I was highly fortunate to travel with the St. Paul’s Concert Chorale as a chaperone during their tour in March to Germany and Austria. The Concert Chorale, under the direction of John Smedstad, has secured a regional and international reputation as a truly exceptional high school men’s choir– certainly one of the best I’ve ever heard. (As evidence of this, one of their video clips on YouTube of Sibelius’ “Finlandia” is approaching 170,000 views.) The ensemble tours internationally every two years, and this year they performed concerts in stunning cathedrals and other significant venues in Heidelberg, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Munich, Erding, Wies, and Salzburg. These performances featured music from Germany, in honoring the language our host countries, as well as the music of the United States—bringing our piece of home to audiences abroad in an invigorating spirit of artistic exchange.
Mr. Smedstad led a remarkable and action-packed week for our singers—truly an example of the best of St. Paul’s. In performing music for a diverse set of audiences in a variety of formal and informal settings, our boys were simultaneously inspired and pushed beyond “their comfort zone”—all while experiencing the extraordinary acoustic and visual splendor that influenced the original composition of these musical works. Traveling together and performing so many successive concerts elevated their singing, and enabled them to focus deeply and repeatedly on the subtleties in the compositions. Our boys wholeheartedly embraced the experience of singing for German-speaking audiences in German, as well as the challenges of moving from city to city with such a full schedule. Our singers grew in wisdom– as people, musicians, and international representatives. They formed new, lifelong friendships, and accumulated cultural and interpersonal experiences that will influence them for a lifetime.
The combination of historical, cultural and artistic immersion, as well as a vivid grounding in contemporary German and Austrian life, was rich and varied. A short cruise on the Rhine River, as well as visits to the castles of Ludwig II, Mozart’s Birthplace, the Dachau Concentration Camp, and the BMW Welt, provided a multitude of powerful and poignant contrasts of many facets of the Germany and Austria of the past, present, and future.
The Concert Chorale will tour internationally again in 2018, and I’m excited by what Mr. Smedstad has revealed about the initial stages of the planning. As for the powerful legacy of our tours, so many of our students and alumni have enthusiastically cited their choir trips overseas as “life-changing”, “inspiring”, “musically and personally defining”, “encouraging a lifetime of international interactions”, and most often as one of the best experiences, or even their favorite, of their time at St. Paul’s. I can safely say, with the utmost enthusiasm as a first-time witness to the 2016 tour, that this was an extraordinary week. Congratulations to the members of Concert Chorale for representing St. Paul’s so well abroad. Many thanks to Mr. Smedstad for his tireless efforts in bringing this invaluable experience to our boys, and to our St. Paul’s community for supporting such important and invaluable international programs.