The Concert Chorale, one of the music department’s most celebrated singing ensembles, takes regular tours abroad, sending talented student singers to international venues to entertain audiences and give them global exposure. This year, from May 16-25, the Chorale toured Austria and sang at several venues, including Vienna, Graz, and Obervellach. The Chorale was joined by a companion tour organized by the College of Arts and Letters and led by Associate Dean Roger Stoner. Dr. Dianne Strickland, Acting Department Head of Music, also attended as part of the companion tour. The tour included several major cities in Austria as well as several lake and mountain districts; this schedule allowed the Chorale to sing in some of Austria’s most beautiful cathedrals and take in some of the country’s most picturesque sights. Among the tour’s performance highlights are a performance at St. Peter’s church in Vienna and a special outdoor performance with CantAnima, one of Austria’s most celebrated singing troupes, during an evening in Austria’s second-largest city, Graz. Another special surprise awaited the Chorale as two members, Bentley Caughlan and Erin Hendrick, became engaged at the top of Salzburg Fortress.
In the following paragraphs, students and faculty members involved in the Concert Chorale’s Austria tour share their experiences. Dr. Guy Webb, Chorale director, describes the trip from his point of view first, followed by Dr. Roger Stoner and several Chorale members. We hope you enjoy this look at the Concert Chorale’s 2010 tour.
Dr. Guy Webb: Each time the Concert Chorale tours abroad we think it’s the best tour yet and that the Chorale sings better than ever. Well, there is no doubt about it this last May as we toured to Austria. Fifty-two singers had the experience of their life, one that they shall never forget! We all agreed it was our best tour experience!
We were pleased to have Dr. Dianne Strickland, the Acting Music Department Head, with us. Dr. Roger Stoner, Associate Dean, led the accompanying Companion Tour that was organized by the College. (In spite of cancellation of their flight out of Kennedy Airport in New York because Heathrow in London was closed for volcanic ash, they courageously managed to re-book space the next day and make it to Salzburg a day late! Waiting around in an airport can be a great way to get to know each other and they surely did—they never gave up!)
Somehow the Chorale managed to be at the Kansas City airport at 4:30 a.m. on the morning we flew to Atlanta, our first stop, where we had a seven hour wait for our direct flight to Munich, Germany. It was the first air travel experience for a few and first overseas trip for many. Our wonderful tour guide, Willie Flicker, was there to meet us, with Horst, our bus driver—they were both professional in every way. Willie even had euros to change for dollars, since it was Sunday.
The Chorale had two days to tour Salzburg, and it was quite an experience for all. Two of our singers — Erin Hendrick and Bentley Caughlan — became engaged on top of the Fortress in Salzburg, and most of the Chorale were there to sing for them. Our first concert was in Salzburg at the Kajanerkirche to a packed Cathedral. It turned out that all of our concerts on the tour were completely full, often with many standing.
The tour was a balance of touring the major cities and visiting the lake and mountain districts of Austria. Three experiences were a highlight for me: 1) the Hallein Salt Mine with the long slides; 2)checking into the Hotel Bodner in Obervellach, where we stayed for three nights in the mountains—we’ll never forget the beauty of the hotel in the mountain setting; and 3) the Malta High Mountain Road up ten miles to over 10,000 feet that was the thrill of the trip. The hair-pin curves and seven one-way tunnels were a challenge for our two buses, but they were up to it! It was snowing on the top as we approached the recently built Kölnbrein Dam. We also briefly traveled to a leather market in Tarvis, Italy, and to Lake Bled in Slovenia.
The weather? What was to be expected in the mountains: cool and very few moments of sun. Yet, we did not complain. We were prepared and too busy to notice.
It was scenery like we had never seen! The cameras were busy.
Each of our six concerts was memorable and thrilling for the Chorale. We sang with choirs in Obervellach and Graz, with receptions after the concerts we’ll never forget. At Obervellach we were taken up 6,000 feet to the Himmelbaur Restaurant in a National Park Tram— breathtaking even at night — where we ate and sang with the other choirs until almost midnight! The fireplace felt wonderful, and the joy of singing with the Austrian choirs was very special.
Likewise, in Graz, Austria’s second largest city, where we shared a concert with the CantAnima choir considered to be Austria’s finest. The students in Chorale rose to the occasion for that concert!
For our next concert in St. Viet an der Glan, even Dr. Stoner had to stand; there was little room for all that came to the concert. In Vienna we sang in one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in all Europe: St. Peterskirche. (When we returned home, we had a message from a couple from Denmark who just happened to walk in while we were singing in Vienna, and they wrote: “It was the most beautiful musical experience of our life!” It was for us, as well!)
For our last concert we went to Madsen, a small town north of Vienna, for a morning concert after a mass. The simplicity of the town and the reception we received from the people made it an unforgettable experience for us all. And how they fed us after the concert! The Companion tour finally missed this final concert so they could have more time in Vienna, but we felt that concert was one of our best. Each concert was recorded, and soon we will make a compilation of all of our best singing in a compact disc that will be available in early fall.
Dr. Roger Stoner: Being part of the companion tour was a most rewarding experience. I made new life-long friends and, at the same time, was able to observe students in an environment that linked academic experiences with learning and professional artistry. As articulated in the numerous blogs posted by the students, the 2010 Austrian Tour transformed lives. The Tour provided an opportunity for extended conversations about aspirations and dreaming of the future in a country of extraordinary beauty and history — not just incredible musical history; it allowed time to reflect on personal values and artistic accomplishment. The Tour was like a pebble being dropped in the water; the splash is only seen once but the ripple effect of this experience will shape the lives of the participants forever. When I spoke in Vienna during our last meal together, I said something like, “Dr. Webb epitomizes the very highest standards of leadership, integrity and musicianship; Dr. Webb, thank you for this opportunity.”
Some of the students have written what they felt were the highlights of the tour:
Briana Adams: I loved everything about the city of Salzburg. One of the best parts of the Austria trip was standing at the top of the fortress and taking in an amazing view of mountains, city buildings, and small farms. Salzburg was the perfect city size for me; it wasn’t too big or too small. There was so much to do, from shopping to touring beautiful churches. I really enjoyed eating dinner at an authentic Austrian restaurant called Sternbrau that has been in Salzburg since 1542. It was delicious! I hope to return to Salzburg someday to continue learning and exploring this beautiful city.
Lindsey Adams: The most memorable part of the trip for me was when we first arrived in Obervallach. Sitting on that little hill surrounded by mountains and clouds was unreal, like I was stuck in a photograph. I’ll never forget it.
Bentley Caughlan: My favorite part of the trip was getting to tour the Fortress of Salzburg and propose to my wonderful, now fiancée, Erin!
Sara Coleman: The highlights of our trip to Austria, to me, were our musical experiences. Austria was amazing, but what really stuck out were the welcoming nature of the audiences and their desire for good music. It is always such an honor to share concerts such as the one with CantAnima. It was one of the best parts of the trip. The music that we made and the venues that we sang in made the trip something special that none of us will ever forget. We finally came together as a complete musical unit, an ensemble and we all experienced the joy of singing like none other. This to me was what the whole trip was about and I was not disappointed at all!
Damon Cooper: Austria was an amazing tour and I loved everything about it. I’m sure everyone will agree that one of the most memorable moments was the wedding proposal and acceptance. It was beautiful and sweet and on top of the gorgeous fortress in Salzburg. The salt mine we visited was actually a pleasant surprise for me, it was awesome in fact. Last but not least, every church we sang in was an incredible evening. Every church produced an amazing sound that just blew me away. Easily one of the greatest experiences of my life. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this trip.
Bert Dothage: I think some of the biggest highlights of the trip were times when we got to socialize with the other choirs. I feel that the impromptu outdoor concert in Graz is exactly why we take these tours; sharing songs with each other in the relaxed setting under the stars, and spending the rest of the evening together at the pub learning about one another’s cultures was an experience I will always remember. Also, I think the concert/mass we gave at St. Peter’s was among the best of my collegiate career. I don’t recall ever singing in a cathedral more beautiful, nor better suited for choral music than St. Peters, and I believe that is high praise considering the many beautiful and sonorous cathedrals where I’ve been privileged enough to sing with chorale these past four years. Our trip to Austria was an inspiring experience that I will never forget, and I will always cherish the memories I made there with my closest friends, doing that which is closest to my heart–making beautiful music.
Kenny France: The entire trip was a highlight for me. It’s the first time I’ve flown, the first time I’ve been out of the country and an amazing experience overall. Singing in the church at Vienna was our best performance in my opinion but I loved singing and making music in every church we visited. Everthing was so beautiful especially the mountains in Obervellach. Also having the dual concert with CantAnima was a great highlight. Austria was so beautiful and amazing and I miss it so much! If I ever have the chance to go back I will!
Jessica Lanham: After all the journaling, pictures, and discussing the trip with fellow Concert Chorale members, there is still no way that I can recreate or do justice to the experience shared by everyone. Austria was one of the most picturesque countries that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Being in the Alps was absolutely breathtaking and unbelievable! A group favorite was the time we spent at our hotel in Obervellach just taking in the view and enjoying it with friends. The towns seemed to be straight out of a storybook with the cottages, farms, and the stores. The food was amazing, especially the desserts. The people were so hospitable and willing to help, even though most of us had no idea how to speak German! Above everything else, however, my personal favorite was the way our music reached out to our audiences. Despite our language barriers, the people understood, and it was through the music. I received a random email from a man who was visiting Vienna with his girlfriend over the weekend and happened to hear us. He explained how he was so completely moved by our performance and was eager to buy a CD when they are avaliable. The message he sent me is the precise reason why I enjoy making music so much; it is a universal language. I am truly going to miss my time spent with the MSU Concert Chorale, but to have been a part of the group and the music has given me memories that will last forever.
Kyle Major: The first memory I have of Austria is the smell once we stepped out of the airport. The air was so fresh and crisp. The scenery on all of the bus rides was breath-taking. I was amazed at how natural and untouched everything was. That first cathedral experience in Salzberg was a life changing event for me. I had never before sang in such a pure acoustic before. The hotel in Obervellach was another life-changing moment. It was huge! The view was great too. Another great moment was my first taste of Gelato in Italy at the leather market. Ice cream hasn’t tasted the same since! Our true shining moment was the second to last concert. I had goosebumps as I sat out due to illness. This trip has forever changed my life and the friendships that we share are really something special. Music brings people together in a great way and we achieved a great feat on this tour.
Josh Markley: I feel that there were three parts of the trip that were the most spectacular. First of all, I loved the amazing sights that we were able to see. From the mountains to the salt mines, we were able to have a great time exploring some of Austria’s beauty. Plus, going down the slide in the mine was a blast. The next best thing that we were able to experience was getting to know the culture a little bit. I loved the night in Obervellach when we had the reception with the local choir. We ate great food, laughed and sang to each other. It was almost as fun as mingling with the local choir in Graz. It was great to be able to talk to the people and get to know them a little. I loved getting a taste, even thought it was small, of the Austrian culture. I must say, however, that the best part of the trip had to be the amazing music that we created for and shared with our full audiences. Every concert was for a full house, and a few were even standing room only. What an experience to see the joy on their faces, and know it was because of the outstanding ensemble we had achieved. I felt honored to perform with such a talented group as the Concert Chorale. The trip was memorable for many reasons, but mostly for the great sights, the great culture, and, of course, great music.
Connie Reinhardt: My favorite part of the Austria tour was our time in Salzburg. I loved going around the town and getting to see Mozart’s home and the artifacts there. I’m also a Sound of Music fan so getting to see the places where they filmed the movie was a dream come true. The coolest thing was the salt mines. It was an experience that was totally different and I’ve never seen anything like it before. The entire experience was incredible and something I am glad I got to be a part of.
Vicki Stanley: While there were many highlights on the trip, one experience that stands out to me is one that happened in Salzburg. Those of us who’d never been abroad before were in total awe of the church. And then we were told to get up front to sing. First, it was incredible to hear how the sound resonated in that cathedral. It was absolutely awe-inspiring and truly demonstrated the power of music. Second, as we sang, all the tourists in the cathedral stopped and sat to listen to us. And that was incredibly neat. A bunch of us got approached after our little impromptu concert and wanted to know when they could hear us again, so to the best of our ability, we told them where our concert was the next day.
Another incident that was so neat to me was when Fly was translated for every concert. Over here in the US, every time we said the soloists were brides to be, audiences never really reacted. But the audiences in Austria? They loved them and cheered and clapped for them every night. Of course, we can’t forget the salt mines, and you going on the slide with Josh, nor can we forget re-enacting Sound of Music scenes in Mirabell gardens.
Then, we can’t forget that Bentley and Erin got engaged in Salzburg. But I doubt those are the highlights you’re looking for.
Ian Tapson: Our trip to Austria this summer could not have been any better! Having toured through Italy with Chorale, this trip was in constant comparison–the sights, the scenery, the food, and the culture. The most memorable moment during the trip was our arrival in Obervellach. We had spent several days in Salzburg, seeing Mozart’s birthplace and some of his life as a composer and exploring what the city had to offer. After sight-seeing and a concert, it was off to Obervellach. We pulled into our ski-resort hotel several hours later and all of Chorale’s mouths dropped, as if we were singing a tall vowel in one of our pieces. Surrounding our hotel was a beautiful mountain range that was covered in green and topped with a white snowcap. Rolling hills complimented the mountain scenery before our eyes. We got our bags and checked into our rooms with some free time before dinner. Usually, we Chorale members socialize and rest in the hotel but everyone poured outside to explore and experience the beautiful landscape. Several of us even found a field, covered in yellow flowers that overlooked the small village and the majestic mountain range. It was a wonderful day as we enjoyed the serene scenery and the company of great friends.
Rachel Taylor: I would say that THE highlight for me would be arriving in Obervellach. As soon as we stepped off the bus I felt like I was in a different beautiful world. The wind was strong and invigorating and I just couldn’t wait to explore. Joe and I hiked up behind the hotel and found the most beautiful field of wildflowers. Looking out over the hills and seeing the mountains in the distance, the wind rushing around you, the smell of sweet fresh air, and the warm yellow sunlight just made that the most amazing moment of the trip for me. Nothing else even compares. I just want to go back!