Why Malaysia and Singapore? Posted on January 23rd, 2020 by

The Gustavus Symphony Orchestra prepares for tour. Photo credit: Olivia Doeden '20

—pre-tour dispatch from Dr. Ruth Lin, conductor of the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra

Whenever anyone asks me how or why we chose a certain place in the world for our international tours, I always tell them my qualifiers. No.1, it must be a safe place for our students. No. 2, it should be somewhere that I don’t think students would go on their own. The unofficial No.3 is that it has to be warmer than Minnesota in the middle of January.

Anyone who lives in Minnesota will know that fulfilling no. 3 is not so hard considering the arctic temperatures Minnesota usually experiences in January. As part of a liberal-arts institution, we believe in encouraging students to explore and get out of their comfort zone. As faculty members, we consider it our responsibility to broaden our students’ horizons whenever possible. Dave Stamps and I were fortunate enough to visit Singapore and Malaysia in the summer of 2016 for different reasons and at different times, but we both fell in love with the place and believe it has much to offer our students.

In addition to tropical weather, fantastic food, and lovely people, Malaysia and Singapore manifest the word diversity. Its landscape spans mountains, caves, beaches and some of the tallest high-rises in the world. Commonly spoken languages include English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Within a city block, one will find a church, a Buddhist temple, a Mosque, and a Hindu temple. They are countries of complexity, contradiction, beauty, and harmony. On top of rehearsals, students are attending daily classes with Dr. Steve Mellama where they explore these complexities and contradictions, and gain a fundamental understanding of the history, culture, and current events and issues of Singapore and Malaysia. While it would be impossible to thoroughly experience any culture in two weeks, these classes help our students make the most of their time on tour.

In our concert program, we plan to share with our audience a diverse menu of American music. In the orchestral portion, our program includes the unmistakable sound of American music by Aaron Copland, the humorous concert pop of Leroy Anderson (the same composer who composed Sleigh Ride), the most popular American orchestral musical export, music from Star Wars, and the beguiling sound of jazz orchestra arrangements of songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. Additionally, the Symphony Orchestra has a special commission Fanfare for a Weapon-Free World from Steve Heitzeg ’82.

The January term rehearsal schedule has been rigorous for all of us, we squeeze in what would normally be two months of rehearsals into three weeks. It is an intense process that pushes us to grow as individuals and as a group. Dave and I are very proud of the progress our ensembles have made and we look forward to the planned concerts and exchanges with schools and music programs in Singapore and Malaysia. From past tour experiences, these musical exchanges offer opportunities to build human connections through our shared love of music and this is definitely one of the highlights of our tours.

I cannot wait for our students to experience everything for themselves, and have I mentioned the incredible food? Penang, Malaysia was named by Huffington Post as one of the food capitals of the world in 2016. We are now putting the final touches on musical preparations and packing up the instruments, wheels up tomorrow!


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