Final Musings on a Grand Adventure Posted on February 14th, 2020 by

dispatch from Dave Stamps, Director of Jazz Studies

We are back from our whirlwind fifteen day tour across Southeast Asia! I hope you’ll join us for our home concert this Sunday, February 16 at 1:30 p.m. in Christ Chapel. We will celebrate the experience with stories, music, and the Minnesota premiere of Steve Heitzig’s original work for orchestra and carillon, Fanfare for a Weapon-Free World.

As I’ve reflected on the past two weeks, I thought it might be fun to share some candid thoughts about our tour. The musical performances were of course stellar…and you can hear it for yourself this Sunday (another shameless plug)…but much, much more happened on our tour that you may not have heard about yet. So here goes – an inside look at an out-of-this-world excursion:

Success is No Accident
True words by football legend, Pele. In advance of our journey, we rehearsed A LOT over a three week timespan. Some of us were on our instruments for more than seven to eight hours a day! We practiced together and individually. We studied musical scores (I may have cheated and reviewed a few baseball stats in anticipation of Spring Training as well). We attended daily cultural studies with Dr. Steve Mellema who taught us about life along the Straits of Malacca. We discussed expectations – climate, culture, laws, food, Gustavus rules, etc – and talked openly about what we feared, were excited about, and hoped to experience together. We bonded and firmly rooted ourselves as ensembles with purpose.

Separation from the Earth
Those are some long flights! We watched plenty of movies, laughed with friends, caught up on sleep, and stared blankly at the bulkhead in front of us. Some of us may have even written a syllabus or two from 35,000 ft above the Pacific Ocean. 😉

Roll With It
Sometimes things just don’t work out as planned. Our first performance setup ended up being pretty challenging. Instrument rentals were delayed. We didn’t realize how much water we’d need to be drinking in the hot, humid climate of Kuala Lumpur. The sound system was not what we were used to. When you are still dealing with jetlag, these types of things can be quite frustrating. But, do Gusties fret? Of course not. We rallied. We solved the problems. We got everything setup, rehearsed, soundchecked, ate an amazing pre-concert meal in the rain, and then proceeded to perform for a full house (including more than 30 dignitaries and ambassadors to Malaysia). No big deal, right?

All Washed Up
Speaking of dinner in the rain, I need to throw a much deserved shoutout towards one of our student musicians. We weren’t actually eating in the rain (don’t worry parents!), but there was a 20 meter alley between our dinner venue and the performance hall. And, it was raining HARD! Trombonist Tyler DelMain took one of the few umbrellas we had with and shepherded student after student after faculty member across the divide. In spite of the umbrella, he was still absolutely soaked. No complaining, despite performing proudly in damp clothing. Saw a problem…made a positive change…now that’s a Gustie!

Nom noms
Malay and Peranakan cuisine is the best on the planet. Period. 

It Takes A Village
This was my first Gustavus music tour with a group of companions along for the ride. I can’t tell you how amazing it was for the faculty and students to get to experience this performance tour with these friends of Gustavus. It is quite the undertaking to move more than 70 people in tandem across a foreign landscape. But, we did it together, leaned on each other, and learned a lot of lessons about the human condition. Thank you companions for sharing your energy, spirit, and love with us! Also, let’s be honest. Faculty get most of the credit for shaping the student experiences. However, staff have an equal (if not greater!) role in making these experiences happy, productive, and representative of the excellence we demand at Gustavus. Mad props to our own Lynnea Eckhoff, Mara Klein, Janet Jennings, and Melissa Shugarman!

Cat’s Out of the Bag
It seems that our students have a profound appreciation for cats. No…I’m not talking about the cool slang term for jazz musicians or the creative musings of T.S. Eliot and/or Andrew Lloyd Weber. Nor am I referring to our esteemed trombonist and @gustavusjazz social media guru, Cat LaCasse. I’m talking about the cuddly and often rotund felines that grace our lives in a myriad of ways. Please ask our resident cat-wrangler, saxophonist Greg Norton, for more information (or an iPhone pictorial).

The Importance of Impact
Gusties make things happen through service. We believe that it is important to give back. One of my personal favorite moments from tour was our concert in the Weil Hotel in Ipoh, Malaysia. We partnered with the Lighthouse Hope Society to produce a benefit concert for those who are helpless, homeless, hopeless, and in need. The show raised almost 200,000 ringgits (nearly $50,000 dollars) for the organization.

Ipoh White Coffee
There is no greater love. Truly. Due to our students shopping trips down the famed Jonker Walk and Concubine Lane, I believe that there is now an international shortage of this beloved Malaysian export.

Everything Has Beauty, But Not Everyone Sees It (Confucius)
We saw some extraordinarily amazing natural sites. Batu Caves. Penang Hill’s Habitat. Gua Temperung (cave outside of Ipoh, Malaysia). The Singapore Botanic Gardens (where we performed our last concert!). All of us visited the famed Night Safari (world’s first nocturnal zoo) and some of us ventured back out to see the Singapore Zoo and its unrivaled orangutan and giant panda havens. We also saw contemporary marvels of steel and glass including the Petronas Towers (tallest twin towers in the world) and the Marina Bay Sands (famous structure consisting of cantilevered “ship” atop three pillars). All of these things were absolutely wonderful and we learned a huge amount about the flora, fauna, and people affected by modernization and climate. It’s a delicate balance and we all need to do better in seeing it.

Rooftop Pools
Don’t ever underestimate the amount of time that these Minnesotan young adults can hang by the pool in the midst of winter. The vitamin D worship was REAL.

Music Transcends Language
Perhaps the biggest highlights of tour were the educational exchanges between our students and Malaysian/Sinaporean students. GSO spent time with the Kinta Valley Symphonic Society in Ipoh, Malaysia, GJAZZ collaborated with the Raffles Institution in Singapore, and both groups enjoyed time with the students at the prestiged Kolej Yayasan Saad in Melacca, Malaysia. No matter the societal complexities, slight communication challenges, or religious/spiritual differences all of the students shared a love for music and used that passion to cultivate enduring relationships. These interactions lasted for hours and kept the students buzzing for days!

No Place Like Home
We learned a great deal, thought critically, experienced much, and shared ourselves and ways of being on this trip. But, it is so nice to be home with family, friends, familiar environments, and the little luxuries that we sometimes take for granted.

Final Thoughts
If you’ve made it this far, I applaud your dedication to our cause! I’d also like to point out one more thing. Take a quick look at the Gustavus Acts Vision Statement below. Think about how these music tours closely resemble this vision. 

Gustavus Acts Vision Statement
Gustavus equips students to lead purposeful lives and to act on the great challenges of our time through an innovative liberal arts education of recognized excellence.

  • Every action at Gustavus moves students towards discovery of self – their beliefs, values, and relation to the world. We build capacity through experience. Students graduate equipped for life and career.
  • Our students discern their vocation, think deeply and critically, and ignite their passions through knowledge and discovery. Our students then live on purpose and with purpose. They care.
  • Our students are doers. They are aware of and engage with real-world concerns. They seek to understand complex societal issues, and they act on them with hope for positive change.
  • Students learn boldly, stretching their minds in the classroom and beyond. Through active collaboration with faculty, alumni, and business leaders, their liberal arts education comes alive.
  • We set the bar high in everything we do. And the world will notice.

Pretty amazing, right? Let’s keep these opportunities and experiences going for our students for many more decades! If you feel so obliged, please consider joining the Gustavus Friends of Music or donating to international touring ensemble scholarships. Jennifer Vickerman would love to chat with you about being involved. See you Sunday (unsolicited plug #3)!


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