O’Fallon resident David Lewis concluded his tour Europe with the Illinois Ambassadors of Music last week. Lewis, a member of the OTHS Band programs for four years, serveed as the Principal Horn for the Illinois Ambassadors of Music band, which was comprised of over 120 students.
Lewis sent updates to the O’Fallon Weekly, sharing his experiences on the road. For the past two weeks, both in print and on OFallonWeekly.com, we have travelled all over from London, to France, to the Materhorn, and now to Germany and Greece.
We are almost done. To say that people aren’t getting on others’ nerves would be a lie, but we’ve spent 13 full days together in Europe and three days in music camp at SIUE. Honestly, I was expecting more drama to arise, but the group has turned into more of a family.
The group left Austria and headed into Germany, and at 11 o’clock, we arrived at the Dachau Concentration Camp, the model camp for the dozens to follow by the end of the War. Dr. Fleming, the choir director and UMSL Professor who resides in O’Fallon, had been to the camp before, so I stuck with her as she guided her own tour. The gate, which reads “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates to “Work will set you free,” is a horrific first impression and reminder of the terrible events that happened not long ago. Once inside, we came upon a vast open plaza, where the prisoners would congregate daily. Pictures show the central area full, which is mind-boggling as walking from one end to the other took minutes. The small barracks rooms were packed full of three-bed-tall bunks designed to hold more than 50 people. Later, each room would house 300. We walked past the foundations of over 30 barracks which had been destroyed before we reached the final horrors, gas chambers (ostensibly never used in Dachau) and the crematoriums, which were truly terrifying. Dr. Fleming described how music played a major role in life at the camp. The Nazis used it as a means of torture, but when a couple musicians were taken captive, they subtly rebelled by writing a march to sing. It turned out to be so catchy that even the guards began to sing along. Dr. Fleming adapted the tune and arranged her own piece of music, which she has performed many times.
On to Rothenburg, a walled Medieval city dating back hundreds of years. That night, my friends and I gathered to hear a local celebrity, the night watchman. His hour-long tour showed us the city, telling both sad and hilarious stories of its history of flourishing times of trade, a downfall due to conquest, and resurgence after World War II. A full day of history, medieval to modern.
Another free day! The Ambassadors had the morning off to enjoy the amazing city of Rothenburg – its shops, restaurants, and museums. The city has a famous Christmas area, packed with museums and stores open year-round. Also, Rothenburg is home to a Medieval Torture Museum, which has hundreds of instruments of torture, punishment, and murder. For anyone who met the law in the old city, they had two options: confess (whether truthful or not) or be tortured to death. After the frightening museum, my group enjoyed European style pizza at a local café and moved on to a visit to a local wood art shop. Here, a husband-wife duo cut wood to various items (cutting boards, decorations, large spoons, etc.) and burned pictures or calligraphy onto the pieces. The woman worked with her coil wood burner to create exquisite designs and patterns, so I decided to buy some things for my family. When she asked for money, I was surprised by how cheap she sold her pieces. A friend bought a giant engraved spoon, which I thought would have at least a 100-dollar price tag, but he only spent the equivalent of $13.57. If ever in Rothenburg, visit the Wood Art shop!
The band gathered for our next event. After the town’s impressive city clock struck two, our performance began. Easily, this performance was the hottest – and the windiest. I struggled to maintain my pitch while playing my horn and holding the music on my stand, while others lost their music to the wind. Our concert received enormous applause, so we played an encore in which all six conductors participated and were recognized. That reminded me how amazing this trip has been and how sad I will be to say goodbye. Nothing compares to the beautiful moments my new friends and I had while playing “Starts and Stripes in the Marktplatz, listening to the crowd, and watching the conductors’ faces. And above us, the American, German, and European flags waved in unity.
After the concert, I returned to the hotel to relax and write before dinner. At night, each coach had created a skit and executed it front of the other coaches. The skits went on for over an hour and a half, and at the conclusion, every person was tired from laughing. It was a great way to conclude the trip, and we all returned to pack.
Many of the other Ambassadors returned home the next day, but I stayed and went on an extention of the tour through Greece.
July 9 -13
My parents and I opted to take the Greece extension on the Ambassadors Tour. Only about ten percent of the 272 members took the excursion, so the trip was more relaxed. On this tour, we visited the Plaka, which is the city’s older district, filled with shops, restaurants, and exciting entertainment. Many shops have exquisitely-crafted chess sets with Greek statues as the pieces. The food along the walk is simply unbelievable, with the olive oils, gyros, and baklava standing out above any others. On foot, we toured the Acropolis Museum, the Acropolis, and the Greek and Roman Agoras to witness amazing sights of the city present and of worlds past. On bus, we saw, among many other things, the all-marble site of the first Olympic Games as we know them today.
Our group spent a day on the Aegean Sea, enjoying a one-day cruise that visited three Greek islands: Hydra, Poros, and Egina. Each island was different, but all were beautiful. The islands, with the iconic white houses cluttering a mountainside, were speckled with tourist shops, ice cream parlors, and cafés. In Egina, Mikel and I swam in the Aegean Sea, tried surprisingly-delicious pistachio butter, and ate in a seaside café.
We spent 2 days flying home – one day to reunite with luggage and instruments in Frankfurt, and one day to fly back over the Atlantic. We battled securities, turbulence, and delays, but we arrived home safely. It is very nice to be home, and I’m glad the trip is over (I definitely missed my friends here in O’Fallon), but I wouldn’t exchange my time on this trip for anything. To anyone who gets a chance to travel with Ambassadors, or to travel Europe, I definitely recommend taking it. The peoples, cultures, and cities are so unusual and unique that to miss the opportunity to experience them would be wrong. The time flew by, and I cannot remember every detail, but I have developed hundreds of memories, experiences, and friends. The trip is just as much a journey to grow myself as it was to tour Europe. I am a more traveled person, I am a more knowledgeable person, and I am a better person.
To end my story, I would like to thank Dr. Gustafson-Hinds, Mr. Harris, and the rest of the amazing O’Fallon Band staff who made this trip possible, and who made me the musician, performer, and person I am today. I thank Dr. Bell, Mr. Haney, Mrs. Knight, and the rest of the Ambassador staff who made the trip truly remarkable. And, I would like to thank my parents, who paid for my trip and offered me the experience of a lifetime.