From the moment they arrived, the sights and sounds of a land halfway around the world were breathtaking.
The opportunity to perform in some of the most historic buildings in the world, to hear their voices blending and echoing in perfect acoustics was like no other. The Palmyra-Macedon Select Choir’s trip to Europe was the opportunity of a lifetime for the 27 students to become immersed in new cultures, foreign fare and deep-rooted history. But for choir members, the ultimate discovery was the common bonds they share as a group.
“The trip to Europe has been a fantastic experience,” 10th grade choir member Britni Stupin said. “I have grown closer to several of the other choir members, and I will miss them when they graduate. The whole trip has been amazing between being with people who support you and singing with them all. The trip to Europe is absolutely unforgettable.”
Junior choir member Rebecca Mealey concurred, noting the camaraderie the students enjoyed.
“I had a blast on the Europe trip,” she said. “I loved seeing the crown jewel and the musical ‘Stomp.’ I also enjoyed singing in huge cathedrals where our voices echoed off of the walls.”
High school music teacher and Choir Director Jill Davis spent two years and countless hours preparing for the trip, and he work did not go unnoticed.
“Watching how well the choir members got along and acted more like a family than any group I have ever seen at school is a tribute to Choir Director Jill Davis,” said Pal-Mac Select Choir Booster President and chaperone Kathy Hill. “She encourages them to work together and they do.”
Learning as they go
The trip was a learning experience on many levels for all those traveling, Davis said.
“This trip provided growing experiences on social and emotional levels that were second to none, in addition to the historical and cultural learning opportunities,” she said. “The students connected with each other, which strengthens our ensemble. I am sure that these experiences will not soon be forgotten.”
From preparing fundraisers to planning the itinerary, the culmination of hard work from several people made it all worth while.
“This was the best trip that I could have asked for as a teacher,” she said. “The kids were respectful, kind to each other and to the chaperones and amazing ambassadors of Pal-Mac. Every inch of the trip was smooth, including flights, sightseeing, travel by coach throughout the UK, our amazing tour guide and extra opportunities that we got to enjoy as a result of everyone being punctual. Though the kids were often quite tired and jet lagged, they impressed all of the adults with their positive attitudes and continual willingness to try new things.”
Page 2 of 3 - Among those “new things” was haggis, a Scottish dish, that is a savory pudding containing sheep's heart, liver and lungs. Traditionally, haggis is made with minced onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt, mixed with stock, and encased in the animal's stomach then simmered for about three hours.
“It was quite spicy,” Davis said. “It was served with mashed turnips. One of our students even got to try playing the bagpipes during that same dinner.”
Although it doesn’t sound like a traditional American delicacy, Davis said every student and chaperone gave it a try and most seemed to really like it — and she may very well be right.
“The highlight of my time was easily Scotland and my first time trying haggis,” said sophomore Jacob Nashlund. “Reflecting back on the trip to Europe, I now realize how much I loved being there. From the huge cities and castles to the gorgeous snowcapped mountains, it was an amazing trip.”
Of course the reason for making the trip wasn’t just to eat. The group performed in some of the most historic buildings in the world.
“It was extremely satisfying for me to see these Pal-Mac Choir members enjoying themselves while performing in the various venues, especially at the Bath Abbey in Bath, England, and at the St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland,” Hill said. “Their voices blended in perfect pitch and echoed throughout the very beautiful structures.”
The concerts were well-attended and well received, Davis said. They sang a wide variety of music, from the "William Tell Overture" to "Loch Lomond," sung with a Scottish accent — a performance that “brought tears of joy to my eyes and happiness to my heart,” Hill said.
Choir members also had the opportunity to visit historic places and medieval castles all settled on a picturesque landscape.
“One of my favorite memories was falling asleep on the bus as we left Stonehenge and awakening to the beautiful mountains in Wales and stopping at the National Park,” said chaperone Kelly Brewer. “Just beautiful countryside.”
One opportunity that exceeded expectations was the chance to learn Scottish dancing, Davis said. After the group’s exchange concert with an Edinburgh, Scotland, choir on the last night of the trip, the local choir taught the kids about four new dances accompanied by an accordion.
“Every student danced, laughed and had more fun than they had imagined,” Davis recalled. “Honestly, as their teacher, I was extremely proud of their willingness to give it a try … and the laughter that ensued was the perfect end to our trip. In fact, that proved to be an unexpected trip highlight for many of our students.”
Including one of their graduating members.
“My favorite performance venue was definitely Bath Abbey,” said senior choir member Louise "Weezie" Holdridge, sharing her favorite memories from the trip. “Singing there was an incredible experience for me because of the acoustics of the great cathedral. My favorite site was the green rolling hills of the Wales countryside where sheep could always be found grazing. But my favorite experience overall had to be dancing with the local choir in Edinburgh, Scotland. while their accompanist played folk music on his accordion and the choir leader regaled us with a Celtic war cry.”
Page 3 of 3 - For 10th grader Victoria Reid the trip was a path to self discovery.
“Touring the UK was not only an amazing opportunity, it was also a great learning experience for me,” she said. “I learned the importance of responsibility and time management, as well as the measure of cooperation and teamwork that goes into sharing a small living space with another person for nine days. I have also discovered a deep love for Scottish music; hearing 'Amazing Grace' played on the bagpipes was probably one of the most moving experiences I had on the entire trip. In addition, I was thrilled to have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to sing inside several Gothic cathedrals — I especially enjoyed performing at St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland.”
What bears noting is that the trip, the music, the memories are all thanks to the support from the community, which over three years supported barbecue fundraisers, silent auctions, a talent show, Christmas tree and wreath sales, car washes and Madrigal Dinners.
“Seeing the fruits of our labors — fundraising to pay for half of each student's trip — was a confirmation to me that we need to continue our efforts to make sure these trips for our musical ambassadors can continue for choir members in the future,” said Hill, who is also a parent of a choir member. “I praise each parent and thank them for their efforts in supporting this group. I am also grateful to the Palmyra and Macedon community for all of their support of our many events, including the Madrigal Dinner and the Jolly Roger Jog 5K. I will truly miss the choir when my daughter graduates this year. This trip was definitely one of the highlights of my life.”