Like a boat on a river, the bus floats down the interstate through the bleak Nevada desert. My distant gaze out the window is cut by road signs whipping by, and my thoughts are battered with the sound of young voices. Personal time is something that can’t be brought along by participants on a tour of this magnitude. Just a couple hours into the 14-hour drive to Redding, the teenage excitement is palpable as dozens of conversations jumble together. During the first bus ride of the week-long California tour, I wonder how such boisterous kids could ever hope to make a significant impact on the people they plan to sing to throughout the state.
Each time the 63-member American Heritage Youth Chorus performed, their astounding transformation was evident as eyes moistened throughout the congregation that sat listening to the choir. It seemed impossible to avoid the impact and power of the young voices, so sincere and confident. The amazement felt during the first performance in Redding on Sunday, June 12, never subsided as this contrast continued to be evident throughout the week to follow.
Aside from the performances, my job as an adult musician on the tour included chaperoning a group of 10 choir members. Being with them as they experienced a part of the world that was new to them helped me remember what it was like when I first expanded my horizons. As enjoyable as it was to be a part of this exploration and discovery, I was feeling stretched thin by midweek.
With such powerful performances and rewarding time spent with the kids, being engaged in the mission of the tour was never an issue. Trying to keep up the strict practice regiment needed to maintain my fine-tuned abilities with the trumpet, however, turned out to be a challenge. Everyone wants a trumpet player to hit the right notes, play at the right volume, be in tune and balance with the other instruments. Nobody wants to listen to a trumpet player practice.
As the muscles in the embouchure, or chops, begin to weaken, the deterioration rate of a brass musician’s sound is slight. First signs of decline are usually only noticeable by the musician as they play. Four days into a week-long tour without sufficient practice time and space, however, is enough to risk degradation of sound quality that audiences may begin to notice.
On a street corner half a block from the hotel, where hotel patrons wouldn’t be bothered, I am determined to do what I can to keep up my chops. I sit on my case and work through the pages of my daily exercises on the ground before me. As the city air fills my lungs, a couple with a small child stop to listen, and even dance as I play the Mexican Hat Dance for them. They slip me a dollar bill before walking away smiling. Finishing my practicing around midnight, I walk back to the hotel. With heavy eyes and a smile I slide in between the cool, freshly-laundered sheets of the hotel bed.
Most of the work put into the tour hardly felt like work, since having fun was such a plentiful by product. Good times, though, were not the main purpose for the trip across the desert. To solidify the objective of the visit to California, the group director Rob Swenson included service projects in the itinerary.
In the muggy midday heat Thursday, the group spread out across the East Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento, armed with rags to clean headstones as part of their service project. The solemnity of the graveyard was punctuated by the recognition of the brevity of life, emphasized after a performance earlier that day for a center specializing in care for the elderly. After several hours of quiet service in the cemetery, the youth piled into an air-conditioned wing of the mortuary to sing for the staff and visitors there.
As crazy as the kids got sometimes when crammed on the bus or exploring new places, it was always surprising to see them demonstrate maturity ahead of their years as they worked toward making a positive impact on the people of California. Pulling into the parking lot of the American Heritage school in American Fork, many tears were shed as the kids embraced each other. The growth they earned through singing and service – as individuals and as a group – will not soon be forgotten.
Jeff Jacobsen – Online Content Manager