The Crane School of Music Concert Choir became known along the 200-mile trek of Spain known as Camino de Santiago, or Way of St. James, because they often sang at cathedrals and chapels. People would ask group members if they were part of the choir and begin a conversation.
Christopher Nadramia, a parishioner of St. Columbanus in Cortlandt Manor and a sophomore music major at SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, said singing for people during the nearly three-week trip was uplifting for both the audience and the performers. After daily walks of 10 to 23 miles along the coast, he confesses that singing, normally such a natural part of their day, required special effort and attention.
At the end of the May 23 to June 11 trip, the 30 travelers sang after the Pilgrims Mass at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. “It was such a gift to cap it with that performance,” he said, explaining that other walkers thanked them for ending the trip in such a beautiful way.
The trek the pilgrims took is one of many paths that end at the cathedral in Galicia in northwestern Spain where the tomb of St. James is located. Nadramia, who lost 10 pounds during the journey, said the choir trained for their musical performances in the spring semester. In April, they performed Joby Talbot’s “Path of Miracles,” an a cappella exploration of the phenomenon of the Camino de Santiago. The choir members did not do any official physical training to prepare for the grueling hikes.
Most days they would walk for hours to reach their next destination. Nadramia, who met people from at least 50 countries, said self-improvement was the reason he made the trip.
“It has changed my life and the group for the better...It was really an experience where you forget about what is holding you back and look forward,” Nadramia said.
Many of his favorite stories were about the people he encountered along the journey. Describing the difficulty of the walk on the second day, Nadramia said he stopped to pray for strength. After climbing a hill, he found a couple who meet pilgrims and share what they have—crackers, water and fruit. They live in a very humble home. “He saved me,” Nadramia said. “It was an answer to a prayer.”
Nadramia said the couple has been helping travelers for eight years, asking for nothing in return, although many pay their kindness forward by making contributions toward food and supplies for future travelers.
“It was inspiring,” he added. “I came to the realization people who have the least often give the most. That was the first real spiritual thing for me on The Camino.”
On the first day of their travels, he met a woman who gave him valuable advice. “If you have something someone needs on The Camino give it to them,” she said. “It will be there when you need it.”
Nadramia said he can attest that the advice turned out to be true. If he shared his water, there was a place with fresh water when he needed it, for example.
He explained that walkers experience three kinds of challenges along the trail. The physical challenge comes first as the body goes into a kind of shock from the long walks. Next are the emotional challenges of discovering weaknesses and shortcomings, including how group members relate to one another.
The final phase is the spiritual phase as walkers learn about their inner strength and how to work as a group. One of the choir members struggled physically throughout the walk, but she set a positive tone by demonstrating that the choir members were all part of something bigger than themselves, Nadramia said.
Throughout the walk, the choir carried rocks symbolizing two of their music professors at Crane who were ill. They left the rocks at the base of a cross near the end of the trail, where many of the pilgrims “leave rocks behind to symbolize leaving their burdens behind.” That was also the day the choir members learned that one of the professors who was sick had died.
When asked how he would explain the trip, Nadramia concluded, “It was an experience that will remind me to always move forward. If you have drive, determination and will power, you can do anything.”