International tours a highlight for Penn State choir members

Amy Milgrub Marshall
July 10, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Where were you during the Apollo moon landing 50 years ago? For 60 former Penn State choir members, the answer is easy — they were performing an open-air concert in the Stadium of Apollo in Delphi, Greece.

“When we left Athens the morning of July 20, we knew that, if all went well, the astronauts would land on the moon sometime that day. In 1969, there was no television or radio in remote Delphi, and only irregular newspaper delivery,” remembered choir member Carol Wood Stansfield, who earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Penn State. “Very few people in Delphi spoke English, and none of us spoke Greek. That evening we communicated through the universal language of song.”

After the concert, some members of the choir located a Volkswagen that was able to receive radio, and they learned that their concert coincided with the moon landing.

“That concert became the highlight of a remarkable six-week concert tour of England, Israel, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, under the direction of Professor Raymond Brown,” said Stansfield, who, with her husband, John Stansfield Jr., recently pledged an estate gift to benefit the Nina and Raymond Brown Music Scholarship in Voice.

Penn State choir performing at Stadium of Apollo, July 20, 1969

A Penn State choir performs at the Stadium of Apollo in Delphi, Greece, on July 20, 1969, the same date of the Apollo moon landing. The mountain behind them is Mount Parnassus, which the ancient Greeks believed was the home of the Muses of the Arts.

IMAGE: Penn State

For today’s Penn State musicians, international tours remain a highlight of their college experience. This summer, 32 members of the Concert Choir, along with School of Music faculty members Christopher Kiver, choir director, and Jennifer Trost, soloist, spent 10 days in Germany, performing music by composers associated with the towns they visited. Those towns included Gotha, Eisenach, Römhild, Görlitz, Bautzen, Berlin and Leipzig, where Johann Sebastian Bach lived and worked.

According to Concert Choir member Lindsay Dudis, a sophomore voice major, it was exciting to see what inspired the composers’ music.

“Singing in the old churches was so amazing — voices seemed to echo not only through the walls, but through their history," said Dudis. "The most touching part of the tour for me was singing around Bach’s grave. It felt like going through the ultimate audition, but I felt so proud to be singing ‘thank you’ to someone who fathered music. I, along with many others, cried in thanks.”

The Concert Choir presented three evening performances and two lunchtime concerts where audience members — instead of paying to attend the concert — donated more than 5,000 euros to various causes selected by the host churches. In Berlin, for example, the donations are helping to fund the purchase of a minivan to be used to pick up homeless people in the city and transport them to employment agencies.

Kiver said it’s gratifying to watch students discover new places and cultures, and bond as a group.

“While singing around Bach’s grave will be hard to top, particularly on this trip, it was remarkable to sing for audiences that seemed to connect deeply to the music we performed — they weren’t coming to watch us because they knew of us or were supporting family or friends; they were coming to support the music,” he explained. “The length and warmth of applause was also unlike anything we have ever experienced in the United States, so I was really pleased that the students could experience a remarkably different artistic culture.” 

Concert Choir in Germany, May 2019

Continuing a tradition of international tours for Penn State music ensembles, the Concert Choir toured Germany in May 2019.

IMAGE: © Marianne Swienink-Havard

Kiver has led ensembles on several international tours, including Glee Club trips to New Zealand and Iceland, and a Concert Choir trip to Australia. He will be taking the Glee Club to Romania in 2020. Other School of Music faculty members who have taken students abroad include Mark Lusk, who led student delegations to Cuba; emeritus faculty member Anthony Leach, who took Essence of Joy to South Africa, France and Spain; and Dennis Glocke, who took the Symphonic Wind Ensemble to Italy.

According to Kiver, touring provides ensembles an opportunity to perform several times in a short period, helping to elevate the levels of performance. 

“Particularly on this tour, I had a strong sense that audiences were thrilled to see young Americans singing German music — in some ways acting as musical ambassadors, not only for Penn State, but for the nation. … Inevitably, there are always students who have not traveled overseas prior to traveling with the choir — what an experience!” said Kiver.

The bonding that occurs among choir members — whether on an international tour or rehearsing at Penn State — remains a fond memory for Stansfield, even 50 years later.

“My membership in the choir was the most significant experience of my undergraduate and graduate years at Penn State," said Stansfield. "The choir allowed us to establish friendships that continued term after term and year after year. Professor Brown became someone we could count on. He insisted that we strive for excellence. Working very hard together, we could create something magnificent.”

Jared Kehler, a senior film and video major who went on the Germany trip, echoed Stansfield’s remarks.

“We became much closer as a choir, and I believe I will remain friends with the other members for many more years to come," said Kehler. "I certainly will not forget about this fantastic experience!”

Last Updated July 18, 2019