MOWEAQUA – Music is a universal language. A beat is a beat; a tune is a tune; a song is a song. Approximately 250 young musicians from Illinois high schools had the opportunity to learn this firsthand with the Illinois Ambassadors of Music program.
Central A&M high school students, Angelina Ariazi and Taylor Vidmar, were among the teens who traveled for 16 days through Europe performing and taking in the culture. The trip began June 24 with the students, directors and teachers returning on July 9.
“Everyone on this trip really loves music,” Taylor said. “It is the greatest experience I’ve had so far.”
Taylor traveled with the choir performing in historic locations such as the Basilica of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy and London’s Wesley Chapel. Often the choir would sing with the student orchestra, but many times they sang a cappella.
Taylor said that each of the countries she visited left an impression, but her special memories were made meeting students from other parts of the world. “The music connected all of us,” Taylor said.
The band, orchestra and choir also found a connection to their audiences. The groups spent approximately three days in each country. During a few of the visits, the locals would welcome the musicians with traditional treats. While she played her piccolo to large audiences, Angelina found their excitement the most rewarding. “It was eye-opening,” she said. “It makes you appreciate what you have.”
The Ambassadors of Music is a touring company offering high school groups from around the country opportunities to bring their music to Europe. A different group from Illinois will take part in the tour every two years. It takes that long to prepare for the trip, for the directors and the students.
High school music directors nominate their top students more than a year in advance. The students decide if they will go after receiving the trip requirements. The size of the tour, both in cost and geography, eliminates many qualified musicians. The price tag is approximately $6,000, which includes air fare, meals, hotels and admission to tourist destinations. The students also travel around 1,500 miles across Europe. “On your own, it would far exceed $6,000,” said Central A&M band director Patrick Ward.
Taylor and Angelina were nominated by their music teachers, Ward and choir director Jacob Elam. According to Ward, the students play challenging music. “These are our top kids,” he said. “They want good representation throughout the state.”
The musicians are required to attend a three-day rehearsal at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville lead by Dr. John Bell, professor of music and director of bands. The camp turned out to be a struggle for many. “We rehearsed so much, it was exhausting,” Taylor said. “But when you put enough energy in perfecting it, it was so much more rewarding to see our hard work.”
Like many who have traveled to beautiful locations, members of the Illinois Ambassadors of Music will remember the scenery, people and maybe the music. The impact of their two weeks in Europe goes far beyond what they saw.
Angelina hopes to travel to Europe again before she enters college in two years to study music. “I just want to make music and get others excited,” she said. “And this was a really cool trip for people like me.”