Greece

Delphi, Greece

Sunday was our last full day in Greece. After an early breakfast at our hotel we boarded our motor coaches for the two-and-a-half hour ride to Delphi. On the way we passed through the small ski resort town of Arachova, where our bus somehow managed to navigate the narrow, winding streets.

Delphi, Greece

Delphi Theatre, Greece

Delphi is home to the most important religious site of the ancient Greek world. Thousands of Greeks came to Delphi to consult the oracle, who delivered the words of Apollo by inhaling vapors, slipping into a trance, and uttering her message to a priest. The priest would then pass these words onto the visitor.
Above: The theater at Delphi, where up to five thousand spectators enjoyed plays, poetry readings, and musical events.

SCSU students and chaperones in Delphi, Greece.

Above: SCSU students and chaperones in Delphi.
Below: SCSU Honors Colleges students with President Papazian (left), and Terese Gemme (right) in Delphi.

SCSU Honors College students in Delphi, Greece

Below: SCSU students in Delphi.SCSU students at Delphi, GreeceAfter touring the site we visited the adjacent Archaeological Museum of Delphi. The museum’s extensive artifacts were unearthed during excavations at the Delphi oracle and vicinity.

Large Sphinx of Naxos at the Delphi Museum.Above: The Large Sphinx of Naxos at the Delphi Museum.
Below: The Charioteer of Delphi at the Delphi Museum.

The charioteer of Delphi at the Delphi Museum.A steady rain began just before we left the site for lunch. The day ended with a final dinner in the Plaka district. We grabbed just a few hours of sleep before leaving for our very early flight back home.

Final dinner in Athens, GreeceAt our final dinner in the Plaka shopping district. Antio from Athens!

 

On Saturday the choir performed its final concert. The venue was the beautiful Piraeus Municipal Theater, considered one of the finest examples of 19th-century Greek public architecture. Sunshine and warmer temperatures provided the perfect backdrop for a post-concert group photo in front of the theater.

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After lunch in the Plaka shopping district we headed over to the Acropolis Museum.
Located about 1,000 feet from the Acropolis, the museum is built on top of several layers of the ancient city, and houses all many artifacts found at the Acropolis, including the Frieze of the Parthenon and the Caryatids from the south porch of the Erechtheion. Opened in 2009, it is considered to be one of the top museums in the world. A transparent floor provides views of the excavation, and the upward slope of the floor alludes to the ascent to the Acropolis.

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The day concluded with a lively festival farewell dinner, where two choir members with recent birthdays received surprise cakes.

Greece_15-7529Photos from top: The SCSU choir in front of the Piraeus Municipal Theater; Artifacts at the Acropolis Museum; Choir members Ashley and Sarah Jane celebrate their birthdays; From left: University of Alberta Madrigal Singers choir director Leonard Ratzlaff, guest director Simon Carrington, Michael Clohesy of KI Concerts, SCSU choir director Terese Gemme, and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish choir director Matt Eldred.

Boarding the

On Friday we took a day-long cruise to three Greek Islands: Hydra, Poros, and Aegina, located in the Aegean Sea. We boarded the “Athens One Day Cruise” ship in Piraeus, a port city six miles southwest of central Athens. We arrived in Hydra a little over an hour later, where we had enough time to explore the shops along the waterfront, and hike the narrow stone-paved streets. Many of us tried out the island’s traditional mode of transportation – the donkey!

Riding donkeys on Hydra, Greece

Back on the ship we sat down to a buffet lunch of pasta, greek salad, fish, and chicken.

Next up was a short visit to Poros, with its small, winding streets. Although many of the shops and cafes were closed due to the holiday, the cheek-to-jowl whitewashed homes with colorful orange roofs provided a stunning setting. Steep steps led up to a clock tower and a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

Pulling into Poros, Greece

Our final stop was Aegina, known for “the best” pistachios in the world, as well where Nikos Kazantzakis wrote “Zorba the Greek.” Many from the group opted for the Panoramic Bus Tour – a drive across the entire island, with a stop at the Church of Saint Nectarios.

Seafood snack in Aegina, GreeceChoir members enjoying a “seafood snack” on the island of Aegina.

Aboard the "Athens One Day Cruise"On board the “Athens One Day Cruise.”

Donkeys on Hydra, GreeceDonkeys at the port of Hydra, Greece.

President Papazian with her daughters Marie and Ani in Poros, GreecePresident Papazian enjoying the water views with her daughters Marie and Ani on the island of Poros.

Greek dancing aboard the "Athens One Day Cruise"

A traditional Greek folk show with costumed singers and dancers entertained us as we made our way back to Athens.

Dancing aboard the ship on the way back to Athens, Greece

Winter finally arrived in Athens on Thursday. Swirling flakes of snow combined with a brisk wind made for a challenging early morning visit to the Acropolis of Athens. This ancient citadel sits on a rocky outcrop high above the city. Literally translated, Acropolis means “highest point in the city.”

View from the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Its most famous ruins are from the Parthenon, which dates from about 447 B.C. Olive trees line the steps leading up to the ruins, which is only fitting since they provided the ancient Greeks with oil for heating, perfumes, and soaps, as well as food for their goats. Olives are still a major part of the Greek economy.

SCSU Choir members at the Acropolis

Six figures of the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens, Greece

We walked up and around an area with the ruins of buildings from 2500 years ago. Enough of the buildings remain to make their grace and beauty clear.

Venetian lions at the Beulé Gate, Athens, Greece

Honors College students with Terese Gemme at the Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Many of the artifacts recovered from the site live in the Acropolis Museum; a visit is on the agenda for Saturday.


SCSU choir performing at Syntagma Square, Athens, GreeceNext up was concert number two: an outdoor performance at Syntagma Square, a major public square in downtown Athens. The sun provided a brief respite from the cold, and the choir was in high spirits. Selections included a number of familiar holiday songs, and audience participation was encouraged. Balloon vendors and dancers dressed as cartoon characters contributed to the festive atmosphere.

SCSU choir performing at Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece

SCSU choir performing at Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece

Then it was off to our New Year’s Eve celebration dinner; a lively affair at a restaurant in the Plaka shopping district where were serenaded by guitar and bouzouki (an eight-stringed instrument). There was dancing and renditions of “In the Still of the Night” by several choir members.

Celebrating New Year's Eve and Mary Rose's birthday at the Acropol Restaurant, Athens, Greece

Celebrating New Year's Eve and Mary Rose's birthday at the Acropol Restaurant, Athens, Greece

Celebrating New Year's Eve and Mary Rose's birthday at the Acropol Restaurant, Athens, Greece

Photos from top: The Parthenon; A view from the Acropolis showing the Theatre of Dionysus, considered to be the oldest theatre in the world; choir members at the Acropolis; six figures of the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion; Venetian lions at the Beulé Gate; Honors College students with Terese Gemme at the Acropolis; Performing at Syntagma Square; Celebrating New Year’s Eve and Mary Rose’s birthday at the Acropol Restaurant.; President Papazian (center) joins in the dancing.

After hours of rehearsal over two days with guest conductor Simon Carrington and two other choirs, the Southern choir finally held its first performance Wednesday evening.

Simon Carrington directs SCSU choir in Athens, Greece.

“The choir was superb,” said Southern President Mary Papazian. “I know how hard they have been working, and it paid off. They sang with great emotion. Their love of music and joy of song came through loud and clear. It was a thrill.”

The 52-member Southern choir was joined by the University of Alberta (Canada) Madrigal Singers, and the East Lansing (Michigan) St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Choir. They sang three pieces: Missa Brevis, Moonlight Music, and Aesop’ s Fables. The Southern choir by itself also performed a traditional Greek folk song, The Kalanta of the New Year (St. Basil’s Day); “Lullaby” from Three Nocturnes; Go Tell it On the Mountain; and I Believe. The haunting lyrics from the last piece were found etched into a basement wall in Auschwitz after the holocaust.

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when He is silent.

Choir director Terese Gemme complimented the group on all their hard work. “When we sing we give our gift to the audience. Tonight we sang with love.”

“Working with Simon was such an amazing experience,” said choir member Rosalie Coriolan, ’14. “I am so very grateful for this incredible opportunity.”

Top: Southern choir director Terese Gemme addresses the audience.
Above: Guest director Simon Carrington leads the Southern choir.

 

Athens Trip

After a second rehearsal at the Literary Club Parnassos on Tuesday, we sat down to a festival welcome dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant, The Olive Garden (not to be confused with the Italian restaurant chain of the same name).

SCSU choir in rehearsal in Athens, Greece.

Fun fact: Greece is the third largest producer of olive oil, after Spain and Italy.
While helping ourselves to the sumptuous buffet, we enjoyed a breathtaking view of the Acropolis glowing in the distance. All were in great spirits, anticipating their first performance Wednesday. The romantic atmosphere even inspired two couples to announce their engagements! Geeta and Matt, left, and Nick and Ashley, center, pose with choir members after sharing the happy news.

Members of the SCSU choir at the hotel in Athens, Greece.

Top: Maestro Simon Carrington directs the choir during rehearsal.
Above: Choir members atop the hotel at the festival welcome dinner.

Tuesday dawned sunny and warm, perfect for a trip to the ancient city of Corinth. We boarded our motor coaches at the hotel entrance for the hour-long ride, guided by our Athens-based historian, Yannis, who provided colorful commentary on everything from the number of taxis in Athens (16,000) to the four pillars of the Greek economy (shipping, agriculture, industry, and tourism).

On the way were groves of olive, cypress, and pine trees; mountains disappearing in the mist; car dealers and auto parts stores; oil refineries; and highway signs in a mix of English and Greek. We passed a number of small, ornate roadside shrines, marking the sites of car accidents. Friends and relatives construct these as a thank you to the saints for sparing the lives of those involved in the accidents.

Corinth, Greece

Located on the isthmus that connects mainland Greece with the Peloponnese, and surrounded by natural springs, Corinth was the biggest city in ancient Greece. Ancient Corinth became a center of early Christianity, following visits by Paul the Apostle, a Christian leader who is credited with several chapters in the new testament. The ruins, a few miles from modern-day Corinth, were first excavated in 1892 by the Greek Archaeological Service, and are dominated by the remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo.

On the way back to Athens, we stopped for lunch and a visit to the Corinth Canal. Constructed in 1893, the canal shortened the trip between Greece and Italy. Now popular among “bungy” jumpers, the canal is four miles long by 70 feet wide, with a height of about 300 feet, and rock walls that are nearly vertical. Several bridges span the canal, offering a breathtaking view.

The Corinth Canal, Greece

Top: President Papazian and several choir members at the Corinth ruins;
the remaining pillars of the Temple of Apollo; the Corinth Canal; at the Corinth ruins.

After two days of travel, the Southern choir still managed to muster enough steam to attend the first of three scheduled rehearsals upon arrival in Athens on Monday night.

The trip began with a flight from New York to Zurich, Switzerland. Due to a heavy blanket of fog, we sat in the Zurich airport drinking $7.50 cups of coffee. Our arrival in Athens was a bit behind schedule. But the greeting from our tour guides, Alex and Tassos, and the transfer to the hotel, could not have been smoother.

Images from Athens, Greece, including the lobby of the Titania Hotel.

We arrived in two state-of-the-art motor coaches, where porters unloaded our luggage. On the way Alex gave us a brief descriptive tour of the area. Our hotel, the Titania, is in the heart of the city, among parliament buildings, museums, foreign embassies, and ministries. Even in the dark it was still easy to admire the neoclassical style of the buildings.

Although Athens is considered the cradle of western civilization, today it is a thoroughly modern city. In 2014, Athens had an estimated population of 3.75 million in the metropolitan area.. There is even an IKEA!

Tuesday: a visit to the Corinth Canal, more rehearsal, and dinner at a rooftop restaurant with views of the Acropolis.

Pictured above: The Titania hotel lobby and surrounding neighborhood.

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Southern’s globe-trotting University Choir, led by Director Terese Gemme, travels to Greece this Sunday, thanks to the vision and support of Walter Stutzman and the Stutzman Foundation.

The choir has previously traveled to Ireland, England, and Spain, working with internationally-known guest conductors such as Simon Carrington and Craig Hella Johnson. This year’s 53-strong choir will be made up of current students, SCSU alumni, and longtime community members, and will once again be working with Simon Carrington. Also traveling with the group through Jan. 4 will be students from the Honors College class “The History of Athens.”

By arrangement with host company KIconcerts, our choir will be performing in several venues around Athens, including, by special invitation from the city, a Gala New Year’s concert at Syntagma Square. On Jan. 2, the choir will perform as part of a special holiday program at the Piraeus Municipal Hall, a classic architectural gem.

In addition to a busy rehearsal and concert schedule in Athens, the choir will travel to the islands of Hydra and Aegina, Delphi, and Corinth. This exciting trip will once again enhance the students’ musical education and global awareness, while providing them with a life-changing experience.

“Being able to perform great music with new friends from around the world in historic venues is awe-inspiring, and these trips, with their combination of musical inspiration, cultural exploration, personal discovery, and community-building experiences have been life-changing events for everyone,’ Terese Gemme said. “As an educator and as a musician, I can’t think of any more worthwhile endeavor.”

And KIconcerts President Oliver Scofield added: “SCSU is a choir that does more than sing for the sake of singing; through performance SCSU engages its students with the larger world as ambassadors of peace, bridges between cultures and custodians of better futures for humanity.”