Songs of Love tour hits a high note

by Matt Woods

Postponed since Easter 2020, the International Staff Songsters (ISS) tour this spring of the Central Territory was well worth the wait. Considered the standard bearer for Salvation Army choral music globally, they wowed audiences with their performances but more importantly shared Christ’s all encompassing love.

After landing at O’Hare Airport, they headed to Portillo’s for a taste of Chicago. They burst into song, giving thanks for safe travels and the good meal, which was met with rapturous applause by employees and patrons.

Their first performance was on Good Friday at the Chicago Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC) where they were warmly welcomed by beneficiaries and staff. The Easter message hit home as expressed in the men’s testimonies. When one man shared he knew God loved him but is working on loving himself again, ISS members were touched and it became a matter of prayer for them.

After free time exploring the city, they headed to the Chicago Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center for a united North & Central Illinois (NCI) Division Good Friday service. It was the first time many of them had visited a Kroc Center, and their jaws dropped when they saw what The Salvation Army has been blessed with to meet the community’s needs.

The large chapel was full, and excitement permeated the atmosphere as people anticipated hearing the world-class choir. The central part of the ISS presentation reflected on Eastertide, transporting listeners through the emotions of Holy Week from Palm Sunday through Resurrection Sunday. People readily responded. It was a hallmark of the concerts on this tour.

After the service, some ISS members toured the Kroc Center, and a few even tried out the spin bikes in full uniform!

Saturday morning presented an opportunity for people to “Come and Sing” with the ISS at the Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., Corps. Songster leader Dorothy Nancekievill led an engaging open rehearsal with 100-plus participants. This was followed by a mini-concert which showcased the ISS’s abilities, including a saxophone solo. One of the more poignant moments occurred when William Himes, O.F., conducted them in his composition, “When God Comes Near,” which the ISS holds dear since they recorded it in 2020 when they had to rehearse and record in their separate homes due to the pandemic.

“The ISS were an incredible blessing to all of us,” said Lt. Colonel Jonathan Rich, NCI divisional commander. “Their commitment to Christ shines through their music in a powerful way.”

That evening saw the ISS tackle something they had never done as a group—hockey! Fortunately, they were singing “America, the Beautiful” at a Chicago Wolves game. Although not part of the usual ISS repertoire, they came well-rehearsed, and a glorious sound filled the Allstate Arena. Fans gave enthusiastic applause and cheers. Unfortunately, it didn’t help the Wolves win.

On Easter Sunday, the ISS were back at Oakbrook Terrace. In the “Son-Rise” service, they set foots tapping with “My Redeemer Lives,” a helpful wake-up call. Breakfast provided another chance for connections, and some members managed to participate in the Easter egg hunt! A highlight during the worship service was the opportunity for corps songsters and a sextet from the corps band to join the ISS in “To God be the Glory.”

Monday saw the ISS head to Royal Oak, Mich., for a concert that night. That evening corps songsters joined with the ISS in “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “When God Comes Near.”

The audience was astounded by the group’s prowess, singing complex music and was moved by moments of tender reflection. They also were dazzled by red-glitter tunics that four members of the group wore for “Coming King.” This choir knows how to have fun!

“They are a superb vocal ensemble with a very simple gospel message,” said Doug Holman, Royal Oak, Mich., Corps Songster Leader. “We were inspired!”

After unloading luggage in the heavy rain at Echo Grove Camp, everyone was ready to rest and prepare for the next day’s visit to South Bend, Ind.

Upon arriving at Notre Dame University, they were met by Mark Doerries, head of graduate conducting and director of the Notre Dame Children’s Choir, who gave them a short walking tour of the campus. It ended in university’s Basilica where the ISS sang “Ubi Caritas” and “God So Loved the World.” People who happened to be visiting the basilica stopped to listen as the ISS lifted their voices in worship with the two songs that highlighted the soundscape of the glorious church.

After a quick visit to the campus bookstore to purchase some university swag, ISS members headed to a Notre Dame Children’s choir rehearsal to encourage the young singers in their musical journey. It was great to witness the generations singing together.

That evening it was off to the South Bend Kroc Center for a concert. Unfortunately, due to illness, ISS pianist Andrew Wicker had to miss this concert, but members Mel Ellis and Cliff Matthews shared the piano duties.

What a blessing this depth of talent is to the group.

“The ISS were a tremendous blessing to the South Bend community,” said Major Jason Poff, South Bend Kroc Center senior officer. “It was also an incredible reminder that we are one Army, and, no matter where in the world we are, we serve the same God who has called us to the same mission.”

This was the final stop in the Central before they headed to the Eastern Territory and then to Canada for the history-making Choral Convocation in Toronto with five other Staff Songsters, including our own Central Territorial Staff Songsters (CTSS), and the Canadian Staff Band.

“From the Gala gathering on Friday evening to the massed rehearsal with Major Len Ballentine on Saturday afternoon, we knew we were in for an opportunity of a lifetime,” said CTSS member Major Heather Holman.

Each group had spent hours of preparation in prayer, studying music and memorizing lyrics to bring glory to God. With more than 1,100 in attendance, it was a glorious evening of music and praise.

We are grateful to the ISS for their ministry. Their singing was excellent, and their heart and love for Christ has left a lasting impression.

To watch the Choral Convocation visit salvationist.ca/choralconvocation

 

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