Music, Greece, and Macedonia

Posted on January 19th, 2016 by

Written by Becca Ihnen

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of intensive rehearsals, invaluable lectures, and engaging guest speakers. The Gustavus Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Lab Band returned to campus on January 4th and immediately began preparations for our concert tour in Greece and Macedonia. Our daily schedule started with an orchestra rehearsal in the morning with the jazz band joining from 10:30-12PM. While the orchestra received a break, the jazz band picked up again in the afternoon and ended before 3:30PM for our January Term class led by Professor Alisa Rosenthal.


Dr. Rosenthal led us through the course by covering the tumultuous history and current events of Greece and Macedonia. On the first day of class she instructed us to create a list of what comes to mind when asked about Greece and Macedonia. The list about Greece was significantly longer but included Greek yogurt and movies such as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Hercules. After two weeks, we are now able to add more items like Stylianos Kiriakides, King Alexander’s deadly monkey bites, the years when the Ottoman Empire collapsed (1918-1920), and the 1923 population exchange. We would be able to discuss the Greece debt crisis in depth and converse about the refugees seeking asylum in Athens. Be able to explain the church life of Greece today and the major religious conflicts that have taken place thanks to Professor Alisa Rosenthal, Thia Cooper, and Yurie Hong.


Along with our three Gustavus professors, we had the great pleasure of meeting Abby Burton and attend her presentation about jazz and her father, Morton Gould. The orchestra is performing Gould’s Pavanne so it was extraordinary to learn more about the composer in such a personal way. Not only did we learn about Gould firsthand but also had the opportunity to spend two hours with a passionate advocate of the arts. Also, how can you not like someone who signs off on an email to the orchestra and jazz band with, “ever respectfully, gratefully and with a big group hug. Abby”?


While we have learned so much the past two weeks, the rehearsals are the most important part of this course. This is my second international tour with an ensemble and I know how critical the first two weeks are to making a J-term tour successful. Concert tours require hard work in personal practice and full ensemble rehearsals. Without the music we would not be going to Greece or Macedonia- the music is the glue. As a musician, it is rewarding to hear the music click once everyone is listening to every part instead of focusing on their own. We are one day away from our first concert where we will connect with an audience through a shared musical experience. To me, those are the memorable moments on the concert tours and I cannot wait to experience them with the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Lab Band.



  1. Abby G. Burton says:

    Becca, it is a true honor to be included in this blog about your tour. Thanks so much. Wishing everyone a spectacular time, with safe trips there and back. The people of Greece are about to get a much needed experience to make them feel good!

    As always…ever respectfully, gratefully and with a bon voyage hug!! Abby

  2. Christy Pearson says:

    Best wishes for a wonderful tour! And thank you for including us as we experience a bit of it via the blog.

  3. Carol Hill says:

    What a great tour, praying for a safe trip for you all. How
    lucky for the people in Greece to hear and meet you.
    Grandma Carol

  4. Michael Challeen (Music Education Major '82) says:

    I’m looking forward to seeing some photos and hearing a few sound bites from your concerts. Best wishes for a wonderful experience, to all of the musicians. To those who have never travelled internationally, I will say that the world will feel a bit smaller for you by the time you return, and that’s a good thing.

    Thank you for representing Gustavus!