligent, cultured musical enthusiasts that we are, we were all awaiting our trip to Mozart’s birth house. It absolutely lived up to my expectations, as I found myself constantly saying in my head, “Wow, this is the violin that Mozart actually touched,” and “Wow, Mozart was literally BORN in this room.”

But the rest of the city was simply amazing. Seeing the cathedral we will be singing in tomorrow was so exciting because it was so beautiful, and walking through St. Peter’s Cemetery gave me goose bumps. Also being able to see a fortress high above you from whenever you are is pretty incredible… do we even have fortresses in America? Now that today is over, I am hearing voices say “I’m probably going to move here soon,” and “I never want to leave.”

Jenna Livsey

Jenna Livsey

The Sounds of Our Music

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The Sound of Music is one of my all-time favorite movies. At this point I cannot remember how many times I have seen it. I grew up with those characters and I grew up with those songs, so I am beyond thrilled to be in the city where it all happened. During our 6 hour bus ride from Prague to Salzburg today, our tour guide, Klara, surprised us by bringing The Sound of Music for us to watch on the bus. So many of us have imagined singing in these hills since before we can remember, and it definitely served to get us excited about our trip.

Watching that movie was the perfect introduction to Salzburg. I rejoiced in some of my favorite things, I thought back to being 16 going on 17, and when the Alps began peaking up on the horizon I felt the hills truly were alive with the sound of music. As part of our walking tour today, we went to the Mirabelle gardens where the “Do, a Deer” song was shot. We also took a bus ride over to a picturesque lake with the mountains peering up behind the trees where we saw the house that was used to shoot all the outdoor scenes from the movie, including the scene where the children and Maria appear in a boat on the lake and end up falling out due to their excitement at the Captain’s return.

That movie means so much to me. There was a scene where the Captain had just dismissed Maria but was then so taken by the fact that his children were singing that he swallowed his words and asked her to stay because she had “brought music back into his home”. The movie is about a lot of things. It is a story about a family, it is a portrait of Austria before World War II, it is a beautiful exposition of the city of Salzburg, and most significantly it is a tale of how music can bring people together. Today in Salzburg I got to experience some of the magic of that movie. I look forward to tomorrow when we will have the privilege of sharing the sounds of our music with the people in this special place.

Mugdha Joshi

Mugdha Joshi

Sharing Songs with Our Lady Before Týn

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This is a city shrouded in countless myths and legends from its thousand years of history. Streets are paved with cobblestones. Long shadows stretch from glowing lanterns. The wind dances through the colored leaves and the dark outlines of the Gothic cathedrals.

This is my first journey out of the United States, and therefore my first experience breathing in the history before the late 18th century. I have set my feet on the trail of Prague’s mythical inhabitants and creatures, and set my eyes on such unusual wonders, which make up the unique character of this city.

Its distinctive twin Gothic spires make the Church of Our Lady Before Týn an unmistakable Old Town landmark in Prague. Like something out of a 15th-century fairy tale, they loom over the Old Town Square, decorated with a golden image of the Virgin Mary.
The Hodgson Singers gave a performance in the Church of Our Lady Before Týn. We sang music spanning many centuries and of many cultures. Our audience was as diverse, including citizens of many nations and speakers of many languages. Also listening were the saints across the walls and windows, golden cherubs hanging from the columns, and celebrated figures from their crypts lying under the stone floor. As we sang, I was touched to suddenly realize that I was experiencing one of the most beautiful purpose of music.

Music brings people together in a way that transcends both language and time. It was music that brought us to these extraordinary lands, and through our songs we are sharing our souls with people across language barriers and cultural divides. It was music that also allowed us to connect to our past, and live inside a different time.

How fortunate we all are to have this privilege.

Olivia Sue Green

Olivia S. Greene

The Early Bird Doesn’t Always Get The Worm

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I had been toying around with the idea of trying to catch the sunrise over Prague’s Old Town ever since I first heard of the Charles Bridge. After a lot of back and forth over a long and tiring day I went to bed thinking it wouldn’t happen, but when I awoke promptly at 4am the next morning I decided to go for it! Grabbing my camera bag and a jacket I headed out to take the metro two stops down to the banks of the Vltava River. I picked a spot facing east, with the skyline of Old Town on the other side of the bank and the Charles Bridge on my right. The sky was turning pink and just beginning to lighten, swans were scattered about the river in groups of two or three, and I kid-you-not fish the size of my forearm were hurdling themselves up to catch flies out of the water. The moment was perfect and breathtaking. It was also when I realized why my camera bag felt so light.

On the plane ride over I had watched the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In the movie (which I highly recommend) Walter is chasing an adventurous photojournalist named Sean O’Connell to try and recover a missing film negative that supposedly captures the “quintessence” of Life Magazine to use as the cover for the final issue. After chasing Sean all over the world, Walter finally catches up with him in the Himalayans trying to photograph a rare snow leopard. During their conversation one appears, and Walter asks if Sean’s going to take the picture. Sean replies, “Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

I thought about that as I stood on the riverbank without my camera. Sometimes we get so busy capturing moments that we forget to actually stop and see them. I think it was important for me to remember that.

But damn, that would have been a good photo…

Nathan Schreer

Nathan Schreer

Checking In at 39,000 ft.

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I boarded this plane with every intention of getting a few hours of sleep, yet here I am on hour 8, wide awake and anxious to begin our first leg of the tour in the Czech Republic.

As you may have read, we surprised Dr. Bara with our matching t-shirts after we checked in at Hartsfield-Jackson. And believe me, our fellow travelers on Lufthansa Flight 455 seemed just as shocked by our attire as we boarded the plane. After several inquiries as to why we matched, we settled in to our seats to begin this fabulous journey.

9 hours, 6,000(-ish) mile, two meals, a few naps, countless conversations, and a whole lot of excitement. That was the plane ride for these 45 singers. One short connecting flight left, and we will be at our first stop of the tour: Prague. So, everybody— here we go!

Katie Black

Katie Black

Saying Farewell to the US… Hodgson Singers Style!

This choir family has its own special personality. It is a unique fusion of the special humans that have contributed to it.

So, how did we prepare for an exciting adventure in Europe? How did we kick off this journey that will surely transform us both individually and as a singing family?

Well, in true Hodgson Singers fashion… we started with a good, old-fashioned prank.

We are used to dressing in uniform, whether it be our elegant concert tuxes and dresses, or the fashionable and ever popular matching polo shirts. This uniform, however, takes the cake. Its chic! Suave! Simple, yet complex! Bold, yet understated!

Whose face is proudly grinning on the front of this garment? Why, its none other than our fearless leader himself!

Olivia Sue Green

Olivia S. Greene

Pre-Flight Hype

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Buffalo chicken dip.  Homemade guacamole.  Chicken AND fish tacos.  A thunderstorm.  And the occasional (but very expected) outburst of song.  Sounds like everything you need for a successful Hodgson Singers Fiesta, right? To unwind after “Europe Boot Camp”, McCall hosted the choir at her lovely abode for the evening. The plan was a potluck fiesta followed by pool time.  So naturally it rained for hours.  That certainly didn’t stop any of us from holding hands and jumping into the water in the downpour anyways (and surprisingly enough, I was warmer in the water)!  We hopped out only to watch Henry win the cook off with his excellent chicken tacos and knock a piñata out of the park as his prize.

It was a very wet but very lovely evening.  When you spend ten hours a week together in rehearsal during the semesters, people are surprised that you don’t get tired of seeing the same people outside of class time.  But we are getting ready to embark on a wonderful, musical adventure, and I think I speak for the choir when I say that there is no one I’d rather be thrown in a pool by than my Hodgson Singers family.  We’ve got tacos down, bring on the schnitzel!  T-minus 2 days until take-off!

Amanda McKenzie

Amanda McKenzie