Impossibly improbable, crazy once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are hard to pass up, so when I heard Eric Nelson, director of choral studies at Emory University and director of the Atlanta Sacred Chorale issue the invitation at the Montreat Music Conference in 2008, I said yes.
How do you not try? How can you pass up the chance to try? So, we went home and announced it to our congregation and started raising money. We sold fruit, held garage sales, and held a tea party with entertainment. February came and we were short by $10,000.
The bottom had dropped out of the economy and sponsors were backing out. I had pneumonia and so did five choir members. Then, dreadful news — one of us had breast cancer. If we backed out we would lose everything we had put down, thousands of dollars. So, we cried and we prayed and drove up and down the streets, knocking on business doors. And then our miracle occurred — the cancer hadn’t spread and she would be able to undergo surgery and radiation, finishing just 10 days before departure.
Kingsway International, the organizer of the World Festival of Voices event, granted an extension until April, giving us two months to raise the money. It was all we needed to a start packing and writing a mystery dinner cruise.
On June 2, 10 members of St. Andrew’s and the director of music from Central Church in Anderson, S.C. — Mandy Keathley, and the director of music from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Janet Elshazly and her sister, Peggy Wagner, left to join Eric Nelson in Sydney. We rehearsed with community and college choruses from Georgia and Louisiana; and from Australia: a community choir from Queensland, a high school chorus and boys chorus from Sydney, to make a 170-voice choir. We were the only church choir out of the hundreds of directors and choir members who had received the invitation last summer.
I cannot ably express how each of us felt as they handed us our backstage performer’s passes at the Opera House and we headed for the green room where countless world famous performers had waited to walk on that stage. For me, I had reached for the impossible star and God just laid it in my hand.
M. J. Keathley is director of music at St. Andrew’s Church in Charleston, S.C.