On Sunday we all, with at least one eye open, joined the morning worship service at Bethel Mennonite. The service included OC singing 3 songs, Wendell’s talk on how singing is for every follower of Christ, and a talk by OC board member, Steve Martin. Steve inspired us to learn from those followers of Jesus who have suffered and been martyred for their faith. After an extravagant potluck, we headed for Sandy Ridge to rest and prepare for our last concert. At Sandy Ridge the house was filled to hear us. God enabled us to express the music and the beauty of His glory better than ever on many of the pieces, thanks largely to Wendell’s commitment to continue growing our musicianship to the very end. God touched many souls with His goodness and glory! The farewell party at the Millers was a perfect way to bring closure to the tour. Thanks to the Miller family for the comfortable, Christ-like atmosphere your lives create. With public formalities over, we were able to drink in the friendships, the laughter(thanks Chuck), the reminiscing, the goodness of God in each other’s lives, and talk about the possibilities of the next year. I praise God for the “oasis” this was in my life, this extremely rich experience provided by His infinite grace!
Saturday morning was reserved for retakes from our recording the last two days. However, we only had a few pieces to redo, so our call time was bumped back to 10:00. A group of us went out for a sit-down breakfast, while others opted for extra sleep. We convened at Sauder Hall at 10 and did retakes of “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, and “Bless the Lord, my Soul”. After another delicious lunch supplied by Kendra Miller, we ran through standing and movement for the concert. The opportunity to sing in this lovely hall was exciting for all of us, and especially so as we saw familiar faces filling the auditorium. This was the first concert we performed in our zipped arrangement (alternating SA and TB), so we experienced new sounds within the choir, in addition to the phenomenal acoustics of the space. After mingling with friends and relatives, we said goodbye to Sauder Hall and headed to our Sandy Ridge hosts for the night.
We spent the last two days recording our new album, The Glory of His Grace! What goes into recording an album? A lot! Over 2000 hours of singer practice, 38 voices, 16 composers and 16 songs, 4 section leaders and 4 section managers, several cooks (mainly Kendra), 1 choir manager, 1 recording engineer, 1 recording producer, and last but not certainly not least 1 conductor. Also many gallons of water and many bathroom visits, gotta stay hydrated!
We arrived at 8:30 and worked until 5:30 both days with an hour off for lunch and breaks between every song. All the singers arrived at least partially warmed up. Most of the singers will spend around 30 minutes warming up before we try to sing together. The talented Brad Zabelski of Traveling Tracks already had his recording equipment in place when we arrived, and remained unobtrusive throughout the recording process, other than to offer a suggestion once in a while. Brandon Mullet was also on hand to offer valuable insight as our producer.
Typically we will have three or four takes (recorded performances that we can use) on each song. Depending on how well we know a song, we may do the first take without working on anything, or we may work on a problem spot or two. Once we have a decent take, our conductor, Wendell, will listen to it.
Recording will always be exhausting work, with lots of do-overs. Many, many water bottles fall on the hardwood floor. People can try to hold in a cough or sneeze until they are red in the face, but won’t always succeed. Sometimes we get tired and are subject to uncontrollable giggle fits. If one person hits a noticeable wrong note, we have to start again. We have to learn to purify pitch and emotion in order to convey our message to people we aren’t present. Singing passionately to an empty hall takes incredible mental focus and energy.
It sounds intense, and it is; but at the end of the day, we all love each other and are so grateful that we get a chance to be a part of this process. Music like this is achingly beautiful and we catch glimpses of heaven by singing it as a well-tuned body. Each person works hard every day to become not only a better musician, but also a better person. One who reflects the Glory of His Grace. I hope you will enjoy listening to us as much as we enjoy singing for you. May God’s Glory shine!
The day dawned bright and early in the suburbs of Chicago for some of us. Our awesome host got us up to go to her friends place to have breakfast. We were even offered a pre-breakfast of coffee and pastries before heading out. After an adventurous ride and lots of laughter, as we enjoyed our host, we arrived back to meet the bus. From there we headed to downtown Chicago for several hours. I went with a group to the Art Institute of Chicago. Even though I don’t feel super artistic myself, I throughly enjoyed the experience. My favorite spot was the gallery with all the Monet pieces. We wandered to a coffee shop, making a stop at “The Bean” to take a quick selfie, then on to lunch and back to the bus. It was a rather warm day and I think a lot of us felt the effects of the heat as we traveled back to Sandy Ridge Church. We said goodbye to our bus driver and bus, and headed different ways for supper. I enjoyed relaxing at Main Street Roasters before heading to Goshen College for the evening. Some people responsibly went to bed and others spent some time outside playing games or just relaxing before calling it a night.
8:32 a.m. Choir leaves monastery where they were staying–Evan Byler, OC member from MN, tunes into conversation on the bus about child education
9:14 a.m. Byler stops socializing and takes a nap
10:40 a.m. Byler takes another nap after short rest stop
12:53 p.m. Byler looks over music after lunch stop at toll-road oasis
1:13 p.m. BREAKING NEWS Tour bus blows a tire and pulls into crash investigation site
1:23 p.m. Bus limps on
1:55 p.m. Byler takes another nap (it’s hard work taking three naps on three different bus rides–really!)
3:27 p.m. Choir arrives a little behind schedule at beautiful, A-frame venue–Church of the Holy Family
5:05 p.m. Ladies rehearse standing position on the risers while men eat and change
5:23 p.m. Unnamed choir member changes after supper because they still feel like a child that shouldn’t eat in their performance wear
6:44 p.m. Director, Wendell Nisly, tells choir to walk in briskly come concert time
6:51 p.m. Byler holds mini interview with Chuck Burkholder, 1st tenor from State College, PA, about the tire incident. “I thought possibly somebody hit us,” said Burkholder. “I had just woken up and was kind of foggy, and I wasn’t thinking straight.”
8:35 p.m. OC receives standing ovation and sings an unrehearsed encore!
8:48 p.m. Nevin Mast, OC sales associate, trips and scatters a pile of CDs all over the church foyer (this is fake news–it didn’t actually happen!)
9:53 p.m. 87-year-old, male host feeds five hungry choir members salsa and chips in his Chicago suburb home
10:57 p.m. Byler finishes blog report and shoots it over to Jason Martin, Superman of OC, aka General Manager
One enriching experience that Oasis Chorale enjoys every year on tour is participating in a workshop with a choral clinician. These workshops shape our choir and conductor in important ways, as we learn to hear our music with another set of ears, and take our cues, if only for a moment, from another set of hands. This year we enjoyed working with Dr. Rene Clausen, whose gentle feedback was affirming, gracious, and incredibly helpful. Many choir members enjoyed experiencing brief moments of Clausen’s conducting, especially on Clausen’s composition “Prayer,” which is featured in this year’s repertoire.
Beyond that, he entreated us: “Altos, you are to be like chocolate. Not Hershey’s chocolate, but Dove chocolate. That was left in the microwave. And which you put in your mouth, right before you slip into hot tub.” “Billow! You must billow like a cloud on a summer’s day.” “Bloom like a flower!” “Brahms is always over the bar. So lean over the bar.” Our conductor Wendell also sought conducting feedback from Dr. Clausen, which provided insights even for choir members who conduct their own choirs in their home communities. Our session wrapped up with Clausen telling a few stories from Concordia and reminding us (like he reminded his own choir), “If you work to be impressive, that’s all you’ll ever be. If you work to be expressive, that’s a whole other thing.” One last entreaty from Dr. Clausen was his comment that “we are the carriers of music tradition.” In this way, we were encouraged to continue sharing and performing a broad repertoire of choral literature. We left Minnesota, heading back to Sparta, Wisconsin, at one point hopping off the bus to take a ramble through the woods to an abandoned train tunnel. It was the perfect spot to sing – surrounded by aged stone, candles, and dear friends. Back in Sparta, the hosting congregation treated us to brisket and other delicacies, before we returned to our rooms at the monestary. Next stop: Chicago!
Sunday morning we fellowshipped with a local congregation in Sparta, WI, Wendell gave us a great exhortation about why singing, worshiping, and making music is an important aspect of our Christian lives and may be too often glossed over or put on the sideline. Leonard preached and motivated us to make the choice to walk the journey that God has called us to and how our path is unique to each one of us. He reminded us that God has chosen and equipped each one of us for the path that God has us on. We were fed a top-notch lunch of Homemade Chipotle!! Sadly, we had to rush out quickly and get on the bus to head off to our afternoon concert in Rochester, MN. The space at the Rochester Seventh-Day Adventist Church was absolutely lovely and a joy to sing in. We then “packed” into a Motel 6 ready for whatever tomorrow might hold.
After meeting at Iowa Mennonite School, we got on the bus and headed toward Sparta, Wisconsin. On our way, we had a leisurely rest stop at a lovely park in the town of Manchester, Iowa. Before we stopped for our lunch break, our tour manager, Jason Martin conducted a competition quiz asking us to guess the year the French-town Prairie du Chein (our lunch destination) was founded. John Strickler’s guess of 1671 was the closest to the actual year– 1673. He was rewarded with a scrumptious-looking cupcake for his effort. In Sparta, we had a little over an hour to rehearse before the Midwest Festival Choir joined us to go over our collaboration pieces, “You Are Mine”, “Hosanna”, and our audience participation number “Bless the Lord”. Getting to know other singers and working together on such gorgeous music was very special. The concert went well, with our focus incredibly tuned on some of our more intense pieces. The collaboration pieces were rewarding and the overall atmosphere warm and receptive. After concert, we loaded up the bus and drive east to the Sparrow’s Nest at the Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery, where after finding our rooms, we ate a lovely snack provided by the Sparta Mennonite community.
Speeding along the straight, mile-square roads of Illinios, we all made it back to Linn Mennonite Church by or around call time. A fairly uneventful drive to Iowa commenced with a highlight during lunch when we sang a couple songs at the Encounter Cafe. Then we started on our (supposed to be) short drive to Iowa Mennonite School in Kalona, but hit a major snag. You guessed it, it was the bus! We had a massive coolant leak, and eight miles from the school, with the sun fiercely blazing, we had to shut it down, pour in all our extra coolant and try to fix it. Many prayers and some expertise from Titus later, we got back on the road and made it IMS. We enjoyed an extended rehearsal, working especially on our Brahms and Part pieces. The venue was lovely and it was refreshing to have plenty of space to change, eat, and have prep time before concert. The concert was well received and we retired to our hosts homes among the cornfields.
We arrived at Sandy Ridge after two days of rehearsal, and promptly loaded the bus, and headed to Illinois. It was a relaxing day of travel filled with conversation, games, and books. We coasted into Linn Mennonite Church, practiced a little, and gave our first concert! After two days of rehearsal, it was wonderful to sing for people, not empty benches. After the concert, some of us went with our hosts and watched fireworks.
“Singing is a full-body exercise.” We shouted out this well-known reminder to each other during practice. Rehearsal days require an astonishing amount of physical exertion. Nevertheless, the results are rewarding, and the collaboration and fellowship of rehearsal times are part of the delight of being a chorale member. We spent our second rehearsal day working through more tricky spots in the music, pounding out rhythms, and reveling in delicious harmony. We took the “full-body exercise” part quite literally when Wendell had us push all the chairs aside and jog around the room to help us internalize the timing and phrasing of “God Be with You.” This ended in a chorus of hearty laughter. In the afternoon we sang through our entire repertoire by memory. We made it through successfully, but this showed each of us the parts that we still need to memorize better. With our day’s work ended, we enjoyed a lovely supper topped off with strawberry pie and comradely conversation. The choir members with enough energy left then engaged in a few rousing games of basketball and volleyball.
We assembled from our various hosts for an 8:30 meet and greet with the friends old and new with whom we will share the next two weeks. After vocal warmups, we dove into the first half of our concert rep. It is so much more satisfying to sing as a group than to plod and plink along individually with the electronic Midi files! Wendell suggested a symbolic burial of those files to purge them from our minds. Along the way, we were admonished to “put our vowels in the consonant house” rather than the other way around, and to approach “Duo Seraphim” more as volleying back and forth than as a barn dance with our mud boots on. After a hard day of rehearsal under our belts, it feels more like giving concerts in a few days will be a good option.Kendra and family fed us delicious garnaches for lunch, and brats and the works for supper. Then we trekked back to our hosts to relax and prepare to repeat in the morning.