Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Monday Mishaps: Oh, the Hu-manatee!

(Credit to Dr. Zach Lyman for the creative title)

Today the University Chorale finds itself in the Sunshine State of Florida. However, today its nickname is a little bit of a misnomer. We Northwesters have brought the gloomy weather with us to Naples! The weather forecast threatens rain and even thunderstorms for a cloudy Wednesday – our beach day! But I believe Chorale has gained a bit of resilience this week. Hiccup after hiccup, we’ve still greatly enjoyed ourselves, performed well, and had fun. If everything went according to schedule, we’ve mused, what a boring trip that would be! (Okay, so perhaps it would actually be quite pleasant if everything had gone according to schedule. But I guarantee that this way we’ll come back with a lot more stories and a lot more laughs. Curious? See below.)

The agenda for Monday was originally: an 8am departure from the Crawfordville hotel to Manatee Springs State Park, about two hours away. We would have a few hours to ride in canoes or pontoons and walk the trails in hopes of discovering our big aquatic friends. At about 1:30 we were scheduled to leave the park and travel to Tampa, where we would sing at St. Paul Lutheran Church. Upon arrival at the church, we’d have several hours available for rehearsal and dinner, then perform a 7:30 program. Well. That was the idea, anyway.

Our call-time on Monday was moved to 9 – we arrived at the hotel very late on Sunday night, so Dr. Galante allowed us one more hour of rest. Whether or not we were really ready at 9, however, the bus was not ready for us. Our wonderful bus driver, Miss Shawn, discovered that Bus Two had a radiator leak. Yet again, our perfect-scenario-idealistic schedule was basically tossed out the window and replaced with go-with-the-flow spontaneity. A new bus (Bus Number Three!) would need to be called in. The new departure time was set at 10am.

Although we were not in as happening of a place as downtown Atlanta, the ever-resourceful University Chorale found ways to stay entertained. (The weather, after all, was quite lovely on Monday!) A few singers caught some z’s, read a book, or tossed a ball around. Less conventional activities included yoga on the dead grass in front of the hotel, tree-climbing, and spastically running around the parking lot and doing cartwheels (That would be Yours Truly).

10:00 came and went. We were given a new call time. The bus was expected at about 10:35. A few of us created some riveting outdoor games given our limited resources. Favorites included “Kick-the-peanut-M&M-around-the-parking-lot” and “Pass the dewdrop.” They were about as fun as they sound. Our imaginations seemed to have dwindled in capability since the early days of our youth.

At about 11:00, three hours past our original original departure time, Bus Number Three pulled into the parking lot. We had a new driver, a friendly guy named Larry, who had come in on his day off to rescue us! Grateful and excited to be going somewhere, we piled into the new bus and set off for the state park. Manatees or bust!

Unbeknownst to us at the time, such a phrase would characterize Monday’s bus trip all too well. The trip was a little turbulent, to put it lightly. And little did we know, there would in fact, be one more delay before Manatee Springs. At about 12:00, we got into a little fender-bender.

As frustrating and unnerving as it was that we rear-ended an SUV (we being a giant tour bus), we were thankful the accident was nothing very dramatic, resulting in a dent at most. Though it was disappointing that yet another obstacle had been introduced between us and the manatees, we couldn’t help but find some humor in the situation. Of course, we mused. Of course, we hit a car. Chorale Tour 2016! Woo-hoo!

We pulled off the side of the road to the nearest available area – which just so happened to be a quaint little abandoned shack labeled “Daddy’s Place.” While information was exchanged between drivers, we waited in the bus and admired the myriad murals on the building’s walls. Phrases such as “Justice, or else” and “By any means necessary” graced its outside architecture. Upon further investigation, Dr. Lyman reported that the shack, likely an old meeting-place, was adorned with several outdated wanted-for-murder posters. We considered it an educational study-away opportunity.

Not long after we pulled to the side of the road, two police cars, manned by officers wearing bullet-proof vests, arrived at the scene. While we had not yet caught sight of any manatees, we certainly got to witness a lot more than we’d expected!

“Oh, the hu-manatee!” Dr. Lyman groaned. “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” Dr. Galante dryly chimed in.

At about 12:35, we waved goodbye to Daddy’s Place, and returned to the road. We were about four hours behind schedule…But we were going to see some manatees, doggonit.

At 2:15 we arrived at Manatee Springs. We were very grateful that we still made the stop even though, according the original schedule, we would’ve left the park by now. There was one hour (much of it spent in line) to eat a barbecue lunch of beans, coleslaw, and pork sandwiches or a giant hunk of chicken, and to walk the park and enjoy the wildlife. While the initial plans to canoe with the manatees were no more, we seized the experience before us, and reveled in the chance to stretch our legs and get some fresh air! (Indeed, I suspect we were all quite happy to be off the bus for a bit. I think our driver was set on preparing us for the rides at Disneyland. I appreciate his thoughtfulness but, overcome with nausea and gripping the armrests with white knuckles, I figured I could wait until Orlando for my adrenaline rush. Space Mountain had nothing on Larry.)

We said goodbye to the manatees and their home, a beautiful state park, and got back on the bus-turned-amusement-park-ride. Our next stop was St. Paul Lutheran Church in Tampa, for our third tour concert!

We arrived in Tampa perhaps a bit hesitant about our impending 7:30 performance; it was, after all, just over an hour away. We scarfed down dinner, which the church graciously provided for us, then made our way to the sanctuary, clueless concerning what to expect.

The sanctuary had a very traditional layout. It was a long rectangular room with wooden pews that faced the cross. Immediately into warm-ups we discovered that it was also a very live space to sing in. Dr. Galante quickly arranged us into a horseshoe formation so we could fit comfortably on the stage and better hear each other. Our favorite part of the formation, though, was the ease it provided for us to make eye-contact with one another and interact as a choir. It would prove to affect our performance greatly.

After another lightning-speed “rehearsal” that was really nothing more than a sound-check, we embraced a “just do it!” mentality as we hurriedly dressed for the concert. “New motto,” we joked. “Rehearsal? Who needs it?!

And while I will heartily agree that such a philosophy should not define a choir, that night we had a beautiful concert. Monday was a day of mishaps and frustrations, of surprises and delays, of stress and spontaneity – but then, it was a day that ended with remarkable beauty and a healthy dose of happiness.

When you’ve had a good concert, it’s followed by a sort of “performer’s high.” Immediately after exiting the sanctuary of St. Paul Lutheran Church, the whole choir erupted in a giddy chatter. We laughed, high-fived, and congratulated each other for a show that we didn’t just sing, but that we felt.

The horseshoe formation had allowed us to constantly make connections with one another, and the acoustics of the room let us hear voices and harmonies we had never heard before. Consistently one of our hardest songs to sing, “When All Is Done” came to life in that room.

I recognize the song’s beauty and depth, but as it’s about ten minutes long, I admit that I’m a bit grateful at its conclusion. Yet Monday evening, I did my best to simply listen to the music we were making as we made it. I heard the trumpet interact with our voices and thought about how never again would I be in that room, singing that very song, with those very people. And that made something just click. Whenever I remembered that, I got goosebumps.

We gathered our luggage, smiling to our ears, and said goodbye to each other as we embarked on our last homestays of the tour. I can’t, of course, speak for everyone, but I think a lot of us went to bed that night feeling proud. “Let beauty be our memorial,” we’ve prayed again and again, nearly every performance. On Monday night, after a day of misadventure, I think it was.

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