What could be better than traveling through the homelands of many of the greatest musical minds the world has ever known? Traveling and performing the works of these great composers in the venues for which they were written. This is exactly what the University of South Dakota Chamber Singers and a party of alumni travelers did during spring break 2015.
On March 6, the ensemble began their European adventure, arriving in Leipzig for a two-night stay. There, the singers walked in the footsteps of Mendelssohn and J.S. Bach, performing works by both composers for a service at Nikolaikirche, a church where Bach worked as a composer and organist. After a tour of the city, which included a stop at the church in which Bach is buried, the choir was off to its first full concert performance at St. Lukaskirche, an old “state church” from the Communist era. The choir sang to a very enthusiastic audience that welcomed them with open arms.
On March 9, the tour party began their journey to Austria, passing through the Czech Republic and exploring the beautiful city of Prague and historic Prague Castle. The group then made its way to Vienna for a three-night stay in the charming wine village of Mödling.
Over the next two days, the Chamber Singers walked through music history, visiting the homes and other important sites of composers like Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Strauss. While sightseeing did provide numerous educational opportunities, the choir also had the opportunity to perform at several venues in this historic city, both planned and impromptu. The first was at the Piaristen School, a private school of Austrian 11–17 year olds who both listened to the ensemble and performed their own music.
That evening, the choir presented a formal concert for nearly 300 at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, an iconic structure in the center of Vienna where Mozart’s funeral was held. While singing at this cathedral was certainly a highlight of the tour, perhaps more memorable was the quick performance of the spiritual “I Don’ Feel No Ways Tired” in front of the church to promote the evening’s concert. After the song ended, wild applause ensued, with the crowd eager to take pictures and meet the singers.
The next day, the group traveled to Eisenstadt where they had a chance to perform, informally, in the concert hall where so many of the works of F.J. Haydn were first performed. Later, in Hainburg, the Chamber Singers presented a formal concert, which was again met with a large and enthusiastic audience that would not let the evening end without four standing ovations and three encores.
Leaving Vienna behind, the traveling party transferred to the Salzburg area, but not before a stop at the St. Florian Abbey. While touring the Abbey, the choir visited the grave of Anton Bruckner, directly below the church organ now known as the “Bruckner organ.” The choir then moved to the sanctuary where they presented three selections, including a Bruckner piece entitled “Locus Este.” By the time they concluded their three-song concert with the ensemble’s signature selection, “O Day Full of Grace,” there was barely a dry eye in the room.
As the choir made its way to Salzburg, there was one more stop that brought the sound of music to life, literally. The motor coaches pulled into the small town of Mondsee where in the center of town sat the church in which the wedding scene from The Sound of Music was filmed. The choir visited the cathedral in Salzburg where Mozart was baptized and whose baptismal font is still in use today. While at the church, the choir sang a Mozart piece arranged for vocalists by Chamber Singers member Hannah Lambertz. The formal concert in Salzburg was at the Kollegienkirche, a venue which made a glorious ring for the choir’s slow, sustained repertoire.
The concert brought to a close the USD Chamber Singers’ first European excursion in 10 years. Each student walked away from the week with differing moments that inspired and educated, but every person who journeyed through these countries together developed an emotional bond that only comes from traveling with a family that is the University of South Dakota Chamber Singers.