GRACELAND CHOIR hit the road for its third tour under Director Sara Blessing — this time, to the southwestern region of the U.S.
The day after commencement, Director of Choral/Vocal Activities Sara Blessing, MM, and 24 members of three different Graceland choirs met for their first rehearsal together. The following day, they set off on a whirlwind bus tour that took them from Lamoni to perform in five states while traveling through an additional three states just for good measure.
The annual tour is supported by alumni and friends in honor of Graceland alumna Ardyce Koonce ‘54, a lifelong music educator and musician. The Koonce family has generously donated to choir activities, including the commission of an original piece for Graceland from composer Michael John Trotta.
Traveling away from Lamoni on a bus creates a unique sense of community. “Choir tours are such a great opportunity for students to create memories that will last a lifetime,” Blessing said. “Not only that, relationships can grow between students that might not otherwise.”
The tour included students from Graceland’s chamber and concert choirs as well as the newly formed Harmonium group. Some students had worked together and some hadn’t, but they bonded quickly after that first rehearsal in Lamoni. Blessing said, “Sometimes the first few performances on a tour can be a challenge, but this group came together extremely well.”
Their first performance was at the Colonial Hills Community of Christ in Blue Springs, Missouri. From there, they traveled to Carthage, Missouri, to perform at the Precious Moments Chapel, then through Oklahoma to perform twice in Texas: at Community of Christ congregations in Dallas and Austin. They had a day off in San Antonio, which was a highlight for several of the students. The bus took them across Texas and New Mexico until they reached their performance at the Phoenix Central Community of Christ.
“ I got to experience so many things and travel to states that I’ve never been to before.”
– MAURICE SILAS ’22
For many of them, a big highlight was getting to see the Grand Canyon after their Phoenix performance. “We traveled along the south rim, and we were so worried we weren’t going to be able to see the canyon because it was filled with fog,” remembers Blessing. “But when we got to the east watch tower, the fog had lifted, and we got to see the canyon in all its glory.”
“It was incredible!” exclaimed Allie Weston ’19. “I felt like my eyes would never be able to take it all in.”
After the Grand Canyon, the tour headed through Monument Valley in Utah to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. While there, they took a train through the mountains. The train’s conductor knew that he had a choir group on board and asked them to perform. They broke into “Yonder Come Day,” an a cappella anthem they sang to open all their performances. For Nicole Snyder ‘19, this was her favorite memory. “The train provided a new and fun atmosphere,” she remembered.
For several of the members of the tour like Nicole, this was their last opportunity to perform as official members of the Graceland choir. She said, “This tour was far more emotional for me. In a way, this tour was a final curtain call for me as a singer. I’ve always been so grateful for the opportunity to travel, seeing parts of the U.S. that I’ve never been to and sharing music with people I’ve enjoyed getting to know. As a senior, I’ve also seen how these tours help us grow together as a family, and we learn to trust and take care of each other.”
The concept of “home” takes many forms at Graceland. Under Blessing, the tour has become a regular experience during which lifelong bonds form. “It wouldn’t be possible without the amazing generosity of our alumni and donors,” she said.
And for students like Humberto Tinsman ’20, the tour is an opportunity to deepen bonds already formed. He said, “I loved being able to perform with my friends [who had just graduated] one more time.”
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