During one of the concerts on the Knox College Choir (KCC) Spring Break tour, junior Sarah Schierbeek noticed an elderly, partially deaf man in the front row begin singing along to a folk song called “The Road Home.”
“I remember the person who was sitting next to him, probably his daughter,” Schierbeek said. “I remember seeing her face and she was just like, wow. Apparently he doesn’t do those kinds of things very often . . . You don’t really see that at Kresge or anything. There aren’t as many magical moments.”
For three of the six days, students stayed in homestays with members of local churches and Knox alumni. Students connected with new audiences in churches in Ohio, Indiana and around Washington, D.C. Church members often provided meals for the choir. Sophomore Lydia Allen believes this interaction added another layer of meaning to the performances.
“It was very much like, ‘we are singing for you, thank you for providing for us and making this meal for us.’ And then after they would come up to us and be like, ‘wow, thank you, I’m so glad to have heard your music,’” Allen said. “Overall there was a lot of interaction with the people we were singing for and I think that really made it special.”
Sophomore Noah Zand appreciated being able to have a dialogue with their audiences through homestays and potlucks.
“It’s so nice and wholesome because they take you into their home for a night and you feel so loved,” Zand said. “They make you food. Somebody’s homestay force-fed them ice cream. They just take such good care of us and it’s just really heartwarming to see honestly.”
After performing in churches around the D.C. area, the group spent a day walking around the National Mall and visiting museums in the capital. The choir split into smaller groups and as they ran into each other throughout the day, impromptu performances ensued.
“There would be a group of six and then another group of four or something and we might not have any tenors but they might have four tenors and as long as there was one of every voice part we’d just randomly meet up and be like, ‘hey, yeah, let’s sing,’” Schierbeek said.
The group’s spontaneous performances around D.C. tended to attract crowds. Zand described choir members singing pieces from their repertoire for whoever happened to be around.
“We were just singing by some rocks and people weren’t even nearby but we looked around afterwards and there were like 20 people standing there,” Zand said.
At the final performance in Carmel, IN., KCC alumni joined the students onstage. Schierbeek said that two or three former members typically come onstage at the end of each show. Around 100 people and nine alumni attended the last concert.
“That was emotional because they love Knox,” Schierbeek said. “They literally made us a cake that said, ‘thank you, Knox College Choir’ and there was this one lady who loved the Knox College Choir Ñ she graduated in the ‘60s—but she was like over the moon about us.”
Allen felt that the D.C. tour offered more bonding opportunities than the choir’s trip to Southern France last year, where they performed in cathedrals. Since students were not immersed in a different culture, there was more emphasis on connecting with audiences and group dynamics.
“I think that everyone was much more focused on the music and more open to working together and being together and creating this very supportive community environment within the choir,” Allen said.
Schierbeek believes last year’s trip was more emotional and challenging because of the greater time and distance. Only two of nearly 50 participants spoke French, which presented unique issues.
“In D.C. I was still creating memories and I was still witnessing new communities but it seemed like there was much more camaraderie,” Zand said.
KCC performed a range of pieces, including Latin hymns, jazz pieces and Old English ballads. Schierbeek said that the songs focused mainly on love, loss and the idea of home. Allen described how performing together helped KCC bond as a group and with their audience.
“Each performance you get better and each performance you feel it more, you think more about what you’re actually saying, what you’re singing, and I think the community spirit each night kind of grows and that puts an added meaning to the whole experience,” Allen said.
Schierbeek loved seeing newer members open up as the group grew closer over the course of the week. Games on long bus rides and spontaneous singing fostered a stronger sense of community.
“It was just really beautiful to see people come out of their shells and a ‘thank you for listening to me and making me feel like I matter’ sort of thing,” she said. “There were multiple people that were really changed, I think, and it made me happy to be a part of something that was that positive.”