Monday, 20 June 2016

Lehigh Choral Composers Forum: Day 1 (well.... sort of....)

So, I'm off to another composing forum/workshop - this time, for a week in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, for a course entirely about writing for choir (my favourite thing to write for). Since Bethlehem isn't a major US city (unlike Charlotte, where I was last year), the easiest thing for me to do was fly into Philadelphia, and, of course, make a trip of it and stay in Philly for a few days!

So to begin with, I had a looooong day of travel. I got up at 5am in Guernsey, drove to the airport, fly to Gatwick, took a bus to Heathrow, and then there was another bus taking us to the plane, then a 7(ish)hour flight to Philadelphia, followed by the confusion that is the Philly public trains and subways, before finally making it to my Hostel at 5.30pm Philly time.... if you're trying to figure it out, that's like 16hrs of solid travelling through pretty much every medium I could find! Safe to say, utterly shattered. I decided to stay at the Philadelphia House, which is a hostel. For those of you have maybe never stayed in a hostel before, it's basically a communal place to stay, so this particular hostel is pretty small in size, with on average 8 beds to a room, and then shared bathrooms, kitchen, sofa area etc etc. For me, when travelling alone, this is a great place to stay, as you immediately meet people, and are welcomed to stay, and then are inevitably invited to join in activities. For this hostel, I arrived just in time for Happy Hour, followed by Pubcrawl night..... Now, I'm not insane, and I'm not going to lie, I was feeling somewhat worse for wear after travelling all day! However, I took my free beers and enjoyed the company of those at the hostel before retiring to sleep.

The Betsy Ross House
Saturday was my excursion day, and I decided to try and cram in as much of Philadelphia as physically possible. I spent the morning walking the area around my hostel, which is known as Old City. I can safely say, the best part of the city. Full of little eateries, vintage shops, many bars, and just generally a lovely hustle and bustle about it. Philadelphia itself is a very walkable city, and I tried to walk as much as I could, as I found the subway system a little hostile (seriously people, detect the accent, I'm clearly not local, and may need help figuring things out!) My morning also saw me explore the city's National Parks, including the Betsy Ross House, the Liberty Bell, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Independence Hall. My afternoon took me to the Reading Terminal Market, which, for any of you who've ever watched 'Man vs. Food' will have heard of 'Dinic's', and the infamous Roast Pork Sandwich. Yes I bought it, and yes it was incredibly delicious! Suitably fuelled up, I then walked the epically long journey from City Hall all the way to The Philadelphia Art Museum, home of the (again)
When in Philly... Cheesesteak!
infamous Rocky Steps. And no, I didn't run up them, as the blisters of my feet had already started forming and I still had to walk all the way back! I decided to be terribly british about it, and walked up them all at a sensible leisurely pace. Also, it was 32C by then, there was no way I was running anywhere, lest I melt! After making it back to Old City, it was time for dinner, and, when in Philly, that can mean only one thing.... Cheesesteak! Definitely a delicious entity, although a very rich and filling one that I really couldn't do regularly! After bowing out of the Friday night pub-crawl, imagine my delight at finding out the hostel was holding a Saturday pub-crawl! Hurrah! A huge convoy (apparently, one of the largest the hostel has ever had) of us made our way through several bars in Philly, slowly losing people in dribs and drabs, until it was just me, a Peruvian, a guy from Austin Texas and an Australian.... which sounds like some bizarre set up to a crazy joke.... but no! Safe to say the four of us bonded over shared humour and silly faces! We ended up at the Spruce Street Habour Park, where the are dockside bars, and a seating area consisting of hammocks in trees covered in fairy lights - absolutely awesome!

'Breakfast'
My Sunday began slowly (partly due to the party had the night before...) and breakfast consisted of coffee and ice-cream. Yes, really! I got myself to the Franklin Fountain, yet another famous eatery in Philly, also featured on 'Man vs. Food'. A proper old-times ice-cream palour, and I can honestly say the best ice-cream I've ever eaten, and I feel no shame whatsoever for having it for breakfast! I highly recommend you try this place if you're ever in Philly. Although, be warned, the lines are out the door and round the corner! I continued my day by getting on the Bieber Bus (yes, I know, really, 'Bieber') to Bethlehem, and making my way to the Zoellner Arts Centre on the Lehigh University Campus, which will be home for the next week. Did have a bit of a tough time trying to find the registration building (and walking around on blistered feet lugging a suitcase was also not my idea of a good time), but thankfully one of the course interns found me (feeling sorry for myself on a bench) and it all got sorted.

Feeling pumped, like Rocky Balboa! 
The welcome dinner for the Choral Composers Forum started on sunday evening, and it was certainly an evening of surprises! Firstly, I was shocked to discover I was the only female here! Dr Steven Sametz assured me that this is an unusual occurrence, to have only one woman at the forum, so I guess that's good to know.... still feels a bit weird though! I'm also the only person from the UK, and only one of three from outside the US (although one of those is one of the faculty who is Swedish, and the other is from Taiwan, but studying in the US). I'm also the only person with perfect pitch (you may remember that there were four of us at the Charlotte New Music Festival), although two of the guys here have synethsesia (seeing music as colour). The next surprise came as homework! After dinner, chat and introductions we were handed a short piece of text, and told we had until 8.30am Monday to write something. We were safely reassured that, for this forum, there are no mistakes, you cannot fail in any way whilst taking part in this forum. A fantastic sentiment, and a great environment to be in, that's for sure! We were also told that, as the Princeton Singers were not going to be here until Tuesday, and we would be reading the scores Monday morning (and by reading, I mean, hearing them performed), I got asked a lot of, 'so, are you happy singing Alto, or Soprano?' questions as people were retiring to the practice rooms to write. So I guess I've got a lot of singing ahead of me on Monday!.... Of course I did reassure everyone I could in fact sing Tenor if needs be!

All in all, a fantastic start to me US adventure in Pennsylvania - from Philadelphian culture to the beginnings of 'composer fantasy camp' at Lehigh University!