Day One: Charlotte to Parkersburg, West Virginia

Our first day of tour is always a day where we learn to work together. We discover that we can accomplish even more together than we could ever imagine alone!

We loaded two buses with risers, vestments for church, programs, music stands, and everything needed for our concerts, along with suitcases, garment bags, snacks, sodas and water for 63 participants for 6 days! Working together we were on the road to Parkersburg, WV in 45 minutes. The bus rides are always fun! Sometimes we watch movies, talk quietly, listen to music individually, or play video games. It’s always fun to hear the excitement when we cross state lines from those who have not traveled to the locations we are visiting. West Virginia was new for many!

We arrived at Church of the Good Shepherd, known locally as “the pink church.” It was time to work together again – this time to unload the buses we had worked so hard to load in the morning. Our packing was great! Everything we needed was easily accessible and soon our garment bags were in the changing rooms, our luggage was in the parish hall, the church was set up for a concert and rehearsal was ready to begin. Rehearsal in a new place is always challenging: where to stand, where to sit, how to move from one location to the another, experience the new acoustic… and then remember your music! Everything proceeded smoothly.

It’s not unusual for two churches to work together to host our tour concert, however this joint hosting was a first. We performed in one church and ate at the other! Both dinner before the concert and breakfast this morning were wonderful and were prepared by the many volunteers in the Trinity Episcopal Church kitchen. We had a quick bus ride between Good Shepherd and Trinity and back again before the concert. All part of the tour experience- being flexible and working together!

The congregations came together to be the audience for the concert at Good Shepherd and the church was almost completely filled. It’s always wonderful to sing for an appreciative and packed house!

The final excitement for the day was the host family experience. This is a wonderful experience for our kids to meet others in a new town, connecting with people that they’d never have the opportunity to meet and finding their similarities. It’s a fantastic opportunity that we are thrilled to provide to our choristers. The challenge is for the kids to get settled in their host homes and get plenty of sleep for the following day. Sleep is hard when you’re having such fun and anticipating the days to come!

Day Two: Parkersburg to Akron, Ohio

Tour provides experiences for growth, both personal and musical, in a fun and supportive environment, while sightseeing in new and different locations and performing in new and different churches for new and different audiences.

Day Two is typically the time to demonstrate personal growth. Our kids demonstrate this personal growth by successfully completing tasks that may not be part of every day expectations in their own home. First thing in the morning, the choristers return from their host homes with their belongings. Their uniform garment bags were re-packed with all of their uniform pieces present and hung neatly. They would have the proper clothes to wear in their nightly concert and the pieces would still look nicely pressed from home! This can be challenging for the oldest of the MasterSingers in addition to the youngest in the tour choirs and everywhere in between. The success rate for “perfect” uniform garment bags was amazing! It’s so great to see the kids accept responsibility for themselves and their possessions and to grow in the moment.

The next task is to write thank you notes to their host from the previous night. The kids had plenty of wonderful stories to tell of the care they received and the fun they had with their host families. Gracious thank you notes were written quickly. Again, for many, thank you notes at home are often a quick email and it’s great to see them succeed in the challenges of a handwritten thank you note.

After the long day on Thursday, the bus ride on Friday was a quiet (at least on the girls’ bus) and restful ride as we traveled from West Virginia into Ohio, through Akron and on to the Cleveland Art Museum. This art museum is known for it’s large and varied collection and also the many interactive exhibits designed for the younger (in both age and spirit) patrons of the museum. In our small groups, the members worked together to explore the museum. Many of the groups, quickly found the interactive exhibit where they could digitally paint modern art, create ceramic pots and self-portraits. Many of the pictures in our gallery below include our singers demonstrating their creativity while thoroughly enjoying this experience! Those who missed Studio Play and the Collection Wall maybe planning a trip back to Cleveland in the future.

Driving back south to Akron, we arrived at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and it was time to begin our work for the evening. Once again, it was time to unload the buses, set up the church for a concert and begin rehearsing. Each church we visit is different. St. Paul’s was a large church and the kids particularly enjoyed the great acoustic in the space. Logistics are also different as everyone must find their spot and remember their route to get there. Music was refined from the night before, soloists were announced and concert time came quickly. With every performance comes musical growth and this was no exception. The audience was thrilled with the performance and we appreciated their enthusiasm.

After the concert, we once again met new host families and began the process again, with the anticipation of continued growth, personally and musically!

Day Three: Akron to Buffalo, New York

This morning was another early start as we gathered at St. Paul’s in Akron and prepared for our drive to Buffalo, NY! Everyone was now a seasoned professional at packing uniform garment bags and writing thank you notes. Today we would practice budgeting our lunch money at the restaurant on our way to our afternoon activity. Everyone new to fast food read the menu and analyzed for nutrition (as much as possible) and cost to be certain their choice would come under the maximum money allowed even after tax was added. While this sounds inconsequential, it’s another great opportunity for growth for the younger children as each decided on their meal and stepped up confidently to order from the cashier.

We arrived right on time at the Darwin D. Martin House, one of the houses designed by the famous American Architect, Frank Lloyd Wright in the early 1900’s. We watched a short movie of the history and family life of Darwin Martin and how he came to hire Frank Lloyd Wright to design his “dream home”. Each of our choirs had a docent to lead their house tour who was specially picked for their skill in making the history and house come alive for that specific age group. It was an amazing house! From the front door to the carriage house, it was interesting to learn of all the special designs and features that helped welcome guests, made rooms feel larger or smaller, depending on their purpose, the creative use of light, the furniture he designed for every room and the artwork he purchased. The kids were amazed at his creativity and thoroughly enjoyed the tour. It’s fun to watch them be exposed to something new and different and the thoughts and ideas that sparks. Perhaps we have some budding architects in our midst?

After the tour, it was time for our “work” and musical opportunities. We arrived at Westminster Presbyterian Church, which was an especially beautiful space for a concert. Because the unloading and logistics details have become more familiar, there was more time for perfecting the details in our music to enhance the feeling and emotion of the pieces for our audience. We received so many positive comments and people looked forward to welcoming us to the service on Sunday. And we looked forward to singing for them again.

We left with our host families and new roommates. Many host families took large groups of our students, so it felt like a pajama party. There were many smiles as they gathered their suitcases and left for the night with another successful day completed.

Day Four: Buffalo, New York

We began the day demonstrating a key pillar of the mission of The Choir School at St. Peter’s. Our program is modeled after the centuries-old Anglican Choir Schools in the great cathedrals of England. We learn music from the Anglican repertoire and lead worship services regularly. On Sunday we returned to Westminster with our host families ready to lead their worship service. Prior to the service, we rehearsed the service music, anthems and hymns, found places for everyone in the choir loft in the rear balcony of the church and reviewed the logistics of the processional in that setting. After vesting, we were ready to enhance the services and inspire the congregation. We sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” as the benediction to conclude the service, and the congregation showed their appreciation with spontaneous applause!

With our work finished for the day, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch in the parish hall, loaded the buses and were on our way to the ultimate tourist attraction: Niagara Falls! We began the visit with the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which was incredible. However, with 20 mph winds and random rain showers, “Mist” was not the word we would use! Even with our stylish ponchos, the words of the day were “wet” AND “fun.” We were able to get close to both the American and Horseshoe Falls. We even briefly crossed into Canada while on the boat. Now every chorister can say they have visited a foreign country!

Upon exiting the boat, we walked up the “Crow’s Nest” for a view from a different angle. The walk was a short hike up the side of the falls on a rock path. Those who were not wet after the boat ride, were soaked before we returned to the bottom- all part of the fun! From there it was back into the elevator to get to the Maid of the Mist observation deck for more views and photographs. Still an amazing sight! It was soon time to return to the bus, but everyone “needed” to visit the souvenir shop for our final shopping experience.

We ended our wonderful day in a great hotel in Erie, PA with a swim and pizza party! About half the group enjoyed the water, while the other half enjoyed playing card games or socializing. The hotel graciously allowed us to use their large breakfast area to set up a pizza buffet and there were still enough tables for all of us to sit and eat together! After our desserts, it was time to return to our rooms to shower and rest up for our final day of activities and performance.

Day Five: Buffalo to Cleveland, Ohio

Today began our final day of sightseeing and performing, as tomorrow we begin our long bus ride home. Before we could leave the hotel and head to Cleveland, we organized ourselves to eat in shifts as it was important that our group not overwhelm the breakfast area with 63 choristers and adults eating at one time. We work hard any time we are eating in a public space to remember that others are there trying to enjoy a quiet time of their own. With showers finished, suitcases packed and breakfast eaten, we loaded the buses and were on our way back to Cleveland.

Today was our sightseeing day in Cleveland. We drove back to the art museum, which is closed on Mondays, to meet our trolleys for a tour of the city. We drove from the east side to the west and back again, seeing gardens, the shore of Lake Erie, and historic churches and architecture. We learned the history of Cleveland, drove by the home of the Indians, the Browns, the Cavaliers and the other sports teams. We had a photo op of the group at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and at the famous Cleveland sign. We ran in and out of a rainstorm and appreciated that we were on a trolley tour where windows could be closed and we could enjoy the sights without being bothered by the weather. We arrived back at the Art Museum after passing by other famous museums and Severance Hall! We took a moment for a snack and to enjoy the area around the art museum, taking pictures on the huge chair and playing with the musical instrument area.

It was then on to St. Paul’s Episcopal, Cleveland Heights for the final concert of our tour. St. Paul’s was another large and beautiful space for us to experience. Our goal is for every concert to be better than the last and the choirs did not disappoint. It was particularly enjoyable to make music at St. Paul’s due to the wonderful acoustics of their sanctuary. As is our tradition on tour, our graduating seniors shared the opening solo in “The Lord bless you and keep you” at this final concert. It was a moving moment for all of our choristers, as well as for the audience.

The St. Paul’s parishioners welcomed our kids into their homes for their last host family experience this year and once again our choristers left excited to meet new friends in a new town.

Day Six: Cleveland to Charlotte

The final day on tour is always special! The community we built throughout the year spent the week working and making music together, forging friendships and having fun. Today, we spent the day on the bus enjoying each other’s company and celebrating our successes. Mid-afternoon included a rest stop in West Virginia where we presented the infamous and highly anticipated annual “Bennie Awards”! This event celebrates each of us individually and humorously as we review the experiences of the week. Many of our graduates tell us they have saved all of their “Bennie Awards” along with the tour specific pins presented each year.

As we drive up to St. Peter’s, it’s fun for us to see the joy in our choristers’ faces as they spot their parents waiting on the sidewalk for them, ready to celebrate their return. Everyone works together to help unload the buses quickly, moving all the concert gear and remaining snacks back to the choir room. With tour complete, we all head home for some rest and a wonderful summer, but with anticipation of returning to our community at St. Peter’s in August! As they complete their final tour, we thank our graduating seniors for their commitment to The Choir School throughout the years. We wish them well as they head into the next chapter of their lives and expect them to return and visit often as they will always be part of The Choir School family!