Sydney Brummel — Staff Writer
On Thursday afternoon, March 12, in the sanctuary of Sussex Christian Reformed Church, NJ Dordt University Concert Choir members scattered themselves throughout the pews. Some singers gathered in clusters, excitedly sharing plans for their free time in New York City the next day. Others diligently reviewed their music for the concert that would take place in a few hours, preparing last-minute for the pieces that weren’t fully memorized. Some students simply lounged in the benches in solitude, attempting to gain some much-needed rest from an exhausting week of tour.
The choir’s chatter is broken by their director, Professor Ryan Smit, asking them to assemble in the first few rows of pews. The director stands in front of the fifty-three singers and proceeds to read Proverbs 16:9, a passage testifying of God’s direction over all man’s plans. After a small eternity of silence, Professor Smit informs the choir that they are being sent home early from their tour due to the growing concerns over COVID-19. They would begin the journey back to Sioux Center the following morning.
“I think that hearing the news made everyone realize that you couldn’t take anything for granted,” sophomore Carlie Hoekstra said. “None of us were really ready to leave.”
The Concert Choir had planned to tour the Northeast United States as well as a portion Southern Ontario through spring break. Throughout the week, the ensemble had made stops in Cedar Rapids, IA, Michigan, Ontario, and Vermont. After their concert in New Jersey, they had planned to spend a day in New York City and then have two more concerts in Guelph, ON and Ann Arbor, MI.
The news of an early end to the tour brought a variety of emotional responses from the choir—students in tears, students in disbelief, or students who had already suspected that this was a possibility. After some encouraging words from Dr. Ethan Brue, who accompanied the choir along with his wife and Dr. Carrie Groenewold, the choir gathered for one last tour rehearsal.
“With a trip to New York City and Broadway, as well as the rest of an exciting tour stripped away, I expected to see anger and rudeness come out in the frustration,” sophomore Lindsey Zuidema said. “I saw the opposite.”
Indeed, despite the abundance of tears among choir members, the following rehearsal held a sense of hopefulness and a firm resolve to finish the tour off strongly, to God’s glory.
“We consoled each other. Students and adults alike offered each other compassion and kindness,” Zuidema said. “That last concert in New Jersey is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The Concert Choir sang their entire tour repertoire for the final concert. From the first line of “Cantate Domino” to the concluding Alleluia of “Praise to the Lord,” the musicians dedicated the night to the Lord in song. From their deep disappointment arose an even stronger desire to worship together, sharing the joyful message of the pieces to their audience.
“At one point, after we finished singing ‘When We Love,’ I looked away from Smit, and I don’t remember seeing an audience as emotional and connected as they were in that moment,” senior Anna Blauw said. “I don’t know if they knew it was our last concert, but I think they knew that there was something different and special about that night.”
“The air was thick with God’s presence,” Zuidema said. “We knew he was king, in all of it…We sang with all our might.”
The choir and accompanying adults spent the following two days travelling back to Dordt. Even though they knew they were heading back not to resume classes, but to leave campus entirely, many members ensured that the journey was remembered positively by the whole choir.
“On the bus home, I think we were all strong in different ways,” Hoekstra said. “We got to be there for each other. We were all going through the same thing.”
From choir-themed Jeopardy to enthusiastic karaoke led by the back end of the bus, the overlying feeling of heartbreak and uncertainty was temporarily relieved by joking, laughter, and, of course, singing. Senior members were specially commended for their leadership, and the bus erupted in applause for their gifted organist, Dr. Groenewold, and their beloved director, Professor Smit. By the time the bus rolled onto campus on Saturday evening, the members, though ready to rest at home, were sad to leave each other.
“I wasn’t at peace with leaving at first, but the tour had been such an incredible and amazing experience that I was so thankful for it all,” Hoekstra said.
“We sang and shouted praise and worship to God on that trip,” Zuidema said.
Concert Choir spent nearly a week performing in concerts, church services, and assemblies at thirteen different locations. Although their long-anticipated tour and overall semester ended much earlier than expected, they maintained the same goal.
“I think I will always be a little sad that my last [choir tour] got “cut short,” but ultimately, since our goal is to be Christ’s ambassadors, I think we accomplished that and more,” Blauw said. “It could not have been more complete.”
Throughout their tour, the choir celebrated each other and the opportunity to sing in unity. Moreover, they celebrated the God about whom they sang so joyfully. To quote the closing song of the tour: “Gladly for aye we adore Him!”