Jared Stutzman, choir director, shared the following letter with the 2020 EMHS Touring Choir members on June 8, 2020, the day they were scheduled to leave for a trip to Europe. The Touring Choir travels international every other summer.
EMHS Touring Choir Parents and Students,
Today, the 2020 EMHS Touring Choir would have gathered in the gym parking lot to board a bus to take us to the airport. There would have been high spirits, laughter, luggage, passports to check, blue Touring Choir shirts, and an incredible sense of anticipation and excitement. The next 17 days would have been filled with meeting new people, seeing new places, experiencing different cultures, seeing new approaches to faith and worship — connections to host families, to children at the four schools we were scheduled to visit, growing in knowledge, in faith, minds stretched, lives touched and changed (including our own) through our songs and our presence.
Our weekends leading up to today in March, April, and May would have been filled with programs in local churches — our tour would have taken us across Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, and some of you would have spent a long weekend in Richmond at Virginia All-State Choir. As each Sunday has gone past, I have thought of which church we would have been at that morning and evening. I could envision you there, in each place, bringing joy and inspiration to those who heard you, saw you, fed you (:-)), and interacted with you. We would have lived with our songs and each other for months, and we would have built and strengthened the connections at the heart of our choir — to the music, to each other, and to God. We would have come to understand ourselves in new ways, to understand God in new ways. Our songs would have grown and matured until they became a part of us, shaped us, formed us.
Instead, we’re here. We don’t know what the future holds … the 2020 EMHS Touring Choir may still get to sing together in some way, shape, or form in the future. … later this summer, at EMS homecoming, or maybe even next summer. There’s still hope. But by now, we all are only too aware that there’s no substitute for the in-person singing we have missed. The virtual choirs we have worked on are cool from a technological standpoint, and the end result looks like we’re together. But we sang alone. The connections that are the heart of our experience just can’t be formed through a computer screen.
So, what now? Well…as ironic and difficult as this is, I’m going to encourage us to cultivate a sense of gratitude. They say you don’t know what you have ‘till it’s gone. Use this experience to create a hunger for real, personal connections that last … let it shape your in-person interactions with thankfulness, with a sense of how valuable and precious it is to be able to look someone in the eye and talk face-to-face, to feel the energy in a room of other hearts and souls. Maybe I never really appreciated what a gift it was to meet every day with a choir, to sing together and enjoy each other’s company. Now I do. Perhaps I never fully understood how special the community we form in our choir is, how it’s shaped through our travels and programs over the season. Maybe the unique togetherness of choral singing was something I took for granted. I never will again.
As much as I’d love to be on that bus with you today, I feel grateful for the way the pain teaches me about what we had … that we are a part of something so special that its absence hurts. C.S. Lewis says that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pains. God was there when we were together, and God is still here teaching us when we’re apart.
“May the Lord watch over you and be gracious unto you. May His life be seen in you, and may it be known through your deeds that Jesus is Lord of your life, that Jesus is Lord over all. May His peace be with you forevermore! Amen.” – Benediction, Matthew Hunsberger ‘96
– Jared Stutzman
See videos from past Touring Choir trips to Europe, rehearsal videos of this year’s choir, as well as this year’s choir performance with Voces8 in February 2020.
Read about the virtual choir that Jared Stutzman created during the COVID-19 shut down that featured Touring Choir and was viewed by more than 33,000 on YouTube and Facebook.