This is a "blog series" of journal entries that the choir wrote about the France trip on the way home from Atlanta to Birmingham. I found them to be wonderfully written and some quite profound. Over the next couple of days I'm going to post them here to share with the world. We had an incredible experience in France and these words will remind us of our time together.
When I realized I was going to France, I admit I was very wary. I’m always looking forward to travel, but I’m very aware that oftentimes US citizens are not well received. I have immense pride in my country, so I was a little concerned. But one 8-hour flight later we were in Paris with a jovial driver named Joop leading the way. We would become fast friends with him, and dedicated a piece of ourselves to him in the end.
Most of us were in states of utter disbelief that we had entered French territory, but the buzz of the street was unmistakably foreign to our ears. Many reeled at first at cultural differences. Throughout our first days there were mutter of “No meat for breakfast?” and “I have to pay for public restrooms?” The wine is cheaper than water here,” and other sporadic comments. But culture shock or not, we all knew we were here to do a job, and that was our first priority.
During our first days we were in grand Paris. We dispersed in pairs and groups, and even the most shy found fast companionship in fellow English speakers. We toured all the biggies: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, the Louvere, and others. On the day we went to Versailles, the staff was on strike, so my travel buddy of the day and I decided to go into Notre Dame Cathedral to prepare ourselves for our concert the next day. My friend walked to the top as I sat in silent reveries of the structure. I watched people come and go. I said all the prayer I could think of. I gazed at all the windows in amazement. Everybody was whispering but their whispers bounced off stone, making a generic hum in the cathedral. I felt unexplainably moved in my seat. My heart felt warm and my stomach tingled, and all of a sudden I had tears in my eyes. I thought about all the people who had sat in that very spot before me. I wondered what they were praying for, what they’d been going through. Was it thanks? Grief? Joy? Fear? And at that moment I felt every imaginable emotion. Just for that instant, I felt everything.
The next days, we sang in that glorious chamber. I sang in a way I had never sung before. I felt more reverence than I have ever felt. Each time the choir performed in Europe I sang differently. In Notre Dame my heart swelled in thanks for God. And though I could not hear anyone else in the choir, I felt more a part of the group than ever before. I felt even more amazement with the single word in Lux Aurumque than ever before. As soon as “angeli” left my lips my heart felt lifted and I felt warmed, by the heaven’s light we were singing about. People stopped dead in their tracks to listen to our music. They took the time to sit and enjoy our art. And it was beautiful. Any mistakes were instantly forgiven, if noticed. I felt wonderfully shell shocked for the rest of the day.
Our next concert was in Saint Rita, outside of Paris. Our music was beautiful, but we were more overwhelmed by our audience. Never before had we sung for such an enraptured crowd. They were completely enamored with us.
Coming from a culture that refers to choral musicians as “choir nerds,” we were stunned at their involvement. When, after our set was over and we were hugging and taking shoes off, Mrs. Reynolds came in yelling “Get back out there NOW! They’re still clapping!”
We all were shaking with disbelief. As we took the stage again, many of us looked out into the crowd. All eyes were on us and the clapping had become chanting. We were adored by complete strangers. They could see our surprise and smiled broadly as if to say “No, really, we want to hear more.” Never before had we been received so enthusiastically.