It was a world tour for Bridgewater resident Jennifer Ferris, who took part in a conference and competition through Europe this summer as part of the University of Delaware Chorale.
“The first word that comes to mind when I think of this experience is ‘blessed,’” she said. “I never thought I’d be able to have a chance to do something like this in college, or even in my lifetime.”
For Ferris, a senior history education and music major at the university, it was an amazing experience to be part of, and she believes it has changed her life.
“Having the chance to perform in so many different places for so many different people, you realize the universalness of being human,” she said. “People laugh, people cry, people feel things. From my experience, choral music is a trigger of emotion, that visceral reaction you get from hearing a choir, feeling something, that lets you know you’re alive.”
The Chorale, Ferris said, competed in an international competition in Tolosa, Spain in 2010, and took second place. From there, she said, her director put in an application for the Debrecen competition.
An application was required for the competition, including recording and video of the group from recent years. The team was chosen for category A, which is the best choir.
The trip, Ferris said, was a total of three weeks, beginning with flying into Munich for the trip in Bavaria, where they prepared for the International Society of Music Education conference and the Bela Bartok International Choral Competition.
“While in Germany, we had the opportunity to perform with a community choir from Traunstein, as well as to perform in some beautiful spaces,” she said.
From there, Ferris said, they flew to Thessaloniki, Greece for the conference.
“The University of Delaware Steel Band also performed at the conference, and it was great to spend some time with them while we were there,” she said. “At ISME, we were able to perform for music educators from all over the world. We were one of only two American choirs there.”
“What a rare experience to have such a prestigious performing opportunity be a mere dress rehearsal for an even greater one,” she added.
The next one, Ferris said, was Hungary, where the Chorale spent a few days in Budapest, rehearsing, recording and performing, before they went on to Debrecen for the competition itself.
“The days leading up to the competition were filled with intense rehearsal,” she said. “We were all so engaged, so unified in making music, that the hard work was merely a labor of love. We were pitted against some of the finest choirs in the world, and competition was fierce, but we certainly gave everyone a run for their money.”
Ferris said they were the only American choir at the competition.
The University of Delaware, Ferris said, competed in the large choir division, with three rounds of competition for which they had to prepare three distinct sets of music. She said they started rehearsing some of the music in September 2011, and the competition was in July 2012.
Ferris said they won second place in the semi-finals, and had a high enough overall score to advance to the Grand Prix round, with choirs from three different divisions.
At the end of the competition, Ferris said, the Chorale won second place.
“And we could not be more proud,” she said. “We truly gave it all we had, and that’s all that mattered. What we took away from this trip, and how the 2011-2012 Chorale will always have a special place in our hearts and memories, that’s worth more than a trophy.”
After the competition, Ferris said, the Chorale returned to Germany for a farewell concert, and stopped in Vienna for a day to enjoy the city.
For Ferris, aside from the experience itself, she said she got a sense that music is really what she wants to do with her life. She said she is planning to go to graduate school for history, and thought she would not be able to sing in a top-notch choir again.
“When we performed at a church in Hungary, there was a woman in her nineties that attended the concert,” she said. “We later learned that after working in her garden all day, she walked a kilometer to hear us sing, and a kilometer back by herself. Love of music stays with you, and that was really powerful.”
The trip, Ferris said, was a lot of work overall, but they did have some free time to explore, which was exciting for her as a history major, as she got to see Munich, Budapest, Vienna and Frankfurt.
Among the different locations, Ferris said, she went to Therme Erding, which is a water park in the suburb of Munich, and spent some time at the Sky Bar in Vienna with friends.
"It was also great to meet people from all over the world,” she said. “At the Bela Bartok Competition, I befriended people in the choirs from Indonesia and the Philippines. We also befriended some people in Germany, we still stay in touch via Facebook.”
But most importantly, Ferris said, she got a sense of family from the trip.
“By the end of those three weeks, I felt so close to the 46 other members of Chorale, and I am honored to call them all my friends,” she said. “We’re all super close now. I also gained some amazing memories, probably the fondest of all my memories of my time at the University of Delaware.”
“For that, I am incredibly grateful,” she added. “How many college students, or anyone for that matter, get to say they’ve done something like this?”