Monday, October 13, 2008

Gone Global

Well, it wasn't quite a full gestation. But, 8 months after hearing the Goshen College Women's World Music Choir (February 2008, Grand Rapids ACDA), we have given birth to our own little World Music Choir at College Church. And, serving as midwife? The GCWWMC themselves!

In the weeks following their epiphanic performance, I was possessed by the dream of getting something going with the high school students, singing world music. On the immediate horizon was inaugural high school art festival sponsored by our youth group. Then they were into a season of preparation for the biennial World Impact teams - 5 groups working in 5 countries this past summer. Meanwhile, my eager co-conspirator, high school pastor Jonathan Cummings, chatted up a few students on the idea. So when school began and it was time to test the waters, an announcement was made in a Sunday morning youth meeting. 16 students signed up. A week later the high school group saw a video with a couple of Goshen choir performances. The next Sunday afternoon, 15 kids showed up for our first rehearsal.

We've met 4 times over 5 weeks, and have seen a total of 20 students come at least once. The core remains about 15, with 6 guys who can sing and seem to have fun (at the same time); and young women who can hear and sing parts. We learned a South African praise song, "Sithi bonga," worked out some physical elements to the performance, and brought in a drummer to cap off our learning.

Yesterday morning the students sang for their peers and college students. That afternoon they had their long-awaited (long-awaited by me, anyway) workshop with the Goshen choir. My inspiriation, and now theirs too.

Debra Brubaker and nearly 60 women arrived at College Church Saturday afternoon, for a 2-hour rehearsal. Sitting in as they worked through Sunday morning's repertoire, I had a private master class in conducting (generally) and in working with music of other cultures. It was totally worth being indoors on a perfect warm autumn afternoon.

The women stayed in College Church homes, to mutually agreeable satisfaction, by all accounts. But they had a 7am call for our 8:00 service, and a busy - somewhat complicated - morning of missions services. I hope they feel it was worth it. The congregation's response has been warm and appreciative. Two prelude songs brought the choir out into the congregation and back to the loft in procession - an immediate connection made, physically as well as musically. Their song for the missionary procession established a joyous tone for the service. The evocative Celtic offering provided a contemplative spot mid-service, and their postlude succeeded in bringing us with the cherubim into that place where the thrice-holy Trinity is adored. In the service they sang in a South African language, an Asian Indian chant, Swahili, English (tune from Ireland), and from the Bulgarian orthodox liturgy. Transported? Yes.

After lunch, when I know the students would have happily been back on the bus to read, study and sleep before a week of midterms, Debra and the choir met with our fledgling group in a 75-minute workshop. They taught us a couple of songs. We taught them "Sithy bonga." They helped us polish our song, showed us a "move" for it, and introduced rhythmic clapping concepts and ethnic percussion instruments.

Our fledgling Hyacks World Music Choir sang in the service last night. It was a full day for them - or, at least for those who actually participated in everything on the choir's agenda for the day: 10:40 practice, 11:00 sing for peers; 2pm workshop; 5:45 call for the 6pm service. Whew! I guess we must have had a total of 18 involved during the day ... If only they had all been there at one time, I think they would have been amazed at themselves!

Given that we had heard the fabulous Goshen choir all morning, it was probably cheeky - it was certainly risky - to have the students sing last night. But sing they did, with enthusiasm, conviction, new "move" and all. And the congregation loved it. Not simply because it was "our kids." Even those not given to cheap congratulation commented meaningfully and in specific terms on how well the students did. I was pleased with the debut.

I don't know if we will continue - I'm pretty sure we will - nor how, nor when our next appearance will be. But we have just had our first successful go at it. Maybe it shouldn't take a college to start a church choir, but this morning I am thankful for the providential connections that led to our global experience yesterday. I am thankful for a new friend and choral colleague in Debra Brubaker. And I am increasingly thankful to serve a congregation that can support a growing diversity in the arts, prepared and offered to God's glory.

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