We were sad to see a few members leave for this project, but this morning the rest of us gathered at Cornerstone Mennonite Church to record Christmas songs! Perhaps multiple people suffered from a short night of sleep after some after-concert lounging at McDonalds the night before. Wendell led out in bringing us to the present – to be present. Someone said they felt encouraged. Someone said contented. Someone said exhausted – yet satisfied. Speaking for myself, I had a lot of fun today. After our concerts last week, singing Christmas hymns – which were already familiar or easy to learn – was relaxing. We practiced songs, cleaning up diction and tuning needs, and then took recordings of a number of them. Brad Zabelski joined us with his recording equipment, as well as his didgeridoo instrument, which he played for us. (I had never heard such a thing before – quite interesting!) Faith and Fonda Showalter also joined us to shoot videos of the choir. I tried to remember not to raise my hand when I made a mistake. 🙂 Near the end of our day, a downpour of rain delayed further recording. Stanley Sensnig and his family from Lehman’s Street laid out a delicious and visually appealing lunch for us! At suppertime, many of us headed to a local high school to eat a savory supper from Velma Brubaker, mother of alto Regina, and some of her family. Meaningful conversations and volleyball followed. Lots of singing and figuring out beautiful sounds and chords awaits us tomorrow…
Sunday morning July 11th we assembled the troops for worship at 9 am with the Calvary Mennonite congregation. We have suffered a few vocal casualties and a couple directionally challenged casualties as well. Calvary welcomed us with open arms and we participated as best we could while wiping the weariness from our eyes. Those that could muster the energy then proceeded to sing a couple songs from our repertoire for the congregation. After the service the congregation was kind enough to have an amazing meal prepared for us.
Due to a time crunch we had to hurriedly eat and then race to Blue Ball Mennonite Church for our first of two engagements for the afternoon. We arrived at 12:30 pm and went straight into logistics and rehearsal. We were now once again at full strength and ready to forge ahead. Concert was scheduled to begin at 3:00 and the church was nearly full by 2:30, so by start time, they had people in the basement watching on a screen!
Another successful concert had concluded and we are able to interact with the audience for a few moments before we hurriedly moved out for our next and final concert which was scheduled for 7:30 pm at Cornerstone Mennonite Church. We arrived at Cornerstone at 5:00 and ate a quick supper before gathering for as much rehearsal as possible. The doors are opened to the long line formed outside, and the church fills rapidly. Another packed and rather warm concert is now in the books and I am left here thinking where has this week gone?
I am always so grateful for this awesome group of friends that can get together and pick up right where we left off while making music together. Such an incredible opportunity and blessing to be a part of such a unique group of friends. Until we meet again!
One theme Wendell has shared with us this week is “Trust the Story.” It has been encouraging to remember that God is writing a unique story through each of us, and that each of us is part of a story that’s much bigger than us.
Today began with the Oasis Chorale eating breakfast together at Shady Maple Smorgasbord. This was a place I had never been. I gathered some reactions from other choir members. “It is big,” said Chad Beery, a man of few words who had been to the restaurant two other times. It couldn’t have been said better as I was amazed at the enormous dining rooms and wide variety of food. “It’s the sheer magnitude that is so impressive,” said Jared Shetler, a tenor from Kansas.
Shetler also shared an experience that he described as “a little terrifying.” Apparently, he got lost after paying for the buffet. “All around me there were people that were very much on a mission. They seemed like they knew what they were doing. They were sitting at tables. They were going after food, and I didn’t know where I belonged.” Though he was unsettled for a moment, he soon found friends who pointed him in the right direction, and I think he and the choir very much enjoyed their visit.
Next, we were off to the Greenbank Church of Christ in northern Delaware to rehearse and give our third program. Our hosts and audience members helped make our time here extra enjoyable by their kindness and enthusiasm. I am full of gratitude and praise as I write this and reflect on the day. Remember—God is the author. In Him we are never lost or alone!
One of the healthy qualities of Oasis Chorale is the focus on development and the search to find new ways to improve. In music, as in life, there are always new things to find. Even after a solid first concert Thursday night, we could still find new things on Friday. A couple of us guys found a local disc golf course Friday morning. Unfortunately, the local water hazards had a healthy appetite for discs! It was good for the soul to shoot a round while shooting the breeze, even though I shot myself in the foot with my drive on hole 16. I miss the informal interactions with other choir members that come with a bus tour, so this was a welcome exploit. After finding our way to my hometown of Chambersburg for our second concert, we had a review of last night’s concert. Many things obviously went well but some not so well, whether obvious or not. Wendell continued his pursuit of finding new things. “Find the alveolar ridge,” “Find your default arrangement. No, I mean your default ZIP arrangement,” “Basses can you find the C flat on measure 21?” “Ok now find your windows,” “Find your sound!” After a delicious supper and a thoughtful and relevant prep time, we sang. We found the space quite toasty and the acoustic a bit spacious, but the audience was gracious and the fellowship warm. It can be fun singing to the home crowd but I found my focus was lacking; it was not a solid concert for me. There’s always tomorrow, and room for improvement. Who knows what we’ll find on Saturday?
Thursday (July 8) was concert day! Choir members had a few hours in the morning to brunch and relax before carpooling two hours to Wilkes-Barre. My carload discussed our high school music preferences. What an enlightening topic! Along the way, it was reported that Jared discovered Istanbul Grill where the chicken donor kebab dish stole his heart and moved him to rate the dish 4.5/5 stars. John showed impressive efficiency in finishing his plate in time to reach rehearsal. Rosalie Beiler, the only alto in this particular group of tenor and bass diners, recommends the falafel. Wilkes-Barre Mennonite Church welcomed us into their church which had beautiful stained glass windows and glorious acoustics. After rehearsing we dined on a refreshing salad bar with grilled chicken and a plethora of delectable desserts. What an exciting day for many of us who have not had the opportunity to sing a concert in many months. Despite a few missteps and mistakes typical to a first concert, we had a delightful time worshiping with the generous congregation of Wilkes-Barre. As we prepared to depart, the drivers of our caravan found final warnings for towing on their windshields. We had a rainy drive back to Terre Hill fraught with adventure but Wendi Martin our fearless driver navigated our scenic route safely home. And now, I bid you gracious readers farewell.
This is my first year singing with Oasis and it has already been an incredible experience. The veterans have been very welcoming, but one still has to find his place. Linda Stoltzfus has prepared several toothsome meals one of which has been a first for me (meatball subs). Thank you, Linda!
Yesterday was very mentally taxing for myself, this was also echoed by a few others. On the other hand, we have made huge progress on the rep and I find myself incapable of formulating how excited I am to be able to finally be singing to with real people with struggles, emotions, intelligence, and souls; which excepting my family the last while, has just been in the walls of my room or my car.
We spent the evening unwinding by playing several exerting games of volleyball and basketball. We all left Terre Hill Mennonite School exhausted with hopes to find some rest before our first program in Wilkes-Barre.
One of the refreshing things about participating with Oasis Chorale is the level of professionalism that singers show by being prompt. If rehearsal begins at 8:45 a.m., all singers arrive by 8:30 a.m., having already warmed up their “instrument,” and having engaged in some light physical exercise. In the 15 minutes before downbeat, singers greet their neighbors, hydrate, continue personal warmup (loudly), stretch, and quietly peruse music. This is a special part of Oasis culture; “meet and greet” is one of the best parts of the day!
On Tuesday we covered the rest of our repertoire in “start and stop mode,” where we work individual sections, fine-tuning dynamics, vowel, and consonant. Special attention was given to the rhythms in the three spirituals we are singing; the metronome was our constant companion! It’s understood that singers arrive at rehearsal with pitches and rhythms learned (and memorized!), and the first day or two of rehearsal is spent catching stray notes and solidifying rhythms, as we further explore text mechanics and musical interpretation.
In the afternoon, Rosemary Eberly-Lebold did a vocal coaching workshop where we played with vocal fry and discovered some really great finds with consonants (not to mention learning about how to relieve body tension!) We ended the day on stage, running rep from memory, and staging our standing arrangement for several pieces.
After dinner, singers relaxed with some exercise in the gym (we are rehearsing at a high school), while others remained in deep conversation, lingering over a meal.
We are immensely grateful for these two days of music-making, and we look forward to the week to come!
With great expectations and anticipation the 39 singers who comprise Oasis Chorale, along with Wendell their fearless leader, descended on Terre Hill Mennonite High School in eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After a chattery half hour of meet and greet time and some warm-ups our souls (and bodies) began rehearsing the “exalted lays” we have been practicing for a year and a half. After a delicious lunch that was so graciously provided for us by Linda Stoltzfus and crew, we began our afternoon routine which bore a marked resemblance to our morning activities. For supper we headed south to Gap to the farm of Oasis charter members Dwight and Brenda Stoltzfoos where we were fed another scrumptious meal. After supper a dozen of our multi-talented singers played a game of Ultimate Frisbee while a multi-tasking audience cheered them on and enjoyed the farm dog’s puppies. It’s been a wonderful start to an amazing week!
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30: 11, 12 NKJV
This year promised to be full of joy and hope. I planned to celebrate surviving a year of twin + toddler mom life and return to singing with Oasis Chorale. I anticipated connecting with my colleagues and friends throughout tour. I anticipated being stretched musically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. I anticipated returning home musically.
Then COVID-19. Lockdown. Nothing was certain other than that I needed to do the next thing. Change another diaper. Make another meal. Do more dishes. Fold more laundry. All without the normal social reprieves that helped to keep me afloat emotionally. I felt overwhelmed by grief from plans cancelled, music unsung, friends unseen.
That is where God met me. He reminded me of His faithfulness. I found companionship in the Psalms, connection through the gift of technology, and comfort at my keyboard, singing songs of lament, hope, and joy. I found an outlet in sharing these worship times online with a group of close friends. I learned new things about my personality and what I need most in life. I rediscovered the gift of solitude. I remembered that I have much to be grateful for. So I sang. Some days, all that I could muster was lament and grief with a shimmer of hope. “Come, Ye Disconsolate.” “Be Still My Soul.” “Be Still and Know.” Other days I sang with defiant joy. “J-O-Y.” (With Aria!) “The Joy of the Lord is my Strength.” “Joy Is Like the Rain.” And some days, the mourning was truly turned to dancing.
I celebrated a year of twin + toddler mom life in June. Now I soak in the beauty of Lake Huron when I get the chance. I celebrate playgrounds being opened to the public. I appreciate anew the chance to eat food that I didn’t have to prepare. I revel in the gift of spending time face to face with friends. I hope for the Canada/US border to open to non-essential travel so I can see family and friends again. I continue to sing when and where I can, and I dream of the day when we will again be able to gather and make music as a group.
I leave you with an old hymn that has been my friend these past months:
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee, Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not, As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be. “Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!” Morning by morning new mercies I see All I have needed Thy hand hath provided “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord unto me! Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above; Join with all nature in manifold witness, To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow Blessings all mine, with ten thousand besides
I am a music educator located in Ephrata PA, so my life was significantly altered when the country went into a state of emergency back in March. (Gracious! It’s hard to believe we have been living with this new and hopefully temporary normal for that long.) I headed south to be with my family as soon as the schools shut down and have been with them ever since.
I taught from home until school let out for the summer. My schedule was a little bit lighter than normal while teaching online, but for the most part, it kept me busy. Once summer hit, my schedule was very wide open. I am a goal setter so when I noticed some extra time in my schedule, I set out to fill it with some things I normally struggle to find time for. This included but was not limited to sifting through websites for classroom music resources, practicing my instruments, spending time outside, reading, sewing a few dresses, and – one of the more fun ones – taking percussion lessons. If you think percussion is as simple as striking a drum or shaking a bottle filled with rice, you would be correct. But, it is also as complex as making each of your four limbs play a different rhythm simultaneously while keeping a consistent pulse. Remember that exercise where you pat your head and rub your belly at the same time? It’s like that only you add a seperate motion for each of your feet as well.
Instead of the big trips I had planned for this summer, I’m doing small ones here and there to see friends and family. South Carolina has seen a sudden spike in Covid cases this month, giving me reason to be a bit more thoughtful about my travel plans, however, most of my trips have been able to proceed without too many changes as long as my trusty mask goes with me :).
I feel more ready to get back to my school routine than I have in past years. I think the fact that I’ve been back in the South since March combined with Oasis being canceled has made the summer feel extra long. I didn’t realize how much structure and routine Oasis brought to my summer! Having extra time is certainly not anything to complain about, but suddenly having a lot of it provided an extra awareness of what has been feeding my life with purpose and motivation and how I flounder when those sources are cut off. Here’s to 2020, the year of awareness. I hope it results in my developing a more consistent posture of empathy in the years ahead whatever they may hold.
2020 was already a strange year for me. I finished my late-onset undergraduate degree in December of 2019 and jumped right into a brand new teaching job in January. It was a time of many adjustments and a lot of learning on the fly. On March 12, I finished entering my third-quarter grades and went home for Spring Break, unsure what the rest of the semester would look like. In the next several days, I received word of the cancellation of in-person classes for the remainder of the semester. Shortly after that, Oasis spring rehearsal was canceled.
Having my daily schedule suddenly disrupted was rather disorienting at first, but I eventually became accustomed (perhaps too accustomed) to the forcibly-decelerated pace of quarantine life. Incidentally, much like my comrade in section leadership, Dan Yutzy (see July 2 blog post), I took up disc golf and developed a mild addiction. It’s been a nice way to get outside and avoid wasting away entirely. I’m still awaiting word from my district about what the return to school will look like this fall. I am excited to get back to teaching, but a bit apprehensive about the potential challenges of restarting school during a pandemic.
Along with the keen disappointment of all performance opportunities being canceled (Oasis and others), I’ve also had more time to simply enjoy music, free from any pressure to learn and perfect. One especially meaningful piece has been Jake Runestad’s setting of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things.” I hope it blesses you, too.
This summer of cancelled events has become a summer of rest and recreation for me. It has been an opportunity to live differently with more creative ventures, focused work on a long-term project, quietness, and lengthy times of reading the Word. It’s been a time to more frequently sit close with friends, to meditate, to hike in the nearby mountains; a time to see, to create, to be, to listen. Paul Mealor’s setting of “The Beatitudes” has brought beauty both in its quietness and its exuberant rejoicing – a reminder that “all that will be” is not yet.
It’s an unusual season. The words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (KJV) come to mind and beg for a stream of consciousness response for our current context, so here goes…
3 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
This COVID thing…is a just for a season? When will things be normal? Since when is “what I perceive as normal” the ultimate reality? This poet is wiser than I…
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
Life has gone on. People have been born and died. Some have planted garden and already harvested a fruitful abundance; some have planted seeds and there is no fruit yet. “What is the purpose of my life?” ask the philosophers among us.
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
If this virus could be captured once and for all, it would be killed. Instead, it runs unpredictably about touching some with death and others with a mere cough. Physical healing is not guaranteed, but healing balm comes to all who are poor in spirit and encounter the King.
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
Sorrow because we cannot be with friends, yet laughter shared with those in the same house. Weeping changed to joy, so writes the psalmist (Psalm 30:5). But then, James says: “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9).
What is what? Does this make sense? Who is right? (Where does the virus live? Is it only in the air?)
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
Well, social distance, everyone! (but don’t neglect relationships)
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
Gain a summer vacation. Lose a wonderful time of singing with Oasis Chorale. Gain extra time to be still before the Lord (if we turn off the news updates). So, open our hands to give and receive, O Lord.
These difficult times have actually not been that difficult for me in many ways, as I hailed from the great state of Arkansas (and a very rural part of it at that) until the last part of June. At that point we (my wife, Sheri; two children, and I) moved close to Canton, Ohio.
Just enough of my engagements were cancelled to allow me to slow down slightly. Throughout the spring and summer I was able to keep right on working at my job in construction. I was honestly a little disappointed that we didn’t have to shut down for a week or so, but won’t complain too loudly!
One of the worst things about the pandemic for me personally has been the music making opportunities that were lost, such as singing with Oasis Chorale. Also I am planning to attend Malone University in the fall pursuing a music degree, so I’m really hoping that I will be able to attend classes on campus.
I did pick up one new skill during quarantine-disc golf. It’s maddeningly hard to master and also strangely addictive.
Here’s to hoping that by next year thoughts of quarantine and distancing will be but distant memories. Wishing you all a healthy and God-blessed second half of 2020.
That King James turn of phrase from my childhood, “such and such a city,” has often rung in my mind’s ear in the past few months.
Come now, ye that say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a city and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain”; whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.
The Apostle James is chiding his readers against improper certainty. Like those early readers, we too make plans for worthwhile and profitable ventures. Those plans depend on circumstances that are relatively predictable. And up until recently, all the societal cogs hummed along – with wobbles, to be sure, but yet with astonishing reliability.
But now, in a COVID-19 world, “whereas ye know not” has become us. We realize with new clarity what we often forget: we’re not as in control as we tend to think.
That’s where we are as a choir. Our plans for “such and such a city” included Lancaster and Leamington and Walnut Creek. Tour is cancelled, and we are disappointed.
It seems the Apostle James would encourage us not to shout invectives, nor even to posit yet again how this all really should have been handled, but rather to recognize that uncertainty and lack of control are a normal human experience. Perhaps he would encourage us less to fix the external problems (of which there are many), and to acknowledge and work on the internal problems (of which there are many). Specifically, he calls us to deep humility and to recognizing that there are other players in this game besides the obvious ones.
Instead ye ought to say, “If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that.”
“If the Lord will” is more than a pious phrase. It acknowledges a larger Presence in the world. We are not the only ones with plans. Random forces and chance might in some inexplicable way be the glove worn by a mighty hand. The unpredictability of our time may not be something merely to be solved, but something to be noted; not something merely to live through but to live in. If we let it, our discomfort with this present uncertainty can point us to where we can find a true and proper certainty that cannot finally be rattled by the events that make the headlines.