This will be our last remaining complete day in Australia! Our morning is somewhat free to do as we please, with the last group lunch at 12:30PM.
Many of us were once again trying to get those last minute souvenirs of Australia. Melbourne has a relatively small center city area. Given that our hotel was in the center of town, one could walk to most sites of intrigue. If one did not choose to walk, one could take a taxi at prices less than Sydney, or a free public transportation system that circled the entire shopping downtown retail district. We found this city to be incredibly tourist friendly. Several of us decided to take the bus to the market, however, this was an adventure trying to determine which bus to take or when to get off.
Melbourne had a market similar to Sydney run by the Chinese population. As large as the market appeared in Sydney, the Melbourne Queen Victoria Market was twice as large with much more variety. Many were so taken with this market that we barely made it back to the hotel to walk to our lunch site.
As this was our last day, a group meal on a river boat was planned. This turned-out to be a perfect way to spend the last day, i.e. riding on a river boat seeing all the downtown sites on a slow almost-barge. Melbourne reminded us in so many ways of European cities like Prague, Paris and St. Petersburg, Russia. These are all cities that sit on rivers that are critical to the industry of the country. We all commented on how little debris was in the water, despite being a major metropolitan center. Our only comment was that the water seemed very brown in color. We were told that this was because of the sediment in the mountains, not because of dirt. The captain of the boat agreed that this was the cleanest river he had ever travelled on of any major city. By the way, this was the Yarra River.
Upon our return to the dock, which was only a 3 minute walk from the hotel, we had a few hours to relax and to begin to pack, as we would leave the following day early in the morning.
Our final concert this evening was at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. I found out from Andrew Wailes, that there was much excitement in the community for our concert this evening. The concert was to begin at 8:30, which is late by most standards, much due to a church service finishing up at 6PM. We could not begin any sooner due to needing time to build and set up the risers, platforms, and lights for the concert. We all met at 6:30 PM to have a last minute rehearsal. Again, this was a joint concert with the Melbourne Choral Arts Society and the Morgan State University Choir.
This concert site was remarkable. We had a chorus of over 150 voices. Melbourne is the cultural city of Australia, despite the Sydney Opera House. This city boasts over 17 orchestras and over 50 professional and amateur choruses. Our concert this evening was virtually sold-out. Although cathedrals are notorious for their very reverberant acoustics, the St. Paul’s choral sound was surprisingly good. Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s cathedral is larger and taller but this cathedral boasts the longest nave in Australia, long and then, which may be why the sound was more focused.
The concert opened up with remarks by the director of the host choir, Andrew Wailes. The first half of the program was all Morgan. We give a 35 minute first half. We finished our first half with our signature – Battle Hymn, led by recently graduated Thomas Allen. Over 1,000 individuals, the entire cathedral, were on their feet giving our choir their plaudits.
After a brief intermission, both choirs gathered to present the second half of the concert. I conducted the first three selections. The three American pieces that I sent ahead for them to learn for our joint presentation were: Steal Away, Precious Lord and With My Whole Heart. What an experience to see people of another culture embrace our music. Many have never sung music that was so spirited or moving. When I was conducing, many had their eyes closed in total absorption of the music. At the end of the evening, a number of Australian choristers said that they loved having me conduct them. They felt so encouraged to sing their hearts. The smiles were extraordinary.
Andrew Wailes, conducted the final piece Morden Laruidsen’s Lux Aeternam. The Luridsen is a significant piece in the classical contemporary choral literature. He conducted it well. The sound was amazing with over 150 voices, black and white, singing in a beautiful European styled cathedral. This venue was made for the Lauridsen. At the conclusion, we jointly bowed for the concert and publicly presented gifts symbolizing our love and admiration for each other. At the conclusion, we were asked to sing two encores. Moses Hogan’s The Battle of Jericho and a choice that on the surface may not have seemed most appropriate – God Bless America! In the context that Australia and America have been allies since the beginning of Australian’s political existence and, since this event was hosted, in part, by the American Consulate, it seemed to make sense. At the conclusion, everyone, who remained in the hall, after Anitra McKinney’s stirring lead performance, were clapping with vigor showing their support of America and the choir!
After the concert, the Melbourne University Choir treated the entire group out on the town. The place was a very upscale pub, with a beautiful view. Although we were very tired, and we had to be the bus by 7AM the next morning to leave for the States, virtually everyone at least in the choir stayed to the lounge until at least 2AM. One reason why the post-concert exchange was so entertaining was the fact that there was a piano and open-mic in the room. The Morgan State University Choir has never turned down an open mic!!! Choice member after choir member with Chester Burke at the piano proceeded to share American music with the crowd. At least 75 Melbourne choir members were in attendance and embraced every musical offering that was shared, and stayed until the very end. I almost felt like it was an episode of “America’s Got Talent” . If you are interested, I am sure that many persons posted the evening on YouTube – try Melbourne – Morgan State University Choir.
Hard to imagine we must leave tomorrow.
More to come. . . one more day!