College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Passport to Purpose

Music students’ experiences broadened by HSM’s history of European tours

By Jill Terhaar Lewis | February 9, 2023
Students abroad

“Some things just can’t be described. You just have to live them – to experience them for yourself.” Justin Baker ’07, music performance, begins his podcast featuring an interview with his mentor Emeritus Professor of Music Dr. Valerie Bullock. He went on to describe the powerful impact Bullock had on his life, including – in large part – awakening his world to travel through CSU’s Concert Singers ensemble tours abroad. 

“I saw and felt things for the first time, many of them planting seeds of adventure and curiosity,” said Baker. This spirit of discovery is still resonating with him today, years after his time traveling with the ensemble. “I began to see things in a different light, a different hue, a different frequency of existence.”

This is one person’s story, but it has been echoed by many others over the years who have had the opportunity to go on a musical tour abroad with Charleston Southern University’s Horton School of Music and Performing Arts. Bullock established this tradition during her tenure as director of choral activities and chair of the Horton School of Music.  

The Concert Singers have toured Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Spain, England, and more, and have performed in major churches and cathedrals as well as mission camps and in the plazas, archways, and streets of cities and towns abroad. The trips have included choral residencies at major cathedrals remaining in one area for the majority of the tour as well as tours visiting several cities and countries. In each place, they have met with locals and experienced the art, cuisine, and culture in the many places visited. 

Recently, instrumental students continued the tradition with performance tours of Europe. In July 2016, the CSU Wind Ensemble performed for the World Association of Symphonic Bands and Ensembles in Prague, Czech Republic, as well as performing wind music by Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi in the same space in which the songs were composed and first performed – San Marco Basilica in Venice, Italy. 

“It was particularly thrilling to perform this music in what is, historically, the cradle of our art of wind music,” said the conductor of the CSU Wind Ensemble, Dr. Marshall Forrester. Forrester is also chair of the Horton School of Music and Performing Arts. In July 2018, the Wind Ensemble and friends undertook a Reformation 500th tour, visiting and performing in Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland, as well as performances in J.S. Bach’s Thomaskirke, Leipzig, and Martin Luther’s Schlosskirke, Wittenberg, Germany. During both tours, instrumental students presented invited performances for the MidEurope Blasmusik “wind music” Festival, in Schladming, Austria.

Students learn what it is like to be in a land where they are a minority surrounded by new languages, sights, and sounds. Some of the best trip moments were those when students could interact with the locals by performing and visiting with students at a school, residence or mission. People can hear about places and ideas, but nothing beats experiencing them in person. 

To music education-choral major Samuel Polk, a senior, walking the streets and feeling “the atmospheres” of the towns and cities of residence of historic composers and performers he has studied about in books, has better equipped him for his career path. “As a future music educator, I feel much more able to relate German and Italian music to my students since I have visited and experienced the cultures of these countries.”

It is one thing to read about Martin Luther and the Reformation in textbooks and another to see and sing in the church in Wittenberg where he nailed the 95 Theses to the door and to visit the room where he had to hide in fear of his life. To perform a choral by Johann Sebastian Bach standing around his grave in ThomasKirche in Leipzeig, and to visit the birth house of young Wolfgang Amaedeus Mozart, to hear native Italians speaking and singing Italian – all of these experiences activate the senses in a profound way to create lasting lessons that foster empathy and understanding.

Forrester, current department chair, has instituted an instrumental global tour tradition. The global pandemic pushed pause on international travel for many around the world, including Charleston Southern. A planned trip to Ireland slated for the summer of 2020 was a casualty, but happily this tradition re-emerged in summer 2022 for the Horton School of Music and Performing Arts. Dr. Forrester, Dr. Jennifer Luiken, and Dr. Jill Terhaar Lewis led a team of faculty, students, and friends on a tour of Austria, Venice, and Switzerland. 

The group traveled and performed as the CSU Holy City Consort and consisted of choral and instrumental musicians who performed at a festival in Schladming and at a Sunday Mass at the Basilica di San Marco in Venice, Italy. The travelers were able to take in nature, art, culture, and an abundance of beautiful sights and sounds. For three students it was their first time on an airplane, let alone leaving the country.

Jonathan Amado, junior music education-instrumental major, was one such student. He said, “It was an experience I have never been able to have.” He goes on to say the opportunity created a “moment in all of our lives that we will never forget.”

Callie Hall, junior music education-choral major, agrees stating it was a “once-in-a-lifetime trip to sing in and experience some of the most beautiful places with the most wonderful people! I can’t wait to do another trip with the HSMPA!” 

Meghan Roum, ’22 music performance–vocal graduate also enjoyed the experience. “Being up on the mountain breathing fresh Alpine air, picking wildflowers and seeing more mountains far off took my breath away!” Roum also said it helped her grow, “I do have more empathy for those who travel to the United States of America.” 

Sometimes the travelers experienced prejudices as foreigners who do not speak the language. Roum said, “I would like to be more patient and helpful with those who travel to our country.” This experiential learning is vital to a well-rounded education that takes the student out of the classroom and into the real world. 

The tours also help bring together a lovely mix of people. Students are traveling with professors, and sometimes other family and friends pay to travel with the group.  CSU faculty members Regina Helcher Yost, an adjunct in the music department, and her husband Jeff Yost, a Nielsen College of Business faculty member, traveled and both performed with the consort. Regina played flute, and Jeff played guitar. Helcher Yost said, “This trip far exceeded my expectations, which were already high! I loved every moment!” The diversity of ages and life experiences of each person brought ideas and perspectives to the tour. 

These travel experiences are a great way for students to  connect with each other and also get to know themselves and what they think and believe. David Nagelkirk ’16, music education–choral graduate has had the opportunity to travel with CSU on three different occasions: twice as a student and once as an alumnus. “Each of these trips have been filled with life-changing memories,” said Nagelkirk. He goes on to say that these experiences have shaped him, “as a musician, student, and person.”

Those “seeds of adventure and curiosity” coming from global travel mentioned by Baker are planted and germinate within each person. They flower into ideas, foster empathy, and personal growth and turn into realities of goals and beliefs. They are a crucial component to a well-rounded education.  

Dr. Jill Terhaar Lewis is a professor of music and is the chair of the vocal program.

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