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Napa & NZ, here we come!

Last minute, very important items here. Please read to the end!

Here’s a link to the pre-departure meeting from Sunday, June 30 if you missed it.

(did you pack your passport?! do you have your NZ Visa?!)


Carol and I are on the plane to San Francisco. We’re arriving a day ahead of y’all to get our feet on the ground, check-in with a couple folks, and make sure things are all systems go before the choir begins arriving tomorrow. 

Tomorrow was planned specifically to give you time to do the same. Since you’re arriving midday, you should have plenty of time to roam along Fisherman’s Wharf, ride a Cable Car, take a ferry to Tiburon or Sausalito (we’ll likely do the latter today!), or simply get your steps in by climbing Nob Hill to peek through the back doors of Grace Cathedral. (It’s essentially a mini-replica of Notre Dame in Paris.) The idea is to stay awake, get lots of fresh air, and set your body clock the very first day as Wednesday morning will be an early departure and the first of several very LONG rehearsal days. While Napa will be hot hot hot, the San Francisco forecast is mid-70s with the fog clearing just about the time most of you land. Perfect!

I thought I’d offer a few words about the paradoxical madness of the upcoming series of rehearsals, concerts, and competitive events we’re about to embark upon…

I will never skydive, bungee jump, or zipline across a 300-meter gorge. I get why people do those things, and I’m a little surprised at myself as to why that stuff holds absolutely no allure to me. People talk about the adrenaline rush of it all – feeling fully alive while pushing the boundaries of the human capacity and all. 

Cool. But that’s not for me.

But to be clear, the adrenaline rush is most certainly a thing for me, especially when that is part of a communal experience. I still have vivid memories of high school and JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL(!) marching band. I wasn’t very coordinated so walking and playing an instrument was a pretty serious challenge, but there was something about the shared endeavor of striving for precision with other band geeks. We were all a little odd, but we were all odd together, and that meant the world to 13-year-old gangly me. To this day, when a marching band turns the corner and comes strutting down the street, my eyes start to well up. Seriously. 

I think you’ll meet the legendary Mr. Earl this week – my high school choir teacher. He remains, to this day, one of the most influential humans in my entire life. When I joined the high school choir under his direction, it wasn’t just about precision and uniformity, but finding a shared human value in that musical endeavor. We would struggle to unify our vowels, align our voiced consonants, find a common concept of tone… all the things. But with Mr. Earl those were merely tools to help us fully experience the music in an effort to recreate the artform in the most meaningful way possible. 

He set the bar. And I’ve been striving to reach that bar ever since.

So here’s the paradoxical part.

As I mentioned last night, this experience will be a first for me in that while I’ve taken a lot of choirs to competitive events, all the way back to my high school teaching days, in this case, we’re essentially doing two competitive events back-to-back. We’ll compete in the first two categories then learn the outcome of our rankings at the midpoint of the festival. THEN… we regroup and go again with the second two categories. While I think our chances of placing in the top three in each category are very high, there are a hell of a lot of choirs coming to this thing, and I suspect there are not many of them that traveled that far to present a lackluster performance. New Zealand is sort of close to Australia, but after that, everyone else has made a long and expensive journey to get there! Nobody wants to go home disappointed. 

But I reiterate… I believe the biggest challenge of the entire project will be making the transition from Week One in New Zealand to Week Two. If we do well in Week One, not growing complacent. If we’re not thrilled with our placement in Week One, not growing discouraged. (There are a truckload of Ted Lasso analogies here, but I’ll spare you. If you know the show, you can do the math.)

But that’s still not even the paradoxical part. 

Truly, what I’m most excited about is those long rehearsal days in Napa and San Francisco where we continue to double down on our craft, tending to all those technical things in hopes of grabbing those moments involving a serendipitous flood of emotions when your voice starts to seize because you’re overcome with the awe and beauty of it all. 

It’s THAT thing that hooked me on choral singing when I was a 17-year-old kid. And those moments rarely happened on stage, but instead, in the midst of a rehearsal exactly when I wasn’t expecting it. 

I find the fact that the “apparent endgame” of this project is centered around the word “competition” to be worrisome. It’s no secret that I am a competitive person. I expect a lot of the people around me, but never as much as I expect of myself. But in full disclosure, that goes back to that skydiving analogy. A choir breathing, moving, and feeling together is analogous to what I assume a person must feel when they jump out of an airplane. That same loss of breath when your mind is overwhelmed by the rush of it all and you simply release your inhibitions and let go. 

So here we are, right here, right now…

  • I don’t recall working with a group – ever – with the collective vocal and technical ability that exists in this choir.
  • I don’t recall working with so many humans at one time – ever – who are so obsessed with the beauty and awe that is choral music sung with so much heart.
  • I don’t recall – ever – taking on a project where the demands were so great and the (supposed) stakes were so high, though that’s a bit of a misnomer…

The highest stakes lie within the notes and words printed on all those pages you’re trying to get your head out of. The actual competition is within each of us to find a new bar in our collective and individual musicianship, knowing that whatever we accomplish, we did so as a group of impassioned and empathetic humans. 

Funny. As I think back to previous competitive endeavors, almost none of those stirring memories are related to an awards ceremony or a trophy. Singing in the streets of Estonia on our way to a soundcheck rehearsal! Being called back to the stage in Germany to sing “We Can Mend the Sky.” The moment a spotlight exploded during our competition performance in Hungary and nobody flinched! Standing on a grassy bluff in northern Spain rehearsing an eccentric Japanese War Song while overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The day my high school choir won the Golden State Competition and Mr. Earl gave me a huge hug with tears streaming down his face. His words… “The Bruckner… was perfect.” 🥲

I don’t know what those moments will be this time around. When I will have them. When each of you will have them. If I’ll ever know if/when you had them. But I do know that every moment we spend together over these next three weeks is absolutely precious, because chances are, at that very time when you’re hot, tired, and threadbare you’ll catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye of someone having that moment right then and there. Caught in the act of being fully alive. 

We are all so fortunate to have one another for all that is about to happen to us. 

I am so grateful to be the designated recipient of your resilience, talent, compassion, joy, and euphoria. I have never, and will never, take that for granted.

Angels when you soar, Up to God’s own light,
Take my own lost bird on your hearts tonight;
And as grief once more mounts to Heaven and sing,
Let my love be heard, whispering in your wings.

Let our love be heard. 



And now, some logistical things from Amy and Rachel!

  1. Please complete this emergency contact form that we anticipate not having to use- but better safe than sorry! (did you pack your passport?! do you have your NZ Visa?!)
  2. PDH says- Lauren sent this thoughtful post to her alto section and I thought it was worth sharing with all of you! I would add to point #5 to remember the 50% Rule!!! (Make a point to LISTEN as much or more than you talk so you come to know your fellow singers better.):

“Hi DCS Altos,

Thanks to all who provided feedback on the concert! I’ve made a list and will address these items with the section and/or with Paul/Arreon when we have a chance in Napa. :)

We leave tomorrow!! I hope you have a seamless transition from where you are to Napa. Can’t wait to see you all soon! If you have any questions, I have done intense amounts of research and planning for this trip, so please feel free to ask me. :)

I have a few items I’d like to address and put in your head before we embark – please respond to each number so that I know you’re getting & reading my emails :). 

1. Phone Numbers: If you have never texted me, please do that today so that we have each other’s numbers – 3027439367

2. Jet Lag: Do everything you can to STAY AWAKE until at least 8 or 9PM in California time tomorrow, and 8 or 9PM NZ time on the 9th. The worst thing you can do is take a nap in the middle of the day once you get to your new location. Believe me – I watched others suffer for a week last year during competition because they napped the first day and it impacted their performances significantly. 

3. Vocal Fatigue: We are about to start a long week of intense rehearsals. DO NOT SING for every single moment of the rehearsals. Take small breaks here and there in every song. Listen to our section and the choir. Stay engaged by mouthing the words. Sing the parts that you really need to practice and rest for those you feel super confident on. Not only will this make you a better ensemble member, you’ll also save your voice from fatigue. Remember, we still have 12 days until our first competition. I will be the proudest section leader ever if you take breaks where you need to and no one has to come to me throughout the trip to say your voice is strained or lost. <3

4. Sleep, Food, & Hydration: Get nice long nights’ sleeps in Napa. We have a crazy schedule – busier than NZ!! Bring a big water bottle and refill it several times a day. Although having less humidity will make it feel a little cooler, that also means you’re not getting any hydration from the air like we do on the east coast. DRINK & PEE OFTEN. :) Eat healthy meals and bring snacks for rehearsal. Your body is your instrument – please treat it with care :)

5. Be Kind & Courteous: Keep your mind in a positive headspace and keep your conversations light – especially with homestays and those in the group you do not know as well. We are all here for the same reason and all want to enjoy this beautiful trip of travel and music making. Your choices are what will make it pleasant and enjoyable!! If someone’s attitude or manner of speaking with you is bothering you, or if someone’s actions are worrying you, distance yourself from them and please come talk to me about it first before going to Paul or to others in the group.”

And with that, Amy has an exciting announcement that will hopefully encourage you to do just that!…

Who’s ready for a game?! GUESS WHO OF DCS 2024 EDITION is LIVE!!! I have compiled a list of all the facts you submitted about yourselves and provided a list of everyone in our group. It is up to you to talk to each other to try to figure out who matches each fact. It’s up to you how cryptic you want to be in answering questions about your own fact. This is meant to be fun and to get you talking to new people. THE PERSON WHO GETS THE MOST CORRECT ANSWERS WILL WIN $100 USD OR $150 NZD!!! Hopefully that ramps up your motivation to participate!

How to play?

  1. Click here to access the Guess Who of DCS doc.
  2. Decide how you’re going to fill it out. Either go old school and print it out at home OR click “Make A Copy” (pictured below) and type your answers in each box.
  3. Return your copy, either in person or electronically, to Amy by the time we board our plane to New Zealand. The winner will be announced after we land in Auckland.

Last piece of logistical information – where to go after you land in San Francisco. Many of us will be traveling together, but this may come in handy if you’re traveling by yourself or if you somehow get separated from the group.

Dr. Head sent pictures of what you will see after you land in SFO. You will first follow signs to baggage claim. From there, look for signs for the AirTrain. Take the AirTrain to BART. Get on BART and ride until you get to Powell St. Get off at Powell St and walk to the HI San Francisco Downtown Hostel (312 Mason St). When you get to the hostel, you can drop your bags if your room isn’t ready yet, and you’re free to explore!

See pictures below for extra help!

Whew! That’s all for now. Please keep a close eye on What’s App in the next 24 hours!

(did you pack your passport?! do you have your NZ Visa?!)

Much love,
Paul, Rachel, & Amy

3 thoughts on “Napa & NZ, here we come!”

  1. Thanks to you Rachel, Amy and Paul for trying to make this seamless for all of us. Really looking forward to seeing all of you again!

  2. I’ve got WAY more than .25, so I’ll just say that I’m spilling over with love and gratitude in this moment and can hardly wait for ALL of the moments to come.

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