Susan Tucker, an Honors College Fellow on the pre-med track, has seized the chance to perform as part of Professor Nikola Radan’s pilgrim band on our Honors Passport: Pilgrimage trip through France and Spain. On a recent trip to Alyscamps, a Roman necropolis that has crumbled to supremely romantic ruins, her soaring soprano summoned the quick and the dead (and park attendants — but that’s another story) as day turned to dusk.
Getting off the train in Arles, I was excited to learn more about the beginning of the Camino. After being out of H2P for a semester, being able to take another humanities class was going to be fun, especially traveling in the south of France after a hard semester. In January, Professor Radan had asked me to sing in his “pilgrim band,” and finally being able to perform was at the forefront of my mind. However, we did not have any formal performances scheduled in Arles, so I thought I would have to wait until Spain. Luckily, I did not.
At the Alyscamps cemetery that same day, Professor Radan came up to me and asked if I would be willing to participate in an a cappella (no instrument), impromptu concert. I had not brought my music but could not pass up this opportunity. There are two chapels in the cemetery, and one is significantly smaller than the other. However, due to the vaulted ceiling, the small chapel had some amazing acoustics. Once we had gathered all the other members of the troupe, we headed into the chapel.
Since I did not have my music, and no one had their instruments, it was a new experience for all of us. I quickly pulled up what I could before we got started. We were going to sing my two favorite songs in our repertoire, and I wanted to perform well, even if was just for the other students on the trip. Everyone else was going to mimic the notes and tones of their instruments so I would not have to sing alone.
As a little background, I have sung in choirs since elementary school. I did theatre and musicals in high school, have also taken private lessons, and tried to become a more classical singer. I have always known that singing is my passion, but it is not what I am studying. It always makes me laugh when people hear me sing for the first time, because usually it is not what they are expecting. Because of this experience, I thought I knew what to expect from this performance. I was wrong.
Performing in this quaint little chapel in a cemetery that dates back to Roman times was one of the most special moments this trip could have offered me, and that was only day three. Knowing that I was singing medieval worship songs in a place where they would have actually been performed changed the whole experience. The acoustics allowed me to hear the beauty of the pieces in a way I could not in a practice room. The room could echo a sound for up to seven seconds. It may have been an empty stone room, but it seemed to come alive again. It was chilling to hear the music the way it was meant to be performed. I was so thrilled, I did not even realize that there were non-musicians in the room. There really are no words to describe how it felt. This performance was commanding, and afterwards was even more rewarding. Singing, in addition to being a passion, is one of my favorite ways to worship. Standing in that small chapel giving it everything I could to these songs of worship is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.