On May 18, the 79-voice University of Northwestern Choir, under the direction of Timothy Sawyer, embarked on a two-week concert, ministry and cross-cultural tour of the Baltic countries of Latvia, Estonia and Finland. The international tour brought with it the usual mishaps—lost boxes of choir robes, jet lag and rain—but also facilitated joy amidst the choir and inspired the faith of listeners.
The choir’s program, “Sacred Bridges,” represented a musical response to the 1990s Soviet freedom movement (often called “The Singing Revolution”) in the Baltic States. Through the tour and the music, the choir focused on the ultimate Sacred Bridge: The Cross of Christ, the bridge between God and all people of the world. Through one piece, O Crux, the choir lifted their voices to deliver their message about the Cross. It was composed by John Orfe especially for the choir and trombonist Jeremy Kolwinska, chair of the Department of Music.
Tour performance stops included Riga, Latvia, at the Riga Dome Cathedral, the Estonian cities of Tartu, Narva and Talinn—at the Oleviste Church—and finally the Finnish cities of Turku and Helsinki.
Offering ‘everything we had to give’
The final concert and a worship service were held in the famous Tempeliaukio (Rock Church) in Helsinki, Finland. Soprano Anna Osborne ’11 said in the choir’s blog, “The [Temppeliaukio] church is actually carved into the rock, and the roof compels you to look up into the light…. As we offered Him everything that we had to give—…our exhaustion…as well as our exuberance, joy and love—He… transformed us, using us to make His name great and greatly known.”
The tour was full of joy but had times of grief as well. The day before the choir left Minnesota, Sawyer’s father suffered a massive stroke. Sawyer joined the tour a day late and his father died while the group was still overseas. Reflecting on this turn of events, Sawyer wrote:
“Surrounded by my choir ‘family’ during each day, with their amazing singing to keep us focused on the task at hand, there was nowhere else in the world I could have been. I know my dad wanted me to go, and my wife, children and an army of friends loved, supported and prayed us through a difficult two weeks. I am once again humbled and uplifted by God’s faithfulness….”