The arena was quiet. A spellbound audience watched as two state of the art jib cameras soared over a dazzlingly lit stage containing over 200 musicians and performers. One young violinist stood and started a lyrical solo. Like a lilting feather, the violin carried the melody; then the harp was handed the musical line, until both soared together while the full orchestra joined with them. The beautiful original piece, Feather on the Breath of God, had begun. A professional ballerina entered the stage, dancing effortlessly. The voices of the choir were heard. “Floating on the warmth of grace/ my faith has found a resting place/ a resting place that slips this sod/ a feather on the breath of God”. A male dancer stepped out now and suddenly the song took flight, crescendoing to a pinnacle of beauty and power. “And I begin to fly!” The poem by Emily Dickinson performed earlier in the show said it well, “Our steps took sudden awe”. Yes, “awe” would be the right word for what was taking place.
This was among the best moments of Quo Vadis, this year’s final Gala Show of the Fine Arts Summer Academy. 2012 has been an exceptional year for FASA, bringing together a larger community of young performers than any previous Academy. It was also the first year the final Gala Show was held in Allen Arena, an impressive stadium that was transformed literally overnight to host the hundreds of players present. The theme of 2012, Quo Vadis: Where Are You Going?, hammered home a powerful message with beauty, humor, wit, and stunning musical performances. From the story of Peter returning to Rome to face his cross to the story of Telemachus on the sands of the Coliseum, Quo Vadis asked the question of questions: where are we going? To what end is our life taking us?
2012′s two week event began with hundreds of students and parents converging on the beautiful campus of Lipscomb University. Theory, improv, bluegrass ensembles, jazz band, orchestra, choir, vocal ensembles, drama, and the FASA Dance Company were just a few of the many artistic pursuits that filled the spaces of Lipscomb University.
In the Younger Division, classic poetry, timeless prayers, and the power of God’s promises came to rollicking life with the original musical, Poems, Prayers and Promises. Written by FASA Director, Robin Wolaver, the all new musical featured voice, dance, strings, guitar, and drama in a multitude of configurations from large chorics and choir to vocal solos and individual ballet. With the FASA faculty accompanying with orchestra, the Younger Division traced a thread from the Gospel of John and the Word of God to the transforming power of prayer to the incredible truth that “All the Promises of God Are Yes!” in Christ.
As Week One drew to a close, each FASA “track” delivered great performances – the Dance Company joined with the Drama Track to interpret a classic poem, “I Shall Not Pass This Way Again” while the String and Guitar Tracks resurrected several Bill Monroe favorites like “Wabash Cannonball” and “Jerusalem Ridge”. The Piano Track graced the stage with the film-centric “Impressions”, and the Jazz Band and Vocal Track exploded onto the stage with old standards and folk tunes.
Week Two witnessed the converging of all the FASA tracks into a breathtaking final show that journeyed from the powerhouse classical pop of “Quo Vadis” to a new arrangement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony finale, “Ode to Joy”. Quo Vadis followed the roads of both pilgrims and prodigals as narrated by the show’s central figure, the Traveler. The show began by celebrating the Road of Life with a medley of classic “road songs” including “Route 66″ and “Ease on Down the Road”. The songs of faith followed including the jazzy “Poor Wayfaring Pilgrim”, the spellbinding “Blow, Gabriel, Blow!” by upcoming artists Josh Carswell and Julian Kaplan, the powerhouse male ensemble “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”, before culminating in the orchestral/choral blowout of “Before This Time/Will The Circle Be Unbroken”.
The second half of Quo Vadis, dedicated to the wandering souls of prodigals, featured three dramatic monologues from the lips of Cain, the original wanderer, an Israelite woman from the 40 year wanderings of Israel, and the Prodigal himself, fresh from the pig filth of Jesus’ parable. A series of warning verses from Scripture brought us to the hard hitting “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”, a Gala highlight featuring a powerful vocal performance and spectacular choreography and dance from the FASA Dance Company. A stunning peformance by Nashville native, Mary Maples, of the old tune, “Desperado”, led into a weaving of Dvorak’s American String Quartet: Lento and the Celtic hymn, “I Will Arise and Go To Jesus”. A moving classical rendition of the modern song, “Innocence Lost”, led to The End of the Road, and a final narration by the Traveler. Then the finale of “Feather on the Breath of God” with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” brought the audience to its feet. A stunning reprise of the theme song, “Quo Vadis”, asked once more as the lights went black: “Where is He calling you? / Answer Him! / GO!”
It is a question everyone of us should answer. For all those who attended FASA 2012, one thing is certain: our road led us to a remarkable experience in the heart of Nashville, TN, and we can’t wait for next year’s Ten Year FASA Anniversary.