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Due to yesterday’s delay we missed our first evening performance.  However, that was a sold out concert with 1500 patrons so the presenter asked if we could do a 5:30 show and a 7:30 show tonight to accommodate those from the previous night.  There was some discussion about if the kids were up for 180 minutes of singing, but we decided we’d give it a try.  After a sound check we were ushered into a smaller theater and introduced to a local children’s choir and their parents.  Each of their children brought a unique gift to exchange with our boys to welcome them to their city.  I had not anticipated such a wonderful reception with such genuine warmth.  The boys were treated like honored guests and loved being the center of the attention.

When we arrived at the theater they showed me to my private, VIP dressing room.  I can certainly get used to this treatment.

A promotional post card sent out to patrons in Changsha

As we toured the space a Chinese man came up to me and handed me a stack of post cards.  On the postcard was an older picture of the TBC.  He pointed to a handsome boy in the picture and asked where he was.  I was overcome with pride as I realized that he was pointing to a picture of my son, Max.  I did not expect to have a proud parent moment on this trip since my son is no longer a part of the TBC, but I was completely overwhelmed with emotion as I thought of my son back in the US.  The theater mailed tons of these postcards out to their patrons and, according to this man, everyone wanted to see this specific boy when the TBC came.

Truth be told – I wanted to see that boy too.

Frisbee in Wuhan

Getting 28 children and their 70 suitcases through and across the streets of Beijing on foot past very persistent beggars and then through security was quite an adventure today.  However, the bullet train from Beijing was worth the effort and energy.  The ride was smooth as silk and the train traveled at 305 kilometers and hour.  It was a great way to travel and see the countryside wiz by.  Unfortunately, when the train made it’s stop in Wuhan a voice came on and announced (in Chinese) that the train could not continue due to a flooded tunnel.  While we waited for a bus to take us the next 6 hours to Changsha, I took most of the boys out to play frisbee in front of the terminal.  We had a lot of fun throwing the frisbee around for a couple hours until the bus arrived.

 

 

I signed a girl’s shirt

Today was day 2 of sightseeing in Beijing and we visited their Olympic park.  Americans tend to stand out quite a bit here and it’s not considered rude to stare – so we are beginning to get used to having all eyes on us as we travel.  The boys are adorable all by themselves and often parents will send their children to stand next to a boy so they can snap a picture.  One of the other chaperones on the trip is a 6’6” Canadian with a long beard – so he’s also a bit of a crowd favorite.  However, even I occasionally garner a ‘fan’ or two and today was no exception.  This time a young woman came up to me holding a pen out to me and said, “You sign my shirt please”  I wasn’t sure I understood, but she stretched the bottom of her shirt out in her other hand and it soon became clear that she really did want me to sign her shirt…  So I did.  Somewhere in China there is a young woman walking around in a shirt with my signature at the bottom of it.  I’m not sure who she thought I was, but it was flattering all the same.

Celebrating Independence Day China

The TBC boys try their hand at grilling.

This evening we joined forces with parents and students from the Amerilish school in Beijing to celebrate the forth of July on some farm land far outside of the city.  After a long bus ride down some ridiculously narrow streets, we arrived at a resort with several fun things for the boys to do.  They set up several narrow bar-b-cue pits and provided us with plates of prepared meats and vegetables on wooden skewers.  There were no verbal instructions, but the kids didn’t seem to hesitate to take the reins and begin grilling the meat.  I was pretty worried that someone might be injured or the meat wouldn’t be cooked well, but the boys were careful and Mr. Chen, our bus driver, was very helpful in showing the kids how to get it just right.  As it began to get dark they brought out a large metal barrel full of scrap wood and dumped several shovels full of glowing coals on top of it.  The barrel quickly burst into flames as Chinese pop music was screaming from two speakers.  The Chinese people led us in a couple dances and then our host played the always appropriate – Chicken Dance followed by the Macarena.  The TBC boys followed suit dancing, laughing and singing in conga lines around the bonfire.

Mr. Earl told them a campfire story from his scouting days and the boys sang a traditional Chinese song for a very appreciative crowd.  As the bonfire began to wind down a bit we roasted marshmallows and made s’mores for everyone.

The hosts then passed out a ton of sparklers and began shooting off tons of fireworks which lit up the night as the boys ran around the race track usually used for racing ATV’s.

It was an unforgettable way to celebrate American independence.

Getting ready

Yesterday morning I played for the funeral of Burrel Wooten, a 100 year old member at Ridglea United Methodist Church. My family and I grew up in that church family and seeing several old friends and getting to play in their beautiful sanctuary was a real treat.

Mary picked me up after the service and had a sandwich from Jimmy John’s ready for me to eat on the way to my final rehearsal at Brookhaven. My friend Debbie did an outstanding job stepping into my shoes at the piano and I was very relieved to know they were in such good hands. After rehearsal, Mary and I ate dinner at Terra in Las Colinas and then checked in at the Embassy Suites by the airport.  For years, Mary has said she’d like to stay at this hotel. It is quite beautiful. It has 10 floors with a huge atrium in the middle with giant goldfish swimming in a man made stream complete with a waterfall.

We decided to splurge so it would be easier to get to the airport in the morning. We explored the hotel, played several games of cards and watched a movie. She fell asleep pretty quickly, but I had a very hard time going to sleep thinking about this trip.
This morning I had a yummy breakfast and caught a Lyft to my gate where a few TBC parents were already gathered. Quickly the terminal filled with boys and their lovingly nervous parents. We checked all their bags and the boys gathered to sing “God Bless America” and then say their goodbyes. There were tears and hugs and final lectures about finishing summer reading and then… there were no more parents.

The plane is much more spacious than I remember from my last trip and the entertainment options are extensive. There’s seat to seat chat and video games and movies. Several options to keep the kids busy as we fly 7000 miles to Beijing.

My return to China

Ellie Lin at the Piano
My son, Max was a member of the Texas Boys choir for five years. His time with the TBC unlocked a world of musical artistry that very few people may ever know. I am deeply indebted to his directors, Mr. Bryan Priddy and Ms. Ellie Lin for teaching him to strive for an extremely high level of musicianship. Along the way he also learned a great deal about being a part of a community of musicians. These years are more precious to him than almost any other experience and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. It has shaped him into who he is.

On a couple of occasions during his time with the TBC, I was able to come and play piano for the ensemble which offered me a front row seat to observe how this very special ensemble operates. This also allowed me to become very close to both Mr. Priddy and Ms. Lin.

Max and his friends on a break.
A year ago, when his voice began to change, his time with the TBC concluded with an amazing tour to Germany. It is a huge understatement to say that this ending and transition into a different singing ensemble was an emotionally difficult one for the entire family. When Max aged out it also seemed that my time with the TBC had also come to a close.

Max and I were very sad to hear of Mr. Priddy’s resignation shortly after spring break this year. His hard work and dedication to the TBC provided countless memories for Max and his departure would surely be a huge blow to the boys.  Ellie stepped in to fill his shoes in the directors position which left the seat at the piano vacant for their upcoming month long tour to 16 venues in China.

When Ms. Lin contacted me and asked if I’d be available to join her, it was incredibly bittersweet for me. Of course the opportunity to tour China with a world class ensemble and with a musician of her caliber was a once in a lifetime chance and a huge honor for me. However, to go without Max is heartbreaking to say the least. However, Max was incredibly supportive as was my wife, Mary.  They encouraged me to say yes and find a way to make this happen. 

Although my duties as a high school choir director are minimal in July, I still have 4 services to sing and play for at First United Methodist church each Sunday as well as a summer musical to music direct at Brookhaven College in Dallas. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sneak away from these commitments, but both institutions were overwhelmingly supportive in my seizing this opportunity to travel. Peggy Graff and Robert Stovall at the church were able to find pianists to cover for me there and wished me well on my journey. As for the summer musical – I was lucky enough to have a great friend and musical soulmate willing to take on the enormous task of playing and musical directing the show for me. I told director, Darise Error that my friend Debbie Pesnell and I share a musical brain and I truly believe she would do an amazing job picking up where I left off. It was a true act of faith and good will on her part to allow me to make this arrangement.

With all these loose ends tied up, I was finally able to say yes and sign on for this unforgettable opportunity to perform all over China.

I am incredibly excited and can not wait to see what unfolds.

Back to school, El fortin, and Francisco Delgado Soto

Today we El Fortin from inside the municipal complexIMG_4740returned to the classroom aft an incredible trip to Manuel Antonio.  Results from our test were not as terrible as we thought.  Both Mary and I made B’s and our professor offered to retest us on Friday which would give both of us a chance to make up for our errors and omissions.  After school we caught a cab to central park The view from the towerso we could meet our friends’ host mother. We were a bit early so I suggested we go get a pass to climb up the inside of El Fortin.  The director of Sol Education told us during our tour of the city that we could obtain a free pass to do so by visiting the municipal offices.  It was very easy to obtain the pass and we started to walk to the tower.  A guard took our pass and escorted us to the tower where we assented the spiral staircase to the upper levels of the tower.  The inside of the tower wasn’t much to look at, but the view of the central park was well worth the climb.  

After we descended we met our friend’s host mom and crossed central park to catch a bus.  IMG_4739As we walked we observed an older man playing a very collorful game in the center of the park.  He caught me looking and invited me to play a game he said he invented called Mache.  I was a little vague on the scoring, but it involved using a colorful stick to scoop a tennis ball towards some very colorful towers which contained little knobs made from water bottle tops.  The whole thing was very charming and somehow I did very well and one a short game.  The old man’s name was Francisco Delgado Soto.  He was once a football (soccer) star in the area and now he spends his afternoons entertaining people with this game in the park here in heredia as well as San Jose.  There’s an article about him online hereThese were part of a game being played in the central park shared with us by its inventorI won?!IMG_4779Inventor of the game "Hecho"?

After our game with Senor Delgado Soto, we caught a bus with our friend’s host mother to a little town called Barva.

She had told us that this was a little town which was more historic and art centered than Heredia.  There was a church and a nice park bustling with activity.  A boy on a skateboard and another juggling some 8 balls at a time.  The town is known for its mask making and there were masks all around to back that statement up.  We wandered into the municipal area and a man from the government meeting came out and told us all about the city.  He was excusably friendly and welcoming.  We were as gracious as possible, but we’re exhausted and ready to go home.
Beans and rice for dinner again and were off to sleep.

River Shoes

Today we boarded a bus for some river rafting. When we arrived they served us a nice breakfast and then we took another bus with our rafts in tow to our river entrance.  All the way our guide, Diego, was pointing out interesting trees and houses.

558234_330861963672078_1644071470_nAfter a quick primer on river rafting we climbed down and into the rafts.  Our raft guide’s name was Mano and he enjoyed splashing us all with his paddle.  the water was cold and the river beautiful.  The splashes were shockingly cold, but we are soon soaked to the core anyway and it was cool and comfortable.  Along the way our guide would shout simple commands for us to row forward or back etc. as he steered from the back.  It was not long before one of us fell over backwards into the river.  We had been told that’s usually two people fall in.  We were not misinformed.
As we went along I felt my arms growing tired, but the thrill of the water and the imminent possibility of taking a swim made e whole trip exciting.  The day began sunny, but became cloudy as we went meaning we didn’t need to squint and weren’t baked by the sun.

Our guide was a bird lover and pointed out several species of birds including a tiger heron as well as many native plants and trees.  He often grabbed samples for us to smell.
The trip was full of class 3 rapids and almost nonstop laughter from our raft at least.  Mano was the perfect mix of reckless thrill seeker and fatherly Shepard.  The trip lasted the perfect amount of time and ended with a more peaceful stretch of river where we attempted to speak some Spanish with our guide.

A short bus ride took us back to where we ate breakfast where they had a delicious lunch of roasted chicken with rice and beans.  After the river adventures it was delicious.
After an arduous and much detoured 5 hour bus ride, we finally arrived back in Heredia and were dropped off close to our home.  We had been advised to get a cab since it was dark, but since we’re strapped for cash, we opted to walk with two of our friends who live close.  As it began to rain softly we looked around and realized we weren’t where we thought we were and since it was night we weren’t correctly oriented.  However the GPS on my iPhone in conjunction with the help of many friendly people on the street soon got us walking in the correct direction.  (Without an Internet connection, the map feature on the iPhone is much more vague)

Casa, dolce, Casa!

Candlelit Dinner

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Our friend Kourtney smiles by candlelight – She reminds me a lot of my youngest daughter Madeleine, but all grown up!

After unloading about 10 pounds of sand each in our first warm shower in a week, Mary and took a short nap followed by dinner at an outdoor restaurant.  Again not amazing food and even worse service, but great company makes that not matter at all.

We were all pretty much finished eating when the power went out to the entire city.  The hum of generators ceased, street lights went out and all that was left was the sounds of the jungle.  I had read at the hotel that outages are common due to the vast quantity of trees surrounding the area.  The restaurant brought out bottles with candles atop and we continued to enjoy each other’s company by candlelight.  It turned the fun trip to eat into a quaint little adventure of its own.  An unexpected treat for sure followed by one of the most restful nights sleep I’ve had for quite a while.IMG_4670

Beach Monkeys

We arrived at the hotel and loaded our luggage in.  The directors were very sweet to give Mary and I a room together.  Many other students were 4 to a room so it was nice not IMG_4624to be separated.  After loading in we took a thirty minute hike through the Manuel Antonio National Park with Janiva pointing out birds and plants of all shapes and kinds.  We saw a beautiful Toucan perched in the canopy above us.  It wasn’t long before our hike through the jungle took us to a private beach.  I wasted no time and hopped in and began swimming and body surfing.  I was first and I’m told I looked like a little kid.  It was fantastic.  The waves were much more powerful than I’m used to in the Gulf of Mexico and the water was very clean.  The powerful waves lifted me up and threw me around.  It was like being a kid again.  No one has been able to throw me around since I was little and the feeling was like flying.  I didn’t want to stop.

Sand got everywhere, but we played and played. The national park had to close so we packed up and started hiking out.  On the way we finally saw some monkeys – maybe about eight of them -climbing in the trees around our heads.  Again, I’ve seen these in zoos, but when the bars aren’t there its a very much more personal experience.  We were warned that they like to steal lunches and backpacks so the monkeys and I we were eying each other not knowing what to expect.  They’re cute little guys.  A Toucan in Pargue de Manuel AntonioLas tres amigas en los aguas de Océano PacíficoIMG_4594IMG_4627IMG_4628IMG_4657