Even before this choir arrived in Madrid I knew they were going to be wonderful: even so I was overwhelmed by their good nature, willingness to join in so many activities, and their ability to adapt to the circumstances. In the end, this is all due to their excellent all round education at La Jolla Country Day School and especially to their musical preparation by choral director Jennifer Boyum.
Photo: the choir in California before the Madrid trip
I had been fortunate to enjoy the generous hospitality of colleagues, administrators and parents of the La Jolla Country Day School in Spring 2009. I went to California with a small group of high school students who were what turned out to be the last cohort of a successful homestay exchange programme. They were given the most amazing time, not only seeing the top spots in nearby San Diego, such as Sea World, the old town and the aircraft carrier museum, but also enjoying day trips to Los Angeles, not forgetting Beverly Hills and Universal Studios. In the end it was not the spectacular and the grandiose aspects of life in La Jolla that won the hearts of my students, it was the warmth and kindness of their host students and their families.
The success of this homestay exchange was due largely to the inspiration of two sisters, working half a world apart, who created an opportunity for their respective students to see the world through a different lens: a special initiative by two very special persons. I know all the students who have been involved over the years are enormously grateful to them for their investment of skill, time and energy which made the exchange such a great venture.
While I was in La Jolla I sat in one of Jennifer’s rehearsals and it was a joy to see her students racing through a series of songs for an upcoming Burn´s Night performance. A combination of efficiency and attention to musical detail made the choir an outstanding group of performers.
We talked about a music exchange and I am so glad that at least one side of the plan did come to fruition, so that Jennifer arrived in Madrid with her 32 students in January 2010. There were 20 girls and 12 boys, and the singers included a significant number of senior students who had gathered considerable performing experience over the years, and this showed in their excellent performances.
During their week long stay they performed at a range of situations, from the most informal to the very formal, in venues that ranged from a less than 5 year old Elementary school to a 500 year old monastery.
As was our custom we invited the visitors to sing for our very youngest children, and they listened attentively to a short selection of songs and there was an evening concert at for 150 students, aged 14 to 18, who come to the school in the evenings to study English. We had asked the visitors to prepare a few words about life in California, their daily school routine and their plans for university and their audience were spellbound as they listened to their contemporaries from across the ocean. They had thought carefully about what to say, and their presentation and delivery were exemplary, and much appreciated by the local staff and their students.
Photo: a day in the Madrid school
I have written in an earlier post about a concert given by the Madrigalia Choir from the King’s School from Canterbury at the chapel of the St Thomas monastery in Ávila. It was a great pleasure to be able to arrange a similar concert for the LJCDS singers. Without a doubt it is true that the young Californian singers have never experienced singing in such a venue, and the magnificence of the centuries old chapel, more like a cathedral in its dimensions, brought out their very best performance. In a moving closing message, the Abbot encouraged us all to continue bringing together persons from different countries, origins and ages, as we had been able to do on this occasion, and he expressed the appreciation of the large and knowledgeable audience.
Photo: arriving at the St Thomas Monastery in Avila
It was at this concert that the full emotional power of the Jennifer Boyum’s musical selection was most evident. The title for the concert was Music with a message: Memory, Peace and Hope, and in her introduction to the printed programme, Jennifer wrote the following:
“I have always been fascinated with how music and history intermingle. Just as a barometer forecast trends in weather, music gives us insight into current and future social attitudes. Music provides a catalyst for healing for those in pain, allows us to speak out against injustice, gives a voice to those who are lost but not forgotten, and permits us to hope for a better tomorrow. Music may not always be “pretty”, warm or pleasing to the ear, but it allows us to express what mere words cannot.”
The Memory section opened with In Remembrance by Eleanor Daley, followed by In Flanders Field in an arrangement by Emerson and Jacobson, When I am Silent by J Varner, and In Remembrance by Jeffrey Ames. The Peace section was sung to texts from the Song of Solomon and St Francis of Assisi in settings by David Childs and Jody Lindh, Set me as a seal upon your heart and Lord make me an instrument of thy peace. The Hope section included Inscription of Hope by Z Randall Stroope, Stand Together by Papoulis and Prayer for the Children by K Bestor.
The beautiful music, wonderful singing combined with the audience’s empathy and the historic setting to make this a powerfully moving performance, one to remember for a long time to come.
A surprise performance opportunity arose during the week, as my school’s own Christmas concert, due to be held in December, had been postponed due to snow, and the alternative date was chosen at short notice and made it possible for the Country Day choir to take part. It was a great privilege to hear the choir again, this time in a 1990’s church building which is the local parish church, and which has a starkly beautiful architecture with a favourable acoustic for choral singing. The visitors knocked us all out when they appeared in their immaculate evening suits, and they left an indelible impression.
Photo: formal dress at the local parish church in Madrid
They have also left a legacy at the school, as the current choral singing programme came into being in response to the impact made by the Country Day choir, as they showed how much high quality work can be achieved when the right programme is put in place and properly resourced.
Thank you to all the wonderful singers and your chaperones for an unforgettable week. I hope you will all forgive me for taking so long to put these thoughts in order. Thank you most of all to Jennifer Boyum, an extraordinarily gifted musician and choir trainer. Hope to welcome you all somewhere, soon.
La Jolla Country Day School Concert Choir
Director (2010): Jennifer Boyum
(I have amended this post on 3 March to include photos and the choir names, with permission from LJCDS )