1. From May 13, 2011

    I wrote this after our first full day in Cape Town, South Africa but am just now publishing it here as a blog-post!  Enjoy!

             - Nancy d.

    It’s 10:30 p.m. here in Cape Town, and I have finally nestled down for the evening. Today was beyond amazing, or lekker, as the Afrikaans people would say. I know that if I could have only experienced this day in South Africa, just this one, infinitely glorious day, I would be leaving with a lifetime of memories preciously tucked in the pockets of my suitcase and in the pockets of my heart. I only left Ohio two days ago, yet I have already witnessed music’s inimitable ability to heal and comfort aching souls, to evoke joy as pristine and refreshing as the winds that dance off of the waters of Cape Hope, and perhaps most importantly, to transcend differences in social class, race, and culture. Only one full day spent here in South Africa, and already I am reminded of the power of music, and more importantly, the power of love.

    After reflecting upon it, I’ve realized it started before we even crossed the Atlantic. For example, during our five hour lay-over in the Dulles Airport, about ten to twelve members of the Chapel Choir grabbed lunch and plopped down at a couple table in a small, open eating area. One by one, we each pulled out our music and began an impromptu rehearsal. As one might expect, a group of college kids singing four-part choral music underneath the shadow of a Dunkin’ Doughnuts kiosk drew a bit of a crowd. One woman in particular came and quietly sat at the table next to ours. We worked our way through our repertoire, and finally, we began to sing the French piece Notre Père, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer by Duruflé. I noticed John M.’s head slightly turn to his right, return to his music, and then whip back to the right. I followed in curiosity, my eyes darting to the left and falling upon the woman at the table next to us. She was singing every word of the song with us in French. Afterwards, Leah, Emily T. and I approached her and asked her where she was from. “I am from Benin,” she said. Her voice was like honey, each word dripping with an amber accent. A perfect white smile broke across her face.  “The Republic of Benin. The song you were singing was in French.” Her cell phone rang, ending our conversation, but as we turned to walk away she called out to us and said, “Thank you. It was beautiful.”

    During our international flight, we performed a few South African pieces from our tour for the passengers and crew aboard; many of them began to sing along, transforming our performance into an experience of sharing.  I cannot even begin to describe how powerful this was- how incredibly moving. I could actually see the South African flight attendants pause in their duties as they first heard us, a slight furrow shadowing their brows until they realized they recognized the words and melodies swelling in the cabin. Then, I could mark the brief, yet exact moment when their confused faces shifted and exploded into exuberant smiles. Some stewards danced in the aisles as they sang with us. As we belted out the South African National Anthem, one steward stood upright and placed his hand over his heart. Each shared moment of pride, each instant of breathtaking beauty, was facilitated by a single piece of music.

    Once we landed in Johannesburg, South Africa, we boarded a plane bound for Cape Town. Once again, we christened our flight with a few pieces from our tour; once we were finished, I took my seat and prepared for takeoff. After a few minutes, I overheard Dan speaking earnestly with an elderly woman and her husband sitting next to him, but I couldn’t comprehend a single word he said. At first, I accounted my inability to understand their conversation to the droning of the plane’s engine until it finally it occurred to me that Dan was speaking to the couple in German. I could tell it meant the absolute world to her to be speaking with Dan; it was obvious by the way she rested her soft brown eyes on him, the way the wrinkles etched around the corners of her eyes turned up to mirror the corners of her mouth. At a certain point in the conversation, Dan leaned forward to Elizabeth and requested that she ask Dr. Hasseler if we could sing Schaffe in mir Gott, a piece composed by Brahms and the only German song that will be performed during the Wondrous Love tour. As Dr. Hasseler stood to conduct the choir from our seats, Dan leaned over to the woman beside him and quietly said, “This is for you.” Their initial bond was made through a common language, and he celebrated this with music. Dan chose to share a wondrous gift with a stranger – not merely the gift of song, but the gift of love.

    I pray we continue to savor and cherish these life-changing, absolutely lekker experiences as we are granted more opportunities to sing with strangers. Indeed, more importantly, I pray we are reminded that the “strangers” we are singing with are truly our neighbors in a global community, our brothers and sisters in faith and in life. May we revel in the power of music, may we forever bestow and accept wondrous love. Amen.

         - Nancy d.

  2. Hello from South Africa to all of our friends, family and former Chapel Choir members!

    — Your biggest fans, Paul and Marilyn Young

  3. Tuesday

    Tuesday, 11:30 pm          Haley E.

    This morning we took one last game drive through the Reserve in our tour buses.  We saw a lot of the same animals with the addition of the enormous (and immobile) hippo.  Our next stop was the Tapologo Aids Clinic.  The Clinic serve as a Hospice, taking care of terminally ill patients and also trains family members to take care of patients in their own homes.  Mike (our guide) gave us a lot of information on the history of the AIDS epidemic in South Africa.  Our trip to the clinic was one of both joy and sadness, happiness and pain.  So many of our songs had a deeper meaning in that place of healing and sickness, lyrics like “Come for the healing.  We will pray for healing.” (Freedom Come by Ben Allaway – written for Capital University on the re-dedication of Mees Hall after his trip to South Africa) and “There’s a peace I’ve come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail…And I will rise when He calls my name, no more sorrow, no more pain.” (I Will Rise, arr. by Travis Cottrell).  As we left, the nurse in charge said, “We wish you lived in Johannesburg so you could come to sing for us each month and bring your joy and healing to our spirits.”  We then left for the Achterberg Conference Centere, a Christian camp that Mike helped to found, where we will be spending our final nights in South Africa.

  4. Monday

    Monday, 11:00 pm          Haley E 

    Today began with our final delicious buffet breakfast at the lovely City Lodge in Cape Town.  We sang for the staff that had worked so hard to make our stay enjoyable.  Then it was off to the airport and a new adventure in Johannesburg!   It was a quick dash through the airport and we arrived at the gate just in time to board.  Once we arrived in Johannesburg, we boarded the bus for a 3-hour drive to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve (nap time!). 

    Unloading at Pilanesberg, we excitedly made our way to the 4-person chalets. The excitement buzzed all around as we milled about waiting to board our open-air buses for the safari or “game drive.”  On the game drive, we were amazed to see how close the wild animals were to us!  We crooned songs from the Lion King and saw wildebeest, bushbuck, impala, springbok (all types of antelope), warthogs, zebra and giraffes.  One of our favorites was the tiny steenbok, in Abby’s words “the wiener dog of the antelope family.”  Feeling lucky just to have the majestic and rare giraffes, we almost couldn’t believe our luck when two full-grown elephants and two baby elephants emerged from the brush.  Then, as if our trip could be any more exciting, our guide sped off to where there had been a lion sighting. The lions prowled through the grass and raised their heads to examine our intrusion uninterestedly (in true cat fashion). 

    As we watched the sun set over the African horizon, a sense of peace and beauty settled over all of us.  I can’t help but think how incredibly lucky I am to be here.

  5. Hello!

    Just wanted to let you all know we’re all safe and having a wonderful time! Internet is very limited here, but I’ll get some posts up as soon as possible.

  6. Sunday

    Sunday, 10:00 PM          Haley E.

    When I left you last time, we were departing for our home stays with the Sarepta Church congregation.   I am pleased to report that it was a wonderful experience for everyone! Many of us enjoyed a “braai”, which is a South African barbeque.  At my home we had grilled chicken, lamb and sausage (yes, all 3!).  We discussed everything from the weather (they were amazed at how cold it gets in Ohio) to schools (few schools have music classes at the primary and secondary levels) to American television (quite a few Glee fans here, too!). 

    Our host families brought us back to the church this morning for a short rehearsal, looking smart in our dress clothes and excited to share our music with our new friends.  It was fun to see a church service that was similar to our own in some ways and unique to the culture in others.  The church wanted us to see their strong youth program which included a brass band, a children’s choir, a youth choir and a youth dance ensemble. Their talented church choir also dedicated a blessing to us.  We were happy we got to sing Mr. Courtney’s Ukrainian Alleluia for the first time on tour.

    After church, we had a lovely traditional Sunday meal with the church choir and then were off to Stellenbosch University for our first formal concert of the tour.  As the first notes from our voices rang through the hall, we knew we were someplace special.  Endler Hall at Stellenbosch is one of the premier concert venues in South Africa.  The Stellenbosch Choir has placed 2nd in the World Choir Games and they are hoping to come to the 2012 Games in Cincinnati!  Maybe we will be there as well!  Needless to say, they were incredible!!!  We sat open-mouthed through their portion of the concert, astounded by their clear sound and exquisite musicianship.  (More than a few of us also admired the attractiveness of the choir members as well!) 

    For our portion of the concert, we got to sing some pieces we hadn’t performed yet this tour including Himne by South African composer and the Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden by Bach.  After the concert we had time to relax and socialize with the members of our host choir who were just as lovely on the inside as they were on the outside.   By the time we piled back on the bus this evening, we were exhausted.  Our trip up Table Mountain renewed us spiritually and the trip to the LEAP school renewed us emotionally…today the Stellenbosch University Choir renewed us musically. 

    Tomorrow we have an early flight to Johannesburg and then are off for our open air SAFARI TRIP!  Hopefully I’ll have some pictures of lions, giraffes and elephants up for you tomorrow.  Until then, enjoy the pictures from yesterday and today and know that we’re thinking of all of you back in the US!  

  7. Music was one of the main ways we kept our spirits alive.

    — Our tour guide at Robben Island Political Prison, Apartheid Political Prisoner

  8. Saturday, May 14

    Saturday, 10:00 p.m.          Haley E.

    Today started with a queasy boat ride out to Robben Island to see the prison where Nelson Mandela and a number of other political prisoners were held during Apartheid.  During the 45-minute ride, people played cards and a few indulged in some cat naps (it was an early morning!).  Upon reaching the island, we were taken on a bus tour around the island to see isolated jails and the Lime Quarry where prisoners were forced to perform hard labor.  The cave you see in the pictures (that I will post soon) was known as “Robben Island University,” because learned prisoners would secretly teach their illiterate comrades to read and write in the cave by writing on the sand.  After the bus tour, we were given a walking tour of the prison. Our tour guide had himself been a prisoner on Robben Island during Apartheid.  Hearing him tell of his experiences there made the building come alive and the history (much of it so recent!) seem close to us.  In the final cell space, we performed the South African song Tshotsholoza alongside our guide, who said the song brought back memories of singing it while held in the prison and of Nelson Mandela singing the song as they worked in the Lime Quarry.   When asked how the prisoners stayed positive through all the hardships, our guide responded, “Hope, we called ourselves Prisoners of Hope and that hope never died.”

    The pervading fog that had delayed our trip up Table Mountain for three days finally lifted this afternoon.  We took a cable car up over 1,060 meters (over 3,400 feet) to walk among the clouds.  Wandering around the mountain top and marveling at the natural beauty around us, it was impossible not to be moved and inspired.  We left feeling refreshed and reflective and closer to God.  

    We next boarded the bus and headed to the Sarepta Church to meet with our host families for this evening’s home stay. We climbed off the bus wide-eyed and eager for what we know will be a wondrous love experience.  More on our home-stays and photos from today’s adventures tomorrow!

  9. Friday

    Friday, 10:00 p.m.          Haley E.

    Our day started a little earlier this morning with wake up calls at 6:30 AM and boarding the bus at 7:15 AM.  It was too foggy for us to take our planned trip up Table Mountain, so instead we took a lovely jaunt out to the Winelands.  The small town of Franschoek, with its quaint little shops, breathtaking mountainside location and lush green landscape was a wonderful place to start our second day. We sang Notre Peré by French composer Duruflé at a monument and then had some time to stroll up the street for a leisurely cup of coffee. 

    After boarding the bus again, we went to the LEAP school of Science and Maths.  The school is for underprivileged students to learn both academic and life skills to help them succeed in the new South Africa.  The energy and community emulating from the school was palpable even as we stepped off the bus onto their campus.  We were given tours around the schools in small groups accompanied and led by some 10th grade students.  Interacting with the students before we got to sing with them made us even more engaged and excited to perform for them.  We met in their community room and the students’ reactions to even our warm-up was so enthusiastic, so sincere and so incredible that we were all smiling broadly, bursting with pride.  This is why we came to South Africa…to sing and share beautiful music.  During the community meeting, the LEAP choir performed for us and we also witnessed a play from the drama department in their language.   Performing music of South Africa and of America (Moses Hogan’s My Soul’s Been Anchored) and singing the national anthem of South Africa with a room full such of vibrant, passionate young people was an incredible experience. 

    Next, we stopped at a restaurant called “Spur” to have a quick lunch before heading out for a wine tasting.  Spur was certainly an interesting experience.  It was a strange amalgamation of lots of “Americanisms” from the “Native American” décor, to the strange “slang” terms on the menu (for example, hamburgers were listed as “hunga bustas” – hunger busters).  Perhaps that’s how other cultures feel when they visit American versions of their own cuisine. 

    The wine tasting at Groot Constansia was fun and included some singing to the very gracious staff and patrons in a wonderful acoustic space! The port seemed to be a favorite among the choir members and Notre Peré and Eric Whitacre’s Sleep My Child seemed to be a favorite among our spectators.   We went back into Cape Town for an evening on the town at the V&A waterfront for shopping, dinner and, at least for a few of us, gelato!  Tomorrow we’re in for another full day of touring starting bright and early at 7:15!  

  10. Photos from Friday, May 13