By Eileen Persike
At this time next month, six Rhinelander High School students will be in Rothenburg, Germany, performing, touring, dining, making lasting friendships and experiencing culture they may have only imagined. Show Choir members Faith Bartelt, Andrew Padgett, Seth Bowen, Erin Bloom and Anthony Klabunde and bass clarinet player Brianna Perry were nominated by their music teachers to be part of the Wisconsin Ambassadors of Music – a band and chorus program consisting of hundreds of high school musicians from around the state.
The choir and band will each perform in London, Paris, Switzerland, Austria and Venice before their final destination in Germany.
One of the biggest surprises for the students once the WAM got together as a group was performing with five or six times more musicians than in Rhinelander.
“We’re all used to singing in small groups,” said Anthony Klabunde. “It was really, really cool to sing in a large group.”
“Typically my (bass) section is really small,” Andrew Padgett said. “We can sing well, but it’s a small section and when we came together and I saw there were 15-20 people who could sing in my range, and sing really well – it was exciting.”
As the only bass clarinet player in the RHS band, Brianna Perry agreed. “There were, like, six other bass clarinets and it was nice to play in a group – and have an actual section!”
Band director Connie Piasecki said she looks to nominate great musicians who are confident, outgoing and dependable. Having gone on the trip a couple of years ago helps her select the right students.
“I know how quickly the students need to prepare their music, how they need to be very responsible navigating through several countries and how they will be spending lots of time with students they’ve never met,” Piasecki explained. “It’s an incredible trip especially if the students get out of their comfort zone and meet other people in their sections and groups.”
“They threw maybe 17 pieces of music at us at our one group rehearsal, but because of the level of musicianship that’s there, you can handle it as a group,” Choir member Faith Bartelt added. “To get to be part of this with people I know is just a really awesome opportunity for all of us.”
While in Europe, opportunities for exploring seem almost limitless; a plus for self-proclaimed “Harry Potter nerd,” Erin Bloom.
“It was on a list of things we could do — see where some of Harry Potter was filmed, and I’m excited for the opportunity to see that,” she noted. “I’ve been on the trips with the History classes and we didn’t have as many options as we will have now.” And as fun as that was, Bloom added, they all went to the same restaurants and ate the same food, and followed a more strict itinerary.
It’s the food that Padgett is most looking forward to exploring.
“Given that we are travelling in seven different countries, I am very excited to try the different foods,” he admitted. “We will have more freedom than I have been awarded before on other trips, so we have the opportunity to eat where we want to and eat what we want to eat.”
“We’re going to a concentration camp in Germany,” Seth Bowen added. “I’m really excited to see everything. It’s going to be awesome.”
In London alone, Bartelt said there are more than a dozen activities to choose from, like touring the city or Westminster Abbey, or attending Phantom of the Opera.
“There are so many different things we want to do when we are there,” she said. “So it’s a group experience but it’s also individualized. It’s very unique.”
Travel benefits everyone, according to band director Piasecki, but, she said, it’s especially beneficial when these students are able to combine travel and musical performances.
“They will be greeted by many audiences throughout the trip that they’re not able to speak to due to the language barrier but will be able to communicate through the universal language of music. They will have a new appreciation for the power of music, plus they will be working under great directors and staff. They will all come back stronger musicians as a result.”
She would have no argument from Erin Bloom. “I get to do what I love – I get to sing and I get to explore. I’m really excited.”