On this Thursday, 11th December 2014, Oakdale Community Choir performed the Finding Hope concert in IMCC (Iowa Medical and Classification Center) which is one of the most heart touching experiences in my life.
After about twenty minutes driving from UCC, I arrived at the IMCC. High wire fences with rows of strong lights from high above already gave me a sense of solemnity. I went into the main building, received a strict security check, then passed several checkpoints, and began to feel a little bit nervous. However, when I arrived the gymnasium where the concert took place, my nervousness was immediately dispelled by the smiles on the faces of choir members, among which are professors and students from UI, inmates, and their families, indistinguishable, all wearing purple or green T-shirts with print “Finding Hope” on it. An upright piano was in the right side, podium in the center, and three microphones in the left side. There Choir members was comfortably talking to each other, greeting visitors, some offered warm hugs. Technicians were tuning the instruments and equipment before the start. This picture has drawn a sharp contrast to the cold, dark winter night outside the building. This contrast could also be found in the picture on the cover of programme, a flower blossoming on a snowing day.
At 6:15 pm, Dr. Mary Cohen, associate professor of the School of Music specializing in music education, founder of the Oakdale Community Choir, and the conductor of the concert, gave the opening, initiated joyful interactions with the audience, lighted up the ambiance. The choreographed repertoire apparently condensed painstaking effort. The performance began with rearranged Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of Beatles, wonderful opening song suggesting the audience to “sit back and let the evening go”. Following songs, High Hopes, Beauty before Me, That Lonesome Road, and so on, interwove with choir members’ narrations about their own stories and paths of finding hope, which augmented the theme. The standing position of members in purple and members in green were also carefully arranged, changing long with the processing of the performance in a deliberate way, provided visual tension. Christmas carols brought a festive atmosphere into the facility. Accompanied by the praising – May You Walk in Beauty – the concert entered its final phase.
The harmony in the correspondence between the choir and instruments was extraordinary. Instrumental accompaniment brought out the power of the vocal to appeal to the audience emotionally. In this unique concert, however, I feel that the musicianship that we commonly value most was only next in importance to the message conveyed by the music: Hope. A man seeking happiness through song writing, a loving mother recovering from the greatest grief one could imagine after losing her daughter, I immersed in these stories feeling their struggle as if it all happened to me. Sometimes, my fists clenched before I realized. But when the choir began to sing, the first words of The storm is Passing Over by Charles A. Tindley hit in my heart, I felt relieved and strengthened at the same time. It sang: “Courage my soul, and let me journey on.“