Choir sings in Spain

On a Wednesday afternoon, as the sun crossed from the blue windows of the eastern wall to the scarlet red of the western wall, choir members positioned themselves in front of their director, near the spiral staircase. Laura Diddle, director of the South Dakota State University Concert Choir, provided her ensemble their pitches and a smile, as if to say, “Keep this moment forever.”

When the sun hits the stained glass windows in Sagrada Familia in Spain, colored light floods the church. Depending on the time of day, the space will fill with tranquil blues, lively greens or a blood-red hue marking the end of day.

As singers watched the stained glass windows change and brought to life the music of Moses Hogan and Alice Parker, they sensed the SDSU Concert Choir was participating in a historic moment.

The choir sang not only in Sagrada Familia, but also across Spain in a choral tour aimed at taking music from SDSU to friends across the ocean. Sixty-eight people, including 59 singers, made up the group of Jackrabbits who, for nine days, sang in Madrid, navigated Segovia and made friends in Barcelona.

Senior speech communication major Jacob Sutton said the trip opened students’ eyes to the world around them. “The hope is that these different experiences stay with us, and each time we try new things musically, we remember the experiences we had in Spain and use them to help us adapt,” Sutton said. “In the long run, this will make all of us better musicians, and it will hopefully help SDSU have students who can identify as more global citizens than they were before this trip.”

Even a fluent Spanish speaker like Sutton was nervous when talking with people from a different country. He announced the musical set for the audiences at each venue in their native tongue.

“I remember before our concerts I would get a hold of one of our programs and try to frantically put together what I was going to say,” he said. “Once I got in front of our audiences however, I learned that it didn’t really matter if I translated words perfectly or not, because I looked into a crowd of smiling faces and I knew people weren’t judging me—they were supporting me.”

In order to encourage these kinds of cultural exchanges, the SDSU Provost’s Office contributed funds toward the trip. Memories of her international experience influenced the decision to support the tour financially.

“I know the influence that international travel has made in my life in terms of becoming more open, less biased, more understanding and simply better informed,” Laurie Nichols said. “I want our students to have the same opportunity.”

Nichols, now the president at the University of Wyoming, said it’s hard for her to imagine a community without the concert choir.

“The performing arts promote the talents of our students and enrich their educational experience,” she said. “For the rest of us, they make SDSU, Brookings and the state a much more creative, interesting and enlightened place.”

SDSU Foundation President/CEO Steve Erpenbach was equally supportive of the tour, describing the impact of performing in Spain as a transformative one.

“Our donors love supporting these types of opportunities because they recognize they are life-changing experiences for the students,” Erpenbach said. “You simply can’t quantify the impact of helping give nearly 60 students the honor to perform in Sagrada Familia, the tallest basilica in the world.”

In addition to enriching the quality of life in Brookings, a goal of the tour was fostering friendship between nations, according to Diddle. At one point during the tour, the SDSU choir performed alongside a choir from the University of Madrid. “They sang in English. We sang in Spanish,” Diddle said. “Accents and all, the event brought two cultures together.”

At the end of the combined concert in Madrid, Diddle and her Spanish counterpart, Francisco Ruiz Montes, stepped across the stage to congratulate one another. Diddle offered him a playful high-five. And for a moment, they did not appear as directors from countries an ocean apart, but as neighbor kids saying, “Way to go.”

A Spanish tenor observed the high-five and whispered to a nearby student, “We don’t do that in Spain.” They both laughed. It was innocent. It was fun.

Joseph Schartz

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