Monday, December 2, 2013

Day 58 - Pride in a 2003 Choir trip through Europe

Today's post is from Carol Shukle, district employee and parent of four MWHS grads

This week the blog posts are stories from MWHS alumni!

After 27 years as a resident of this community, including 17 years as an MWHS parent, it’s hard to choose just one example of Mound Westonka pride – but something that does remain a very special memory is the Concert Choir tour of southern Germany, Austria and Venice, Italy in 2003.

Our first child entered MWHS in the fall of 1996 and our youngest graduated last spring with the Class of 2013. All four of our kids were members of Concert Choir and either Pop Singers or Madd Jazz or both. I’ve thrilled to hear them perform in our community; on stage at Orchestra Hall and the Ordway; at the top of the Empire State building; on a street in New Orleans; and in some of the most famous and beautiful cathedrals and town squares in Europe. Along the way my husband changed jobs and we considered moving to cut his commute, but one of the things that kept us here was Mound Westonka High School. Our kids were happy and we quickly realized the advantage of having private school graduating class sizes in a public school setting, and a first-class music education.

But of all those music experiences, that 2003 Choir tour is one I will never forget. We were scheduled to leave around April 4 and the U.S. went to war in Iraq on March 20. Suddenly Americans were being warned against travelling abroad and the trip for which the students and their families had worked and planned for nearly a year was in jeopardy. During the first two weeks of the fighting several large Twin Cities school districts canceled similar trips. As our departure date and the third week of the war approached there had been no significant incidents involving Americans in Europe. The pros and cons of going ahead with the tour were discussed at length and the decision was made that the danger was not so great that the group of more than 70 students and parents could leave as planned. That took some courage and some MWHS Pride for those making the trip, but even more, for the district and high school administration who gave permission and the families who remained behind.

We were sent on our way by the administration with a cell phone with International service (a big deal even 10 years ago) and State Department advice to try to not appear too “American” – no jeans and sneakers – and to try to pass as Canadian if anyone asked?! Well, we didn’t fool anyone, but except for witnessing one anti-war, anti-American demonstration in Munich and being the object of some anti-American slurs at, of all places, Dachau, we were welcomed warmly and never felt unsafe. The students were wonderful ambassadors for MWHS whether singing in cathedrals or nursing homes, and we saw incredible sights.

A highlight of the trip was the evening that, after returning from a day trip to Salzburg, Madd Jazz was scheduled to perform before the main act at the top jazz club in Innsbruck. Madd Jazz is always good but that night they were sensational. They left the jazz club so excited they just couldn’t stop singing. Out in the parking lot Madd Jazz continued to sing everything they knew. Eventually they were joined by the rest of the Concert Choir who caught the enthusiasm and the students sang through the streets of Innsbruck all the way back to the hotel. Eventually they ran through the entire Concert Choir repertoire from that year and turned to singing music from the year before. Finally gathered in the hotel lobby, and unwilling to stop, they began singing their four-part arrangements of Christmas Carols – possibly inspired by the snow that was falling that unseasonably cold April evening. When we all sang “Silent Night” in both English and German, our Austrian tour guide, who was still with us in the lobby, was moved to tears.
Two days later we were on our way home. Our flight from Germany landed in Detroit where we went through customs. The friendly customs agents asked the students about their trip and instructed the group to stay together to one side. When everyone was processed, the agents surprised the students by requesting a performance. Back home and with feet once again safely planted on U.S. soil, choir director Jane Brambilla directed the choir a capella in our National Anthem. That was a genuine “goosebumps” moment and still a great source of MWHS pride.

Madd Jazz in front of the Triebhaus Jazz Club in Innsbruck, Austria

Concert Choir at the Monastery Church in Wiblingen, Germany

Andy and Carol Shukle

If you have a story that you would like to share, please email for more information! We would love to hear from you!

1 comment:

  1. I remember that tour as if it were yesterday. Reading Carol's article brought back all those feelings of pride for my students. If ever our country needed good ambassadors, it was in 2003. I am moved to tears, even now ten years later, as I think about how music in the hearts of MWHS students touched so many lives. On a side note, I just happened to be listening to the 2003 MWHS Choir CD in the car today as I was running my errands. This was before I read Carol's article. Coincidence?