Day One: Charlotte to Atlanta

Annual farewell photo

Annual farewell photo

One of the wonderful things about tour is that every day is full of new experiences for all- for those new to touring with The Choir School or those who have toured for eight years or more. Today was no exception.

Packing the buses on Tryon Street always leaves the parents in awe. Our 58 choristers work together to haul and load the two busloads of equipment, uniforms and luggage before our farewell photo and exit – all in under one hour! The logistics of rest stops with 67 others, lunch beside a beautiful river and driving through Atlanta traffic were navigated successfully taking us to the World of Coca Cola right on time.

Experiencing a museum in our groups gave us time to build group dynamics and friendships while determining priorities in a museum with limited time. As is often the case, the welcoming guide in the first gallery asked us to perform for their other guests. Mr. Outen agreed and they sang the beginning of “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” as we waited to enter the next room. It was fun to hear the many positive comments about our impromptu performance from those in the audience.

As we toured, many witnessed Coco-Cola artifacts, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, the vault with the secret formula and for many the favorite was the 4-D movie! A unique item seen by many was the actual torch to be used at the 2016 Summer Olympics. We were told this was the only place the torch could be seen before the Olympics. The final visit to the tasting room and the gift shop would be the highlight of the visit for many of us.

While we were in the World of Coca-Cola, a typical Atlanta heavy rainstorm came through, but our experience was just a slight mist followed by 100% humidity in “Hotlanta” on our way to the buses instead of a hard rain. That was wonderful.

After leaving the World of Coca-Cola, we headed to our host church. This is a different experience for every place we stop to perform on tour. We must meet our hosts, learn where to go for luggage storage, changing, rehearsing, eating and performance, unload the buses and be professional throughout. Once again our group worked together to manage everything and impress our hosts! The welcoming audience appreciated the performance as we concluded to a standing ovation.

Gathering our belongings and heading home with our host families was our final experience of the first day. Even for seasoned choristers this is a new experience with every new host.

Day two will bring more new experiences as each chorister packs their own suitcase and garment bag without parental supervision, manages all of their belongings as they return to meet the group; experiences another sightseeing opportunity in Tallahassee; learns a new host church; and builds on the first day’s rehearsal and performance to present and even better performance for a new audience.

This is why we tour- to provide 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.

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St. John’s Finale

Day Two: Atlanta to Tallahassee

Today, we thought we’d share a typical tour day. We met back at All Saints Episcopal Church bright and early this morning. After a wonderful evening, a good night’s rest, and a filling breakfast with our host families, we were ready for our second day of tour. Even our “newbies” knew exactly what to do, working together to organize and pack our belongings on to the bus quickly, and after saying goodbye to our host families, we were on our way!

The ability to express gratitude is an important skill for anyone to possess. While we are on tour, we are sure to thank our host families in person, but we also write them thank you notes each day. As the buses are loaded and we prepare to leave, we begin our rough drafts, thinking about all that we did with our host families the last night and the morning. Then, using our best handwriting, we write our final thank you note on Choir School stationary. Being able to say thank you out loud is great, but we are learning how important it is to express our gratitude in writing, too!

We traveled for several hours, excitedly sharing our stories of the night before. We stopped for a quick lunch, and were almost to our destination!

We arrived at the Tallahassee Museum, and we could quickly tell it was going to be an exciting place. Our groups and chaperones ventured quickly into the outdoor nature trail. Bobcats, black bears, and foxes (oh, my!). The trails and bridges wove through the animal enclosures, where we saw bobcats, foxes, otters, turkeys, and even a bald eagle or two. It was wonderful to see these animals in their large, outdoor environments- almost like being in the jungle with them! We took a few more pictures with our friends (both Choir School friends and our new animal friends) and boarded the buses to beat the daily Florida rain storm.

On the bus, it was time to get our minds ready to arrive at the church for our concert. We know how important it is to make a great first impression.

When it is time to unload the buses, we always strive to do it efficiently and quickly. Each of us gathers up everything we will need for the concert and for our evening with host families, and make our way into the church. When we unload as a group, we must work together. Everyone contributes, and soon all of the suitcases, garment bags, concert programs, risers, and music stands are exactly where they should be, and we are able to start rehearsal.

In this church, we were excited to have the opportunity to sing from the choir loft with the organ. This involves some creative movement from the front of the church to the back of the church and up a set of stairs. With some careful listening and teamwork, we worked to make it quick and graceful so we could experience singing from the front of the church and the beautiful choir loft in the same concert!

Day Three: Tallahassee to Savannah via St. Augustine

Map class?

Map class?

Today was our one non-performing day while on tour and we spent our activity time in St. Augustine. Not only is St. Augustine the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the U.S., it has been one of our choristers most favorite places to visit! This year we experienced St. Augustine in a different way. We began the visit at the Spanish Bakery and Café for lunch where many choristers chose a beef or chicken empanada – a traditional Spanish sandwich.

After lunch, we met our tour guide and began our scavenger hunt in St. Augustine. Each of our small groups had a series of locations to find and historical facts to learn. In addition, a creative photo of the group members at the location was required to receive maximum points in the hunt. Working together as a group was crucial to succeed at these tasks. This skill is also important in choral singing and in many other aspects of life. We always look for fun ways to develop and maximize these skills in each of our choristers.

Each group had a different series of tasks to complete. Some overlapped, but others were different for each group. The tasks included directions to the location (turn north…, cross Ponce de Leon Blvd…., head west, if you get to St. George’s St., you’ve gone to far, etc.) historical facts and other clues for finding the right place and a map. It was fun to watch the choristers read the clues, interpret the request, struggle with directions and then find the correct location and information required. After that the fun continued as they worked together to find a creative way to photograph their group. The chaperones had a hard time not joining in the fun!

Of course, St. Augustine is hot. We were reminded that it was a better day than Thursday with slightly cooler temperatures and overcast skies, but we were ready to experience the AC at the visitor center- our final destination!

With the walking tour of St. Augustine via a scavenger hunt/group building exercise activity completed, we were on to Savannah, Georgia for our final concerts and tour activities.

Day Four: Savannah

Searching for Dolphins!

Searching for Dolphins!

For over two decades our mission has remained the same: “to enrich and strengthen young lives through excellent, rigorous music education and choral performance.” Our choristers participate in weekly rehearsals learning music reading, vocal skills, choral pieces and more. We focus on education as we aim for performances throughout the year and on tour. The performances teach us, too. We learn to perform in front of an audience, how to work together and how music impacts an audience.

While a performance teaches us things, it is also a way we give back to our community. Music speaks to everyone in different ways. It can bring back memories of earlier times, inspire younger audience members to learn and perform music, and touch hearts and emotions of many. Members of the health care community remark how memory care patients, who often show no emotion during their daily interactions, react when live music is performed in their presence.

It is special on tour when we can schedule a nursing home/retirement community concert. This year was no exception. On Saturday morning, we performed for an audience who made time in their day to hear our music. They enjoyed the choristers and tapped their feet along with much of the music from our secular and folksong set. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was a crowd favorite. At the end, a gentleman requested “The Star Spangled Banner” and we again presented an impromptu performance at the delight of the audience. We witnessed tears and smiles! The kids were a hit. Our choristers experienced the joy of giving back to others and making someone’s day brighter!

The remainder of the day was spent in Savannah souvenir shopping, followed by a trolley tour throughout the historic district, and ending with a boat ride near Tybee Island and into the Savannah River looking for the dolphins! Souvenir shopping is always a favorite- this time on the Savannah Riverside. Two wonderful guides led the two trolleys. We learned much about Savannah history, the cotton industry, James Oglethorpe, the layout of the city in squares and the architecture. One of the tour groups even saw Forrest Gump sitting on his bench!

The Dolphin Tour concluded our tour “fun” activities. The boat trip was questionable all day due to the weather forecast and was almost cancelled in early afternoon. However, things cleared up and we rode under a beautiful sky, though it remained somewhat windy. We stayed close to the shore in the Savannah River, but saw the interesting lighthouse from afar, large birds and what we hoped- dolphins!! They jumped and played and we all had a great time experiencing nature.

From giving to others to learning more of our American history to experiencing various aspects of nature, these are some of the things that make Choir School tours great!

Day Five: Savannah to Charlotte

St. Peter's Skidaway Prelude

St. Peter’s Skidaway Prelude

For our final day, we experienced the final pillar that supports 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, perform it in appropriate venues and lead worship services regularly.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Skidaway Island was our venue today, and what a pleasure that was! The choirs performed an extended prelude, the offertory, communion anthem and the postlude, in addition to leading the congregation through hymns, psalms and the liturgy. The congregation was so welcoming and we enjoyed singing and worshiping with them!

As is our tradition, we stopped at a rest stop on the way to Charlotte to celebrate our tour and make the always exciting Bennie Awards presentations! The chaperones, who have lived with their choristers throughout the trip, enjoyed reminiscing over memorable moments with each chorister, creating certificates and sharing the fun with the rest of the group. Each chorister returns home with a certificate and a lapel pin, as well as the knowledge that they are part of something bigger than themselves that makes a difference in their audiences’ lives and in their own future!