Participating in music ensembles at Gustavus Adolphus College involves much more than simply making music – it can have life-changing effects. Ensembles at Gustavus are often described by students as families that form a special bond and grow together in pursuit of producing magical sounds for others to enjoy.
The 68-member Gustavus Adolphus College Wind Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Douglas Nimmo, recently returned from a 16-day, five-country Eastern European concert tour from Jan. 22 to Feb. 7. After an intense few weeks of classes, rehearsals, and private practice, the ensemble embarked on a life-changing journey to Eastern Europe.
The group performed a total of seven concerts in the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Austria, each with unique opportunities to connect with the local people.
“Every concert was exciting because they each provided new challenges and new audiences. The people were so engaged in our music. We could see and feel how interested, attentive, and responsive they were to our performances,” junior flute player Ann Stevens ’15 said. “During the tour, we made deep and profound connections to the people of Eastern Europe through the power of music.”
One such connection was formed through a prayer service for the people of Ukraine after the ensemble’s concert in Kety, Poland.
“As a part of that small service, we were told that they wanted to recite the Lord’s Prayer in English and in Polish simultaneously, for those that were interested,” senior trumpet player Nick Mason ’14 said. “In that instance, the members of the ensemble from America and the congregation from Kety, Poland were linked by something that was much greater than the differences that separated us.”
One of the highlights of the tour for many of the orchestra members was a three-day homestay experience with families associated with the local music school in Pomaz, Hungary. There was some apprehension among students due to the language barrier, however the homestay turned out to be one of the most enlightening experiences of the trip for many ensemble members.
“My host family was very sweet and didn’t speak much English, but that was the most fun part because I’ve never been in that situation before and I felt I learned a lot by living with them,” sophomore percussionist Nicole McKinney ’16 said.
At the end of the homestay experience, the ensemble members came away with new friends and “honorary” family members.
“There was a lot of worry about cultural differences, language barriers, and finding common interests,” Mason said. “At the end of the three nights together, everyone was sharing a story of some sort as to how amazing their family was and how much fun they all had. It was quite a remarkable difference to see and to personally feel.”
Other highlights for members of the ensemble included the unforgettable experience of visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp and the opportunity to explore the local towns and learn about the culture during down time.
“After returning from this trip, I have a renewed sense of confidence and ability to adapt to adverse situations. This trip really let me explore not only what it meant for me to be in Europe, but also, on the larger scale, what it meant to be an American student in a foreign land,” Mason said.
The concert tour was an exciting chance for the Wind Orchestra to exhibit its musical skills abroad, but many members also found that their experiences in Europe relate directly to their college experiences back home at Gustavus.
“This tour enhanced my overall appreciation for music and for this band,” McKinney said. “We became much closer as an ensemble and that makes our regular rehearsals back at Gustavus even more fun. I felt like I had a lot of good friends at Gustavus already, but after this tour I feel much closer to this school and even more proud to be a Gustie.”
“Throughout our tour, I noticed how the orchestra truly became a family. After rehearsing and touring together for five weeks, our relationships grew significantly stronger as did our collective relationship to the music,” Stevens said. “The shared experience of this tour will forever bind us together, and the art of music is what made that possible. I feel so grateful and blessed for this once in a lifetime experience and for the friendships I’ve made within my Gustavus Wind Orchestra family,” Stevens said.
Following their return home, the Gustavus Wind Orchestra presented its home concert on Saturday Feb. 15 in Christ Chape. The 2014 Eastern European tour marked Nimmo’s last concert tour as conductor of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra, a position he has held since 1987, as he will be retiring at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.
“Dr. Nimmo is an outstanding conductor and teacher who loves what he does. He is a genuine, caring, and thoughtful professor who fully supports all of his students,” Stevens said. “His passion and love of music and teaching is inspirational. In rehearsal, he never stops asking for more from us and he has motivated us to never give up on the music. I have learned so much about music and life from Dr. Nimmo that I will carry with me for years to come.”
Mason echoed Stevens’ comments about Nimmo adding, “At this point, it is really hard for me to imagine Gustavus and the Gustavus Wind Orchestra without the contributions of Dr. Nimmo. He always pushes the ensemble members to keep growing and to seek out new experiences in music that make it worth studying regardless of your major. That is a special aspect of music at Gustavus that Dr. Nimmo has personified for as long as I have known him.”
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