Day 1, 2
We made it!! After 31 hours of travel we all arrived safely here in Hobart, Tasmania along with every piece of luggage and instrument with nothing lost or broken. God is so good and faithful. It was a long trip with interesting transport to a different terminals in LAX as well as a surprise $5 charge for transport to a different terminal in Sydney. Some had to borrow from friends since not everyone had Australian money yet but we all will be reimbursed from our tour company which is good. The weather is cool especially on the top of Mount Wellington here in Hobart which we bussed up to and then took photos of the incredibly scenery trying not to get blown away from the wind!
After a quick bite to eat at the wharf, we checked into our hotel and got a little rest. Many enjoyed the rugby games on TV while some took a quick nap but were encouraged not to sleep long to allow our bodies the opportunity to adjust to Australian time which is 16 hrs ahead of our own. We walked to a fabulous dinner together with the opportunity for some to try seafood they had never had before. There were many bets on downing oysters and octopus. The food was fabulous but many were too tired to enjoy it. We then walked back to the hotel for a much needed rest.
We now have had a hot buffet breakfast of thick Australian bacon, eggs, stewed tomatoes and toast with vegemite and are ready to walk the tree tops of the rain forest at the Tahune Airwalk. We then will have a quick lunch, get out our instruments again and have a rehearsal tonight before meeting our host families for the next two nights.
We are just starting this adventure and excited to see what God has in store for us. May He allows us to be blessings to those who come into contact today.
Day 2 - Wednesday, May 21
After a continental breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, and stewed tomatoes, we loaded the coaches and set off for the Tahune Forest. We drove next to the Huan River and numerous apple orchards and cherry trees. One of the buses made a stop at an apple stand where we were able to enjoy fresh apples right next to the tress that grew them. Our next stop was at a little town called Bevenston. We bought lunch here because our bus driver told us that food at the Airwalk was a little "dearer" (more expensive). The locals of Geeveston were both welcoming and curious about where we were from. There eyes got big when we told them the winter temperatures of Minnesota.
Their fall is just starting, and every once in a while, we would see trees starting to turn autumn colors. The landscape here is breath taking in ever direction, with mountains and valleys said to be formed 16,000 years ago when "Tazzie" (Tasmania) broke off from the "North Island" (Australia).
At the Air Walk tour, we were able to learn more about the unique vegetation around us. On the cantilever, a metal bridge in the forest, we stood among the moss-covered tops of trees like Eucalyptus and Sassafras. The air here at 40 degrees latitude is some of the cleanest in the world, and smelling the rain forest was like having three weeks of spring condensed in each breath. After the Airwalk, we drove to the Howrah Primary School where we played our first notes in Tasmania. We practiced for a little over an hour before splitting up to go to host homes. Today's verse and devotion came from Mike Hebert who chose Colossians 4:6: "Let your speech always be gracious, as though seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone." Mike's encouragement was that we be intentional with what we say when speaking to people who may not know Christ. We feel honored to have been sent as light and salt in a country where the workers truly are few.
Day 3 - Thursday, May 22
Well, we are now trying to get use to walking on the left side of the sidewalk and when we cross the street, to look the opposite way we are use to. We also are figuring out about the two different buttons on the back of the toilets which we aren't use to in the US. The Tasmanian people are friendly and hospitable.
Today we got to visit the Cadbury Chocolate factory and everyone got to have lots of samples along the way. Most picked up gifts for friends and family or maybe just themselves! Some of us then went back to the Howrah Primary school where we rehearsed last night and worked with the students there in workshops while the rest when to the Hobart Botanical Gardens and enjoyed a sack lunch. It was beautiful even though very chilly. They are experiencing a cold snap like they haven't seen in 40 years here in Tasmanian this time of year. Most of us didn't pack enough warm things but are finding warm souvenirs.
We then all came together at the school and performed for a packed house of school girls and boys all sitting on the floor and bopping to the music we played. We then loaded up our instruments and had dinner at an Italian restaurant where we ate family style with pizza, pasta and more.
Afterwards, we drove to the Stanley Burbury Theatre where we joined with the Hobart City Concert Band in concert. We played to a packed house of an appreciative audience. We then went home once again with our Hobart hosts for a quick nights sleep before heading to Launceston.
Day 4 - Friday, May 23
This morning, it seemed like we all had a good story to tell about our host homes--especially about how many blankets we piled on our beds to st warm! We will never take central heating for granted again. here, the nightly temperatures have stayed around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F), and the main sources of heat in the houses are wood burning stoves and space heaters. the winters in Tasmania are thankfully not very log or severe. the weather still came as a shock to some of us who packed shorts and flip flops!
Today, we loaded onto the bus for a long drive to Launceston, which was made even longer by a detour caused by a "prang" (car accident). While the bus drivers negotiated through tight turns and dirt roads, we livened up the experience by having Marlys Allard read from our "quote book" full of fun and random things people have said during the tour.
At last, we reached Launceston College and were happy to be greeted by the smiling faces of the Esk Musicians and a large buffet provided by the college. At our afternoon workshop with the Esk musicians, we had one very important job to do: inspire the students. Our band split into two groups--one working with Mr. Loeffler and local conductor Katrina Hestell, and the other working with Mr. Mumford and Peter Quigley, conductor and arranger of all of our homestays in Launceston. The elementary-aged students were mixed in with the groups so that they could experience what it is like to play in a college band. We played along with the students through their curriculum and were able to get to know the children a little bit. At our pre-concert devotions, we prayed that these students' lives would be touched by God. We also prayed for Mr. Mumford's colleagues, whom he has been praying for over the course of nearly 15 years. At this point in the tour, people have already commented to us that there is something different about our band, a spirit that comes with us. We know that God is using us to make an impression in peoples' mind. Our concert that night was shared with the same students we workshopped with and was played with the Australian, Tasmanian, Aboriginal, and American flags strung overhead. After the concert, we met up with our Launceston host families for a night of much-needed rest in preparation for another full day.
Day 5 - Saturday, May 24
This morning, we set off for one of Mr. Mumford's favorite Tasmanian sites -- the Cataract Gorge. Barely ten minutes from the center of Launceston, the Gorge truly is spectacular. We viewed it from a hundred-year-old walkway that winds along its sides, and some of our braver band members even crossed over the Gorge on a chair lift. At the Gorge's outdoor cafe, we discovered that we had to protect our lunches from the very tame cafe peacocks that wandered around the tables looking for crumbs. They weren't shy at all and were more than willing to be photographed! Launceston Lakes' Wildlife Park was our next stop where we were finally able to see kangaroos, echidnas, emus, and even pet a wombat. It was especially exciting to watch the Tasmanian devils being fed. We learned that the island's signature mammal is actually in danger of extinction due to the rapidly spreading Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease. The devils we saw were part of the program to build a sustainable disease-free gene pool.
Back in Launceston again, we set up for rehearsal at St. John's church, our most exquisite concert venue by far. The church is ornate from floor to ceiling, covered with wood carvings and brick work from the 1850's. It was built entirely by the local congregation, and their emphasis on the beauty and grandeur of their house of worship is visible everywhere. Even though the church was quite cold, we were excited to bring our music to this special place. At our pre-concert devotions, Mike Hebert encouraged us to look at all the intricate work around us and realize that it was all painstakingly done over many years purely out of worship to God. In the same way, we have been working for years and years to be the musicians we are so that we can bring our gift of music to the Lord as a costly offering. Mike reminded us that we should not see these concerts simply as opportunities to perform; rather, we should be focusing on worshiping from our hearts as we play.
For the first half of the evening's program, we listened to the University of Tasmania Wind Orchestra conducted by our good friend Steve King who visited us during the '06-'07 school year. When it was our turn to play, Mr. Mumford was given a warm welcome home by the audience. Coming to Tasmania with him and seeing some of his favorite places has been a real treat for us throughout this experience.
Day 6 - Sunday, May 25
Sunday was our day of rest, and some of us were able to worship with those of the host families who attended church. Along with the Brass Ensemble performing, a couple of band members shared in the St. John's morning services. President Karl Meyers spoke and Vice President Peter Swanson shared in song.
While some band members did sight-seeing with the families, we mostly relaxed, did laundry, and enjoyed home-cooked Tasmanian dinners. It was nice to spend a full day with our hosts. While some of them were fellow believers, there were many who were not. We will continue praying for them as we travel, asking that God will fill their lives with His hope and peace.
Day 7 - Monday, May 26
At last, we've rediscovered Monday, which was lost last week somewhere over the Pacific Ocean as we flew through multiple time zones. Today, we said good-bye to our Launceston hosts and made our way back to Hobart. Along the way, Matt Selby led us in prayer for the communities we were leaving behind, asking God to fill them with His Spirit. We also had a chance to share some funs stories about our host homes. Thanks to their hospitality, we've been able to get a feel for what Tasmaina is truly like. Whether it was cooking us real Australian food or teaching us some Aussie slang, they have made this experience so much more meaningful for us. One host-home story came from a band member whose hosts were atheists. They revealed that they might never have stepped foot in a church had our concert not been at St. John's.
At last, our buses arrived at the Hobart airport, and despite being 15 minutes behind schedule, we still had some time to relax in the terminal. At this point, we have been on tour for over a week and have encountered no major problems. Mr. Loeffler reminded us that this is something we should never take for granted -- we know that God's grace has been surrounding us as we travel so far from home. We are grateful for the continuing prayers of our friends and families back in the States.
After a short flight to Melbourne and a stop at the Melbourne Metro Hostel, we had the rest of the day to explore the sights of Melbourne on our own. With a population of over three million people, the city was quite a change after being surrounded by the peaceful Tasmanian landscape. We spent that night at the hostel, which turned out to be one of the nicest hostels our tour coordinator Julie Johnson has stayed at on an international tour.
Day 8 - Tuesday, May 27
This morning we had some free time to explore Melbourne on our own and maybe pick up some souvenirs at the Queen Victoria Market, a large open-air bazaar. In the afternoon, a group of us joined Mr. Mumford at Blackburn High School for a workshop with their concert band. Their conductor, Andrew Mott, was another friend of Mr. Mumford's and was very open and welcoming to us. The workshop went well, and afterwards, everyone met up at the Box Hill Salvation Army Community Church for a wonderful dinner provided by the "Salvos" (Members of the Salvation Army Church). They even surprised us with Pavlova for dessert, which is a beautiful meringue cake with fruit slices on top.
Our evening concert would be shared with the Box Hill Salvation Army Concert Band and Big Band. At our combined rehearsal, we read some new works to be played jointly with the other bands. Having new music set in front of us was a fun challenge to throw into the middle of tour. We had time for only one read-through of the works before we met to pray. Members of the Salvation Army joined us for our devotions, which were lead by Sarah Zerbe. Her encouragement was for us to serve God even in the little things, and for us to take time to be close to God during this experience. The concert we played that night was an absolute joy. Being able to connect musically and spiritually with fellow believers was so special to us, and Mr. Loeffler was able to share with the people in the Salvation Army Church that our music was really all about an audience of One -- the Lord Jesus Christ.
Afterward, we met up and went home with our "billets" (hosts), who were also members of the Salvation Army, who truly blessed us with their generous hospitality.
Day 9 - Wednesday, May 28
After being dropped of at Box Hill by our hosts, we drove to Ballarat for a workshop and concert at the Ballarat Grammar School. The staff at the school welcomed us warmly and even set out "biscuits" (cookies) for us. Our workshop followed the same format as all of the others -- we mixed ourselves in with the students and played along with them while Mr. Mumford conducted. The students really seemed to enjoy having us! Our afternoon concert was attended by students in fifth through eighth grade, who were full of smiles to see us play. The performing space at Ballarat could not have been better -- the acoustics were the best we've encountered, and the space was even equipped with a brand-new German Steinway grand piano, which a lucky Andrea Needham got to play for "Children's March." We had an all-around good time in Ballarat, and on the way back, our bus drivers pointed out some of the interesting parts of the city, which was a part of the nineteenth-century gold rush.
Today was one of our less-busy days, giving us a chance to spend the evening with our host families. However, we also had the option of doing sight-seeing in Melbourne with some young adults from Box Hill. About thirty of us went out to ride the Giant Sky Ferris Wheel, get some real Aussie ice cream, and watch a fire ball show along the Yarra River.
Day 10 - Thursday, May 29
Our morning was spent volunteering at different Salvation Army locations throughout Melbourne. In addition to being a denomination, the Salvation Army is a nationally-recognized organization in Australia, helping those in need through social services and emergency relief. For our service projects, we divided into three groups. The largest headed into the city itself, where Salvation Army representatives gave a presentation about the Army's involvement in Melbourne, particularly with the homeless. This group was taken to a few of the places where the homeless live to see how the Army provides relief. A different group went with the Trombone Quintet to a care center for the elderly. The Salvation Army chaplain spoke to this group about the Army's activities as well. The quintet set up some adjustable tables as make-shift stands and played arrangements of jazz and hymns for the residents. The final group visited an emergency crisis center, which provides temporary care and housing for victims of domestic violence. The Salvation Army team leader showed a power-point presentation about the Army's projects as well as showing the group around their facility. The Salvation Army truly as a remarkable presence in Australia -- it was a privilege for us to spend time with them learning about their Christ-like ministries. Some band members would later comment that what they saw on the streets this morning changed their perspectives on the poor and the homeless in large urban areas.
Our final excursion of the day was to the Healesville Animal Sanctuary where we had lunch and put the freshman through initiation -- a band tour tradition. The section leaders plotted out funny or embarrassing things that the freshman had to get up and do. Janelle Hamre, for instance, had to howl like a wolf. The initiation was a lot of fun, and afterward we went on guided tours through the habitat areas.
The Sanctuary is home to more than 200 species of Australian wildlife. Because the animals' environment is very open, there were surprises everywhere we went. Flying foxes (bats) looked down at us from a net right over our heads, and giant pelicans gave us funny looks from the side of the trail. Laura Stenzel was really having fun with the Aussie animals -- she not only pet a wallaby but was licked by one!
She then made friends with an emu by scratching its feather duster-like neck. She had permission from the guide of course.
After our visit to the Sanctuary, we went back to the Melbourne hostel for a time of reflection about the tour. Out of all the things we do together on tour, this part is probably the most special because it is when we share about what was meaningful for us in this experience -- how we've grown, what God has taught us, how we've connected with others, etc. As this will be the end of Mr. Loeffler's last tour with a NWC ensemble, we had the chance to thank him for the incredible work he has done on this tour, in the music department, and in our lives. He will be missed.
Matt Selby finished up our time of sharing by reading 1 John 3:16, our theme verse for the year, "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." We've all seen this verse being fulfilled in outstanding ways throughout the school year. Matt encouraged us to continue to be faithful to God's calling and to take the things we learned on tour and apply them to our lives. Our reflection time was followed by a fun time of fellowship on the hotel's roof while Melbourne's lights shimmered under the southern cross.
We looked forward to having our final concert streamed live on the internet to every one back home. Our devotions beforehand were done a little differently tonight: Band President Karl Meyers led us in a prayer thanking God for calling us and working through us. He especially thanked God for the relationships that were formed on this tour, saying, "Thank you for the love we share in Christ that binds us all together." A time of open prayer followed. We found so much to thank God for -- especially for His grace to keep us going and to keep us out of harm. Our prayers could have gone on for hours. This evening's concert would be shared with the Camberwell, Eltham, and Blackburn High School Bands. Our portion of the performance can still be accessed on NWC's website. It was fitting that we should end our concerts the way we started them -- with our theme march "Hands Across the Sea," conducted by our own Mr. Loeffler.
Day 12 - Saturday, May 31
This morning we said goodbye to Mr. Mumford who is staying in Melbourne with his family. Then, we were off to the airport for the fifth flight of the tour, one that would leave half the band in Sydney for an extra weekend of sight-seeing and take the other half home to Minnesota. It was a little sad to see everyone going different ways after having such a once-in-a-lifetime experience together, but hopefully we'll all see each other back in band next year.
We'd like to thank everyone at home for supporting us and interceding for us -- your prayers have meant so much. Now, "May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."