24 Hours at a PLNU Choir Retreat

PLNU Choir practicing. Photo credit to Madelyn Walthall

By: Madelyn Walthall

The Point Loma Nazarene University’s concert choir has traveled around the world to sing and minister to churches and schools. In the past two years they’ve performed in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy, and the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York. This year’s tour is taking place in O’ahu, Hawaii. 

Students have probably gone to see this choir perform on campus. With the end of the year choir show and the Christmas Cider Celebration concert, we may be familiar with the talents of our fellow peers. Have you ever wondered how intensive their rehearsal process is? This past weekend, I spent 24 hours shadowing the concert choir as they went inland to Cuyamaca for a choir retreat.

For those who have never been a part of the arts, you might be surprised about just how much time and effort goes into perfecting their craft. Starting on Friday, Jan. 26, the choir arrived as the sun was setting in the mountains. With the sky turning pink, they unloaded their personal belongings into their dorms– their home for the next two nights. 

A brisk walk in the wind up to the dining hall, the choir members were sprawled out among the benches, eating, chatting and finding shelter from the cold. After dinner, the choir director, Daniel Jackson, announced the rehearsal schedule for that night, and a student led the choir in a quick prayer. Students cleaned up the dining space and made their way over to the rehearsal space named the fox lounge.

Inside, over 50 chairs were set up in a semicircle with Jackson in the center. For an hour and a half, the choir ran through various sections of their music. This ranged from traditional African pieces to worship music. There were breaks for the drummers and guitarists to practice, and many breaks to practice the different variations of step-touches. 

At 8:00 p.m. choir chaplain Isaac Shaw led a short devotion to the choir and the band. After this, people began to split away. Some stayed in the rehearsal room to practice the choir music or write their own music. Most went into the next room to play games and perform skits. The rest of the night was spent enjoying each other’s company and the great outdoors. 

Some men and women branched off to go on a night hike beyond the camp. Others stayed onsite to play basketball. Smaller groups, seeking refuge from the cold, returned to the dining hall for hot cocoa and late night snacks. 

Saturday morning, 8 a.m. meant time to regroup in the dining hall for breakfast of muffins, bagels, croissants and fruit. The choir talked at a low murmur, warming up to the day ahead. Then came three more hours of rehearsal. The group took their places in the fox lounge with Jackson at the front and the musicians to his side. Rather than diving into the songs like the day before, Jackson instructed them to disperse around the large, green room.

His first command was to have each member face a wall and warm up their voices. This helps the singers hear their individual voices as it bounces off the wall. The next order seemed like something out of bootcamp. The singers were to match their tone with Jackson’s as they did jumping jacks. This activity caused most of the choir to finally wake up, as laughs and repeated hums echoed throughout the room. Finally they took their places again, and Jackson conducted the choir and the band to play through the songs that they will be performing in Hawaii. 

At noon, the tenors were instructed to go up to the dining hall to set up for lunch– PB&J’s. When the rest of the choir climbed their way to lunch, most members huddled together to make plans for how they were going to spend their freetime until dinner. Most decided that a 20-minute drive to Julian was the best bet. 

At 5:15 p.m., groups of singers began trickling into the dining hall. By this time, it was clear that the hours outside in the wind had exhausted most of the choir. 

The top of the hour meant another three-hour-long rehearsal. This time, they jumped right into the music. The band was in full swing, the soloists were mic’d and the choir was loudly singing and dancing. After running through all 11 songs, the choir chaplain took his place in the center of the semicircle. His devotion for the day centered around the importance of worship. He led the group in a discussion about the true reason they are performing to these different churches and schools. He then instructed everyone to get into groups and pray for each other. For nearly half an hour, the band members, the choir and professor Jackson gathered around one another to pray and to sing worship songs. 

Near 9 p.m., Jackson thanked the small community of the choir for their hard work and passion, and ended the rehearsal. Some dispersed to spend their freetime outside, others went back to the dorms for an early night in, but most went next door to participate in the “no-talent show,” ironic for a group of talented musicians.