Finnishing Up In Scandinavia

Dear Friends,

Just a 90-minute ride from Helsinki, across the Bay of Finland by “fast boat” lies the medieval city of Tallinn, capital of the Republic of Estonia.  On Tuesday morning, the Georgia Boy Choir caught this ride in order to enjoy the day there and to give a concert in the historic Püha Vaimu Kirku (Church of the Holy Ghost).  A little bit of rain did nothing to quell the enthusiasm of the boys as they explored the city’s many shops in search of the perfect souvenir to take home.  Throughout the town there were placards with their picture on it advertising their concert that afternoon.

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As the 5:00 concert approached, the beautiful sanctuary began to fill with people eager to hear the boys and young men from Georgia.  When the Choir started to sing, the audience seemed stunned that such immense beauty could emanate from those so young.  

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It was particularly meaningful to hear the Choir sing “O Weisheit” by the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt there in his country’s capital city.  The ride back to Helsinki was adventurous as the fast boat pitched back and forth on the Bay’s huge swells, making it almost like an amusement park ride.

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The morning dawned sunny and gorgeous and cool in Helsinki on the Choir’s final day of its tour.  The boys made their way to the harbor where they caught a water taxi to a nearby island for some rest, relaxation, and recreation.  This island, filled with buildings that were built literally into the hills afforded a remarkable view of Helsinki across the bay. 

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The boys found an empty soccer field and had a great time playing together.  Some rested and sunned themselves on the rocks while others found a nook where they could catch up on some reading.  It was a wonderful time.

Before heading to the Helsinki Cathedral to rehearse for their final concert, the choristers tried to spend as much of their remaining money as they could at the souvenir tents at the open market by the harbor.  At the rehearsal, the singers decided to play a joke on Mr. White.  They were practicing their processional entrance, and at the moment when they were to begin singing, instead they all fell lifeless in the aisle as though they had been struck down by some mysterious power.  Even the tourists visiting the Cathedral enjoyed a good laugh.

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The rehearsal over, the Choir walked the quarter mile or so to the lovely headquarters of Cantores Minores, the famous Boy Choir from Helsinki, who were not only hosting the Georgians in their homes, but now also provided a wonderful lasagna meal for them before the culminating concert of the tour.

Recognizing that it was not only the tour’s final concert and the last performance of what has been a remarkable third season for the Georgia Boy Choir, but it was also the last time this particular group of boys and young men would ever get to sing together.  When next season begins there will not only be new members, but some will have moved away, and inevitably the group’s membership will have changed.  So the boys agreed to try to make this their best performance ever. 

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It was especially moving to hear them sing Z. Randall Stroope’s “Omnia Sol,” a beautiful song about maintaining friendships in our hearts even after parting.  The audience that had assembled could sense the devotion with which the Choir was singing and eagerly showed their appreciation.

So, finally, after 16 days, 6 countries, dozens of boat rides, thousands of miles, 9 concerts, countless new friends, and a myriad of indelible memories, the intrepid young singers strode into the new International terminal of Atlanta’s Hartsfield/Jackson Airport. 

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They were glad to be back home, and their families were extremely happy to receive them back, but they were not the same as when they had left just over a fortnight previous.  They have been changed.  They now see the world differently.  They understand it more.  They respect it more.  And the world is a better place because of them – because of their spirits, their friendships, and their singing.

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Until next time,

The Georgia Boy Choir Tour Team

Slaying Dragons, Kindred Spirits

Dear Friends,

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After spending most of the day on Friday at Skansen, an enormous outdoor museum in Stockholm which is much like a preserved Swedish farmstead, the 27 members of the Georgia Boy Choir made their way to the Old Town (Gamla Stan) of the city, where looms the Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan). This huge brick gothic church, situated next to Sweden’s Royal Palace, actually contains a life-sized, carved-wood statue of St. George astride his horse, slaying a dragon. This was the site of the evening’s concert which was to be shared with the famous Stockholms Gosskör (Stockholm Boys Choir) and the Storkyrkans Gosskör (the Cathedral Boys Choir).

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The concert opened with the three Choirs singing together the old American Folk Hymn, “Down In the River to Pray.”

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Then the Choirs rotated, each singing two sets of about 15 minutes.

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It was truly delightful to hear the unique sounds and characteristics of each individual Choir. The concert concluded with the three groups together on the dais again to join in singing the Swedish Folk Song, “Si Goafton!” It was wonderful not only to hear, but to see these 90 or so boys whose worlds would otherwise likely never have had occasion to cross, standing side by side, joining their voices with tremendous joy; to realize that they were all kindred spirits despite geographic, ethnic and language differences. In this endeavor, they were one, and it was beautiful.

Saturday the Georgians ventured to the amazing Vasa Ship Museum. In 1628 this mighty warship, Vasa set sail on its maiden voyage. Having gone less than one mile, it sank, apparently from being top heavy with insufficient ballast to keep it from toppling over. Almost all of those on board perished in the tragedy. Apparently, though, the brackish water of Sweden’s bay virtually preserved the ship itself for more than 300 years. In 1961 it was pulled from the icy waters and now sits in a fascinating museum in downtown Stockholm. To the boys it was almost like seeing the The Black Pearl from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

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That evening they boarded a much more modern ship – a Viking Lines cruise ship – a floating 11-story hotel which would carry them through the Swedish archipelago to the port city of Turku, Finland where they docked on Sunday morning.

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The Cathedral of Turku is an immense structure built in the 12th century. Here is where the Georgia Boy Choir was to give their next concert. The huge organ in the gallery is one of the finest in all of Scandinavia, and the acoustics in the sanctuary are some of the very best the Choir has encountered anywhere. These elements combined for an outstanding concert. The boys and young men were at their finest. The audience was spellbound. Particularly moving was the Choir’s performance of Johannes Brahms’ Geistliches Lied with its soaring “Amen” which builds and builds to an achingly beautiful release.

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Following the concert, the boys met their host families and new friends from the Turku Cathedral Youth Choir. As has been the case throughout the tour, the hosts were most gracious and commented on the congeniality and good behavior of the boys in their care. The Georgia Boy Choir is most grateful for the kindness of all of their hosts.

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As the tour continues, the boys are bonding together as a finer musical ensemble, and more importantly as friends for life.

Until next time.

The 2012 Scandinavian Tour Team

An Uppdate From Sweden

Dear Friends,

The drive from Oslo, Norway to Karlstad, Sweden takes about 4 hours.  The landscape is lovely with rolling hills and lots of pine and birch forests.  It does remind one of the American Midwest, which is why so many Scandinavian immigrants settled in Michigan and Minnesota in the early 20th century. 

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The Georgia Boy Choir arrived in Karlstad in the early afternoon on Tuesday.  Karlstad is a stately town which lies on the delta of the river Klara and the banks of Lake Vänern.  The Cathedral, which is situated on a hill overlooking the area is one of only 5 buildings which survived an 1865 fire which otherwise destroyed the entire city.  While not as large as some of the other churches where the Choir has recently sung, the church possesses a wonderful acoustic for singing and has an excellent organ which is particularly known as an organ ideally suited for playing the music of J.S. Bach.

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The Choir performed a large portion of their program from the organ loft in the rear of the sanctuary, mostly out of sight of much of the audience members.  One gentleman in the audience proclaimed this was his favorite part as the music washed over him from above.  

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The lady who was with him agreed, but said she liked it even more when the boys came down from the loft and surrounded the listeners and sang to them from the perimeter of the sanctuary.  Especially beautiful in this setting was the Choir’s singing of John Tavener’s, “The Lamb,” a hauntingly beautiful song which is actually a musical palindrome with the notes spelled the same way forward and backward.

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After a good night’s rest in home stays, the church’s kindly Organist and Music Director, Hans Nordenborg allowed the boys to climb the 200 stairs to the top of the church tower which afforded them an excellent view of the quaint and beautiful town before they departed for the capital city of Stockholm.

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Stockholm is a magnificent city sitting on 14 islands on the banks of the Baltic Sea.  Its skyline is dominated by the many spires of its churches and town hall. 

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After a tour of the city and its main sites (and a stop in a park for some recreation), the boys were warmly greeted by families of the Stockholms Gosskör (the Stockholm Boys Choir) who will be hosting them for the next three nights.

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When the boys got back together on Thursday morning they were all telling stories about the wonderful experiences they had had with “their” families.  About an hour north of Stockholm lies the ancient city of Uppsala which contains a most magnificent Cathedral church, the largest church in all of Scandinavia.  Its two towers rise almost 400 feet in the air and are the exact same height as the church is long.  It is a gargantuan structure which can be seen from miles around.  This was the site of the Georgia Boy Choir’s next concert.

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The interior of the church is remarkably beautiful.  There is an almost new (2009) Rufatti organ in one of the transepts in addition to the older instrument in the organ loft in the rear.  There were risers set up in the crossing for the Choir to sing from.  It was phenomenal how the voices became one with each other and the organ as they went through the program.  The audience was mesmerized by the glory and beauty.

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What a remarkable experience these young boys and men are having as they not only get to see this wonderful part of the world, but are able to experience it in such a unique and powerful way.  They have met many incredibly generous and loving people and have been able to share the beauty of their singing with them. 

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Until next time,

The Georgia Boy Choir 2012 Scandinavian Tour Team

Show Your Horns, Raise Your Voices

Dear Friends,

With their first concert successfully behind them, the Georgia Boy Choir members were eager to meet the day on Saturday morning. After a restful final evening in the homes of their Host Families (and warm embraces upon parting), they set off for Roskilde, a quaint town about an hour’s drive west of Copenhagen. Roskilde is home to a marvelous Viking Museum, and also to a magnificent cathedral. The Choir’s first stop was the church. The Roskilde Cathedral contains the graves of all of the past monarchs of Denmark. Their elaborate coffins lie on display in large rooms which line either side of the nave. When asked by the Cathedral staff to sing, it was in one of these chambers where the boys stood and performed Pavel Tchesnekov’s haunting “Spaseniye Sodelal.” The room acted as a megaphone, projecting the glory of their sound throughout the immense cathedral. It was a spine-chilling moment for all who were lucky enough to be there.

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The harbor is only a short distance from the church and it was here that in 1070 AD at least five ships were deliberately sunk to block an important passage and protect the town from marauding invaders. Those ships and others have been discovered and excavated and are now on display at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum. The boys really enjoyed seeing these ancient boats and being able to climb aboard working replicas of Viking Ships.

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Soon it would be time for them to board a boat of an entirely different variety – an enormous cruise ship which would carry them through the North Sea to Oslo. But before boarding, a short stop to see the Little Mermaid Statue was necessary. No trip to Copenhagen would be complete without seeing the Little Mermaid. Only 4 feet high she is a symbol of the great city, commemorating not only their favorite son, Hans Christian Andersen, but also the city’s long relationship with the sea. The Danes are very fond of their Little Mermaid.

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The MS Pearl is a huge cruise ship. In fact, when it was built in 1989, it was the largest largest in the world. It was thrilling for the boys to be on the upper deck as she pulled away from the city of Copenhagen, and a wonderful delight the next morning to watch her pull into port in the city of Oslo, Norway.

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It was straight from the boat to the Oslo Cathedral for the Georgia Boy Choir, for they had a job to do. They were scheduled to sing for the High Mass there in a little less than 1 hour. So the young tourists became professionals once again as they entered the Cathedral with its vividly-colored painted ceiling. They listened attentively as they were introduced to Magne Draagen, the organist and director of the Cathedral’s Boy Choir (the Oslo Domgutteskor) and were given instructions on their participation in the service. Following the procession, the Georgia Boy Choir led the congregants in worship as they sang the Plainsong (Gregorian Chant) setting of the Mass, the Missa de Angelis. They sang with unusual clarity and unity as they chanted the ancient song.

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Following the service, the boys enjoyed an afternoon of sightseeing around Oslo. They visited the Ski Jump Center and the Kon-Tiki Museum where they learned about Thor Heyerdahl and his adventures.

In the evening they had the second half of the day’s double header of performances, a Vespers service back at the Cathedral Here the Choir turned in one of their finest performances ever. Their beautiful in-tune singing was infused with emotion and passion. It was a particular pleasure for the Georgia Boy Choir and the Oslo Domgutteskor to join together to sing the American Folk Hymn, Down In the River to Pray to conclude the service. The two groups now united in song, produced a splendid sound, before Georgia Boys went home to spend the night with the Oslo boys.

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The next day, Monday was bright and clear – warm for Norway standards (mid 60’s Fahrenheit). The Choir made good use of it by spending the majority of the day outside, playing. A trip to Vigeland Sculpture Park included some soccer and Frisbee playing. They enjoyed their lunch aboard a ferry that sails around the fjord as public transportation to the many islands. The island the boys explored contained an old fort with cannons, and the ruins of an ancient monastery which made a great site for an extended game of Manhunt.

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In the morning, after a restful night of sleep, there were once again warm embraces and the two groups bid farewell to each other. But part they must for the Georgia Boy Choir has an appointment for another performance tonight in Sweden.

Until then,

The Georgia Boy Choir 2012 Scandinavian Tour Team.

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Let Everything That Hath Breath

Dear Friends,

Friday morning dawned crisp and cool in Copenhagen. The 27 members of the Georgia Boy Choir convened on the square in front of the historic Town Hall to meet their local guides for a walking tour of the beautiful city. Having arrived about an hour early, the Choir had some time to kill, so they put it to good use playing a little soccer and a rousing game of Ultimate Frisbee in the ample space. It was a welcome opportunity to expend some boyish energy, just having fun. Many of the Danes on their way to work stopped for several minutes to enjoy watching these young Americans having such a wonderful time.

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Soon thereafter, the guides arrived and the Choir split into two groups to walk around the city to see and learn about the magnificent sites it holds. Shortly after this sojourn had begun, the rain began to fall. This meteorological occurrence did not seem to affect the guides who were enthusiastic to share the wonder of their city. Fortunately, the boys had their rain gear, which they pulled out, and so managed to protect themselves somewhat from the elements. It was fascinating indeed to learn about the history of Denmark and its monarchy as they wandered from portico, to awning, to whatever shelter they could find. The boys did not allow the weather to dampen their spirits, but managed to learn and have a good time. The tour ended in a pedestrian shopping zone, and the eager young shoppers wasted no time in leaving some of their spending money in exchange for some much-desired souvenirs.

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With their first big concert looming in the coming evening, the boys returned to their Host Family homes where they managed to get a couple hours of sleep (or rest, at least) before dining and heading back to the Cathedral for the concert.

Just as the Georgia Boy Choir had done for them only a few weeks ago in Atlanta, the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir opened the concert with three beautiful a capella songs: Morton Lauridsen’s haunting “O Magnum Mysterium,” "Bogoroditse Devo” from The All Night Vigil by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and a lovely Danish Folk Song.

When it was the Georgia Boy Choir’s turn to sing, they knew that the bar had been set pretty high by their Danish friends, so they were inspired to perform their very best. They strode down the long center aisle two by two, singing George Talbot’s stirring setting of Psalm 150.

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As their voices soared through the air singing, “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” it was clear that they had come prepared to leave an impression on all who would hear them. They moved seamlessly from one song to another, with each song seeming more moving than the one before it. The audience was spellbound, not wishing to interrupt the beauty. At last they could contain themselves no longer and burst in to applause. The clapping lasted longer and longer as the concert progressed. When the last song finally ended, the standing ovation was sustained for several minutes and was intermingled with some whoops and hollering. It was clear the audience was not quite ready for the singing to stop, so the Choir obliged them with one more song, “What a Wonderful World.” As the boys exited the sanctuary, the applause continued even after they were out of the room. Clearly, the discerning Copenhagen listeners had enjoyed what they heard.

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The first concert of the tour now behind them, the boys returned contented to the Host Families for their final night in the country of Denmark. Their next performances will be from the Cathedral of Oslo, Norway on Sunday morning and evening.

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Until then,

The Georgia Boy Choir Scandinavian Tour Team.

Roller Coaster Ride

Dear Friends,

Thursday morning, the boys and young men of the Georgia Boy Choir were all smiles. They had rested and eaten well in the homes of their new friends here in Copenhagen. Last month, the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir visited Atlanta where they presented a marvelous concert at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. It was the Georgia Boy Choir’s privilege to host the choristers from the Royal Chapel Choir in their homes for a few days. Now that the Georgia Boy Choir is in Copenhagen, it is the Danes’ turn to return the favor. It was wonderful to see these friendships renewed.

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The Copenhagen Cathedral, site of the first concert, this evening, of our Scandinavian Tour, is a marvelous building. It is fairly vast, and has a marvelous acoustic. It is the “home court” of the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir. This morning, the choristers from Georgia enjoyed a two-hour rehearsal in the marvelous space. They really thrilled at hearing their voices waft through the magnificent nave.

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A short distance away sits the historic Tivoli Gardens Amusement Park – right in the center of Copenhagen. It was here that the Georgians spent their afternoon riding roller coasters, “driving” bumper cars, and daring each other to ride the scariest rides. They all had a blast of a time.

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At the conclusion of this adventure, they rode the rail back to the Royal Chapel Choir’s school, to meet up with their host families once again. After a good meal, they all retired to rest in their beds and looked forward to the concert in the Cathedral on tonight at 8:00 pm local Copenhagen time – 2:00 pm EST time.

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It is our hope that you might be able to join us for this concert. It will be broadcast live over the internet. Simply click here to learn how to log in to enjoy the concert. It is quite simple – and it is free.

Until then,

The Georgia Boy Choir

2012 Scandinavian Tour Team