Biola Chorale stuck in Italy for days

The Chorale weathered a canceled flight and airport delays on the return trip.


Courtesy of Meredith Keller

Singers in the Biola Chorale were stuck in Italy after their flight was canceled.

Patricia Yang, Staff Writer

On Tuesday, March 28, the Biola Chorale returned from their nine-day Italy tour, having visited Rome, Assisi, the Basilica of St. Peter and the Colosseum, among other sites.

The tour was funded with the help of several donors as well as money saved from concert tickets and fees from choral festivals. The Chorale also raised money for the trip, which cost $3,200 per student, through fundraising efforts and through the support of relatives, friends and churches.

After singing in multiple churches across Italy, the chorale prepared to fly back to the United States with profound spiritual experiences and an awe for the way God works through music. The day the chorale was scheduled to depart, however, the group learned the flight to London, the first leg of their return journey, was canceled. After flight changes and delays, the team arrived in the United States two days after their planned departure date. 


Dr. Shawna Stewart, director of the chorale, reflected on the hope she and all of the chorale had as they went on tour. “Our hope is that in bringing [these] students of Biola that love Jesus [would] speak well for who we are as Christians, who we are as academics, who we are as musicians and the excellence that we work for,” Stewart said.

Stewart also emphasized the ministry work of the tour, hoping that through the chorale’s songs, the people in Italy would receive something beautiful in their lives. She had connected with Monet and Marcos Beardsley in Italy, a couple who ministers at an evangelical church in Ostia, just outside of Rome, and who had been praying for the chorale to return and share God through their music again.

“[Monet] said [to me], ‘This is such a ministry to have young people come and be excellent in what they do and love Jesus, because you just do not find that in Italy, you don’t find young people do that,’” said Stewart. “So it’s really significant for young Christian musicians to come minister to [the congregations in Italy].”


Three chorale members then shared their experiences of the tour and praised God for the joy of singing with his people abroad. 

Coming to Italy was a moving experience for sophomore worship arts major Chase Holland, especially as the country held a rich Christian heritage.

“Just getting to see some amazing locations, you know, [like] Rome, getting to see the Colosseum and just walking the streets of an incredibly beautiful historic city — so much has happened there,” Holland said.

Sophomore music and public relations major Meredith Keller shared her recollections of the various cathedrals and basilicas in Italy.

“We got to see the basilica there of St. Francis of Assisi and just hear about St. Francis, his story of giving up all of his worldly possessions and taking on this idea of surrendering everything to the Lord,” said Keller. “Just that idea of complete and utter surrender to the Lord and saying that Jesus is enough was very inspiring.”

The chorale members explained they were struck by how impactful music was on a global scale as they toured Italy. 

“[At] every concert, we would have the [church] doors open, [and] people would just walk in,” said Keller. “They would be passing by and they would hear our music, they would hear our singing and they would be drawn in. And I thought that was something really powerful.”

Holland, who has traveled internationally before but not for performance, cherished the universal aspect of music.

“I think that one of [God’s] best gifts to us is the gift of music and song,” said Holland. “Pretty much every culture in the world [has] some kind of musical influence. So just being able to share that [gift] as a choir, bringing different pieces in Latin, several in English, and Italian — this is just a lot of culture that we can bring, and getting to share that with a completely different [part of] the world was really cool.”

Senior voice performance major Maddie Jorgensen said she felt blessed to be part of the global church and connect with the greater Christian community abroad. 

“You read in the Bible about the cloud of witnesses that came before us, and that’s what it felt like. It felt like we were singing somewhere where the cloud of witnesses was so much closer and more accessible. It was incredible,” Jorgensen said.


At the end of the tour, the Biola chorale members encountered complications as they tried to fly back. Early on Sunday, March 26, the day of their departure, their tour guide, Flavio, received word that the chorale’s flight from Milan to London was canceled.

“What we hear is that British Airways doesn’t provide phone support Friday through Sunday in Italy,” Stewart said. “So Flavio had to take the entire chorale all the way to the Milan airport to figure out how to rebook.”

The chorale stayed in an airport near the Milan airport until their departure to Heathrow. They experienced further complications as their landing was delayed and did not all make it through security in time for their connecting flight. The chorale was split on two separate flights back to Los Angeles and arrived on Tuesday, March 28.

Despite this unexpected setback, the chorale still found positive things to see.

Holland and some of his friends used some of their time waiting for their next flight to drive up to Switzerland. “We rented a car and drove to Switzerland because we were in northern Italy, and we realized we’re pretty close to the border,” Holland said.

Holland and his friends walked around and looked at the various shops. They bought some Swiss chocolate from a grocery store and had dinner at a restaurant on top of a hill.

“The restaurant was easily the fanciest place we had gone for the entire tour – a super quaint little place where the chef waited on us himself,” said Holland. “It was kind of a magical little moment for all of us that got to go.”

Jorgensen shared how she and the chorale had put their faith in God during that time of uncertainty. “Everyone stayed pretty positive and patient, even with the [multiple] days of getting stuck — we said the whole trip that it was God ordained,” said Jorgensen. “God knew before the beginning of time that we were all going to be on that trip [to Italy], so why would the flight back be any different?”

Keller added, “We kind of prepared for whatever would come next, like, ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen, God, but we pray that it’s in your hands.”

Stewart and all of the chorale were also grateful to their tour guide, Flavio, who helped rebook their flights, handled negotiations with the airport and stayed with them the whole time.


Looking back at the Italy tour experience, members of the chorale also reflected on what the Lord had taught them along the way.

Keller appreciated the closeness of God even more. “When we walked into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, [a] sense of peace came over me because I felt so small in a building that was so big. And I was just thinking like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just one person, and the Lord has a personalized plan and [purpose] for me,” Keller said.

Jorgensen learned, like Keller, the vastness of God’s plans for her and how he had worked throughout all history. “God just taught me that I still have so much to learn and still have so much to know about him, but also that he still has so much for my life,” Jorgensen said.

Holland reflected upon the miracles God worked in his life so that he could join the tour. 

“The thing I take away is that God provides,” Holland said. “God cares and is so concerned about our interests and the uniqueness of who we are that he makes a way for us to enjoy life in such a way when we trust Him and allow Him to lead us.”

Holland was also thankful for God’s goodness. “I pray and I hope that those who heard those songs and experienced those moments will remember them, and [that] they would be a catalyst that leads people to glorify God one way or another.”

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