An unusual request…an unusual thrill

Four years ago… it was a usual day until I received an unusual email from Betsy Cook Weber, our director of choral studies, inviting me to travel with the concert chorale to an international competition in Llangollen.

Llangollen?  Where on the Earth is this place?  I had never heard of it before. Chorale competition?  What is that all about?  I thought music was very personal.  Travel?  I know university presidents travel with their teams to football games but to music competition?

Even though it all sounded intriguing, my first reaction was a “How sweet, but no.” But after giving it some thought, I thought, “Why not?”  If I can travel with student athletes, why not with singers?”

So, my husband Suresh and I arranged our summer vacation around the event and headed to Llangollen, Wales.

But it was not as easy as we had thought.

The very first challenge was to pronounce the name – Llangollen – correctly, which felt like trying to speak after getting a Novocaine injection at the dentist (yes, try with the Welch twist!).  Next came a crash course in the rules of the competition.  And finally came the nightmare of driving through the narrow, curvy roads of Wales in the American-size car we had rented – what were we thinking!

Once there, though, we had three of the most memorable days of the year.  The small town of Llangollen was caught up in the frenzy of the festival and we, too, got the music fever.  All 36 of our students, looking elegant and confident, represented the University of Houston and our country with pride and professionalism.  Every time our group walked on the stage my heart pounded, just as it does when the kicker is about to kick a field goal in the last few seconds of a tied football game.

Suresh and I sat through every round of every competition, not because we had to, but because we wanted to.  By the third day, we had mastered the art of judging and could even predict scores with reasonable accuracy.

Then came the last round. Only two serious contenders were left.  Our team walked on stage with the confidence and humility of winners. I was so nervous that I think I almost forgot to breathe!  My husband squeezed my hand and I knew he was nervous, too.  When the performance ended, I knew that our students had won.  Indeed they had, but what none of us knew was that they had also won the hearts of the audience.  In a moment, people were on their feet, applauding and chanting “USA, USA!”

Our students won in every single category that they competed in.  I was proud and felt blessed to see the quality and caliber of our students and professors.  They had proven that they could enter a competition as rookies and come out as having won it all.

Last month, another chorale team accomplished a similar feat, again under Professor Weber’s direction.  This time it was in Marktoberdorf, Germany. They sang the music written by David Ashley White, director of our Moores School of Music.

I wished I could have been there, but I simply could not get away because the Texas Legislature was still in session.  Needless to say, I was glued to Twitter as the judges announced that the group scoring the highest marks and winning first place was…  the University of Houston!

Our students had once again won the hearts of the audience and people once again stood up, chanting, “USA, USA!”  A different country, a different group of students, but the same outcome!

Congratulations students!  Congratulations Betsy and David!  You are all real Cougar champions!