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The Concert Choir takes to the road

From March 9th till the 20th, fifty-three excited college students and their conductor, Dr. Ben Kornelis, boarded a coach bus and set out to sing to audiences in Arizona, New Mexico, and California. Through rain and snow, sickness and health, McDonald’s and “Tri-tip,” the group had a good time bringing news of Dordt and praise to God to places outside of Northwest Iowa. Dr. Kornelis (known to his choir members as “Dr. K.”) and a second alto named Julie Ooms kept journals of their experiences on tour.

Thursday, 9 March:

Dr. K—We set off at 12:05, only a few minutes after schedule; my page-a-day calendar noted that this was the feast of the patron saint of “pious motorists.” Good thing. We arrived with plenty of time in Lincoln. It was a warm day – lots of Frisbee, hackey-sack and sitting in the sun after a long rehearsal. The concert, for a small but appreciative crowd, went well, with a few memory lapses, but strong singing. The local contact folks had set up an ice cream social following the concert, where I met with Matt Jacobsma, a concert choir alumnus, alumna Liz McPherson’s father, and a high school sophomore student considering Dordt. This is what the tours are about: reconnecting with lots of folks, reminding them of what Dordt is about, and letting prospective students know what our students and programs are all about—alumni relations, advancement, and admissions all at once. 

"It was a bit surreal to be singing 'When I'm 64' to and audience for whom 64 is a dim memory!"

Julie—After the concert, we sang the last chorus of “Praise to the Lord,” which is a tour tradition, according to the upperclassmen. It was amazing. We were reminding ourselves of what we were doing, and who we were doing it for.

Friday, 10 March:

Dr. K—We left Lincoln at 7:30 a.m. – a short night. We start the day with devotions on the topic of using our gifts to God’s glory and to the best of our ability, followed by the traditional “host family story time.” We ran into construction and traffic in Denver, so we arrived a little behind schedule for a mini-concert at Holly Creek Christian Living Center. They didn’t seem to mind, though – the audience was extremely receptive, and we made time for some visiting with them after we sang. It was a bit surreal to be singing “When I’m 64” to an audience for whom 64 is a dim memory! Then we went to Third CRC in Denver, where the crowd was small but enthusiastic about our concert. 

Julie—We drove for about seven hours on a full bus, a bit crammed, but still fun. People spread pillows across laps and aisles and used them as tables for card games. During “host family story time,” I told about stepping on my host’s poor cat (it was an accident!). We received kind words and encouragement after the concert, including the sentiments of one woman who felt that good, clean-cut kids like us would be “the salvation of our nation.” Dr. K forgot his tux in the Lincoln hotel and had to go to Sears for slacks, shirt, and tie…which we found rather humorous. Tonight’s concert went well again, even though the altitude in Denver gave a lot of people headaches. We’ll be even higher up tomorrow!

Saturday, 11 March:

Dr. K—We hit the road again at 7:30 and drove … and drove … and drove. We got an early phone call from our Rehoboth contact that they had received several inches of snow and were under a winter storm warning. We didn’t hit snow until about forty miles after Albuquerque. But, thanks to our intrepid driver Kevin, we made it to Rehoboth intact around 5:20. The evening concert went well, although general fatigue and the effects of a long day on the bus were noticeable. The audience was warm and welcoming, with great conversations following the concert. It’s always interesting to hear which pieces are the ones that are talked about: what might be just plain “weird” to some is “transcendent” to another! Good thing the program has a lot of variety, and hopefully something for everyone.

Julie—On today’s ride, a lot of people played Rook and a lot more people slept. All of us were tired. The altitude doesn’t help. But Rehoboth, when we arrived, was great. We were given lasagna, salad, and French bread for dinner (our best dinner yet!) and drank a lot of water. The concert was great, even though we were tired—and the audience was incredibly receptive. One lady in the back kept lifting her hand during “Praise to the Lord.” They even clapped with us during “Hold to God’s Unchangin’ Hand”—our gospel number—like few Dutch churches would. Tomorrow morning, church doesn’t start till 10:30, which means we get to sleep in. Everyone’s looking forward to the extra rest.

Sunday, 12 March:

Dr. K—Leaving Rehoboth after the morning worship service, we had good driving conditions until heading south at Flagstaff, when we hit an area of heavy snow. It didn’t last long, but we were delayed. A quickly-inhaled supper of sloppy joes, chips, carrots, and oranges and a short run-through of logistics in the Camelback Bible Church was all we had time for—good thing the concert wasn’t until 8:00. The choir really came to life in the fabulous acoustics of the church and responded to the large and enthusiastic crowd. 

Julie—Worship at Rehoboth went well this morning; several students formed a praise team that led the morning singing, and concert choir sang a few songs. The acoustics at the church we sang in tonight were amazing. I think it was our best concert yet.

Monday, 13 March:

Dr. K—A long drive to Chino, but we arrived to warm sunny weather and green grass! It was nice to have time to relax a little bit between performances. After an assembly at Ontario Christian, we had time to lie in the sun, play basketball, Frisbee, etc. at the church. Supper was the eagerly-anticipated “Tri-Tip,” which the choir enjoyed greatly. The crowd tonight was large and enthusiastic, although they sat through intermission as though they were waiting for a funeral to begin.

"TJ Lagestee said it best when he said that each of us could step into a group with anyone else and have a conversation without feeling uncomfortable."

Julie—Morning came incredibly early. I got up at 5:15 because we had to leave our host family’s house in a Phoenix suburb at 6 to be at the church at 7 (Phoenix traffic—what can you do?). I couldn’t sleep on the bus, but had fun playing “Battle of the Sexes” with nine other people. If only Dr. K hadn’t joined in the women would’ve won, hands down! We got to 1st URC in Chino at about 3:45 after singing at an assembly at Ontario Christian High School. I hope the students there appreciated what we sang and saw how we work together to make music as a community. Our concert that night went well, especially when you consider that a few people were sick—a few more than last time, even. We’re keeping pretty outrageous hours, and I think it’s taking its toll. But, of course, we have the free day on Wednesday to look forward to—time to relax!

Tuesday, 14 March:

Dr. K—Traveling from Chino to Ripon, we got local tour guide information from (choir members) Jon Bushnell and Garry Riezebos, who filled us in on California geography and history—and we got to see Garry’s house in Visalia from the freeway as we passed by. We again had enough time to run around a bit before warming up at the performance site. 

Julie—It was another long day of driving, but with perks. The scenery in southern California is beautiful—rolling hills and mountains, lush valleys, fields of trees (almond, lemon, and orange). After driving seven hours, we sang at Ripon Christian High School. I love singing with this group. No matter how many times we sing the same songs in the same order, something is always new. The faces in the audience are new, the exact way we sing our songs is new, and Dr. K’s tux finally catching up with us is new, too.

Wednesday, 15 March:

Kristen (kooiker) Dekkers, Jessica Van Donselaar, and Julie Ooms were among those who opted to spend a relaxing day walking the streets of San Francisco.

Kristen (kooiker) Dekkers, Jessica Van Donselaar, and Julie Ooms were among those who opted to spend a relaxing day walking the streets of San Francisco.

Julie—Free day in San Francisco! Today we had an enjoyable, much-needed break from long hours of traveling. We pulled into the Fishermen’s Wharf of San Francisco at about 10:00 and had until three to do whatever we wanted (within reason, of course). About half the group spent time touring Alcatraz; the rest of us just walked up and down various pier-side streets, ducking into souvenir shops, picking over outdoor tables of jewelry and sunglasses, eating a good meal, and taking lots of pictures! After our “day off,” we drove a quiet one-and-a-half hours to San Jose—most of our number had fallen asleep. We’re all getting pretty tired, even with our brief rest. The concert went well, though, and we only had one member out sick today. After dinner, we had a chance to talk to some prospective Dordt students—a reminder of part of why we’re on this tour. I hope we were able to give a good witness to these students in our talk and singing.

Thursday, 16 March:

Dr. K—We started the day at San Jose Christian School, our first time on the tour singing for young children. They were entertaining (and a little distracting!). They all tried to clap along on “Hold to God’s Unchangin’ Hand,” and Brian DeYoung noted that all those little hands sounded like popping bubble wrap. Then we hit the road again and headed for Visalia, an interesting drive though agricultural land: almonds and other nut trees, onions, lettuce, and several unidentified green things.

Rook tournaments are a traditional way for Dordt College singers to pass the long days of traveling that are an unavoidable part of the tour.

Rook tournaments are a traditional way for Dordt College singers to pass the long days of traveling that are an unavoidable part of the tour.

Julie—The San Jose Christian School elementary kids were very excited and receptive to us. Their delight gave me new delight in what I’m singing. After the assembly, we drove about four hours to Visalia, where we did another assembly at Central Valley High School for the high school and elementary kids; the little boy in the front row imitating Dr. K’s conducting was fun to watch. Our concert that night was amazing. After another wonderful “Tri-tip” dinner and some down time (in which some of us played Duck Duck Goose), we truly put our hearts into our singing. Only one concert to go after this! I’m tired, I’m sick of buses, and my voice aches, but I’m still sad to see it end. The community we’ve built as a choir on this tour is truly a blessing.

Friday, 17 March:

Julie—Today was a lot of fun, and a bit bittersweet. We drove to Bellflower this morning for an assembly at around noon, which went well. I was so excited to see high school students listening to and engaged in the music we were singing. After the assembly, we drove to Escondido—our concert that night was at Westminster Theological Seminary—our last full concert. I think we did very well. The sincere encouragement Dr. K gave us beforehand really helped—he told us that, well, we’re really good. We ended the concert with the refrain of “Praise to the Lord,” sung outside to breaking rain. It was the perfect way to end a long, tiring, and wonderful tour. The only drawback to the night occurred when all the women were locked out of their dressing room for what seemed an endless amount of time. We all stood out in the cold and wet, still in our concert garb, while the guys walked by in their street clothes, comfortable and dry. Oh well—I guess everything can’t be wonderful all the time.

Saturday, 18 March:

Dr. K—A little bleary, we hit the road at 7:45. Although some were still hoping for a stop at the Grand Canyon, the weather forecast is for rain/snow, and it will probably already be dark by the time we get there anyway. We arrived in Flagstaff at 5:30. Despite repeated calls, I couldn’t reach the contact person, and so we spent an hour in the Flagstaff mall, eating and exploring. A call to the hotel to confirm that all rooms were equipped with two double beds alerted me to the fact that the hotel, despite having accepted Dordt’s money, did not, in fact, have any rooms reserved for us! The same group owned two other hotels all adjacent to each other, though, so they made arrangements for us to be in another hotel. We got the risers set up (quite snugly) in the very small sanctuary, and headed out for the evening. 

Sunday, 19 March:

Dr. K—Finally, a full night’s sleep. It was a good thing that we had ample time, though, since Tim Vande Griend, who hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days, had had a pretty rough night. I asked him if he wanted me to try to get him in to see a doctor, and he jumped at the offer. I fished out the medical release form, got directions to the nearest hospital, and summoned Kevin (the bus driver) to take Tim to the emergency room. I headed off to the church, where I discovered that Alan De Young’s host family had also taken him to the hospital overnight; both were diagnosed with nasty cases of bronchitis. Despite missing these two guys plus a few others to illness, the church service went very well, with “Brother Marcus” (Roskamp) delivering a meditation on Zephaniah. The members of the small congregation were so extremely grateful, and provided sack lunches for us so we could hit the road immediately after the service. We had already been hearing word of a nasty winter storm brewing for Colorado and Nebraska, so I set out to try to make alternate hotel arrangements so we could reroute ourselves to stay south of the storm. We ended up staying at a Super 8 in Elk City, Oklahoma, which we pulled into at about 2:00 a.m. Although it wasn’t really so “super,” there were beds for all, and at that point, that was all that really mattered. 

Monday, 20 March:

Dr. K—Last day on the road, and the first day of spring. Turns out it was a wise decision to stay below the storm, as Colorado and Nebraska were getting very heavy snows. Since the drivers were required to have eight hours off, we couldn’t leave before 9:30 a.m., but were on the road as soon as we could be. Although the bus’ GPS unit indicated that we would be back in Sioux Center between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m., the snow became extremely thick south of Sioux City. We finally arrived back in Dordt’s parking lot at 11:00.  Exhausted and relieved, we managed to unload the bus, get all the gear into the music building, and head back “home.”

Julie—The lack of entries for the past two days is due to illness—I had a fever and a cough, and have fortunately gotten rid of the fever, at least. Thankfully, I did not contract bronchitis, although my roommate did a few days later. I slept most of the drive on the 18th to Flagstaff and to a random, tiny place in Oklahoma on the 19th. A lot of us are sick or getting sick. We’re all tired—people are sprawled out on seats and in aisles, with a few stray Rook games still happening here and there. Even though we’ve had a great time, we’re all ready to be home.

As the tour goes on students grab sleep wherever and whenever they can get it.

As the tour goes on students grab sleep wherever and whenever they can get it.

Tour was one of the best experiences I’ve had at Dordt so far. Dr. K said to us one night that we need to relish this time and this group, because it’s unlikely that we’ll be in another choir anytime in the future that has a commitment and ability to sing excellent, high-quality music and a membership that believes so deeply in every word sung. I’m so happy and blessed to have been a member of this group, to have gone on this tour, and to have gotten to know so many people.