Kyle Washka traveled with WorldStrides OnStage with Denison University on an International Custom Tour of Iceland. While in Iceland, Kyle had the opportunity to perform at Harpa Hall, Skálholt Cathedral and The Saga Centre in the Hvolsvollur. Inspired by his travels through Iceland, Kyle will return to the country this fall for a masters program. We asked Kyle a few questions about his experience in Iceland, how it impacted him as a musician, and why he chose to return to the country to further his musical education.
Describe your trip to Iceland. What was it like to explore this new country?
The trip was full of opportunities to perform in sacred places as well as roam free around Reykjavík and the southeast. From the moment we got off the plane, every hour was packed with events intended for us to be meaningfully engaged within their culture. Performing in Harpa Hall, seeing a vivid display of the northern lights, hiking on a glacier, and swimming in the Blue Lagoon are just a few highlights of the trip, among many others. Exploring the country of Iceland for the first time affected all of us on an emotional, physical, and cognitive level. There was much to see, much to learn, and much to be thankful for.
Why Iceland? What sparked your interest to enroll on the tour?
Iceland was chosen as the destination due to its unique juxtaposition between the cosmopolitan center of Reykjavík and the beautifully vast landscape of the rest of the country. It was an unconventional choice, but for that reason allowed myself and my fellow colleagues to be inspired and excited about the opportunity. When I was asked to participate, there was only one response. Yes, let’s make this a reality. The rest is history.
Tell us about your experience seeing the Northern Lights.
Our group had just finished dinner and were having a good time playing games and chatting about our experiences. All of a sudden, one of the tour guides told us to rush outside. We knew that we were about to witness quite a spectacle, but could not have imagined the vitality and life that the landscape was about present. We ran out to the field surrounding our cabins, feeling jittery with excitement, and soon enough the northern lights opened up. The volcano Eyjafjallajökull was also in the foreground of our sight.
First, there was a burst of light here and there, like watercolors on a canvas. Before long, they went into full bloom. We went out to the meadow and laid down on the soft landscape; gazing up at the sky and taking it all in. During the middle of the night, the atmosphere was exploding in a graceful yet powerful way. The lights themselves were bright and vivid, encompassing most portions of the sky during its peak. It was a moment of reflection, realizing that we were witnessing one of the wonders of the world.
How was it to perform in Harpa Hall?
To perform in Harpa Hall was yet another eye opening experience. I remember walking up to the building, violin case in hand, and feeling a sense of inspiration. This was a very special moment. The architecture of Harpa inspires imagination and pushes the limits of what is possible. As a whole, it stands as a metaphor for an enhanced artistic culture of integrity and grace. In all honesty, the experience of performing in Harpa Hall helped to cement my decision to be a musician. It was a very humbling experience for our university level ensemble to be welcomed into a culture of professional music making that is valued, lively, and progressive.
The audience was respectful, keen to see what our group had to offer. I remember being in the green room warming up and realizing the gravity of the situation. It is obvious that Iceland’s investment into the performing arts has had a deeply positive effect on the whole community. It is a center for connection that appreciates all types of people who value learning, imagination, and music. I myself was deeply appreciative of the opportunity to witness a glimpse of Iceland’s musical culture in action.
How has the experience changed you as a musician?
The whole experience has had a twofold effect on myself as a musician; opening up my eyes with wonder while also grounding my body’s work ethic and commitment. Having a goal can often help guide the ways in which I place my energy and priorities. During my time in Iceland, it became clear that my goal of becoming a professional musician was the right choice. After I returned home, I had a clear idea of where my work was headed.
Describe what you feel is mapped out ahead of your year in Iceland.
After reflecting upon my experiences in Iceland, I knew deep down that I wanted to go back; to experience the culture on an even deeper and more systemic level. My time ahead in Iceland is full of hope and commitment. With very special mentors guiding my ambitions, we have come up with a way to further my learning and development while also fully absorbing the environment and geography that Iceland has to offer.
The goal of my studies is to enhance my violin performance skills while also collaborating within a diverse and motivated group of musicians. It will be a community oriented endeavor with an emphasis on thinking outside of the box. I intend to present music that is relevant to the diverse and challenging artistic considerations that the 21st century encompasses.