On July 3, 2003, three Twin Valley students left the United States from New York destined for Zurich, Germany. Robert Knoll, Brittany Hix and Adam Weakland had auditioned and been selected to participate in America Music Abroad.
Each year band directors of high schools in a six-region area of the United States make recommendations of their first & second chair hopefuls to this prestigious music organization.
In December of 2002, the selected students were informed, "You were chosen."
Robert Knoll, a confident and enthusiastic percussion player said, "I was really excited at a chance to visit Europe."
Brittany Hix looking every part the delicate flutist chimed in, "This was my first trip offered in music."
Adam Weakland who plays bass and jazz was equally thrilled. Over six months later Robert, Brittany and Adam joined their peers from other schools in the Albright College Chapel Auditorium, Reading, PA.
They are United States ambassadors touring Europe presenting American Jazz, Broadway music, and patriotic songs via chorus, symphonic and jazz bands.
From June 29th to July 2nd, three distinct groups practiced: the symphonic band, the jazz band and the choral group. Then full dress rehearsals for each group and a gathering song "Let there Be Peace on Earth" was performed by all three groups.
Next individual recording sessions captured their opening concerts.
On stage, they stood in their patriotic colored uniforms. Young men in blue blazers, gray slacks, and black shoes beside young ladies in red jackets, blue skirts and white blouses and black closed-toed shoes.
Backstage their luggage waited. Carefully packed into suitcases weighing 30 pounds were layered clothes and toiletries, only a few changes were allowed per student for their 2 and a half week tour.
Now, united in music and bonded by a farewell concert "American Music Abroad Bronze Tour 2004" the happy and noisy American teens eager to explore and entertain were joined by band directors, choirmasters and chaperones for their transatlantic flights.
Weary students slept on the seven and a half hour flight. Touchdown Europe, Saturday, July 3, 2004, in Zurich 6:30 PM.
After boarding four double-decker buses of 48 students each, they journeyed to Strasbourg, France.
Then welcome to Europe, a 'let your hair down, and relax pizza dance party' of about 300 kids commenced that evening at a nightclub.
Robert Knoll remarked, "It is interesting that the drinking age for beer is sixteen and for hard liquor eighteen in European countries."
Brittany Hix agreed, "It seemed strange."
What happens in Europe stays in Europe. The question was not raised.
The next day was the Fourth of July. After a day to relax and explore a medieval castle and charming French village, they performed their first European concert sponsored by the Alsacian/American Friendship Society.
On July 5th, they boarded buses again headed for Heidelburg, Germany for a morning tour of the city and some ancient ruins.
Then onto Dinklelsbuhl, a walled and moated town dating back to 928. Here they had a free day to wander the cobblestone streets and just be American tourists.
On July 7th, the buses continued the journey through the Bavarian region of Germany, home of lederhosen and wood carvings.
Then a visit to Mauthausen, a World War II concentration camp. Of the entire trip, this evoked the most emotions and photos taken by the group.
Brittany's ever-smiling face turned glum as she spoke quietly, "It is amazing how one place can hit you so hard at the heart. I could not believe I stood at a place where so many had died without knowing. They thought they were going to take a shower."
Robert was somber as he showed the photos of the showers, the cremation ovens, and the village of death.
Our young Americans witnessed the scene of evil and were touched and shaken.
What better time to move on to Austria's capitol Vienna, the City of Music. The choir asked permission as they journey to perform in ancient churches accompanied by century old pipe organs amidst beautiful architecture and art.
The groups performed spontaneously in castles and sidewalk cafes among diverse cultures. Music was in their heart and they relished the freedom of expressing their American spirit throughout Europe's villages, towns, and cities.
July 8th and 9th was spent in Hungary. Robert explained, "Budapest is actually 2 cities the cities of Buda and Pest which are joined by the Danube River. The cities are an awesome site."
Brittany added, "A statue of St. Stephen atop his horse looks down over the city. He brought Christianity to Hungary."
She went on, "The Royal Palace is done in Gothic style. The Parliament building fills the horizon with its grandeur and striking colored tiles."
Indeed Hungary captured the imaginations of the teens.
They performed in the castle courtyard to the delight of a welcoming crowd.
The next day the group attended a Hungarian rodeo. Robert said, "These Hungarian 'Pustza' (cowboys) are not like ours. They dress in robes, with tri-cornered hats and ride bareback on their horses. One rider rode standing atop five horses at a fast gallop."
In the evening they enjoyed dinner in a restaurant with folkloric entertainment of the quaint music of the gypsy guitars, and singers.
By July 11th the buses arrived in Austria and the famed town of Salzburg, home of the Mozart and the famous movie "The Sound of Music". A lively tour of the town brought the screen to life for the students.
The next day in Westendorf, Austria offered free time. Robert hiked up the mountain were he found a charming little restaurant with window boxes and an outdoor patio. He commented. "Everything moves slowly in the European countryside, people eat slowly, meat portions are small as well as all portions. People slow down and take several hours to eat and drink with conversation. I spent the afternoon just sitting in the outdoor cafe, talking to the native Europeans, enjoying a beautiful day in the Alps taking in the scenery."
Brittany remarked, "The streets in the villages and towns are so narrow many of cobblestone."
The groups performed in Concert in Westendorf on July 13 at the Concert Hopfgarten and July 14 in Austria at Concert Zell AM Musik Pavilion. Then onto Engelberg, Switzerland and a Swiss dinner while being entertained by the Alpine Horns. Cable cars transported them throughout the Alps and then a few more songs a few more photos, a few more good-byes to newfound friends and they were ready to fly home to America.
Robert Knoll plans to go back next year and promises to keep a journal to send back news to the Tri County Record on a regular basis.
These were the highlights of a journey rich with magnificent and simple experiences where our youth internalize the charm and culture of long ago Europe. They spread the stories and songs of America in music while drinking in the past and present of an ancient heritage, maybe their own or your own.