Last year, the Concordia Choir sang at St. Peter's Basilica, their praises filling the Vatican City landmark.
This year, they're visiting smaller houses of worship a little closer to home, including Bentonville First United Methodist Church at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, St. James United Methodist Church in Little Rock at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Fort Smith First United Methodist Church at 7 p.m. March 14.
The Tuesday performance will be in collaboration with the choir from Bentonville High School.
"We're excited to share the music that we've been rehearsing since August with audiences up and down the United States," said Michael Culloton, the Concordia Choir's conductor for the past three years.
"The majority of the program is a sacred program with our roots as a college of the church," he said.
There are a few secular selections as well, including a new arrangement of Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changin'."
Founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1891, Concordia Choir has Evangelical Lutheran ties and a host of ecumenical friends, with stops also scheduled at Episcopal, Presbyterian and United Church of Christ congregations.
The 2023 tour began Feb. 25. By the time the choir returns to its Moorhead, Minn., campus March 19, it will have performed in locations from Sioux Falls, S.D., to San Antonio -- eight states in all.
Under previous directors, the choir made frequent stops in the Natural State, Culloton said.
"I've never been to Arkansas, so this is going to be the maiden voyage for me, personally, but I know that we're going to come and sing for three really awesome audiences who are going to enjoy the work of these young singers immensely," he said.
The choir is more than an entertainment source; it's also an effective recruitment tool.
Eager for the choir to be heard by young people, Concordia College is allowing students to attend their Arkansas performances free of charge. Adults are charged admission of $20 to $25.
"It's been fun for me to know a couple of students who heard the choir in Arkansas and came to study at Concordia, and so we hope for the same thing [this time]," Culloton said. "We have room in our quota for Arkansas students to come study here."
Breck Cogswell attended a Concordia Choir concert in Fort Smith in 2013 when she was a self-described "certified choir nerd" at Southside High School. Inspired by the sound, she eventually enrolled at Concordia College. By the time the choir returned to Fort Smith in 2018, she was a member.
Now an alumni, she's currently enrolled at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, preparing to become an ordained Lutheran minister.
She's delighted to see Concordia visiting her hometown yet again.
"I think it is beyond awesome that the choir makes a point to have Fort Smith on their regular tour cycle, every five years-ish," she said. "[First United Methodist Church] is such a special place, with wonderful acoustics for singing and even more wonderful people who are excited to listen to the tour concert and meet the students every time."
Culloton, himself a 1998 Concordia College graduate, says the music conveys a timeless message.
The words to many of the songs are lifted from the Bible, with passages borrowed from Psalms, Isaiah and 1 John.
The first set includes Felix Mendelssoh's "Warum toben die Heiden" (Why do the nations rage?), J.S. Bach's "Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden" (Praise the Lord, all ye nations) and Knut Nystedt's "I Will Greatly Rejoice."
A subsequent set is devoted to songs extolling the Virgin Mary while another is titled "Of Angels and Alleluias."
Some audiences will also hear "Beautiful Savior," a song sung at the Vatican during last year's Italy tour.
At the Lutheran school, songs of praise are part of a long tradition.
"I like the freedom that comes with working at an institution where we can unabashedly sing sacred music," Culloton said. "I heard a fellow say recently that we preach a changeless Christ for a changing world and I thought, 'That's great. We sing of a changeless Christ for a changing world.'"
If you go: Additional information and tickets to hear the Concordia Choir are available at concordiacollege.edu/student-life/music-ensembles/choirs/the-concordia-choir/tour/tour-itinerary.