In May 2018, the Biola University Chorale went on a week-long choir tour in Ireland. The Chorale typically tours internationally once every four years, previously traveling to places like Italy, Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic and South Korea.

Shawna Stewart, associate professor of music and director of the Biola Chorale, prepared a program of diverse repertoire for the Chorale students to perform, including pieces from composers like Palestrina and Calalang, and featuring styles ranging from sacred music to folk songs.

During the tour, the Chorale visited and performed in beautiful venues across the country including the Gothic Church at Kylemore Abbey in Galway and Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. Their repertoire included unique pieces that addressed the difficult topic of suicide. The piece “Please Stay” by Jake Runestad brings awareness to the reality of suicide and mental health issues, and includes quotes from those who have actively struggled with, or have been deeply impacted by it.

Stewart shared her reason for choosing this repertoire.

“Every year, I hear more and more stories of our Biola students – our Chorale family – who are struggling with intense feelings of depression and some with thoughts of or attempts at suicide,” said Stewart. “Many of our students have also been deeply affected by someone struggling with suicide or have experienced loss because of it. I wanted Chorale to have a place to engage in discussion about depression and suicide in a beautiful, meaningful, healing, Christ-centered way. I wanted our students to know they are not alone. But I wanted to also bring this topic to our audiences to start the conversation, to tell the larger community, ‘they are not alone.’”  

“Please Stay” was followed by another piece titled, “Do Not Be Afraid.” Based on Isaiah 43, this piece is a declaration of faith and hope. Chorale member Katie Bartlett reflected on the piece’s powerful impact in her own life.  

“We communicated a meaningful message,” stated Katie. “Not only are our lives valuable and worth living, but we are valued and worthy in the eyes of our Creator, who will redeem us, calm our deepest fears and constantly assure us that we are His children, here for a reason.”

When not performing or rehearsing, the Chorale enjoyed some authentic Irish experiences such as a sheep dog demonstration, a trip to the Cliffs of Moher and Glacier Pass and a meal of traditional fish and chips.

Chorale member and president Tyler Hays shared that his favorite experience while on tour was a collaborative concert with the New Dublin Voices.

“Singing with the New Dublin Voices on our final night of the tour was such a privilege,” shared Hays. “[We joined them in singing] a traditional song in their native tongue, Gaelic.”

From extremely impactful post-concert conversations, to Chorale’s joyful laughter and comradery, to seeing God’s glory shine through each and every performance, this trip will be remembered for years to come for the students and the faculty.

For more information about the choral department, please visit the Conservatory of Music website.