Choral Ensemble and the Power of the Gospel
By Shaun LaRose, Upper School Fine Arts Director & Art Teacher
In 2018 I had the opportunity to accompany the Choral Ensemble Toronto Tour. As the Fine Art Director, it is important for me to have an immersive experience with our performing artists. The experience changed the way I see our Choral program and especially the formative work of our Choral Director, Mr. Paul Faulkner, as it relates to tour. I found the tour to be a tangible expression of the gospel in action.
Throughout the year, the students in Choral Ensemble develop not only as a group of students who sing beautifully together, but also as a community that ministers sacrificially to others. Students have prayer partners and engage thoughtfully in what it means to sing for the glory of God. They ask deeper questions, such as, “What does it mean to serve other communities through the discipline of the Choral arts?” In preparation for tour, the Choral Ensemble makes several visits to local community churches and events, such as Parking Day (an annual event during which Chattanooga community members turn metered parking spaces downtown into miniature, temporary “parks”), where they perform and examine how they are contextually blessing a public audience through their performance and repertoire. Tour is the summative expression of this mission and is inseparable from the formative growth in the classroom. Between the daily student-led devotionals and the homestay experiences, our students experience how to connect devotion and practice with missional relationships. In the words of senior Daniel Dassow:
"The students who sign up to give short devotionals before concerts or on the bus, myself included, invariably say that we are on a mission to deliver the gospel message through song to the beautiful people of North America. It is a selfless pursuit, they say, and one that must be free from cynicism and selfishness in order to be truly beautiful."
As we moved from schools to churches to retirement centers, we witnessed the shift in how these communities engaged with our students. The most poignant of these were the homestay experiences. Church families took our students for a night or two and shared their home and way of life. Our students shared meals and stories and meaningful connections that fostered personal encouragement from church community members. In response, our students used their craft to leave a blessing over the community. In one church, the students surrounded the congregation and sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” over that church family. It was a powerful experience as an audience member; it emphasized the beauty and experience of tour. Prior to this, I was mistakenly under the impression that Choral Ensemble Tour was like any other Interim trip—just specific to singers. Daniel successfully articulated the distinction:
"While Interim is usually perceived as a break for students, the members of the Choral Ensemble wake up before 7 o’clock nearly every morning of tour. We eat a quick breakfast and are out on the bus and ready to go perform our special brand of community service an hour later. The most meaningful stop for many of us on our most recent tour to Chicago was to a school for children and young adults with disabilities called Elim Christian Services. For me, it was emblematic both of the type of service the Choral Ensemble seeks to perform on tour and the practical use of the many life lessons CCS teaches its students."
At the conclusion of every tour our seniors spend the final evening sharing the impact of tour and the Choral Ensemble experience. I marvelled at the maturity and intensity of our student engagement. They sat and celebrated one another, named the giftings they saw at work, celebrated the experiences that were so meaningful, and then took turns exhorting one another to continue pursuing the Lord in their next season of life. It was nothing short of inspiring and was a culmination of investing years as a growing community that integrates technical development and spiritual discipleship.
Tour is an indispensable and incarnational expression of the CCS choral performer’s development. To experience it is to see the power of song to communicate love, to minister, to testify, and to unify. It is a power of grace because that’s the power of the gospel.