Traversing Europe Speaking the Language of Music
By Andrew S. ’17
This summer, a group of eight LCDS choir and orchestra students participated in the American Music Abroad European Tour to France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
It all began at Franklin and Marshall College on Saturday, June 20. We moved into the dorms with our instruments, preparing for a long weekend of practicing and rehearsing that our orchestra director, Mrs. Woodbridge, had warned us about. We met our fellow musicians and all the directors who would chaperone our tour around Europe. Little did we know that these would be the people that we would forge close relationships with and make our experience in Europe that much more indelible.
We landed in Paris and drove to Caen. For many of us, it was our first visit to France and it seemed as if some magical power passed through us, restoring energy and excitement after the long flight and drive.
The first day of our trip, and perhaps the most poignant part of the trip, was playing in the Normandy American Cemetery at the Omaha Beach Memorial, commemorating the thousands who died storming the beach. The chorus, orchestra and band performed beautiful odes dedicated to the fallen soldiers, bringing tears not only to the large number of spectators gathered, but also to the conductors and students on our tour. The finale evoked the most heartfelt emotions, as our two best trumpet players performed “Taps.” The sound echoed throughout the memorial and cemetery for all the visitors to hear.
After gathering and storing our instruments back on the bus, we took a short bus ride to Point du Hoc, a promontory overlooking the English Channel and the entire beach. It was a beautiful evening, and the English Channel was awe inspiring. What we all had in common that day was believing that this moment would be one we would never forget.
Many of us were ecstatic to have the opportunity of practicing our French language skills in the country of origin. Several French students promised to speak French for the entire time we travelled in France. It was a great learning experience for everyone.
After spending the hottest day of the year in Paris, meandering around the Place de la Concorde or the nearest crêperie along the Seine, we headed north. We spent a night in Strasbourg where an evening of disco let all the kids hang out and dance after spending such long periods on the coaches. It was a nice way to relax and get to meet everyone on the trip.
Taking in the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp was a fascinating, solemn experience for students and chaperones alike. What was so moving and unique about the camp is that it looks very much like it did during the war; it hasn’t been preserved for tourists like other camps, which can feel more like museums than the actual places where the most horrible things happened.
This quality brought us back in time to when the camp was operational: We were standing on the blood, sweat, and tears of condemned Jews, Gypsies and POWs. Especially evocative was a large concrete sculpture of a emaciated prisoner who looked like a living skeleton. It overlooked the entire site, and brought tears to everyone’s eyes. We knew that not too long ago these paths were walked by prisoners subject to brutal torment. It makes one realize how easily people can be forgotten, and how, if we as a society allow it, the innocent can end up behind barbed wire.
We spent our last day in France in Wasselonne, where we performed in the town church for all the townspeople. We all had a great time performing and seeing the audience enjoy our concert.
The next destination and performance venue was across the border in Hirschberg, Germany. This performance was a friendship concert with a local school. Many of us had to share stands and music with the students, whose English fluency ranged all over the map. The conductor’s English was easier to pin down: He spoke none.
Despite the fact that we couldn’t understand the conductor’s criticism and comments after our rehearsals, we all figured out what he wanted of us as musicians. The language barrier dissipated when we all began using the language of music. It was a magical experience to be a part of during the rehearsal and performance.
Travelling south through Germany, we wended our way through Bavarian towns and cities such as Munich, Kirchseeon and Rosenheim. We all had free time in Munich to have lunch and shop before driving to Kirchseeon for an outdoor friendship concert with a local choral group. We ended our Germany journey in Rosenheim, with Mrs. Woodbridge and all the LCDS students celebrating the Fourth of July (not a big event for the Germans) with a bowling tournament.
After falling in love with France and Germany, we couldn’t help but think about what wonders awaited us Austria. We arrived in Westendorf in the evening, just in time for a traditional Tyrolean fork performance. This was truly the best introduction to the state of Tyrol.
A group of six men in full lederhosen regalia started playing music and dancing, which consisted of clapping their hands all around their lower body and doing a series of high kicks. Their many performances included miming wood-chopping, playing unique Tyrolean instruments, and doing many line dances all in sync to music. Between each performance, we all linked arms and danced. It was the easily the liveliest night of the trip, with decidedly memorable interactions with the Tyrolean performers and each other.
Out of all the places we visited in Europe, Westendorf and Rattenberg had the most beautiful scenery. It took everyone’s breaths away seeing the endless mountains, fascinating wildlife, and luscious, green fields. One day, we all travelled to a glacier in Rattenberg. It was the best feeling at the top of the glacier because it was cool, with snow everywhere and the Italian border visible below us. Truly a great day.
When reflecting on the Burgundy Tour, LCDS students all knew that there was one aspect of the trip that stood out the most. It was the power of music. Music is what brought all of us students and conductors together. Through our intense love of music, we all rehearsed and prepared for a plethora of concerts. At these concerts, we communicated stories, messages and emotions to our audience through the language of music. We represented our country, and showed our love of our host country by showing passion for our craft. That is what inspires us as musicians and make music so wonderful.
Special thanks to Mrs. Woodbridge, our choral and orchestra conductor, for encouraging all of us to go on this unforgettable tour.