Written By: Jonathan Clayton and Alison Theis
Life is a highway, and the OKWU Music Department sang through five days of touring the Midwest from April 13 to 17. There were ups and downs, highs and lows, and we’re not just talking about the elevation.
The adventure begins in Oshkosh, Nebraska. Senior soprano Annie Heck remarked, “The first church we stopped at was super welcoming and told us to make ourselves at home. They even said we could play their piano. I grabbed a hymnal and started to play. By the end of the first song, others had gathered. I began playing requests, and more people gathered. It was a great way to start tour and grow together as a group.” It was a touching sight to see faculty and students alike coming together to worship after a grueling nine-and-a half-hour drive. Senior tenor Gabe Belden remarked, “Tour was a phenomenal reminder that God can minister through us in our best and most frustrating times.”
During the first evening meal, the choir sang “Happy Birthday” to freshman soprano Brianna Hudson who celebrated her nineteenth birthday on the road. For most of the ensembles, Oshkosh was the farthest north they had ever been. On Palm Sunday, the OKWU ensembles had the pleasure of leading worship in the first concert of tour. After the service, a good ole Wesleyan potluck was held. Most of the ensemble members agree that this was easily the best food on tour. The southern states may have soul food, but the northern states have comfort food.
Next stop: Colorado Springs, Colorado, by way of Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was completely unplanned. Jazz saxophone player sophomore Alison Theis admits full responsibility for getting the caravan lost as she was head navigator for that leg of the trip. “I had never been to Wyoming until then,” Annie says, “But it was cool to experience it with my choir buddies.” The concert that night was a tad rushed, with no rehearsal, but people were still happy to eat great barbeque. We changed as quickly as possible, then got into position to minister a lively crowd made up of a conglomeration of three local Wesleyan Churches, hosted by Awakening Church. Jazz ensemble began the night with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a classic by Bill Withers. The biggest hit of the evening was the four-movement piece, “The Cry of Jeremiah,” complete with percussion ensemble arranged by Professor Travis Dunlap. Awakening Church had a unique acoustic but a welcoming atmosphere and joyful attitudes, plus plenty of applause made the evening fun.
A short excursion to the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in Cañon City, Colorado, for a few hours of fun and relaxation awaited our company of performers, complete with an aerial gondola, SkyCoaster, and the largest free-standing suspension bridge in the western hemisphere. Many students took the opportunity to ride the SkyCoaster, a giant swing over the gorge that allowed passengers to get a sweeping view of the impressive scenery. Talking about the riveting experience, freshman bass Josué Cruz said, “My experience on the SkyCoaster was a long journey of both fear and acceleration. Beginning with the raising of my heart and falling in a tremendous speed, but ending with an amazing heart filled with joy, fun, and bonding with my brothers in Christ.” Sophomore bass Chip Cole countered, “I don’t know, I’m kind of mourning over Jim. If you don’t remember Jim, he fell off the mountain. He’s not with us anymore. RIP Jim.” All riders of this exciting attraction had a joyous and unforgettable time! Don’t worry, no one was injured along the trip. However, the scariest part, according to junior alto Blythe Freshwater was “watching Dr. Stewart do the SkyCoaster by himself. All I could think was ‘I’m going to watch one of my favorite professors die… Not okay with me!’ Now, doing it myself wasn’t scary but, man, watching him was awful.” Tuesday evening’s concert at MountainView Community Church proved to be one of the best performances all tour. Perhaps it had to do with the exciting events of that afternoon.
After two days in the breathtaking Rockies, the ensembles slid down into Kansas. Freshman alto Summer Smith also celebrated her twentieth birthday on the road. Nothing says “happy birthday” like 30 or more people harmonizing to the well-known birthday tune. In Kansas, the students of Salina Christian School (SCS) greeted OKWU performers with wide smiles, listening ears, and curious eyes. In his classic, charismatic way, Director of Ensembles Dr. Jonathan Stewart answered various questions from the precious minds of the young students. “Why do you move your head like that?” asked a first grader. Her innocent question sent rolls of laughter through the room. The ensembles had been wondering this same thing but were never brave enough to ask. “It’s just one of the ways I emphasize my directing,” Dr. Stewart replied with a smile. After the concert, Prof. Dunlap gave the SCS students a chance to test their skills on the various percussion instruments. A thunderous symphony began at their will. From the sounds emitted in the room, several future musicians may have discovered their talents for the first time. Accompanist Spenser White was “salty” that he couldn’t “touch the glockenspiel because I was too busy helping them with the piano. I wasn’t allowed to touch it this whole time and now first graders are showing me up!”
While tour was full of exciting wild twists and turns, the most memorable wild card was the moment Spenser made a conspicuous pit-stop along Skyline Drive just outside of Cañon City. It was here on the mountaintop that Spenser got down on one knee and proposed to the love of his life, senior soprano Billie Moeller. “Is this why we came up here!?” Billie exclaimed after the ring was placed on her finger. The choir then broke out into a rousing chorus of one of their repertoire songs, “Brightly Dawns Our Wedding Day,” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.”
The 2019 Spring Tour will not soon be forgotten. Junior tenor Jon-Calvin Chance explained, “We learn that even through our toughest moments, the memories we make will stay with us forever.”