Toivonlina, Finland (about 2 hours north of Helsinki), Sabbath, May 18, 2013. 9:50 am local time (2:50 am EST).
Happy Sabbath, folks! Sorry that it's been a few days since I've written, and honestly I'm not sure when I'll be able to post this note. The internet isn't as ubiquitous as I'm used to.
I haven't written since Thursday, and so I'll give you the short version of what happened. I will also post the radio script that I wrote and recorded on Thursday which is based on the sightseeing tour we took that day.
On Thursday morning at about 8 we loaded onto the bus and were given a very interesting tour of the city of Helsinki, and were given the opportunity to sing at the Lutheran Cathedral. It is in the shape of a Greek cross (all four arms are an equal length), and on the "eastern" and "western" (where North is the altar) sides there were places where we could stand, so we split into two halves and sang "This is My Song," a setting of Jean Sibelius' Finlandia:
This is my song, O God of all the nations!
A song of peace for lands afar and mine
This is my home, the country where my heart is
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true an high as mine.
My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight, too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, Thou God of all the nations!
A song of peace for their land and for mine!
The acoustics in that room were absolutely lovely. They were warm and seemed to go on forever.
Before singing in the church we took pictures near the statue of Czar Alexander II in the Senate Square.
Later in the day we took a short tour of Finlandia Hall, which was designed by a very important Finnish designer whose name I have in my notes upstairs. The building is very attractive, but not in a style that really speaks to me. We went into the concert hall part of the building, and the room seemed even deader than the Collegedale Church, and the seats were a hard black leather. While we were at the hall we were taken up to the Presidential box and given the chance to sit where the president is supposed to sit (though the former president preferred to sit on the front row of the audience).
Also during that tour we were given the opportunity to visit the Sibelius monument. Jean Sibelius was a Finnish composer most famous for Finlandia. He was not born in Helsinki, but he adopted it as his home. Sibelius loved to travel, but he would always come back to his beloved Finland because he thought that the silence spoke.
The Sibelius monument is very odd and avant-garde. It is a collection of pipes that were welded together and that look like organ pipes or mud bee nests. I'm not sure that I think that it is a fitting memorial to one of the best and most important composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Something tells me the Finns agree with me, because standing next to the big memorial, but not trying to outshine it, is a smaller monument which actually has his face. I wanted my picture taken by it, but I missed my chance.
After lunch back at the hotel we had the chance to go sing the Rock Church, which was heavenly. They wanted to have a church in the neighborhood, but didn't want to lose their view, so they blew out the middle of a granite rock and built a wonderful church inside. It is beautiful and functional, and at least on the the day we were there (which was a perfect spring day) was lit completely by natural light.
[After Sabbath School and Church at Toivonlina, about 2:00 local/8 EST]
After a concert in the Rock church we were released to explore the city. During the tour that morning we had heard that a train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg only took about 3.5 hours and at least I was sorely tempted to go just to say that I had. I knew that we (about 13 of us) couldn't go. The letter of the law said that we could go anywhere and do anything that we wanted, so long as we acted as ambassadors of Christ and Southern. The spirit of the law, though, said that we couldn't go that far away. Dr. Kibble needed to know where we were, but we knew that the less she knew about St. Petersburg the better...
So instead we went, by cable car trolley about 12 blocks to an open air bazaar. There were many different shops around, and I bought a Finnish flag (to go with my Fijian, Malagasy and American flags).
Overlooking the bazaar was a beautiful Russian orthodox church. We made our way over to it, walking right by the bay and stopping every few minutes to wait for Joel who was gawking at a boat of some sort. When we finally reached the church we discovered that it was closed. We had pictures taken around it, and decided that if we could we could come by again during our free time the next day.
As we were walking back to the place we got off the trolley we went a different route, which included going over what was called the Love Bridge (or something like that). There was some sort of metal lattice on both sides of the bridge, and they were covered with locks. Evidently, couples come to the bridge, put on a lock, and then throw the key into the bay.
A little further down the way home we came across an old boat that had been turned into a gift shop/restaurant. We went in just to see what it looked like, but we came to the conclusion that it was closed, so we got out as quickly as we could! We didn't want to get caught breaking and entering (or just entering) somewhere I didn't speak the main language.
Speaking of language, I know only two kinds of languages: those that I can fake my way through at least pronouncing, and those that I don't have a clue. Malagasy was the first language to throw me for a loop, but Finnish is definitely in the same category. For someone who is as literate as I am, and who loves to read as much as I do, it's very difficult to not be able to even pick words off signs. I have read about 4 words since being here: McDonalds, Holiday Inn, and Kirche/Church (it's actually not spelled like that, but it's the best I can remember).
We eventually got back to the hotel (and didn't lose anyone or get arrested! We ate food and contemplated what we were going to do the next day. We were free until 11:45 the next morning when we would load the bus.
We decided that at stupid-o'clock the next morning (okay, 6:30) we would take the ferry over to an island that had a military academy and a bunch of historical stuff. Sounded very interesting. More on that later.
For our trip to the bazaar we had bought a 24-hour rail pass for 8 Euros (from now known as 8E), and since we still had most of 24 hours, several of us (Joel, Kaiti, the Twins, Tim, and Savannah) decided to just ride the trolley around town. We got on trolley 3B (speaking of 3B, tune in at 11 am for the Three B's!) and rode for about an hour. It was mostly empty, but we stood in the back and looked out the rear window and talked and looked for an ice cream stand. That morning we had been told about Tar Ice Cream (yes, as in what you fill a pothole with), and we all wanted to at least give it a taste. We never found any ice cream, so, getting desperate, we went to the market that was just a couple of blocks from the hotel. There was none, but we did buy ice cream sandwiches and the like.
I dropped my wonderful water bottle on the floor of the market, and it cracked badly, so we had a small funeral for it in the trash. Needing a replacement, I found plastic bottle (think 1.5 liters of Aquafina), but when I opened it, it effervesced like the best bottle of Mug root beer. I had gotten fizzy, mineral water that tasted like Sulphur water. Very disappointing.
By this point it was around ten o'clock, so I went back to the room that Josh Knight and I were staying in, and I started working on the script for one of the special programs I am doing for WSMC while I'm over here. It goes into much more detail as to what I saw during the day, and I'll post it here, too. I finished writing the script by about 11:30, and went down to the lobby of the hotel to record it so I could have some ambient noise. I think it turned out quite well.
The next day I woke up at about 6 o'clock and was down to breakfast by 6:30. We left the hotel by 7:15 and took the trolley back to the bazaar (not bizarre, as I originally typed...) stop, and we took the ferry over to the Fortress Island where the military academy was, and I thought a whole lot of other interesting things, too... No such luck... The Academy was there (doing firing range practice), but there was nothing else open. We walked around the island for about an hour, looking at the outsides of buildings. I was disappointed, though I enjoyed hanging out with my friends.
When we got back from the ferry (about 8:30), we went to the Russian church (which was finally open). That was one of the most beautiful churches I'd ever seen, but at the same time it was very busy inside. Almost every inch of the inside was covered with paintings or gold leaf or what not. The main part of the church really was't huge (maybe 1/2 of 2/3 the size of Collegedale Church), but it was two or three stories tall in places.
A lot of us wanted to sing there, but we were too scared to ask. All except Daniela. She marched right up, and in just a moment we were singing. We had B2, B1, T2, T1, AAAA (not sure which numbers), S2 and S1. It really was lovely. Mindy was our soloist, and her clear voice is perfect for the room. We began with Vaughn Williams' O Taste and See, then on to The Earth Adorned and My Song in the Night. It was a beautiful and powerful experience to sing there.
As we were leaving someone commented that they thought the person we asked had gotten in trouble for letting us sing, so maybe Daniela didn't ask the right person, but I'm glad that they didn't stop us, and hopefully we were a good example of God's love.
After leaving the church we walked through the bazaar on more time on the way to our trolley stop, and I found a present for mom and bought it. On the way back to the hotel we were joined by Jean, who had been out on run but whose running partner wanted to stick around and shop.
Once we got back to the hotel I watched an episode of Star Trek and packed my suitcase up for the trip to Toivonlena later that evening. We at lunch at the hotel, and sang our setting of Finlandia to the hotel staff. One of the ladies started crying and said that it was the best she had ever heard it.
We got on the bus and drove for about 20-25 minutes to the largest Nordic mall, where we got to spend an hour and a half. The first 45 or 50 minutes didn't go by very fast, but then along came Esther, Megan, Curtis and Robert William Van Arsdale, Jr. (fondly known as Robby V., Him Robby, or the older Robby [I am the Good Looking Robby]) came by and invited me to play a card game with them. Robby V. had bought a Finnish version of something like Old Maid, and we played about four games and had a loud, hilarious time. There was absolutely no skill involved, but we got so defensive playing! I was like playing Dutch Blitz with the family.
From the mall there was about a 20 minute drive to our next place, (which to be perfectly honest, I don't know where it was) for rehearsal and sound check for that evening's performance. We got there at about 4:00, and rehearsed for about an hour (and I even got to lead the men for a few minutes...), and then had a delicious supper that consisted of a sandwich and water.
We changed into our concert attire (which I believe was invented by Lucifer himself), and waited about an hour before going on stage to sing. It was a very powerful performance, and (for the most part) it really went quite well.
After our performance we waited forever and a day for the girls to change before we were able to. Once we changed we loaded the bus, and departed for Toivonlina. We left about 9 o'clock, and it was still broad daylight out. In fact, it was still "twilight" until about 10:30 or 11. We got to our sister school "Hope Castle" or Toivonlina at about 11 pm, and I was in bed by 11:30.
I was actually the last one up this morning--about 8:00--and I found out that people had already been showering at about 5 minute increments for about 1.5 hours and that there hadn't been hot water in hours. Oh boy! I was one of the first people there for breakfast, and figured that by the time I ate and got back from the Cafe the shower line would have finished and there would have been some time for the water to heat up. I was, unfortunately, only right in one of my assumptions. There was no line, but the water was colder than the White Witch's heart...
After showering I followed the sound of a piano downstairs and enjoyed writing my blog and then playing out of the Finnish hymnal (which has a really funky-easy version of Wachet Auf/Sleepers Awake) that includes very few, if any, eighth notes and one really unnecessary and frankly awful doubling at on point in the Abegesang.
We had Sabbath School and church by ourselves, and then had a few free minutes before lunch that consisted of real, honest-to-goodness LASAGNA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now that my pasta craving has been satisfied I need Mexican food!
This afternoon, up till 3:30 (now), has been quiet and wonderful. We leave for the Lutheran church by 4:15, and who knows what will happen tonight...
P.S. (8:00 pm local time, 1 pm EST) We just got singing at the Piikko Community Lutheran Church, which is a beautiful church dating from at least the mid-to-late 1700s. Surrounding the church is a cemetery, which is not unusual, at least not outside the Adventist system. As we were lining up and praying before we went in to the building to sing, Chaplain Kibble offered prayer and mentioned how all the people asleep in the grave were Adventists, even if they were Lutherans. It struck me as beautiful. The faithful Lutherans in that cemetery are waiting right now for Jesus. As we sang Abide With Me, the penultimate song in the concert, I sang "Where is death's sting? Where grave, thy victory? I triumph still if Thou abide with me!" and I realized that those saints asleep in the cemetery around the church and around the world had nothing to fear--even as they faced the grave. They had no fear because God abided with them, and they abided in Him.
The church was very beautiful on the inside, filled with pictures of the disciples. The altarpiece was a painting of Christ on the Cross. As I sang "Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis [et] dona nobis pacem (Lamb of God, you who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us and grand us peace), I remembered the face Christ on the cross. I saw his love for us through fresh eyes during that song.
I'm a Classical musician, a growing Christian, and a world traveler. I'm learning, exploring, and trying to understand this wonderful world I live in.