Monthly Archives: June 2012

Checking into Budapest

Women’s Voices Chorus has arrived in Budapest! After the tour on the way back from the airport, we’ve checked into our modern, clean, attractive rooms in our hotel and are getting ready for our “welcome to Europe” dinner tonight. After traveling since yesterday morning, it feels great to take a hot shower and brush my teeth, and it will feel even better to get a good night’s sleep tonight.

Tomorrow we will kick off our performance schedule with a 12:00 noon mass in St. Stephen’s Basilica, followed immediately by a concert. If you happen to be in Budapest, please come listen to us!

Checking into the Hotel Novotel Congress, Budapest

Checking into the Hotel Novotel Congress, Budapest

Unpacking in Budapest

Unpacking in Budapest

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Arrival in Budapest

I can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I feel kind of like falling over and kind of like running around like a headless chicken. I shall compensate with pictures.

It doesn’t look terribly impressive, but this is Heroes’ Square, where those of us who felt like braving the heat got out and admired the statues and nearby buildings. I have no idea what those are yet, so they’ll have to wait.

A few of us standing around and talking. The guy with his back to the picture is our tour guide.

Rachel apparently decided to take a picture of a group of us — it probably turned out similar to the one above, only more densely populated — and I decided to take a picture of her doing so.

… We’re all a little punch-drunk right now. As I write this, it’s been nearly a full 24 hours since we first arrived at RDU, and in that time I don’t think any of us have had more than a couple hours of sleep.

Anyway, after Heroes’ Square, we piled back into the bus and headed towards Gellért Hill. We caught a glimpse of St Stephen’s Basilica, where we’ll be singing tomorrow, on the way:

It looks more impressive from Gellért Hill.

The Parliament Building (Országház) was also visible.

And so was what our map calls the Budavári Palota, or the Buda Castle Palace.

Lisa Oskardmay got some photos of us in transit; her photos can be found here.

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Four Great Things to Do in Venice

We leave tomorrow! For the last installment in my “Procrastinator’s Links” for people like me who haven’t spent much time researching our travel destinations, here’s something a little different. My mother has visited Venice several times, and it’s one of her favorite cities, so I asked for her top 4 suggestions for sightseeing. Here they are, in order:

View from the vaporetto in the Grand Canal

View from the vaporetto along the Grand Canal

1. This suggestion takes a couple of hours, and my mother says it’s her favorite way to take a leisurely “tour” of the city – she promises that it’s much better than a gondola ride. Take the vaporetto that goes up the Grand Canal in the direction of Lido (it’s route 1). Wait for one that has seats in the bow (it will be crowded and you won’t be able to sit, so just stand for now). Take it all the way to the end of the line, which is Lido, at which point everyone has to get off. You should get back on immediately, and grab one of those seats in the bow. Take the vaporetto all the way to the other end, which is Piazzale Roma. While riding back, you will come across the lagoon and get a beautiful view of Venice. The vaporetto makes lots of stops, so this is a leisurely way to take lots of pictures of the city from the water.

Produce at the Rialto Market

2. Go to the Rialto Market fairly early in the morning. The market is along the Grand Canal close to the Rialto bridge, and you can see all kinds of  incredibly fresh produce, seafood, and meats. It’s a fascinating sensory experience!

3. Wander around! My mother assures me that when you wander in Venice, you can’t get but so lost because it’s an island. If you look up at many major intersections, there will be a directional marker painted on the wall on the first floor of the buildings (the European “first floor,” which for us is the second floor) with an arrow pointing toward the Rialto, San Marco, the Accademia, or other notable locales. Pay attention to the colorful details while you wander: look at the laundry, window baskets with flowers, door knockers, etc. Trust to serendipity and you’ll see some interesting and picturesque sights!

4. Visit Murano. A separate island famous for glass-blowing, Murano is accessible by vaporetto. Like Venice, Murano has canals and is very picturesque, but it’s not quite as crowded. Turn left when you get off the vaporetto, walk a little ways, and you’ll come to some glass factories where you can watch the glass-blowing in action.

Check out my mom’s slideshow of some of her Venice photos to see more photos of these places (particularly the market) and get in an Italian mood. I’ll see you all in Budapest on Saturday!

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Packing Strategies

A snapshot of my suitcase in the middle of packing

One choir member shared this interesting link to a New York Times piece demonstrating packing “10 Days in a Carry-On.” Apparently the secret is to roll your clothes rather than folding them, which never occurred to me before! Rolled clothes take up less room, and if they are made of certain types of fabrics they supposedly won’t wrinkle much either.

This rolling idea sounded intriguing to me, so I decided to try it myself. I’m not doing quite what the “10 Days” piece suggests, because some of my clothes would get quite wrinkled if they were rolled. Instead, I’m following a modified version based on this Real Simple article on “How to Pack a Suitcase.” This article is another step-by-step demonstration of packing that suggests building a foundation of rolled clothes, then laying folded clothes on top. You can see a snapshot of my suitcase in mid-pack here – I’m curious to see how the rolled-clothes approach works in practice!

Our last rehearsal was on Monday, and the next time we’re all together will be in Budapest. I can’t believe that we’re leaving tomorrow!

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Chorus Voices: An Interview with Jen Gibson

Since the Women’s Voices Chorus European Tour was first proposed in 2010, Jen Gibson has been working tirelessly to make it all happen and run smoothly. As the Tour Manager, she has done a huge amount of work, and she’s the reason that everything has been planned with such detail and communicated so clearly to the choir members. When asked to give an overview of her biggest responsibility, she said she’s “primarily been the liaison between the choir and the tour company, making sure that we’ve got an itinerary that fits everybody in the choir, and that everyone’s needs are being taken care of.”

Jen has been amazing at balancing the needs of forty people when arranging for things like tours, accommodation, transportation, meals, and all the many details. She has been on two choir tours before, but this is the first she has managed, so she’s been learning on the job. In the past semester Jen also finished her Ph.D. on top of her Tour Manager responsibilities (way to go!). Jen credits her ability to oversee tour planning while also finishing her doctorate to “the help of a lot of wonderful people.” She notes that “Allan downplays it, but he did a tremendous amount,” and that Jen B., Karla, Shelley, and many others have also been instrumental in getting us off the ground (literally!). Jen says, “It’s taken a whole village; it’s not just me.”

One particular accomplishment she attributes to Allan is arranging our amazing concert venues. We will have the opportunity to sing in some of the most beautiful and historic sacred spaces in each city – St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest, Ljubljana Cathedral, the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. Jen says that some of our venues required an application and selection process: “He won’t tell you because he’s super modest, but that is all Allan.”

The tour will be Jen’s last chance to perform with WVC for some time since she’ll be relocating for an excellent new job, which she notes with a little bittersweetness. The payoff for all her hard work is that we’re going to be able to share our music with people in Europe and have the cultural experience of traveling with each other and performing abroad. Jen remarks that she’s “mostly looking forward to being with everyone and celebrating.”

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Procrastinator’s Links about Ljubljana

Here are a few resources for choir members who want to know a little about Ljubljana, Slovenia before we arrive next Monday:

  • Essential phrases in Slovenian – Courtesy of the BBC, you can hear recordings of useful phrases  like “Do you speak English?” and “My hovercraft is full of eels.” (Okay, maybe not that last one.) The BBC also provides similar pages for Hungarian and Italian.
  • Lonely Planet – A good place to start for a general overview of Ljubljana.
  • Ljubljana City Guide – From the UK’s Guardian newspaper, this article gives an easy-to-read overview of the city highlights.
  • Visit Ljubljana – The official Slovenian tourism organization’s web resource. I particularly liked the page on Slovenian cuisine, since that’s a type of food with which I’m completely unfamiliar.
  • Austria Trend Hotel Ljubljana – We’re staying here!

I hope these links are useful for you. Please share any good resources you’ve found or tips you have by leaving a comment. Travel websites unanimously suggest that Ljubljana is one of Europe’s under-appreciated gems, so it should be a fascinating place to visit!

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Procrastinator’s Links about Budapest

This week I’ll focus on online resources about the cities we’re visiting that might be useful to choir members. Personally, I’ve never visited any of these locales before, but I also haven’t had time to do research and read guidebooks. Suddenly I realized that there’s less than a week to go, and I know very little about these cities, so I’ve been doing a little internet searching to get oriented. Here are a few potentially helpful resources:

  • Lonely Planet iPhone App – At $5.99 for the app, it’s not exactly cheap, but this looks like it might be a handy resource while walking around the city. Commenters note that the offline map is useful. On a related note, if you have an iPhone and want to bring it with you to use on WiFi but not 3g, here’s a site with specific details for how to set your iPhone to turn off cellular data.
  • Orientation to Budapest (Frommer’s) – A brief history and geography of Budapest. Includes basics about Budapest neighborhoods, as well as a primer on things like Hungarian street-naming practices. For instance, did you know that Budapest is divided into 23 districts? Or that the word “utca” means “street” in Hungarian?
  • Restaurant Basics (Frommer’s) – Info about dining in Budapest. In particular, I found the information about payment to be interesting. For instance, according to the guide, restaurant-dining tends to be more leisurely than we may be used to. In addition, tipping is also different, with 10% being the customary amount, if it is not already included in the bill.
  • Lonely Planet Budapest Guide – a website with lots of information about the city, what to do and see, where to eat, etc.
  • Budapest Top 10 Lists – Concise lists of Budapest highlights in a variety of categories.
  • Hotel Novotel Congress – Our hotel’s website is here. You can also see  more information about the hotel’s location on Google Maps.

I hope that some of these sites prove helpful to you. Have you found any good online resources about Budapest yourself? If so, please share it in a comment!

It’s hard to believe the trip is coming up so quickly, but this time next week we will already be leaving Budapest and on our way to Ljubljana!

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Women’s Voices, Women’s Music

Composer Lana Walter meeting with WVC in 2010

It’s in our constitution that Women’s Voices Chorus seeks to “promote choral works by and for women.” On our upcoming tour, we’ll be singing many works by female composers, including:

  • Canticle of the Creatures – Sister Theophane Hytrek
  • Selections from Magnificat – Lana Walter
  • Michael, Seraphim from The Nine Orders of Angels – Patricia Van Ness
  • Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child – arr. Nina Gilbert
  • Ave Maria – Paola Tillen
  • Wade in the Watah – Ysaye Barnwell

Our founder, Mary Lycan, wrote a series of papers and talks about the history of women’s choral music, which you can find here. She writes in an engaging, conversational, and often funny style about her work compiling a huge database of choral works written by women for women, and about breaking down the stereotype that “before 1800, a composer was a German guy in a powdered wig” and “after 1800, a composer was a German guy with bad hair.”

Lycan stresses the importance of “real repertoire” for women’s choirs. That is, repertoire that’s not just SATB music transcribed for treble voices, music that takes seriously the project of composing for women’s unique vocal capabilities. One of the moments in history that she highlights is music for 18th-century Venetian girl’s orphanages, and coincidentally, we’re going to sing one such piece, a selection from Magnificat by Nicola Porpora, in the very Venetian orphanage for which it was designed!

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Chorus Voices: An Interview with Allan

Women’s Voices Chorus is very lucky to have Dr. Allan Friedman as our Artistic Director. He’s a talented conductor, a friendly, fun, and thoughtful human being, and a great composer too – we’ll be singing his Nunc Dimittis and his arrangement of the spiritual Little Innocent Lamb in Europe. I caught up with him for a few minutes before rehearsal to get his perspective on the upcoming tour.

Allan is a veteran of four international choir tours, and he acknowledges that one unique challenge in preparing a choir is balancing the needs of novice and expert travelers. He says that he’s been “trying to keep things interesting for the people who are experienced but yet informative for the people who aren’t” and he credits Tour Manager Jen Gibson with doing an exemplary job, keeping everyone informed and everything running smoothly.

For many of us this will be our first choir tour, and Allan offers the following advice: “Get as much sleep as you can on the plane, take care of yourselves physically, get plenty of rest. Just let the bad things roll off and enjoy the good things as much as possible.”

Musically, he believes that WVC has a lot to offer European audiences. He notes that women’s choirs are perhaps more common in Europe than in the States, so it will be great to show audiences abroad that Americans have a rich tradition of women’s singing too, and moreover that “classical music isn’t the domain of Europeans only.” We will also provide a diverse and significant perspective on American music, which, as you might expect, is performed less often and with less skill in Europe. “I think that showing them what an American women’s choir can do is important,” Allan notes.

Our repertoire for the choir tour has been in the works for years. Allan comments that “as soon as we decided to go on tour, I knew that I wanted to do mostly American music and then also some music from the countries that we’re visiting.”

Through providing this unique musical perspective to Hungarian, Slovenian, and Italian audiences, WVC will also get something back, both musically and socially. Allan suggests that through the experience of singing multiple concerts and repeating pieces several times, we’ll see improvement as a musical ensemble. He also notes that close friends sing better together, and that “just to have a chance to have social interaction on a longer basis than just rehearsals will be really special.”

In fact, that social aspect is one thing Allan is most looking forward to about the tour. He’s excited about getting to know individual choir members better, as well as to perform in beautiful and historic venues:

“Personally, I’d say that I’m most looking forward to spending extended amounts of time with the chorus. […] I’m excited to make music in these beautiful places, to get to sing music that was written for St. Mark’s or written for the Ospedaletto.* To get to do that is really thrilling for me.”

We’re also looking forward to sharing good music, good times, and good food with Allan (“I love me some goulash,” he says, although “gelato is very high on the list too”)!


*WVC will be helping out with an interdisciplinary technology project conducted by researchers at Duke University involving acoustically mapping the Sala della Musica at the Ospedaletto in Venice. Look for more details about this fascinating project in the future!

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Getting ready

We’ve had a rigorous rehearsal schedule in the last couple of weeks, and we are almost ready to go! In the picture at left, you can see us practicing in Duke Chapel, one of our two rehearsal venues. Each day this week we’ve worked on pieces for a particular European concert.

Dr. Allan Friedman, our Artistic Director, has designed a great series of concerts. We’re not just singing the same thing in each city – instead, we’ll be doing a mix of American choral pieces and music from the country we’re currently visiting. For instance, during last night’s rehearsal we practiced our music for a mass in Venica’s Basilica di San Marco, which includes music by Giovanni Gabrieli and Adrian Willaert written specifically for that historic venue. Likewise, in Slovenia and Hungary we will sing music from those countries (we’ve been working hard on our Slovenian and Hungarian pronunciation!).

Check out our online performance schedule here!

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