Tour Throwback: Charleston, SC

Samantha Reig '17

Here’s what I learned about the Chorus from day six of our tour: there is nothing that breathes life into the Chorus more than a day of exploring a spectacular city followed by a concert with a spectacular audience. I also learned that no amount of rain can stop us, but more on that later.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tour Manager Liz Mueller ’18 more excited than she was at the moment when it dawned on her that we’d arrived in Charleston (and if you’ve ever met Liz, you know that this is saying something). I knew from working with Liz that this tour stop had been in the making for many months, and that it therefore had special significance to her. She shepherded us all into the church, through a door next to the pews, down a narrow corridor, across a courtyard, and into the room where we’d store our bags. In rehearsal, it was a challenge to figure out our standing positions: we started out sufficiently squished on a set of steps that was taller than it was wide, but director Robert Isaacs encouraged us to use all of the space we had and connect with the resonant surfaces in the room, and by the time we all-too-eagerly dispersed for our free time in the city, our sound was satisfyingly strong.

We had the afternoon to ourselves, and I went with some Chorus friends to Charleston’s historic City Market and Rainbow Row. Walking along the beach and through the market made for a fantastic afternoon and a nice breather from the hard work of rehearsals, concerts, and running from place to place.

Next came the concert. Christina Lee ’18, who manages this blog, asked me to write about what I can already tell will become one of my most treasured Cornell memories, and I hope I can do it justice.

By this point in our travels, we’d already dodged three tornadoes, one by a few hours and two by a few miles. We were bound to get stuck in some crazy weather at some point. This was the only venue of our tour – and in fact, the only venue I can recall ever performing in during my time at Cornell – for which lining up “in the wings” before going onstage meant lining up outside. This worked well up until intermission. But it was exactly as we lined up for the second half of the concert that it started pouring.

If you’d been standing on Anson Street at about 8:00pm on April 5th, here’s what you would have seen: fifty-one singers of the Cornell University Chorus in long black dresses, hugging their folders to their chests as they stood, shivering, single-file under the awning that snaked around the outer walls of the three buildings that constituted the church grounds. Those at the back of the line straining to hear what Robert was saying to those at the front, about how the two pieces we were about to sing would be especially potent in this church which was built by slaves, for slaves, and which stood as a reminder of elements of our country’s past, the progress we’ve made and are making in the present, and all the work that’s left to be done in our future. His message making its way to the back of the line, telephone-style, reminding us of the power of music in bolstering community, especially given the cultural and historical context. Last-minute shuffling of papers as we put our music in order. And Megan Larkin ’17 perched in the doorframe, extending her arm to help Chorus members jump, one by one, through a section of passageway to avoid a heavy stream of rainwater that was coming down from the gutter of the awning just outside the entrance to the sanctuary.

We processed in, singing the Namibian traditional Meguru (arr. Mike Brewer), sopping wet. Intermission had forced us to walk outside, but the audience had stayed inside – it was clear that they sympathized. Once in place on the steps, we went on, without pause, to sing the spiritual Heaven Bound Train (arr. Stephen Hatfield). Our audience, consisting of St. John’s Reformed Episcopal congregants, Cornell Club of Charleston members, and friends of the Chorus from the area, gave us a standing ovation and cheered. From my second-row, right-of-center position on the steps, I looked over at the people at the bottom right of the risers; hair dripping and makeup running, they were all smiling. The rain had stripped away all nerves and any superficiality; we sang from the heart all the way through the Cornell Songs at the end of the concert, which got a sizable portion of the audience singing along.

After a wonderful reception at which Chorus favorites The Hill and The Road Home and numerous Cornell Songs made an appearance, we hopped back on the bus to head to our hotel. Still in high spirits from the fun day we’d had, and knowing we still had our Richmond and Washington, D.C. stops ahead of us, we listened to jokes courtesy of Amelia Pacht ’18 and told each other stories along the ride. Late at night, I ran through more rain – this time, from the hotel to the grocery store nearby – with Marissa Grill ’17, Katie Forkey ’19, assistant director Steve Spinelli, and a few other adventurous souls, to buy supplies for breakfast the next morning. I packaged them up and headed to bed, ready for the long drive to Richmond, Virginia.