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Maybe it was the way Jeremy Duby waved his baton in the air, making figure eights, tilting his head this way and that like there was a crick in his neck. Maybe it was the way the second song’s electric eel wave of motion transferred through Johann De Meij’s “Aquarium, Op. 5” piece, reeling in the audience slowly. Or, maybe it was the way Levi Armstrong ’15 serenaded those attending the 100-minute event with his alto saxophone playing, creating a standing ovation.

Whatever way you look at the event, the Olivet College Wind Ensemble’s 11-song “Winter Gala,” held Feb. 16 at the Olivet Congregational Church, reinvigorated my faith in the humanities, in the arts, in travel.

The ensemble demonstrated wind-band repertoire and stories featuring an encore performance of the students’ concert at the American Cathedral in Paris.

During the eight-day trip – six days in France and two days by transit – 40 Olivet College music students embarked on the musical journey of a lifetime. The group was scouted and selected from an exclusive list by Youth Music of the World to take part in the spectacular New Year’s Day Parade on France’s most famous boulevard, Champs-Élysées.

“Inevitably, when you come back from a trip, the question everyone asks, ‘what was the best part?’” Duby, director of bands, told the audience. “I hate that question because there are so many great things that happened on the trip. In this time… I don’t have one answer; I have two:  so the one answer I have is my favorite part about this trip is watching these young magicians, young people, take it over and watch them change right before my eyes. World travel is such an important thing because it opens our eyes to all worldly events, whether it’d be politics, whether it’d be literature, philosophy, any of those things. It gives us a chance to understand life in a different perspective from someone else’s point of view.

“The second thing about the best part of the trip is to watch these students, who think they are students, become musicians in the truest facet of the word.”

Students and faculty shared testimonies of the trip during intermission. From walking where Napoleon led to gawking at the medieval structures, Olivetians alike gave their takes. A common memory from the Paris trip was the experience of viewing the architecture of the more than 800-year-old Notre Dame Cathedral.

“One moment that truly stands out in my memory happens to be around dusk on the eve of the new year,” Armstrong said in his Paris testimony. “Outside of the western facade of Notre Dame, a group of us were walking across the closest bridge leading across the Seine River when the church’s bell collection started to toll. The sound of those massive bells chiming knocked the strength out of my knees, took my breath away, and resonated with the bottom of my soul. Their collective tone is saturated with color, and when they all ring you can feel the harmony between them. In that moment, I experienced an awe-inspiring peace that nourished my entire being beyond comparison. This fond memory fills me with a bittersweet yearning for another trip to Paris.”

Often, money intrudes blue-moon experiences. At Olivet, there are opportunities to travel to European countries, Caribbean islands, and isolated cities through Intensive Learning Term trips and community service trips.

This was Plato’s cave, and the students were breaking through the tides of inexperience. For eight days, a new world was opened for many of these first-time travelers.

“My time in Paris was nothing short of fantastic,” wrote bass clarinet player Carla Broggi in her testimony. “The opportunity to go as part of a guided group afforded us the ability to experience more of the attractions in Paris and the surrounding areas. My favorite day was performing in the American Cathedral after a tour and dinner in the city. The group came together and played their hearts out after not having practiced together for weeks and while adjusting to jet lag. We sounded amazing. Levi crushed the Fantasia piece and Taylor (Thorn) made the crowd cheer with her vocal solo. It was an honor to perform with such amazing students and faculty. The OC experience is just that… An experience of a lifetime. From treating students to new foods and drinks to getting lost in a castle, I will remember this trip for the rest of my life.”

There were six support travelers: Laura Barlond-Maas, associate professor of English and director of writing programs; Karen Chaney, dean of faculty; Steven M. Corey, president; Maria Davis, provost and dean of the college; Sue Topping ‘77; and band supporter Christine Yared.

Learn more about this trip, or the Music Program at Olivet College.

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