In front of a crowd of about 200 people on May 12, members of the North Scottsdale United Methodist Church choir gave a taste of what they’ll perform when they embark on a 10-day choral tour throughout central Europe from May 24 through June 2.
“Oh, it was absolutely wonderful; we had more people show up than we thought,” said choir member Vickie Johnson.
Twenty members of the NSUMC adult Chancel Choir, along with 12 additional guests and choristers from Cross in the Desert United Methodist church, have been rehearsing for the overseas visit since August 2018.
The “European Tour Farewell Performance” was the last performance in Scottsdale before the trip.
Under the direction of Darin Read, the choir will perform pieces in six venues across Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
On May 26, it will perform a recital at St. Stephen’s Byzantine Catholic Cathedral in Vienna.
The next day, they’ll perform a recital at Melk Abbey in Melk, followed by a recital at Salzburg Cathedral in Salzburg and a performance at Basilika St. Michael on May 28.
Then, on May 30, the group will perform an impromptu recital at Passion Play Theater in Oberammergau, Germany.
Their last performance will be held at Piuskirche Meggen in Switzerland with a local choir, the Lucerne City Choir.
“We do have a couple of bigger concerts in the evening, everything else is more like a recital. (It's) a chance to sing in some great venues that have great acoustics and are really built for choral music,” Read said.
Recitals are about 15 to 20 minutes long and include three or four songs, while the full performances include 11 pieces by composers who lived and worked in central Europe in the 17th through 19t Centuries, including Austrian composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn, and Czech composer Antonin Dvořák.
“It’s really exciting to be able to go to the birthplace of some of the composers whose music we’re singing,” Johnson said.
Of course, the group will have plenty of time to explore the 10 European cities, as Cave Creek-based Humani Tours and Travel has created an eventful itinerary.
“We’ll be going on some tours to some the Abbeys, and we’ll get opportunity to do some sightseeing and go to some of the graveyards where some of the composers are buried,” Johnson said.
Tours include Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany; Einsiedeln Abbey in Einsiedeln, Switzerland; Mount Pilatus in Switzerland and more.
Read, who has been director of music at NSUMC for 15 years, said it was always a dream of his to take a choir to Europe.
“I had never really thought that it would be feasible to do because it takes so much. [But] a couple of years ago, my senior pastor asked me, ‘Darin, is there anything you’ve ever wanted to do musically?’ I jokingly said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to take the choir to Europe.’ And she said, ‘I think you should do it. I think you’d have the support of the church, and I think the choir would love to do that.’”
Sure enough, it came to fruition.
Read planned the trip for a year and a half, starting January 2018.
“We have people within our church that don’t sing in the choir regularly, but they wanted to sing in the tour choir. So, it was really just an open invitation to just singers who wanted to have this experience,” Read said, adding that participating members range from 40 to 85 years old.
Johnson said the combined choir is comprised of a diverse group of people.
“[Read’s] excellent at bringing everybody together on one page and making music sound the way he wants it to sound,” she said. “He’s an awesome choir director.”
For the most part, choir members had to pay their own way for the trip, but to help make it more affordable, the choir hosted several fundraisers, including a fish fry.
They also published and sold all 200 copies of a 174-page cookbook they created called “Heavenly Delights.”
The cookbook was Johnson’s idea.
“Methodist churches are known for their cookbooks, and our church hadn’t done a cookbook in a lot of years,” she said.
Members of the church and choir contributed recipes to the cookbook, including appetizers, entrees, desserts, beverages and even dog-friendly recipes.
Music is a big focus at the church, and it’s what attracted Johnson to joining the choir six years ago.
“Our congregation loves our music program,” said Johnson, who sang in the choir in middle school and high school. “It’s very rewarding to sing songs that obviously hit home with them and you can see that they truly appreciate the work that we’ve put in to the various performances.”
Read has a master’s degree in choral conducting and was a high school choir teacher following college.
“When I changed careers several years ago, being able to continue my choral passion with church music was just a great opportunity to keep that in my life. So, it’s been a great balance,” he said.
What Read is most looking forward to doing and seeing on the combined choir’s trip to central Europe is, like Johnson said, performing in the same venues in which renowned composers also wrote and sang.
“Many composers, some of the great oratorios and some of the great music in western tradition, were either born in that area or worked in that area. It really brings you full circle when you’re performing these works and then being able to be there where the composers wrote these. That’s really meaningful,” he said, adding:
“There’s also the spiritual dimension of it that I think is going to be very inspirational for a lot of the singers. When you’re literally singing your faith, it can be a really powerful thing.”
Follow the choir’s trip on facebook.com/NorthScottsdaleUMC.