As a tradition, every three years the AU Chorale takes a trip to Nordic countries in Northern Europe. This past May, about 30 students, including director Dr. Richard Sowers and accompanist Chrislyn Reed, traveled to Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, performing in many historic churches and collaborating with European musicians.
Sowers has connections to many European churches and leads each trip different from the last. The finale of the tour, however, is always the same, as the group performs a farewell concert in Finland.
The Chorale hosted seven public concerts and spent the rest of their time sightseeing, traveling and engaging in the cultures they were surrounded by.
“In addition to meeting wonderful and generous people in Scandinavia, we had lots of free time to explore cities on our own and participate in cultural group activities such as visiting an opera house, visiting the house of a famous composer, experiencing authentic Norwegian food and going to historic museums,” said senior Chorale member Kayla Brandt.
The trip provided many opportunities for students to become more involved in the surrounding cultures and connect first-handedly to the countries by engaging in many activities—the opportunities presented were appreciated by Chorale members.
Amelia Freeman, a senior on the trip, said that the Norwegian fjords “were definitely a group favorite. They were stunning and felt unreal, like we were in the middle of a movie set. I particularly enjoyed walking through all the old cities and visiting as many palaces as I could. If you are ever in Sweden, go take a tour of the Royal Palace in Stockholm. I highly recommend it.”
Brandt also connected to the wondrous natural beauty: “I saw some of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen. Looking around at the fjords, I realized how small we were and how beautiful nature can be. Also, when we were in Finland, the group got to experience using saunas, which is a huge social tradition in Finland. Sweating together in a room so hot you thought you would die was definitely a bonding experience.”
Though the Chorale went on the trip in order to host concerts, the extra journeys that took place while in Europe stood out even more to most members.
“Aside from the churches, I learned to fall in love with nature over this tour,” said Isaac Derkach. “Norway has some of the most breathtaking scenery on this planet.”
There were some memorable moments, though, that some members appreciated about the performances themselves.
“One of my personal favorite memories was singing a piece called Auringon Nouestessa,” said senior Kathryn Hochstetler. “The piece is an absolutely beautiful work by a Finnish composer named Toivo Kuula and is sung in Finnish. Our group had the opportunity to sing the piece on the exact 100th anniversary of the composer’s death in a beautiful, ancient church in Finland. It was a surreal experience.”
Sowers also appreciated the musical aspect of the trip. “One of my personal favorite memories was getting to stand in front of this choir and take in their beautiful music for every single concert. The audiences were deeply touched by our concerts,” he said.
The Christian message within the concerts also affected some members. “It was so moving to see the Lord touching people’s hearts through our music,” said Freeman. “That is the main reason we go on tours like this—to minister to others through music—and the fact that we were achieving that goal on the other side of the world was very humbling.”
The mission side of this trip was encouraging to Derkach as well.
“We did have a few missions and goals to keep in mind. Of course, we were going to sing in some churches and share our music with the European public, but we were also going to be ambassadors of AU,” he said. “We were going to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention with our program. Above all, we were going to share the love of God and the creativity of God with the people of Scandinavia. To give is the greatest gift, and that was precisely what we were going to do.”