Is there any congregation more welcoming than Eastminster Presbyterian? From the moment we entered this lovely Wichita church, we were greeted with unending smiles and warmth. Participation in Sunday morning’s second service included a few pieces of our choral repertoire along with “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah,” accompanied by Eastminster’s lively organ.
Graciously hosted by the congregation, the Eastminster choir, (including a former professor of Wendell) joined us for lunch! It was lovely to make conversation with these musical connections. An afternoon of warm-up and rehearsal prepared us for our final concert beneath the sanctuary’s stunning jewel-toned stained glass windows. Family, friends, and curious visitors joined Eastminster members in the audience. It was a wonderful end to tour, after which the choir made a trip back to Hutchinson for the annual post-concert party, featuring delicious snacks, espresso, and, not surprisingly, a little singing (except there may have been a few barbershop tags thrown in).
The schedule allowed us to sleep in Saturday morning! We then gathered at the Pleasantview Activity Center for lunch and rehearsal. Our new composition we sang this year by Douglas Byler, “The Spirit of the Lord” was commissioned in honor of Wendell’s sister, Dr. Jana Nisly, and the clinic she founded and served at in El Salvador for 25 years. She (along with her mother) sat with us and talked about the clinic and answered questions. It was a deeply meaningful time for us.
After a couple hours of our own rehearsal, we were joined by Hutchinson area singers for our collaboration pieces. Clausen’s “Prayer” was sung with an ensemble, and “Give to Our God” and “O Happy Day” were sung with children and other adults. It is so much fun to make music with others!
Concert went well with the collaboration pieces probably being the highlight for most people. The acoustic in the almost completed activity center was surprisingly strong, thanks in part to Nelson Martin’s ingenious sound shells made from tables and 2×4’s, and the crowd was our largest on tour. The singers retired happy and ready for one more day of singing.
Yesterday the chorale spent time at the Kansas Choral Director’s Conference in Topeka. We were invited by the president to give a partial concert on Thursday night. It felt like things really came together for the concert and it was gratifying to go into Friday knowing we had given our best effort the night before. I think it was the softest, the sweetest, the warmest, the most beautiful program yet.
The accommodations were conveniently in the same building as the conference and we only had a short walk to the conference events. As an inexperienced conductor, I enjoyed the opportunity to sit under the instruction of experienced conductors. One presenter shared helpful tips gleaned from his extensive conducting career, including, “Not every choir can sing my favorite piece.”
There was also time for various relaxing activities like visits to a nearby coffee shop to sample their home-made-caramel lattes and the appropriately delectable Affogato.
Dr. Blackstone had a workshop on the male voice that was well-attended by Oasis people. One could tell that he was a very experienced choral director and it was impressive to see a master at work. He stressed the importance of drama in the phrase. “[The last note of a phrase] should be the softest, the sweetest, the warmest, the most beautiful” note in the entire phrase.
We had multiple chances for reading sessions, which means sight-reading through choral music with a bunch of conductors to get an idea of what the pieces sound like to hopefully get some ideas for repertoire. It was definitely good sight-reading practice, if nothing else.
After a pizza supper and a last (quite warm…) bus ride home to Hutchinson, we settled in for a restful night with a forecast of the softest, sweetest, warmest, most beautiful call time of 11:45 AM Saturday.
Today started out much like every other day on tour, with a hearty breakfast made by lovely hosts in Fulton, MO. We as a choir have been served so well that sometimes I feel a little overwhelmed by it. Today that care was felt as well at the First United Methodist Church in Topeka, KS, sponsored by the Kansas Choral Director’s Association. The space they provided for us to sing in was magnificent. We spent the afternoon rehearsing and then performed for and sang with (under the wonderful Dr. Derrick Fox) a wonderfully diverse audience in the evening. They expressed so much delight in our offering of music and in doing so, filled us with gratitude once again for the opportunity we have to sing and be together as a choir.
Following our most mennonitized (is that a word?) concert last evening, we spent the night with the gracious Seymour folks. A good night of rest, some good breakfast and coffee, and we were back on the bus at 8:15 and ready to hit the road to Fulton, MO. For what it’s worth, the entire bass section is wearing matching blue button-down shirts that have the “Bass Pro Shops” logo on them….. Some sort of pun from previous years that this rookie has yet to discover. On the bus today, there was an in-depth conversation between John Strickler, Ryan Kimberlin, Lee Weaver, and myself in regards to the joys and sorrows of coffee. From roasting, to white espressos, to tasting technics! The church we sang at in Fulton was pretty cool! The sanctuary had a dome and made the sounds pretty nice! The Fulton Mennonites who hosted us were very gracious and gave us a wonderful lunch soon after we arrived and then a good supper in the evening. The sanctuary was pretty full during the concert and it went great and was probably our best overall concert yet!
The sights and sounds of St. Louis greeted us once again this morning. Some who prefer finer coffee and something other than a hotel breakfast meandered to a local coffee shop. Before leaving the city, most of the choir members walked to the courthouse and sang “Not One Sparrow” under the rotunda. Then it was to the bus and off to Seymour, MO. A lunch stop was made in which we had to choose between various fast food restaurants and enjoyed conversation over burgers, salads and sandwiches. We arrived at the First Baptist Church at 2:30 pm and were given 45 minutes to rest before we were required to begin warmups. The afternoon was spent rehearsing and then breaking up into 4 part sections to work on trouble spots. We were fed a fantastic supper by the incredibly gracious people of Seymour before giving our concert to a warm and appreciative audience.
The streets of St. Louis were a welcome change from the rigors of choir life. Towards noon, we threw our luggage upon the hospitality of the City Place Hotel and invaded the city in search of recreation and repose. Zoos were explored, beds were napped upon, and many eager noses were pressed against the windows lining the pinnacle of the Gateway Arch. To culminate our day, we dined at the Three Sixty Restaurant crowning a Hilton Inn near our hotel. There we savored birds-eye views of the Saint Louis cityscape alongside a sumptuous dinner. The morrow will find a deeply refreshed Oasis Chorale ready to hit its final week in full stride. Psalm 23:3 “He restoreth my soul…”
We worshiped with the Pleasant View Mennonite Congregation in Arthur, Illinois. We shared a few songs from our hymns and choral repertoire and took in a sermon on Phil. 1:1-11 by Matt Bontrager. After enjoying a scrumptious meal at Pleasant View, we spent the hours before our 4:30 concert rehearsing and getting standing arrangements. We also prepared two pieces, “Give to Our God” and “O Happy Day”, with a local community choir. The venue at Penn Station was quite different structurally and acoustically than Central Christian Church in Decatur. However, our audiences were similar in that they came to receive our message and by God’s grace and for His glory, we gave it. We at supper after the concert at the home of Vernon and Christina Kuhns. The evening was cool and we chatted and relaxed before heading back to our hosts for a long night.
This morning we loaded the bus and headed east toward Illinois. Our wonderful hosts provided a delicious breakfast, to go. Soon we were rolling past the many corn and bean fields on our way to a lunch stop in Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood city of Mark Twain. We then continued our journey to Central Christian Church in Decatur, Illinois, for dinner and the evening concert. During rehearsal we enjoyed hearing from Douglas Byler about his composition of “The Spirit of the Lord.” The evening concert was well-attended and choir members were glad to see family and friends there. Afterwards, we traveled to our hosts in Arthur, Illinois, and turned in tired and happy after a long day.
This morning we met back at First Presbyterian and began the day with a recap of the concert last night. Then Dr. Mark Bartel from Friends University came and conducted a two-hour choral workshop with us. We worked through a few of our new pieces, and he gave us feedback and suggested areas where we could improve our interpretation of the music. It was a great time, and we came away with a lot of helpful ideas which we will continue to incorporate into our music. After lunch, we loaded the bus and headed for Lamonte, Missouri! In the late afternoon, we stopped in Overland Park to take in a concert at Atonement Lutheran Church; then we hit the road again. The gracious folks at Lamonte Mennonite church provided us with a wonderful dinner and lodging.
We started our day by recording the final five songs on our hymns album. The whole recording process went very smoothly, and as always, we are grateful to our expert recording engineer, Brad Zabelski, for his fine work. As soon as the recording was finished, we were eager to get back to our choral repertoire after neglecting it in favor of hymns for the previous one and a half days. We spent the remainder of the morning and afternoon working to solidify our concert repertoire and sorting out standing arrangements and concert flow. We paused for a delicious lunch of tacos, enhanced by a couple lovely folk songs performed by our masterful cooks/local coordinators, Nelson and Hannah Martin. In the evening, First Presbyterian’s sanctuary was filled nearly to the brim with smiling, gracious, and appreciative Hutchinson folks. It was a very enjoyable concert, despite coming at the end of a long and exhausting three day-span of hard work. It felt particularly meaningful for those of us in the choir with Kansas roots and connections, including our director, Wendell. A highlight of the evening was the premiere of a commissioned piece by Douglas Byler, entitled “The Spirit of the Lord.” It was commissioned in honor of Wendell’s sister Jana, and the clinic in El Salvador – La Clinica de las Buenas Nevas – where she has served for much of her adult life as a physician. Jana was in attendance. It was a long and exhausting day, but we enjoyed the reward of finally presenting our music to real live humans.
Today we reconvened at First Presbyterian Church to begin recording Hymns of the Church Volume 3. Count singing, sight reading, and pondering hymn texts all contributed to our experience of recording hymns. We paused for a lunch of pulled pork and other delectable dishes provided by our gracious Kansas hosts. In the afternoon we continued recording until our song count reached 13 hymns. We spent the evening relaxing at a local park. Some took leisurely strolls, others played a vigorous game of ultimate frisbee, while some simply relaxed on the grass. It was a refreshing ending to a vigorous day of recording.
By 8:00 am Tuesday morning we started to arrive at First Presbyterian Church, excited at the prospect kicking off another tour! After warming up our voices and reflecting on the theme of “Loving our neighbor as ourselves, we dove straight into the music. The magnificent building offered a refuge from the intense Kansas heat, and rehearsal was very productive. Before dinner, the choir sang some of the pieces we were working on through the day by memory (with occasional glances at our folders). After an incredible meal, we figured out our standing arrangements so that for Wednesday, we can record HOTC III! Please pray for the health and inspiration of the choir as we seek to create music that stands the test of time.