Friday, March 19, 2010

Final Things

On Dr. Weber's syllabus for Worship class and other classes (including choir) there is always a day toward the end of the semester reserved for "Final Things." I read that and it seems that there is a world of emotions wrapped up in those two words. One is thrilled to be close to a vacation, but sad that one part of life is over. All good things must come to an end. This choir tour is now over and many of us will only remember the best things that happened on the trip. I am glad it works out that way. When I think of my trip to Europe with the choir a couple of years ago, I think of the beautiful places I visited and that wonderful concert in the village church in Estonia, but it is always Kenneth (with whom I shared a room) and Meredith my wife who remind me that I was very very sick on that trip. It is like a way God shows us his grace by allowing us not to think of just the negative aspects of the tour.
We performed at Augsburg Lutheran Church last night. The performance came off very well. Our prayers for focus and finishing well were answered. It is indeed a tough thing to finish well, but I believe that we achieved it. My friend Joseph a student at Wake Forest, an alum of L-R said that we sounded the best that he had heard of us. Many people were impressed with our offering. The Bach that the college singers performed was almost all the way "there" in terms of performance. All in all, the performance was a good final tour performance. We eagerly anticipate offering our gifts this Sunday evening for our Hickory family.
The dance party that the choir enjoyed was very tiring. I made it through one half of a song and then realized I was exhausted. I am getting older I guess. Michael Jackson was not the star of the dance party. This marked a great transition for this event.

A couple final observations... John Ross was an excellent leader on this tour. His patience was astounding. I don't know how he did it. It seemed that the choir was full of chatterboxes this go-round and therefore really irritating at times.
I feel that in order for our economy to get back to where it needs to be, it would be a good move for choirs everywhere to go on tour frequently and allow choir members days off to spend money. I personally came in under my food budget and was thrilled. However, you should have seen the bags and bags and bags of stuff people were buying. Useless stuff... nick-nacks that were worth nothing, people bought up. Thousands of dollars spent over the course of the week on expensive lunches and junk and do-dads that will get lost when returning home. I must admit that I found a great CD of Palestrina's Masses at Borders, but this was the only thing that I bought that was outside of food. I don't think that I had ever been so keenly aware of how much money can be spent on a choir tour... so there is another observation...
Mr. Ross observed and reminded us of Dr. Weber's selflessness. He stated that he had been around many composers and had never seen such a selfless composer. We all know that Dr. Weber can be a bear sometimes, but it always seems to be in favor or to the advantage of his students. This is definitely true. I got to thinking about this selflessness in Dr. Weber's compositional process and was inspired. Here is a man who for the most part has dedicated his life to composing for the church. He has, through his compositions, enabled congregations to not only hear, but to sing scripture effectively and with vigor. There is a great selflessness behind this that is bigger than Dr. Weber, it is a gift from the Holy Spirit that we can all access if we are willing. This is a lesson I have learned on this tour... selflessness.

All in all---good tour. We missed you Dr. Weber, our conductor and mentor and friend. Many prayers in the months to come for your speedy recovery.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Past Few Days

You haven't heard from me and I am sorry about that. Trying to keep a blog on tour is a little more difficult than I thought it would be. So let's hear about the last couple of days...

Most of us had a wonderful time in Atlanta. We made our way to Lexington, SC around 11am yesterday morning. We arrived around 4pm and began rehearsing at Pilgrim Lutheran Church. Pastor Stephen Mims is an alum of L-R and welcomed along with his congregation the choir graciously.
We performed well for the most part. A day off in the middle of tour really made a strong difference in our performing in the latter half of this tour. Many people were impressed with the sound of the choir and proud that our choir represented a school of their denomination. We had several alums join us for O Day and Dr. Weber, had he been there, would have notice that this particular "alumni version" was record setting (volume) performance.

This morning we traveled to New Bern, NC starting about 8:30. Many people were tired so the first part of the bus ride was very quiet. After lunch though, we had the joy of experiencing all the over-dramatized tensions of high school in the dream world show Glee. How do people honestly like this show?
We arrived in New Bern around 3 o'clock. Many of us went to the anti-climactic birthplace of Pepsi. I saw a mug that would be great for drinking Coke or Sundrop and making this comment aloud at the store elicited a dirty look from the cashier... oh well.
About the performance this evening... It was probably our largest crowd. We were very happy to see all the folks there to hear our concert. This blogger was glad to see some children in the audience. I had the privilege of having a conversation with some of these children after the concert and they assured me that they enjoyed their evening. There was a woman two rows in that really need to hear When You Pass Through the Waters. Her emotional response spoke volumes. The college singers had a trial run of Bach's Lobet Den Herrn which we will also be performing for Augsburg Lutheran tomorrow evening and St. Andrew's Sunday evening. The concert ended well and we were pleased to be just a little closer to the goal.

Thank you for reading this evening. I will post the final things tomorrow after the "dance party." Our prayers are with Kathryn whose grandmother recently passed away, and with Jeremy Littlejohn who recently underwent surgery. Our continuned prayers are with Dr. Weber and his family. More to come... stay tuned--

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fear Not

So, our theme this year is "Fear not, you are mine." A lot of the repertoire includes texts that are of a comforting nature. For instance, "Be not afraid, I am with thee... I strengthen thee for I am thy help..." We are singing movements from Mozart's Requiem (1791) which we are performing in its entirety April 17 and 18. The requiem Mass includes texts that urge God to remember and to comfort those who have preceded us in death. Dr. Weber's work, Come Let us Sing includes the text "If thou but suffer God to guide thee" which reminds the listener that we can fully rely on God and his shepherding presence. We seek God and ask him to remember us here in this world through the words of Come Sunday. The songs we sing this year are songs that can comfort people no matter what situation they are in. We have all struggled and watched others struggle and as it easy as it is to let God become something in the back of our minds, but somehow we know that his enduring presence lives in our song. Fear not, you are mine... sometimes seems like an elusive thought, but at other times, the only "truth" we can cling to. Even when perhaps we don't want to cling to it, we know that we have no other choice.

What is choir tour? It seems that we can write it off as an experience that involves a range of emotions and memory making, but there is something deeper. If we allow it, we can let the music impact us in such a way that in our song we not only challenge the audience but we can ourselves be changed. We can memorize texts that come back to us at a time we are least expecting. We have no clue what life will give us. It is no secret that for some of us, life will be much harder and challenges will be many. Amid the challenges of life, maybe when our first parent passes on, or a sibling is diagnosed with a crippling disease, when we can't find a job, or when life just stinks... we can think of that March in 2010 and remember "Be not afraid.. I am with thee."

Just some ramblings tonight.... stay tuned

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Days Two and Three Abbreviated

Most of us are kind of confused as to what time it actually is! Thanks Dr. Weber, not only did you plan a trip that crossed a time zone, but this was also the weekend of the time-change.

Here is an update of what's been going on the last couple of days...

We got back to the bus yesterday morning and most of us were in good spirits. It didn't take terribly long to get to Nashville where most of wanted to find somewhere to eat. Realizing that the museums were a bit expensive, we knew that eating would be a good choice. We all walked around and no one got lost! Having to get back to the bus at 2:50, most of us were back by 2:15 exhausted and ready to get some quiet time.
We got to Franklin where we were privileged to eat soup another night and to sing in another great room. The church was newly built with a very modern architectural style. The choir's singing was very nice and tuning and phrasing is really coming together. This blogger would give Sarah Gladden the delightful countenance award. Kenneth is bringing a lot of energy to Papa Nou. The concert ended well, although our pitch giver gave an F for "O Day" rather than an F# so its performance was interesting at best.

We were very tired this morning when we sang for the 8:30 service for St. Andrew. The choir was joined by the parish choir for a singing of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" that included a high c# in the soprano at the end... what's up with that? Who does that?? We were ready to leave when we realized that Jeana was not with us. She was taking a nap in the youth room when someone retrieved her. We love Jeana and applauded her when she returned.
The ride to Atlanta was a quick one, however, most of us had more than enough sandwiches for lunch. After watching what could only be described as utter dreck, the hit show "Glee" we arrived at St. Philip's Cathedral. This performance was described by a choir alum as "moving." I personally enjoyed the service very much and it may be the high point of this trip, but the trip is not over yet.

We, being tired, moved onto the next performance at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. The room was deceivingly dead acoustically. The performance was a good one. The energy level was very high. Mr. Ross commented to me as if surprised, "Oh the enthusiasm"-- to which I replied, "Well, it's the first night we had something other than soup for dinner." Kathryn and I led the choir in some stretches that allowed us to perform with a greater sense of ease. We had a lot fun with this process.
The choir was joined by many eager alumni at the singing of "O Day." It was nice to share this with alumni... and it was good to see some old friends.

I don't know of any really funny stories... perhaps people can comment and leave record of funny stories...

We hope you are doing well Dr. Weber and we are praying for you constantly. The Holy Spirit be with you and bring you joy. We love you! Stay tuned---

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day One- March 12, 2010

So, it's Day One of our great adventure...

We began this morning bright, but not terribly early at about 8:30 at LR packing and ready to roll. For those of you that have not been on a choir tour, or those for whom it has been a long time since you have been on a choir tour, the packing process before leaving can be a bit stressful. It is important that everyone pitch in. Luckily, this morning, everyone helped. There were some tempers flaring when people found themselves in seats that they found less than desirable. However, we got on the road and everything calmed down.
We made our way through western NC and eastern TN and had a great lunch at Arby's (or some other restaurant in a strip of restaurants). After eating, some of us, feeling adventurous decided to cross four lanes of traffic to visit a pawn shop. This endeavor was a bit more stressful than we had imagined when we started out. Nonetheless, we made it across both times with no one hurt.
We got back on the bus at about 1pm and made our way to Oak Ridge, TN. Much to our surprise, we made it here at 2:10pm. Our itenerary had instructed us to begin rehearsing at 3:30pm. What were we to do with all the extra time? Well, we felt that some extra rehearsal may serve us well, so we rehearsed. It is amazing the amount of energy that we all have at this point--at THIS point. It will be funny to see this group in about 3 days and see their energy level. A lot of conversations and laughs are had, most of the time, at the wrong time, but somehow we figured out how to get some rehearsal in.
We broke for some break time. Some of us slept, some sang, and others gossipped or read their Bibles, and others dissussed the development of the Russian economy post-1991... well, maybe not. After this, it was time for dinner. The dinner consisted of soup and sandwiches, which for most of us hit the spot, as it were.
The concert began with a burst of energy with Distler's Praise to the Lord. From there we sang Heilig by Mendelssohn and sweetly carressed the lines of Palestrina's Sicut Cervus. There was a lot of good singing in that first set. However, I must admit that it was in the music making of this first set that I got to thinking. We were singing Rachmaninoff's Borgoroditse Devo from All Night Vigil (1910) and I was moved. I got to thinking that it is music that can preserve a sense of unity over many generations. It must be the Holy Spirit's work that does this. We can sing a work that might have been sung in Berlin in the 19th century or St. Petersburg in the 20th century by people with needs not too unlike ours, with dreams not so far from ours, with hopes of living a good life and making good music. We are connected through music to all the people who have performed the work in the same way that we have. Each time we sing a piece, we are reliving a memory that we don't even know we have. When we sing Weber's Arise, Shine we are singing in a deep way with the first group that performed it. What makes this special is that we bring our unique approach to it that is different although not better or worse than the group that has previously performed a work. In each performance, we are realizing something that was in someone's head at one time... something that was only a thought, but has become something real, with connecting power unlike anything else.
Our enthusiasm in this vein was evident in our performing of O Day Full of Grace. I have to say, Dr. Weber, you would have said this was the "alumni version" but I think you would have been pleased. The choir was so thrilled in the singing of this piece that by the time we got to the third verse we were in the key of E-flat, and boy did the basses know it. It ended with such charisma that I couldn't help but chuckle.
The concert ended with grace and charm and we made our way to change and be assigned to host families. Speaking of host families, I must go and see what mine is up to. We are off to Franklin, TN tomorrow and hopefully there will be some connection so that you can hear from me again. If you don't, I promise something good for Sunday! This is all for now... stay tuned.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Listen to us!

Our recording technician has set up a website which will allow you to listen to our performances yesterday. He will continue to update this site as the tour progresses...

listen on! and stay tuned for more blogs...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Runout, Sunday March 7

So the morning began very early today as choir members were expected to be at the bus at 7:30 ready to load. However, there was no luggage to load because this was just a runout, so we ended up with a lot more time on our hands.
We were on our way to St. John's Lutheran Church of Salisbury, NC to be a part of our first outing in the spring of 2010. We walked in and most of us were really surprised at the "look" of the place. I personally wasn't expecting carpet, but there was carpet and there was lots of padding under the carpet no less. We began rehearsing and it was as if we had been singing awhile. Most people had a lot of energy in spite of starting the day early. We met Karl Kinard and his lovely wife Rosemary. They were a neat couple but looked a lot younger than I imagined. The newly composed piece of Dr. Weber's, Come Let us Sing was written for her honor and was commissioned by her husband. We found out that the commission was rejected, and that Dr. Weber graciously offered this piece to the Kinards as a gesture of appreciation for their work in church music and their contributions to the music department of Lenoir-Rhyne University. Mr. Kinard responded by saying that the money for the commission would then go to the A Cappella Choir fund and we were very appreciative.
The premier performance of the piece was such that Dr. Weber would have little to complain about. Although, as well as this blogger thought it went is somewhat relative since I was in the back row and could not hear the overall sound. However, what I could hear was a nicely, cleanly performed piece. The piece came to life in a special way because the Hymn of the Day was "If you but Trust God to Guide You" (WER NUR DEN LIEBEN GOTT) which was the tune that Dr. Weber expounded upon in his composition. This brought unity to this part of the service.
All in all the worship service this morning went well. The choir sang with great sensitivity for the most part. This blogger forgot the words to "Let the Same Mind," a piece he has been singing for years now!
A final word about this morning's experience could be a word regarding the lunch that was provided. We all really enjoyed our lunch so much that sleeping was the necessary activity to follow such a lunch. Most of us, however, were disappointed that sleeping was hardly an option.
From St. John's, we made our way to North Kannapolis Baptist Church. This was the first time in my memory of our choir performing in a Baptist church. It was neat to bridge traditions and to extend the connection with Charles Morrow, the Director of Music at NKBC and an alum of our choir. We had many alums come up to sing with us on "O Day Full of Grace," much to our surprise. While we love our guest conductor, John Ross, some of us were a bit emotional during "O Day" because we miss our conductor and wish him to get well soon. This performance went off without a hitch. Most of the tempos were brisk and we were happy to do that. A lot of us were very tired and the room was not such that slow tempos in a cappella pieces would be appropriate. The concert ended well and the people seemed appreciative that we were there. We were appreciative that we could serve in their ministry in this way.

All in all, we had a successful day and we look forward to a couple more rehearsals to fine tune some details. Our hearts and minds are focused on God's work in our life as a choir in this unique time. We also remember our courageous leader who God is allowing not to be with us. We are thankful for the talents and the wit of John Ross to keep us going. Thank you Maestro! Stay tuned--

Saturday, March 6, 2010

First Entry

This blog and it's entries are dedicated to our esteemed conductor and director, Paul D. Weber, who cannot be with us on this tour. We will record events, tour news stories (the good ones), and other interesting happenings so that Dr. Weber can read about what's going on and be connected to us even in his absence.
Our first tour spot is to Salisbury, NC. We begin at St. John's Lutheran by singing and leading the people of that parish in worship. We will be premiering Dr. Weber's piece, Come Let Us Sing, which is dedicated to one of the members of that parish. Other pieces we will be performing include: Gustav Holst's Nunc Dimittis, Mendelssohn's Heilig, Palestrina's Sicut Cervus and others.
We got to sing for an Evening Prayer service today that was led by hymn-writer, John Bell. The choir rose to the occasion and sang very well. People really enjoyed our offering of music, however, the space presented some challenges. The choir area was pretty confining, but the singers managed to sing out and sing well.
Dr. Weber means a lot to us and we hope to honor his work by singing very well and being, as he would say, intelligent singers. We wish you could be with us on this tour, Dr. Weber, but since you can't, stay in touch through this blog. We will update as much as we can! We will look forward to seeing our conductor as soon as he is well! Stay tuned--