by Mandy Pennington
Spring break wasn’t very spring-y for the Greenville College Choir. A gigantic snowstorm followed the choir up the East Coast and created quite an adventure. However, we experienced numerous blessings in the midst of the (literal and figurative) storm, and the tour was a memorable one.
For our 90th anniversary, the choir took a 10-day tour of the East Coast over spring break. The choir’s program was titled “God So Loved the World,” and included a piece commissioned specifically for our anniversary: “O Thou Who Camest From Above” by Philadelphia composer Kile Smith. The choir traveled to various locations in Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. We took a bus, which meant spending a lot of road time together, and stopped for concerts and touristy locations along the way.
The choir sang four concerts and four church services during the ten days, and had additional free days to spend in Washington, D.C. and New York City. We were scheduled for five concerts, but the New Jersey stop was cancelled because of the snowstorm. Instead, we spent Monday in Washington, D.C., and then had a concert at a beautiful little church called Downtown Hope in Maryland that night, praying for the best in lieu of the impending storm (which was scheduled to hit Tuesday night). The choir did end up getting stuck in Maryland for the majority of Tuesday, as all of the interstates closed due to crazy amounts of snow (especially for March). We spent a down day at the Annapolis Mall, anxiously awaiting our departure to New Jersey.
Though the New Jersey concert was cancelled, the folks at N.J. church Easton Bible Church graciously offered to still house and feed us for the night. The interstates finally opened around 6 p.m., and we headed to New Jersey. Singing about God and the Lord’s work is always a wonderful experience, but in Hainesport, N.J., we got to see such a physical manifestation of that work and of the servanthood of true Christians. We were greeted with a warm meal and lodging at the church and in the pastors’ homes. They cooked stromboli and gathered enough blankets and sleeping bags for everyone. The choir sang a short four-song set for just three people — those who had given up their hearts and time to serve us — and that was one of the most intimate and heartfelt concerts we had ever given. Singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” with our whole hearts was a fitting response, and it was obvious that God’s presence working in our lives to guide and protect us on the tour.
Thankful for our passage through the storm, everyone awoke the next morning ready for the best and most anticipated part of the trip: New York City. After thanking God for safety and praying for the day ahead, we drove the remaining two hours to the city. With an entire free day there, the world was our oyster. Choir members spread out all over the city in groups, seeing different sights and experiencing different wonders. Some went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Central Park, while others shopped in Times Square. Quite a few choir members ended up at Dō, an eclectic New York “bakery” of sorts that serves cookie dough like ice cream. Still others ventured all the way out to the 9/11 Memorial and Ellis Island. At night, some students went to see Waitress and The Phantom of the Operaon Broadway, while the majority accompanied Dr. Wilson to the Jazz Standard, where the students enjoyed a skilled jazz musician, Kenny Barron, in a hip New York City setting.
One of the choir’s most unique experiences was the concert at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. We sang with the school’s chamber singers — we both sang individual sets and two combined pieces. The Haverford choir was receptive and encouraging, and our choir enjoyed collaboration with other college students. We also got to see an a cappella show that night, and stayed in the college’s dorms.
Perhaps the most prestigious experience the choir had was the day in Philadelphia, where we had the opportunity to record at WRTI, the jazz and classical radio station of Philly. The choir also got to meet Kile Smith, the composer of this year’s commissioned piece (and the head of the radio station). We had the pleasure of singing the piece for him and getting his feedback. Choir members recount that it was a cool experience to meet the composer of a song they’d been singing all year, and to see his reaction to hearing his own piece in person.
One of the most beloved choir tour traditions is the writing of limericks for fellow choir members. The students all draw names and then write either a limerick, poem, or song about the choir member they drew. This year, we had a hilarious assortment of everything from haikus to an 11 ½ minute short story (brought to us by the brilliant Jordan Disch). The limerick tradition builds community and creates laughter and sweet moments between choir members. It means a lot to have a poem written to you, and it’s something we got to experience in a fun way on the (sometimes tedious) bus rides.
Though some of the choir’s concert crowds were small, they were all enthusiastic, encouraging, and filled with God’s love. The overwhelming grace and generosity of these church-goers was incredible to experience, and had it not been for the storm, the choir would not have gotten to see such a glimpse of God’s love in those who reached out to and sheltered us in the midst of it. God was working in and through us to bring concerts to these people, and it was both rewarding and moving when they reciprocated the service. The opportunity to minister to others is always impactful, but the ability to do it through singing in a choir is an immeasurable experience. We GC choir members were lucky to have such a memorable and meaningful — though freezing — spring break.
Search #GCCgoesEast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to check out the students’ personal experiences on the tour.