A crimson sun peeked over the windswept plain and cast furtive, fragile rays across the upturned face of the prone human. The face had the serene, contorted look of an Oasis Chorale member reliving the previous Sunday afternoon’s final concert and the ensuing after-party. It was into this hangover that the day broke forth. It was another Monday.
With rapidity, surprising agility, and various levels of senility, the choir congregated at Neffsville Mennonite Church at 9:30 to begin recordingour next album—a children’s album. After the standard warmups and introduction to our sound engineers from Arts Laureate, we got down to business. With mics rolling continuously, the business consisted of us rehearsing pieces from our rep and then laying down several takes. Besides the planned breaks and sundry details, we followed this routine for the next 8.5 hours. Of course, listening intently to cadence points, balancing chords, polishing rhythms, and working vowels are all part of the package. We discovered new life in “For Balmy Sunshine” and basked in the simplicity and profundity of “Children of the Heavenly Father.” Aaron Houston with Arts Laureate gave helpful comments and perspective on various aspects of our work.
All in all, even though the day was strenuous and recording is hard work, it was a relatively great start to our recording session.
Recording Day 2
Throughout our time together, in all of the luscious musical moments, we’ve been reminded that all this beauty points beyond us. C. S. Lewis says it best: “For they (art and music) are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
David Miller Tenor 1
P. S. We did miss the missing OC members that were otherwise occupied or sick. And we had a full-blown Sunday lunch meal for supper—roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans to boot.
On this day of rest the choir spent the morning worshiping at various locations throughout Lancaster County before gathering for lunch once more at Neffsville Mennonite Church which is beginning to feel like home, complete with amazing meals and (Oasis) family.
Approximately 550 appreciative fans, family and friends began arriving early in hopes of finding a good seat for our final 3:00 p.m. concert. It was a bittersweet presentation for the choir. Several choir members voiced disappointment at having just sung “Hark 10,000 Harps and Voices” for the final time, and that sentiment extends to other songs.
An audience member nearing 5 years of age expressed consternation as to why the choir exited the sanctuary so rapidly at intermission. Hopefully our solemn and measured return while singing “Veni Sancte Spiritus” was a consolation. When questioned at intermission by their choir member aunts, several other young attendees admitted they liked all the songs they had heard sung so far.
For our “after party” we were graciously hosted by charter members of Oasis, Dwight and Brenda Stoltzfoos. Dwight reminisced about the first Oasis Season 20 years ago.
We recognized our fearless and uber organized leader, Hilary Martin, who is wrapping up her final hours as Oasis manager. We appreciate her attention to detail and willingness to make coffee runs during rehearsals.
It seemed a bit odd to be having an after party when most of us plan to reconvene tomorrow to record but some traditions should not be discarded.
Thanks for reading our blog posts, listening to our music, giving generously, caring for us as people, and attending our concerts. We couldn’t do it without you!
Hello, folks. The trouble with being a perfectionist is that you carry around this burden to always do your absolute best. In fact, the burden is so large and heavy that most perfectionists are hunchbacked. Take Christian from Pilgrim’s Progress, for example. He had a tremendous burden on his back and while Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t explicitly state his hunchbacked lot, all the illustrations of Christian that I’ve seen show him nearly bent double. This explains why OC is populated by so many hunchbacks.*
Saturday dawned warm and muggy. However, by the time I finally roused myself, the sun had been in the sky nearly three hours already. Was I going to be late for rehearsal? No, I was not. We had a late call time of 12:30 at Neffsville Mennonite. After some deliberating with section leaders on Friday, Wendell announced that we would skip the Children’s Album rehearsal scheduled for Saturday morning due to the disease and exhaustion among the ranks. An alarming number of people were fighting colds and low fevers.
So, we took the morning off and met at St. Thomas Episcopal Church for lunch. As a cool addition, Mark and Judy Barker joined us for lunch. Mark and Judy are long-time friends of OC ever since OC sang at their church back in 2012. After lunch, we went into rehearsal. After a rousing warmup regimen (including a song about stopping a train), we invited Mr. Barker to sing “Who is on the Lord’s Side” with us. It’s a favorite of his, and as he turned eighty this year, we thought singing with him could be something of a birthday present. After this, we went right into rehearsal.
At 5:00 pm, we had a stress-free photo-shoot, thanks to Kyler. It’s such a blessing to have him as a brother-in-law. Following this was an incredible supper. Grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, pickled onions, cheese, and tzatziki, and pita or naan stuffed us to the proverbial gills.
When 7:00 came, we were ready for it. Summary of the concert: most pieces felt very settled—many of the ones that we consistently sharped stayed in key. It was also very quiet—there were very few disturbances and it was easy to focus and listen well. The space was quite nice to sing in as well. According to my brother David, “It was fun.” Overall, it was probably our best concert yet this year.
Afterward, the audience members and the choir headed to the ominous Parrish Hall for some hors d’oeuvres. We had a lovely time with the audience over watermelon and cantaloupe (cut by Hilary and her parents), seasoned pretzels, and donuts. I was privileged to meet fellow bass Jordan Drudge’s parents and younger brother, Justus. I also talked briefly with a man from North Carolina who drove up for the concert. I was left somewhat speechless when he told me that. According to another audience member, the concert was “achingly beautiful.” As a new member of OC, I find it very rewarding to share beautiful music with others in a way that moves them and inspires them. At the very least, this music shows us something greater, more beautiful, and more compelling than ourselves or the world around us.
Friday dawned bright and shining on our first day post bus life. Most of the choir arrived at Neffsville Mennonite Church at the gloriously late hour of 10:15 am. A few stragglers were seen sliding in at 10:28 after needing to turn around to find missing sheet music. The offenders then NASCARed wildly to said destination and were blessed with the disapproving gazes of our fearless leaders. The morning was spent rehearsing the repertoire for the upcoming recording of children’s music. The writer of this post is excited to be singing music from her childhood, especially the prayer song, We Thank Thee Lord and For Balmy Sunshine, which were mealtime prayer songs of her family.
After a delicious lunch of sandwiches, we reconvened for rehearsal of concert repertoire. The music rehearsal process is such a delight. There is always more to do in personal work, as well as ensemble work as we seek consistency and ground the music more fully into our bodies and souls. The rehearsal time is very engaging under our skilled director and because of this, the afternoon flew by. We worked on the newer repertoire, memorization, movement for standing arrangements, processional, and “choralographey”.
That evening we presented a concert at Neffsville Mennonite Church to a full audience. One of my personal favorite moments of the concert is standing in the audience sharing our final piece, God Be With You Till We Meet Again. The concert process is beautiful. It is a balance of trusting individual preparation, trusting the ensemble, relaxing into the body, and singing the thoughts, ideas, and prayers from the soul. After the concert exhaustion sets in, but despite the tiredness, it is always wonderful to meet our audiences. Thank you for being there.
Oasis tour bus life is a journey all of its own. Choir members enjoy engaging in various activities to occupy their time. While some members are content with an innocent book or uplifting conversation, others require the somewhat more riotous procedure of repeated bludgeoning with a giant inflatable Neanderthal club to keep them busy (not to worry; it is estimated minimal permanent brain damage was inflicted). If bus games don’t sound enjoyable, there’s always sleep to be caught up on, food to be eaten, and Wendell’s recap of the previous day to be listened to.
But when Thursday came around, all that came to an end. The last traveling concert was finished, and the bus was pointed back toward Lancaster County where the choir would reconvene to complete the 2023 season. Choir members expressed mixed reactions upon disembarking at Neffsville Mennonite Church, where the Lancaster section of the tour was centered. Some were relieved to be finished with cramped bus space and the endless late nights and early mornings of tour life. Others were surprised to find that it felt like tour was over, despite the three concerts and two days of recording remaining, because they would no longer be traveling. Most seemed grateful to find that evening’s schedule completely empty, with no rehearsal or concert to occupy the time. This gave everyone a chance to recuperate after the days of travel.
The extensive time spent in close quarters on the bus also provided an excellent opportunity to answer some of the burning demographic questions relating to Oasis Chorale. For instance, it has long been suspected that an inordinately high percentage of Oasis members were teachers (speculation as to the cause of this phenomenon remains largely unanswered, with the possible exception of tour’s convenient situation within summer vacation months), but no hard data was available to back up the speculation. But now, thanks to an independent 2023 study conducted by the newly established Mullet Research Group, it is known that despite only 45% of Oasis members being currently employed as a teacher, a whopping 83% have at one point in time been employed thusly for a combined 245 years of teaching experience!
Other Oasis member statistics researched:
Average age: 32
Average number of years singing on Oasis: 6
Percentage of current or one-time music teachers: 68%
Average number of years taught: 7
Number of countries taught in: 11
Perhaps more impressive, though, than the teaching statistics are the practical teaching tips accumulated by all these teachers over their many years of experience. Sarah Sommers, an alto from Ohio, advises that “You don’t know what has happened to your student before they walk into the classroom; you have to meet students where they are at.” David Miller, a tenor from Virginia, believes that humor is a great way to dissipate conflict and build trust.
In the end, while the correlation between singer and teacher seems straightforward, members of Oasis are highly valued regardless of their occupations, because the goal of spreading beauty for the glory of God is the uniting factor that holds the group together.
Good morning folks, it’s me again tuning in here on Wednesday!
Once again a huge shout out and thank you to Old Market Coffee for letting us overflow your coffee shop at 8:00. There was coffee, tea, yogurt parfaits, and crepes for everyone.
We left the lovely town of Potsdam and started our journey south. Once again we scattered over several local restaurants near Syracuse for a quick bite of lunch. Chick-fil-A was well populated and we were served graciously. Several of us dodged into Burlington in search of some deals and sure enough, it did not disappoint!
Upon arriving at Keuka Lake, we were ahead of schedule! Wendell so nicely gave us some time to chill and gather our thoughts as we lounged by the lake. Choir members with books, sketch pads, and blankets basked in the cool breeze and took in the sound of the waves breaking in the shore.
The chapel was glorious. A big stage for once, a high wood ceiling, and beautiful arches. It felt good to have space, comfortable standing arrangements, and incorporate all of our choreography. As the pews began to fill, we joined together for prep time outside.
There was some debate afterwards whether this was our second hottest concert. But the first half went very well! Everyone was settled and very few pitches were raised. The second half also went smoothly and we dispersed outside to chat with various friends, family, and acquaintances. Tomorrow is travel day and I think everyone is excited for that!
Monday night we went to bed with a little bit of uncertainty of what was happening the next day. But thanks to Hillary and Kyler, new concert and lodging plans awaited us on Tuesday.
We left the lovely motel in New Hampshire and began our trek to northern New York. Forests and flooding covered the countryside of Vermont, and we even peered into Canada on our drive by! For lunch we dispersed to various restaurants with some of us deciding on a Thai kitchen. We received the food with varying levels of contentment. Mary noted the little plates of food for Buddha setting in the corner!
That afternoon we arrived on a little island in the middle of town with a lovely stone episcopal church. A huge shout out to Old Market Coffee from down the street who supplied us with coffee and refreshers to give us energy for our rehearsal! Staging area was a little tight with some folks in between pews and some on boxes. Personally, my box situation was a little unsettling with my box resting on the ramp so I would have been on my toes all night, but we got things leveled out. Supper, changing and prep time and we were on! It was not quite as warm as some previous concerts but we all were troopers and had a great concert!
Ok that’s enough for today! Bye! Oh and our hosts were awesome!
Day Four of tour dawned dark and gloomy. First, the weather. Clouds glowered at us from the sky and spat contemptuous raindrops our way. And then the bad news. Our concert in Vermont on Tuesday had been cancelled due to flooding in the area. But the choir responded with fortitude and calm to both of these hurdles. In answer to challenge one, the choir gave thanks for the delicious coolness that had settled over Maine. It was a welcome reprieve from the swelter of the past few days. In answer to challenge two, the choir sat back and decided not to worry about the schedule disruption, meeting the hurdle with unflinching flexibility, exuberant maturity, and boisterous resolve (not to mention immense humility). It may have helped that we knew we were in the hands of our highly capable tour manager, Miss Hilary Martin. She is truly a force of nature.
Anyway, we roared on down the road to see the sights of Maine. Why the roaring? Because this was a day off—no concert in the evening. We drove to the coast, where some of us scrambled about on the rocks and others feasted on seafood at a nearby lobster house and still others met a 92-year-old gospel singer who yelled at them from her deck to come and visit her home. I asked a number of choir members for three-word descriptions of our time at the coast. Here are some of them:
I need wipers (spoken by a choir member struggling to keep the ol’ condensation off his glasses)
Magical, moody, lovely
Rocky, riveting, romantic
Dreamy, poetic, misty
Refreshing, beautiful, salty
Moist, wild, beautiful
Misty morning in Maine
After our coastal excursion, we hightailed it to the city of Manchester, New Hampshire, where we planned, as Hilary declared ominously, to “kill time,” until our check-in at the La Quinta hotel (The phrase “kill time” did put some of us on edge. I mean, what might she want to kill next once she’s finished time off?). To our relief, we soon learned that killing time meant eating lunch at a mall food court. Again, some three-word phrases from the choir might help describe our lunch:
Delicious, soothing, sanguine
Shmootzich, consumeristic, teriyaki
Substantial and sincere
Delicious, filling, ricey
Underwhelming, colorful, plenty
Post-check in, we disbanded and wandered around the city of Manchester. Some ended up at the Bookery, where love of books and coffee is combined into a bookstore with an attached café. Various choir members described the Bookery experience as “entertaining, relaxing, chill, restful, stimulating, ambient, humorous, orienting, jolly, focused, and caffeinated.”
After supper, we gathered in the hotel lobby to watch Babette’s Feast, a film about grace, beauty and service—ideas core to the mission of Oasis Chorale. Bedtime came, and with it, sighs of deep repose as we drifted off into dreamland.
Joseph Miller Tenor 2
P.S. In the evening, we got the news that a new concert venue for Tuesday had been found in North Lawrence, New York. Were we surprised? Nah. We knew we were in the grasp of Hilary’s capable hands.
Looking within the choir, members are enjoying developing relationships with each other. As one new member stated, we “discover our humanity. This unmeshed group of individuals gets on the bus, begins to talk and discovers just how normal we are.” As we enjoy each other, our “perspective of others changes by interacting with them.” Both one-on-one chats and group conversations are intellectually stimulating. It has been a pleasure to meet people in a variety of church and cultural contexts either at concerts or along the way. Kind hosts welcome us into their churches, homes, and lives. We truly enjoy having a window into others’ lives and communities.
Warm venues have met us each day. “Oddly enough,” says one long-term singer, “I enjoy how much the unairconditioned venues help us sing better.” Another member who loves outdoor activities noted that the open windows let in the natural world and create a less sterile environment.
Evenings have included a vocal warm-up alongside the literal warm-up. One spouse says, “Being new to the music world, the warm-up routines are interesting, weird, and humorous.” (Yes, we choral singers do have a few nerdy tendencies mixed with our normal humanity!) Regarding the indoor temperature, we have been literally working up a sweat which is “exhilarating” and “feels like we accomplishing something.” Not surprisingly, one singer is wired to comment that he enjoys “the electrifying feeling among the choir while we are singing together, particularly when the sweat is rolling.”
New England Scenery. Cooler outdoor temperatures, miles of evergreen trees, stone walls, architecture.
With minimal travel time today, we enjoyed the luxury of a slow-paced morning. Having a good first concert under our belts also boosted our energy levels and feelings of well-being.
We kept the employees at Coronation Cafe in Amherst quite busy as we crowded their small place for lunch. They did a great job of preparing food and specialty drinks for us.
Church of Christ in Granby, Massachusetts, was our destination for our afternoon rehearsal and evening concert. The only downside to singing in this classic, white-spired New England church building was its lack of air conditioning. A lovely thunderstorm accompanied part of our rehearsal time and brought some welcome respite from the heat.
A challenge in tonight’s concert was to add the sign language and movement that Deana taught us to “Ukholo Lwami.” This resulted in varying degrees of enjoyment, panic, and mental scampering among the choir members. Overall, it was a delightful concert. Our desire as we sing is to give our listeners a glimpse of the coming new heavens and new earth. Judging by comments I heard after tonight’s concert, I believe that goal was accomplished.
While some choir members disbursed with hosts from Disciples Fellowship, the rest of us rode the bus to a hotel. Some of us had a hilarious time figuring out how to run the hotel laundry and how to get everyone’s choir uniforms washed efficiently. Little things like this are all part of the choir tour experience, and it’s best if you learn to navigate them with a gracious sense of humor.
The first concert is in the books! After a 5-hour bus ride, we were warmly greeted at South United Methodist Church in Manchester, CT, co-hosted by Believers’ Mennonite Church of Hampton, CT.
After an afternoon rehearsal in the beautiful space, we prepared for our first concert. At intermission, the organist played “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” on the massive pipe organ. We also enjoyed the organist’s performance of a Bach Prelude and Fugue at the close of the concert.
Post-concert, we retired to our hosts. In the morning, one group of singers was serenaded by their hosts, who are classical guitarists. Two other singers rode a backyard zipline across a Connecticut river! Refreshed from the night, we are on the bus, headed to Massachusetts!
If you had found yourself at Neffsville Mennonite Church at 8:30 on Tuesday, July 4th, you would have encountered a crowd of people milling about, enjoying a mixture of “it’s been so long” hugs and “what’s your name” introductions. So began Oasis Chorale Tour 2023. By 9:30 am, your ears would have been flooded by the warbling notes of our opening song – music rehearsal had begun!
Skipping forward through time, if you had peeked in the double doors at 1:30 that afternoon, you would have seen 40 bodies contorted into various alarming or amusing positions. Our first vocal coaching was underway, and Rosemary Lebold had us deconstructing our ideas of good posture and finding new ways to feel our breath in our bodies.
The rest of the afternoon found us working hard at various pieces, continuing to lean into our sound and learning to be CCCMs (Conscientious, Compassionate Choral Musicians). Our fearless leader, Wendell, offered various helpful instructions such as “It’s not going to be bright and smiley, third-grade snotty, and all that.”
By 10:30 am on Wednesday morning, you could have enjoyed many confused looks and stress-relieving chuckles as Deana Swanson taught us movement for various pieces, adding visual art to aural art.
If you had peeked into the dining room shortly before 6:00 pm, you might have noticed rapid preparations happening in hushed tones. Several minutes later, you would have heard the familiar strains of “Happy Birthday” as the entire choir celebrated our favourite Regina Brubaker.
By 11:59 pm, you most likely would have found each choir member tucked in a bed. Some would have arrived there just minutes before, while others were already deep in their REM cycles. (This seems to be somewhat dependent on age, especially as a significant number of the choir members are enjoying their middle-aged years.)
Thursday morning, you would have encountered the choir together again, comparing hours of sleep and the definition of “early to bed.” The rest of the morning involved continuing the process of settling the music in our bodies as the first program was rapidly approaching!
If you had wandered through the Neffsville building at 3:00 pm, you would have found many members flat on their backs in various classrooms and scattered around the sanctuary. This was part of Wendell’s generous but constricting 25-minute “phone-free” break.
Finally, during the last hour of the day, you would have experienced a full run-through of the music in preparation for our first concert tomorrow evening!