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Final Destination: Istanbul

Marisa Karchin ’14, on our Istanbul concert and how she cries every time we sing the Vaughan Williams

“This is the place where East meets West, old meets new. What better way to have old meet new than for YAC and the Glee Club to be singing together?” spoke Mark Dollhopf at the Yale Alumni Chorus/ Yale Glee Club welcome dinner our first night in Istanbul. We sat in the hotel restaurant, all approximately 300 of us, exchanging stories, sharing our excitement for our joint concert, hissing at the mention of Harvard, and, of course, singing old favorites. Istanbul was the last stop of the YGC tour, but the first stop for the YAC, who’s also performing in Georgia and Armenia.

On our first full day together, we took a ferry to the Princes Islands, crossing the very black waters from Europe to Asia, where we had our first joint rehearsal. We barely all fit in the room in the Anadolu Club, but singing in such a massive chorus was more empowering than intimidating. Jeff warned us, “The potential for greatness is vast and so is the potential for mayhem. Luckily you’re veering toward greatness.”

We spent the next two days between rehearsals and sightseeing. We went on guided tours of the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque. We learned about religious customs and heard the call to prayer resounding across the city; we heard stories about Turkish marriage rituals (when a man is ready to start looking for a wife, he can perform a certain task, such a stabbing rice with a spoon over dinner, or stealing a horse, depending on the region); we saw the inside of the Sultan’s Harem, covered in elegant blue tile. We navigated the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, developed various methods of bargaining (and heard some interesting pick-up lines in the process), and naturally, ate copious amounts of Turkish Delight and kebab.

(Photo: Cynthia Deng '14 and Claire Donnelley '14 outside the Hagia Sophia)

And then it was time for the concert. This was a strange concert for us musically, in that we were not singing any of our tour rep, but were bringing back the Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem we had sung with the YSO at Carnegie Hall. We were also singing a few new pieces- a Turkish folk song we all came to love, along with Yale School of Music grad Colin Britt’s “A Dream and a Song,” Khachaturian’s “Song About Peoples’ Friendship,” and “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide.

The concert itself was exhilarating. The Vaughan Williams especially was the perfect work for the occasion. In his speech a few nights earlier, Mark Dollhopf talked about how this year is not only the 150th anniversary of the Glee Club, but also that of the Civil War. The Civil War memorial in Woolsey Hall, our usual performance venue, is special to our community in that it is one of the few in the U.S. that memorializes both the North and the South. It is a place of pure reconciliation and reuniting. He continued, “It’s about what the power of a community like Yale can do.” By performing together and singing works like Dona Nobis Pacem, the Glee Club and YAC “suggest there could be, through the power of our song, healing.”

(Photo: Singing Dinner with YAC at the Elif Gonul Davet Salonu)

Three months had passed since we’d last sung the Dona Nobis, and this time it was in an entirely different context. Three months ago we were in Carnegie Hall, in New York, just the 85 of us. This time we were in Istanbul, a city many of us never dreamed of visiting, singing with 200 other singers and the Tekfen Orchestra, comprised of players from 23 different countries. Because of the new ensemble, the interpretation of the piece changed significantly. I was surprised at our first rehearsal to hear the movements sung at different tempos, with a different timbre, and different phrasing than I had remembered. But the intrinsic beauty of the music and Whitman text, and the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds of musicians and former glee clubbers, brought me to tears once again as the soprano part floated over the chorus singing the hauntingly simple melody in “Reconciliation.” Between these two performances we’d seen the Berlin Holocaust Memorial, the newly restored churches and buildings in Dresden, heard personal stories about the fall of the Berlin Wall and seen the international artwork painted on the broken pieces of the wall. And now we were in Istanbul, historically a city of much turmoil as the center of the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, as well as the connection between the eastern and western spheres. Our understanding of the world has changed, and we could feel this propelling our performance at this concert. I could not have imagined a more meaningful way to end our tour.

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