Southeastern Chorale completes successful tour of Europe

December-Europe 2012 133 (3)The Southeastern Chorale’s recent performance tour to Europe was a huge success. Performing in front of full houses in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague, the Chorale gave multiple encores in each venue.  The Chorale, under the direction of Dr. Stacy Weger, performed a varied repertoire ranging from Christmas music to American church music and spirituals.  As is often the case with European audiences, the spirituals were the most eagerly received, according to Weger.

The choir began its tour in December in Budapest, singing at the Baroque church St. Michael’s.  For many of the students this became the highlight of the tour musically.
“I was overwhelmed for the level of response from the audience members,’’ said Nicholas Vance, a Music Education major from Denton, Texas. “We were connected to them to them in a very noticeable way.  Their faces showed that connection and inspired us to sing at even a higher level.”

The audience, which was full at the beginning of the concert, continued to grow as the concert progressed, with more people crowding into the nave of the church.

From there, the Chorale moved on to sing at Haydn Hall in the Esterhazy summer palace in Eisenstadt.  The group performed a short set in the space where Joseph Haydn, one of the most prolific composers during the Classical period, conducted and premiered many of his works.  While there, they also toured Haydn’s home and burial site.

In Vienna, the Chorale sang at two memorable venues.  The first was St. Stephen’s Cathedral, one of the most noted cathedrals in Europe. The Chorale used this time to focus on sacred Christmas music, with a performance taking place immediately after mass.

The second performance took place in the Minoritenkirche, which was still beautifully decorated for the Christmas season with greenery and candlelight.  The space lent a special ambience for performance.

“I was most concerned about performing for the Viennese,’’ Weger said. “They are, as a whole, a very knowledgeable and discerning audience.  So much of our Western music has originated in Vienna, and those ideas spread around the world.  The Chorale was up to this challenge, giving two encore performances at this concert.  I was so pleased and proud of their efforts.”

While in Vienna, the students had the opportunity to visit the gravesites of Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss, and the memorial to Mozart. They also were granted the opportunity to bring in the New Year by attending “Le Grand Ball’’ in the Hofburg Palace.  The huge palace serves as the traditional venue for the Viennese debutantes to be presented at New Year’s Eve.  The entire palace was filled with people waltzing in the New Year to “The Blue Danube.’’ Southeastern students were up to this challenge thanks to Riley Coker, Assistant Professor in Theatre at Southeastern, who taught the students the Viennese Waltz before their departure.

From there, the Chorale moved on to Prague in the Czech Republic.  For many, this was a favorite place to visit because so much of its original architecture remains, creating a magical venue when lit up for the holiday season.  The choir performed at St. Martin’s in the Wall. Once again the choir sang in front of a full audience and gave several encores.

“We were so close tothe audience you could hear their reactions to our singing,’’ said Aaron Williams, president of the Chorale. “When we sang “Amazing Grace,’’ you could
hear audience members humming along quietly with us.  That choked many of us up a bit.”

Fellow Chorale member Brenna Dougherty added, “It became so clear that we did not have to share a spoken language to communicate, the music spoke for itself.  However, it
was great to watch the audience get excited when we sang a piece in Czech for them.”

The Chorale concluded its Europe experience with a visit to the Terezin Concentration camp. This somber atmosphere left a lasting impression on all in attendance.
Terezin was noted for the number of musicians and artists who passed through
before being sent to Auschwitz.  It was also a camp which received many
children. “It has always been an emotional experience to watch movies dealing with these camps,’’ said Chorale member Cynthia Estrada. “To actually be inside of one, to more clearly see the inhumanity that was taking place is something I will never
forget.  It was an experience that is difficult to put into words.”

The Southeastern Chorale was joined by several Southeastern professors and administrators on this journey.

Sharon Robinson, Vice President of Student Affairs said of the experience: “The concert venues were amazing and hearing our students sing in these historic and beautiful spaces in Europe was memorable beyond words.’’

Weger agreed, saying,“I believe that sentiment is one that is shared by all.  This trip exposed our students to a different world view, placed them in the very cradle of the
art form they are dedicated to pursuing, and offered a musical experience that
cannot be obtained in this country.  We are so grateful to all those who
supported us in making this trip a reality.  This includes private donations,
administrative support, and assistance from the Presidential Partners.  I
would like for them all to know they have made a difference in these young
people’s lives.”

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