International Touring: Opportunity for Friendship and Musical Growth

College, University & Two-Year College
Massachusetts ACDA

Dr. Steve Young, College, University & Two-Year College R&S Chair
January 2012

I was asked to write about my most recent choir tour to Spain in March 2011 with the Bridgewater State University Chamber Singers. This tour differed from our previous tours in several ways: first, we traveled with another college choir—the Assumption College Chorale, directed by Michelle Graveline; second, because we performed in churches during Lent, we had to prepare an entire program of sacred music; and third (by far the easiest adjustment), we performed joint concerts, thus reducing the amount of needed repertoire.

The primary reason for a joint tour was, quite frankly, to reduce our expenses. Traveling with a group of 16 singers is far more costly per person than traveling with 40 singers. But initially I had some misgivings. Working with a small a cappella group as I do, one becomes very familiar with one’s singers, who in turn become a tightly-knit unit, not easily expanded to in-
clude others.  Also, my students attend a public institution and the members of the other choir attend a religious school, so I worried about differing notions of appropriate behavior. The first couple days were a bit shaky in terms of interaction, but after each choir performed a short concert, the ice was broken and the high level of music-making made everyone comfortable.

Most of the touring I do is directed at recruitment, with repertoire chosen to engage audiences of high school students. Choosing sacred repertoire is easy enough, but I wanted to provide musical challenges to this particular ensemble which consisted mostly of  upperclassmen. (In fact, 15 of the 20 singers in the group graduated in May.) I also wanted to choose works with accessible texts, thus a lot of Latin! Among the pieces used were two movements from the Requiem by Zdenek Lukas, a contemporary Czech composer, and Joseph Gregorio’s Dona nobis pacem. Gregorio’s work was originally composed for men’s  voices, later arranged by the composer for SATB, with an impressive range for all voice parts. (Here’s a link to a YouTube video of our performance in Granada: I highly recommend both works. I also included twopieces by Javier Busto (b. 1949) one of Spain’s greatest choral composers. His Ave Maris Stella is less well known, but lovely. We jointly performed Busto’s Ave Maria, always a crowd pleaser and our audiences appreciated this tribute to their fellow countryman. We closed each program with a fun, yet challenging work, My God is a Rock, arranged by Ken Berg. (If you are  unfamiliar with his work, take a look! He writes beautifully for singers.)

Tours always present financial challenges for students and the group fund-raising activities I’ve tried rarely work. But students motivated to travel abroad are able to plan ahead, save, and work on their own to come up with the necessary funds. (I would welcome any of your successful fund-raising ideas—perhaps a topic for a future Newsletter?) We always contract with a professional tour company as it takes the guesswork out of everything and there is always someone to call if help is required. In the past I have collected monies and sent them on to the travel agency. But I am resolved that in future I should no longer serve as the
conduit for funds. Students will have to deal directly with the travel agency, which will take a huge burden off me.

International touring, despite its inevitable problems and challenges, always provides opportunity for bonding and musical growth. This was the first trip overseas for most of my students (Passports are a whole other issue!). The chance to learn about and experience, even briefly, a culture different from their own, can be life-changing. Bridgewater alumni often say that touring abroad was the highlight of their college experience. Traveling with another ensemble was an added plus, forging friendships that might never have existed. Music has a wonderful and unique way of bringing people together.

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