Dr. Eric Conway on Day 9 in Australia:
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 and/or when to get off.
Melbourne had a similar market 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, 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, 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 aver travelled on of any major city. By the way, this was the Yarra River.
We had another excellent meal. We were given several choices of beef, chicken, pork or vegetarian. Our tour guide Udo Jungmann had been exceptional to our group, always responding to our wishes as much as possible in the context of a scripted itinerary. We all took up a collection for his extraordinary service. I made the presentation on behalf of the group.
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 Univeristy 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 boast over 17 orchestra 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. Although Melbourne's St. Patrick's cathedral is larger and taller, 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. His comments were followed by Melbourne's Consul General of the United States, Mary Burce Warlick who extended every courtesy to our president and university. 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. The entire cathedral of over 1000+ individuals were on their feet giving our choir their plaudits.
After a brief intermission, both choirs gathered to present the second half of the concert. The first three selections were conducted by me. 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, many 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 conducting 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 presenting 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 in part hosted by the American Consulate, it seemed to make sense. At the conclusion, everyone, who stilled stayed in the hall, after Anitra McKinney's stirring lead performance, were clapping with vigor showing their support of the America and the choir!
After the concert, the Melbourne Univeristy choir treated the entire group out to drinks in a local pub (that is what Australian's do - go to pubs to socialize). The place for the exchange 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!!! Choir 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!
Dr. Eric Conway