By the end of my sophomore year, I had begun to feel like I had figured out the entire Glee Club experience. I had hundreds of rehearsals, four tours, dozens of concerts, and scores of smaller performances under my belt, as well as a bevy of dinners, hay rides, beach trips, and other events with my fellow clubbers. By this point, a good number of my best friends were in the Glee Club and I had embraced what someone once pointed out to me – joining the Glee club isn’t something you do at Notre Dame, it’s something that help define how you experience ND. Despite all of this, all of the fun, growth, and memories I had gotten out of Club, none of it had prepared me for the time we would spend together over the summer of 2013 traveling through Spain and performing with my friends.
For the first portion of our trip, things proceeded somewhat like a normal tour. We traveled from city to city and performed the same set everywhere we went, give or take a few songs. However, we had a lot more free time, since we didn’t perform every night and short trips between concerts. After the first few days of napping off the jet lag, this gave us the time and freedom to experience tour as tourists, instead of just performers. In the first week we spent traveling, I saw more famous works of art and architecture than I usually see in several years. I tried new foods and drinks (many of us quickly became partial to tapas and sangria). And I got to relax in beautiful cities right after the long haul of a semester. Even so, the best part of the first week was easily the time I spent with my brothers in the Glee Club. We spent time walking around cities struggling to get by on fragments of Spanish which some of us knew, taking ridiculous pictures, and learning about Spain. Since we were staying together for the duration of the trip, we were able to stay in and eat cheap grocery meals when we started getting worn out. Four people could chip in a few euro each and we could sit with the windows open in a hotel room eating bread, cheese, and ham with a bottle of wine (we also learned that a two-euro bottle of wine was good enough for these impromptu picnics – a one-euro bottle of champagne was not). This part of the tour was so memorable that I actually had some of the guys over to my room the next year recreate the experience, though with slightly more expensive wine and slightly less fresh bread. This part of the tour was basically a normal vacation with some great friends, but the concerts added a huge element. The cathedrals and cities we visited became our concert venues, and our crowds, even in some of the smaller cities, sometimes overflowed into the various nooks and side chapels at the edges of the hulking spaces in which we sang. Seeing the enraptured audience, much of which would often not speak English, was an impacting lesson in the universality of music and performance. These performances, along with our day-to-day experiences, would only get better for the second half of the tour.
The latter portion of our tour was filled with a lot of walking. Mostly walking, really. Usually between fifteen and twenty-five miles for six days. It was exhausting and difficult (though Dan, our director, likes to talk about the athleticism of singing, that’s about as athletic as I normally get), but it was also enjoyable and rewarding. This walking took us through Galicia in northwestern Spain along the Camino de Santiago, a centuries-old pilgrimage that extends all the way to Paris in some of its longer routes. Thousands of people walk the Camino each year, and we were lucky to be able to do so together. Besides experiencing the Camino, which included meeting people from around the world, seeing the beautiful Spanish countryside, and, yes, a lot of walking, we got to walk it together. This let us get to know each other through conversation and cooperation along the way. To top it all off, we arrived in Santiago at the end of the trail across the span of several hours and were met by a film crew for a BBC documentary about the pilgrimage, and we were even featured, if only briefly, in the final cut. Again, while the travel was a great part of the experience, the singing added even more. Dan had prepared for the tour two Spanish folk songs, specifically from this region in Spain, songs which those attending our concerts had known since childhood. Getting to share their cherished music with these audiences was incredible, and seeing the emotion and appreciation the songs brought out in them is still among the most memorable concert experiences I have almost two years later. The fact that we were able to give something to our audiences beyond just the performance, something we do for our own sake as well as theirs, made these concerts special. At the end of this week of walking and singing (and exhaustion and sore feet), we had scheduled several more relaxing days. We shared in several large meals together and took a trip to the beach, closing out the tour with a break and a nice opportunity spend time together and look back over the amazing weeks we had just had. We finally returned home, somewhat tired and a little sunburned from the beach, but reluctantly.
All of this we were able to do for roughly the cost of airfare, with close friends, and at the beginning of the summer, allowing for fairly normal summer employment. The very fact that such a trip was possible is incredible, and the experiences we had on it made it even better. This summer, we’ll be traveling abroad again, this time going all over Europe, and, while I don’t know fully what’s in store, I know it’ll be one of the most formative experiences I have in my time at Notre Dame. Like so many other things I’ve been able to do with the Glee Club, it is a lasting reminder of how lucky I am to be a part of the group and to share in my passion for music and such wonderful experiences.