WMU News

Music students go 'down under' for spring concert tour

June 7, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- A tour of the South Pacific this spring had WMU students hiking the outback and mixing with kangaroos and koala bears in addition to performing before packed houses in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

In all, 88 students joined by 11 faculty and staff members toured the three countries April 28 to May 11. The student entourage was composed of 22 members of Gold Company II and members of both the University Symphonic Band and University Concert Band, which combined to form the Wind Orchestra.

Planning for the trip started a year ago after a student survey, says Robert Spradling, music and director of bands. Students were asked to rank five areas of the world they would like to tour, with choices ranging from Europe and the Mediterranean to South America, the South Pacific and the Far East.

"Our responses came back with the South Pacific being far and away the first choice," Spradling says. "They were really taken with Australia and learning about the 'down under'."

Students weren't disappointed with their choice, Spradling says. The trip became as much a cultural, social and educational eye-opener as a chance to perform internationally.

The trip was intended to expose students to the world's diversity in addition to performing abroad, Spradling says. But students weren't the only ones getting something from the experience, as audiences marveled at instruments and vocal jazz music they'd never been exposed to before.

"It was really interesting and fun to watch their faces as they were watching," Spradling says. "There was just this wide, saucer-eyed look and every time the music changed from one instrument or voice to another you could see hundreds of eyes shift. They were just totally engrossed in what was going on."

The group first flew to Auckland, New Zealand, for a performance at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, which is similar to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The venerable cathedral houses the largest stained glass piece in the Southern Hemisphere.

Students stayed with host families, bringing about a cultural exchange that typified much of the trip. Not only did students learn about their hosts, hosts were relieved to find out that most American youths are not like characters from "Beverly Hills 90210."

While in New Zea-land, students also visited Rotorua as well as a near-by and very rare area of volcanic activity complete with hot springs, steaming fissures and geysers.

The group then flew to Sydney, where students presented two concerts. They performed a joint concert at the University of New South Wales with members of that university's concert band, uniting to form one big orchestra in performances of "Amazing Grace" and Sousa's "Hands Across the Sea." They performed a second concert in the 150-year-old Cathedral of St. John in Parrametta.

The Australian concerts sparked two reunions. A Gold Company alumnus from Melbourne, Australia, named Saz Burton performed with students after her husband gave her a plane ticket for Mother's Day. And Patrick Beauregard, one of Spradling's graduate assistants, was reunited with his sister, who lives in Parrametta.

Beauregard, who just completed a master's degree with concentration in conducting, directed the Sousa march that evening.

A guided tour of the Australian bush country and a visit to a zoo gave students a first-hand look at the wilds of Australia and koala bears, kangaroos, wombats and dingoes. Students also took in performances at the famous Sydney Opera House, with tickets furnished by President Floyd's office, and visited the site for the 2000 Olympic Games.

Students then flew to Suva, Fiji, where they stayed at a beach resort and were treated to that island nation's rich cultural heritage.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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