June 23, 1998

Report on the Chamber Singers’ tour to Venezuela, May 18-25, 1998

Synopsis of the tour

Monday, May 18

We take off on an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Caracas with a change-over in Miami. Despite a two hour delay to change planes in Miami because of a mechanical defect, we are greeted by several members of our Venezuelan host choir, and are taken to our hotel by charter bus for the night.

Tuesday, May 19

After breakfast in the hotel we are taken to Universidad Catolica Andrés Bello in Caracas for our first performance. After a walking tour of the campus by some of our host students, we sing our first performance at noon to an audience of several hundred students and faculty as well as a representative from the US Embassy. The vocal response of the audience takes us quite by surprise, and we close the concert by sharing the stage with the UCAB choir for the song “Te Quiero.” After lunch in the UCAB cafeteria with our student hosts, we are taken to a large classroom for a 2-hour open discussion of cultural issues, followed by some Venezuelan style “ice-breaker” exercises involving dance steps, small groups making animal “sculptures” of themselves, etc.

We are taken by charter bus to Universidad Simón Bolívar for our first of three rehearsals with the “Orféon” or choir of the USB (whom I had first heard sing at the national convention of the American Choral Directors Association in San Diego in 1997). We find that we have each taken the tempos of one of our shared pieces much too slow. After rehearsing two spirituals with the combined choir, I turn the rehearsal over to Maria Guinand. She is impressed at how well prepared our students are in the 3 Latin American pieces we planned to sing together with them, that she offers to rehearse “Kasar,” a much more difficult piece written by her husband Alberto Grau that we were prepared to sing alone, as part of our combined program.

After the rehearsal, our bus takes us back to our hotel for one last night.

Wednesday, May 20

In the morning our bus takes us to a new special school for music next to a large urban barrio, a densely populated neighborhood of crudely constructed clay and cinder-block homes built on top of each other up the steep side of a mountain ridge. First we listen to the children sing for us examples of their daily musical exercises and selected songs. Then we sing for them from our repertoire (our Billings shape-note anthem and the spiritual Deep River). Since we are not only the first north Americans they have ever met, but the first adult choir they have heard (the program is less than two years old), we demonstrate how each section of the choir sounds (with Christian Far, HC ‘00 as our translator). For our last selection we sing for them in Spanish “Alma Llanera,” much to their delight because both the language and the song itself are very familiar to them. In an emotional good-bye ceremony, several of the children offer simple woven string bracelets they have made to several of our students. The children and students then mingle informally, with many of our students trying out their Spanish and many pictures taken. After the children leave, Maibel Troia and Victor Gonzalez, directors of the program, answer our questions and talk about the program and life for the children in the barrios.

Our tour bus then takes us to the El Hatillo district of Caracas, know as the “Greenwich Village” of the city for its many small restaurants and shops selling local and Indian crafts. We have a pre-paid lunch together in one restaurant with several different courses of Venezuelan specialties.

Our bus then takes us to USB for our second rehearsal. During the rehearsal we present our student hosts with commemorative t-shirts of our tour and the Orféon director Maria Guinand with two music books, one of colonial shape-note anthems and one of African-American spirituals.

Towards the end of rehearsal, we are taken over to another rehearsal of the college merengue band, which leads inevitably to dancing.

After the rehearsal (ending at about 9:00) we all split up in groups of 1 to 4 to stay with our hosts in their homes, matched as well as possible according to language ability.

Thursday, May 20

Our hosts bring us back to USB for our noon-time performance, a three-part program of our choir alone, their choir alone, and then both choirs under both directors. As a surprise, we have a special warm-up rehearsal for “Kasar”: because the rehearsals together went so well, Maria has given us the honor of inviting Alberto to conduct his own composition in the performance.

The concert turns out to be the hoped-for musical high point of the tour - a capacity audience of several hundred students (many more than usually attend their regular choral concerts) responds vociferously throughout to both choirs. For the next to last song, Anika Torruella (BMC ‘98) receives a standing ovation for her solo with the combined choirs, 70-voices strong. The concert concludes with “Alma Llanera” conducted in turns by all the faculty and student conductors of each group (including Sara Jacob BMC ‘99). With everyone standing, the USB merengue band begins to play and the audience and performers together begin to dance.

After lunch with our host students at the cafeteria (these lunches all pre-paid by our host universities), Maria Guinand extends a formal invitation to the choir to return to sing before an international audience at the quadrennial IFCM Latin American choral festival in the year 2000.

Our hosts take us individually to the national theater in Caracas where we meet for an informal tour of the cultural heart of downtown. We all meet afterwards at a favorite Latin American fast-food chicken restaurant “Ki-ki-ri-ki” (“cock-a-doodle-do”) with an acoustically friendly high ceiling. Very soon the singing starts, the students from both groups getting up and starting songs, with drumming on the tables and dancing. After a couple hours, it is time for the restaurant to close, so we all go home with our hosts.

Friday, May 21

Our hosts bring us back to the center of Caracas to meet our bus which takes us (and several of our USB friends) on a 2-hour ride to the coastal campus of the USB to sing our final formal concert. The concert is held in a semi-enclosed courtyard for several hundred again effusive students and faculty. This is our experience of a truly “tropical” performance, with temperatures at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Immediately after the concert we are whisked to the university hotel school for a multiple-course lunch served on a verandah overlooking the seacoast on one side and mountains on the other. We thank our hosts by singing.

After returning to Caracas, our hosts bring us to a dance club where the celebration continues, with one set of dance partners winning a dance contest with close competition from some of our own.

Saturday, May 22

Our hosts bring us to our bus at the entrance to the main park in the middle of the city early in the morning. Thinking that this is our farewell to our hosts (it turned out not to be - see entry for Sunday night), at 8:30 in the morning students spontaneously begin singing our shared concert repertoire while standing on opposite sides of a narrow access lane next to the bus, as cars with bewildered but often bemused drivers slowly pass through the group. After long good-byes, we are off on our own (giving a ride to one of the USB students to a city along the way) to the seacoast village of Puerto-Columbia/Choroní.

The bus takes us on a 2-hour ride high up via narrow, twisting roads over a mountain ridge covered with dense rain forest and back down again to the coast, where the sun again appears. We stay overnight in the village, which still has an active fishing economy of mostly African descendants along with several small resort hotels. Students have free time to take in the beach, guided tours to a secluded river swimming hole, a private beach, and traditional African drumming after dark.

Sunday, May 23

After lunch, few want to go, but it is time to depart. We say farewell to our extremely cordial hosts at our hotel by singing “Alma Llanera;” then, much to our surprise, they rush to pull out their drums from the rooms behind the kitchen and immediately launch into a mesmerizing 15-minute set of traditional African tambores drumming, with call-and-response singing and traditional dancing, during which several (including our “shy” director) respond to the invitation to take turns joining in.

Upon our return to Caracas early in the evening, we leave our things at our hotel and go to a nearby restaurant for a pre-paid dinner. We expect a few of our student hosts to greet us there, but instead are welcomed by the entire Orféon along with several students from UCAB. After the first restaurant closes, our hosts suggest a second restaurant to which we adjourn for a few more hours of extemporaneous singing (much to the delight of the other patrons and resignation by the restaurant’s management), interspersed with toasts to our hosts and to our graduating seniors, to whom we’ll soon be saying good-by at the end of our flight home.

Monday, May 24

We all leave the restaurant as it closes at about 1 a.m. Most students stay up all night saying good-byes to our hosts and talking with each other. Our flight home is safe, uneventful and early, leaving a little extra time for long good-byes in the Philadelphia airport. - TL

Background on the re-conception of choir tours at Haverford and Bryn Mawr

traditional college choir tours

It is customary for American colleges and increasingly even for American high schools with strong music programs to make regular concert tours abroad. The most frequent destinations are the popular western European countries of Great Britain, France, Spain, and Italy. The tours are usually arranged by American tour agencies which book concerts in local churches in a variety of cities and arrange for tourist excursions and hotel accommodations. Because this type of tour can be quite expensive, students are often expected to put in a lot of time fundraising, or the tour is made optional for those who can afford it.

a new model for Haverford and Bryn Mawr

In contrast, one of the basic pedagogical premises of the bi-college touring program is that one learns the most about a culture through direct interaction with its people in their daily lives rather than primarily through its historic sites. It has also been my experience that music, especially shared choral singing, enables people of different cultural backgrounds to connect on a much more personal level in a relatively short amount of time. As a happy coincidence, these ideals can result in a significantly lower cost as well, since by spending most of a concert tour in one metropolitan area (in order to be able to rehearse and perform with another college choir while spending several nights as guests in the homes of the host students’ families), the expense of inter-city transportation, hotel stays, and meals can be minimized.

The cost is further reduced and the educational value further enhanced by avoiding the most popular Western European destinations (which most of the students would have already visited or be likely to see on their own) in favor of countries more off the typical American tourist track, with the primary criteria instead being the existence of a vital tradition of collegiate choral singing and timing such that potential host colleges are in regular session at the time when we can travel, so as to make collaboration possible.

contact with alumnae/i

American tour agencies are more interested in selling “packaged” tours than the kind of interactive experiences of our model, but this also gives us an incentive to reach out to international alumae/i in a very meaningful way. For our trip to Venezuela we were given some very helpful advice in our initial planning by Paul Weill (HC ‘83) who once lived in Venezuela, and now lives in Oregon, and later we were helped in a major way by Lucy Alton (BMC ‘78) who while living in her adopted country of Venezuela made personal contact with members of the music department at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, and set us up with a Venezuelan tour agency that made the charter bus and hotel arrangements (for the days not spent with our host families, and at a fraction of the cost of an agency stateside). As of two months ago, Lucy is back living in the states for a year, and was able to attend alumnae weekend last week at Bryn Mawr and share her experience with others at the meeting of international alumnae. We could not have arranged the tour without her help, and she has now reconnected with us in a special way.

how our first time with this model worked out

While these were the underlying hopes and ideas for this experiment, I must admit I had no idea just how well it would work out in reality, thanks in large part to the local arrangements facilitated by Lucy Alton and the wonderful hospitality of our student hosts and their families. The students’ own reflections exerpted below express range, nuance, and passion of their experiences far better than I can summarize here. Many of them say without hesitation that this was the one of the most memorable experiences of their college life, and two or three of the students are seriously considering returning after graduation to work with the children’s choral program and study choral conducting with Maria Guinand at the university.

There was a chemistry between these two groups of college students, singing together whenever they had a chance (our combined rehearsals and concerts overflowed into singing together on the bus, in the hotel, at the beach, and late into the night after two dinners together). The awkwardness of unfamiliar language and customs was overcome in a natural and spontaneous way that I had hoped for but still left me amazed and thankful.

the musical experience

On a purely musical level, our performances in Venezuela were easily among the most satisfying performances of which I have ever been a part, especially our main concert with the Simon Bolivar University Choir. The Chamber Singers performed their part of the program with the highest level of expression and ensemble I have yet heard from them, no doubt inspired not only by the encouragement of our hosts in the Simon Bolivar choir, but by the unexpected emotional spontaneity of the audiences who attended our concerts. Our hosts were pleased that these audiences were significantly larger than the usual number at their own concerts (they were announced in the national newspaper as well as around each campus); after we sang the last half of the concert at the USB together under both conductors, the performance moved from roars for encores into dancing onstage by members of the audience and performers accompanied by the college’s merengue band.

The level of performance reached by the Chamber Singers on this tour was also confirmation for me that it is possible for a collegiate choir made up of bright and imaginative students to reach a very high level of musical polish and stylistic expression without having to have many “solo” quality voices or a large number of music majors found in conservatories or schools with large music departments. Our host conductor, Maria Guinand, complimented the choir not only for being so well prepared (all 15 works were learned by memory) but for singing with much more spontaneity and joy than most north American college choirs she had heard. We were also surprised that our visit coincided with a visit by Jean-Claude Wilkens, Executive Director of the International Center for Choral Music in Belgium (the world headquarters for the International Federation for Choral Music), who attended our session with the childrens’ choirs in the barrios.

an unexpected honor

After our main performance at Simon Bolivar University, we were surprised with the honor of an invitation from Maria Guinand, as IFCM Vice President for Latin America, to return to Caracas in April of the year 2000 to perform as part of the quadrennial international choral festival Cantat 2000. This would be a rare opportunity for our choir and our colleges to receive special recognition performing for an international audience, sharing the stage with some of the best choirs from all over Latin America and abroad.

some reflections after returning home

The arrival back home after such an adventure was both reassuring (in that we all returned safely and in good health, except for a little sunburn) and a bit disorienting (with classes done, we said our farewells at the airport, including the eight seniors who will be gone in the Fall). This rather abrupt transition has prompted me to reflect often in the last few weeks on how such an experience will relate to life back on campus when the students return.

group “chemistry” and cultural differences

It has occurred to me that what we call “chemistry” in human relationships often has as much or more to do with with complementary differences as with similarities. Among the more obvious differences between our groups of college student singers were language, cultural perspective, and social customs. Differences in language in a situation where there is no easy refuge to one’s own native tongue beyond one’s traveling companions leads to an intensified awareness of non-verbal ways of communication, most notably, in this case, music. Differences in cultural perspective become apparent in many ways, both large and small. On our first day, during an open discussion of cultural issues among the students from both countries, the first question to us was “Why did you want to come to Venezuela?” The Venezuelan students seemed genuinely impressed that a group of American students would want to visit them rather than go to more typical American tourist destinations. And our students were by that time already impressed with how little they knew about a rich and vibrant culture they had generally taken for granted. As one would expect, they knew much more about our “American” culture than we about theirs, but they were especially eager and truly excited for the opportunity to “take us in” and make us feel a part of their extended family.

individualism and the desire for community

This leads me to a third obvious difference. Almost all of the Venezuelan students lived at home during their time in college, and returned home after graduation, as would most of their compatriots. Several even continued singing with the university choir after graduation. In contrast, our students had come to college from homes as far away as Texas, Minnesota, California, and Hong Kong, and after graduation would depart for equally distant and diverse locations, usually different from those from which they came. Our students come from a culture that places a much higher value on individualism and independence than most of the rest of the world. There are many benefits to this emphasis, of course, related to personal achievement, freedom of inquiry, and resistance to tyranny, among others.

But this emphasis also means that community and awareness of human interdependence tend to recede into the background of our lives unless we more self-consciously bring them to the fore. Of course, this is not to idealize the strong family culture of our Venezuelan friends, who also struggle with class distinctions that, if anything, are even more overt than in our society (though in this case, their program of choral music in poor urban neighborhoods is a conscious attempt to bridge that gap).

in conclusion

And yet the intensity of our students’ response to this experience still caught me by surprise. Perhaps it had something to do with how our students come to select but small-scale colleges like Haverford and Bryn Mawr because on some level they hope to balance their life-long pursuit of personal and academic achievement with the sense of assurance and purpose that comes from being part of a community with a perspective larger than themselves. Even in small academic communities such as ours, it can be difficult to form an organic sense of community when the only apparent models offered by the culture are the frequently isolating experiences of the suburban nuclear family or more extreme forms of religious orthodoxy and political ideology.

It may be that in having to rely on each other in the special way a group does when traveling to a foreign country, and in being welcomed so warmly without suspicion or demands by strangers in an unfamiliar culture (aided by the social lubrication of music), our students were able to share a brief but genuine validation of the possibility and rewards of community that necessarily seem more complicated to realize back home. While coming out of the relatively brief experience of only a week-long tour, this is a hope that I can’t help but believe will continue to grow in tangible ways among the students as they either return to campus in the Fall, or go off to find new sources of community in their post-graduation “real” worlds.

how the tour was financed

There were two explicit criteria for financing this tour, set at the beginning: 1) no one would be excluded from the tour because of inability to pay, and 2) students would not be asked to participate in extensive time-consuming fund raising activities. By arranging the tour according to the musical and educational goals described above the cost of the tour was held to $775 per student, including airfare, buses, hotel stays, and all meals not provided by the universities we visited or our hosts ($22, 500 total). This compares to quotes beginning at $1,800 per person for a typical tour arranged by an American travel agency specializing in group performance tours. Just over half the cost of the tour was financed by the students and their families according to their self-determined ability to pay, with some students contributing little, several contributing the full amount, and most somewhere in the middle. The remainder of the financing came from the regular choral music budget, funds raised through sales of CDs, one-time grants from the discretionary funds of the offices of the presidents of both colleges, and a faculty research grant from Haverford. The funds from the choral budget were made available by planning special one-time events for the Chorale that minimized the expense of the orchestra ( a joint performance with the orchestras and chorales of Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Penn and a performance of a Baroque work with a much smaller than usual orchestra; these type of events would happen again in the future, but would by their nature be more the exception than the rule). - TL

Student reflections on the tour
(excerpts; full texts of the students’ reflections are available on file)

on the musical experience

We made beautiful music with complete strangers in a completely foreign land. Our performances were the finest I have ever been a part of. I never thought I could sing as well as I did or with a group of musicians who were both proficient in music theory and excellent in performance. My trip to Venezuela with the Chamber Singers will be a benchmark of musical accomplishment for the rest of my life. Back in my days of wrestling, our coach would talk about taking ourselves to the next level. And I could always tell when my opponent was a level higher than myself because even if we knew the same moves and holds, he was able to do them just that much more effectively. It’s difficult to know what will trigger the leap to a higher level of performance, and I don’t know if only one factor is enough, but it happened in Venezuela. We could all feel it. We all talked about it, reveled in it. It was visible in our eyes when we performed (us basses can see the entire choir, and not just backs of heads). - Dave Zobian HC ‘98

I have traveled abroad quite a bit for someone my age. I went to France, England, and Italy for three weeks with my family. After my sophomore year of high school, I went on a choir tour to France for 50th anniversary of D-Day celebrations for two weeks. We sang on the beach at Normandy in a ceremony at the cemetery. After my senior year of high school I went on another tour to Austria to celebrate their 1000-year anniversary for two weeks. I also have been to Germany and Hungary. Both of the tours I went on in high school had about 30 people and went incredibly smoothly and were very valuable experiences for me. However, I can say--hands down--this tour to Venezuela has been the most amazing experience of my life. Honestly I did not know what to expect from Venezuela and I was not entirely sure why we were going there. (Usually, college groups travel to London, or something). I was very nervous about the idea of going to South America because I had no idea what to expect. The first day of the trip we went to Universidad Catolica Andrés Bello for a concert. The thing that struck me instantly during the concert was the audience's enthusiasm. They yelled for encored and were on their feet frequently. Typically, this is not the behavior of American audiences. The people we met at Universidad Catolica were extremely friendly. After lunch we had a group discussion/question-answer session in which everyone sat in a room and discussed everything from politics to culture questions. We then played games to learn everyone's name. It was a delight! That evening we went to Universidad Simon Bolivar for a rehearsal. María Guinand is the most amazing woman!! She was caring (she called herself our new "mother" in Venezuela), outgoing, and an amazing conductor. Working with her and seeing the way her group sang the songs we had learned opened my eyes to new and interesting ways of singing. - Sarah Butler BMC ‘00

I have been singing for nine years now and I have never had such fulfilling musical experiences as I have had in the last week. In the formal concerts the audience was so welcoming and engaged in the performance that the distinction between choir and audience was blurred--it felt like we were engaged in a collective enterprise of music appreciation. I felt this collectivity between us and the choirs from Simon Bolivar and Catholic Universities both in and outside our formal performances. Coming together in song mad us transcend any cultural barriers that might have existed right away, and I really feel that our shared experiences grounded in the music have forged friendships between the two groups that will last. The night we returned from our concert at the USB in Guaira our celebratory dinner at a pollo restaurant called Kikiriki turned into a singing and dancing fest replete with maracas and table-drumming. We taught some of our songs to the Venezuelans--for example, "In the Still of the Night" and "In the Jungle"--and they taught some of theirs to us, like "Me Quedo en Venezuela." Throughout the tour--at the park where we left for Choroní, and at the restaurant where we ate together for the last time on the final night--we sang these songs as well as our formal repertoire together, and each time our singing reinforced the relationships between the groups. The music, of course, was the reason we were there, but through it we forged personal ties fulfilling for everyone involved. - Mark Weinsier HC ‘98

The repertoire we learned had so much less meaning before we went to Venezuela, especially the Latin American pieces. It was indescribable to see the reaction of the Venezuelans to us when we sang music they knew. It was also really rewarding to be able to share the music with the Venezuelans as a combined choir. I even enjoyed all the singing in airports, restaurants, hotels, etc. The reception was amazing! Immersing ourselves in the culture also was invaluable to my understanding and appreciation of the music. - Amy Leonard BMC ‘00

I had a wonderful musical experience! Working with the choirs from USB and UCAB was great. It was very enriching for me to sing our Spanish songs with them and to learn new Spanish songs. Music was a powerful force that brought us together. The choirs from both universities were so enthusiastic, as were their conductors. They wanted to share their music with us so much, and to incorporate us in every way. My musical experience with them went beyond our five concert songs; they shared other songs with us that were incredible. It was amazing to sing songs with them, and feel such a strong connection. I am so grateful to have had this chance to visit Venezuela and these two choirs. - Pooja Rao HC ‘01

The concerts, both formal and informal, which we did with the Orfeón, were some of the richest, best, and most rewarding in my musical experience. There was an amazing level of energy and passion as well as a high level of musical ability. - Ashley Opalka BMC ‘98

On the tour we performed a variety of musical styles, both in English and Spanish, and it definitely enhanced my experience. It was a lot of work to change styles so dramatically during our rehearsals and performances, but it was worth the extra effort. It was also very helpful for our group and Orfeón to hear each other to understand each others' styles better. - Jason Gersh HC ‘01

Amazing!!! We do so much musically in our own rehearsals and performances, but singing with other groups--especially such excellent ones as we encountered on the trip--adds another dimension. Not only were we exposed to their own musical interpretations and ways of approaching different kinds of music, but when we sang our Latin (South) American repertoire with them and for them, we were given invaluable information about the social contexts of the pieces and how they should be interpreted which couldn't have happened otherwise.
- Joanna Herrero HC ‘00

I have learned more about Spanish music in the past few days than in all my years of study and life. Even from my family which is Spanish. The Venezuelan audiences have been consistently overwhelmingly appreciative and receptive. Outside of the formal rehearsals with the Venezuelan conductors and choirs, the individual members of the choir have taught and communicated with us through music. African drumming and traditional dances and songs we have actually learned and used! All have enhanced my knowledge and understanding of musical community.
- Anika Torruella BMC ‘98

I have never had such a fulfilling musical experience. It was incredible to be with people my own age with the same passion for singing despite a totally different culture. I felt a total sense of awe at being able to sing "Kasar Mie La Gaji" with the composer, Alberto Grau.
- Amy Leonard BMC ‘00

Incredible. I have not been a part of a choir this good since I left the American Boychoir, and I never was as satisfied with the Boychoir's performance as I was with our best performances on this trip. Maybe I was, sometimes. Not as reliably. - Luke Somers HC ‘01

Listening to, singing for, and singing with Venezuelans was incredible: they were all "professional" Latin American linguists, yes, but they all likewise also seemed to possess a nationalist love of their music that, if not reproducible by a group of Northern Americans, could be used as an ideal that we could work towards in singing Latin American music with greater authenticity. And the attainment of that end became more and more desirable as beautiful Latin American music, with its striking rhythms and rousing melodies, poured forth from radios, choirs, university-sponsored/traditional ceremonies (like the "African" drum beating we listened to at Choroní), and impromptu musical celebrations. In short, we heard so much good stuff that I longed to participate in this particularly delightful art. - Joe Kaufman HC ‘01

Incredible. All of us were exposed to Latin American and Venezuelan music that was authentic and superb. We were exposed to a culture in which music plays an important part. We shared our experiences with music, in the form of our choral repertoire and our pop music and folk music, with our friends in Venezuela and they in turn shared their music with us. By learning some Venezuelan pieces in Chamber Singers, we were able to share common music too. We found that the Beatles were another fruitful source of common musical language! Overall, we sang a lot. I've never had more fun singing in a choral situation, and this experience ranks as one of the most memorable musical experiences I've had. Whenever we were together we sang--we sang for everyone that helped us in our journey--we sang as an expression of caring for our new friends.
- Kevin Shoemaker HC ‘00

This tour was one of the most fulfilling musical experiences of my life. The chance to sing with so talented a choir as the USB Orfeón, to learn from them as well as share our own musical ideas, is something that I will never forget. The sheer joy of making music together, even between people who could not communicate linguistically because of the language barrier, was present in every formal performance as well as every rehearsal and informal group-singing. - Andy Clinton HC ‘98

I started the semester not wild about the Spanish music; its harmonic simplicity was something I found to be a let-down after the richness and texture of the Schütz and the Ockeghem. However, after actually visiting Venezuela, I discovered that the power and complexity of the music is not in the harmonic structure but in the rhythmic structure. Additionally, the sheer enthusiasm and vocal power that the choirs were able to put into the music gave it a humanity that made the music better. It's always interesting to perform pieces with other choirs; especially where fields of specialty differ. Chamber Singers will never have the vocal power of USB, but similarly I think their pianissimos will never be quite as expressive or as piano as ours. We were able to teach them something about the spirituals and we learned a great deal about the proper rhythms and pronunciations for the Spanish pieces. - Rob Tambryaja HC ‘99

Amazing! I've never been so lucky in all my life than to have been a part of this tour. I've learned so much in such a short time. The directors we worked with, including Tom, were able to bring a music forth no one could have ever imagined. During our concerts it became, I guess what you would call, a spiritual experience. Our choirs became one voice offering ourselves to everyone and anyone who would listen. - Marta Backman BMC ‘01

It was very fulfilling to be able to perform with a group in Venezuela on a piece we had both been working on, and exhilarating to be able to be conducted by Alberto Grau, composer of one of the pieces. More than anything else, it was the lyrics and music that brought the two cultures together over the language barrier. The concert at the University of Simon Bolivar was the best we ever sang at any concert or rehearsal. - unsigned

I experienced and participated in music that under any "normal" circumstances, would have been inaccessible to me. In terms of the repertoire that we learned and shared with audiences in Venezuela, I became acquainted with rhythms and harmonies I had never dealt with before. I was forced to "unlearn" conventional western musical devices and techniques in order to comfortably/naturally feel these new rhythms. In terms of the music that we were exposed to, (which included traditional Latin folk music, merengue, salsa, African drum and chant, music from the islands, Spanish music, etc.), this was the single most eye-opening musical experience of my life. - Mary Plummer BMC ‘99

on staying with families in their homes

The homestays with the students were excellent; my stay was excellent as was everyone I've spoken to. The members of the USB choir were extremely friendly, courteous, and welcoming, as were their families. My family made sure I had a taste of all the local specialties--they made me my first arepas and enpanadas. They greeted me saying "Our home is your home" and really made me feel so. My host's niece had to have been one of the sweetest little girls I have met--she introduced me to her pet turtle, was very patient with my extremely limited Spanish, and was a captive audience when she had me read "101 Dalmatians" to her in English. All of our hosts provided extraordinary care for us and gave us a perspective of the city and the choral program we otherwise would have missed. They had a love of music and a sense of hospitality rarely found in our own country. - Ben Flynn HC ‘99

The homestays with Venezuelan families were a key element in the success of the tour. Through the interactions and conversations between Americans and Venezuelans, the desire to create meaningful music together as a single choir came to pass. Thus personal unity between the groups due to the homestays eventually translated into greater musical unity and cultural understanding.
- Christian Far HC ‘00

As nervous as I was at first, these homestays provided an experience that was amazingly wonderful. Not only did I meet and get to share with people that I wouldn't have met otherwise, I also witnessed more about their lives in South America that could not have happened if I didn't live with them. For example, I learned how to make arepas (a typical bread-type food in Venezuela--a staple of their diets) with my host student, and I also learned during this time the social conditions that add to the popularity of the food. Joanna Herrero HC ‘00

One of the lessons that left a deep impression on me was the hospitality, openness, honesty and generosity of my host family, the Orfeón choir, and the employees of the Inn at Choroní. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never met friendlier people. I truly felt immediately accepted and even loved by almost everyone I interacted with. Experiencing their customs of hospitality has actually made me ashamed of how "closed" Americans in general (including myself) are. We are so quick to extend a half-hearted "welcome" to others. So unwilling to accept others blindly, to make every effort to open ourselves and our homes to others. This trip has changed my understanding of warmth, hospitality, and generosity. I feel that I have learned an overwhelming lesson from just one week in Venezuela. - Mary Plummer BMC ‘99

It was incredible to witness the extreme generosity and kindness of our hosts. In a three day period, most of us came out of this experience with real friends. Our friends introduced us to many aspects of the music and culture of Venezuela. This was an ESSENTIAL part of making this a successful trip. It provided learning experiences--new, different experiences that allowed me to grow in some way. It was more tiring, difficult than hotel/resort stays, but very rewarding. I normally have a hard time meeting new people and being outgoing, but our hosts were so nice it proved not to be as difficult, even though they spoke a different native language from me. It was difficult to be outgoing all the time, but everything I put in came back in a wonderful way.
- Kevin Shoemaker HC ‘00

I was slotted to be alone without any other Chamber Singers and at first I wasn't very happy. However, it was probably the best thing for me. Ana was a great host, and I completely fell in love with her entire family. Their hearts and their homes were open wide to accept us. My Spanish became stronger, I saw a little piece of family life in Venezuela, and most important, I leave knowing that I will always have family there. (I also learned that H2O isn't as easily accessible in Venezuela as in the U.S. Shorter showers are a good thing! ) - Sara Jacob BMC ‘99

That night I met my host, Adriana. She spoke English extremely well--which is good since I speak no Spanish. Pooja (who stayed with me there) and I were struck by the wonderful apartment the family had. We were both amazed and pleasantly surprised. Adriana was very nice! That evening we talked to her parents over a plate of figs, mangoes, and another tomato-like fruit about our trip and Venezuela. She also had a grandmother who spoke very little English. However, amazingly enough, her grandmother spoke fluent French (Pooja and I both take French) and we were able to talk to her for quite some time. - Sarah Butler BMC ‘00

By chance I stayed by myself with a family that spoke little English. Although I would have rather had another Chamber Singer with me, it was a wonderful experience. I finally was able to put my four semesters of español to use. The family was more than generous and accommodating.
- Amy Leonard BMC ‘00

It was very educational for me to stay with my host Samuel. We spent much of our time discussing differences and similarities between our two cultures, which greatly enhanced my understanding of both our countries. Our hosts not only made the trip less expensive, but they also made the trip much more pleasant for everyone. - Jason Gersh HC ‘01

It was incredible. As soon as we were there, Kim and I were totally accepted into the family--so affectionate, caring. It was really and truly a home away from home. I have to be honest, I was very nervous about having to stay with a family in a foreign country--especially in a house where they spoke a language I had never studied. However, you quickly find new ways to communicate--body language, music, etc. And you'd be surprised how quickly you are able to pick up on things when in the situation. - Marta Backman BMC ‘01

on visiting the children’s choral program in the barrios

The visit to the choral program was the most inspiring and moving aspect of the tour. Never before have I seen such an incredible mixture of music, love, and community service. I was absolutely amazed at the children's good behavior and enjoyment of singing. Using music, the center is making an enormous difference in the lives of these children. All of it is the result of the caring and dedication of a very few musicians who have realized the power and potential of song. I will never forget the director's eyes filling with tears as she spoke of the sweetness and caring of the children in the face of their terrible circumstances. On the bus ride home I could not speak but only stared out the window at the sprawling ghettos and thought about what I planned to do for the world. - Ben Flynn HC ‘99

The Nucleo Montalban school program left me in tears. Music is taken for granted in the U.S. Arts budgets are always getting slashed, but here were over a hundred kids clapping out rhythms and singing loudly, while going home at the end of the day maybe having eaten only once that day. Even writing this is so difficult, because I'm so ashamed of the opportunities that are given to children in the States, that are taken for granted. These kids have never, and probably never will, hear another American choir. Singing for them was an unforgettable and touching experience that I will never forget. - Sara Jacob BMC ‘99

I loved this! The children, who were from underprivileged areas of the city, were so enthusiastic and excited to have American visitors. They had never heard another choir, and I've never gotten a better reception. These kids were so happy to meet other people, and the program is really almost a savior to them. - Any Leonard BMC ‘00

This was probably the most powerful moment on the tour. As we know, music is both international and ubiquitous among all socio-economic classes. I found it particularly inspiring to see how music is something that can be made into a way of giving to the less fortunate. Besides being fun for children whose family lives are often characterized by extreme poverty, music teaches invaluable lessons of how we must work together to solve our problems. Hence, seeing the children has renewed my fervor to fight socio-economic inequalities, and therefore music, in this case, is an important vehicle in such a change. - Christian Far HC ‘00

When we began to sing for the children, one of their conductors, Maibel, asked them if it was their first time hearing another choir, and all of the kids said yes. They loved us--I wish we could have stayed to talk to them more. As we later found out, over seventy percent of Venezuelans live beneath the poverty line and these kids were from some of the poorest of those families. Many of the children were beaten by their parents, who send them to the school just to get them a free meal. Maibel and Victor (the guy I stayed with) volunteer their time to work with the children, making little money in trying to bring some sense of order and peace into their lives with music. Seeing the children and the work Maibel and Victor were doing with them made me want to cancel my future plans (studying and teaching English in Russia) and go to Venezuela to help these kids. If my Russian plans go wrong or somehow fall through, I will seriously consider going back to Venezuela. I don't think I was the only one affected so much by this experience. I'm sure many of the other evaluations say something along the same lines. - Mark Weinsier HC ‘98

This was one of the best parts of the trip. Many of the Chamber singers were influenced so deeply by the children that they are planning to return and teach music at the school. The children were opened hearted and excited. Most of the group had never listened to a choir before and had never heard music in parts like SATB. They asked us dozens of questions and gave us friendship bracelets. They wanted to touch us and talk to us. Almost all had never seen Asian (south or east) persons before. We learned how the music in the inner city was funded, supported, and created and the impact and difference in the children's lives. - Anika Torruella BMC ‘98

When we went to the children's program, one little girl was ready to drop everything and go with us. Through the help of one of their teachers, I found out that the girl was asking if we would pick a few of the good children and take them with us. Granted she was extremely young and didn't fully think out what she was saying, the fact that she was so willing to leave her house and family shows, to me at least, what her life must have been like until then. I was ready to cry for these children. - Joanna Herrero HC ‘00

The visit to the children's choral program really affected me deeply. Seeing the 130 children, and listening to them sing was incredible--there were children who came from the worst backgrounds--some only got food at the school. however, even though they were incredibly poor, they were just as warm and loving as our middle/upper class hosts. I really feel like I touched some of their lives, and they really touched mine. - Karen Ross HC ‘00

This was the part of the trip that made the biggest impression on me. The children we saw were so loving and sweet, and they were being taught music as a way to direct them away from drugs, etc. I was really struck by how well-organized the program was for such a poor area of a developing country. It sparked an interest in me to work with children and show them how important music is. - Kim Overtree BMC ‘99

I was very impressed by the kids. Almost all of them had genuine smiles that they showed very often. They behaved very well, and were very excited to hear us sing. It was surprising after meeting the children to hear how hard a life many of them had. Most aren't able to continue getting an education, and many come from a home life that is nearly impossible to reconcile with school like. Overall, I felt that our group was able to reach the kids in a way that I didn't feel happened last year on tour in an inner-city Boston school. - Kevin Shoemaker HC ‘00

These children touched me, as well as the rest of the group, very deeply. They had never heard another choir from outside Caracas before: they kissed us and gave us gifts. Most of these incredibly sweet and talented children came from homes with drugs/violence/extreme poverty, etc. They live in houses built by themselves set on top of each other on the sides of the mountains surrounding Caracas. When it rains, barrio houses often slide down the mountain and whole villages can be destroyed. I wanted to help these children, and I was upset by their situation. The bus ride from there back to the city was especially interesting for me. Our tour guide sat near us and started telling us about the difficult living situations in Caracas for all its people. I remember him being very disheartened and bitter at the government and his feeling of lack of freedom.
- Sarah Butler BMC ‘00

I think this visit had a huge impact on everybody. I have never encountered people who have so little, and Victor and Maibel have brought them great joy through music. They obviously love to perform, and loved to hear us perform. It was, however, painfully evident that they need affection and attention. The group has been discussing how we might further work with these children and enrich the music program. I think this is an excellent idea. - Ashley Opalka BMC ‘98

on the overnight visit to the colonial coastal town of Choroní

When we left for Choroní, I was sad because we wouldn't be seeing our Caraqueño friends for a few days. My favorite part of the trip was just sitting and talking to them about life, our countries, Caracas, music--everything. Choroní turned out to be a wonderful experience in itself, though. I expected it to be a tourist resort in which we would only spend time with each other which, however cool, would be something of a let-down after such incredible interactions with the students of Caracas. But Choroní surprised me--rather than being the typical resort outing, it was full of more wonderfully spontaneous cultural exchange. On the beach we had a long conversation with a man who worked for an advertising agency in Caracas who handled Proctor and Gamble and the contract for the soon-to-be-legalized Viagra. Among other things, we talked about the ways in which Latin American countries viewed the U.S. and its citizens (in general, Colombia doesn't like us because of the guerra contra drogas, or drug war, and Venezuela does) and what our impressions of Venezuela were. We then sang some of our songs for him and the employees of the hotel (who fast became our friends, throwing the tennis ball around with us and relaxing with us. The relationship between the employees of the hotel and its guests was much more different, more friendly, than similar ones in the U.S.A.) and then all sang "Yellow Submarine" (Submarino Amarillo) and "Oh-blah-dih" together (some of the guys who worked at the hotel knew it). We sang for the entire staff of the hotel before we left and they responded by getting out their drums and beating out a song that we couldn't help dancing along with. once again an impromptu dance party ensued, with group members dancing with Choroní locals and vice-versa. There was really never a dull moment on tour. Where you thought you were in for a mundane or neutral experience, something always happened that made it spectacular, out-of-the-ordinary in a great way. - Mark Weinsier HC ‘98

Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! That was the most fun I have ever had in my entire life. The city was overflowing with culture--from the African drumming that lasted late into the night, to the Tambores dance learned by the Chamber Singers. I swam at a private beach approached by boat where the water was so clear I could see the tips of my toes. I swam in a three level water hole and slid down a frothing waterfall. The hotel was picturesque. The town was brightly colored and the atmosphere was ambivalent. I never slept, I never wanted to sleep because I would miss some of the perfection. This was the perfect pay off for the incredible hard work of rehearsal and concerts of the precious four days. - Anika Torruella BMC ‘98

This was incredible! I saw so much landscape that I had never seen before. This excursion really brought us close to the native culture of Venezuela. Here, too, we saw a lot of what class distinctions are like. They are so different than in the U.S. We played on the beach with the staff of the resort, something that would never have happened in the U.S. We also drove through a rainforest to get there, and I had never seen a rainforest up close like that before. The lush growth was absolutely amazing. - Kim Overtree BMC ‘99

Paradise. I'll be honest, when we first arrived at the Inn, I was disappointed. How judgmental was I! The Inn was no "4 star" resort--it was not of a western tradition, and this turned out to be its greatest asset. The 10-15 people who ran the Inn were wonderful. I believe that they truly cared about our experience of their home, so much more than they cared about making money. On Sunday when a group of us went to a secluded beach by boat, about 10 employees of the Inn came with us--the great thing was, after our two-and-a-half hours on the beach they were not strangers, but our friends. We sang together, they drank with us and played in the water with us.
- Mary Plummer BMC ‘99

on touring to a foreign country

In many ways I feel like I learned more in a week in Venezuela that I learned in four years in Haverford. I couldn't imagine a more perfect ending to a great four years. For me, what made this tour special and such an incredible learning experience was that it happened in another country. Sure, we could have learned a lot about ourselves and created some great music wherever we went--traveling with other people and touring tend to have those effects. But this tour was something special. Though we were only here for a week and there were some language barriers for many people in the groups, we connected with the students here in an incredible way. The fact that we sang with the students from UCAB on the second day, but saw them again and again throughout the week, as well as the students from USB, all of whom showed up to see us off and have dinner with us, attests to the strength of the bonds we made here and how they moved beyond music. For me, this was my first trip out of the country. Traveling abroad is something I have wanted to do for a long time, and I can't imagine a more positive experience. The warmth of the Venezuelans shocked me. They were genuinely glad to see us, to take us into their homes and hearts and show us their country. We laughed together (several of us in the group learned some local expressions whose us brought us and our Venezuelan friends much mirth), danced together, sang together, cried together (at our concert at the USB, Jesus sang next to me on a song called "Si Te Quiero", a Venezuelan anthem which talks about love between two politically conscious people and between themselves and their country, and wept--later, as we sang the song with each other before we left for Choroní, we both were crying), were frustrated together (it's difficult not being able to express yourself fully in another language, but there are ways if you work together), and learned a lot about ourselves and each other in the process. I really hope that the Chamber Singers will continue touring abroad. It is not only wonderful publicity for our colleges (we sang in front of the directors of the International Federation of Choral Music, and María Guinand, the conductor of the USB Orfeón choir, has invited us to return in 2000 for an International Cantat!), but it is an incredible experience for everyone involved, and chance to tap into the universal language of music, make friends, and get different perspectives on the world. I can guarantee that I will never forget this experience, along with the other Chamber Singers and the students of UCAB and USB. I left Haverford feeling burned out and spent from four years of hard studying. I walk off this plane today feeling refreshed spiritually, with a new sense of perspective on life as I begin to tackle "the real world."¡ Vive la tour ! - Mark Weinsier HC ‘98

This tour was one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, both musically and personally. The sense of belonging and family that I felt in my own group as well as the Venezuelan ensemble was very touching to me in what could have been a lonely post-graduation week otherwise. The camaraderie expressed both in formal performance and in the unscheduled, joyous (and often raucous) singing sessions (usually in whatever restaurant our two groups descended upon for dinner) was a true measure of the bonds formed within and between our groups. I cannot think of a more fitting and meaningful end to my four years at Haverford and my participation in Chamber singers than this tour which at once completed an important part of my life and expanded my mind to the vast possibilities of what is to come. - Andy Clinton HC ‘98

Although the U.S. has lent a hand in affecting Venezuelan culture, its origins and present form are quite unique and different from that found in the states. I think most of the Chamber Singers would know what to expect from a tour within the U.S., but no one knew what to expect from Venezuela. We went with the attitude that we would be experiencing a way of life which might be very different from our own, and that we could play the anthropologist and learn from the culture around us. I think we learned a lot about what Haverford is trying to teach us--about opening up and reaching out. The trip was a constant lesson in how to be friendly, how to care about your community, how to incorporate music into all aspects of life. In return we carried the values of Haverford and Bryn Mawr with us, caring and looking out for each other, sharing our experiences, and engaging in the difficult task of matching our hosts’ conscientiousness and respect. To be able to share music with another culture is truly an incredible experience--barriers of language and custom disappear and are replaced with joy and exuberance. I would have taken such statements as over-eulogistic had I not truly experienced them. I was amazed, endlessly amazed. This past week has been, without a doubt, the most valuable and wonderful experience of my entire Haverford education. That is not to say that three years at Haverford have been put to ill use, but rather to call attention to the difference between having learned and having lived. This trip was a life experience. It has changed and strengthened me as a person. It has given me memories to last a lifetime. It has asked me to consider and revise my values. When I return to Haverford in the fall, all this will be with me. What I have learned I will teach and share. What I have felt will help lead me on. - Ben Flynn HC ‘99

I, normally, would never have even considered Venezuela as a place to visit, much less being able to afford it. If I did go on my own, my experience would not have been as enriching. We got to be a part of Venezuela for a while, not just watching it go by. I would strongly encourage both colleges to always support trips such as this one. This experience will last me a lifetime, and it has personally shaped a new focus on my life and my dreams for myself. Opportunities like this happen very rarely outside the college life. To share music or a different country in the country, to teach and be taught by one's peers, both American and non-American, to be affected by a culture that would have completely evaded you if you hadn't been so deeply immersed in it for a week, etc., are priceless. - Sara Jacob BMC ‘99

One of the greatest differences was our exposure to a foreign language. The difference was prevalent in every place we went and everything we did. I was very excited to get the chance to use some of the Spanish I learned--it was a welcome challenge on both sides. It was also excellent to be able to get an inside view of life at home in Venezuela. I really can't speak enough about our hosts! - Jonathan Armour, HC '98

To experience another culture and to witness the parallel aspects of life in different parts of the world is an asset that cannot be put in words. Not only did I learn the universal value of music, I made friends that will be in my hear forever. I fell in love with a country, and was able to express that through my other love--music. What a priceless mixture. - Kirsten Poehling BMC ‘01

I think this tour has become a turning point in my life. Beyond all the amazing things we learned about choral music, Latin American culture, people in general, and ourselves as a choral group, I learned a lot about what I want from myself and my education at Bryn Mawr. This trip has given me a new perspective on the world. I met so many incredible, incredible people who had no fears about who they were or where they were going with their lives. We made a really solid connection with these people, and the impression that they made on me will last for the rest of my life. I've come to know a people that opens its hearts to everyone. I never knew the people of Latin America were so amazing! This has been the biggest and best experience of my years at BMC so far. I feel motivated, enlightened, refreshed, and ready to take on the world. - Kim Overtree BMC ‘99

The experience of Latin American music in Latin America, the sharing of music from North and South America, and the enthusiasm of performing music. First, there is no way that we would have reached the level of musicality that we did in our Latin American pieces if it were for from the trip. Again, María Guinand was amazing at teaching the difficult rhythmic patterns found in songs like "Kasar Mie La Gaji" and "Mata del Anima Sola", both important Venezuelan pieces. Second, the sharing of our music and musical techniques during this tour with the Venezuelan choir ensured a greater appreciation of the diverse forms of choral music. By sharing music, I know that people on this tour have been musically inspired to reach new levels. Lastly, the feedback from our audiences was particularly heart-felt considering our often conservative responses here in the U.S. I have been re-inspired in a very personal and musical way due to this trip. - Christian Far HC ‘00

The best part about this trip to me was the friendships. The members of the Simón Bolívar choir opened their hearts and their homes to us. They were so giving and generous, and very friendly. I felt like we all came together with our music. We shared styles of our music from our own countries. Even for those of us who couldn't understand Spanish, we could share the experience of music. On this trip to Venezuela I made some friends whom I will never forget and had experiences that will always stand out in my memory. This tour was honestly the best experience I have had since coming to Haverford. - Karen Hooker HC ‘00

I have never had such a good time in all my life as I had in Venezuela. From both a musical and a personal standpoint, this trip could not possibly have been more gratifying. Everywhere I went I was greeted with genuine warmth and open arms by our hosts, who never let a language barrier stand in the way of making us feel at home in their country. The sights were like nothing I had seen before, and the music was in every respect wonderful and satisfying. There was also a genuine sense of camaraderie among the members of our group, who really looked out for each other and made an effort to include everyone. But if I had to summarize what meant the most to me about this trip, it would be the final image of the Chamber Singers and the Orfeón choir together at the farewell dinner, singing "Te Quiero" arm in arm and smiling through our tears. In other words, the people and their music are what I will take with me from this tour, and to which I hope someday to return. - Leah Coffin BMC ‘98

We could have sung all of our Latin American songs fairly well without the input of the Venezuelans. I could have opened a book about the history and politics of Venezuela and learned about civil discord and poverty and the wide economic gap between rich and poor. But I would not have seen the dozens of ghetto-like towns off the highways or heard first-hand of the massive corruption of the government and the extreme cynicism of the people. I would not have seen my hosts break countless traffic laws because of their confidence in the ineffectuality of the police. On the music side, instead of largely guessing at the dynamics, speed, and spirit of our songs, the Venezuelans simple showed us what they do with the markings on their song sheets. In short, the tour brought Latin American culture and politics into far sharper focus than any other attempt to understand these subjects that I can think of. - Joe Kaufman HC ‘01

I can't say enough how much this trip has affected me.....This is something that will live on in my memory way past college. I will never forget how welcome I was made to feel, how wonderful everyone was, how much fun we had. How Anika and I raced to the ocean, or how we all held hands, trying not to cry, and sang "Te Quiero". I won't forget the looks on the faces of those children when they sang and when we sang to them. And of course when Kirsten, Risa, and I toasted Anika farewell on our last night in Caracas. - Marta Backman BMC ‘01

Meeting university students in another country would be the most substantially different experience. Even though we didn't speak Spanish well, and they didn't speak English completely fluently, we could communicate, I think because we shared our musical experience. The students showed me how different--much more responsive as audience, and much more affectionate--friendly, and hospitable the Venezuelans are. By traveling to Venezuela, I learned how beautiful the country is. I would have never imagined such beautiful sky, sea, and the mountains if I didn't go there. We also had discussion/question session with the students, and learned about the politics, the cultural ties between the Latin American countries, and other topics. We also shared our view on racism in the U.S., etc. And living with the student's family was certainly an experience I wouldn't be able to have had if we didn't go to Venezuela. - Risa Kawabata BMC ‘99

By going to another country, we were able to experience a new language, new culture, new landscaped. We were able to experience a little of what it is like to live in a developing country. We experienced various elements of the culture, from the music to the food to the kind, outgoing personalities. Overall, the tour to Venezuela gave us an opportunity to experience a freshness and newness that couldn't be experienced in a nearby U.S. location. Although last year's tour to Boston was very nice, there was nowhere near the level of excitement and enthusiasm and happiness in the group regarding the tour. As a result of the tour, the group bonded much more than we have in my years with the Chamber Singers. After this tour, I can say that I know everyone in the group better, and I have more respect for everyone after seeing how we dealt with this new, amazing situation. Throughout the tour, I've seen an enthusiasm and brightness in the faces of the Chamber Singers that I've never seen before. I've felt these things in myself too.
- Kevin Shoemaker HC ‘00

90% of what I learned on this trip was specific to the fact that it was my first time in a developing country. So many of us would be happy remaining in our little "bubbles." So few of us would choose to travel to a country like Venezuela. I cannot say how valuable this trip has been to me. I just can't even start to put it into words, but I hope you can understand the passion that I feel about this. What an incredible opportunity! I think this will remain one of my greatest memories of my college experience. This one week has changed me, and many others in the group, for the better. The "much much better." - Mary Plummer BMC ‘99

I almost cannot put into words the euphoric sensation that something grand was accomplished in the fleeting week that just went by. The satisfaction of performing pieces that we have worked hard on with a local choral group cannot be compared. This past week felt more like a month, and I cannot believe that the summer has just begun. Not ever in the past year at Haverford did life seem so real. Things at Haverford happen to you, but at Caracas it felt that we were making something happen, something ambitious, something grand, something almost miraculous. María Guinand has a spirit that must be experienced to be understood: she is the finest conductor I have had. She brings the music to life. It was not only the music, but the culture, the people, and the indigenous arts that cannot be understood without actually experiencing it. - unsigned

This culture was completely different from our own. We did not realize how Americanized the Venezuelan songs were till we sang with Venezuelans. Personally, I learned more native, spoken Spanish, and how to dance traditional dances. I learned about the political unrest first hand from the mouths of students my own age, and how politics was an integral part of all Latin Americans' make-up.......I saw the people, poor and rich, first hand. They were real. I talked to them, touched them, and lived with them. I never knew a city could be nestled on a mountain like a diamond necklace nor that the lay of land was possible. huge mountains after mountains. We must continue our intimate relationship with these choirs. This trip was the best thing to ever happen to me and the most powerful learning experience I have ever had. This trip CHANGED me. It took us from our collegiate American bubble to explore a different--completely foreign--culture. The choirs welcoming us were free with their love, time, and culture. I did things I never imagined I could do. I saw sights I could never have imagined, that I never read in any book......For my personal finances--I could NEVER have even hoped to go on such a trip financially. The only way possible for me to have this opportunity was through Chamber Singers, ..... My musical experience was more intense than any workshop, harder work than any camp, and more satisfying than any other educational experience I have ever had.

- Anika Torruella BMC ‘98