The memories below were submitted by Lycoming College Choir alumni who went on the choir's first tour abroad in 1957.
The First England Tour
Barbara Neff Price, 1960
I was a member of the first choir to travel to England. Many happening memories – especially on the ship returning home. We kept the chaperones walking the deck, trying to keep tabs on all of us.
A Lingering Memory
June (Amoss) Karschner, 1960
The following narrative is an account of the first goodwill trip to another country that the Lycoming College Choir undertook in June 1957. Those who participated in that endeavor have a kindred bond that has endured — every five years, the England Choir has a reunion.
This story was originally written in 1973 and mailed to Walter McIver, who was still actively involved as the director of the Lycoming Choir. It has also been read aloud at reunions by me as the writer. . . . It is my hope that all choir members will enjoy sharing this story of our dream.
Experiences become more meaningful with the passing of time! How true this is when I reflect on some words spoken by a man who said, "People, you will remember this adventure. Don't allow yourselves to become annoyed with one another. You may never have this opportunity again!" These times have not dimmed the memory of that experience or that message so appropriately stated to a group who had just embarked on a good-will tour to England.
At least a year of preparation had preceded that warm June morning when fifty eager people boarded the buses as the drivers were anxiously waiting in the dawn. The excited sound of voices was audible as parents, friends, and professors were calling out "Farewell," "Bon Voyage," or other enthusiastic remarks. Our feelings of exhaustion from a week of intense practice and various gymnastics were understandably forgotten as we anticipated the next five weeks with exuberance and wonderment.
The drivers were ready to commence the journey. All of us were ecstatically waving and smiling as the buses pulled away from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Yes, we were a group of college students, but more importantly for our mission, we were a choir — a good one — the best! We had been selected mainly on the basis of our musical abilities; however, of equal significance were a willingness to work diligently – to sing always at our very best; and second, a consecration to function well as a team, to be alert to the needs of our fellow performers, and to strive for perfection in achieving the right tone at the right moment! Our success resulted from our confidence in singing well with all singers working together in a unity of purpose — a feeling that our listeners must receive a beautiful, inspirational message.
Some of us managed to doze while the buses rolled along, but most could relax only a little as we thought of the thrilling days ahead. Someone said, "We're going to England." It was truly a dream — it even seemed like an imaginary story! Just a year before that time, it was in the making! Time moved quickly; characteristics of the big city became visible; we began to disembark at LaGuardia Airport to prepare for our long flight. The dream was now a reality!
That first concert in the cathedral at Liverpool, England, was exciting! What a thrill to stand in the middle of the chancel with all eyes upon us! We were keyed up, of course, and nervous, but enjoying every minute of it. The experience of that evening was the first of many, for we were to discover that each concert would be unusually rewarding and stimulating. Later, when fatigue had conquered our spirits and we were prone to complaining, there would be a feeling of renewal as we assembled in our group. Once again, our minds would be in tune with the joy of opening our hearts and singing our songs.
Arrangements had been made in advance to hire two buses to transport the choir from town to town throughout England since one concert every day had been scheduled in some Methodist houses of worship. The parishoners of those congregations had graciously consented to house us for the night so that we were indeed singing for our supper and lodging. In that sense, our trip was extraordinary, for we were able to meet and talk with the English people within the warmth and hospitality of their homes.
Traveling along the scenic route every day was certainly a marvelous way to view the country. Our bus drivers, being knowledgeable, could enhance our sightseeing tremendously with their comments concerning each landmark or place of interest. The rural area was indescribably beautiful! We had heard about the unusually green countryside — I shall always remember that. As time passed, the men who were transporting us soon became a meaningful part of our group; they were as indispensable to us as were our choir director and family.
The trip we had undertaken required a financial advisor fulfilled by the business manager of Lycoming College, who, along with his wife and family, comprised another segment of our entourage. Of course, a tour directed toward promoting goodwill needs a spokesman — our college president very competently stepped into that role; he and his family, along with the choir members, completed the team of fifty people.
No doubt everyone in the choir, from one time to another, had recalled certain events as having the rare quality that remains in one's memory for years--nostalgia has that effect. It is not possible to elaborate on every detail of that summer trip, but I can give the highlights of a few cherished scenes.
I remember one of my hostesses who was so enthusiastic; she kept repeating how wonderful it was to entertain an American in her home! Later, our stay in Birmingham was memorable — the damp chill of the summer night seemed like autumn — it was a thrill to sleep in a college dorm — our ride downtown past several department stores was interesting. One of our female singers very excitedly commented, "I could get lost in those stores forever." Only the people who know that wonderful person could appreciate the statement!
The lady mayor who presented a picture of poise and graciousness remains another lovely memory of merry England. Her kindness and affable manner immediately put us at ease and placed us in the center of importance as her guests. Yet another memory is that of "tea time;" we began to develop a taste for the traditional drink of tea, for it seemed a though we would usually arrive at our church for the scheduled concert at tea time. I can visualize the tables lined with cups and plates — tea and crumpets were ready to be served.
On the remaining trip by ship, the remaining nine days were reserved for relaxation and reflection about the opportunity afforded us on the tour. One cannot measure the value of an excursion like this one in terms of dollars and cents! We had learned from the British just as they had learned from us. We had given them a message of love and brotherhood through song; and they, in turn, had given us the beauty of their country and the culture and appreciation of their people. We were able to communicate through the teamwork of our group and the inspired direction of our leader who was satisfied only with one's best and no less! This is the memory that will linger, that will endure for a lifetime. This is the experience that becomes more meaningful with the passing of time!