Chamber Singers Tour to the Beat of a Different Culture
"We made beautiful music with complete strangers in a completely foreign land," explains Dave Zobian '98, one of 28 Haverford and Bryn Mawr students who visited the country from May 18 to May 25. Zobian found himself performing not only on stage with Venezuelan college students, but communicating via impromptu sing-alongs with new friends in such places as the South American fast food chain Ki-Ki-riKi ("Cock-a-doodle-do") where the high ceilings made for great acoustics.
At one point, the group even sang Alma Llanera as a way of saying good-bye to the staff at their hotel in the seacoast village of Puerto-Columbia/Choroní. The staff responded by rushing to their drums stored behind the kitchen and launching into a 15-minute set of traditional African tambores or drumming.
"To be able to share music with another culture was a truly an incredible experience," says Ben Flynn'99. "Barriers of language and customs disappeared and were replaced with joy and exuberance."
Assistant professor of music Tom Lloyd, director of the choral program, says the students could have followed in the typical path of many other high schools and colleges by chartering a singing trip to Europe. But Lloyd said he and his students wanted to be more than just the part of a charter group that did more sightseeing than singing.
With the help of Paul Weil'83, Ernesto Salas'94 and Lucy Alton (BMC '81), they arranged a trip to a country where they could stay with native families for three nights, sing with groups throughout Caracas and the Venezuelan countryside and, most importantly, communicate through the universal language of song.
What resulted was a trip that not only pushed aside cultural boundaries, but pushed the chorus to some of its best performances ever, Lloyd explains.
"The audiences we sang for were extremely responsive and vocal, and the students we sang with were enthusiastic and thrilled that we had chosen to visit Venezuela rather than more typical American tourist destinations," Lloyd explains. "The students had a real stimulus to sing better. On a purely musical level, our performances in Venezuela were easily among the most satisfying performances of which I have ever been a part."
Throughout the week, the students performed with college choirs from the Universidad Catolica Andrés Bello and the Universidad Simón Bolívar where they had the unique opportunity to be conducted by Maria Guinand, a leading international authority on Latin American choral music. The students also visited and performed for a special school in a Caracas barrio - a poor, densely populated neighborhood of crudely constructed clay and cinder block homes.
"In keeping with the traditions of Haverford and Bryn Mawr, we try to incorporate some aspect of community service into each of our tours," Lloyd explains.
For many students this proved to be especially rewarding.
"Never before have I seen such an incredible mixture of music, love and community service," Flynn recalls. "I was absolutely amazed at the childrens' good behavior and their enjoyment of singing. Using music, the center is making an enormous difference in the lives of these children."
There were other big and small surprises on the trip. After performing at Simón Bolívar University, the group was honored with an invitation to return to Caracas in April 2000 as part of the quadrennial international choral festival Cantat 2000. And, on the eve of their departure, after the group had already bid their farewells to their Venezuelan hosts, they were surprised by the entire Simón Bolívar choir who met them for dinner and more impromptu singing.
"Coming together in song made us transcend any cultural barriers that might have existed right away," explains Mark Weinsier'98. "I really feel that our shared experiences grounded in the music have forged friendships between the two groups that will last."