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March 17, 2003

This Is Personal: Music IS The Soulís Own Voice

John W. Ashbury

There are many things in oneís life that bring joy. Oneís children and grandchildren. A great job. A wife, or husband, who puts up with you through all the years - and the tribulations together. But few things bring such joy that you heart sings with anticipation, even though it is filled with trepidation.

Such was the performance of the Emory and Henry College Concert Choir last Friday night at Trinity United Methodist Church in Frederick.

Less than two weeks earlier I learned that a scheduled performance by the choir, planned for Philadelphia that evening, had fallen through. The choir had never performed in Frederick, with the exception of a couple of songs sung on the parking lot of The Fredericktown Mall many years ago. But thatís another story altogether.

I had the distinct pleasure of singing in this choir 38 years ago during my senior year at E&H. I will never forget the wonderful pleasure I got from all the hard work it required. Nor will I ever forget the friendship I forged with the director.

Charles R. Davis came to Frederick as a soldier and was stationed at Ft. Detrick. His new wife, Adrienne, whom he had met at Westminster Choir College, came shortly thereafter, and they moved into an apartment on South Jefferson Street.

It wasnít too long after that that my father, who was the rector at All Saints Episcopal Church, needed a choir director. Chick, as he was called since his days as a Little All-American quarterback at Emory & Henry in the early 1950s, was hired. And thus my love affair with choral music began.

I took voice lessons from Chick for the two summers he was here. I was away at school from September to June. But I remember those summers with especial fondness.

Chick left Frederick to return to Emory & Henry to start what has become an internationally recognized choral program. So it was natural for me, when I decided to return to college to get my degree, that I wanted to go to Emory.

Those three years of voice lessons and choir participation, with rehearsals two or three times a week, are my favorite memories of my college years. The Concert Choir tour to Florida that spring of 1965 will always stand out.

Anyway, back to the present. My mother-in-law sent me a clipping from the Vinton (VA) newspaper, with the obvious hope that my wife and I would make the trek to hear the choir at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church there. The press of business and the 8-hour round trip in one day were hindrances.

The article in the Vinton paper said the choir was headed to New York. Because they would have to travel through the D.C. area, I thought immediately that, perhaps, there would be a concert closer to home.

It was then that I learned about the Philly cancellation. To work, I thought. Maybe I can pull it together. Maybe, just maybe, I could hear them in my hometown.

Trinity United Methodist Church was most gracious in offering its sanctuary. The Rev. ĎChipí Wright did yeomanís work, especially on the day and night of the concert.

I called all my family and friends to locate accommodations for the 34 members of the choir for Friday night. My sister took six. My brother took four. Three nieces took another 10. Of course, I took a couple myself.

The rest came from the more than just able assistance of Carole Southam, of Love and Company, who works very diligently for her church, Monocacy Valley.

When the overnight stays were finalized, how to arrange dinner became a task. I couldnít possibly ask Trinity to put together a potluck dinner on such short notice. Those dinners are the normal way the choir eats while on tour.

So I called my friend Marvin Lohr, who just happens to own two restaurants - The Village downtown, and Lohrís Family Restaurant out on East Patrick, near the fairgrounds. He came up with a great menu through his chef, David Jones. And the price wasnít bad either. So we ate there.

It was a mistake to think that everything would go smoothly from there.

Everything was arranged. The choir would arrive around 4 P.M. and unload the bus at the church. Then back on the bus for dinner at Lohr's. Then back to the church for the concert.

About 2 oíclock, the phone rang. It was Mark Davis, now the director of the choir his father stated 45 years ago. "Sad to report," he said. "But the bus is broken down on the Jersey Turnpike near Philadelphia."

What is it Bobby Burns wrote about the best laid plans of mice and men?

Somehow I knew things would work out. And they did. Not to perfection, you understand. But they worked out none the less.

The bus pulled into Lohrís at 6:45. It was obvious we werenít going to start a concert at 7:30. So off to the church I went, ahead of the choir, to let those know who were arriving that the concert was going to start - just a little-bit late.

As the choir lined up at the back of the church to begin nearly 40 minutes late, the excitement of the moment was nearly overwhelming - at least for me. I have waited 38 years to hear them in Frederick, and the moment had arrived.

My heart rose as they marched in to an ancient chant - Lamb of God.

Memories rushed forth. Until the last piece before the intermission, I was unfamiliar with any of the works, except for the Mozart. I knew that one from the movie "Amadeus."

Every five years the Concert Choir reunites at Emory for rehearsals and a performance, which is recorded. Usually there are about 200 former member there. The last time I went we sang "I Am The Resurrection" by John Rutter. This one I knew when this yearís choir got to it.

I am unable to express my feelings as the concert progressed. My emotions were mixed. First it was so great to have them here. But as they sang I couldnít help but realize that when it was over, they would be gone. Perhaps they wouldnít appear in Frederick again in my lifetime. And that made me sad. Well, at least a little.

A tradition was started by Chick Davis the second year of the choir. At the end of every concert, Peter Lutkinís "Amen" is sung and all former members are invited to join them in the chancel. I knew my voice was greatly out of shape, but I went up.

I could hit the low notes, but just mouthed the words on the high ones. Iíll have to do some practicing before the next reunion - Memorial Day weekend.

And so it ended. The choir was tired, and, although those of us in the know knew they were, the vibrant sounds they managed to produce delighted the 150 or so who filled the pews.

After getting the host families together with "their" choir members, my wife and I took our two and went home. We stayed up until midnight talking about the choir and college. It was great fun.

The next morning it was one final goodbye. Mark Davis and I took a little trip through downtown Frederick. I showed him where his parents lived before he was born. And I took him to All Saints, more for me than for him, for it was here that my love for his parents began.

All I can say now is that I hope and pray that everyone in Frederick will have an opportunity someday to hear a current addition of The Emory and Henry College Concert Choir. It will be a wonderful experience for each and everyone of them.

Perhaps not as great for them and this one was for me. But great just the same.

One final note. To April Hill and Jenna Doyle, the two seniors who stayed at my house, you were delightful. You were the epitome of all the good things I remember about Emory & Henry and being in the choir. I am saddened by the fact that you couldnít stay longer. But there is always the May reunion, and all those that will follow.

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