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Delaware First: Empowering growth and success

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Transformational support ensures the members of the UD Chorale have enriching experiences

University of Delaware Chorale sing on the steps of a building

​​​​​

​The UD Chorale performs in Croatia during the summer of 2022.​​

Colorful centuries-old buildings and fishing boats that line the seaport served as the romantic backdrop as the swell of voices singing in harmony rose above the twisting cobblestone streets. A crowd started to gather as passers-by stopped their daily life for just a moment to take in the sound of the University of Delaware Chorale on the streets of Rovinj, Croatia.

The magical scene was almost not possible for some of the participants, but a gift from dedicated School of Music supporters Claudia and Richard Fischer ensured all 90 musicians — 45 the first week and 45 the second week — were able to be part of the transformational trip.

“To some extent, everyone was subsidized in some way by the support from the Fischers — some needed more help than others, but no one had to stay home because of funding,” said Paul Head, Unidel Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies and Schola Cantorum (Symphonic Choir), and organizer of the chorale international trips. “In the past, Claudia and Rich came on five out of our six chorale trips and saw firsthand the impact the travel had on the student experiences — meeting and living like locals, living the culture but all through music and returning with lasting connections. They wanted to sponsor students to make sure all that wanted to be part of the experience could be.”

The Fischers, who both are former University employees, have been “helped along the way by individuals who made a difference” in their lives and so they always knew they wanted to “pay it forward.” With Claudia’s years of participating in the Schola Cantorum and Rich’s trumpet playing in his brass band, music was the natural fit for their giving. They created the Richard and Claudia Fischer Choral Enrichment Fund to support the choral studies program with the specific intention of enriching the choral music experience for students in the program.

“We feel that music is so important and is a way to connect people and bring beauty into the world,” Claudia said. “Traveling in an immersive way like this makes a huge difference for a person’s view of the world. If you have the opportunity to travel to see people throughout the world, you see how much more alike we are than not and we’re a better world for it. We want the students to have the richest educational experience, so we are happy to help provide that opportunity for them.”​

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Cultural immersion

The Croatia experience immersed UD chorale students and alumni in the culture of the local community. For many of the participants, it was their first time abroad. Sarah Wojcik, who graduated from UD in 2021, is working toward a master’s degree, serving as a graduate assistant and is a chorale member. She had never experienced an international trip and would not have been able to attend without the support from the Fischers.

“I don’t think there are enough words to describe the absolutely monumental and visceral impact this entire experience had on my life, except to say that I’ve genuinely felt my entire world shift on its axis,” Wojcik said. "From beginning to end, that trip was a huge, beautiful, technicolor whirlwind — I had never seen water as blue as the water in Rovinj. I had never tried tiramisu so rich, and I had never before walked into a building built before the 17th century and simply felt the age and history and the stories that building had to tell. You suddenly become completely aware of the scope of the world. And there’s no true understanding of that until you simply do it.”

One of the most memorable experiences for Wojcik was conducting an impromptu concert on the streets.

“Music is deeply social and emotional,” Wojcik said. “And, for me, sharing that music with the people in Croatia during our street concerts was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. People gathered around us and watched intently while we were singing on the streets of Rovinj. Children danced and adults beamed and clapped. Getting such instant feedback, made me realize that, even for an instant, our music brought spontaneous joy to people who were just walking down the street at the right moment.”

Thomas Maloney is a first-generation UD student and 2022 graduate who wouldn’t have been able to experience Croatia without support. His time abroad with other University alumni and students helped him see music differently.

“Going to a place like Croatia enriches your academics by pulling education together with experiences in a place where music is different or developed differently than in the U.S.,” Maloney said. “It’s super interesting to sing in a region, a cathedral, in the streets and synthesize the information you learn about in the class through the experience.”

Maloney plans to call on his meaningful interactions with educators and students on the trip to help with his new career as a high school music teacher. Bri Keller, a senior who plans to graduate next spring, also said that the Croatia trip helped her grow as a person and as a musician — something the Fischers hoped students would get out of the travel immersion.

“College-aged individuals are juggling the most challenging learning stages of life, but to take a chance like the Croatia trip and kinesthetically expose yourself to life in new ways, it can teach you academic and personal life skills beyond what traditional classrooms sometimes can accomplish — giving you a new and incomparable sense of independence and space for growth as a human,” Keller said. “It can be daunting and terrifying to be in a new place with language and culture barriers but discovering ways to toggle that day by day not only fuels your knowledge, respect and understanding of cultures different from your own but furthermore gains you maturity as you're learning how to be an adult.”

One of the unique aspects of the trips is the ability for the students and alumni who benefit from support to have the opportunity to spend time with their donors. The Fischers joined the group during the second week in Croatia, observing rehearsals, chatting with students during outings, helping promote the concert and enjoying the sound of the choir that came together in just a few short days.

“Claudia and Richard Fischer have a genuine, personal connection to our program, and to our music, and make it known by assisting students like me throughout the process,” Keller said. “Seeing the tears well in their eyes and smiles on their faces as we sang the two commissioned pieces in their name by composer Paul Mealor was something so remarkable and touching for me. I knew how much this moment and this ensemble meant to them and, ultimately, how much they knew it meant to students like me to have the gift of singing in such a beautiful space in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”​

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Investing in the future

The Fischers’ love and respect for the UD Chorale program run deep and led them to make an additional gift to create a match to inspire other donors to fund the Paul D. Head Endowment for Choral Artistry, which will provide similar enrichment experiences for students in UD’s choral studies program. They chose to name the fund for Head for his decades of building an internationally known and award-winning choral program at the University.

“The choral studies program is exceptional at UD and Paul has done a great job making sure it’s exceptional beyond the University as well — even internationally,” Richard said. “He’s creating these experiences for the kids, and we want to support that. And we hope as the students take these experiences to grow, personally, in their studies and in their careers, that they will consider paying it forward in the future.”

Head said he is humbled by the Fischers’ high regard for him and the program he has built over the past 25 years as well as by the continued support they extend to chorale participants. He said that the funding will continue to elevate the UD program while ensuring it has sustained funding for future growth.

“I don’t know of another program in the country with an endowment tied to the chorale,” Head said. “When the time comes for me to retire, the funding will ensure projects and programs will continue, so it’s exciting to think that 25, 35 years from now, the legacy will continue well beyond my tenure. Whether it was named for me or not, it’s pretty great to know the chorale program will live on. Their funding has an immediate benefit, but it also has exponential benefits well into the future in ways none of us will ever see.”

Learn more or support the Paul D. Head Endowment for Choral Artistry.

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​Article by Christine E. Serio-Shively; Photo courtesy of Sarah Wojcik​

Published September 13, 2022

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