Thursday, June 10, 2010

2010 Summer Tour: Santo Domingo

Casey Klippel '09, the wise old woman of the YGC, on our last few days in Santo Domingo.

The last day on the Tour That Broke All The Rules started out by ... breaking another rule. The morning after our closing banquet usually consists of sad farewells and moaning-and-groaning about the early wakeup call. But not on this tour! Banquet technically happened last night (though more on that later), and instead of travelling home today, we had our first free time in Santo Domingo as well as our final concert. Time to rise and shine!

Those who rose and shone early enough could take a walking tour of the Colonial Zone in Santo Domingo. Since I am a professional athlete in the extreme sport of sleeping in, my day started instead at our awesome hotel’s even awesomer breakfast buffet (read: tons of pastries, three kinds of tropical fruit juice, and unlimited fried cheese). To be fair, twenty-two of us had toured the Colonial Zone yesterday afternoon. Santo Domingo contains many of the oldest European-influenced buildings in the New World, and its main church is the only truly Gothic cathedral in the Western Hemisphere. The walking tour also brought us into the National Mausoleum and the palace built by Christopher Columbus’s son.

This morning, about half the Glee Club took the opportunity to lounge by our hotel’s expansive swimming pool. I joined in the swimming party after an attempt to walk along the Malecón, a pedestrian path that runs along the Caribbean shore. My excursion itself is hardly noteworthy, except for the incredible traffic - not once in the entire half-hour walk could I actually cross the road to walk on the Malecón. But perhaps the sea is bluer from the other side of the street. The roads in the Dominican Republic have certainly been Breaking All The Rules, from the hilarious (cows), to the dangerous (cows at night), to the unexpected (rivers), to the insane (low-hanging power lines). In the last case, the driver of the “Guagüita Heavy,” or Cool Little Bus, climbed on top of our main 55-passenger coach to move the power line. Before you ask, yes: he is a superhero. Namely, Spiderman. Compare:

The entire Glee Club ate lunch together in Colonial Zone at a Dominican buffet. From there, we travelled to the palatial National Fine Arts Museum to rehearse for our final concert. We would be sharing the stage with the National Choir of the Dominican Republic tonight, and everyone eagerly anticipated this concert as the capstone musical experience of tour. Jeff told us the entire concert hall had been sold out and two overflow rooms were being set up, adding to our already great excitement. We had our first extended rehearsal in several days and enjoyed perfecting both the technical and expressive elements of all our pieces for the last hurrah. After we practiced our set, we rehearsed “Little Innocent Lamb,” “Guayacanal,” and the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the Coro Nacional. Similar to our version of “Muie Rendera” during our tour last year to Brazil, our tempo for “Guayacanal” was about half as fast as it should have been. After rehearsing with the Coro Nacional and their fantastic percussionists, the song sounded much more exciting and animated!

We had a couple hours of downtime before our final concert, during which we could have a snack at the backstage bar and simply hang out. A widespread outbreak of Gleeardia by this point on tour did nothing to dampen our spirits or lessen our end-of-tour traditions. Danny Townsend ’10 and Sarah Dewey ’10 each gave a pep talk inspiring us to cherish this last concert. Even though much mirth lay ahead in the the after-party and after-after-party, the next hour would be the last time the 149th Glee Club would meet as friends in song. The Coro Nacional began the program with a selection of five works, and about fifteen of us snuck into the wings to listen to their beautiful renditions of opera choruses. Next, we performed our hour long set without intermission. Music is the art of time, and our final time together passed much too quickly - the quietly blossoming “O Quam Gloriosum,” the inexorable “McKay,” the lighthearted yet poignant “into the strenuous briefness” by Ryan Harper ’10, and even the short and sweet International Football Medley (played blindfolded by Justin Jee ’10!). I teared up during the transcendent expansiveness of Bruckner’s “Os Justi,” and I’m sure there were not many dry eyes left by the end of Bright College Years. Of course, Breaking Another Rule, BCY was not the last piece on our program. The Coro Nacional returned to the stage for our three joint pieces plus an exhilarating encore.

The final applause over, it was time to Break As Many Rules As Possible before tour really, truly came to an end. The Coro Nacional hosted a mind-blowing, rule-breaking bash that involved a second final banquet buffet, outdoor merengue dancing, and unlimited rum and Coke (eerily parallel to my first-ever night on Glee Club tour five years ago, except in that case the drinks were airborne). We returned to our hotel after midnight, exhausted but unstoppable, as exemplified by the following exclusive interview with John Good ’10:

YGC Blog: John, you look tired.
Mr. Good: I’m SO tired!
YGC Blog: Are you going to sleep?
Mr. Good: No, I’m going to the party!

Alas, I had less resolve than John and went to sleep after returning my music to Sean. It turns out the catchy refrain of “Guayacanal” cannot be removed from one’s head by simply removing the sheet music from one’s folder. But sleep is a reconciling...

Song of the day: “GUAYACANAL!!!!” (not to be confused with “Guayacanal, Slow Version”)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2010 Summer Tour: Vallejuelo Outreach Slideshow

Yale Glee Club Workshop Slideshow from Julia Myers on Vimeo.

On the Dominican Republic leg of tour, the YGC hosted arts workshops for young people from the town of Vallejuelo and its surrounding villages. "Team Film," an outreach group led by Julia Myers '12 and Phyllis Thangaraj '11, created a video slideshow documenting the workshop experience. The slideshow includes photos taken by the workshop students themselves.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

2010 Summer Tour: Vallejuelo and Rio Arriba

Rebecca Trupin '11 describes an epic YGC day in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. Photos: Josh Schoenfield '10

Yesterday, Jeff told us: Great work today, guys, in handling the unexpected. For sure there will be some kind of surprise tomorrow.

Never were truer words spoken. The day began smoothly enough with glorious sunshine and delicious oatmeal (there was fruit as well but the oatmeal earned rhapsodic praise from all who tasted it). We climbed aboard our buses at our hotel and set off for our second day in the remote town of Vallejuelo.

There, we separated into Film Team, Dance Team, Theater Team, Writing Team, and Quilting Team to lead creative arts workshops with children from the nearby villages. I’m sure I speak for most of the Dance Team when I say we got well exercised when, at the end of our workshop, the kids taught us salsa, merengue, and reggaeton.

After lunch, several Glee Clubbers began spontaneously singing on a balcony. Old beloveds such as “Ride the Chariot” and “This Little Light of Mine” soared over sunny fields of white and yellow butterflies while newer pieces such as “Ye Shall Have a Song” gave voice to our awe of the shadowy mountains rising over the valley.

With clouds gathering for the daily afternoon thunderstorms we boarded our flat bed trucks and drove off to do outreach and a concert at the village of Rio Arriba. As we approached, we began to grasp the true meaning of “remote.” We left the paved road and climbed higher into the mountains on bumpy stones and gravel. To the left – a sheer hill where the road was cleft into the mountainside; to the right – a steep gorge down to a brown river, and a steep rise again up jungle-coated heights. Everywhere was green and breathtakingly beautiful. Think Congo, or perhaps, Peru.

We disembarked and were so distracted by Nature’s glory that we almost failed to notice why the trucks had stopped. There was a river before us crossing over the path. A fast-flowing rain-swollen brown muddy river dividing us from our destination (Glee Clubbers naturally and helpfully resorted to singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the sight of our impasse). A few of the older children we brought staggered in and were quickly swallowed up to the waist, though they made it across without trouble. Jeff commented that in all his training to direct choirs there was nothing about crossing rivers. And there we were.

Thus began an epic saga. We stood on the bank for more than an hour debating various solutions. Cross farther up at a narrower point…nope, just as bad as down below. Use our trucks…no, the drivers refused. Use a horse…a villager brought one, but it was very skittish. Turn back…no one liked this idea. Give a concert from the river bank…less than satisfactory. Wade across? Some Glee Clubbers began removing their shoes in preparation, but not everyone was willing nor did it seem particularly safe (what if it rained and the river grew larger, trapping us on the other side?).

We eventually decided to wait for a while and see if the water would sink. And what better to do but sing while we waited. A group of villagers had gathered on the opposite bank to witness the progress of this odd bunch of foreigners. We serenaded them with “Gaudeamus” and “Guayacanal.” In the meantime, the water had sunk a great deal and little girls were crossing back and forth. In the words of several Glee Clubbers, we were being “shown up.”

Our intrepid leaders Jeff and Sean finally managed to negotiate a deal with a truck-owning villager who agreed to ferry those Glee Clubbers who didn’t want to cross on foot. The truck revved its engine and took the river full steam ahead. The rest of us rid ourselves of socks and shoes (or not) and plunged in.

We marched triumphantly up the hill to the village and were overcome again by its beauty. Little pieces of land with cinder-block houses, subsistence plots, donkeys, banana trees, and luscious vegetation spread on either side of the dirt road. Never has the Yale Glee Club performed in such a faraway location.

After an enthusiastically-received concert in the one room, cement-floored church, we bid a hasty farewell and rushed down the mountain before the rain made the road impassable. With the clouds at our heels we jostled over bone-rattling rocks and, eventually, became rain-sodden for the second day in a row.

We are now returned safe and sound to hotel rooms and showers. But the memories of this day will be harder to remove than the stains from our socks. Most of all, I will picture the old woman who swayed beside me singing “Guayacanal,” a song she remembers from long ago. Though she may never have seen a concert in her life she sang beside us – the Yale Glee Club, of all people.

Song of the day: “Bandolero”

2010 Summer Tour: Film, Writing, and Quilting

Neena Satija '11 and Daniel Olson & Dan Thompson (the so-called "Men of 2012") write about the first day of outreach in Vallejuelo. Photos: Josh Schoenfield '10.

[Daniel Olson]

The day started out early in San Juan with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. We didn't know what to expect from the massive outreach project we were about to begin with children from around the area of Vallejuelo, a small village 45 minutes from San Juan. We arrived at the Centro Agro where we first met the kids. We shared a couple of songs. They sang a Spanish version of "If You're Happy and You Know It" and we sang "Gaudeamus Igitur". Shortly after, we broke up into the six classes we had prepared for the children. Over the past month, Glee Club members had been working hard on lessons in drama, dance, singing, quilting, creative writing, and film. The glee club is a multi-talented bunch and those talents really showed today.

I helped teach the film class. With video cameras (one of which will be donated to the kids), we had the kids conduct and film interviews with one another. It was so great to hear them open up about their experiences at school and their favorite activities. Though I didn't witness the other groups firsthand, the stories I heard from other YGC-ers indicate similar success.

One of the biggest hurdles in conducting these classes was the language barrier. I had taken Spanish classes in high school, but never had a chance to use it practically until today. It was often difficult to express myself clearly to the kids. There are, however, some very good Spanish speakers in glee club who took the lead in classes. All glee clubbers, no matter their knowledge of Spanish, managed to find some way to communicate with the kids. We discovered that art is a universal language.

[Neena Satija]

It's hard to expect to accomplish a lot in less than an hour and a half, even for the groups who led workshops on dance or visual art. But those of us in the writing workshops faced some unique challenges: 1) It's much harder to overcome the language barrier, 2) Writing is a more personal, often solitary exercise, and 3) Writing is often only associated with school, and school often = boring.

We approached our activities with these challenges in mind. In terms of #1, we were fortunate to have a very high proportion of Spanish speakers in our group. For #2, we came up with writing or reading activities that could be done together - for example, each person in a circle would read a page from the Spanish translation of "Green Eggs and Ham" ("Huevos verdes con jamon"), or each person would write one sentence to contribute to a collective story. These activities helped us get over some of the hurdles of #3 as well. But to get at the heart of #3, we decided to have frank discussions with the students about why they write. Their answers were thoughtful, eloquent, and often very moving - responses included "to express yourself when you have too many emotions," "to communicate with my family," "to remember what's happened in the past," and simply, "because writing is beautiful."

After this discussion, we presented each student with their own journal, and encouraged them to write in it every day. What they wrote or how they wrote it wasn't important. They could write poetry, lists, one paragraph, even one sentence. The only important thing was to write every day. Then we asked them to write their first journal entry about their favorite place. Students wrote about everything from their houses to the beach to a baseball field.

We were so thrilled to see the students clutching their notebooks at the end of the day: They really didn't want to lose them! Even the next day, some students from our workshops the day before were still carrying their notebooks. A few even came up to me and showed me things they had written since the workshop. But the most rewarding thing about the workshops for me, personally, was that they reinforced my need to write as much as possible. How could I tell these kids how important it is to write every day if I don't do it myself?

[Dan Thompson]

Quilting might seem an odd project for a tropical country, but it provides a great medium to illustrate concepts of visual art and blending of culture. My group's approach has been to give a brief overview of quilting, starting with a history of the West African quilting tradition, brought to America by the slave trade. We discuss the concept of themes, first suggesting several of our own and then having them brainstorm four themes they find important. They then draw representations of these themes on a sheet of paper, and pick their favorite to make into a square of a quilt.

Of course, it would be much too time consuming to sew a typical quilt, so instead we have the kids work with a single ~10 square inch piece of felt. Materials they have available include fabric paint, extra felt, glue, and (most popularly) glitter. This project is unique since we will eventually piece together an entire quilt from each student's work. We hope to symbolize a sense of collective effort to produce an artistic work. Here are a few pictures of some individual squares, look out for a pic of the final product in a few days.