As a wide-eyed freshman, it was easy to believe that a trip to Puerto Rico with my school choir would just be a way to kick back, relax, and do one of the things I loved best: singing. I didn’t realize that while I was there, I would be touching the hearts and minds of people I had never met before, and haven’t seen since. I didn’t know that I would be leaving a mark on them forever.
Singing is something that fulfills me. It makes me feel whole and touches a part of me that I can’t really explain. Singing is something I do for myself, although the audience seems to enjoy my choir and what we sing. That’s not the part I notice though, mostly because we only sing for school functions. Ergo, I don’t usually pick up on their reactions because the people we sing for are our classmates and family, people who love us for who we are, not how we sing. In Puerto Rico, the reception was so different from anything I had experienced before. We were there as part of a festival, a celebration of choirs and the music they created. The concerts and celebrations were so joyous; the people there really seemed to enjoy music and I could tell it touched them in the same way it touched me. This was something I had never experienced in an audience before and it moved me. I sing because I can’t imagine a life without music and sound. These people clearly felt the same way, and since that day, I haven’t sung a single song without remembering them. We were people they barely knew, and only recognized because of our continuous presence on the stage for the week we were there. Yet they loved us anyway, because of the music we made. In each other, we recognized a shared love of harmony and sound, that blending of voices that makes up a choir. It was that feeling that bonded us to these Puerto Ricans, these people we would never have known otherwise.
The most moving experience of the entire trip was singing to a church congregation in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Despite the fact that I go to a Catholic school, religion has never been of great importance to me. Why focus on God and the afterlife when there’s so much going on in the here and now? Church services were deadly dull in my opinion, and if I could sneak off and read a good book for the hour that I was stuck there, so much the better. This church was nothing like that. First of all, the atmosphere was much more familial than what I had experienced at my parish. Even with the language barrier, the people of Ponce welcomed us with open arms and wide smiles. We were encouraged to take great part in the service and we joined in whenever we could. When the time finally came for us to sing, I was so swept up with the joy of life, singing, and God. I couldn’t contain how exhilarated I was by the experience, and I poured all of my feelings into our songs. By the time we finished singing, the entire congregation was on its feet, in a standing ovation. The joy of the moment filled me, and to this day, I associate that joy with singing and with the presence of God. Now, when I sing, I don’t just sing for myself. I sing for everyone, so I can touch them in the same way I am touched by music.
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