For the first time in five years, the Augustana Choir is touring outside the country. Discovering ways to make the trip less expensive will give the choir a chance to finally embark on a 21-day tour of Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic this January.
For the past five years, the choir has scheduled 10-day international summer trips (such as Spain and Morocco in 2010) that were called off because of high expenses. It became difficult for students to come up with enough money before summer, especially since it also meant passing up seasonal job opportunities.
Students were discouraged. Many assumed they would never be able to go on a choir trip abroad. But this year is different.
With the help of Brad Heegel, arts marketing and development coordinator, and new choir director Paul Nesheim, the European tour a reality.
“This trip is definitely happening,” Nesheim said. “Deposits have been made. There’s no turning back now.”
This is the first time the choir will travel abroad over interim. Students are each paying $3,795 for the trip. To reach this price, Potsdam, Germany, donated $1,000 via the Sister Cities Association. In addition, the choir raised about $600 over the summer through Macy’s donation program, “Shop for a Cause.”
Nesheim didn’t coordinate the travel plans or expenses, as this is his first year teaching at Augustana; rather, he worked to piece together the musical elements of the tour.
“I am blessed to have colleagues that allow me to focus on music-making and teaching,” Nesheim said. “We’ve had a wonderful time getting students excited for the trip. There’s a heightened sense of anticipation for everyone.”
Students are impressed by Nesheim’s dedication to the choir.
“It’s his first year teaching here and he’s already taking us on a trip abroad,” senior choir president Ali Hoffman said. “Hiring him was a great decision for Augie.”
While in Europe, the choir will perform pieces from composers who lived in each country they visit as well as tour many historical sites, including Auschwitz, the Abbey Church in Austria (used in The Sound of Music) and the Castle District of Prague and St. Thomas Church in Leipzig (where Bach is buried).
The choir will perform at a number of churches in each of the five countries it tours. “I’ve seen pictures of the churches we’re going to visit—they are breathtakingly beautiful,” Nesheim said.
The churches hold significance, as various prestigious composers worked in them. “Bach is my favorite composer, so to visit and sing in the churches he worked and composed in will be a highlight for me,” Nesheim said.
Hoffman is also eager to perform pieces from the countries they visit because the local citizens will be able to connect to them.
“I think the people from the cities we are singing for will appreciate that,” she said.
In addition to the musical opportunities, the choir will have the chance to get a better grasp of the historical significance of their tour locations. “I want them to understand the change in the world,” Heegel said.
Freshman choir member Sarah Stevens is ready to embrace this aspect of the trip. “Europe is so packed with history,” she said. “We’re going to so many famous places, it’s crazy.”
To ensure satisfaction with their trip, Heegel did a site inspection tour in mid-October, during which he visited all of the tour locations. His journey left him excited for the choir students to visit the places themselves. Specifically, Heegel is eager for them to better comprehend the devastation of Auschwitz. “I love tours where you can challenge all five senses,” he said.
To heighten their senses further, the choir will tie together history and music. “We’re playing a piece by a modern Polish composer that ties in with our visit to Auschwitz,” Nesheim said. “It’s filled with angst.”
Stevens is looking forward to the visit to Auschwitz as well. “I’ve always read books about the Holocaust,” she said. “I think it’ll be horrible, but really interesting.”
Although the trip is still two months away, the anticipation is evident for both students and faculty members who are embarking on this January journey.
“The best part for me is that I’ve done so many [trips],” Heegel said. “I get to watch the experience unfold by watching the students. There’s a real awakening in them.”