by Jerri Whitner, Student Contributor
On May 9th through May 21st the Alice Lloyd College Voices of Appalachia journeyed on their annual spring choir tour. With the support of ALC alumni and friends of the college, this year the choir traveled throughout the Northeastern part of the U.S. The following is one choir member, Jerri Whitner’s reflections from her first VoA Choir Tour. Jerri is an ALC Sophomore English and History major from Dickenson County, Virginia.
As the bus pulled out of Pippa Passes early in the morning on May 9, I, along with the rest of the choir members in the Voices of Appalachia (VoA), slowly began to bubble with excitement at the idea of going on tour. The tour stretched twelve days and during that time we slowly made our way up the east coast going through Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts and back down through New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington D.C. stopping along the way at churches where we would perform a set list that consisted of modern, country, bluegrass, and sacred harp songs.
As we traveled from place to place I could not help but think of June Buchanan and her Caney Crusaders. Miss June would take the best students from Caney Creek and travel the country to show everyone how well the program was going and to tell others how much more could be achieved with their support. Our concerts played out in a similar way, we would perform around eleven songs that showed our mountain heritage and then Margo Sparkman, Director of Development, would give a brief history of the college and its mission. VoA’s President and Vice President, Kyle Coleman and Jee Suk Choe, would follow Margo’s remarks by telling the audience about the student life and our unique Student Work Program.
In addition to the similarities I saw between our concerts and the Crusaders, I was surprised by how well the concert was received by those who came to watch. Each night as I was singing I would look out across the audience and watch their reaction to every song. Some energetically danced, others sat wiping silent tears and a few would sing along; however, the majority looked at us in admiration. At the beginning of the tour, I was nervous that I would quickly get bored by singing the same songs every night, but I was very much mistaken because even though I had performed the songs numerous times the audience was hearing it for the first time and their reaction was new and rejuvenating every night. For instance, at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church in New York City people were dancing and clapping to a bluegrass song. Then in Cape Cod, after hearing the concert a member of the audience said she felt like she had just watched a Broadway performance. Another woman from New York said that she felt the presence of God in our songs.
Even though the tour was filled with hard work, we had several moments of free time for sightseeing or just relaxing. We were able to see several beautiful waterfalls in Ithaca, New York, and the next day we had a full day in New York City to sightsee. Our group was divided up and some went to see places like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building while others walked around and shopped. The next day, May 14th, the whole group traveled to see a Broadway musical, some either watching Aladdin or Wicked. Everyone who went to Broadway thoroughly enjoyed their time, and I can personally say that it was an unforgettable experience.
A few days later we had a free day in Boston, and many of us walked the Freedom Trail which travels through the city and stops at historical landmarks such as the location of the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party as well as Paul Revere’s House and the Old State House. The next day we went to the beach at Cape Cod where we were able to relax and unwind before the concert that night. As we traveled into Washington D.C. we had two days to visit the Smithsonian and see the monuments. Every place we went was truly an experience that not many of us would ever have been able to do on our own.
When I first set out on tour I was ready to immerse myself in the culture that is outside of the mountains. I was ready to be in the city and meet people whose first language was not English and eat exotic foods that I would never be able to find in the mountains. I was ready to leave the world I knew behind for twelve days, but what I soon realized was that as a choir we had brought the mountains with us. Through the many concerts and conversations, I began to appreciate where I came from more and more, not because I found that the city life was not for me, but because I realized those who live in the mountains have something special and unique. We have a style of music that is all our own, a sense of community that is nonexistent in urban areas, and a home that is wild and beautiful.
Throughout tour as I reflected on these things I thought back to Alice Lloyd and June Buchanan who must have immediately known how special the Appalachian Mountains and those who live there are. I began to appreciate them more and more, and even though they did make changes to the community on Caney Creek they ultimately changed the way that the country saw Appalachia. Even today, one hundred years after Alice Lloyd first came to Caney Creek; people are able to experience the mountains in a new way because of the Voices of Appalachia’s annual tour. The tour would not have been possible without all the support from the choir members, Choir Directors, Richard and Beth Ann Bowers, and the many donors who helped provide all these wonderful opportunities for the College. Because of their continued support, the students are given a purpose and are able to spread their passion across the country and in turn inspires others.