Music is an international language. So, when Millikin University Director of Choral Activities Dr. Brad Holmes was deciding where the Millikin University Choir should tour overseas, he knew the world was his oyster.
Every three years, Dr. Holmes leads the Millikin University Choir on a tour overseas to perform on various international stages. In May, the University Choir toured three European countries east of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
"We went into countries where choral music is loved," said Dr. Holmes. "This area has become the center of the choral world. Many American choirs are performing music from this part of the world."
Performing six concerts, the Choir impressed many audiences while enjoying the cultural sites of Northern Europe.
"There were some cultural dynamic differences," said Emily Knezz, a senior music major from Pleasant Prairie, Wis. "But the appreciation from the audiences during the performances was so great."
The 45-member Millikin Choir began the tour on May 22 with an afternoon performance at the Santariskes Hospital in Vilnius, Lithuania, a teaching hospital of the Vilnius University Faculty of Medicine. Following their performance at the hospital, the Choir held a shared performance on May 23 at St. Catherine's Church in Vilnius with the Mixed Choir of Mykolas Riomeris University.
"It was amazing to be able to perform in places such as castles and baroque churches," said Mike Claver, a senior music education major from Fox Lake, Ill. "We were able to connect to the audiences and erase any language barriers just by being able to share our music."
On May 24, the Millikin Choir traveled to Riga, the capital city of Latvia, where the group held a shared performance at St. Peter's Church with the Mixed Choir of Emīls Dārziņš. The Millikin Choir also performed during a Sunday Mass on May 25 at the Riga Dome Cathedral. The Riga Cathedral is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Latvia.
Dr. Holmes added, "Singing is so central to their culture, and in every single town there are festival grounds where people meet to sing. It's very interesting to see how music brings everyone together."
When asked about performing in different venues overseas, Emily Knezz said, "Each space is so different especially in the cathedrals and the castles – it stretched us both musically and mentally. I was amazed by how we came together for what we needed to do in each space from a performance perspective."
For the last stop on the tour, the Millikin Choir traveled to Tallinn, the capital and the largest city of Estonia, located in the northeast corner of the country. After touring the city, the Millikin Choir performed on May 27 at the Cathedral of Haapsalu, a landmark developed in the 13th century. The Choir's final concert of the tour was a shared performance on May 28 at St. John's Church with the Mixed Chamber Choir of Tallinn University.
"The students did very well on the tour, and I think they surprised a lot of people," said Dr. Holmes. "It was more than just good notes, the choir sang with a lot of persona."
The international tour was one of many reasons why Mike Claver enjoys the Performance Learning aspect of Millikin's School of Music. "Through the choir and through studying for my major, I've had so much on-site experience that I will be prepared to go into a future position with the knowledge and the confidence to know what to do. This trip is the culmination of that method – we take what we learn at Millikin and not only give it to domestic audiences, but share it across the world."
When asked about a return trip to Northern Europe, Dr. Holmes said, "I'm always trying to go to a new place and learn something new, but I think we would love to go back to these places."
Victoria Vargas, a senior music education major from New Lenox, Ill., added, "In the end, I felt this tour was for the people we performed for because they got so much out of it. It was truly life changing to have that kind of an impact on a room full of people. We always had audience members, which was amazing to me."
The flagship of the Millikin choral fleet, the University Choir, in recent years, has also toured internationally to Ireland, Scotland, England, China, Taiwan, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. The Millikin University Choir has gained national recognition, due in part to six invitations to perform at national and regional conferences of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA). With more than 300 singers, the Millikin choral program includes four traditional choirs led by a nationally recognized staff of conductors. For more information on the Millikin choral program, visit millikin.edu/music