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The Road Home

And so for me, the journey ends. By the time this gets posted, I’ll be on board a jet bound for SLC and the Singers will be on their way to Marktoberdorf to begin their competition.

So…what can I say about the past three weeks? How do you frame “extraordinary” in a hundred words? We have seen remarkable cities and experienced amazing hospitality. We have taken a million photos and agonized over a million souvenirs. But my memories tend to be less of the whole experience, and more of the little mental snapshots that will remain mine forever. May I share some of my favorites?

As you might guess, putting 45 people into the confined space of a bus for three weeks meant that most of us got chest and head colds. Worried about keeping my bunkmates awake while I coughed the night away in Koper, I slipped out of our hostel room at 2:45a and padded down the travertine-tiled stairway to wait for the morning to come in the hostel’s tiny foyer. A short time later, while trying to muffle my cough and nurse a vast amount of self-pity, I heard other footfalls coming down the stairs. It was Greg Wendel, the guy in the bunk below me. “I just wanted to check on you,” he confessed. “I wanted to make sure you were okay and that you weren’t locked out or anything.” In the quiet darkness of that early morning hour, I suddenly understood with profound personal clarity the true meaning of compassion.

Prague is a remarkable city by day…but even more remarkable when two friends agree to a late-night adventure that ultimately leads to being the only three tourists at the Prague Castle at midnight. I have a photo of Will Perkins stretched out on the stone plaza in front of St. Vitus, trying to take the ultimate picture.  But the photo in my head is richer with detail and nuance. I can hear Jane Fjeldsted’s joyous laughter in the background and the sound of the two miliary guards walking slowly by, and I can remember the sense of seeing the front of the cathedral stretching up into the night sky as if it were but a single brick wide. And I can forever enjoy walking back through the narrow streets of a sleeping Prague until we found a taxi to ferry us home.

Our Slovenian guide, Andreja Vidmar, became everyone’s best friend. She was the perfect shepherdess, moving us effortlessly from venue to venue on that portion of the trip that required a new accommodation each night. At Brezice she worked with the Singers during rehearsal to hone their pronunciation on the Slovenian folk songs. On the drive back to the pensione that night, she poked her head through the curtain at the front of the bus and quickly said, “You made me cry tonight when you sang the Slovenian folk song, but I won’t tell you which one.” Then she disappeared behind the curtain again. A moment later her face reappeared. It was Pa Se Slis,she said, and then disappeared again. The next morning, she sang Pa Se Slis with the choir as our way of thanking the inn’s hosts who had spent the night doing mountains of Singers’ laundry…for free.

Other favorite memories:

Jen Smith monitoring Rachel Hales to make sure she avoided gluten…even when Rachel really wanted to break the rules when some of the desserts were served.

Alasdair Wadell’s ability to sleep on the bus. Seriously, the guy could climb on the bus, plug in his earbuds, pop on his shades and…be gone. Just. Like. That. Of course, the vast amounts of allergy medicine might have helped.

Austin Sharette pedaling past me on a rented bike in Ljubljana, looking for all the world as if he were a Slovenian resident…with the exception of the bright red “Singers” polo shirt he was wearing.

Mike, our German bus driver, mopping his brow after loading and unloading fifty+ suitcases, two performance cases, and four boxes of CDs day after day after day.

The dozen young women who gathered in the foyer after the Gorizia concert to sing a little do-wop Slovenian style to the Singers…but more especially to Ricky Parkinson.

Rachel Webster. Part Ethel Merman, part Madonna, part Beverly Sills, part Mother Theresa. I’ve seen the woman schlep boxes of CDs and programs up a 30-foot hill, check on the well-being of a half-dozen choir members, perform an entire concert with amazing energy and extraordinary vocal skill, and still be ready to sell CDs afterwards with the vigor and chutzpah of a rag merchant. The woman could get a monk with a vow of silence to break out in song. I’m gonna miss Rachel.

Steve Knell’s dialectic abilities, and the look of utter bliss on his face when he sampled the gnocchi at Gorizice. Thanks to Steve, I may never get the word “verklempt” out of my head.

Marianne Mabey’s response to my discovery that the medicine I purchased from the apothecary in Ljubljana was (according to the Google translation) extract of dried ivy leaves. “Well,” she said without so much as a blink, “we don’t prescribe that so much in the U.S.” And then she added, completely deadpan: “On the bright side, I’m sure it’s not listed as a known poison.”

Stephanie Brown’s spectacular knee-slide across half the stage to get into position for Oklahoma! at Gorizia. And any umpire would have called her safe!

The way that Jennifer Smith and Clarke Wilkinson could make even an old vulture feel wanted.

There are a million others. Mental shanpshots that I’m sure will pop into my head for years to come. I won’t bore you with all of them.

Just this last one, that for me is a favorite memory. It occurred in Koper, after the concert and after the small party hosted by the local choir that sponsored the Singers. We were headed back to the bus through the old town square, lit only by the yellow glow of lights from the Cathedral and a sprinkling of random street lamps. In the warm Mediterranean darkness of that evening, Curtis Lee and Karly Smith, dressed in tux and gown, danced a few effortless steps together across the stone piazza. In that golden grey light, they looked as elegant and debonair as Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn — a reference probably lost on their generation, but who else epitomizes grace and style so completely? For those few moments, those quick steps and a spin staged against a 17th century cathedral facade in a city that describes its history in millennia rather than decades, I felt a part of something amazing and memorable. For me, that will be one of my most lasting memories.

Well, that…and the gelato.

I’ll post once more, when I’m in the states — mostly photos with captions.

In the meantime, to follow the Singers progress at Marktoberdorf, you can check this website.

Finally, in words that would undoubtedly bring a little joy to Will Perkins’ heart, “So long. Farewell. Auf Wiedersehen. Good night.” And thank you for letting me share this extraordinary experience.

  • rd22django

    Thank you to “Mark My Words” for another way to follow the U of U Singers on tour. I’ve had limited contact with my son Steve, and find myself searching for any information available on his activities as he travels with the choir across Eastern Europe. When I found your blog a few days ago, I devoured it! Since then I’ve passed it on to family and friends, resulting in much positive feedback. Your unique perspective and vivid descriptions of sights seen, audience reactions to performances and day-to-day observations have added a new and very welcome dimension to our experience as followers from afar. I am only sorry that you had to come back early and will not be there to document the competition at Marktoberdorf. Please know that this Mom is grateful for bringing such clear pictures of Europe home to us. I look forward to your final post. Go Singers! With appreciation, Sue Knell

  • doria

    I agree with Sue, I definitely have looked forward to reading your blogs!!!
    Thank you,
    Doria Bybee