Last week, I spent four days on tour with the concert choir of Mobile’s Singing Children. The 29-member auditioned choir traveled through Mississippi and into Memphis, performing at five different venues along the way.
The director, Susan Hoitt, whose intensity and passion for the children and the music, has been compared to a certain Alabama football coach by my husband, is in her 12th year with the organization. Her commitment to the organization has earned the respect of each of the 40 members of all four combined choirs and their parents.
Five other chaperones assisted with the trip, including one very brave dad who knew that he and the five guys in the choir were vastly outnumbered.
As we were leaving Springhill Presbyterian Church, the much-appreciated host church for MSC, last Sunday, Hoitt took the microphone and addressed her captive audience. “Just a reminder, guys. Tour tests us. It is going to test each of you. I need each of you to take care of your voices, to take care of yourselves, and to look out for one another.” I pondered her words as I quickly scribbled them into my notebook.
With 29 amazingly talented children ranging from fifth graders to rising juniors, six female chaperones, one brave dad, a director, and two musicians all on one bus, I knew there would be some adversities and some logistical challenges and there were a few. However, the choir members pulled together each day to ensure that each performance was the best that they could offer the lovers of the arts who came to listen. I’d like to share some things that I learned from the choir kids this week.
First, each of these performers realize that they are gifted musically in some way. Not every one of them will volunteer to sing solos, but each of them knows that his or her voice is significant. Because of this knowledge, no matter how exhausting a day may have been or how many steps Fitbit recorded, each child showed up eager to perform each night.
Secondly, each venue, mainly stately southern church sanctuaries that were built at the turn of the 20th century, was different from the next in layout and in acoustics. This choir uses a piano, some percussion, and an occasional woodwind. Microphones are not employed. The students had to be aware of the sound quality and floor plan of each venue. They were flexible enough to adjust themselves artistically and physically so that the audience could relax and enjoy each concert.
Another lesson that I watched unfold was determination. These kids were determined that no matter what, their audiences were given the full show. At the last minute, the group’s only bass voice could not go on tour. This posed a problem because one of the group’s signature pieces is a male quartet. Not to be deterred, the other three came to the front of the bus to convince the director that not only could they rearrange the parts to make it work; they were going to (with her permission). All five crowds loved the tenacious trio.
Another performer prone to sea-sickness did not fare well on a riverboat ride. An hour before the concert, she was green, but until she physically could not stand any longer during rehearsals, she gave it her all. She missed singing in the first two pieces of the repertoire that night, but slipped into her place as the third piece started. “I needed a little rest, that’s all. My section depends on me and I depend on them.”
The final lesson learned from tour is a reminder not to sweat the small stuff. Forgotten shoes? You’re in Memphis, wear blue suede shoes. Not a fan of ghost tours? Focus on architecture and historical facts instead. Sickened by the motion of a riverboat? Make up a song that will entertain your friends and take your thoughts away from your plight, “Jesus take the paddlewheel.” Annoyed and ill at everything around you because you are too tired to even deal?
Punch drunk laughter is the best medicine, at least YOUR chaperone did not make you ride a camel at the zoo. Hey, chaperones get to have fun, too!
Thanks for the reminders and the memories, MSC. See you next year! Well, I hope I will.
My daughter may still be a little annoyed about the camel rides.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.