Friday felt like the longest day of my entire life. We had to go a full school day, which I hated, before leaving for the retreat. My favorite teacher, Mr. Flannery, had come up with the idea of taking a group choral retreat. All three choral groups were going: the Chamber choir, Men’s choir, and the Ladies Ensemble (of which I was a member). I was excited about the retreat idea the moment he mentioned it.
In the winter of 1996, I was a freshman. My high school was only a few years old and our choirs weren’t nearly as good as other schools’, but Mr. Flannery thought we had potential. Mr. Flannery (who I’ll call Tom from now on) had brought up the idea of taking a retreat in the mountains for a little team building. The choral retreat would be at a youth summer camp which was also used by his church for their group retreats. Tom thought we needed to become closer to each other to bring our sound together.
Going on a group retreat far from school grounds was an exciting concept to me. I didn’t have any friends in the choir crowd and I was looking forward to people getting to know me better. The thought of all these strange new faces in a place I had never been before was also a little scary to me. I suffered (and still do) from social anxiety disorder. Large groups of people made my heart race. My craving for friendship was much stronger than my anxiety though, so I made sure to sign up for the trip.
School finally ended and I was out of there like a rocket. Everyone was meeting in the music room where all of our belongings had been left for the duration of the school day. After most of the regular student crowd had left for their homes, Tom asked us all to gather outside in the parking lot. Since the timing of Tom’s idea was short notice, the school didn’t have the time or the money to get the two busses we needed. Instead he asked some of the parent chaperones to drive the rest of us up to the campground.
After an hour and a half drive, we arrived at the retreat location. Everyone looked around at the new environment as they tumbled out of the cars and the bus. The place was especially beautiful since it was covered in six inches of snow. Tom and the parent chaperones got the group to focus and follow them to the lodge. Once we were all in the building, Tom had us sit in a large circle and introduce ourselves one by one. After each person had taken their turn, Tom explained to us why we were at the retreat.
“We need to form into one large choral family,” he said. “If we continue to sing as multiple voices in a large crowd, that’s how we’ll sound. We want to sound as one voice and to do that we have to become comfortable with each other.”
After a short time of the entire choral student body singing, we socialized with one another for the rest of the day in hopes we would become fast friends. When night came we were assigned our cabins and continued talking late into the evening. My cabin mates and I awoke early Saturday morning freezing from head to toe. The cold got us out of bed, dressed, and down to the mess hall for breakfast. After we ate, Tom announced the day’s itinerary. Each choir would get an hour and a half of practice together and after lunch we would all get an hour of free time to enjoy the scenery before joining as a whole to sing together as one.
The Ladies Ensemble worked hard that morning and hoped our new formed friendships from the night before had started to become solid. We sang our little hearts out to Tom and when our session was finished, he smiled to us and said, “Your singing was the best I’ve heard from you ladies this year. Keep it up and we can win some choral festivals.”
We all left with smiles on our faces, chattering to each other like young birds in spring. Our afternoon was spent laughing, having snowball fights, and becoming closer friends. People who have never done more than greet each other became best friends. Outcasts hung out with the popular kids and athletes spent quality time with the drama geeks. Music definitely has a way of bringing people from different backgrounds together.
After lunch, we slowly made our way back to the lodge for our larger group session. Once we were all together, we found out the song we sang separately was the same song we would be singing as a whole. In learning our parts without the distraction of the other choirs, we were able to join as one voice. I was in awe of how much we had changed in such a short time. Tom was so positive and inspiring to us, he made us want to be better, and in doing so, we sounded fantastic. After dinner we moved all of our pillows and blankets into the lodge and spent the whole night not as a bunch of voices in a crowd, but as a family of one voice.
Sunday morning felt a little bittersweet as we gathered our belongings together and packed into our transportation to head back to the high school. We were good together, but we all knew our connection couldn’t be the same when we got back to the campus. With everyone belonging to different cliques, we would stay close only when music was in the background.