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By ROBERT VILLANUEVA
HARDIN COUNTY — For six Hardin County high school students, music recently became the instrument of ambassadorship.
The students were selected, based on their musical talent, to participate in the 2008 Kentucky Ambassadors of Music tour. Two hundred Kentucky band and choir students made up the special group that performed concerts during the 16-day tour of seven European countries in July.
“The people there really love music,” Central Hardin High School student Samantha Rogers said. “They would always want an encore.”
The tour encompassed travels to England, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy and Germany. The group consisted of a 120-piece concert band and an 80-voice choir.
Rogers, a senior, plays clarinet only had traveled out of the country once for a cruise to the Caribbean. She came away from the experience with a few surprises.
“London is a lot bigger than I thought it was,” she said. “And Paris is a lot dirtier than I thought was.”
Rogers also didn’t know prior to the trip that Venice was actually a group of more than 100 islands. And she was surprised to see that public restrooms in Europe were not free.
“It definitely expanded my view of the world,” Rogers said.
Nick Watts, a trombone player and recent CHHS graduate, described the tour as amazing and well-planned, calling it a good opportunity for a young musician. Prior to the European tour, Watts’ travel experience beyond the United States consisted of a trip to Mexico.
“This was my first really big trip outside the country,” Watts said.
Like Rogers, Watts noted the receptiveness to the concerts.
“The audiences were terrific and very appreciative of the music that we played,” he said.
The concert consisted of John Philip Sousa tunes and other music related in some way to the countries they visited. The trombone section even performed a song written especially for that instrument.
The group traveled by coach bus in Europe. Though the trips were long, they gave Watts the chance to “connect with fellow students” and admire the countryside, which he described as “pristine.”
“Hopefully, those connections will last the rest of my life,” Watts said.
Of the seven countries he visited, Switzerland was his favorite. He remarked on the beauty of the mountains.
The same was true for Rogers. She considered it the most beautiful country on the tour because of its mountains and glaciers.
“I’d never seen glaciers,” Rogers said.
Mark Rado, who was a junior at John Hardin High School when he was nominated to be an ambassador, performed with the choir. The choir performed separately from the band but at the same locations.
Having grown up in Stuttgart, Germany, Rado enjoyed the group’s visit to Rothenberg the most.
“I loved Germany,” he said. “It’s just a great country.”
Still, like others, Rado enjoyed Switzerland enough to cite it as his second favorite tour stop. The view of the Alps, he said, was “amazing.”
Rado, who now attends St. Xavier High School in Louisville, also experienced “a lot of different cultures.”
In Paris and Venice, for instance, Rado encountered some pickpockets who tried to approach the group. Aside from the language barriers, Rado also noticed differences in fashion, such as the ’80s American punk style that seemed prevalent among the younger residents of Paris.
“There was a bit of a culture shock,” he said.
For Meredith Bland, who was a senior at Central Hardin High School when she was nominated, the beauty of Switzerland was inspiring enough to dictate her daily routine.
“I woke up at five o’clock every morning to watch the sun come up over the mountains,” the trumpet player said.
Not only was the country beautiful, but Bland said the people were “very culturally rounded,” typically speaking at least three languages. They were also happy, content and outgoing, she said.
Audiences throughout the tour seem to appreciate the music much more than audiences at home, too.
“Pretty much in every country we got a standing ovation,” Bland said.
The band performed “Stars and Stripes Forever” as an encore. That song was her favorite, she said.
Before leaving for the tour, the group received musical instruction from the University of Louisville’s Dr. Frederick Speck, Dr. Kent Hatteberg and 27 other musicians from the University of Louisville School of Music. Speck is director of bands and Hatteberg is director of choral activities at U of L. Speck and Hatteberg directed the group on the tour.
In addition to Rogers, Watts, Rado and Bland, two other students from Hardin County participated in the program: Phoebe Bell of Elizabethtown, who plays bassoon, and Kris Hunt of Sonora, who plays alto sax.
The students expressed enjoyment of their experience.
“I expected the trip to be a lot of fun … and that’s what it was,” Rogers said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.