Such is the case for the Voices of Lee, Lee University’s a cappella choir that possibly missed death or serious injury after singing for a Thanksgiving event in another state.
Danny Murray is director of the 16-member vocal group which travels worldwide to inspire audiences of all kinds with music. The group is characterized by their unique variety of “lush vocal harmonies.” They’ve appeared on “Good Morning America,” Bill Gaither’s video series and in some of America’s most noted churches. Their convention appearances have taken them from Israel to Ontario and numerous U.S. cities.
The Voices of Lee have been featured at the international “Sing Conference” for a cappella at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and toured Europe with concerts at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and England’s Ely Cathedral. They’ve also performed during Christmas at the White House.
Additionally, the group appeared on national television in NBC’s 2009 “Sing-Off” competition for a cappella groups. Out of thousands of auditions, the Voices of Lee ensemble was selected as one of eight competing groups. After nationwide voting, the local group finished as second runner-up in the “Sing-Off.” Following the show, the Voices of Lee were voted winners in one of the favorite group categories of the Contemporary A Cappella Society of America.
For the past eight years, the Voices of Lee have also made Christmas appearances at The Women’s Metro State Prison in Atlanta. A red and gold appreciation plaque hangs in director Danny Murray’s office thanking Murray and the singers “for many years of Christmas music and joy.”
“The response is wonderful,” Murray said of the prison performances. As the prisoners enjoy the inspiring voices, “We have a blast,” Murray said.
However, last holiday season as the singers returned from a Thanksgiving performance at King Street Church in Chambersburg, Pa., their bus was hit by a fan motor thrown from an overpass in McMinn County.
Murray was seated just behind the driver. “I was on the phone ... I’m leaning up in the aisle and all of a sudden, it’s like the front of the bus exploded. There was glass in my hair. There was glass everywhere. All the kids were covered in glass.
“Luckily,” Murray continued, “we had (windshield) safety glass. It shattered into small pieces. I didn’t know what happened. The windshield and fan motor landed on the floor (of the bus). The driver was dazed and bleeding. I’m saying, ‘hold on.’”
Shelton Lewis, the driver, is “mild-mannered” and “the perfect person to be in that driver’s seat,” Murray commented. “He held on. He kept his composure. He slowly brought the bus to a stop on the side of the road.
“I called 911,” Murray went on. “I could not find a mile marker. I’m saying, ‘Where are we?’ Then a student named Carrie Anna Spencer said, ‘I just remember going through the underpass at Athens.’”
“We rolled forward,” Murray recounted, “until we saw the rest area and we knew where we were. I was fearful for Carrie Anna covered in glass, but there was not a scratch on her.”
“Phil Nitz was seated beside the driver. The windshield and motor fell right at his feet. And all that happened was a small cut,” Murray said. “We saw many ways God’s protective hand was obvious.”
The highway patrolman who investigated the incident, Rick Ray, said if the impact had occurred some eight to 10 inches lower, it would have come directly into the windshield, possibly being fatal to the driver, Murray explained. Three suspects have been charged in the incident.
“The privacy blind helped shield the driver’s face,” the director recalled. “It hit the steering wheel and diverted to the right. The driver suffered a puncture wound on his right arm.”
The whole experience, the Lee musician said, “was very sobering.”
He added, “When the students began to grasp the gravity of the situation they were really just very grateful they came through something so potentially harmful.”
One question all involved in the accident have asked is, “Why?”
Murray offered, “I don’t think forgiveness is difficult ... we don’t want to harbor anything detrimental. We just wonder why. We just don’t understand why anyone would do this.”
Since the ordeal, Murray said he’s had flashbacks of another accident years ago that didn’t end as well. In 1978, when he led Lee’s “Promise” ensemble, a tragedy happened on their first trip.
“We were headed to Montgomery, Ala. ... an early morning drive,” he recalled.
It was a foggy morning on Interstate 59. A passenger car hit a motorcycle and the Lee van head-on. The motorcycle driver had to have one leg amputated after the accident. The driver of the passenger car died, as well as one Lee student.
“The last thing I remember,” Murray said, “is seeing the motorcycle go up in the air. Our van was upside down in the median. My legs were trapped. My wife, Debbie, was hovering over me. She had minor injuries. There were kids lying in the median waiting on emergency vehicles.”
Another passenger car came through the median, striking students.
“We lost a beautiful young lady from Maryland — Anna Marie Thacker,” Murray said. “It was a nightmare ... the crying, the screaming. I was coming in and out of consciousness.”
Another victim, Pam Trotter, has since recovered after serious injuries. All the bones in her face had to be wired together. But now, Murray said, Trotter is married with children. She and her husband work as music ministers in Florida.
Murray feels great responsibility for the singers he takes on trips and he almost stopped after the Alabama accident.
“I feel very responsible,” he said. “I thought I could not go back out. But, we had signed a contract to sing in Fort Benning, Ga., in February of 1979.”
“You have to believe (in) God’s will and purpose for your life. ... God has a calling on your life. Whom God calls, He equips,” Murray emphasized. “He had to help me with the fear and worry. You have to cling to the parts of the Bible that speak to you at the time. God has not given us the spirit of fear. He designed me to go on, so I did.” Also, he said, “The great kids carried on.”
As they continue their Godward journey, Murray added, the group wants “to be adding to the lives of others, not taking away or harming the lives of others.”
On the group’s next trip, he continued, “We’re going under the same underpass. I feel the same way I felt when I pass the I-59 spot. I always whisper a prayer of thanks.
“Thank you, Lord,” Murray prays, “for guarding us ... for giving us the opportunity to share. There’s always a feeling of being undeserving, but that’s how God’s grace and protection are.”
As the Voices of Lee work day after day on intonations and fullness of sound and putting things together, Murray said it’s also a good life lesson.
“The discipline of this kind of music is very helpful,” he stressed.
According to all that Murray indicated, he and the Voices of Lee keep going because of God’s call and their belief in the words of the old hymn ... “’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far. And grace shall lead me home.”