Saturday, April 16, 2016

Detroit/Toronto Tour - Day 4 (Saturday, April 16, 2016)

This morning began with a big breakfast together at our hotel together. After eating our fill, we boarded the bus and set our sights for Niagara Falls. Two hours later, we pulled up alongside the beautiful waterfalls.

After getting off the bus, the students gave some street performance in downtown Niagara Falls and then again at the observation area for the falls. They drew big crowds and gave wonderful performances. After the street performing, the students were given a few hours to explore the area in small groups and to grab lunch on their own.

We gathered back at the bus to drive into downtown Toronto. Our bus driver, Humberto, pulled the bus through a VERY tight squeeze to get into the church parking lot at Jarvis Street Baptist Church. (Seriously, he only had about 2 inches of clearance on either side!) After arriving at Jarvis, the students purchased dinner across the street at Harvey's, a Canadian burger joint. Once we had all gotten our fill, the students made final preparations for their evening concert.

Our final concert at Jarvis was a truly special night of music making. We had a small, but engaged and appreciative crowd. The students made some truly beautiful music. In the words of Mr. King: "We really had a special spiritual time of music making tonight." After the concert, the students were thanked by their grateful audience.

Before getting back on the bus, the we gathered together for a celebratory dance party and our tradition "sing off," wherein the girls and guys battle each other with lyrics from each others' songs. It was a fierce battle, but in the end, the girls were declared the victors of the 2016 choir tour sing-off.

After a long, exhausting day, we once again boarded the bus. We arrived at the Fairfield Inn near the Toronto airport, and the students are settling in for their final night on the road. Tomorrow morning, we attend the service at the Cathedral of Saint James in Toronto, and then we cross the border back in the States to eat a lunch of buffalo wings at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY. After lunch, we go to the airport to fly home!

Madrigals performing in downtown Niagara Falls

Walking through downtown Niagara Falls

Nota Dolce performing in front of Niagara Falls

The choirs singing "Shenandoah" in front of the falls

Mr. King at Horseshoe Falls

Men of Note performing at Jarvis Street Baptist Church

Senior Amanda Fusting soloing with Nota Dolce

A post-concert dance party!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Detroit/Toronto Tour - Day 3 (Friday, April 15, 2016)

This morning, the students were dropped off at Ward Church by their wonderful host families, and we set our sights on the city of Detroit. We arrived at Gleaner's Food Pantry, which was an impressively large (and well-run) organization in the heart of the city. There were many other volunteers there with us, and our group was assigned to turnip duty! (Yep, you read that correct: turnip duty.) We were cleaning and sorting thousands of turnips to be delivered to various families in need. According to Karen, our host at Gleaners, we bagged more than 5000 pounds of turnips, meaning that our service will impact 4728 individual people who rely on the assistance of the Food Pantry to have access to food. After our morning of service, we enjoyed some delicious pizza from Pizzapopolis, including some deep-dish pizza.

Next, we made our way to Heidelberg Street to check out this Heidelberg Project. This place was amazing, and it will be pretty difficult to describe. (Definitely ask your kids about it when they get home!) We started off with a guided tour from the education director, Margaret. She explained that all of the art came from the mind of Tyree Guyton, who had grown up on the street. He used found objects that had been discarded around the city and gave them new life by turning them into art. Eventually, we got to have a conversation with Tyree himself. The students engaged in an awesome conversation where Tyree explained his artistic process with us. He said, "We live, we die, and we live again.... God's image is in all of us. He created everything, and because we are made in his image, we can use our imaginations to create beautiful art." Tyree also talked about the importance of listening for God's calling on your life. It was truly inspiring.

The students thanked Tyree for sharing is art with us by sharing their music with him (and with many of the residents from the area). It was a joyful time of music-making and celebration as all of our groups performed in the middle of a crazy art exhibit in the middle of an urban Detroit neighborhood.

After our time at the Heidelberg Project, we hopped on the bus and crossed the border into Canada (without any issues!). We arrived in London, Ontario at our hotel, and the students dressed up for a nice banquet meal together. After dinner, Mr. Kempton shared his story about hearing God's call to come to AACS, and he encouraged the students that they should be ready and listening for the voice of God. After dinner, the students headed to the water slide and pool at the hotel.

In a few minutes, the girls and guys will split up to have separate devotional times before we wake up tomorrow and make our way to Niagara Falls! Tomorrow evening, we perform at Jarvis Street Baptist Church in downtown Toronto.

The students listening to Margaret during the guided tour at the Heidelberg Project

Tyree (on the right in the red hoodie) dialoguing with our students about God, art, and calling

The students singing for Tyree and the neighborhood residents

The AACS choirs with Tyree Guyton

Students getting ready to enjoy a delicious banquet dinner

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Detroit/Toronto Tour - Day 2 (Thursday, April 14, 2016)

Today was a busy day!

After breakfast at our hotel in Monroe, MI, we set out for The Rivers at Grosse Pointe. This beautiful retirement community was a perfect place to begin our day. We performed a concert for residents in the middle of a beautiful atrium area. Many residents came out from their rooms to watch from the balconies that lined the atrium. After that performance, the students spent some time mingling with the Grosse Pointe residents. We were treated to a delicious buffet lunch before moving on to our next stop.

Wayne State University is located in the heart of downtown Detroit. We made our way into "Old Main," a large, beautiful building that houses the school of music. We had the opportunity to observe a portion of a Choral Union rehearsal, and they the students worked hard in a clinic with Noah Horn, director of the choral program at Wayne State. Mr. Horn was a fantastic clinician. Thanks to the fantastic preparation of our kids, Mr. Horn was able to work on many details to really help the kids polish their work. He was complimentary of their singing and let them know how truly privileged they were to sing in a choral program like the one at AACS where they get to work on truly great choral repertoire as high school students.

Next, we traveled to Ward Church in the suburb of Northville, MI. We had a catered Qdoba dinner before making final preparations for our evening concert in the sanctuary of this ENORMOUS church. John Beresford, director of traditional worship for Ward Church and an old friend of Mr. King, was an awesome host. We had a good turn-out for the performance. As usual, the students sang beautifully. After the concert, the kids connected with their host families and the chaperones headed to a nearby hotel.

Tomorrow, we will begin our day serving at the Gleaner's Food Bank and continue on to the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor street art project in Detroit. After a Q&A with the artist at the Heidelberg Project, we'll head into Canada and spend some time in fellowship over a banquet dinner (and on a water slide) at the Best Western Lamplighter Inn in London, Ontario.

Warming up before the performance at The Rivers at Grosse Pointe

Students greeting the residents at The Rivers at Grosse Pointe following the morning performance

We make serious music!

Warming up before the clinic at Wayne State University

The students with their clinician, Noah Horn

Senior Erica Ridge sings a solo with Nota Dolce during the concert at Ward Church

The combined choirs singing in the beautiful sanctuary at Ward Church

Sophomore Mark Wiley, junior Carlos Richardson, and sophomore Nigel Park with the leftover Qdoba food on their way to their host family's house

Detroit/Toronto Tour - Day 1 (Wednesday, April 13, 2016)

After a day of school, the auditioned choirs quickly changed into comfy bus clothes and gathered in the choir room before setting off on our journey. Before boarding the bus, students and chaperones made a large circle around the room, and joined hands as we bathed our trip in prayer. Seniors Daryus Vaughan and Hannah Thiessen prayed for the group, and then Mr. King led us in a singing of the Doxology.

We boarded the bus and met our bus driver, Humberto. (He's the best!) Mrs. Woody quickly started up a conversation with him in Spanish. And throughout the trip, some of our more fluent students followed suit. It was a great way for our AACS community to begin building a relationship with our bus driver.

We sailed down the highway and stopped for dinner at a service plaza along the New Jersey Turnpike. Most of the group members formed a long line a Subway, while other less patient eaters tried some of the other food options like Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, hot dogs, and pizza. (Also, senior Brooke Wadsworth reliably hit up the Starbucks, and many others did the same.)

Once we were back on the bus, Mr. King led us in a game of "Choir Tour Speed Dating," in which students had to quickly memorize one another's answers to some random questions like "If I were an ice cream flavor, I would be..." or "When I grow up, I want to be...." Some of the many fun facts we learned: Kaitlyn McCollum wants to be Captain America when she grows up, Hannah Gott and Mia Hardesty have been working very hard to establish a secret handshake, and Annaliese Wilford's favorite color is seafoam green!

After the game, the bus voted to watch The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, which turned out to be a good way to kill three hours. We made one final bathroom stop in Ohio before turning our direction north and crossing the border into Michigan. The bus pulled up to the hotel just past 1:00 am, and we quickly sent kids off to their rooms, did final "room checks," and got some much-needed sleep.

After breakfast today, we plan to perform at The Rivers at Grosse Pointe, a retirement community on the eastern side of Detroit. Then, we have a clinic with Noah Horn at Wayne State University in downtown Detroit, and we finish our day with an evening concert at Ward Presbyterian Church in the western suburb of Northville. The students will be staying with hosts from Ward Church tonight.

(I apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. We spent most of the day on the bus, so there weren't a lot of "photo ops". I will definitely include more pictures in future posts!)

The groups circled up for a prayer before our departure!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Atlanta Tour - Day 4 (Saturday, April 11, 2015)

Our Saturday began with a trip to Stone Mountain. We took a sky tram up to the top of the large marble rock where the Men of Note and Nota Dolce treated the folks at the top to a performance of their a capella pieces. We then walked to the edge of the rock and gathered together to corporately read a portion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech, boldly proclaiming, "Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!"

Next, the students and chaperones split into smaller groups to spend a few hours of free time on the mountain and enjoy its fun attractions. Many groups opted to hike down the rocky trail to the bottom. We grabbed lunch at various places along the base of the mountain. Some groups played mini golf, others took a ride around the mountain on a train, while still others opted for longer, more adventurous hiking.

We then boarded the bus to drive downtown to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, one of the oldest churches in Atlanta. After having a catered taco bar dinner in the parish hall, the students dressed up for their final performance. The performance space was stunning, and the students sang a powerful performance for a small audience of Atlanta-based family friends and people from the community. After the concert, as we waited for the bus to pick us up, the students broke into a joyous improv on the sidewalk outside of the church.

Just as we were about to board the bus outside the Shrine, the students were able to sing one final rendition of the Barocha-- the piece we always close concerts with, which is based on a benediction from the book of Numbers. The Shrine is active in ministry to the homeless community of Atlanta, and a man named Antonio approached Mr. McCollum and Mr. Vineyard to ask for help and prayer. Thankfully, we were able to give him a bag full of food and water, but he didn't want to have the students sing for him. After praying with and for Mr. Vineyard and Mr. Cherone, he changed his mind, saying he felt the Spirit encouraging him to let the kids sing for him. So, as we loaded the bus, the students sang for Antonio, moving him to tears. Antonio's final words to Mr. Vineyard and Mr. Cherone included, "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink." (Matthew 25:35) It was a beautiful way for our students to live out what they've been learning in Atlanta, and the moment was brought to its fullest when Junior Kasey Bauserman ran up to Antonio to shake his hand and thank him for the opportunity to sing to him.

We made one final bus trip to Mount Vernon Baptist Church in the suburbs, where our students were greeted by eager host families from the church and carted off to their respective homes for the evening.

Please pray that our students will have a rich final day of the trip. Pray for continued safety. Pray that relationships would flourish. And Pray for Antonio, who blessed us with his words and allowed us to bless him with our song.

This carving in the side of Stone Mountain is the largest high relief sculpture in the world (beating out Mount Rushmore!).

The students gathered at the edge of Stone Mountain reading Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech

Seniors Hannah Cotton and Christina Dark with Ms Kauffman at Stone Mountain

The Bell'Arte Singers performing at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

The students singing the Barocha to close their performance at the Shrine

Friday, April 10, 2015

Atlanta Tour - Day 3 (Friday, April 10, 2015)

We began our morning with some fellowship time on the patio outside of the hotel as we waited for shuttles to bring us to our first stop for the day. Some of the students prayed in small groups for the day.

Our first destination was the Martin Luther King National Historical Site. We sang a concert outside of the visitor center. It began to rain as the students started singing, and the rumbling thunder was a beautiful reminder of the might and power of God, and it provided a moving backdrop for the performance. We then were invited to watch a brief video about the final days of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life before we walked across the street to visit his gravesite and the the reflecting pool. The students sang another brief concert in front of the grave, including an emotionally-charged rendition of one of King's favorite hymns, "Precious Lord," by the Madrigal Singers. After that performance, we visited Ebenezer Baptist Church, which King pastored with his father and where his funeral was held. The sanctuary had been restored to the way it looked on the day of his funeral service. The students had an opportunity to sit in the pews and reflect on the significance of his life and work.

Our next stop was Georgia State University, where we were led in a clinic by Dr. Deanna Joseph, GSU's director of choral activities. She was floored by the level at which the students were performing, calling them "world class," and saying that they were "better than 99.9%" of the multitudes of high school groups she has worked with in the past. She was so impressed that she asked for our performance dates so she could spread the word among the Atlanta choral community!

After our clinics, we headed to the world-famous Mary Mac's Tea Room for some INCREDIBLE southern cooking. The buffet was a bit overwhelming, and we all stuffed ourselves full of fried chicken, sweet potato sufflée, and buttery whipped potatoes. Then, we gathered our servers so that we could sing them a blessing, and the kids' boisterous rendition of "Tink of Me" drew a crowd of excited spectators from the main dining room. We were even invited to take a picture with them to hang on their "Wall of Fame" next to world famous politicians and celebrities!

Our final destination was Saint Brigid Catholic Church in the suburbs of Atlanta. Upon arrival, we used some free time for a sing-off competition. The students were divided into small groups and challenged to come up with creative renditions of "Old MacDonald" set to different musical stylings. While every group was impressive, the standouts were our "Opera" group (winners of "closest to the genre" with their Phantom of the Opera-inspired performance) and the "Classic Rock" group, which was named "most creative" and "best overall".

We finished our day with an evening performance in the gorgeous sanctuary on Saint Brigid Church. The students sang a compelling set of sacred selections for an appreciative audience of parishioners and community members, many of whom said they hoped to attend another one of our performances before we leave the area!

Please pray that we will continue to grow in their relationships with one another and with God. Pray for continued safety. Also, pray that the students and chaperones would be able to apply the lessons they've been learning about community and justice to their everyday lives.

Juniors Brooke Wadsworth and Faith Porter praying on the patio outside the hotel to begin the day

The students singing outside the visitor center at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site

The students reflecting at the pool around MLK's gravesite

The Madrigal Singers performing an emotional rendition of "Previous Lord" at MLK's gravesite

We had a moving experience exploring the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site.

The students had the opportunity to reflect on MLK's life and work while sitting in the pews of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The Bell'Arte Singers working with Dr. Deanna Joseph of Georgia State University

Junior Matt Loock, Senior Micah Meadows, and Junior Elliott Smith filling up their plates (and "smiling" for the camera) at Mary Mac's Tea Room

We were invited to take a photo with the staff and Mary Mac's to hang out their Wall of Fame!

The grand champion "Classic Rock" group devising their creative plan

The "Country" group making us all laugh with their performance

The "Opera" group's Phantom of the Opera-inspired performance

The choirs singing at Saint Brigid Catholic Church

Atlanta Tour - Day 2 (Thursday, April 9, 2015)

To begin our morning, Superintendent Kempton led us in a devotional, in which he challenged the students to see their singing as a ministry. He reminded them that, "You will have the opportunity to minister to people today, and you might not even know it happened."

We then arrived at Campbell-Stone retirement community, where the students warmed up on a beautiful garden patio. It wasn't long before a crowd began to gather, and so we gladly transitioned to concert mode. While one group was singing, the other students served the residents coffee, juice, and pastries. Following the impromptu outdoor performance, we made our way inside to sing for a special group of residents who were being honored at a breakfast for their volunteer service in the community. This was a small but excited audience, and God was at work as our students sang arrangements of "oldies" that brought tears of delight to more than one face. (There was even a moment when Senior Logan Belcher's bass voice made one of the residents audibly swoon!)

Following the morning performances, we made our way back downtown for some sightseeing. After grabbing lunch at a food court, we toured the CNN studios where we explored the behind-the-scenes operation of a major television network. After leaving the CNN tower, we took a stroll through Olympic Centennial Park and sang on the sidewalk for crowds gathered in the beautiful Atlanta sun.

Next, the students had the opportunity to visit the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Ms Kauffman briefed the students on what they were about to see and encouraged them to be open to feel and understand the grief caused by oppression, and to sense God's call to recognize and celebrate his Image in every human being.

We finished our night with dinner at Ted's Montana Grill, where many of the students were brave enough to try out the house specialty of bison! We were privileged to sing a benediction to our servers (bringing yet more tears of delight to a few faces). Then, we finished the evening with devotions--the girls with Mrs. Joseph, and the guys with Mr. Vineyard and Mr. Cherone.

Please pray that the Spirit would minister to the hearts of the people we encounter, that we would have an inspiring visit to the Martin Luther King Historical Site, that our clinic and performances would bring glory to God, and that our students would take to heart what they learned at the Center for Civil and Human Rights and make choices toward justice and righteousness in both the big and the small things of everyday life.

Superintendent Kempton giving a morning devotional on the bus

The students singing an impromptu concert on the garden patio at Campbell-Stone retirement community

Sophomore Kyle Carey serving a Campbell-Stone resident some juice

The students giving hugs to our special and thankful audience of resident volunteers at Campbell-Stone

The students touring the CNN studios

A group of Bell'Arte girls (plus a few Men of Note gentlemen) getting ready to start the CNN tour

Junior Faith Porter trying her hand at being an anchor for CNN.

The students singing a sidewalk concert at Olympic Centennial Park

Crowds gathering at Centennial Park to hear the students sing.

Senior Chris Good leading the Men of Note at the Centennial Park sidewalk concert

The students gathered on the lawn outside the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

Juniors Tiffany Perry, Hannah Thiessen, Amanda Fusting, and Annaliese Wilford join Senior Chris good at an exhibit in the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The students enjoying dinner (bison!) at Ted's Montana Grill