Notes from Iceland: University Choir tours the land of fire and ice

Harvard University Choir toured the sites of Iceland while performing in Reykjavík in January. This is collection of photos was taken by the members of the choir, including Theodora Mautz, Alice Newkirk, Evelynne Fulda, Micah Walter, Faith Pak and Joey Goodknight.

Theodora Mautz: I had such an enriching and exciting time in Iceland. Thank you MemChurch for taking us there!!

Our UChoir tour to Iceland was the perfect adventure right before the start of second semester. It was so nice to experience both the quaint and cozy streets in downtown Reykjavík, and then the explosive geyser and violent Gullfoss waterfall on our Golden Circle tour. But my favorite part of tour came from the indoors: we teamed up with Hamrahlíð College and got to experience cultural exchange through music with the students in their choir. That was really heartwarming and I know that my homestay partner May and I easily befriended our homestay sister Líneik after singing for one another in our respective groups. Thanks to the wonderful Memorial Church and Harvard University Choir, I now enter second semester feeling refreshed with fond memories of gorgeous buildings, hot springs, and new friends.


Listen to UChoir member Bo Choi '17 (center) talk about her Iceland experience at Morning Prayers


Micha Walter: After less than 24 hours in Iceland, we made our way in small groups to a hall in Hamrahlíð College.

When we entered, we weren’t given a list of things to do or the repertoire we’d sing: we were only asked to mix as we sat down at the tables in the room. And we simply began to talk to each other.

With everyone I talked to, I felt I had something in common. Whether we talked about music, our respective countries, or anything else, there was some point of connection where we all wanted to learn more about each other and share more about ourselves. Our time was punctuated with singing from each choir. I loved every moment of hearing the Hamrahlíð Choir sing and listening to the stories behind the songs – especially “Sofdu unga ástin mín,” a sad, haunting Icelandic lullaby. And the University Choir presented some American music; it made me happy to see one Hamrahlíð student sing along to the beginning of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.”

When, together, we sang the Icelandic hymn we’d learned – “Heyr, himna smiður” – it felt like we’d finally arrived. That hymn would continue to grow in meaning for us as we sang it each day of the tour, every time in a different context.

It was a treat to sing at Hallgrímskirkja, a soaring stone church in Reykjavík. It was not only beautiful church with its terrific acoustic and a particularly sweet-sounding organ; it was also the clergy and staff who welcomed us there, who were most gracious. We never left off singing there without being invited to a table of coffee and cookies. Our Friday night concert there was our biggest performance event of the tour, but participating in the liturgy on Sunday morning was at least as meaningful. The University Choir’s main function is to sing for the Memorial Church’s services throughout the academic year, and this felt almost like an extension of that function – except in the context of a new culture, one that we had been invited to share in and be a part of.

Of course, this is only a part of what we experienced during our less than five days in Iceland. It’s not that I didn’t also appreciate the beautiful landscapes, or the hot tubs of Vesturbæjarlaug (which, in the winter weather, made for an amazing first afternoon!). But it’s telling that I was hardly disappointed we didn’t see the Northern Lights: it’s the friendships made with the other choirs that made the trip wonderful.

And the proof the trip’s success: I hope to go back soon.

Joey Goodknight: The people of iceland were all so friendly!  It was an absolute joy to meet everyone. 

They all so valued the arts as to be humbling. The Iceland High School (what they call a college) choir sang with such joy, the symphony played with such passion. It's an experience I will never forget. Iceland is definitely undergoing some growing pains as the tourist industry has taken off. People have rightly discovered that Iceland is a stunningly gorgeous country. The UChoir tour was thus, especially meaningful as we were given a real insider's view: one that you can't possibly get from being a tourist and staying in a hotel. It will no doubt go down as the most amazing experience I had in four years of singing with the University Choir.  

Faith Pak: I had a beautiful and interesting time in Iceland!

The weather is very cold but the people are very warm. I have never encountered a culture that is so sincere and welcoming to strangers, and has such a tight-knit sense of familial bonds.


This is (from left to right), me, Joy, Fred, Hildur (our host), Evelyn, and Magnus (Fred and Joy’s host). Hildur is a student at an art academy in Reykjavik and Magnus is in college studying electrical engineering. Hildur was so kind to give us her only bed, and sleep in her art studio during our stay in Iceland! And Magnus invited us to his house to share a home-cooked meal. I will never forget the absolutely cozy atmosphere in Magnus’ living room as we all ate his delicious vegetarian curry dish together.


This is Hallgrímskirkja, where we got to sing at a concert and a Sunday service. The architecture is unlike anything I’ve ever seen—it is elegantly minimalistic, and it seems to resembles the geometry of an iceberg. And of course the sound inside is heavenly…


We also got to go on a tour of Iceland’s most magnificent natural wonders. We saw the Geysir (the original geyser, after which all geysers are named), a waterfall, and the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. We also stopped by at a little church where the Icelandic hymn we took with us on tour, Heyr Himna Smiður, was actually first performed.


We also had some free time to go to an art museum! Here are some pictures. Mateo, May, and Joy in an unposed artsy pic at an exhibit of handwoven fabrics.