Annual fall orchestra tour concludes well

As the majority of students packed for an all-too-short fall break, the St. Olaf Orchestra prepared for a week of everything but relaxation. Friday, Oct. 12 signaled the beginning of the ensemble’s annual fall tour. More than a hundred Oles embarked on a whirlwind trip across the country to perform at eight venues before returning home on Oct. 21 for the final home concert.

While we here on the Hill have been struggling to reinvest ourselves in classes and studying, the St. Olaf Orchestra has been playing their hearts out in theaters, high schools and colleges in Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Wisconsin. Having a two-hour long performance every night for eight nights in a row is in itself an impressive feat, but the work that went on behind the scenes is perhaps the most definitive proof of Ole Orchestra’s passionate commitment to its music.

“We travel on the bus for five to seven hours a day, rehearse a bit at our concert venue, have dinner, give a concert, sleep and repeat,” Sally Gildehaus ’14 said. “It’s crazy, but so worth it.”

The long bus rides from state to state definitely tested the instrumentalists’ mettle at times, but it was also part of the unforgettable experience of being on tour with one of St. Olaf’s finest music ensembles.

Sophia Butler ’15, a new member to the orchestra this year, described the trip as a wonderful experience. “I have met so many fabulous people and gotten so close to the community we create as an ensemble,” she said. “Between the hours spent on the bus every day and homestays in towns, I have had so many cool conversations and shared a lot of unforgettable moments on this tour.”

Gildehaus agreed. “I’m learning all the awesome, funky traditions the orchies hold dear; it’s been quite the learning experience coming together as a group. The support has been amazing.”

Overnight homestays and dinners in exciting places like Hershey, Pennsylvania – the chocolate capital of America – brought the music ensemble together in more ways than one, while each night’s performance solidified new, closer friendships through the unforgettable experience of creating awe-inspiring music together.

“Every single one of our performances this week has gotten tighter and more expressive just as we have become a tighter community learning about each other,” Butler said.

This year’s fall tour repertoire centered on dance, ranging from fiercely romantic ballets to sultry Mexican folk dances, with works from nations as far-flung as Finland and the Czech Republic in between.

Butler summed up the program as a musically diverse and distinctive experience. “We don’t have one central piece really, but many eclectic orchestral dances which give us plenty of opportunity to move with each other on the stage and revel in fun moments within each piece.”

Performing the same pieces each night presented its own unique trials, but the orchestra’s high-caliber musicians were always up to the challenge. Despite not being in a classroom, Isaac Behrens ’14 found a wealth of learning experiences while on the road.

“I’ve particularly loved orchestra tour because of the kind of learning that’s demanded if we are to grow over the course of the trip. As the week goes on, it gets more difficult to keep the music fresh; even when I have a passage down cold, I have to figure out how to make myself concentrate even more,” Behrens said.

“Tour is hard, but investing in the ensemble and building so many friendships makes it rank as one of the best weeks I’ve ever had as an Ole. It’s been a blast,” he added.

Fall tour traditionally ends with a home concert in Skoglund Auditorium, where the musicians’ friends and family welcome the instrumentalists home and get to hear the culminated effort of the past week’s rehearsals, concerts and shared experiences. The result is an awe-inspiring performance bursting with heart that only a close-knit group can create. As Gildehaus explains, “Tour has a magical way of doing that.”