For three years now, students at Carroll have experienced music as a universal language, venturing to Europe to learn and perform alongside conservatory students there.
Larry Harper, a music professor and director of the wind and percussion ensemble at Carroll, organizes the trip with the help of an Italian conductor, Filippo Salemmi. The project, which already has paid dividends for Carroll students, is still growing.
This year’s trip was officially designated a Cross-Cultural Experience (CCE) at Carroll, meaning that students who participated were able to weave this international experience into their cultural studies. All Carroll students are expected to complete a CCE before they graduate.
Thirteen Carroll students participated in this summer’s International Music Project journey, but the traveling group, which included students from Italian conservatories, swelled at times to 65. These European students, all from local conservatories, don’t get much chance to perform in larger ensembles, according to Harper.
The group traveled through Germany and Austria and performed in several locales, including the Salzburg Cathedral, where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized.
This wasn’t simply tourism; the students were challenged by the immersive experience, living with host families, and exhaustively rehearsing. “They played high-level, challenging pieces,” said Harper. “For the students, it can be frightening, challenging, even punishing. But at the end, they’re really rewarded by meeting this challenge. The students came away feeling it’s a transformative experience.”
Those students also came away with new friendships, bonds formed from the intense experience of mastering the work as much as from the task of living in a foreign culture. “When we said goodbye (to the European students) in Munich at the end of the trip, there were tears,” recalled Harper.
And there was transformation. “There are so many things I could say about the experience,” said Ryan Liebherr ’18, a music education major. “The trip definitely changed me. The cultures of both Germany and Italy have left an imprint on me. Honestly, though, I just can't wait to go back, whether it's with the International Music Project next year, or on my own.”
For Liebherr, the trip provided lessons in language (he speaks German and is teaching himself basic Italian), food and customs (such as the several-hour-long dinners with his host families). Of course, Liebherr said he gained considerably as a performer. “Playing with the Italian conservatory students was very fun. They were all extremely talented musicians. I knew a couple of them from when they visited Carroll to perform with us, but the majority of them were new faces to me. They taught me a number of techniques that I have never used before, which was a great learning experience. The experience of playing with these talented musicians won't just help you play better, but it will help you hear music better.”
Biology student sophomore Rebecca Carney ’19 admitted she signed up for the CCE almost on a whim, thinking that the opportunity to perform in Italy and Germany was something she couldn’t pass up. She hadn’t realized how the experience would change her.
“I was forced to break out of my comfort zone and try something new, which for an introvert like me was incredibly difficult,” she recalled. “I was thrust into a new culture and had to attempt to conform to its unspoken rules—with varying levels of success. Everyday tasks such as eating and shopping became incredibly difficult with a language barrier and lack of cultural awareness.”
The immersive experience, however, forced her to challenge herself and develop more self-confidence.
“I wasn’t afraid to voice my opinion and became more resilient and independent and understand how those characteristics could benefit me.”
The International Music Project is about far more than these life-changing trips to Europe alone—there is an ongoing collaboration with the Italian musicians. As Liebherr mentioned, the program also brings Italian conservatory students here to Carroll. They stay here for a week-long visit, rehearse with the ensemble and join in performances. “They bring a richness and an expertise that supplements our numbers and skill level,” said Harper.
This past April, students from bands and conservatories in the Italian cities of Bevagna, Cesena, Perugia and Salerno joined Carroll students and other performing arts groups in the area to perform “Carmina Burana.” The 70-piece ensemble was joined by seven choirs led by Carroll alumni from around the state with more than 300 singers.
The next visit coincides with a big concert planned for April 2017. Harper is expecting upwards of 20 Italian students traveling here then. The Italians will join Carroll students in seminars focusing on rehearsals, analysis and music history as they prepare for the concert. It will feature a performance of Karel Husa’s “Music for Prague 1968,” a composition created in response to the 1968 Soviet bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In the meantime, Harper is busy reaching out to other universities in the states in order to offer the Italian students an even richer experience when here. So far, connections have been forged with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette, Stanford and Drexel universities.
“We’ve undertaken this because we believe in its importance,” said Harper. “Music brings people together.”