UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – Where were you on the Apollo moon landing 50 years ago? For 60 former members of the Penn State Choir, the answer is simple: They were giving an outdoor concert at Apollo Stadium in Delphi, Greece.
“When we left Athens on the morning of July 20, we knew that if all went well, the astronauts were going to land on the moon that day. In 1969, there was no television or radio in the remote Delphi area, and only irregular newspaper delivery, ”recalls Carol Wood Stansfield, choir member, who received a BA and MA at Penn State. . “Very few people in Delphi spoke English and none of us spoke Greek. That evening we communicated through the universal language of song.
After the concert, some members of the choir located a Volkswagen capable of receiving the radio and learned that their concert coincided with the moon landing.
“This concert became the culmination of a remarkable six-week tour of England, Israel, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, Austria, Germany and Switzerland, under the direction of Professor Raymond Brown,” said said Stansfield, who, along with her husband, John Stansfield Jr., recently pledged an inheritance donation to benefit the Nina and Raymond Brown Music Scholarship in Voice.
For today’s Penn State musicians, international tours remain a highlight of their college experience. This summer, 32 members of the Concert Choir, as well as teachers from the School of Music Christopher Kiver, choir director, and Jennifer Trost, soloist, spent 10 days in Germany, performing music by composers associated with the cities that they visited. These cities included Gotha, Eisenach, Römhild, Görlitz, Bautzen, Berlin and Leipzig, where Johann Sebastian Bach lived and worked.
According to Lindsay Dudis, member of the Concert Choir, second year student, it was exciting to see what inspired the music of the composers.
“Singing in the old churches was so amazing – the voices seemed to resonate not only through the walls, but through their history,” said Dudis. “The most moving part of the tour for me was singing around Bach’s grave. I felt like I had passed the ultimate audition, but I felt so proud to sing ‘thank you’ to someone which spawned the music. I, along with many others, cried in thanks.
The Concert Choir presented three evening performances and two lunchtime concerts where members of the public – instead of paying to attend the concert – donated over 5,000 euros to various causes selected by the host churches . In Berlin, for example, donations help finance the purchase of a minibus that will be used to pick up homeless people in the city and transport them to employment offices.
Kiver said it was gratifying to see the students discover new places and cultures and bond as a group.
“Although singing around Bach’s grave will be hard to beat, especially on this trip, it was remarkable to sing for an audience that seemed deeply connected to the music we performed – they weren’t coming to watch us because ‘they knew us or were supporting family or friends; they came to support the music, ”he explained. “The length and warmth of the applause was also unlike anything we’ve experienced in the United States, so I was really delighted that the students could experience a remarkably different art culture.”
Kiver has conducted ensembles on several international tours, including Glee Club trips to New Zealand and Iceland, and a Concert Choir trip to Australia. He will take the Glee Club to Romania in 2020. Other faculty members of the School of Music who have taken students abroad include Mark Lusk, who led student delegations to Cuba; Professor Emeritus Anthony Leach, who has taken Essence of Joy to South Africa, France and Spain; and Dennis Glocke, who took the Symphonic Wind Ensemble to Italy.
Touring, according to Kiver, gives ensembles the opportunity to perform multiple times over a short period of time, which helps raise performance levels.
“Particularly on this tour, I had a strong sense that the audience was thrilled to see young Americans singing German music – in a way acting as musical ambassadors, not only for Penn State, but for the nation. … Inevitably, there are always students who have not traveled abroad before traveling with the choir – what an experience! Says Kiver.
The bond that forms between the choir members – whether on an international tour or rehearsing at Penn State – remains fond memories for Stansfield, even 50 years later.
“My membership in the choir has been the most meaningful experience of my undergraduate and graduate years at Penn State,” said Stansfield. “The choir has allowed us to make friendships that have continued quarter after quarter and year after year. Professor Brown has become someone you can depend on. He insisted that we strive for excellence. By working really hard together we could create something wonderful.
Jared Kehler, a senior film and video graduate who made the trip to Germany, echoed Stansfield’s remarks.
“We have become much closer as a choir, and I think I will remain friends with the other members for many years to come,” Kehler said. “I will certainly not forget this fantastic experience!”