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Evocative echoes: Performing America’s musical heritage

Photo Courtesy of Megan Sparkes.

Photo Courtesy of Megan Sparkes.

Like any typical undergraduate college semester, there comes a time when students are stressed out about preparing for the ever daunting and dreaded midterms week; however, while most students and professors alike were longingly anticipating a much needed break, the Maryville College Concert Choir was busily overcoming exams in advance for the rigorous, annual spring choir tour.

Traditionally, a total of over 60 members of the Concert Choir, directed by Stacey Wilner, coordinator of choral music, travel for one week during spring break to perform at different churches, schools, special events and various gatherings. The choir sings at multiple locations in different states and puts on an international tour once every four years.

Being a member of the concert choir for almost two years now, I can say firsthand that although the week before tour is usually stressful, as soon as I step onto the bus and see the faces of all my close friends, I know that I am bound to have an extraordinary adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see places I may never get to experience again. Last year, some of my favorite moments were getting to spend most of St. Patrick’s Day near the beach at a boardwalk festival and singing a cappella impromptu near the shore.

These memories are the ones that strengthen our bond; they uniquely unite us as a sort of “choir family,” ultimately making us stronger as a collective whole. Together, we are one voice. Every concert we always try to perform to the best of our ability using this remarkable connection, and the result of our efforts is always rewarding. I never realized the impact and importance the Maryville Concert Choir has on others until my first tour in 2013 when I saw how many souls we always touch with our music, so I was looking forward to the opportunity to go again.

On Wednesday, March 12, the Maryville Concert Choir and I began our 2014 spring tour, “American Echoes” with a customary send-off in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ William Baxter Lee III Grand Foyer. During this intimate concert, our close friends, family, professors and faculty came to wish us off. There was so much support for us on our journey and it makes me feel proud to know that we are supporting and promoting our college but we are also advocating our quaint city of Maryville.

The tour celebrated our American heritage through music, as well as giving recognition and thanks to the many men and women who have died for our freedom. Musical selections chosen to suit the tour’s theme ranged from sacred to spiritual with the whimsical inclusion of a few folk songs. Embracing the more popular, sensational songs of American music, Off Kilter, a small SATB a cappella ensemble, Lads, an all men’s group, and Lassies, an all ladies ensemble sing compositions with a distinct the influence of jazz and blues. The entire collection works to highlight the multiculturalism of America and how these various cultures have influenced the amalgamation of our country’s musical diversity.

Our first stop was at the First Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, Tenn. where we met Mark Davis, director of music ministries. From there, we traveled to Winchester, Va., where we performed at the Opequon Presbyterian Church and the John Handley High School. Always after our last performance of the day, we are paired with church families who volunteer to be our home stays. These hospitable and kind people are complete strangers who graciously share their homes and take all of us in with open, welcoming arms. The next day we were on the road again to visit Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Del.

When we finally arrived in Georgetown, we had a special “MC in DC” welcome dinner hosted by members of the Maryville College alumni chapter and alumna, Delores Ziegler. The rendezvous was a wonderful reunion of current students and recent graduates. The alumni who live locally in Washington, D.C., attended both the early and second worship assemblies the next morning at National Presbyterian Church. Later, we held a joint concert with the United States Army Chorus at Vienna Presbyterian Church in Virginia with alumnus, Jesse Neace. It was an honor to sing with these gentlemen who have performed for the president, the Queen of England and at the Super Bowl.

The final locations we visited were at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hampton, Va., and First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Va. Other than getting the chance to sing at different places, we also had time to do some sightseeing in between our scheduled performances.

Personally, I think the best places of interest we visited during the trip were the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where I saw “The Dancer” by Edgar Degas and various paintings by Monet, and getting to explore the assortment of other museums and patriotic monuments in downtown Washington, D.C.

Being a member of the Maryville Concert Choir is a privilege. Not matter how physically and mentally exhausting tour can be, in the end we are just as grateful to sing for others as they are to have us. Music awakens the echoes of our souls and creates a bridge between different cultures, heritages and ethnicities. This experience is like no other.

Every year that we go on tour I know that we are responsible for giving the gift of song while sharing and spreading unconditional love toward everyone. After the music fades, the lingering emotion is so thick I can literally feel it swelled up inside my chest. After we sing from the bottom of our hearts and souls, these superficial differentiations seem to melt away, and all that remains is our harmonious echoes. The camaraderie we as members of the choir share is unbelievable, and in my opinion, the memories and music are incomparable to any choral ensemble I have ever been involved with.

Because of all of these great aspects of choir which I have disclosed, this is why I look forward to every spring semester despite midterms and whatever personal problems I may be going through. I am fortunate that I get to be a voice of Maryville College, both in journalism and song.

6 Comments

  1. It is actually a thrill to read about your reactions to being one voice contributing to a 60 voice “instrument.” Sometimes I think the pace of the 21st century precludes this type of experience. Those who heard or sang with the Dr. Harter in the Vesper Choir of the “past” century rejoice that your generation, under Stacey Wilner’s direction, has recovered the sound and the joy of singing the “ultimate choral experience.” You gave much joy to the audience at Opequon Church! Sing on! MTL ’56, madlonlaster.com

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts on this article. We enjoyed singing for your church very much.

  2. Megan–beautifully stated. Thank you so much for capturing this unique experience that is the “joy of singing” and the meaning of the opportunity to connect and share with others. Madlon-thanks for your kind words. We are honored to be a part of such a meaningful tradition as set forth by Dr. Harter and others.

    • Mrs. Wilner, I am so glad you liked it!

  3. My husband and I had the privilege of hearing the Choir at Limestone Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware. I was wondering if you record the performances at each location and if there is any way to purchase the program somehow? We did buy the CDs but I would love to hear the songs and the singers that sang that evening. Please let me know if you do this and where or if not I would highly recommend it. The show was FANTASTIC and the students and staff were a pleasure to get to know.

  4. Jill, we do indeed recorded each and every one of our performances thanks to a wonderful sound crew. There is a way to purchase the CD for the 2014 choir tour; however, it will be a while before each song is edited and finally put on the disks. If you would like to know when the CDs will become available I highly recommend staying in touch with choral assistant, Ashley Abbott. Thank you so much for attending our concert and may the Lord bless you and keep you.

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