March 13, 2014
14-86

Jessica Pope
Communications Specialist

Chamber Singers, Spotlighters Take Musical Journey Through Historic England

VALDOSTA — Ever since Antoine Bray first played Kingdom Hearts, he has dreamed of visiting Big Ben. The 13-ton bell, clock, and clock tower, situated in London at the Palace of Westminster, appears in the series of action role-playing games.

“It is such an icon in what is certainly one of my favorite video games,” said the 19-year-old Valdosta State University sophomore. “I am going to send a picture of me standing next to it to my [older] brother.”

Five months ago, Bray did not know for certain if he would be able to board his first international flight bound for England, departing Friday, March 14. He had suffered an injury and did not know how long it would take him to physically heal, to return to the normal life of a university vocal performance major.

Bray eventually overcame all of that only to encounter yet another roadblock, this one financial. He worried he would not have enough money to finish paying for his upcoming overseas adventure, but family and friends pooled their resources, giving him an unexpected early Christmas gift. 

“When I land in England, I am just going to freak out,” he said excitedly.

A tenor member of both the Chamber Singers and the Spotlighters, Bray is one of 40 students participating in VSU’s musical journey through Historic England March 14-22. The premiere auditioned choral groups will perform nearly two dozen pieces of music — roughly twice that of a typical performance — during each of four concerts. They will even lead an Anglican Sunday worship service at Worksop Priory.

“They have been invited by the Stoke Minster in Stoke-On-Trent … to perform as part of their concert series,” said Dr. Paul Neal, director of choral activities as VSU. “Also, they have secured performances at the Ark Theatre in London, [at] Coventry Cathedral in Coventry, as well as leading an Anglican service in the small town of Worksop, in a church founded over 900 years ago.”

The performance tour throughout Historic England represents the university choral program’s mission — “to promote excellence in all things and to expand the musical minds of our singers and our audience.” The selected repertoire, which the students have been rehearsing for up to 18 months, seeks to entertain the overseas audience with choral music from America and beyond, while also giving the VSU students an opportunity to sing music from the great Anglican choral tradition.

Aylesha Gurley, a psychology major, said that she cannot wait to visit and perform in places hundreds of years older than the country she has called home for the past 20 years. She said that she is excited to do a little shopping and see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, and unless instructed otherwise, she may or may not attempt to challenge their discipline and stoicism. After all, according to the movies, that is what a young tourist is supposed to do in that situation, and she said, “Who wouldn’t want to say they have experienced a ceremony so deeply rooted in England.”    

“I never thought I’d be so blessed to travel overseas to a country not only of beauty but also a country with a lush history, and here I go,” she shared. “This is definitely going to be a cultural experience I will forever be grateful to have had. We are staying one night with a host family and then in different hotels across England as well. I have already researched the hotels online, and they all appear nice … each with a unique English flare to offer us. … I also looked at their menus because we’ve been told the food in England is definitely not like the food here, and some of it may even look strange, and the experience of English food is altogether a unique cultural experience. Upon this fair warning, I have also been researching meals to try …. I am optimistic about my ability to open myself up and embrace all the things I encounter … I do not want to come across as a college student not willing to be adventurous and find comfort outside of my comfort zone.”

Bray said that he shares those concerns and her sense of humor.

“Look, I am going into this worried about what I am going to eat,” he shared, jokingly adding that he plans to pack honey buns, salt, pepper, and hot sauce in his suitcase. “One of my professors told me to be sure to look left, or I might get run over. I would not have thought about that, so I decided that I am just not going to cross the street until I see British people crossing the street. I do not want to look too much like an American tourist.”

Outside of their demanding rehearsal and performance schedule, the students will have an opportunity to tour the area, visiting such locations as Westminster Abbey, the city of Nottingham, Manchester Cathedral, the ancient market town of Bampton-in-the-Bush, Christ Church College, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Downing Street, St. James’s Park, Parliament Square, Horseguards Parade, the many colleges that make up Oxford, as well as the Sheldonian Theater and the Bodleian Library, and more.

“It’s going to be a fun trip,” Bray said.

Contact Dr. Paul Neal at (229) 333-5812 or paneal@valdosta.edu to learn more.

Follow the group on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at VSUChoir.