The Choir's final concert - St. Paul's Cathedral, London

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Saint Louis

After a smooth and uneventful flight across the Atlantic, and another quick flight from Chicago to Saint Louis, we arrived safely home around 3:30 yesterday afternoon. At least I think it was yesterday - it's now 4:00 a.m. and I'm wide awake, of course! I've got a start on the laundry, am going to look at the mail, and start the return to reality.

The past two weeks have been incredible. The journey was different for everyone, and it is my prayer that all who went, and all you who followed us via the blog, have had eyes opened, minds stretched, and souls fed. I need a few days to digest everything and work out some thoughts on paper. I will share more on this site in the coming days.

I'll leave the blog up through the end of the month so the travelers can enjoy the photos and posts. Thank you, dear readers, for traveling with us these past days.

So, when and where will we take our next trip??

Peace be with you, and glad to be home!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Our Last Day

In less than 12 hours we will be at Heathrow Airport waiting for our flight back to the States. It's hard to believe that our tour has come to an end.

Today was fantastic! We left the hotel mid morning, drove through some scenic and well-known parts of London, and arrived at St. Paul's Cathedral late morning. The Choir was allowed to use the cathedral's choir room for a rehearsal (see photo below). Their rehearsal room is in the lower level (Crypt) and has vaulted ceilings, a small pipe organ, and fabulous acoustics. It was an emotional time for me and many others, knowing that we were not only preparing to sing our final concert, but under the great dome of St. Paul's, England's state cathedral.

We were escorted into place, introduced by one of the cathedral vergers, and sang our concert. The Choir rose to the challenge of singing in this immense space, under the massive dome, and performed their absolute best concert of the entire tour. Margaret, our escort from the Cathedral's music department, was effusive with her praise and congratulations. Well done, Choir!!

I found myself in tears on many occasions today: realizing that we were rehearsing the choir room of St. Paul's, where countless choristers and incredible masters of music have practiced and rehearsed over the years, realizing that we were to sing in the Cathedral itself, realizing that our time in the UK was coming to an end, yes.....but more importantly I shed tears of joy because of the countless blessings and gifts those on this tour have brought to each other, and especially me. I am beyond words.

We rise early tomorrow (5:00 a.m.) to begin the journey home. Please pray for us as we make our way back across the pond, and we look forward to seeing you and sharing our stories and experiences!

Much love, peace, and many blessings from us to you,
Bill and the Choir

London continued

I apologize for not writing a new post or publishing photos last night. We went to the theatre and didn't get back to the hotel until after midnight!

Yesterday was our first full day in London, and our group covered a lot of ground. We drove around the city in the morning then attended Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. After that, some left the city and toured Canterbury in the afternoon while others explored London on their own. Last night was at leisure and several headed to the West End and took in a show. It was a beautiful day and evening for everyone.

We just finished breakfast and depart in an hour for St. Paul's Cathedral to prepare for our final concert. I am experiencing a good mix of nerves and excitement for this performance at the state cathedral of London. I'm also a bit melancholy knowing this is our last performance, and tomorrow at this time we will be at Heathrow awaiting our flight.

The experiences on this tour have far exceeded any expectation I had. Everyone has been jovial, flexible, gracious, caring, kind, and fun. I am so proud of our Choir and the entire group.

Scroll down to see some photos from my day in London yesterday, and I'll post again this evening.

Blessings from London!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


It has been a long but remarkable day for us in the UK, friends. We left Oxford early this morning. The sun was shining and there was a wee bit of frost here and there. We first stopped and walked around Stonehenge. There was not a cloud in the sky and we enjoyed the beauty of this ancient stone formation in full sun.

We then drove to Winchester, a lovely town whose cathedral boasts the longest nave in the UK. The Choir performed their forth concert of the tour, and in their director's opinion, it was the best performance yet. We had time to rehearse on the chancel steps, and the rich acoustic was grand to sing in! We had an appreciative audience, and many enjoyed a tour of the cathedral after the concert.

Winchester Cathedral was founded in the year 624 and the current building dates back to the 11th century. Jane Austen is buried in Winchester Cathedral. Following lunch and a sunny Sunday stroll through Winchester, we boarded our coach and drove to London, our final city of the tour. Several of us took the Tube into Picadilly and had dinner.

Tomorrow we see the city sights, some will tour Canterbury in the afternoon, and some will attend London theatre in the evening. Our final concert is Tuesday midday.

All is well and we are happy to be in London! Scroll down to see lots of pictures from today.


Saturday, October 16, 2010


Oxford. The town name alone conjures up countless visions of students bustling about in black capes, medieval buildings, grand halls and libraries. Oxford was all that and more!

We left our lovely Inn in Coventry this morning and drove south, enjoying beautiful country scenery (it's still very green here) in the sunshine. We made a short stop in the quaint village of Moreton-in-Marsh, drove through Stow-on-the-Wold, and continued to Oxford. We had time for a leisurely lunch, during which time we treated the "Choir Queens" to a thank you lunch for all the work they did with fund raising for our trip.

We had a walking tour of Oxford in the afternoon. Oxford University is comprised of 38 colleges, many of which date back to the early 13th century. The architecture is amazing, and each building was more stately than the previous one. We concluded the tour at Christ Church and walked through the great dining hall, the very one where Harry Potter and his friends dine in all the movies! Yes, Hogwarts was filmed at Christ Church College in Oxford!

We toured in the rain today, and it was hard to believe that we had no rain until Day #9. The weather has turned much colder as well. Tomorrow we make a stop at world famous Stonehenge, then continue to Winchester Cathedral where the Choir will present a 1:00 recital.

Scroll down for some new photos. Peace to you from Oxford!


It is a cold but clear and sunny Saturday morning in Coventry. We are preparing to board our coach and drive through the Cotswolds to Oxford.

Several of our travelers and singers are getting sore and scratchy throats, which is not at all unusual. However, we still have two concerts to sing: Winchester tomorrow and St. Paul's Cathedral, London on Tuesday. I am asking for prayers and good wishes from our devoted and loving followers from the States that our throats will be soothed and anxieties lessened. I'm hoping that the gorgeous sunny weather will help, too!

Other than these few minor health issues, spirits are high and everyone is still having a marvelous time.

More tonight from Oxford,

Friday, October 15, 2010


We enjoyed a relaxing day after much travel and singing the past few days. After sleeping in and a late breakfast we drove to Stratford, stopping en route to visit Anne Hathaway's house. This wonderfully preserved home dates from the early 16th century and contains a few pieces of original furniture. The gardens surrounding the house still have blooming flowers, vegetables and all sorts of beautiful flora.

Stratford is still a vibrant city, and in the middle of town is the home of William Shakespeare. After a tour of the bard's childhood home we had the afternoon at leisure in Stratford. We returned to the hotel early and saw rain for the first time late this afternoon. Dinner will be enjoyed again tonight at our lovely English Inn.

Tomorrow we head for Oxford. Blessings to everyone reading this across the pond in the States!

Peace and blessings,

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Greetings from Coventry, England! We left York early this morning and drove 3 hours south, arriving in the city of Coventry at noon. We popped into the choir room at the cathedral, warmed up for 10 minutes, donned our robes, and sang a half hour concert in the modern Cathedral Church of St. Michael. The story and history of this town and its cathedral is fascinating.

The original cathedral, dating back 1,000 years, was destroyed by German bombs in an air raid during World War II in November 1940. The morning after the town and the cathedral were decimated, the decision was made immediatley to build a new cathedral, quite controversial at the time. The cornerstone was laid by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 and she returned for the consecration in 1962. The new cathedral is built and attached to the ruins of the old cathedral, of which the tower and walls still stand.

The site is truly sacred and holy space. The shell of the old cathedral is a reminder of the devastation and horror produced by WWII, and throughout both the old and new structures, offerings of art and sculpture from the Germans and Japanese make real the promise of reconciliation and peace. The morning after the bombing, the Dean of Coventry Cathedral wrote in the charred remains, "Father Forgive" and these words remain etched in the old cathedral as a reminder of the forgiveness offered to us all, friend and enemy alike.

The Choir's concert was superb, even more so because the Assistant Director of Music for the Cathedral attended our performance and was so very, very complimentary about our singing. Bravo, Choir!! An added bonus was the addition of David and Jani Holyan, our pastor and his wife, in the audience. David is doing his doctoral study in Cambridge this week and they took an afternoon to travel north and hear their choir. Thank you for joining us, David and Jani!

We are staying the next two evenings in the most quaint and charming English Inn. We love it! Tomorrow will be a relaxed day visiting Stratford-upon-Avon. Scroll down for new photos.

Peace be with you,

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


It's been a marvelous day in York, England! We drove into this ancient city after breakfast and walked to York Minster, the massive cathedral church in the middle of town. After a tour of the cathedral and viewing its incredible stained glass windows, we performed a 20 minute recital in the north transept. Once again we heard ourselves singing in a space that has produced magnificent sacred music for centuries - what an awesome feeling. The window behind where we sang (see the photos below) dates from the 13th century and contains over 100,000 pieces of glass.

After the recital we had a short tour of the city, then were "set free" for an afternoon of leisure. Most of us wandered the city, shopped, ate, and enjoyed another sunny day in England. We wandered down Shambles Street with its ancient street, shops, and houses, expecting Charles Dickens to come walking around the corner at any moment!

Some of us returned to the Minster at 5:15 and attended Choral Evensong. We sat in the Quire and were mesmerized by the choir of men and girls (the boys and girls alternate days) as they led us in choral prayer.

Tomorrow morning we drive south to Canterbury and sing a half hour concert at 1:00 p.m. I am proud and so happy to let you know that at the end of each day I have said, "It's been a great day!" Thank you all, at home and abroad, for your prayers and good wishes. We do carry them with us everywhere we go.

Enjoy some new new pictures to the right and below.

Peace and good night,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


After many hours on the bus we arrived early this evening in York, England. We began our day by bidding farewell to lovely Edinburgh. After a quick stop at the border, we drove into England where the sun has been shining all day!

The highlight of our day was an afternoon visit to Durham Cathedral. This massive Norman structure sits on top of a high hill in the college city of Durham and is impressive beyond words. The structure is seeped in history - the nave being completed in the year 1133 - and also houses the remains of St. Cuthbert and St. Bede. It was a wonderful experience for us to walk through the cathedral and grounds. Google it if you have never seen it! Jason Alcorn, Andy Hampton, and I braved our way up 325 stairs to stand on top of the main tower. There are photos below of the gorgeous view from the top.

After leaving Durham we drove another 2 hours and made it to York where we will be staying for two nights. We sing a short (20 minute) recital in York Minster tomorrow, one of the largest cathedrals north of the Alps, then will tour the town.

My posts have been brief the past few evenings as I have been exhausted by the time I can blog! It's not quite so late today, so I can share a few more details of our first concert at St. Giles' on Monday. After I played the organ solo (the "Final" from Vierne's first organ symphony - I'm still on cloud nine) a Scottish gentleman was waiting for me. He was visiting Edinburgh from the north, attended the concert, and asked if our choir was the Cathedral Choir! I told him that we were from the USA and on tour, and his reply was, "You should be the cathedral choir!" Everyone thus far has been so gracious and kind, and very helpful.

The spirit among the group still amazes me - even at breakfast at the early hours there is much laughter and visiting, everyone truly enjoying each other's company. This trip continues to be such a blessing for everyone, and especially their director.

OK, enough talk....scroll down to see photos!


Monday, October 11, 2010

Edinburgh Day 3

Today was....magical. We began the day with our first concert at St. Giles' Cathedral, the "Mother Church" for Presbyterians. The Choir sang so beautifully in this grand space. Their director could not be prouder! An added inspiration to our day: just before we sang the sun finally came out! The cathedral was filled with joyous, lovely light! It truly was a sign and inspiration for us all.

After the midday concert we grabbed a quick lunch then toured Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood House, the early summer residence of Queen Elizabeth. This evening we enjoyed a lovely dinner with traditional Scottish music and dancing and a taste of the haggis! We depart this incredible city tomorrow morning and head south into England. We will stop in Durham and end the day in York.

Scroll down to enjoy photos of our magical day in Edinburgh!

God bless,

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Edinburgh, Day 2

We began our day with a delicious Scottish breakfast at the hotel, then attended the 10.00 am Communion Worship Service at St. Giles' Cathedral. The liturgy was an inspiring, beautiful, and uplifting service for us! The music of the magnificent organ and cathedral choir, along with beautiful prayers, preaching, and a powerful communion service was a perfect start to our day.

We drove out of Edinburgh and visited Scone Palace, the home of the Earl of Mansfield. This exquisite country estate is filled with history and priceless artifacts and furnishings. After that we visited St. Andrews, nestled on the North Sea coastline. We walked through the ruins of the ancient cathedral then made a stop at the world famous St. Andrew's golf course. Our duffers were thrilled to be there!

Tomorrow we perform our first concert at St. Giles' Cathedral at 12:15. We are excited for this first performance in the "Mother Church" of Presbyterianism!

Scroll down to see some photos from today!

Peace from Scotland,

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Our travel across the Atlantic was uneventful and quick! We arrived at Manchester airport this morning at 8:00 UK time. We then drove through the lake district of northern England (gorgeous country!) into Scotland. We stopped for lunch at Gretna Green, and arrived in Edinburgh at 4:00 this afternoon. We were all very happy to be on solid ground and be able to shower and rest!

The weather is cool and cloudy, but that has not dampened the spirit of our group. Everyone is so excited to be here, and after a quick walk up the Royal Mile to St. Giles' Cathedral, I saw our concert poster posted for all to see. Our performance is there on Monday at noon.

It's been a long couple of days, but will post some pictures of the group and will update tomorrow.

Blessings from Scotland,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Departure Day has arrived!

A Prayer for the Journey

O God of Heather and Field, Hearth and Home, Kirk and Cathedral, grant unto your pilgrims the safety of crossing the waters, the joy of lifting up melodies and musings in the beauty that awaits them. May their voices be as one in the lifting of souls and spirits so that the beauty and the grander of holy places will be as alive as the soul of the saints that dwell where they go. May they find peace in the stillness, laughter in folly, and awe in the stunning beauty of all that will envelop them.

“And May the strength of God pilot them.
            May the wisdom of God instruct them
                        May the hand of God protect them
                                    May the word of God direct them
                                                And May your salvation, O Lord, be always theirs
                                                            As they journey, and forevermore. *”        Amen

[Adapted from a Prayer of St. Patrick A.D. 373]

A Prayer Written by Rev. Dr. Paul T. Reiter on the occasion of the Choir Tour of the First presbyterian Church of Kirkwood, MO to Scotland and England

Dear friends,
After nearly two and half years of waiting, we leave today. 
My next post will be from Edinburgh!
Peace and Grace, Bill 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Joy of Packing

Every time I prepare to pack for an overseas trip I tell myself this time I will not overdo it, will pack light, keep it simple, I don't need that extra shirt, but what if [insert scenario here], etc....

What makes this situation even more special is that two of us in this house are experiencing the above :-)

24 hours until we depart for the airport!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Looking Good

Edinburgh's weather forecast as of this morning:
   Saturday 10/9: partly cloudy and 58
   Sunday 10/10: mostly sunny and 56
   Monday 10/11: sunny and 55
   Tuesday 10/12: partly cloudy and 53

Of course, this forecast will hold true and not change until we've left Edinburgh and are heading south into England.

I am getting very excited!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Finishing Touches

Last evening we had our final rehearsal before this Friday's departure. It was a good time of music practice, fine-tuning, and laughter. The sound put forth by these choristers is so lovely, and at times, pure bliss. The other element that was present last night was the spirit in this group of singers.

I spoke of connectedness to the Chancel Choir a few weeks ago. The members of a choir are connected by many things: notes, rhythms, breathing....this is the stuff of our "choral DNA." A choir is not a group of soloists, but an ensemble of sound. This only comes about through patient rehearsal and practice. I'm proud to say that the choir representing this congregation has achieved that beautiful ensemble, and will do us all proud!

3 days and counting.....

Peace be with you,

Monday, October 4, 2010

Blessed and (almost) Ready!

In worship yesterday, our pastor David commissioned and blessed the singers and travelers that will depart this Friday. This was especially appropriate as we were celebrating World Communion Sunday. For me, this made the trip so real and tangible, and feeling the prayers of blessing and safety was such a comfort. Thank you, David, and the entire congregation, for your support as we venture forth!

Tonight is our final rehearsal before departure this Friday. I am excited about our practice tonight and these final days of preparation. Stay tuned for more last minute details.