Greenville University Choir travels to Great Britain
Published: August 19, 2023
Author: Julia Roat-Abla
Choir tour connects head and heart through music
Greenville University Choir's once-in-a-lifetime tour of Northern Ireland and England covered much ground. The 24-member choir spent 10 days in March exploring choral music history, the theological heritage of John and Charles Wesley, and performing in venues across Great Britain.
As with all experiential learning opportunities offered by Greenville University, connecting faith to learning was a central theme of the tour. Students gained insight into church history, worship, and music as they were challenged to trust God and build community with one another.
The tour started in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where they sang at Towerview Church and toured the city. After traveling to Manchester, England, the choir performed at Swan Bank Church. They continued to the city of York and visited York Minster Cathedral. The choir spent the next day performing at Cliff College and touring the Peak District, Chatsworth House, Tea at Bakewell, and Coventry. The following day, choir members toured Christ Church College at Oxford University and the Bristol New Room, sites central to the life and ministry of Methodist fathers John and Charles Wesley. The choir traveled to southern England, visiting Bath, Stonehenge, and Windsor Castle before arriving in London for the last leg of the tour. In London, students encountered Wesley's London, including his home next to Chapel to Bunhills Cemetery, Susannah Wesley's gravesite, Aldersgate, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey. On the final day, the choir performed at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster, one of the largest Methodist churches in the United Kingdom.
A High Note of Sight and Sound: York Minster Cathedral
The choir performances were a highlight of the experience. Choir director Dr. Don Frazure said, "I cannot begin to say how proud I was of the choir students on this trip. Each time they performed, they were outstanding."
However, the occasion to sing "Christus factus est" by Anton Bruckner in the Chapter House of York Minster Cathedral was what Frazure described as "The culmination of music, human voice, architecture, and sacred space . . . a moment of transcendence that was indescribable. We were all visibly moved by the experience."
Christopher Watterson, a business management major, believes the people and places he learned about during the tour were essential in that moment. He said, "None of us will forget that experience, but it would not have been possible without the history of faith and music that always precedes us."
English major, Jill Carr, said, "It was incredible and so humbling to experience the craftsmanship of at least a millennia, combined with our musical training, as an act of worship to God. The sound was awe-inspiring for me, and I felt so grateful to be able to be a part of making it."
The Wesleys, The Great Commission, and GU
Visiting several sights where John and Charles Wesley lived and ministered helped choir members gain a deeper appreciation of Greenville University's theological heritage and new insights into their faith.
John and Charles Wesley's ability to communicate the gospel came alive during the visits to places like the Bristol New Room and the Chapel to Bunhill Cemetery. Watterson said, "Our tour guides of the Wesleys' houses and chapels made it clear that while John Wesley was an amazing preacher, able to connect with the common man, Charles' hymns were no less impactful."
Marissa Horning, a theology and worship arts major, saw the connection between Wesley's ministry and GU's mission. "It is an important Methodist value to live out faith in wider society, not just hide away in a closed-off corner of the world to remain 'holy.' This mission is apparent in Greenville University as well. Many of the core classes and theology classes here have helped me grow in my understanding of the Christian faith and what it means to be a Christian who is active in society and understands what love and justice mean in society. "
James Kessinger, an education major, also gained insight into GU's commitment to character and service. "John Wesley often scheduled church services to be early and of a fixed length so that the working class could go to church while still being able to work a day job. An important belief at Greenville University is that no matter who people are or what their circumstances, we are called, as Christians, to love and serve everyone. I have been reminded of the need to ensure that my service is helping others in the ways they truly need as opposed to how I want to serve them."
The opportunity to sing in a choral group can build community. However, by singing in varied settings for new audiences, choir members challenged themselves to work together with heart and voice.
Like each choir member, Horning strove for excellence: "I felt a responsibility to put forth the best possible performance that I could during this tour."
Carr added: "I also find choral music worshipful in a unique way since, by definition, it has to be performed in cooperation with other people. Even as we dealt with travel fatigue and sickness, I looked forward to every time we performed. I was blessed by the sacred joy there is in singing together."