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From the Classroom to Westminster Abbey

By: Stephanie Horton, Major: Music, Class of 2018

“Now abide these three, Faith, Hope, Love, but the greatest of these is Love.” I can still hear these words echoing from the many domes and walls of Westminster Abbey in London, England. The music I was able to sing and experience in Canterbury Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, St. Peter’s Anglican Church, and Westminster Abbey will live on in my heart and mind for many years to come. In July 2015, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel with the University of Tennessee Chamber Singers “across the pond” to England for a two week long residency in Canterbury and London.

I entered UT Knoxville as a Violin Performance major with a concentration in Pre-medicine. I had been heavily involved in vocal music during my high school years, and so I auditioned for the choral program at UT. I was placed in the University of Tennessee Chamber Singers, not knowing that the singers in that group would change my life.

Early in the fall, I started to debate whether or not to travel to England with the choir. Yes, I knew it would be a wonderful experience that I would not regret; however, being the overachiever that I am, I also thought about how I could spend my summer taking courses at UT and working ahead. I had reached one of my first crossroads in college. While weighing the pros and cons, I remembered the Ready for the World requirement for the Chancellor’s Honors Program. I began to realize that while working hard and making good grades was important, there were other things that should sometimes take precedence. As the program explains it, this requirement serves to help students “become more culturally aware and better prepared to compete in a world of increasing globalization.” I knew then that it was more important for me to embark on this journey with the Chamber Singers and be exposed to new places and new experiences.

After months of blood, sweat, tears, and many long rehearsals, we arrived in Canterbury, England for our first week-long residency at the Cathedral. Our lodge was located within the Cathedral grounds, so you can imagine our awestruck wonder as we walked through the gates and had our first glimpse of Canterbury Cathedral. The next day, we rehearsed for the first time inside the Quire and performed our first Evensong, after having received thorough instruction on how to perform the service.

The experience was truly breathtaking. We had spent our lives in school learning about famous places and famous people from long, long ago, but walking on the ground where they walked and seeing the things that they saw humbles you in a way that cannot fully be described in words. As Dr. Batey, director of choral activities at UT and also director of the Chamber Singers, said many times throughout our trip, “If only these walls could talk.”

Learning about the history inside that building firsthand and being able to explore the many courtyards, catacombs and gardens opened my eyes a little more to the world around me. I was completely immersed in the English culture, surrounded by wonderful people and wonderful music.

St. Paul's Cathedral

“We had spent our lives in school learning about famous places and famous people from long, long ago, but walking on the ground where they walked and seeing the things that they saw humbles you in a way that cannot fully be described in words.”

The first week in Canterbury flew by, and we soon had to say goodbye to that beautiful city and depart for London. London gave me many more wonderful opportunities, and I explored places that I never even dreamed I’d be exploring. From seeing the crown jewels to watching The Phantom of the Opera on Piccadilly Circus, I experienced it all. Nothing compares, however, to having the opportunity to perform the Evensong service inside St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Dr. Batey informed us that when singing inside St. Paul’s, our sounds would fill the cathedral and surround us for 7.8 seconds after they had been sung. Each time we opened our mouths, it sounded magical. I had never experienced acoustics like these in my life.

We sang our final Evensong in Westminster Abbey, which is a memory I will take with me for years to come. Not many people can say they have been to Westminster Abbey, much less performed there. With our hearts and minds full of these memories and opportunities dancing through our heads, we returned to the USA. I truly felt that this experience had developed me as person, helped me to become more confident in myself and in my future, and marked my college experience in a way that summer classes definitely would not have.

As Honors students, we are inclined to immerse ourselves in our work and think that grades are the most important thing; however, the reality is that as Honors students, we are called to go above and beyond the call of duty. This is why we are asked to complete community service hours, attend seminars, and complete the Ready for the World requirement.

The UT Chamber Singers were very blessed to have been invited to perform in these A-list venues, and when asked, Dr. Batey stated that “it was a delight to watch all the students as they made their discoveries through our travels!” If you still don’t believe that my experience was worth the time and effort, please go watch our UT videos about the trip. The link to our channel is here. I encourage you to watch these videos and see this for yourself.

If you’re a current student, I challenge you to be creative about your Ready for the World requirement. Combine it with one of your passions or interests, and you’ll have the recipe for success. Don’t let yourself become so focused on your classes that you forget to live a good, healthy college life and experience the world in a way you didn’t dream was possible. I urge you to really put thought into your experience, start saving money and fundraising, and go experience the world.

My Ready for the World experience truly prepared me to face the world and be brave enough to enter it when the time comes.