“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” Seneca
Lou De La Rosa, the Director of Choral and Vocal Studies at WVC, and the Chair of the Department of Music and Dance in WVC’ s Cilker School of Art and Design, collaborated with Jeffrey Benson, the Director of Choral Activities at San José State University Choraliers, and with Perform International, to design and lead an educational tour of Finland, Estonia, and Latvia that allowed members of the WVC Chamber Singers and the SJSU Choraliers to perform and immerse themselves in the music, histories, and cultures of each country. The performing tour lasted from 6 to 17 June.
Five of Mr. De La Rosa’s students received partial scholarships from WVC’s Study Abroad Program in order to participate in this performing tour of Finland and some of the Baltic States: Elizabeth Laus, Anna Lewandowski, Wayne Morgan, Daniel Rios, and Savannah Swan.
Here is a Perform International video summarizing the experience.
The ten-night performance tour included rehearsals and concerts in Helsinki, Finland, and evening concerts in Tartu and Tallinn, Estonia. Spotlight performances allowed each group to present a sample of their own program. A Gala Concert in the Estonian Concert Hall brought all participating choirs together to sing a joint choir program with a professional orchestra under the direction of conductor Dr. Jeffrey Benson.
The tour also included a community service project; students volunteered at the Haiba Children’s Home, an orphanage in Tallinn, Estonia.
In Estonia, choristers had the opportunity to learn about the history and significance of music in Estonia and to deepen their understanding of the “Singing Revolution,” when between 1987 and 1991 Estonians protested decades of Soviet occupation–by singing non-violently but defiantly–until they earned their independence.
Here is a Perform International video recording of the students’ performance at The Church of the Rock in Helsinki, Finland.
The Itinerary Prepared by Perform International
DAY 1 – Wednesday, June 6, 2018 – DEPARTURE USA
The journey to Europe begins by boarding an international flight to Helsinki, Finland. Meals and snacks will be served on the plane.
DAY 2 – Thursday, June 7, 2018 – ARRIVAL HELSINKI
On arrival in Helsinki, you will meet with your Tour Manager and coach and enjoy a panoramic city tour on the way to your hotel. Dinner and overnight in Helsinki.
DAY 3 – Friday, June 8, 2018 – HELSINKI
Enjoy sightseeing in Helsinki this morning. The afternoon will be at leisure. In the evening, you will perform a concert at Temppeliaukio Church or The Church of the Rock. Excavated directly into solid rock, the Temppeliaukio church is situated in the heart of Helsinki, at the end of Fredrikinkatu. The church hall is covered with a dome, lined with copper and supported on the rock walls by reinforced concrete beams. Dinner and overnight in Helsinki.
DAY 4 – Saturday, June 9, 2018 – HELSINKI / TARTU
Today take the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Upon arrival you will continue to Tartu for dinner and overnight.
DAY 5 – Sunday, June 10, 2018 – TARTU
This morning you will participate in a Church service in Tartu. Enjoy some afternoon sightseeing. As you explore this university town, known as the birthplace and home of the Estonian Song Festival, you might see the Old City, Town Hall Square, the Toy Museum and Tartu University’s Botanical Garden. Tartu University is the oldest university in Estonia. In the evening you will perform a concert. Overnight in Tartu.
DAY 6 – Monday, June 11, 2018 – TARTU / RIGA
Transfer today to Riga. In the afternoon enjoy some sightseeing including the Song Festival grounds and the Central Market. You will soon realize why Riga is the world capital of Art Nouveau as you walk along Alberta Street admiring the architecture. A visit to the Art Nouveau Museum would give a glimpse into the furnishings of a 20th century Riga architect’s apartment. The Mežaparks area is home to the vast open air stage that every four years becomes a venue for the Song Festival, one of the major events in Riga’s cultural life. Dinner and overnight Riga.
DAY 7 – Tuesday, June 12, 2018 – RIGA
Enjoy this free day to explore Riga on your own. Dinner and overnight Riga.
DAY 8 – Wednesday, June 13, 2018 – RIGA / TALLINN
Transfer today from Riga to Tallinn, Estonia, with a stop en route in Parnu. This seaside resort city sits on the Gulf of Livonia in the Baltic Sea. It is filled with historic architecture and is a favorite summer destination for the Baltics. Dinner in Tallinn will be the beginning of the Perform International Baltic Festival. Overnight in Tallinn.
DAY 9 – Thursday, June 14, 2018 – TALLINN
This morning there will be a rehearsal for all choirs participating in the Festival. In the afternoon take a sightseeing tour of Tallinn. Explore the old town with its cobble stone streets past beautifully restored ancient buildings. Your tour will include the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds, the birthplace of Estonia’s Singing Revolution in 1988. The Lauluväljak is made of both a gigantic outdoor arena and a modern, indoor concert hall. After dinner all Festival choirs will have rehearsals. Overnight in Tallinn.
THE SINGING REVOLUTION & ESTONIA: In the Baltics singing is cultural and historical. Choral music was vital in establishing a sense of national identity during the many years of occupation. During the tragic times of Soviet rule their culture, heritage and even battle for independence were expressed through choral singing. The history of the Baltic Nation of Estonia is a story set to song. When independence was finally achieved in 1991 mass singing festivals became the focus of national pride and a cultural celebration of their new freedom. Every 5 years song festivals still draw audiences of tens of thousands.
DAY 10 – Friday, June 15, 2018 – TALLINN
Following breakfast there will be a sound check at the venue hosting this evening’s concert. In the afternoon festival participants will perform a community service project. In the evening there will be Spotlight Concert for all Festival choirs. The spotlight concert will be an opportunity for each participating choir to present their own short program (if they choose). Dinner and overnight in Tallinn.
DAY 11 – Saturday, June 16, 2018 – TALLINN
This morning will be at leisure. In the afternoon there will be a dress rehearsal for all choirs. The Evening Gala Concert with orchestra will be followed by dinner and overnight in Tallinn.
Estonia’s UNESCO world heritage capital city Tallinn is rich with cultural and architectural diversity. This charming city fuses modern with medieval with a fairytale town square along with a mix of church spires, glass skyscrapers, baroque palaces and buzzing sidewalk cafes.
DAY 12 – Sunday, June 17, 2018 – DEPARTURE TO USA
The festival ended this morning. Students transferred to the airport in Tallinn to return to the USA.
This Perform International video describes the students’ volunteer project at the Haiba Children’s Home orphanage in Tallinn, Estonia where they shared music and time with the children, helped them to garden, clean and complete yard work, played basketball together, and sang American and Estonian songs together.
In this Perform International video the students talk about their experiences.
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Laus: This trip taught me a lot, not just about the countries we visited or the cultural differences, but also about myself. Were went with people we didn’t know, to a different place with people who spoke a different language than our own, yet by the end of the trip everyone knew everyone and we were going out and having a good time. My experience on this trip will always have a special place in my heart.
It is always fascinating to learn about life outside of our own bubble. When we experience the world from a different point of view, we learn to put our problems in perspective. With all the political turmoil and the blatant lack of basic human rights for some here in the States, it was refreshing to see thriving countries when they just recently got their independence. It gave me some hope that maybe if we can come together and create a mindset where we are here for each other–and not to make enemies because of deep rooted prejudices–the United States could be a cooperative nation. We could work together to better create a welcoming environment out of love and peace.
The lack of homeless people on the streets, clean streets, and universal healthcare in Finland and Estonia are just some of the few things that made this trip great. While no country is perfect (they still had some very obvious homophobic tendencies and definitely you don’t see many people of color there), they were welcoming and kind. Our tour guide was amazing and made the trip outstanding even while on a bus. We got to also do a bit of community service at an orphanage where we helped the children with chores. And after that, we all sang and danced together.
I think that was what really got to me–the fact that the arts are ingrained in their lives and considered a priority. Music specifically is not taken as seriously back home but for the people of Estonia it is a part of their culture and part of their lives. I have to be honest, I was envious. It would be nice if the United States appreciated music more–what with all the beneficial factors of music. If Estonia’s relationship with music is out of love and coming together, I don’t see why we can’t have that same mindset here in the States.
Our study abroad trip taught me a lot about myself–from the little things like learning what foods I don’t like, to learning about who I am as an individual. I learned to be able to stand up for myself and not to let people get to me. Understandably, we were in close quarters with people we didn’t know, so disagreements were bound to happen. But it taught me to be true to myself and to look from a different perspective when problems did arise.
This trip helped me to make sure to stop taking the things I love for granted, and to be true to myself: music is so important to me, and I can’t just let it pass me by. This trip re-energized my love and motivation for my music education. I learned how to be more independent.
A music career is not an easy one, as it is extremely competitive and a race to the finish line. I used to think maybe it wasn’t for me but I found that no matter who tries to break me down, and whatever obstacles come my way, I am confident that I can get through it. The experience gave me a new start, a new chapter in the life of Liz.
Savannah Swan: Thank you West Valley College, San Jose State University and Perform International for encouraging me to go on the 2018 Finland, Estonia and Latvia performing tour. I didn’t know if I truly wanted to go this year but the encouragement from teachers and close friends made me change my mind last minute and I’m glad that I did.
While this performing tour, like any other, had bumps in the road (like long layovers in airports and some people needing too much downtime in order to be able to be social), it gave us time to branch out, to grow as individuals, and to explore new environments. All of that helped us to understand how we are all different but connected in this world.
Touring with the West Valley and SJSU choirs helped me make memories that will last a lifetime. We were able to be with people we know and worked with people we would like to get to know better. When traveling in a group like this, we knew that we were making something beautiful with others who feel the same way. More than that, being able to share the love of music from other countries, and to share singing songs with a different public, is eye opening.
When in Finland, we saw people who were driven and motivated to get what needed to be done, done! The people seem to be cared for and listened to by their government, and they don’t seem to take even small things for granted.
In Estonia I learned about their deep-rooted history of turmoil and struggle which proved to create powerful people and very moving music.
Similarly, in Latvia I saw that the people experienced hardships but that they remained strong and full of hope for their country. Across all three countries, we saw the respect they have for the earth, by not littering nearly as much as we do in parts of the United States, and they care for their poor and homeless people. It seemed to me that what they call an “extreme problem” in the few large cities that we visited is “normal” in most cities in the United States.
Even though I did not get to experience all the food because of my allergies, my peers on this performing tour said that it was absolutely wonderful. The people we bumped into along the way in this trip were inviting, hospitable and happy to share. Even just a sliver of the country (like we saw in Latvia), anything from scenery to architecture, showed us a way of life that is different than what we know or anticipated. This performing tour opened our eyes and hearts to travel, to meeting more exciting people, and to creating more music.
If you are able to participate in an international performing tour like this one, I say do it. The people you travel with may change, the culture and society may be different than yours–but that’s the beauty of this kind of travel! When you travel in a group, you may not know what’s to come, but you do know that there is a group to support you. In safe situations like these, the personal growth that you can achieve is unimaginable. Along with that, the “norms” that can be shattered–the stereotypes that can be dispelled–are surprising.
Because of my experience on this performing tour, I know that I will be traveling back to those countries as soon as I have the funds. I know that I want to get even more serious with my music career because of SJSU and West Valley. I know that I’m capable to do those two things because of this trip and because I took the chance to go for it. I can’t thank all the organizers WVC Study Abroad Program enough for the support I have been given and the people I was lucky enough to meet on this journey.
Anna Lewandowski: It has been a few weeks now since I’ve gotten back from the West Valley College/SJSU choral tour of Finland, Estonia, and Latvia, and I am still reeling from the experience. Going abroad is always such an enriching thing to do, but nothing will quite compare with this trip. From the moment we stepped into the airport to the moment I stepped back into my house a week and a half later, this trip was a nonstop whirlwind of exciting events. Not only did we have the opportunity to explore the world and the cultures of other countries, but we also had an opportunity to create and perform beautiful music with and for the people of Finland, Estonia, and Latvia–an opportunity that I will never take for granted. Music is a soul language that everyone on the planet can speak, and we got to speak it together, regardless of whether or not we could communicate otherwise.
The highlight of this trip for me personally was when we were in Estonia for the final few days, and we were performing our last concert before performing Mozart’s Requiem. I had a solo in our lineup, and it was also the opening song for our set. I performed it as usual. It went smoothly. We finished up our set and went on with the concert. After we had concluded, a very small, elderly Estonian woman approached me, holding out her hands. Knowing she probably couldn’t speak much English, I simply held her hands and smiled at her to communicate my thanks. Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked at me and simply said, “Beautiful.” She proceeded to gesture to her eyeballs, indicating tears. “Tears. I love you. Thank you.” She then gently rested her forehead on my hands, I rested my forehead against the top of her head, and we sat there like that for a few moments before she separated, patted and squeezed my hand, smiled, and walked away. I will probably never see that woman again, but that moment is one that I will never forget and will cherish forever. The appreciation that that woman and the people of the Baltics have for music is unparalleled–something that I could only hope to experience here in America.
This trip really opened my eyes to the way that other cultures absorb performance, and that was really what interested me the most about it. I didn’t do much touring or exploring on my free time, but I felt like I learned about and began to understand the cultures of each country simply by the people’s appreciation of our performances. The people of the Baltics really listened to and enjoyed every single piece we performed, from the simpler melodies to the more complex pieces. When we performed Mozart’s Requiem, we did three encores. They couldn’t get enough of our music, or of music in general. It was so incredible to feel choral music being truly appreciated by the masses as it should be, and this trip has honestly shaped a part of my growth as a musician. I am incredibly honored to have been rewarded this opportunity, and it is not one that I will soon be forgetting.
Daniel Rios: In April of 2018, I was awarded a $2,500 scholarship from the Study Abroad Program at West Valley College. This scholarship allowed me to embark on one of the most memorable journeys I’ve had in my life thus far. The West Valley College Chamber Singers went on a performance tour of Finland, Latvia and Estonia. This was the first time I had ever been overseas. It was also the first time I was not familiar with the native language. I was way out of my comfort zone; nothing was familiar. Every sign was illegible; every face felt foreign. Around every corner there was some strangely shaped building and some strange sounding birds flying overhead.
At first I was very uncomfortable, but after a day or two it became very exciting. I got to step into so many beautiful cathedrals, barter in bustling open-air markets, and see the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen at 11:00 PM. I also had the best latte I’ve ever had in my life. I plan on going back specifically for that latte. This trip also gave me the opportunity to spend time with a bunch of other singers. There were a lot of spontaneous performances in restaurants, as well as planned performances in some of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. The best part about this trip was that I got to spend it with my older sister Ariel, who’s also in the choir. I was so fortunate to have experienced such beautiful places with someone I love so much. I am so very grateful to the Study Abroad Program for giving me this opportunity. It means the world to me.