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From Maryland to the Mediterranean: The 黑料网 Choir鈥檚 Epic Greek Odyssey

by Morgan State U
June 05, 2024

From Maryland to the Mediterranean: The 黑料网 Choir’s Epic Greek Odyssey

 

BALTIMORE — The anticipation is palpable as dawn breaks over Morgan’s campus, the National Treasure, several hours after the conclusion of the academic year’s culminating event, the 147th Spring Commencement Exercises. This year, the , under the distinguished direction of Eric Conway, D.M.A., chair of the University’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts, embarks on an 11-day cultural odyssey to Greece — a land where ancient history and rich musical traditions converge. Renowned as “the Best College Choir in the U.S.” by Reader’s Digest, Morgan’s choir has long been a symbol of excellence, grace and the transformative power of music.

As it does each year, the choir begins its spring trek in northeastern Baltimore City. This year’s destination lies far across the Atlantic, where the echoes of antiquity and the melodies of contemporary Greece await. This tour is more than just a series of performances; it is an immersive voyage into the heart of an historic Mediterranean land that has significantly influenced Western culture and the arts. In the ensuing daily journal from Dr. Conway, be prepared to traverse the landscapes of Athens, Thessaloniki and the idyllic islands of the Aegean Sea, as he shares the many experiences and performances of these unofficial Morgan cultural ambassadors who serve as a bridge between our diverse heritage and the storied past of their Grecian hosts.

For many choir members, this trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage in cultural exchange, foster international friendships and hone their craft in unparalleled settings. From the ancient theaters where the first dramas were performed, to the majestic cathedrals that stand as testaments to Greece’s enduring faith, the vaunted voices of Morgan’s renowned choir resonated with the timeless spirit of this incredible land.

MSU Choir GreeceThe 11-day journal captures the essence of the choir’s experiences, the nuances of their performances and the heartfelt connections forged. From new lessons learned to challenges overcome and triumphs celebrated, Dr. Conway is the quintessential concierge for this remarkable journey, across the vibrant and historic tapestry of Greece, with the unrivaled 黑料网 Choir.

First Days In Greece (Days 1鈥3)

The 黑料网 Choir began our all-Greece tour on Monday, May 20, 2024. This year’s tour group includes 28 choir members with additional supporters, for a total group of 45. Our flight departed from Dulles Airport, where we boarded a red-eye Turkish Airlines flight to Greece. After a full 24 hours of travel, including a three-hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey, we arrived at our hotel at 11 p.m. Athens time — 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

After a good night’s sleep, we began our first day in Athens, Greece. We enjoyed a tasty breakfast on the 11th floor of the hotel, with a picturesque view of the Parthenon — a site we would visit later in the day. No concerts were scheduled for today, giving us time to re-collect. After travelling for a full day and experiencing a seven-hour time zone difference, we would have a relatively relaxed day to see some of the more iconic sites in Athens.

Our first stop was to see the Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games, in 1896. This is still the place where the Olympic torch begins its journey to the next Olympic Games — this year in France! From the former Olympic stadium, we had an hour and a half drive along the Greek coastline to the second most famous temple in Athens, the Temple of Poseidon. After the temple visit, we stopped at a restaurant on the beach, where we could order our lunch and/or swim!

The most important stop of the day, and possibly the entire tour, was to see the iconic Greek Acropolis. Acropolis literally means “high city.” Many ancient cities were built on elevated land, to make them more easily protected. The Greek Acropolis is by far the most important structure in Greek culture and perhaps the most important structure in Western civilization. The Acropolis symbolizes the best of ancient Greek Classical culture — including architecture, art, music, drama and political science.

The Parthenon is the most famous structure at the Acropolis, which includes several other temples. The Parthenon is dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, for whom the city of Athens was named. To visit this structure, one can only be amazed that it is still standing more than 2,500 years later. More incredible is how a structure made completely of marble, with parts weighing easily several tons, could be lifted atop the columns in perfect alignment. Today, architects still marvel at the precision and the use of the golden ratio in its construction.

As a result of a Morean War in 1687, many structures of the Acropolis were damaged by explosion. The Acropolis today is still standing but has been in a process of restoration for many decades. As one would expect, engineers must carefully manage the restoration of this structure.

After the obligatory group picture at the Parthenon, we returned to the hotel for dinner and preparation for our first concert at a large Catholic Church in Athens: the Holy Catholic Cathedral of Saint Denis the Areopagite.

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Athens And The Cathedral of St. Dionsyius (Day 4)

This morning, our Greece tour group departed early for a rehearsal and sound check at the venue of our concert this evening: the Cathedral of St. Dionysius, the main Roman Catholic Church of Athens. We rehearsed in the morning because a daily Vespers service was scheduled for the cathedral from 6:00–7:15 p.m., prior to our 7:30 p.m. concert. During our sound check, we were startled by how loud our 28-choir member ensemble sounded! The acoustics sounded as though we were amplified, with iPhone sound alerts sounding off at the loudest moments in the music.

After a good sound check, we proceeded on a walking tour of Athens. Greece officially became a sovereign nation in 1832 after gaining its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830. After a brief period when the capital city was in Nafplio, Athens, because of its historical significance, was chosen as the capital city of Greece. The newly appointed King Otto decided to erect buildings befitting a capital city. The Athenian Trilogy, including the University of Athens, the Academy and the National Library, was one of the first projects under this vision. These three buildings represent a quintessential example of neoclassical architecture, which was very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries across Greece and all over Europe. We then visited the Greek House of Parliament.

The central area of Athens being very pedestrian-friendly, the group was released to explore the Athenian town center on our own. We took advantage of the opportunity to visit local Greek establishments, eating authentic Greek gyros and generally taking in Greek culture.

After a relaxing day walking around Athens, when the weather could not have been more perfect for a walking tour, we returned to get dressed for our first concert. As one might imagine, given that Greece is where democracy began, it has more protests than most countries, although peaceful. As fate would have it, outside our concert venue, a block from the Parliament building, protests were being made rather exuberantly. Unfortunately, this impacted the attendance, as some entrances to the church had to be blocked. Many parishioners could not attend the Thursday night concert or the earlier mass, but as with many churches in the United States, they had an awesome streaming platform that was able to stream the concert.

After the concert, we all had a late dinner in the heart of Athens. We were all surprised by the traditional Greek salad, which had no greens, romaine or spinach, only cucumbers, onions, bell peppers, olives, tomatoes, vinegar and feta cheese. The waiter brought out the main course, which was an assortment of meats on a platter — pork and chicken fillets, hamburger, sausage and spareribs all on top of a bed of French-fried potatoes! After the meal, we enjoyed a tasty chocolate dessert.

Corfu Island And The Ionian Sea (Day 5)

Day 5 of our tour was a travel day from Athens to the Greek island of Corfu. This would be our most extensive travel day in Greece, when we would have a five-hour drive from the eastern region of Greece to the western coast. Upon arrival at the coast, we would board a ferry to Corfu, along with our 60-passenger bus!

Everyone was on time for our departure, knowing that if we were late, we might miss our scheduled ferry. During the drive, we were impressed with the Greek infrastructure and the quality of the roads. The countryside was quite picturesque. Along the way, we drove across the Corinth Canal. The bottom portion of Greece is connected by an isthmus, a narrow strip of land with sea on either side, less than four miles across. The Ionian Sea is on the western coast and the Aegean Sea is on the eastern coast of Greece. For centuries, Greek rulers envisioned digging out the small stretch of land and creating a canal to save sailors more than 430 miles around the peninsula to arrive at the port city of Athens. It is only recently that we have had the technology to realize this vision. See a pic below of the impressive structure that is now a tourist attraction in itself, besides being a functional canal! We also were surprised to see we would be driving over the longest multi-spanned, cable-stayed bridge in the world: the Antirrio Bridge

We stopped along the way at a Greek fast-food establishment named Goody’s Burger House for lunch, which was economical and tasty. The entire ride to Corfu was very relaxing, as there were very few cars on the road. We were excited to be singing on the island, the home of our tour leader, Georgia Kardaki.

Many of us were concerned about riding on a ferry with a coach bus that weighed more than 40,000 pounds! We were comforted when we saw multiple tractor trailers already on the ship ahead of our bus, with no issues regarding flotation.

Of the 6,000 islands in Greece, Corfu is the seventh largest. Being on the western portion of the country, in the Ionian Sea, Corfu has much more western European influence than any other part of Greece. Corfu is the only region of Greece that was not occupied by the Turkish empire. When one sees the Corfu architecture, one will immediately notice the Italian influence. Although Athens now is a national cultural center, Corfu was the original cultural center of Greece for many years, with the first opera house in the country!

Upon arriving at Corfu, we only had a short 30-minute ride to our hotel, which we discovered was almost on the runway of the Corfu Airport! After a few hours of rest, we went to dinner in the historic town center. Given our limited time on the island, we immediately took a walk around historic Corfu. After a request from someone who recognized we were a choir, we were asked to sing one song. The choir broke out in song, which happened to be in front of the first opera house in Greece.

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Grecian Beaches, Thomas Flaggins Choir & "Arnisi" (Day 6)

The itinerary for Day 6 had our group touring other parts of Corfu Island, before our big concert this evening.

We started the day at a beach in Paleokastritsa. We have noticed that virtually all of the beaches in Greece are beautiful, with clean sand, and water so clear that you can see the floor of the sea. We were shown this beach, in particular, because there are caves in the mountains around the beach. Boats take tourists on rides to see the caves and the island from the water, and to view the schools of blue fish. Most of the group decided to explore the caves by boat for a cost of 15 Euros. After our return, we had lunch at the Golden Fox, a restaurant 750 feet above the beach, for another stunning look at the water and the entire island. After lunch, we rested until our 8:30 p.m. concert!

Our concert was at the “Old Fortress” of Corfu. This fortress is the first site one sees when taking the ferry to Corfu. The fortress was initially constructed in the sixth century in a position ideal to protect the island. The fort is revered for its construction, being one of the best fortresses ever designed from a military science perspective. The fortress is one of the main reasons the Turks were never able to conquer Corfu Island.

Prior to the concert, we had dinner in a restaurant at the fort, part of the Sailing Club of Corfu. This was very convenient, as we only had a five-minute walk to our concert venue.

The fortress, of course, is no longer used, however, there is a church inside the fortress, St. George’s Chapel, which regularly holds concerts. The concert tonight was shared with a local choir, the Thomas Flagginis Choir, who opened our concert. They sang a beautiful arrangement of Ave Maria and a local Greek song before our presentation. The concert was well attended, despite the threat of rain late in the day. As we have done in the past, the Morgan choir learned one song in Greek, the local language. We were fortunate to have a Morgan philosophy professor, Marcos Bisticas-Cocoves, whose family is from Greece, to help the choir learn the Greek of our local song, “Arnisi.” At the conclusion of the concert, both choirs joined forces to sing the Greek song. The choir director of the local choir presented the choir with a beautiful gift, the symbol of Corfu in a replica of a Greek ship. Our tour director, Georgia Kardaki, was very enthusiastic to share “her” Morgan choir group with her community. We returned to our hotel to prepare for our next stop, Ioannina!

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Cultueal Exchange: Ancient Greece (Day 7)

On Day 7, we prepared to leave Corfu. Once again, we needed to take a ferry, bus and all, back to the mainland of Greece. We noticed how different every ferry was in the Ionian Sea fleet. The ferry on our return was much larger, with an enclosed passenger section with a bar and small restaurant. On the larger ferry, the ride was smoother than the ride to Corfu. Upon arrival at the mainland port, our final destination for the day was Ioannina, the site of our next concert.

On the way to Ioannina, we made a stop at the sacred site of the oracle of Dodona, the second most famous oracle in Greece, after the oracle of Delphi. Dodona was reported to be the oracle of Zeus. Ancient Greeks would come to oracles, such as Dodona, write questions on a metal sheet and give the questions to the priest, who would interpret the signs of nature displayed shortly thereafter.

In the same complex, we saw one of the earliest amphitheaters of Greece. Greece is known worldwide for its novel political approach, rule by the people, namely democracy. It was in these amphitheaters that the citizens would assemble to discuss issues and publicly take votes. Many do not know that Greece is equally responsible for much of the fine art, music and theatre arts in the Western world. Even today, Greek drama and music are performed on this site, more than 2,000 years later.

After a quick stop for lunch, we checked into our hotel, the Epirus Hotel and Conference Center. We were surprised to learn that this was a five-star hotel, but with prices much lower than those for standard American hotel rooms, no doubt due to the location. After a relaxing afternoon, we went to the site of our next concert, the Society of Epirot Studies. Unfortunately, our concert began after the first rainfall we have experienced in Greece and at the same time as the European Basketball finals, in which Greece was a finalist. This did impact the attendance. Still, the audience we had was respectable.

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Travels To Nafpaktos And Mesolongi (Day 8)

Day 8 of our tour of Greece included travel to Nafpaktos, where we would spend the night. We would have a big outdoor concert in the evening in the town of Mesolongi (or Missolonghi).

We drove for about two hours from Ioannina to Nafpaktos, retracing our route from Athens. Nafpaktos is a community on the water, close to the large suspension bridge we crossed on the way to Corfu. We stayed in a small hotel, reminiscent of small New York boutique hotels. We were the only group in the hotel, and eight members of our group stayed at a sister property only one block away. This hotel was literally on the waterfront, within a 50-yard walk to the water. Those who did not walk along the shoreline could walk the small town of Nafpaktos, which reminded everyone of a small beach town, with its many shops. Most found a place for lunch in the downtown area.

In the evening, we left for dinner and the Mesolongi concert. We discovered that we would be singing in a new outdoor amphitheater. Given the time of the concert and our close proximity to the water, the air was chilly, and our choir robes felt good! Our performance would be the first official concert in this venue. We ate dinner at a restaurant only a couple of minutes away: a scrumptious meal of fresh fish, in which the entire fish, head and tail, was served. Many believed this was the best meal of the tour. After our meal, we went to the venue of our concert.

We were surprised that our concert began at 9 p.m. We were told that in Greece, particularly in the summer months, no activity begins before 9 p.m. It is not unusual to begin evening meals as late as 11 p.m. The deputy mayor and president of the Port Authority were on site to welcome the choir. As with our Corfu performance, a local choir opened the concert. The Mesolongi choir was large, with close to 50 singers. Being the inaugural performance and after a beautiful, sunny day, we had a great audience. Once again, the two choirs sang a Greek song together as an encore finale.

In the outdoor amphitheater, the audience had immediate access to the performers, who came up to the choir members to give their compliments on our performance. Many attendees approached us with tears in their eyes to say how moved they were by our performance. One person told me she thought our concert was a dream and that she didn’t want to wake up! The deputy mayor invited the choir to return next year to perform in a larger, 15,000-seat outdoor venue! As many locals were recording our performances on their mobile devices, we believe they will be listening to our choir performance long after we leave the country. Tomorrow, we will drive to Nafplio, the original capital city of modern Greece.

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The Fruit Of The Mediteranean: Olive Oil And Nafplio (Day 9)

Everyone awoke refreshed on Day 9 of our Greece tour, after an exciting outdoor concert in Mesolongi! We would now leave for the site of our final concert, in Nafplio, the original capital of modern Greece!

On our way to Nafplio, we stopped by an olive oil manufacturer, Markell’s Olive Groves. Since we arrived in Greece, we have seen literally thousands of olive trees, which with the cypress are the most abundant trees in Greece. Greece is the third largest producer of olive oil in the world, behind Spain and Italy. All these Mediterranean countries have climates perfect to grow the olive tree. We were told that although other countries produce olive oil, the olive oil in Greece is hands-down the best and that the other countries import the Greek product!

Much like a wine tasting tour, we had an olive oil tasting tour, where one of the owners spoke about his company and its processes. We saw the machines that extracted, de-pitted and ultimately pressed the olives to produce the oil. He spoke about the different flavors of olive oils, noting the higher polyphenol olive oil — for improved health — should taste the most bitter. Everyone sat in front of a place setting at a table and tried several different varieties of olive oil — with bread to dip! This family-owned business sold their olive oil, as well as soaps, lotions and shampoos made with olive oil. At the end of the day, we knew more about olives and olive oil than we would ever have considered!

After a drive of an hour or so, we arrived in Nafplio, Greece. We stayed at another posh hotel, the Nafplia Palace. Again, the price of this hotel per night was extremely reasonable compared with U.S. prices. The hotel was built in 1714 inside a fortress, the Palamidi castle, high above the capital city! Every room in the hotel has breathtaking views of Nafplio. And everyone in Nafplio can see the hotel.

This was a great last hotel for the tour, where we would stay all of three nights! The adventure began when we tried to drive up the mountain to the hotel. The streets to the hotel were so narrow and steep that we had to get off the bus and board two vans to be shuttled to the hotel. When we finally arrived, we felt like we were in a little portion of paradise! Due to the logistics of having a five-star hotel so high above the town, an elevator was installed that took guests from the hotel level through the mountain to the street level within 45 seconds. After taking that elevator ride, we walked to dinner.

The food in Greece has been good, however, the people here are used to eating much later than we do in the United States. We have generally been eating our final meals of the day after 9 p.m., which is late, by most American standards.

Tonight, at dinner, we were given a choice of four different entrees. I chose an entree I have never had before: rooster! In the United States, we generally serve only chicken, but in Greece, a distinction is made between chicken and rooster, and they eat both. As you would guess, the meat of a rooster is a little more tough! So, it is generally cooked a little longer than a typical chicken. The rooster was served with pasta, noodles and tomatoes — very tasty!

We all walked back to the hotel around 10:30 p.m. to prepare for our last couple of days in Greece.

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The Greek Parliament, Democracy And "I Have A Dream" (Day 10)

The main event of Day 10 of our Greece tour will be our final concert held in the former Greek Parliament building.

Although we have been in Greece for nine days, with the relentless schedule that was planned, most of the group still feels a little sluggish and jet-lagged, being seven time zones removed from Eastern Daylight Time. Although we had originally planned a tour of another fortress in Nafplio, we decided to give the group a free morning instead — to sleep in, go shopping or go to the beach — before our evening concert.

The Greek Parliament building was originally a Turkish mosque, consisting of a large open room covered with a huge dome. It is now run by the Ministry of Culture and is used for large meetings, presentations or speeches. Once again, a high-ranking city official, this time the deputy mayor of Nafplio, was on hand to greet the group.

During the sound check, I was concerned that the former Parliament building had too many hard surfaces, creating a very loud and harsh sound. It was challenging to corral the sound of the group during our short rehearsal. Often in venues, the sound will change considerably once an audience is in their seats, and that was indeed the case during the concert. The acoustics and size of the room were such that everyone in the choir could hear everything. The Parliament building was near the major city square in Nafplio, Syntagma Square. During the concert, with the windows opened, one could hear the Morgan choir singing throughout the small town. As we predicted, 10 minutes into the concert, the place was packed with random persons who heard the choir and wanted to attend.

In an effort to make it interesting for the shadow group who accompanied the choir, I typically change the program every concert. Tonight’s concert in the Parliament building featured our “I Have a Dream” composition. When we finished the piece, the audience clapped for at least two minutes in appreciation, as though it were a Greek favorite. Immediately afterward, we offered our Morgan proprietary arrangement of “If I Can Help Somebody,” which was similarly received. We believed we had a great final concert for our tour!

We would go out to dinner again, after the concert, to begin dinner well after 10 p.m. We were the only patrons in the restaurant, as it was opened especially for us this evening. We were served a typical Greek dish, Moussaka, which is a casserole-like dish with cooked ground meat smothered by mashed potatoes. I always say, “To taste the food is to taste the culture!”

As with an earlier concert, our performance this evening was opposite another Greek sporting event, a European Soccer final, when most citizens in Greece were home watching the big game. The Greek team won the Europa Conference League title for the first time! In the middle of the night, one could hear the loud celebrations in the streets. Some of us were somewhat concerned that it sounded like a riot, but here in Greece, all celebrations were civil!

We left the restaurant to prepare for our last full day in Greece!

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韦O 韦螘螞螣危: 螠螜螒 围螒巍螣违螠螘螡螚 螘螤螜危韦巍螣桅螚 (Day 11) The End: A Joyful Return

Day 11 was our last full day in Greece! We enjoyed our last buffet breakfast in the country, with an absolutely breathtaking view of the Nafplio Harbor, whose centerpiece was the Bourtzi Fortress. The Venetian-built fortress is the symbol of Nafplio, seen on many souvenirs. It is interesting that, for many years, the fortress was used as a prison, where prisoners who were to be executed would live out the last days of their lives. Looking at the fortress, it was reminiscent of Alcatraz or Robben Island.

After breakfast, we left for a 45-minute drive to the Epidaurus Theatre, the biggest ancient theatre in the world, with seating for as many as 15,000. We marveled at the acoustics of the theatre, which had seats set at an angle that appeared perfect to amplify the sound from the stage. The Morgan choir wanted to sing a song in the space, but the theatre guards told us that was strictly prohibited. The theatre is still active today, with eight to 10 performances each season, but only ancient dramas are allowed to be performed in the space. When we returned to Nafplio, where we were free to grab lunch and/or purchase our last souvenirs from Greece. We had only a farewell dinner left on the itinerary!

Our 6:30 p.m. farewell dinner was noticeably earlier than any other meal on the tour. This was intentional, as the group had to have our luggage outside of our rooms by 9 p.m., to save time transporting the bags to the street level in the morning. The meal was the most American-like meal we had during the whole tour. We were served a salad, and fried chicken that was prepared much differently than in our country but was very delicious, nonetheless.

During the dinner, the group reflected on our 11 days in Greece. We first spoke about the fact that we had six first-year students on the tour, some of whom had never left the States previously and some of whom perhaps were the first in their immediate family to leave our country. These first-year choir members, as well as the entire choir, were excellent citizens during the week and represented the University well.

We then recognized our exceptional tour guide, Georgia Kardaki, who had the perfect personality and temperament to deal with an American choral group numbering 45, ranging in age from young adults to near-octogenarians. She answered the many questions accurately and without attitude. Georgia always performed beyond our expectations. For example, choir members found two stray kittens during the tour and became very attached to them. We could not take them back home through customs, so Georgia took her time to find the kittens a home. After a few hours of calling around, a home was found. Georgia named the two kittens Morgan and State! Choir members thought so much of her that they presented her a card inscribed with the sentiments of all. One choir member presented her with a hat he made expressly for her, which she said she would treasure always. We will miss Georgia!

This would also be the last tour and concert for three choir members who graduated a couple of weeks ago at our May commencement ceremonies. One graduate, Darrin Scott, has been my choir librarian for six years, after receiving both his baccalaureate and master’s degrees from Morgan. I will hate not seeing Darrin in the choir anymore, however, this is part of the cycle of college: matriculation to graduation!

We were scheduled to leave at 5:30 a.m. We all received wake-up calls, as a precaution, at 5 a.m. We received box breakfasts to start our day. After an hour-and-a-half drive to the airport, we collectively said goodbye to Greece, to make our 10:30 a.m. flight for departure. We again had a connection in Istanbul, Turkey, the hub of Turkish Air. After another 10-hour-and-44-minute flight, we will arrive at Dulles for our motorcoach ride back to campus!

Having led many of these tours over the years, I can say this Greece tour was in many ways one of the smoothest, with no snafus on the trip. Some of us on the tour will travel a few days from now to Normandy, France, where the 黑料网 Marching Band will perform for the 80th anniversary commemoration of the invasion of Normandy beach on D-Day.

黑料网 continues to make our presence known — around the globe!

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