Each year, music-loving faculty and students take their talents on the road during winter break, performing in domestic and international venues. Davidson's ensembles are back after another round of successful trips in the continental United States and abroad.
Director of the Chorale Chris Gilliam, 28 students and four chaperones landed in Dublin Jan. 4 ready to tour and perform across five cities: Belfast, Armagh, Dublin, Glendalough and Galway. Their first stop was St. Peter's Cathedral in Belfast where they sang during Mass.
"He said it was like the heavens opened that Sunday morning," said Gilliam about the rector's reaction to the performance.
The chorale's tour included three Masses and three recitals. For the recitals they performed pieces from their "Shades of Light" show, which worked well in a religious setting, Gilliam said. The list included "Fons Luminus," a piece the chorale commissioned from Professor and Chair of Music Jennifer Stasack.
Composed primarily of non-music majors, the chorale students often don't realize how well they sing difficult music at a high level, Gilliam said. "That realization comes alive for them when they hear how their music makes a difference and touches others."
One reason Gilliam selected Ireland as a destination was to expose the students to the acoustics of the cathedrals. Chorale member Emma Huelsketter '14 recalled how shocked the students were upon first hearing their voices in the cathedrals.
"I often feel vulnerable when I sing solos because there's complete silence between notes, but in the cathedrals the reverberation gave me the confidence that I had filled the entire space with one continuous note," she said.
By attending church services, taking guided tours and eating at local pubs, students also experienced Irish culture and history. Having a tour guide from the Republic of Ireland allowed them to gain perspective on the religious conflict between Ireland's Protestant and Catholic populations and learn about the revival of the Gallic language. They even discovered that the Irish spell whiskey with an "e" to distinguish it from Scottish "whisky" and show that theirs is the most excellent in the world.
"Davidson understands the value of studying abroad and encountering people in a different culture," said Gilliam. "And there's nothing more powerful than feeling connected to others through music you're making."
Gilliam maintained a blog during the tour that provides more details, photos and videos.
Weather delays and a broken down bus didn't stop the jazz band and orchestra from completing their five-stop tour through the Southeastern United States. A total of 40 non-music majors and four faculty and community members spent a week performing at venues across Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
The orchestra, directed by Associate Professor of Music Tara Villa Keith, played light classical Viennese pieces such as the "Overture to Light Cavalry" by Suppé, while the jazz band's set list included "Lambeau Leap" by Fred Sturm, under the direction of Professor of Music Bill Lawing.
Lawing emphasized that the tour offers students a musical experience different from the experience they have on campus.
"What we do at Davidson musically isn't that different from a class–you work hard up to a concert and then it's gone and you start from scratch," he said. "The tour lets you become comfortable and confident with the music because you play it multiple times like a professional ensemble."
The tour destinations rotate every four years among Chicago, Florida, New Orleans and New York City so that no student ever goes to the same place twice. Student, alumni and parent connections determine the venues. The hosts then help to arrange lodging in private homes for the students, which allows students to interact with stimulating people and act as ambassadors for the college Lawing said.
Violinist Andrew Keesler '14 added, "You can tell by how hospitable and gracious the families are that they really want to host us. It's nice to feel support from alumni and their communities and be able to share our music with them."
In addition to meeting new people, the students also have the opportunity to see new places along the route. This year's activities included visiting Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, touring the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, observing manatees at Blue Springs State Park in Orange City, and enjoying Orlando's theme parks.
Lawing, who has witnessed the evolution of ensemble tours since he attended Davidson in the early '70s, explained that though they have always served to show students new destinations, they have become increasingly about the bonds they form and the music they create.
He said, "It's about the ability to get to know people on a much more human level and to have the time to think about music on a much more aesthetic level."
To see a collection of photos from the tour, check out the music department's Flickr album.