Here we are in the final hours of 2015. As we reflect back over the year we recognize the many blessings that we have been given!
In March we attended the REACH Conference where we presented a workshop on music, worship, and our mission.
March also found the 2015 choir assembling in Virginia for a weekend of rehearsal. A lot of work had already been done by the individual members in learning the music, but this was when we brought it all together. It was a fun, inspiring weekend and we made a lot of progress! The choir went their individual ways eager to continue working on and memorizing the music.
Our tour was in July and started and ended in Indiana. The first few days were spent rehearsing, bringing the texts and the tunes to life! Then we headed for Canada. We had uneventful traveling and border crossings, for the most part. Over the next week we traveled and had concerts throughout southern Ontario. So many people came together to make this tour a success! Host families welcomed us into their homes. Volunteers provided meals. People came to concerts, gave in the offerings, and prayed for us all along the way! Special thanks to each of you who were involved!
Oasis produces a recording every other year. This year we recorded the album Healing River in the gorgeous Sauder Hall of Goshen College. We released the album in September and have sold well over a thousand copies so far!
We have sold more than 3,000 albums total this year! We have considered the many applications we received and have our 2016 choir members chosen. We so appreciate your support and love!
As we look forward to 2016 we invite you to partner with us. We keep our tour costs low for choir members thanks to your donations and the churches and individuals who host us on our tours. This is very important to many of our members since we are a volunteer choir.
We also invite you to join us in prayer for a few specific needs:
1. Our director, Wendell Nisly, as he is finishing the repertoire selection for 2016. 2. The final plans for the Why Jesus? 2016 Conference we plan to be involved in in May. 3. The audiences we will reach at the Why Jesus? Conference and on our summer tour. Our desire is that they would perceive God in their lives in fresh ways.
Every so often our family gets a new music CD. The first time we put the CD in the player is a moment charged with eagerness. Will this music be rich and multi-layered , or will it be just popcorn? Both kinds of music are on our CD rack, but only the former gets played and played and replayed. And only the former gets better and better, and speaks deeper into our hearts, each time it is played!
Three weeks ago our copy of “Healing River” arrived in the mail. That evening, after the day’s work and play were finished, the family gathered in the living room for the evening. We dimmed the lights and calmed our souls and listened to the new CD.
“Healing River” did not disappoint. True to the precedent that Oasis Chorale has set, this CD delivered the majestic reverence that my wife and I want our children to learn to love and give a high place in their music repertoire. We love the blend of traditional hymns, pathos-filled Spirituals, and worshipful contemporary choral pieces on this CD. This is definitely not going to be a neglected CD on our rack. Our whole family will be discovering new meaning and depth in both the words and the music on this one for a long time to come.
The message of the song “O Healing River” is especially meaningful to us here in western Texas because we’ve just come through a several-year-long drought that rivaled the historic “dust bowl”. We’ve recently experienced the despair of the parched, burning, barren land and accompanying emotions… and now this past year we experienced the healing waters that bring new life and healing. As we listen to this song, we rejoice in the reality of hope, healing and verdant abundance in both our land and in our spirits.
Here are some thoughts from director Wendell Nisley about how he chooses repertoire.
How do you choose your repertoire?
A brief response is fairly simple, but the process of actually choosing a program repertoire can be almost excruciating. I often begin with a theme in mind. This year, however I didn’t so much choose the theme–I had decided that I would program less thematically for a change. In the end, it seems, the theme chose me.
There were a number of songs that, when I asked for volunteers to be programmed, just stood up and started waving insistently. The theme of healing emerged (and continued to develop as we interacted last year with our Irish audiences). It’s not tightly consistent throughout, but it is all loosely connected. The program begins with recognizing God, which is of course where all of our healing must begin. It also looks at the difficulties that we live in, which is tough for us to look at, because we like to be happy and we have so many things to buy and experience to help keep us happy. But unless we acknowledge and examine the brokenness in our lives, we will never get to a place where we are able to receive healing.
In a lot of ways, this program is simply about life. Thus, each text should speak of life in a way that expands our understanding of it. Whenever we look closely at life, what we find (if we look long and truly) is simply amazing. Our art ought to reflect that–there should be something in it that opens our eyes, a “wow factor” that engages our imaginations, that turns our hearts upward in gratitude. But all of this has to be with texts that are theologically sound, that line up with a deep and careful reading of Scripture.
What effect does your singing group have on your choice of songs?
I am a teacher, and so I want to choose music that will be educational and challenging for the singers. That doesn’t mean that it all has have a Bach-ian complexity–just that it needs to nudge the singers toward growth musically, vocally, and spiritually. I try to find a place that challenges the singers with more training and experience, yet doesn’t overwhelm those with less.
What about the audience–how do you program for them?
In concert there is at times this lovely dance between audience and choir, where we are not two separate groups doing two separate activities, but a unified whole engaged deeply in exploring and experiencing life through the sounds and the thoughts of the song. It requires a surrender to the sound. But for that to work, the songs must find some balancing point between accessible and challenging for the audience. I try to program enough well-known sounds (eg. hymn arrangements and predictable choral pieces) to give some comfortable familiarity, but enough new sounds to keep it challenging and fresh.
Are there other factors you consider?
Many. A variety of difficulty levels is one of the primary factors. But I also look for a variety of styles–lush and spare, slow and fast, major and minor and modal, hymns and spirituals, folksy and classical, new and old. Some should wash over you like a delicious shower, other songs should require the thoughtful attention of a beautiful physics equation unfolding step by step. And there should be a variety of keys; it would be tough on the choir to sing a concert mostly in F and G. One lesson I learned this year was to make sure that it is memorizable. Our test case was “I Want Jesus To Walk With Me,” and we found that memorization was extremely difficult. It hindered singing the song effectively. Finally, it has to be a piece that I can tap into and live with for two years. I’ve put a number of perfectly fine pieces back on the shelf because, for some reason, they just didn’t meet me at the moment.
Where do you find your pieces, and how much time does it take?
I figure that if I find one strong candidate in an hour of researching, I am doing well. I am eliminating songs as I go, but I’ll probably end up with a list of 20-25, and then start the final grueling process of eliminating and replacing. I find song candidates in my files, listed on programs from concerts I’ve attended, on CD’s, on YouTube and Spotify. I look at concert programs online, music retailers online, and publishers’ websites. We have commissioned a number of songs, in which case I work with the composer to come up with a text.
With so much media already available, why does one group among hundreds and thousands bother to record? Some of these songs are already recorded by other groups. The CD will reach a comparatively small group of people. Even in our attempts to promote music participation, we are contributing to music consumerism.
As a child, Oasis recordings, among many others, exposed me to choral music and deepened my interest in singing. And so even though the efforts seemed paltry, I recorded with Oasis Chorale to in turn influence others and help to build musical interest in community and church.
So what was recording like? Sauder Hall is a lovely space, and Wendell a superb director. But recording was a fine opportunity to rely on something deeper than surroundings and other people for energy. The differences between concert and recording quickly showed themselves. There was no smiling audience, only rows and rows of empty seats. Singing a note incorrectly in concert, while not optimal, happens quickly and disappears into the hole of live music forgivability. But nobody wants to be the one who does a wrong note and has to listen to it over and over on the recording. So not only did we record, we rehearsed. Wendell and our producer, David Seitz, did an excellent job of setting high standards for us and encouraging us simultaneously. It was so fun to fine tune and perfect things that we had never quite mastered in concert.
Being with Oasis Chorale 2015 and making this recording has been truly a privilege. May God be glorified!
Oasis Chorale’s Summer 2015 tour came… and went. Memories, both profound and simple, return to gladden our mind.
The sculpting of the soul during the community effort of singing.
Audience responses during concert: Tears. Smiles of connection to the music. Gratitude.
The moments of silence after our benedictory song in concert.
Rehearsals—counting, solfeging through tricky spots, achieving coveted success.
Growing acquaintance with the formation of consonants.
God’s gift of safety through the many miles traveled by choir members and the bus.
Rich hospitality from host families.
Unexpected gifts—i.e. someone in Ontario filled the bus with fuel, free of charge.
Coping with illness: the uncomplaining sick ones, as well as the creative solutions from others.
Comfortable conversational connections within the choir.
Successful, satisfying recording days.
‘Those who know’ say no sound is ever lost, that sounds continue to travel into eternity. This means our concerts are still traveling, too. They remain ever-present before the great I AM as our offering of praise to Him. This, too, brings gladness to our mind.
“In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
The singers awoke this morning to the sound of rain pounding on the roof. They slowly trickled into the meeting place by 8:00 where they boarded the bus to travel to Wilfrid Laurier University for a morning workshop with Dr. Lee Willinghem. Dr. Willinghem founded and directs the Laurier Center for music at Wilfrid Laurier University. After a quick bathroom break, introductions, and warm-ups, the singers worked on a few interpretative areas in several different pieces. They learned more about word painting and different dynamics to shape their songs. Some very lovely sounds could be heard floating down the halls. After a mad dash and short drive through the pouring rain, the bus dropped off the hungry singers at the Conestoga Mall food court for a quick lunch before heading back to their original meeting place for a short rehearsal.
At 4:45, the singers once again boarded the bus which took them to Zion Mennonite Church in Brussels, Ontario for their 7:30 concert. The 101 year old stone church is surrounded by cornfields and boasts a lively acoustic. The audience began to arrive a full hour before concert time. The seating was very limited in the small un-air conditioned church but a cool summer breeze made it bearable. At intermission, the standing-room-only audience was given a chance to get a closer seat thanks to the willing sacrifice of those who had seats inside the church. It was a very full, warm concert but well received. After a 30 minute bus ride back to the meeting place, the singers grabbed their belongings and sauntered off to their hosts places for their final night in Canada.
We began the day at Sauder Concert hall once again, recording a couple of songs and then taking photographs of the 2015 choir. The photographer asked for a song, so we broke into “Guide My Feet” and he happily clicked away.
Next we left Sauder for the last time, loaded into our cars and headed out for Fairhaven Amish Mennonite church. They served us a delicious meal of haystacks, and for dessert we enjoyed brownies and ice cream with homemade caramel and hot fudge.
The concert was live streamed so that many of our friends and family far away could enjoy it as well. An audience member requested an encore of “Guide My Feet”, so we sang it for the third time that day, enjoying it more because it was a special request.
After the concert we visited for awhile with friends then retired for the evening back to our gracious host families from Sandy Ridge Mennonite Church.
Sunday morning found us at Sandy Ridge Mennonite Church, listening to an encouraging sermon on how we are pilgrims and strangers on the earth. With all the traveling we’ve been doing the message had even more meaning. After the service we sang four songs with the Sandy Ridge Choir and then enjoyed a bountiful, scrumptious fellowship meal.
The afternoon found us back at Sandy Ridge working out our blocking, entrances and exits. The basses “surprised” us one last time (we have almost come to expect unusualness from them) by wearing swan hats from Stratford while we practiced our exits. The concert began at 4:00 and was so full that several rows of chairs were filled in the fellowship hall as well. The Sandy Ridge Choir joined us and we enjoyed singing with them again. At the end of the concert we were asked to introduce ourselves, tell where we were from and what jobs we held. Then we were asked to sing an encore of “Whispering Hope”. We joyfully obliged, happy to have the chance to sing just one more song together.
For dinner we were again invited to the home of choir members Kenda and Sarah Miller where we enjoyed dinner, dessert, and fellowship. We stayed until after midnight discussing music, art, culture, Rosie and Phil’s engagement stories, and just relishing each other’s company. After breakfast at a restaurant in the morning, we will each go our separate ways, back to “real life” as we sometimes call it. We truly cherish these special days together singing, laughing, pondering, and praying together.
Goodbye Oasis 2015! God be with you ’till we meet again.
This evening finds us happily settled into our wonderful Comfort Inn after our second day of recording. We began again at 9 this morning with warm-ups and then launched into where we left off yesterday. ‘Twas a wonderful recording day with good energy and Wendell’s ever kind, patient leadership to guide our pitches, rhythms, etc. into straight paths.
We ate lunch which was provided by some kind, wonderful people from a nearby church. We finished our last recording session around 5:30 and relaxed while Joe picked up some pizza for a ravenously hungry group of happy musicians. After supper, some slightly unhappy souls were forced by various, unfortunate, but very legitimate circumstances to do some research on “closest laundromat options”. The excursion that followed was widely successful which meant that various people ended up with piles of clean laundry and perhaps a deeper appreciation for and a desire to go back home to our dear mothers! The rest of the group stayed at the college and enjoyed a few impromptu recitals by different pianists and vocalists from the choir, which resulted in many good times and much happy laughter to unwind after a slightly tiring but wonderful day. And now this little OC musician is gonna relax and eventually go to bed so as not to be low on energy to wrap up our final recording session tomorrow. Thanks for your prayers. Cheers!
Our day began with everyone meeting at Faith Mennonite at 7a.m. to begin our trip back to Indiana. It felt really early, and seems like every morning the grogginess is deepening…a result of many late nights. Soon after departure, most of the choir began descending into sleep mode. 🙂 This lasted most of the morning till we arrived at the U.S. Border, and all needed to disembark to go through customs. We were grateful for a very fast and smooth entry. A rest stop was in high demand by this point, and so we did a quick stop. While we were there, one of the staff asked us to sing a song, so we graced them with “Where He Leads Me. “ They thoroughly enjoyed it!
Life on the bus the rest of the day consisted of more sleeping, a few games, music study, reading, and many varied topics of conversation between individuals and groups. At one point Cynthia and some others were sharing snacks, and the group broke into a spontaneously obedient rendition of our thanks song that we sing for our hosts after meals. I think they’ve been taught well. 🙂 We stopped for lunch at a mall along the way, and enjoyed some delicious food and a little shopping for some.
We arrived back at Sandy Ridge around 4:30, and quickly cleared out the bus, and sang one last rendition of “Guide My Feet” for our beloved bus driver and his wife, after which Wendell worked on some standing arrangement things, in preparation for recording. Sandy Ridge folks then served us a very delicious supper, before we collaborated with their church choir for an evening rehearsal. They were delightful folks to sing with, and we had a great time preparing a small rep to give in their Sunday morning service. We enjoyed some dessert with them before heading for our hotel in Goshen. Everyone is looking forward to a good night of sleep before recording tomorrow.
Today began with breakfast in the lobby of the hotel. Then we all jumped into our cars and drove to Goshen College. After a long warm up we began our first recording session in Sauder Concert Hall, enjoying the amazing acoustics and our recording engineer, Brad Zabelski.
We successfully recorded “Where He Leads Me, I Will Follow”, “Healing River”, “Shout for Joy”, “Candle of the Lord”, “Praise to the Lord”, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”, “Soon Ah Will Be Done”, “Whispering Hope”, and “Hard Times Come Again No More”. The remaining songs will be recorded tomorrow.
After a delicious dinner of carnitas with an abundance of avocados and homemade salsa, we were eager to enjoy each others’ company in a more relaxed setting, so we headed out to a nearby park and spent several hours playing ultimate Frisbee and sitting and talking on the lawn. Because we are trying to keep our voices and bodies in good health, most of us retired early to the hotel to get a good night’s sleep before our second recording session tomorrow. We are also anxiously awaiting our last two concerts in Indiana on Saturday and Sunday.
After two enjoyable concerts on Sunday, we were all ready for a day off, and what a delightful day we had.
We began with a scrumptious breakfast at Schmidtsville, a lovely restaurant owned by the cousin of one of our choir members, Darcy Jantzi. Back on the bus, we headed for Stratford, a Canadian version of the European city abounding with art, music, and of course, Shakespeare.
Oasis embarked on our journey of the city at the Rheo Thompson Chocolate Factory. The kind owner requested a song after our tour of the establishment, so we sang “Whispering Hope”, which has been an audience favorite, for the employees.
Next, choir members took boat tours, rented canoes, spent time perusing book stores, fed swans, wandered in the peaceful Shakespearean gardens, and made up a new frisbee game in which two people release a frisbee simultaneously and try to catch it in the same manner as well. This does not happen when one of the two nails the photographer in the shin as she is working on her blog post.
This delightful day ended at choir member Darcy Jantzi’s farm where we relaxed on the lawn and played Kan Jam and Koob.
We are looking forward to our last Canadian concert tomorrow night at Zion Mennonite Fellowship in Brussels, Ontario, and then returning to the states for recording and a concert in Indiana.
Being able to stay with the same hosts for several nights is a luxury we are all thoroughly enjoying! In fact, it’s so agreeable at my host’s that I lingered over breakfast too long this morning and nearly missed the bus. They nicely let this straggler on board so that the blog didn’t have to mention a hitch-hiking choir member roaming the roadsides!
We joined the congregation of Heritage Mennonite Church for worship, filling their small church more than it’s accustomed to on an average Sunday. Jeff, Deana, and Phoebe added a little drama to the service with an object lesson for the children about right and wrong thoughts. No one present will ever look at a head of cabbage the same again!
The good people of Heritage fed us on the church lawn before we again loaded up and headed for Calvary United. The morning was so tranquil and relaxed that we had to consciously prepare ourselves for the challenge of sharing two concerts with only a small interval of rest between.
We are being well cared for by the people of Ontario!
The morning was spent at St. Jacob’s Farmer’s Market, enjoying the multi-cultural food, music, and goods. Sensory stimuli was at an all time high as we wound through the crowds amidst rows of vibrant produce, food booths, and all manner of authentic trinkets and gadgets. Above the din of business and chatter, we caught strains of a whining bagpipe, the resonating strings of a small Chinese player, as well as other street musicians. Lunch cuisine choices among choir members ranged from pizza and kabobs to Moroccan mahajeb and roasted red pepper hummus, Brie cheese and salami with sourdough Artisan bread to traditional club sandwiches.
We returned to Faith Mennonite Church early afternoon and enjoyed about an hour of quiet reprieve before again rehearsing and attending to vocal technique under Wendell and Rosemary’s guidance.
The audience for this second concert was large, warm, and responsive. It was our pleasure to meet and fellowship here!
At 8:15 our hosts kindly returned us to the Leamington United Mennonite Church to meet our coach. We motored along the edge of Lake Erie for a while until we found a good place to stop and explore the lakeshore. Blue skies and balmy breezes provided the perfect backdrop for discovering many pretty pebbles, sea glass and a Kan Jam game in the shade.
Our next stop was the John Klassen residence where we delightedly consumed a scrumptious Mexican disco (dee-sko) lunch which was topped off with a fruit trifle and fresh strawberry tarts, which are not to be mistaken for pies. After lunch entertainment included a lively game of croquet, more Kan Jam, fly swatting, and much conversation. We serenaded our hosts with a few choice songs before piling onto the coach for the two hour ride to Faith Mennonite Church.
Upon arrival we partook of yet another wonderful meal of grilled chicken, salads, wonderful rolls, and ice cream provided by the Lebold family. Afterwards we spent a few hours of lively rehearsal before our hosts arrived to take us to our beds. This is Janice’s church; she’s doing a great job of helping to host us.
After 2 full days of rehearsal, we shifted gears today, going on the road for the first time this tour and preparing for our first concert. We met at Sandy Ridge at 8:00 on a drizzly morning, meeting our driver Marvin Martin and his wife Verna. After the luggage committee got a system in place and loaded everything, we hit the road for Ontario! The air was abuzz as old friends caught up, new friendships were deepened, and some put in personal rehearsal time.
We had not planned to stop till lunch, but the effects of adequate hydration facilitated a rest stop mid-morning. We stopped for lunch at Briarwood Mall in Ann Arbor, MI, with Chipotle being a popular choice. Then a short drive brought us to the Canadian border. Short staffing required us to go in to have our passports checked, but it may have worked in our favor, as we were through in less than 15 minutes!
Bill Bergen, a former OC member, met us at Leamington United Mennonite mid-afternoon. Further fine-tuning of our rep and working on changes for the standings throughout the program preceded a delicious meal of sloppy joes, salad, and bars for dessert. After preparing ourselves for the evening musically and physically, James read us various poems to stimulate us spiritually. An especially powerful one spoke of the author remembering only one incident where a little boy was unforgivably rude out of his numerous months spent in that city. It reminded us of the tremendous power for good or evil in the smallest exchanges.
Then on to our first concert! Though far from perfect, it was a solid program, both ministering to us and well received by a diverse audience. We were then taken into the homes of our generous hosts, fed and trundled off to bed after a full but rewarding day.
A side note: The Bass 2 section at times shows their solidarity by elevating their right hands with little finger extended, in support of the one of us who doesn’t get to choose whether or not he uses this position. 🙂 The new bass fist bump involves left hands held up in this position, bumping the back of the hand rather than knuckles.
Special thanks to those who have prayed for my hand. It has been primarily unhandy (!) rather than painful.
Today was a day of “second things”. We greeted each other with simple good-mornings this time (compared to the ebullient greetings of the first morning). We wore a proprietary air as we returned to the same chair as yesterday. Once again, Wendell utilized surprising warm-ups to waken the somnolent, stir the preoccupied, and stimulate the chilly until Oasis Chorale emerged, ready for another day of work.
We continued giving detailed attention to consonants. Today we found which parts of our anatomy vocalize consonants. Most particularly— the tongue, teeth, lips, hard (and soft) palate, and the alveolar ridge. (I know— I needed to run my tongue behind my top teeth to make sure I had one, too. It’s used to shaped L, D, T.) There are consonants that depend on jaw-movement— like M, B, P, /j/ (pronounced y), etc. Some consonants engage the Bernoulli effect on our vocal folds and others don’t. (Wendell illustrated by bringing two sheets of paper to his mouth and blowing gently between them. The papers vibrated beautifully.) Consonants in general shine when pronounced very quickly, which gave rise to some humor about those among us whose jaws are perpetually limber.
Wendell led a reflection on Psalm 1. Meditation and delight are central themes. Meditation has the idea of chewing, and through this action, receiving nourishment. While we rehearse, we repeat the same vowels, consonants, and tones trying to find cleaner, clearer ways to deliver the message of the piece. This meditation shapes our souls. As our souls are shaped, we find delights we wouldn’t have found without the disciplines of meditation. It is vital to cultivate our delights with great care since those things in which we take delight, we pursue.
Several pieces today led us into a discussion regarding reality versus sentimentality. It’s easy to wallow in the emotions of a piece that touches us deeply, yet while doing so, we lose sense of the passing of time, and we are left with a song that is about us in this moment. This does not open a window to the far larger world beyond our seen, emotion-touched earth. In the end, to bring a message of hope and future redemption to difficult situations in people’s lives, Rhythm is a Christian singer’s friend. So— the metronome would materialize for a time until our perceptions of a piece changed.
We still haven’t decided how many layers of metaphor are hidden within the hymn Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. And what is “death of death” and “hell’s destruction”? And where does this metaphor (for Jesus?) fit into Israel’s actual journey from Egypt to Canaan?
All in all, we endeavored to strengthen both “legs” today— the skill set to deliver and the soul to carry our repertoire.
As I write, we’re finishing a picnic at Kendra’s house where the temperatures hover in the sixties, and gray skies drop water intermittently. We’ll go “home” soon to pack our passports into our cabin bags and separate our choir uniforms from the rest of our luggage. Tomorrow night, if God prospers our plans, we’ll be in Ontario delivering our first concert at Leamington United Mennonite Church: 78 East Oak Street. We’d be pleased to see you there.
The first day of the Oasis tour is behind us. We rehearsed all day long! I think that we are all tired and I think that we all feel blessed! We spent the day at Sandy Ridge Mennonite Church. The church is well equipped with a nice kitchen for the cooks to prepare the food. In the large open dining area we arranged the chairs in a semi-circle with Wendell, our conductor, seated on his tall stool in the front. We began the day with warm up exercises and then launched into our repertoire. Today we especially focused on immersing ourselves deeply into the text so that we can accurately communicate the meaning to our audience. I think that we were all impressed with the power of music when it is sung expressively. In addition we focused on diction and on the quality of our sound. We had some breakout sessions in which our section leaders could lead us in focus on specific areas that each part needs help in. Now we’ve all dispersed to the homes of the people who are graciously hosting us. Tomorrow we look forward to another day of rehearsal! And then on to Ontario!