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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.