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Summer/Fall 1999
Volume 4 Number 2


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In June, the Princeton Seminary Touring Choir headed "home" to begin a twelve-day tour of Northern Ireland and Scotland, the birthplace of American Presbyterianism.

The twenty singers, under the director of Martin Tel, PTS's C.F. Seabrook Director of Music, visited eight churches, sang at vesper services at the PTS/St. Andrews Joint Institute of Theology in St. Andrews, Scotland, and stayed in the homes of Irish and Scottish families.

InSpire asked five of the students - Stacy Gray, Baron Mullis, Jennifer Rome, John Sawyer, and Kirianne Weaver - to record impressions from the trip to share with our readers.
The photos are by Baron Mullis.

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The Touring Choir


Community

By Baron Mullis

When I learned about the choir's Scotland trip, my first reaction was disappointment: It was just my luck to have the Touring Choir take a trip the year that I was in Field Ed-so not in the choir! So I was thrilled to learn that Martin Tel was going to open the vacant spaces to audition. I auditioned and was accepted.

I joined with the other "ringers" for the rest of the semester's rehearsals. Most of the music we were singing was music that I loved: Palestrina's "Sicut Cervus," Vaughn Williams' "Old Hundredth," Dawson's "Ain'a That Good News!", and, to top it off, the women would sing Mendelssohn's "121 Psalm"-and I got to listen!

A few days before the trip, we gathered at Nassau Presbyterian Church to begin rehearsals. It is always amazing to watch and listen as a group of people go through the process of becoming a choir: learning to blend with one another, reaching for perfection in the music, and finally hearing themselves create music of praise for God. The day we left was in the middle of a blistering heat wave in Princeton; when we got off the plane in London we found everything cold and wet-a refreshing change!

For many of us, the most exciting day was the first, when we took a short tour into the Highlands. Though exhausted by the transatlantic flight, we were swept away by the breathtaking scenery. It is hard to let yourself fall asleep when you are surrounded by the bens and glens of Scotland! We ended that day at the seaside town of Oban.

The next day our "tour" really began when we went to Belfast to sing at Westkirk in the Shankill neighborhood. Many of us were surprised to see the murals painted on buildings portraying various Protestant and Catholic paramilitary groups. I was reminded of a quotation I had seen on a door at PTS: "A modest proposal for peace: let thePeace wall.jpg (9317 bytes) Christians of the world agree not to kill one another." It was deeply saddening to see the divided city: there was a "peace wall" just two blocks from Westkirk to keep Protestants and Catholics separate from each other. But the next day we were taken around the city and shown some of the efforts at peacemaking. Though they seemed meager in the face of the animosity that divided the Christians of Belfast, we could see that the spirit of ecumenism is alive and well in these efforts, and as always, the hope for the work of the body of Christ does not die in the face of adversity.

After a bout with food poisoning that decimated the ranks of the choir for a day, we continued our tour. One of the things I noticed was the diversity of churches in Scotland-a diversity that I see mirrored in the PCUSA. Some seemed more evangelical, others seemed to make social justice their cause, and some went quietly about the work that the church has been involved in for centuries.

A great joy was staying with families along the way. I was particularly touched by their hospitality. One older couple stayed up most of the evening talking to the two of us staying with them. Another family offered to do our laundry-and the next morning we found a hamper of freshly laundered and folded clothes for us to pack. It was small things like this that made us feel welcome in these Scots' homes. And the food! If there is one point of similarity between the Scottish churches and the southern churches that I am familiar with at home, it is food. Abundant, frequent, and calorie-loaded-delicious!

We ended our trip with a stay in St. Andrews, the delightful ocean resort town from Chariots of Fire. We sang in St. Salvator's Chapel of the University of St. Andrews for the PTS Institute of Theology. It was a treat to hear our professors preaching in another context. Following a rousing end-of-tour party in a local St. Andrews pub, we returned to Princeton, and eventually we were even reunited with our luggage!


Choral Retrospective

by Jennifer Rome

I love the Lord,
who heard my cry,
and pitied every groan.
Long as I live and troubles rise
I hasten to God's throne.

I love the Lord,
who heard my cry,
and chased my grief away.
Oh let my heart no more despair,
while I have breath to pray.

When the Touring Choir first rehearsed this African American spiritual for our tour of Scotland and Northern Ireland, I wondered how this tune, singing of faith in the midst of slavery, would carry over the Atlantic on the voices of our choir.

As we crossed the street to the brick building, our guide pointed down the street and said, "Some riots happened over there not too long ago." Once inside, the choir had tea with a Catholic Sister who organized a safe cafŽ for Protestants and Catholics in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We toured through the back door of the cafŽ to a sanctuary and through the back door of the sanctuary to a gymnasium, newly painted in bright blue. In the gym we imagined kids who had never been beyond the blocks of their Protestant neighborhood playing ball with Catholics for the first time. Someone called out from the back of the group, "Let's sing in here!" I thought, "Oh come on.

We rehearse and sing a concert every day. Isn't that enough?" And then Martin, our director, said he would help us with the words and sang a clear starting pitch. "I love the Lord, who heard my cry and pitied every groan. Long as I live and troubles rise ..." The unaccompanied voices bounced off the walls like basketballs in slow motion as we released the last note. "You've sanctified this space," the Sister said-blessed it for Belfast Basketball games for peace.

Before our lunch break, the bus turned off the main highway circling Glasgow. It stopped in front of a collection of buildings that housed a school and living space for teenaged boys who had perpetrated or been the victims of crime. The school expected only one woman with her guitar to lead chapel that day, but instead our twenty-member choir crowded into the tiny chapel. I wondered if the boys would even care that we were there; but they listened, some moving around in their seats, others drumming on the backs of the pews. Eyes widened and attention settled as we sang, "I love the Lord, who heard my cry and pitied every groan." I imagined cries for attention and admiration, for healing and direction riding to God on the backs of the notes. As we left the chapel and shook a few hands, a teacher told us, "Some of these boys have never heard live music before." The music enlivened one young man especially, who for the next three nights convinced adults to drive him to our concerts. He hastened his way to God's throne that week in early June.

Every evening during our stay in St. Andrews, we walked to the top of the hill on North Street to St. Salvator's Chapel. There we opened the Vespers services for the Institute of Theology, a gathering of pastors for continuing education. From the seats below, I imagined cries rising from lips weary of monthly meetings and weekly sermons. As harmonic tension rose and released, "I love the Lord" chased away the grief of the daily grind and gave the pastors breath to pray for new energy, new ideas, new life for their ministries.

As we traveled through the cities and villages where Presbyterianism took root during the Reformation, the four phrases of "I Love the Lord" told a new story with each encounter, singing itself into the lives of its hearers-and its performers. z


Trinity of Wonder

by John Sawyer

All of us have moments in which we can honestly say that we have experienced the living God. Some come as a sense of overwhelming peace, some as unexplainable joy. Some are so sudden, so unexpected, that they give us a slight gasp-of grace. During our trip, these moments quickly became innumerable.

The gasp of grace came in a castle where John Knox and his fellow Protestants were besieged by an army of Catholics. The castle is just a ruin now, well-kept by the edge of the sea, with bright green grass and handrails for tourists. I climbed up into an alcove to pose for a crazy picture and, while climbing down, bumped my head-hard. The pain that caused me to gasp and cry out was short-lived; after a few minutes, I was ready for more exploring. But that gasp of pain was a gasp of revelation. The grounds of the castle where I bumped my head had, at the time of the siege, been red with the blood of those who died for what they believed. Was my brief pain any comparison to that felt by those who died at that castle, or those in pain in Northern Ireland, or even in Kosovo, which at the time was still at war? No. But my bump on the head gave me a perspective that I will not forget.

The unexplainable joy came at Bourocik Parish Church in Barrhead, Scotland. We sang a concert that night and had been warmly welcomed by the congregation at a reception afterward. The reception moved into the fellowship hall where a ceilidh, or Scottish "hoe-down," was planned. When the music began, I watched as church members, young and old, took partners with little regard to shape or size and began to dance around the room. I have been known to dance, but never in much of an organized manner, like the ceilidh dancers were dancing. I invited fellow choir member Pam Sebastian to dance. After carelessly ramming into a few couples, we both realized that we had no idea of what we were doing. I was laughing so hard, I almost fell on the floor. The smiles and laughter among the church members who witnessed this scene were so heartening that I had to try again.

The overwhelming peace came one evening toward the end of the tour while the choir was in St. Andrews. As a group of us left the local movie theater, I noticed that the western sky was bright orange, and I turned down a side street that led to the beach. The sun was already hidden by the horizon when I arrived, but the sky was still filled with radiant reds, yellows, oranges, blues, and purples. The movie that I had just seen was lost at the sight of this sunset. For a moment, all was complete and at peace. The choir had finished its tour, singing in churches not normally visited by choirs. We brought with us music and a culture that was much the same, but slightly different from that of these congregations. Our time with them was enriching and enlivening. Our tour and our lives had been fulfilled by God through the wonderful people that we met and the music that we sang together.

As I watched the last of the glorious sunset that night, I stood at the edge of the seawall with my eyes wide and a breathless wonder in my heart.


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