by Bridget D. Rea
The concept that spring break is a week of partying as seen on television is something foreign to the Juniata College Concert Choir. Every spring break, the group travels from the College to share a half-semester’s-worth of hard work. They’ve gone to Ireland, Guatemala and Germany over spring break, as well as a host of other countries. This year, in lieu of an international tour (which will be over the summer), the choir traveled to eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.
Saturday, March 5 was spent traveling to Camp Hill, Pa. After a two-and-a-half hour bus ride from Juniata, the choir arrived. They practiced for two hours, were fed a wonderful dinner and then sang their first concert of the tour. This general format followed the choir for nine days as they traveled through the rest of the mid-Atlantic.
On day two, the choir went to Mendham, N.J. After a rousing bout of Snapchat’s “face swap” roulette with the film “The Princess Bride,” the choir learned that Chris Christie lived nearby. They entered the church where their rehearsal would be with hopes of meeting the governor, but something much more legendary happened instead.
As many people know, Concert Choir is known for its traditions. This year, they started a game. Each member of the choir was given a clothespin with a person’s name on it, and their goal was to clip it to that person without them noticing for ten to fifteen seconds. If they were successful, the person who clipped them would take their victim’s pin and then be after their person. Some rules were set up and the paranoia began.
Some choir members were incredibly unsuccessful with the game, getting out within five minutes of the start. Others were strategic in crawling under tables and pinning their clothespin to an unsuspecting pants leg. A few were eliminated by getting pinned on hoods or coat flaps. The game continued through day seven of the tour before the choir had a victor.
Another important facet of all choir tours—homestays—were adventures in and of themselves. Dogs, children, possible Trump supporters and Navy submarine workers were all parts of the homestay experience. Choir members lived in anything from alumni’s houses to huge mansions. Every morning, choir members shared stories of their homestays, late night conversations, and how cute people’s dogs were.
Keeping with tradition, the choir set up superlatives for the bus ride home from their final concert on Shelter Island, N.Y. Most of the categories were inside jokes or repertoire references. The group seemed to enjoy the gentle jabs that they threw at one another and many laughs were had, especially when the superlative “Most likely to not make eye contact with Dr. Shelley during a concert” was won by Dr. Shelley’s sheet music.
However, the purpose of the tour itself was the most rewarding. The social aspect made the group stronger, solidified old friendships, fostered new ones and helped choir members learn about themselves and one another, but the most important facet of the tour was getting to sing for people.
As choir members stood in the narthex before a concert or stood in the round during the second set, they searched the faces of their peers and felt a heart-warming sensation of why they had joined choir in the first place. They had worked at least four hours each week (for a one-credit class) and understood what it meant to share what only music could express with over fifty of their best friends.
Russ Shelley, professor of music and choir director, spent time discussing what it meant to share music with an audience. His words encouraged the choir to, as he often says, “ponder the profundity.” In their own way, each member agreed that art started where words ended.
No matter the size of the audience, the choir managed to elicit an emotional response. The knowledge of being a group of college kids who could move someone to tears or gasps of pleasure from their voices alone was something that couldn’t be put into words. The technical aspects of choir were important (singing all of the words correctly and in the correct pitch), but what transfigured the music into art was the ability to feel the music and what the composer intended rather than its appearance as dots and lines on a page.
Whether singing for an audience of 20 or 200, spring break for the Juniata College Concert Choir proved to be a bonding experience for not only the choir itself, but also connected the choir to its audience.
The whirlwind of a week and the ups and downs that went with it are what define the college experience for a lot of students. For the members of the concert choir, spring tour was an exhausting time, but I’d bet that if you asked them, nothing could stop them from feeling the need to share the art they created with other people.
Categories: Volume 97 Issue 8 A&E