GWO in Europe 2010: Abundant Emotions

Posted on February 16th, 2010 by

Submitted by Hanna Schutte ’11

The return to normalcy after a J-term experience always requires some adjustment.  Going from having one class a day and intense rehearsals to spending every day touring and experiencing new and exciting things, it is a shift to go back to the same-old routine.  It is even a surprise to see that there are other people at Gustavus; after spending a month with the same group of 75 people, you start to get really close.  On tour, we experienced such a wide range of things together that when someone asks you “What was your favorite part?” it takes a moment before you can answer.

Many amazing experiences occurred since I last left off on blogging, so maybe it would be easiest to pick up where my last entry left off.  On Monday, January 25th, the members of GWO boarded the bus to visit Auschwitz.  There was nervous apprehension as we entered the museum, which at first looked like any other.  As we went outside, however, it was clear that this was a very different type of memorial.  It was very quiet—only the crunching snow under the feet of our group and others was heard as we walked under the infamous sign that reads, “Work will set you free”.  We saw rows and rows of barracks, and were shocked to learn that this was the smaller of the two camps—Birkenau, the nearby camp that was shut down while it was still being built, was even larger.

As we entered a few of the barracks, there were exhibits with haunting pictures and staggering facts.  Huge piles of hair, eyeglasses, suitcases, shoes, and pots and pans were seen—only a fraction of what was stolen from these people as they thought they were on their way to a new life.  Clothes that people might have been wearing when they entered the camp—a dress, a shirt, even a little white baby sweater—were painful to witness.

A sight that is impossible to erase from one’s memory was the gas chamber.  Going down the flight of stairs, it was difficult to breathe, even though we knew we would get to leave this place, unlike thousands of others.  A plain concrete room, looking like any basement, but with scratches on the walls and ceilings—left from the fingernails of victims.  The room where the bodies were cremated was painful to see, with two “ovens” and tracks to move bodies.

On the bus ride to Krakow, people had the chance to talk about what they had seen.  Some spoke about shock at how efficiently everything had been designed, and horror at how deeply hatred could run.  We spoke about preventing prejudice and evil on all levels, and working for good instead.  In looking back at my own experiences on tour, the scenes and emotions I experienced at Auschwitz are among the most strongly ingrained in my memory.

The next day dawned extremely cold, and I think lingering memories of the hardships of Auschwitz were on the minds of many as we walked around the city of Krakow.  It was a beautiful city, filled with lots of history and great legends.  Our tour guides had lots of stories for us as we toured through the celebrated city.  Several of these legends surround the cathedral where Pope John Paul II was the Archbishop of Krakow, including the “dragon bones” outside the front door, which lead into the story of the town’s founding.  Traveling to see the huge city square, we witnessed the basilica of the Virgin Mary and the exquisite Great Altar within.  Several GWO members were also excited to hear the famous trumpeter in the basilica’s tower, which leads to another story.  Long ago, when the trumpeter saw enemies coming, he started sounding the alarm by playing his horn.  Before he could finish, however, he was shot in the neck.  Ever since then, at every hour, the firefighters of Krakow play the piece (maintaining its abrupt cutoff).

That evening we played a concert at St. Katherine’s Church, but I think most GWO members will remember this as “the cold one”.  Being a large, Baroque church, it isn’t really possible to heat this building very well.  Despite the extra challenge, however, we played through and many GWO members said that this was one of their favorite concert experiences.  With everyone concentrating so hard on the music instead of their chilly toes, we all played very well!

The next morning, GWO members had the chance to peruse the market square for some shopping, send some postcards, or just catch up on sleep.  After lunch we headed out for Kety, Poland!  Our bus had a bit of a surprise—along the road, there were police everywhere, and we started to wonder what was going on.  Our guide Carmen soon informed us that since it was the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, many foreign dignitaries were arriving and so traffic was being shut down.  Our next performance town of Kety was an interesting location.  It was in-between the size of St. Peter and Mankato, so it reminded many travelers of home.  Then again, maybe not—how many of us can say that our town was founded in 1277?

On January 28th, we took a side trip in the morning to visit Wadowice, best known for being the birthplace of Pope John Paul II.  That evening, we performed a very meaningful concert at Parafia Najswietszego Serca Jezusa in Kety, a church where the Gustavus Wind Orchestra performed the last time they came to Europe.  The church was packed as we played, and when we said the Lord’s Prayer together with the audience in our respective native languages, we were reminded that some things are more powerful than language, cultural, or religious barriers.  After the concert, we witnessed just how much it meant to the people of Kety that we had come to perform there.  The mayor of the town came and shook Dr. Nimmo’s hand, and gifts were exchanged.  The priest gave GWO a hand-carved crucifix, before taking a shot at playing a Polish piece on a nearby saxophone—much to the enjoyment of all.  Many GWO musicians said that this was the concert that meant the most to them on tour, not because of how elaborate the performance site was or because of the size of the audience, but simply due to how much the people cared, how much they enjoyed the concert, and how grateful they were that we had performed there.

Our time in Poland came to a close the next day when we took a long drive from Kety to Pomaz, Hungary.  We had spent six of our fourteen days on tour in this country (more than any other), and it was sad to leave.  Nonetheless, everyone was excited to be hitting the road again to explore somewhere new.  This also marked the approximate half-way mark in the tour.

One of our tour guides, Annamaria, was very excited to be nearing her home of Hungary.  Gusties were also excited to be reaching Hungary because this was where we would have our two nights of home stays during the trip.  Always a memorable part of any tour, these home stays promised to be extra meaningful.  When else, other than on a music tour, do you go home with a complete stranger, sleep in their house, eat their food, and then leave the next day?

As for my own experience staying in a Pomaz household, I think I can safely conclude that home stay families around the world are the same.  The “mom” loading us down with food, deeply concerned that, as college students, we never get enough to eat, the “dad” making sure to carry our bags in from the car for us and showing us where everything is, and the “kids” trying to act cool around the college students and rolling their eyes when their parents ask us questions about what it’s like in Minnesota.  There were many aspects, however, that made this home stay even better.  Since many of the families spoke limited English, Gusties found other ways to communicate.  As for me and my roommates, our family spoke some English, and was willing to help each other out and laugh at trying to find the proper tense and word order to ask us a question.  It was also a lot of fun to try out some new foods, attempt to ask questions and carry on a conversation, and find out what life is really like in a European household.

The next morning, we got to tour through Budapest, another very historical city.  Founded in 896, many of the historical monuments were built to commemorate the one thousandth anniversary of this city in 1896.  As our guide told us, it was easy to remember the height of all the historical buildings because of this—96 meters!  It was snowing pretty heavily, but that didn’t stop us from getting off the bus and having a Kodak moment at the Hero’s Square.  We also saw the Parliament and a cathedral where Dr. Fienen had performed in 1989.  Annamaria also pointed out many sites to us that were important to her.  After shopping and lunch, it was time to get ready for the next concert.

This concert was unique in its own way, as it was a joint concert with the Pomaz Wind Orchestra.  They played a piece consisting of the music from the movie Gladiator as well as a medley of Queen pieces that really got the crowd going.  Even though the concert venue was small, the people were again excited to hear us perform, and playing for our host families was meaningful in its own way.  Even though we had just met, we had a connection with someone out in the audience, which made it special to play.  As Dr. Nimmo spoke about before the performance, there is something unique about being a musician that allows you to connect with fellow percussionists or flutists or trumpeters or whatever instantly, no matter where they are from.  Many new friends were made, and invitations to come back were willingly given.  Some host families even found their Gustavus guests on Facebook, and have been keeping in touch already.

Tour really started to pick up speed into the last few days.  Coming into Austria, it was our guide Carmen’s turn to be excited, as Austria is her home country.  We soon arrived in Eisenstadt, the town where Haydn was the music director for Prince Esterhazy for many years.  While touring through the beautiful Esterhazy palace, we had the chance to test out the acoustics of the concert hall on the same stage where Haydn played—yet another memorable, impromptu performance!  We also toured through the house where Haydn lived, and learned lots of history about this famous composer.  As for myself, Eisenstadt will always be the place where I got to try out some authentic (and very delicious) apple strudel.

Arriving in the city which, as Professor Emmert told us, was the center of Europe for centuries, we were all excited to see what Vienna was really like.  This city didn’t disappoint!  The Schonbrunn palace, the opera house, and the Hofburg Imperial palace were all gorgeous, but this city didn’t just have a few jewels tucked away.  The whole city was energetic and beautiful, the people were friendly, and there were sights to see everywhere you turned.  It is no surprise that many Gusties put it down as their favorite on the tour.  Our concert, this time in the afternoon, was in a very memorable location.  We played at L’Orangerie, a section of the Schonbrunn palace.  Our guide informed us that this same concert venue is the same location where the only known competition between the famous rivals Mozart and Salieri took place.  This performance was a charity concert, and once again, the building was packed.

The realization that our last concert in Europe was approaching was bittersweet as we spent the morning touring Salzburg.  The home of Mozart’s birthplace and many sites from the movie The Sound of Music, we got a quick tour through the city and the main cathedral, which housed five working organs.  We then drove up through the mountains to our concert venue in the city of Bad Ischl.  We had a very nice concert venue (and the truck loaders were excited that there was a lift to get the heavy equipment into the building!)  We knew that we had one more concert at home, but that didn’t make the fact that it was our final performance abroad any easier.  It was clear to see just how far we had come together as an ensemble.

Our final day in Europe was spent at one last castle.  If you have ever been to Neuschwanstein, it is unlikely that you have forgotten it.  This is the castle the Disney palace was modeled after, and it’s easy to see why.  Built by King Ludwig II in the 1860s, this shy royal figure had an obsession with fairy tales and legends.  He started construction on a huge castle on top of a mountain, planning to rebuild a former castle to splendor on a huge scale.  The castle was never completed, however, as the king died before it was finished.  Nonetheless, it is still one of the most visited sites in Germany, and is filled with spectacular decorations, including huge paintings depicting legendary figures such as Lohengrin and Tristan and Isolde.

Too soon, it was time to get back on the plane and head for Minnesota.  As for much of the tour, there were many emotions about leaving.  The sun was shining and it was a warm day as we boarded the bus for the last time, and many stood outside for a while, thinking back over the past two whirlwind weeks.  There was happiness at getting to go home and see family members for a little while before classes started up, sadness at having to leave such an exciting and historical place, excitement at soon being able to understand street signs and waiters, but most of all I think satisfaction at having completed a two-week international tour.

For many, this was the first time out of the country or to Europe, and many are hoping that it will not be their last.  There were many memories made in these short fourteen days (too many for just one blog!) and thousands of pictures were taken as a way to remember the times had in Eastern Europe.  It’s tough to have a few people’s experiences represent the entire group, as I’m sure everyone’s tour was unique to them.  Having only been back for one week, it is difficult to say just how large of an impact a trip like this has had on me or anyone else in the ensemble.  It is no question, however, that being a part of an international tour with a music ensemble was worth all of the hard work, the rehearsals, and the time.  It was an incredible experience, and I’m grateful I had the chance to go!

 

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