On 1st July I set off on tour to the USA with the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS). Our first destination was Chicago, where we took part in an Independence Day concert as part of the Grant Park Music Festival, alongside the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. It was amazing to be at the heart of such a patriotic celebration. One highlight was during the Armed Forces Salute, when traditionally those who have served in the military stand. I was shocked at how many people in the audience this applied to, and moved by how emotional it was for them.
Whilst in Chicago, we also took part in some outreach concerts, one of which was in Garfield Park Conservatory. It is similar to the Botanic gardens in Edinburgh, and we sang in one of the glass houses. This is part of a series called Festival Connect, an education and outreach programme run by the Grant Park Music Festival. They aim to engage the community in music education, participation and lifelong learning opportunities. I enjoyed being part of a concert that brought choral music to those who may otherwise not have experienced it. It was also interesting how accessible and inclusive the Grant Park Music Festival were making music in Chicago – their concerts were free to attend. This made me think about what could be happening back at home to make music more accessible in this way.
The second part of the trip took us to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Before I left, I had been unsure of what to expect for this part of the trip. We flew into the most beautiful sunset across the mountains, and this was to set the tone for the rest of my time there. Everywhere I turned was even more beautiful scenery. We stayed in a motel, which was very authentic and matched the overall ‘mid-west’ feel of the town, which looked like it had come straight out of a cowboy film. Our rehearsals and performances took place a short bus ride away in the Grand Teton Mountains. The acclimatisation to the altitude took some time. The first concert we did there was an a capella concert. It was my favourite concert of the whole tour, because of the atmosphere and reaction of the audience to our singing. The final two concerts were with the Grand Teton Orchestra, made up of professional players from some of the top orchestras in America who go there to play for the summer. We were performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, and it was a thrilling sing! This was made all the more exciting by the fact it was conducted by Scottish conductor, Donald Runnicles. It had been important that we were able to preserve our voices until the end of the trip because of the vocally taxing nature of this music, but both Beethoven concerts were undeniably a success.
Whenever I sing with NYCoS, I remember why I love to sing in the first place. My trip also reminded me of the transformative power of music to touch people, both the audience and those performing, in ways that only music can.