Students experience choral immersion while attending a study abroad in London — a city known for its rich choral traditions.
The BYU London Choral Study Abroad took years of planning but proved to be an unforgettable experience for those who attended. The program was available to all students, regardless of major, however, most students who attended have participated in a BYU choir.
The study abroad occurred during Spring term with daily classes and concerts that explored the musical and choral traditions that make London a historically rich city.
“London is unique in the world because of the concentration of great choral singing that’s happening there,” said School of Music Professor Andrew Crane. “It’s a pocket for great choral singing because of the traditions of church music that have existed for centuries in London.”
Crane, as well as School of Music professors Rosalind Hall and Darrell Babidge, provided students with a firsthand look at some of the best professional choirs in the world. The group was able to see ensembles like Tenebrae and the London Symphony Orchestra as well as conductors like Bernard Haitink.
Students attended morning classes to learn about the pieces, composers and choirs they were to watch perform in evening concerts. Occasionally, the professors and 26 students attended rehearsals and Q&A sessions with the conductors, choristers and composers.
Tesah Barton’s most meaningful experience during the study abroad was the opportunity to sing in an Evensong with a choir at Oxford University. The study abroad students were split into small groups and assigned to different schools in Oxford. As a music education major and member of BYU Singers, Barton found her musical skills pushed throughout the experience.
“It was interesting to be part of their rehearsal. We really only sang through the songs a few times, received a couple of comments for specific voice parts or the choir as a whole, and then got ready for the performance. Singing with such talented musicians was amazing,” Barton said. “It helped build my confidence in my sight reading, in my singing, and as a performer, which made it an even more incredible opportunity.”
Barton and her classmates donned the choir’s white robes and performed at their Evensong service. “It was interesting to take part in a ‘sung’ church service. We were able to sing about God and sing praises to him in a different way from what a Latter-day Saint does during sacrament meetings,” Barton said.
While in London, two terrorist attacks took place: the May 22 bombing in the Manchester Arena during an Ariana Grande concert and the June 3 London Bridge attack. The attack on the London Bridge occurred about a mile away from where the study abroad group was exiting a concert. The students spent most of the night learning about what had happened.
Music education student Samuel Speer explained: “The next night, we heard the Duruflé and Fauré Requiems in concert just a mile away from the attack. It was especially fitting to remember the dead through music, and pray that they be granted rest.”
While the group spent most of their time in London, they participated in excursions to the historical cities of Oxford, Cambridge and Bath. While in Bath, the students attended the concert of the renowned group Tenebrae, who performed the piece “Path of Miracles” by Jody Talbot. Tenebrae recently performed “Messiah” with several BYU ensembles in concert last year. Crane said it was a highlight for himself and several other students to see the group perform.
Graduate student Wenhao Mu called the study abroad one of the most important experiences in his life. Mu has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in urban planning. After working in the industry for two years he decided to return to school to study choral conducting.
“I love music very much and I worked with the choirs of my university in China, so I knew a lot of English choral ensembles and the great maestros in choral music,” Mu said. “I was more than excited to visit with my professors and classmates to get to know and to feel deeply about the tradition and culture of choral music in the U.K.”
Mu made the most of his time in London, he collected several signatures from some of the musicians he met and seized every opportunity he could to talk with the artists. As an architect, Mu was able to enjoy the architecture and urban planning of the city with its many cathedrals, palaces, parks, museums and concert halls.
“When I was in China I gathered a lot of questions and I could not solve them. So I decided to change my career and study in the United States,” Mu said. “To study at BYU has already broadened my horizon and enhanced my knowledge of choral music, but choral culture in the U.K. is another kind of thing. It’s different from BYU or in the United States. I’m very grateful I could experience, in person, the totally new and different choral culture.
“This experience has helped me to know myself better and remind me that ‘hey, you are a person of the world, not only a person of China.’ I’m proud of this kind of experience, and very grateful for that.”