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Sure On This Shining Night

Spotty WiFi coverage and a broken ethernet cable made coverage from Prague more challenging than expected…but I took notes. Now that we’re in Budapest (Pomaz, actually), the connection is much better so I can catch up.

But let me start with today.

A nine-hour bus ride carried us through the lush southern countryside of the Czech Republic, through a sliver of Slovakia, and into the hills surrounding Budapest. Strands of thick forests laced together patches of fields, some knee-deep in blue-green grain and others carpeted with a vivd yellow blaze of flowering rapeseed. Elsewhere, wobbly streaks of white revealed white-barked birch trees while a few tall pines stood like inverted exclamation points on the horizon. Villages dotted our route, with red-tiled roofs rising above white stuccoed walls, and always there are steeples in the distance.

The bus ride took longer than expected — rush hour traffic in the morning in Prague and in the evening in Budapest — so the choir arrived at their destination just 20 minutes before they were scheduled to perform. There are a frantic rush to unload the cargo trailer and negotiate who was bunking with whom and who had the room key and where were the programs and did someone unload the suitcase with the cowboy hats…and yet, just 25 minutes later the choir swept into the concert hall in evening gowns and tuxes, looking for all the world as if they had been waiting casually in the wings to build anticipation.

Dr. Allred was in a playful mood. After conducting the opening two numbers (and receiving thunderous rhythmic applause), he simply turned to the audience and said, “What would you like us to sing?” There was a moment of surprise while the translator interpreted, and then heads burrowed into programs and began to call out favorite numbers. And the choir complied, time after time after time. It was like a living MP3 player — select the tune you want and press play.

“Gospel!,” an old man shouted, and the choir swung out with I’m Gonna Sing. “Western!,” called a young girl, who literally jumped out of her chair when the choir threw on cowboy hats for a grand performance of Oklahoma!

And so it went. Song after song, each one greeted with rhythmic applause that grew louder and more pronounced until another song began. At last, Dr. Allred announced a closing song…and then an encore…and the choir streamed from the stage, waving at the audience who waved back. The concert was over…or so we thought.

After a few minutes, members of the choir began to return to the stage to pack up equipment, gather hats, and tidy up. Audience members who saw them return began to clap again. Other guests, already in the foyer, raced back in to reclaim seats so recently vacated. And the applause began to grow.

I confess there was a moment when the choir members at the front of the hall had a bit of a “deer in the headlights” look. After all, how do you tell people who obviously loved your performance that you just want to go eat! But in a few minutes the choir returned and Dr. Allred asked what they wanted to sing and for another 30 minutes the choir shared number after number from the many songs in their repertoire. And after every song…cheers and whistles and clapping and clapping and clapping.

Finally, Dr. Allred turned to the audience. “We really must go,” he said. “Thank you so much for such a warm welcome. Let us leave you with this blessing.” And then this very tired group of amazingly talented people sang my favorite song:

Not one sparrow is forgotten, e’en the raven God will feed; and the lily of the valley from His bounty hath his need. Then shall I not trust thee, Father? In thy mercy have a share? And through faith and prayer, my Mother, merit thy protecting care?

Tomorrow, a concert as part of the Spring Festival in Telki…and I promise to share random quotes that surfaced unexpectedly during the bus trip (like this line heard from a conversation near the back of the bus, “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s why he’s 32 and not married.”)  And I still have to share a picture or two from the concert at Nymburk.