Friday the 11th of July, we travelled to Comeragh Wilderness Camp, a therapeutic camp for lads. (http://wilderness.ie) We travelled in the bus to the closest drop point to the camp. We set off on foot, taking turns as the shuttle vehicles came to meet us. This opportunity to get acquainted with the project, the lads, and the staff was a boost for all. They prepared a delicious meal for us, talked about their daily schedule and sang their favorite songs. Their music was hearty and robust. We joined them and filled out the harmony as best we knew how.
After our camp visit we drove the winding roads to Dunmore East. The cliff walk was not for the faint of heart. It included steep trails, wading through water, and scrambling over rocks. Once these feats were accomplished we were rewarded with breathtaking vistas of the ocean and the cliffs. We found ourselves frequently drawn to bounce on the soft grass and peat. The sun and breezes whispered soul-filling murmurs, soothing our schedule-weary bodies.
The following day was spent in Waterford, learning about it’s history, looking at dazzling crystal dishes and figurines. We sang to an eager and responsive audience at Christ Church Cathedral. The tour of the building offered a series of shocking and disturbing facts. For instance, the first cathedral built on that plot of land was condemned for mercenary interests, but the demolition crew found that it was built too strongly for their tools. Eventually they resorted to the use of gunpowder to break it down. Another “saint” had his decayed and worm-eaten corpse sculpted on the top of his tomb in the church to serve as a “gospel” message to the living about how to conduct a holy life while considering the end of man.
Sunday morning found us preparing for a musical worship service with the believers at East Dunmore Christian Fellowship. This is the congregation where the Jonathan and Joyce Yoder family are members. Jonathan was our tour director for all the stops in England and Ireland. Saturday before, Franklin Miller, and Rosemary Eberly conducted workshops for the children, youth and adults. The worship service called from us nearly 40 minutes hearty congregational singing with selections taken form The Mennonite Hymnal. Following that session, Wendell Nisly presented a lecture covering the mission of Oasis Chorale, challenging us to take Jesus beatitudes and kingdom commands seriously, and salt the earth through a Christo-centric use of our talents and skills. After that, the workshop students presented their prepared pieces, followed by several pieces sung by our choir.
Sunday afternoon we drove to Kilkenny Presbyterian Church. It was difficult to sing our final concert with so many mixed sensations. The audience enthusiastically received the program and offered repeated expressions of blessing and farewell. The retired Dean of Cashel came to this concert and entertained us with a story about his missing belt and meeting the Queen.
The choir drove to Dublin for the night and checked into the hotel. Most of the choir stayed up late reminiscing about the tour, sharing memorable moments and exchanging lame jokes.
Monday July 14 finds us in the Dublin airport, snaking our way through the security lines, and preparing for our flight to New York.
In all of this tour, God has been with us, keeping us healthy, showing us connection opportunities, helping us live together with grace and friendship. Our music has matured us, enriched our souls, and knitted our hearts with a strong sense of ensemble. Our audiences were the warmest we’ve experienced thus far, offering their thanks and support profusely. So in farewell, we give God our deepest thanks. To our friends we are grateful for your hospitality and listening ears.
In Drogheda the choir was warmly welcomed by the Presbyterian community. Their space was the newest Presbyterian Church building in Ireland. They had to build it because their community of faith is rapidly expanding. In a country where churches are being abandoned because of shallow ideas being taught in the collages and the influx of cultural decay this growth can be attributed to the people of God returning to the Truth. What a testament to the work of the Spirit in a community of faith!
In sharp contrast to that memorable event, we sang at St. John’s Theatre and Centre for the Arts, in Listowel, on Wednesday evening. The Listowel Christian Fellowship hosted our choir in that space as a creative way to bring “Church” back to a space that had become an entertainment center due to neglect of the Faith. Only God can take the beauty of music and work this miracle in the hearts. The shining eyes, the standing ovation, and the 2 encores helped to rebuild that sanctuary for the listeners. For the night we enjoyed the liberal hospitality of the church families, who insisted on showing us their lovely and wild shoreline. Ballybunion is the region of John Bunyan fame. Unforgettable.
Today we travelled to west Ireland and checked into our hostel in Cork. On the way we stopped in Killarny to sing in St. Mary’s Cathedral and explore the small pubs and shops. Transcendence all over again!
We are at long last among the rugged emerald hills that are the signature of Ireland’s scenery. Tonight we simply relax.
This morning we left our secluded Knockree Hostel by the Wicklow Way. The Wicklow Way is a narrow paved road, sufficient for 1 car width with passing places few and far between. We had an adventure navigating the bus around the turns slowly. We met a few vehicles, had to reverse and get off the pavement to pass. This is all a delicate driver situation when there is limited shoulder to begin with.
We sat down to cafe lunches on our own in Drogheda town. Various of the singers enjoyed the small and brilliantly colored red pub, “The Mariner”. Others of the group enjoyed excellent food at the “Bia Cafe”. On our walk back to the bus, the singers took a quiet moment to see the powerfully inspirational art and decoration of the St. Mary’s R.C. Church. We left for our concert venue to begin our mid-tour rehearsal.
Upon arriving at the Drogheda Presbyterian Church, our directors, Wendell and Franklin, rearranged the choir for a new standing order. The sound is more mixed and the singers are hearing harmony more vertically than ever before.
We drove to Newgrange Lodge, taking a scenic route passing by the mysterious Newgrange Monument. The valley here has stunning scenery, gently rolling hills, more narrow roads, under blue and clouded skies. After checking in at the lodge, we relaxed for 45 minutes, did laundry, and prepared for the concert at the Drogheda Presbyterian Church. The Weavers had BBQ’ed hamburgers on the grill and laid out a delicious spread of condiments to build our sandwiches. The frozen Oreo cookies were the perfect touch for a cooling dessert.
Drogheda Presbyterian is a sleek modern church building with spacious accommodations and big acoustics. The congregation is a singing church and they told us they had intentionally added a few extra feet of height to help with the sound of their worship. This was the first time they had listened to a concert in their space without amplification. It was a fine evening of music-making with a full house of neighbors and congregants. They insisted on stuffing us we tea, cakes and pies afterwards. The people were generous with contributions and eagerly purchased our recorded albums. Evidently God is communicating to our audiences.
Tomorrow is a long drive to Kerry. We will need quiet time, a bit of recap discussion, a bus activity along with forbearance to endure the close quarters of the bus during the trek.
Last night’s YMCA concert was west of Dublin city. A large poster outside the youth center had been announcing the arrival of our “American Gospel Choir” for several weeks. A rather informal evening, we sang to an audience of local youth, families, and church goers. The venue and the audience allowed us to collaborate with audience members for a more informal evening. We began our concert with first soprano Wendi leading the audience in a few Oasis warm up exercises. At intermission, Wendell met Maureen, who sings with a Gospel choir in Dublin, and she collaborated with us on an impromptu “There is a Balm in Gilead.” A young boy in the front row asked if we knew “O Happy Day” (he apparently had seen the movie “Sister Act”), and, led by Janice, we fulfilled his request. It was a happy night of music making, finished off by tea and buns, and many happy conversations with our friendly audience. We continue to be enchanted by the warmth and friendliness of the Irish people and the beauty of their island country.
A Sunday morning spent on a bus is not to be compared to attending worship in the house of the Lord. The similarities stop somewhere soon after you consider the fact that you are assembled with others.
Our accommodations for Saturday night after the concert at Aylesbury were at Holiday Inn near Dunstable. A sleek modernized hotel with comfortable beds, clean warm showers and fresh linens.
After a full breakfast we began our travel to Sandiway Gospel Church in Northwich. After rehearsing for a short while in the small church, we had delightful refreshments from a large selection of sandwiches, custards, tea and coffee. Our choir made up 1/3 of the persons who attended the concert at 3PM. The audience was an enthusiastic and attentive crowd of retirees. A few friends from the Fellowship Church also came and enjoyed the music.
After more tea, sandwiches and fruit we changed into our travel clothes and were on our way to Wales. We intended to sit on the sand by the Colwyn bay in order to watch the sun set. Upon arrival, we discovered the beach was under construction for reshaping. However, after a bit of a walk we found a short section of sand and rocks that were open to the public. Some singers skipped stones, others enjoyed building a castle in the sand, others threw frisbee. Various large white jelly fish were found as the outgoing tide left them stranded. Curt Weaver ordered in pizza that was delivered to our space on the shore at 10 PM. Good times were had by all long into the evening.
Tonight we have an overnight trip on the ferry back to Dublin. It is not conducive to finding sanctuary and rest from the activity and noise, but we shall do our best to be bright and happy in the morning.
We boarded the ferry at 1:45 am., invading the quiet, empty bench areas like swarms of bees. Stuffing our ears with ear plugs and donning eye patches left over from the airplane, we sought sleep with an organized viciousness. God blessed us with a calm crossing! We stumbled below deck to board our bus around 5:30, some of us mumbling gratefulness for the hours of sleep we got, others lamenting the laughing passengers near their make shift beds.
We enjoyed a bus side breakfast next to a grocery store, our cooks providing us with pastries, scones, biscuits, juice, and citrus fruit. We are grateful for the Weavers’ flexibility and creativity!
We spent the morning enjoying the breathtaking Powerscourt Estate, the third ranked garden in the world! The fresh air soothed our weary spirits, as did the Japanese and Italian gardens, and the walled garden, featuring stunning roses, larger than your hand in size! This was a proper reintroduction to the Irish countryside, to which we were very happy to return.
Currently checked into the Knockree hostel, we are enjoying pasta, a delicious salad, and baguettes, a meal prepared by our cooks. We look forward to an afternoon of rest before our informal concert this evening at the YMCA. The rain is gently falling as we gaze out the the glass walls at the quiet grounds and far off fields. We thank God for peace and rest.
Off like a shot! Alarms buzzing in the fourth hour, clearing of beds, furious stuffing and zipping, and filling our water bottles (singers must stay hydrated)… It was a groggy choir busing on the winding roads to Rosslaire Ferry Port. After waiting in the bus queue, we exited Stenaline’s Green Deck 5 to decks 7 and 8, where we availed ourselves to breakfast and hot drinks. We endured the fairly calm crossing by napping, playing Rook, enjoying the breezy views above deck, and checking antisocial media below.
Land ho! The patchwork countryside of Fishguard, Wales appeared in the mist, and soon we were on the carriageway again. The upside to all our bus time is that it invariably leads to many fascinating discussions of music, texts, poetry, and books. You might say that Oasis Chorale bus is a sort of dropbox for the Anabaptist artist’s opinions, questions, and suggestions. With all our traveling, we have decided that we are officially tourists today (which we are comfortable with) but many of us are looking forward to getting into a normal routine!
At 5:30, we checked into the Ibis and YHA Bristol. Those of us at the hostel found it to be quite accommodating. (Its riverfront views were especially invigorating at night!)
Jonathan Yoder’s long-time friend, Michael, graciously scheduled a two-hour double-decker bus tour of bustling Bristol. Gerry, our tour guide, offered us a voluminous historical context for the city.
The choir was delighted to visit St. Thomas the Martyr Church, now no longer used for regular services, yet a location where Handel himself composed music and played the organ! We entered the empty church, situated adjacent to Bristol’s most famous night club, and sang a few pieces. The sounds and smells of the club’s overflow wafted through the stained glass, yet it did not drown out our song. The irony was not lost on us.
Friday morning we bused from Bristol to Oxford, arriving in time for an excellent two-hour walking tour. Dazzled by the architecture and history, we comfortably moved about the city, visiting several of the hundreds of Oxford colleges, the Radcliffe Camera (a repository of over 11 million books), and even Lucy’s lamppost from the Chronicles of Narnia!
In the afternoon, we checked into gorgeous Keble College.
Today began with a short walk under cloudy skies and drizzle to an excellent British breakfast buffet served in the Great Hall at Keble College. What a room in which to begin a day. What we first saw when we stepped into the room were three tables stretching into shadowy distance at the other end of the long room. The tables were set with silver and goblets, lit by electric candelabra every few place settings. After breakfast, several singers stepped over to the Chapel and took a few quiet minutes to contemplate the mosaics on the walls. Of particular interest was the famous painting ‘Jesus the Light of the World’. We explored the magnificent acoustic with chant melodies, and rediscovered the harmony that arises in such a space. By the time we boarded the bus, the moisture was lifting though patchy clouds continued to shade us from the summer sun.
Our excursion today took us to Warwick Castle. It was a singular experience to walk up the Mound in the footsteps of William the Conquerer. Inside the castle we found a great many displays spanning the lives of the Royalty that used and adapted the Castle to their liking: knights in full armor astride full-sized horses in the Great Hall; a massive sideboard from a single oak carved with elaborate scenes of Queen Elizabeth I’s life; the luxurious bedroom prepared for Queen Anne (who didn’t come after all); the first running baths. Set aside from most of the bustle, the Chapel was filled with beautiful light and music. A reflective spot.
Mid-afternoon found us rehearsing and going through pre-concert arrangements at St. Mary’s Church of Aylesbury. The small and hospitable crowd enthusiastically welcomed us. The concert was received with happy and emotive faces. Some wept for joy during the encore of our benediction “God Be With You”.
Tomorrow starts another marathon run of travel, concert, and ferry ride back to Dublin. Pray for safe travels and transformative musical connections.
By now some of our friends and family have seen our Facebook updates and Photos posted by the choir members. We have arrived safely in Dublin at 9:30 AM July 1. The people on our flight were quite weary while disembarking the plane. After we caught our first breeze of Irish air as we walked out from the terminal we suddenly got a new energy and a sense to stay awake and try to overcome the jet lag. We walked to the bus lot and met Thomas, our skilled and cheerful bus driver. He is knowledgable about our route and is happy to answer questions as we drive. Jonathan Yoder, our hosting tour director, changed our currency to Euros and soon we were off to tour Dublin’s fair city.
The choir spent time looking at the Book of Kells, and the library at Trinity College. There is an immense amount of Irish and Christian writing stored on those shelves. After the organized tour we scattered across the city to find ourselves various places to stimulate and satisfy our curiosity.
On our way to our gracious hostel in Glendalough we past through lush green hills, and wound our way (gingerly) with the big bus on the narrow roadways. Our coach is a spacious new Volvo with 55 seats. All 48 of us are enjoying the high seats as we tour the countryside.
Wednesday we slept until 9 AM to help relieve the time shift, ate a continental breakfast, and did our choir warm-ups on the lawn. After an outdoor lunch at the bistro just down the road, we walked to the Glendalough Visitor’s Center to get info about the St. Kevin’s Monastery, the valley, trails, and lakes. For three hours our singers walked on the various trails and climbed the hills, inhaled the clear air, taking in all the scenic landscapes, and smelling the forest scents. A few hiked to the peak of the nearby hill and caught the vista from above. Others chilled their walk-weary feet in the cooling water of the upper lake. After a dinner of chili and cornbread that was prepared by the Curt and Tresa Weaver family, we walked another 2.5 Km to St. Kevin’s Catholic Church to experimentally blend a few of our concert pieces with it’s 4.5 second reverb. It was an interesting aural experience.
Tomorrow we rise early and “catch the ferry” to England. Have you ever caught the ferry? what does one do on a ferry for 3 hours? …we’re about find out.
“Rise up, follow Me, Come away, is the call, With My love in your heart as the only song…” Michael Dennis Browne
He is calling us away, and filling our hearts with His love.
Tonight we are overwhelmed with the incredible outpouring of support from our Lebanon Co. audience. The nave at St. Luke’s was filled beyond capacity, chairs were placed and the aisles had eager listeners standing in rapt attention.
From the opening fanfare of “Shout for Joy” through the tender longings of “I Sing of Your Mercies” to the robust and celebratory encore “Ride On! King Jesus” singers and listeners were lifted to the presence of God. Even though the summer evening was warm, and our audience had many families in it, the babies were still, the children attentive, and folks were reading the program notes to discover details about our beloved craft. Again, we can only give praise to God for our supportive Mennonite brothers and the hospitality from the Episcopalian Church for this singular worship experience.
Ice cream cake is becoming a tradition for celebrating birthdays of the choir members. Today we celebrated Franklin Miller’s 30th birthday. In the course of the day we sang for him twice. These chorale people sure know how to make life events epic. What a joyful community of friends!!
Tomorrow we will gather at St. Luke’s once more, to pack up our belongings, organize and prepare for flight to Dublin, Ireland. At the current level of interest, we are comforted by your prayers and monetary support for the work. Pray for Oasis Chorale as you are moved by the Spirit and have opportunity. Some things that we are mindful of are traveling safety, Logistical details, Luggage arriving at the proper places and not being lost, meaningful connections with audiences in Ireland, Wales and UK. Our focus remains in lifting God’s Holy Name higher than ever before while we sing and serve the music.
This morning we enjoyed a late call time while we engaged in last minute packing. We reconvened at St. Luke’s for a time of rehearsal and tour debriefing. We met our bus in the afternoon and traveled several hours to New York City, winding through Chinatown and Williamsburg. Our driver safely deposited us at JFK around 6:00. We board in 5 minutes!
Saturday was another good day of rehearsing our pieces for the Ireland tour. At noon we had several moments of refocusing and quiet time. By 3 PM we were on the road from Lebanon to Lititz. Neffsville Mennonite Church is an acoustically live space to sing in. That changed significantly in the evening, when the pews filled up with our families and friends. It was really special to have folks come from Wisconsin, Ontario, Ohio and Virginia. It is a sacred trust to be given the time and the stage to sing for eager men, women and children, especially when they travel so far for the chance to hear the concert. Thank-you for coming and supporting the craft of live sacred chorale singing.
Technical difficulties made the live streaming fail. We regret the inconvenience of that. In the future we hope to resolve these issues.
This first concert was a strong and stirring presentation. Energy was high in the opening number. So much joy to be multiplied with the audience leaning in to hear Lyle Stutzman’s new setting of Psalm 33, “Shout for Joy!” Many bridges are being built with our repertoire featuring several hymn arrangements. It seem’s that Derrick Johnson’s setting of “Whispering Hope” connects well through nostalgia and it’s reassuring message for future reconciliation in our broken world.
With so many things to live with in this life, it is vital that a singer keeps a sense of grounding in the realities and the joy of our faith journey. For in singing of joy, peace, hope, and the struggle we begin to harmonize with God’s beautiful works of grace. Please join us in our creative pilgrimage again tomorrow night at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Lebanon PA at 7 PM.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.” Psalm 92:1
Today began with choir members assembling at 9 AM. After warming-up body and voice, we started with practicing and recording Samuel Webbe’s setting of “Praise, My Soul, The King of Heaven.” It was a wonderful text for the beginning of the day. In all the work and the joy, the King of Heaven tends, spares, knows, bears, rescues, and mercifully deals with us as children.
After singing the final four songs and recording them, we were ready to return to our repertoire for our Ireland tour at 10:45 AM. All in all the hymn singing was beneficial for helping us attend to text and unify the ensemble.
The meals for us are provided by the generous and skilled cooks from the Lehman Street Mennonite Church. We have been well-fed and nourished with a variety of delicious food.
Tomorrow is Saturday, a day of more Ireland repertoire rehearsal at St. Luke’s and then our first State-side concert in the evening. That event will be hosted by Neffsvilie Mennonite Church in Lititiz and begins at 7 PM. We would love to sing for you, if you can attend.
Good evening! And what a good evening it is after a vigorous day of recording. St. Luke’s Episcopal Nave is a lovely acoustic space. Brad is doing a fine job of capturing the sound of the choir. We were blessed with recording success in 13 songs today. Tomorrow we look forward to finishing the last 4 pieces. “Send Forth Thy Spirit” will be a highlight in tomorrow’s work.
Brad brought his mandolin and serenaded the choir with a few lovely Irish tunes. It was a wonderful space to hear the fine details of his playing.
We celebrated Darcy Jantzi’s birthday today with ice cream cake and two singings of the birthday song. Darcy is such a star in our tenor section, and we all are frequent willing witnesses to his wit and wisdom.
After a pork BBQ dinner, several of the singers travelled north to the Jonestown School for a few games of volleyball. By 9:30 we finished and returned to our hosts.
Hello Family, Friends, and Supporters of Oasis Chorale!
Can we say we’re excited? Can you tell? After nearly two years of planning and budgeting for this choral tour, we have finally come together as a complete group and started implementing the plans. Our first day at rehearsal was blessed with renewed friendships, warm introductions and very gracious hosting by the staff at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Lebanon.
We worked the entire repertoire and unified the sounds. Tonight we started studying the texts more intentionally. This set of songs has a variety of praises and promises, nearly everyone who attends and hears will encounter God through these messages.
Tomorrow we plan to record the Hymns project for Benchmark Press. Please take a moment to visit our donation page and share of your abundance for this project.
As always, this work is hard; the disciplined effort feeds the soul, convicts the heart and refreshes our spirits. Please continue to pray for us and the hearers in our audiences. Most of all that God would transcend the music and visit us all with His loving favor.