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Fifty-two seats, five overhead TV screens, 41 choir members, one choral director, one director of church relations, one admissions counselor, and an awesome bus driver named Mike. That was the count at the beginning of this year’s Bethel College Concert Choir Spring Tour, which cut a wide swath through the Southwest during spring break.
We made it home with a similar count, but we were additionally-loaded down with fresh fruit, expanded luggage, and lots of good memories.
I think choir tour is one of those things that no one can ever say is “bad” for anyone. At the beginning of the year, there was the possibility that choir tour wouldn’t happen this year because the financial strain of it might be “bad” for the college, but I think it was argued rightly, that the experience for the choir members and audiences, not to mention the ambassador work the choir does for the college, far outweighed any qualms about money.
The Concert Choir had not been down in the southwest direction for around seven years, and boy, was it a treat to be traveling that way during the vivacious spring season. People often think of deserts as desolate, but driving through that area made one redefine one’s definition of “desolate.” Though brown sometimes dominated the scene, it did so in an intentional, healthy way, and the scrubs and cacti that grew around us spoke not of death but of very hardy life. Then mountains began to grow up around us, and as we broke into California, they turned green and rolling, and then they thrust even higher, capped in snow.
One of the most intense pleasures on the trip as far as nature went, was visiting Sequoia National Forest outside of Reedley, CA, just at the moment when entire mountainsides were swathed in orange, yellow and purple wildflowers. And then to see the gargantuan trees themselves, standing over 250 feet tall, sometimes spanning forty feet at the base…knowing that some of them had been around during the birth of Jesus, and some for thousands of years before that…it was frankly humbling. It reminded us of how much entitlement nature has to this earth.
Choir tour also reminds us that people have such immense capacities for generosity. It was the churches we sang to, and the donors from the college that sponsor us that make this trip possible.
A church with barely 40 regularly attending members was prepared to host an entourage of 45 with dinner, beds to sleep in over night, breakfast and a carry-in potluck for lunch, all for the gift of music and fellowship. Max Wedel’s home church in Tucson, AZ did as much, serving us an salivatingly-good dinner of steak and chicken fajitas (with fresh guacamole), hosting us, treating us to breakfast at the Hometown buffet, and then providing sack lunches that we enjoyed while playing at the park. Other examples of graciousness were more personal, or more modest, but all of them were earnest and loving. To be able to have a choir tour that depends so heavily on the kindness of strangers is a testament to the goodwill of people, even in hard times.
Finally, choir tour is a unifying and spiritual experience for the choir itself. While we were up in Sequoia National Park, we sang “Let the Heaven Light Shine on Me” in a space where our sound could travel upward until it disappeared. On bus rides that were sometimes as long as 12 hours, people mixed up who they sat with, made new friends, accommodated someone else’s feet as they struggled to find a comfortable sleeping position, and negotiated early hours to leave, movies to watch, games to play, and notes from performances…all without getting impatient or sick of one another. We became closer as we shared home stays in new and unfamiliar places. We became closer as we shared our meals together, or explored Santa Fe during the day we were stuck there because of weather.
We got closer as we sang. Not only technically, but emotionally, as choir members revealed the importance of songs we sang. I think our final concert for our home audience was cathartic as we sang “Lux Aeterna,” dedicating the performance to loved ones who had passed on and who we were there singing for and singing with.
It was a nice spring break.
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