The Catawba Singers embarked on a Summer European Concert Tour from May 15 to May 25, 2011. Stops included France, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Tonia Black-Gold, Catawba's communications officer, shares blogs about the students' experiences while on the tour.
Forty-two Catawba College students, members of the Catawba Singers, returned May 25 from a 10-day trip to Europe that included stops in four different countries. For some of the students, the trip marked their first plane ride or their first trip outside the United States. It was an eye-opening, life-enriching experience for them, and although their time abroad was brief, it will be memorable and likely viewed through time’s unwavering glass as a pivotal moment in each of their lives. They will recall their 10 days abroad as the trip when they discovered how large the world is, how varied its people are, and how finite their place is in it.
On the final day of the trip, en route to the Frankfurt Airport, each of the students and the adults accompanying them were asked to provide written responses to three questions. Categorized by individual name, we share both the questions and the responses we received to each of them. Our readers can judge for themselves by the personal responses the impact that this trip made on the lives of the travelers.
On our last full day in Europe, we made an early departure from Rothensburg enroute to Rudesheim with several surprise stops along the way. Our group made an hour and a half lunch stop in the city of Mainz. This is where the first European books with moveable type were printed by Gutenberg.
Located in the Rhineland, this strategic city helped control the Rhine River and was at one time the seat of the German Federation. While time did not permit sightseeing, we did see the statue of Gutenberg as it was across the street from the gathering point of our group. We made a surprise 20-minute stop at a famous overlook above the Rhine, where the Niederwald monument sat. Our group took photos and enjoyed the view.
The next surprise stop was actually in Rudesheim. It was the Benedictine abbey of St. Hildegarde, founded in the middle of the 1100s by a progressive-thinking nun and today famous for its fine wines. The Singers formed a circle and sang in the courtyard outside the abbey's church before moving inside it to sing a few more selections to appreciative tourists and a lone nun. The setting of the abbey was gorgeous with roses and lavender in bloom and grapevines stretching down the hillsides surrounding it.
From the abbey, we traveled a short distance to our hotel in Rudesheim. There, our group enjoyed a final evening of dinner, dancing and, of course, song. The Singers provided some impromptu music between the house band's sets and the other diners were appreciative of their efforts.
We learned our 11:40 May 25th flight from Frankfurt back to Charlotte would be delayed by more than 5 hours and spent a long day in the airport. As I write, we are waiting to board -- tired, overwhelmed by all we have experienced and in need of mental digestion.
Personal impressions from the travelers in our group and some of their photos will be shared on the Catawba website in the days ahead.
Rothenburg was the site of the Catawba Singers final European tour performance and it was the last time that this group of students would make music together. That made the town's medieval beauty almost pale in comparison to the beauty of the music performed on the evening of May 23 in Heilig Geist Church there.
After an hour and a half extended lunch in the German town of Nurenburg and a brief stop and a few impromptu songs sang in the St. Lawrence Church there, our group proceeded to Rothenburg. The students shopped, walked along the city walls, toured the punishment museum, and enjoyed an early dinner before rehearsal and an 8 pm concert at St. Lawrence Church. Choir members grew a bit emotional as the concert progressed and those in the audience were told the reason - for the 11 seniors in the choir it was the last time they would formally perform together as a unit. Professor Oakley explained why tears flowed and eyes were wiped as the concert concluded. The seniors were publicly acknowledged and each given a red rose of tribute by rising senior Jesse Siak. The tour director, Pete Ekland of Midwest American Music Tours, our European tour guide and facilitator, Don Grigg and our talented driver, Patrick from Albion Bus, all received prints of Rothenbirg and public acknowledgment of our group's appreciation. The supportive audience seemed to enjoy sharing these special moments and were quick to shake hands and congratulate the Singers on their talent and unity. After the performance, the Singers made their way from the church through the nighttime streets of Rothenburg to a pizza place that stayed open until midnight.
Heilig Geist Church
The next morning at breakfast, the students shared how they spent their late night hours after pizza. Some enjoyed a private tour of the hotel, including a peek in the basement where. Centuries of furniture was stored. Student John Lincourt confessed he had not slept and that he had just breakfasted with a young Earl of Prague. Very soon the bus departs for a final day in Rudesheim. Tomorrow we depart Frankfurt for home.
What a wonderful, jam-packed experience this has been!
We traveled from Munich to Salzburg on a gloriously beautiful Sunday morning. The name of this largest city in Austria literally means "salt castle" and refers to the castle overlooking the city that was built in the 4th century on the ruins of a Roman fortress. The castle, Europe's largest, today provides a stunning view of the town and city spread out below.
Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart and its 17th century Salzburg Cathedral, noted for its Baroque architecture, was where he was baptized, sang in the boys' choir, and served as organist.
After a late morning rehearsal, the Singers and Professor Oakley went into the cathedral to participate in the 11:30 am Mass. They were accompanied by the director of cathedral music.
Professor Oakley was allowed to play one of the seven pipe organs during the service from the organ gallery. The Singers as usual provided wonderful music appropriate to the setting and service.
Nici Brouillette played the violin to accompany students Ginny Weant and Michelle Chaffee to a Mozart composition, "Laudote Dominum." As the piece concluded Nicu had years streaming down his face. He described the experience like this:
"Playing in Mozart' church was the most moving experience I have ever had while playing the violin. Not only was I able to play his music in his church, but I was able to be conducted by his successor, the director of cathedral music. I will never forget the moment when that director took my hand and said, 'Bravo! Bravo!' I was overwhelmed."
After Mass, the Singers and others in our group enjoyed an independent lunch, shopping and sightseeing in this UNESCO World Heritage site
On Saturday, May 21, the Catawba group departed Wangen for a stop in Dachau and an overnight stay in Munich. Enroute we made a stop in Bavaria at a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Church in the Meadow. Located at the foothills of the Alps, the church is done in the Roccoco style and is said to have no ceiling because of its ornate (ceiling) paintings of angels in the heavens.
When we arrived, Mass was underway, but as that concluded the Singers sang several selections for the congregation and tourists gathered. The singing awed those in the church. Singer Jennifer Drake '11 shared that one woman in the congregation was so moved that she came over to thank the group with tears in her eyes. Jennifer said that as she held out her hand to shake the woman's hand, the woman enfolded Jennifer instead in a hug.
The stop at the church only lasted about a half hour before we reboarded the bus for Dachau, a former Nazi concentration camp.
We arrived at Dachau just before 2 pm, and went straight to view a "documentary" film about the camp and the lives lost there during World War II. Our group entered the iron gates of what remained of the camp, passing the "Arbeit Mact Frei" (Work Makes You Free) sign as we entered.
It was a solemn time for the Catawba group. I felt the film tried to put an historic distance on the events and deaths that occurred in this place a scant 65 years ago. It was as if the writer of the film went to a thesaurus to carefully select the least emotive words to described the horror and tragedy of what happened at Dachau. Although many of the camp's buildings are missing now, the "crematorium," two barracks, several guard towers and the SS officers' building remain. Today, a museum and auditorium are housed in the former SS officers' building.
Kristopher Watson described the experience at Dachau as "overwhelming" and said even though we spent just over an hour there, he did not think he could have spent more time there, even if our schedule would have allowed. Student Jessica Hannah said she couldn't get over the fact that she was standing on the same ground where people had suffered and died so tragically.
From Dachau, we made a short drive to Munich. The Singers sang from the galley of Holy Ghost Church during a 5:30 Mass before walking a short distance to Zim Augustiner, a mega-meal hall on the city's public mall, for dinner. This place is known for its goulash soup, sausages and pretzels, and people in our group enjoyed all of these before a dessert of apple streudel.
We arrived late to our hotel in Munich (10:30 pm) before a late shower and bed. Next stop to report on will be Salzburg, but now "to bed." Readers, our groups' schedule has been grueling with long days, many stops, and many performances by our dear and talented Singers. We are all thankful for the opportunities the trip has allowed, but we are road weary, and I mean that literally!
The Catawba group departed Lucerne bound for Wangen, Germany. We made a surprise 2-hour stop in the city of St. Gallen, Switzerland. While this city contains the largest car-free shopping areas in Switzerland, we stil found food, drink,souvenirs and clothing to be very expensive.
Some in our group stopped at an inviting indoor/outdoor cafe for lunch in St. Gallen, however we paid dearly for the ambience and the privilege of being served. This writer and others at my cafe lunch table ordered a veal brat (olhm brat) and rosti (a hashbrown sort of potato dish). Others in the group shopped around for the best meal values. Yolanda McClure '11 of Eden related that her group had gone from cafe to cafe, reading menus and comparing prices, before finding a small one with a friendly proprietor and ordering egg salad sandwiches on good bread with chives. She proudly announced, "I only spent 8 Swiss francs today" (about $10-11 USD).
From St. Gallen, we headed to Wangen, city first mentioned in the. 800s as "Wangun," located northeast of Lake Constance in Germany.
We arrived around midafternoon and the bus was greeted by the students' homestay families. After loading their luggage in the families' cars, the students headed home in pairs with the families for early dinners before a rehearsal and an 8 pm performance in St. Martinkirche. St. Martin's was present in the 9th century and contains both Romanesque and Gothic architecture.
The Catawba Singers' concert had been publicized by the city's cultural office and the church was full by performance time. As the Singers sang the first several selections, showing their command of their voices and their broad repertoire, the audience's interest and enthusiasm grew. Professor Oakley explained that it was around this time that the audience realized this was not going to be a typical concert.
Soloists in the group won the crowd over. They included Tevin Vincent singing " Old Man River;" Kristopher Watson with his "Over the Rainbow;" Michael Stone with "On the Street Where You Live;" and Michelle Chaffee accompanied on fiddle by Nick Brouillette with "Laudate Dominum."
Kara Purcell said after the concert, the atmosphere was "charged." Katie Johnson likened the concert to a theatre performance, saying, "The show is only as good as the audience because performers and audience feed off each other.
The Singers received a standing ovation, and as they lined the entrance to St. Martin's to meet and thank their audience, the crowd pressed Euros into the students' hands in appreciation. The students expressed their appreciation to the town when they donated the funds they received to the local hospital.
Writer's note: I am posting this very early in the morning on May 22 because our group's day was jam packed with a stop in Dachau, a performance in Munich, and a very late 10:30 pm arrival at our hotel on May 21. Internet access willing and IPhone able, I 'll write about it tomorrow.