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Symphony orchestra makes international debut in Colombia

Orchestra director James Allen Anderson applauds and cellist Lawrence Stomberg takes a bow as the UD Symphony Orchestra performs in Colombia.

When members of the University of Delaware Symphony Orchestra traveled to Colombia earlier this summer, they shared a unique opportunity to make beautiful music, learn about a new culture and create friendships that will last a lifetime.

The orchestra's first international tour saw nearly 70 UD student musicians partnering with 50 of their Colombian peers from Central University and Pontificia Universidad Javeriana for three performances featuring works by Sir Edward Elgar, Frederic Delius, Howard Hanson and Kevin Puts.

This symphonic sojourn to Bogota represents the second stage in a three-year partnership. Previously, faculty from the participating universities traveled abroad to serve as guest conductors.

James Allen Anderson, UD orchestra director, said the focus of this collaboration was for the students to experience a true cultural immersion in the host country.

During their seven-day stay, the visitors from the First State toured Colombian sites, shared meals and performed and celebrated with participants from the host orchestras.

"To make beautiful, meaningful music takes more than simply playing the right notes and rhythms," Anderson, assistant professor of music, said. "It is important to know and respect your fellow musicians. I'm convinced that lifelong friendships were forged on this trip."

Anderson added that such exchanges expand individual perspectives on cultural differences while affirming the commonality of all people.

"When you have the opportunity to interact so closely with friends from the host country, you learn the things that are important to them," Anderson said. "It might be one of the major heritage sites or it can be something as simple as a favorite café or an off-street market where one can find the best ajiaco or freshest jugos."

A highlight of the eight-day tour, Anderson said, was performing in Zipaquirá Salt Cathedral, which sits 180 meters underground in the largest deposit of rock salt in the world.

"The remarkable engineering achievement of carving a cathedral out of a mine, paired with the beauty of the salt crystals and undulating lighting, set the tone for a remarkable performance," Anderson said.

The audience of more than 1,000 members celebrated the playing of Himno Nacional de la República de Colombia (National Anthem of the Republic of Colombia) with instant applause, singing and dancing, Anderson said.

"At our first joint rehearsal, I asked the Colombian students to play the piece alone. Their enthusiasm was infectious," Anderson said. "We could play the notes, but they taught our students about the spirit of the piece. By the final performance, we were all dancing, spinning cellos and basses, doing the wave and moving to the beat, all while playing music."

Because it comprises science, mathematics, religion and grammar, Anderson said music not only serves as a universal language but also represents a comprehensive art form with craft and creativity at its core.

"What I hope the students will take from this experience is that music can be used as a door to open a world of opportunity for meeting new people, exploring new places and sharing ideas," Anderson said. "This is what happened while we were in Colombia."

Lawrence Stomberg, UD associate professor of music and cello soloist, described the Salt Cathedral experience as being "wild, weird and very cool," acoustical challenges not withstanding.

"Everyone in the audience knows this music very well, and when they recognized it they were practically dancing in the aisles," Stomberg said. "What a thrill it was for all of us on stage, too."

The entire Colombian tour turned out to be a transforming experience for all concerned, he said.

"The rapport between our students and the Colombian students was wonderful, real and instantaneous, like they had been friends for a long time," Stomberg said. "This made everyone play even better. As the soloist, I could feel the positive energy behind me."

Abby Magoon, a second-year master's student of viola performance, said her favorite part of the trip was working and performing with new Colombian friends.

"The musicians had to deal with a language barrier as well as a much greater number of individual orchestra members, each with his or her own musical styles and abilities," Magoon said, "so everyone's musical intentions had to be crystal clear and we had to be hyper-aware of how others were communicating with us."

Pilar Navarrete-Hernandez, a second-year master's student of bassoon performance, said she appreciated the extra efforts people made to know more about their new neighbors and their respective cultures.

"I still receive nice comments from the Colombian students who are very motivated to continue their studies in America, possibly at UD," Navarrete-Hernandez said. "They think that Lawrence Stomberg and Esme Allan-Crayton, UD music faculty members who accompanied the orchestra to give master classes, are great."

In crediting symphony director Anderson for making the trip a true transforming experience, Navarrete-Hernandez said the project served as a learning experience for the host universities, as well.

"As an international student from Colombia, the trip was a very important way to show my cultural identity to my UD classmates," Navarrete-Hernandez said. "These kind of trips definitely help everyone to be more tolerant and respectful of each other's cultures."

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The University of Delaware Symphony Orchestra's first international tour took 70 student musicians to Colombia this summer.

The University of Delaware Symphony Orchestra's first international tour took 70 student musicians to Colombia this summer, where they partnered with their peers from Colombian universities for a series of three performances.

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  • School of Music
  • Amy E. du Pont Music Building
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-2578