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At the beginning of August I drove up to Lancaster, PA to sing with a 16-member a capella vocal ensemble called Laudate Mennonite Ensemble. This group was the brain child of a (very) young man named Cliff Stoltzfus about 10 years ago and has produced 4 recordings since then (this year’s will be the fourth). Cliff is now married with a young family and does a fantastic job of balancing singing with the group and coordinating things; his wife Trina is also instrumental in making the schedule run smoothly and she did a lot of behind-the-scenes work, from picking out our dress fabric months in advance to typing up bulletins with all the song lyrics. Dr. Ken Nafziger (a long-time instructor at EMU) was our director and has directed all previous tours/recordings. It takes a lot of energy and planning to pack rehearsal, tour, and recording into 10 days and make it work, but Cliff and Trina did an admirable job with the scheduling and Mr. Ken masterfully coaxed the vocals out of us.
Of this year’s group, only 3 ensemble members had sung with Laudate before, so one of the biggest challenges was finding out what we sound like as a group and learning to blend with that sound. We received our music in February, so when we got to rehearsal in Lancaster we had pitches and rhythms down (well, most of them…) and could work on interpretation. I loved singing under Mr. Ken’s direction: he has a very intuitive sense about unique nuances that can bring a song to life, and he has a very quiet but humbly authoritative way of drawing those nuances out of a group. He also has a great sense of humor that kept us relaxed even when we knew we weren’t quite producing the sound he was asking for.
We gave 7 programs, 3 of which were in Lancaster. The other 4 were spread over a short tour that we took over the course of 4 days: Lewisburg (PA), Meadville (PA), Hartville (OH), and Harrisonburg (VA). We recorded our program of 16 songs at Millersville University (keep scrolling to see a video of one of our songs or click here to view it on YouTube), and the new CD will be released in late November or early December (Christmas presents, y’all!). You can use the contact form here on Laudate’s website to preorder. Check out this page for details about previous Laudate recordings. I happen to own all 3 of the previous recordings, and they’re awesome (totally unbiased opinion here…). One of the things that impressed me about Laudate even before the thought of singing with the group even entered my head was that their repertoire is always diverse and unique – and this year’s was no exception! We sang everything from the Latin Miserere (one of my personal favorites) to a Dolly Parton song (choral arrangement, of course) to spirituals to hymns. You can listen to the last song from our program in the video further down in this post. (You can find videos to more of the songs from this year’s program on Laudate’s Facebook page.)
Singing with a diverse group of people who were all committed to glorifying God with their gifts – that was priceless. Since we were a small group, we bonded quickly, and I came to appreciate each and every member. Everyone brought something special to the group, and I was blessed and refreshed by the time we spent together. Soli Deo Gloria.
Packing up for tour…
Trina packing up CDs (previous recordings for the CD table at our programs)…
Cliff doing his coordinating thing…
One of my favorite parts about the trip was being able to sing in some beautiful old churches like this one in Meadville. Even though it wasn’t air conditioned and we sang with sweat dripping profusely.
This was definitely the most relaxed choir tour I’ve ever been on in terms of schedule. There were times when we didn’t have to meet until 10 am because we just didn’t have that far to travel! That’s a far cry from the “be at the bus at 6 am sharp” that I’m used to from other tours I’ve been on. Another perk of being a small choir is that we had lots of room on the bus – and not much luggage for the luggage crew to pack!
One of the best parts of tour was being able to reconnect with friends at our different stops…
Jordan was assigned to tell us a music joke (lame or otherwise) every morning.
While we were in the Meadville area, we got to practice in Faith Builders’s music room.
Some recreation before our Hartville program…
One of the highlights of the tour was going to Mr. Ken’s house in Harrisonburg for supper. The foodie in me was in awe of the food his wife prepared for us. I couldn’t resist documenting it; anything that good-looking just screams to be photographed. It was some sort of grapefruit and avocado salad topped with a sweet and spicy rubbed pork tenderloin. Wow.
While I’m on the subject of food, I went to Lancaster with fear and trembling of what kind of food we were going to be served (OK, not really – I’m pretty chill about that and have no problem with eating what’s put in front of me. However I knew I’d be able to sing much better if I felt good physically, and casseroles and pasta and bread just don’t make me feel good.). I had no reason to fear. Trina (and Melissa) fed us like royalty. There were always lots of options, and thankfully lots of veggies. I may have indulged my sweet tooth a little too often because I just didn’t feel like resisting the call of stuff like ganache-topped Reese’s cheesecake.
Bridgewater Church of the Brethren in Harrisonburg…the acoustics were lovely…
When we were in Lancaster, we hung out at Cliff and Trina’s house in the evenings.
We recorded in a small performance hall at Millersville University. Such brilliant acoustics – and we all had our own music stands. I felt so professional.
Wendell Nisly of Oasis Chorale fame was our producer. He and his wife Jeanene were so much fun to work with! I’m not sure what they were doing in this picture. Maybe trying to discover the source of all the unfortunate popping noises coming from the ceiling (not cool for recording).
We started recording bright and early at 8 am – and most of us had at least half an hour to drive to get there. And we were supposed to get there early. And already warmed up.
Recording actually went really well, and we finished by 3 pm!
After recording we decided to sing a song “just for fun.” This is Shawn Kirchner’s arrangement of “Unclouded Day,” which was the last song in our program and one of our favorites (click here to view it on YouTube):
(Videography credits go to our producer, Wendell Nisly!)
We gave our last program at Faith Mennonite High School. It was a gym, but the acoustics were actually quite good and that was our best program.
Again, to preorder the new CD you can use the contact form on Laudate’s website. Check out the website to see bios of the vocalists and director and learn more about previous recordings. Check out the Laudate Mennonite Ensemble Facebook page for updates and videos.
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