Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A life-changing experience

Thirty-five years ago this month, I had the opportunity to travel for about 5 weeks abroad with high school and college-aged singers and instrumentalists. It was an amazing, life-changing, eye-opening experience, and something that I've never forgotten. Recently, through the wonders of the internet, many of us who went on that trip are starting to reconnect. It's been great fun to share pictures, memories, and reminisce about the experiences we had that summer.

The organization that sponsored the trip was AYIC (America's Youth In Concert). They sponsored this trip through most of the 70's and into the 1980's. Thousands of students benefited from this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. One of the folks who went on this trip in 1983 wrote a blog posting about this today, and it truly spoke to the essence of what this trip was about. I just felt like sharing it here with you all today. Enjoy my "sentimental journey"!! --

Pivot: America's Youth In Concert

I began playing the trumpet in fourth grade. In eighth grade, I was asked by the band director to play French horn for a year. I loved it. She couldn’t get me to go back and I played it throughout high school. My sophomore year, I was chosen to play in the 1982 all-state band. Right after that, I auditioned and was accepted for the America’s Youth in Concert tour of 1983. This four week tour of Europe became a major pivot point to my life.

America’s Youth in Concert was the vision of Lynn Geddes in the early 1970s. With all the social unrest over the Vietnam War and the low stature of America’s youth abroad, he decided it was important to give Europe a view of the finest, talented youth America had to offer, while providing those youth a chance to see the world outside their own country. He put together a band, choir and orchestra made up of youth between the ages of 15 and 20, led by some of the best directors available.

After a few days practice at Rider College in New Jersey, we performed our debut concert in Carnegie Hall on July 3. For a kid who had hardly left Idaho, this was the big time. As the first chair horn player in the orchestra, I had a few small solos in the various pieces we played. Consequently, I can boast of soloing in Carnegie Hall – all 4 measures. We packed the buses, drove all night and opened the July 4th celebrations on the U. S. Capitol steps in Washington D.C. Another concert in St. Patrick’s Cathedral and we were off to Europe for three and a half week. We played concerts in London’s Barbican Centre (home to the London Symphony Orchestra), Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral, Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio and many other sites across England, France, Switzerland and Italy. We even played the center ring of a three-ring circus outside a small town in Switzerland. It was truly the opportunity of a life time.

Not a bad place to stay for a couple days.

Royal Holloway College

In the retrospect of 25 years, I am amazed my parents let me go on this trip, much less someone would take on the task of moving 250 hormone-ridden, immature teenagers around the world with only 14 chaperones. Surprisingly, troubles were few and the adventures were many. After a three hour trip into London with one of the chaperones the night before, I struck out with my friends, leading everyone all over to see the sites. It was the first time I had seen a subway, much less a city on my own. It never crossed my mind it was remarkable that we could turn 250 kids loose on London and everyone would get back to Royal Holloway College before the last train ran. Granted, I was on the last train, having taken in Pirates of the Penzance at the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane.

Another discovery I made on this trip was the difference between my upbringing and that of some of the other kids. It made me appreciate the practical lessons my mother taught me. For example, a button came off one of my shirts one day while we were on the bus. Someone remarked that it was too bad the shirt was ruined. I looked at him like he was nuts. I went up to our chaperones, borrowed a needle and thread and proceeded to sew the button back on, right there on the bus. It must have been something of a novelty as kids were literally hanging from the luggage racks to watch this amazing feat. I remember overhearing one girl complain to her parents on the phone about being expected to make our own beds. Huh? I know my mother will attest I rarely did it at home, but at least I didn’t think it “beneath” me. Yes, mother, I did make my bed every day I was on the trip.

I had more than my share of troubles. I lost my camera, passport and money in New York City and didn’t find them for three days. I ran through a glass door in Paris and got 25 stitches in a French Mercy hospital (Don’t believe Hillary Clinton about the superiority of French socialized medicine. It is terrible!). In Nice, we were playing on the beach, waiting for the bus and I was hit by a big wave and lost my glasses in the process. I borrowed someone else’s spare set as I didn’t have one, but the prescription wasn’t nearly strong enough. The last week of the trip was literally a blur to me.

I learned so much on this trip. Not only was it a musical education under the direction of Clyde Roller, Houston Symphony conductor, but it was a life education. I learned how to roll with the punches, get myself around in strange places, communicate without knowing the language, keep my spirits up in difficult situations and see life from a much larger perspective than Pocatello, Idaho (pop. 52,000). Perhaps most important, I quickly found good friends I could depend on to help me stay out of trouble. I am grateful to those who made it possible, including my parents who sacrificed a lot.

Once I returned home, I began to see the changes this Pivot Point had on my life. I remember going to a dance shortly after and being puzzled by the way all my friends behaved. I couldn’t understand it. They had changed so much. Fortunately, a friend of mine who had also traveled took me aside and explained that I was the one that had changed. She warned me that I had changed forever and would never see things the same way again. She was right.

The trip of 1983 was one of the most influential events of my life. The growth I experienced in that month gave me confidence I didn’t know I had. It broadened my view of the world and helped me understand there are many more people out there who need my help. It taught me to look for simple ways to bring about large scale change. I probably wouldn’t have ever left my little town I grew up in without this experience. As a result, there are many more pivot points I wouldn’t have experienced. Consequently, when my son was given the opportunity to travel to Hawaii after graduation, I thought it was a great opportunity for him. I think travel is perhaps the best teacher of all. I know I want to learn more.


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