by CALEB BENNETCH, MM ’13
Throughout the course of Schola Cantorum’s mini-tour and the ISM’s study trip, I was constantly amazed by the breathtaking buildings surrounding us. From the soaring columns of the Acropolis, to the unfathomable ancient beauty of Aya Irini, from the unobtrusive, spacious interior of the Hagia Sofia, to the smooth, towering mountains of Meteora, all of these sites were extremely influential in our education and perception of beauty; but what amazed me most was the hospitality shown to us in these unfamiliar locations.
Most students on this trip did not speak Greek or Turkish. It is amazing that such a large group can go on such a trip, not having studied the language. Despite our ignorance of the local language, countless shopkeepers, tour guides, students, and local residents helped us along the way. Sometimes there was monetary motivation: “You dropped something ma’am….my broken heart,” restaurateurs or shopkeepers would exclaim as we passed by their stores without stopping to spend our Turkish Lira.
Despite these sometimes pesky entrepreneurs, many locals were not competing for our attention, but helped us find our way, or exhibited some of the most selfless hospitality. For example, as we were finishing evening prayer during our last tour at the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, we were all ready to get on the bus and go to Thessaloniki. To our surprise, we were all invited into the abbess’s private quarters and offered drinks, chocolates, and a bag of souvenirs as a parting gift. On another day, as we watched iconographer George Kordis draw a breathtaking sketch of an angel, his wife provided us all with snacks and brought around drinks for us. When Schola Cantorum finished rehearsing with the Turkish choir Rezonans and went to dinner with them, the leaders of the choir told us to mix it up and not sit with our own choirs, which promoted forming friendships among the choirs. A few organists and conductors also extended the trip and went to Hamburg, Germany, where we were part of an exchange and experienced some of the most generous, hospitable students who hosted us, sharing their apartments, food, and friendship with us.
While the beauty of the architecture, art, and the countless icons that we had the pleasure of viewing contributed to my personal understanding of artistic creativity, I will most remember the faces, meals, and hospitality shown and shared with us throughout this trip. I will remember the look of happiness on the face of the woman in the coffee shop in Kalamaria, the conversations shared with the members of Rezonans, and the generosity of the monks, students, and people surrounding us. No work of art could measure up to the beauty we encountered among these hospitable people.