Every two years for the past 50 years, Voyageurs International, based in Colorado, gives high school musicians the opportunity of a lifetime. For Raquel Bata, Lizzie Muhs, Hannah Lundeby, and Kaydee Koistinen, the summer of 2019 will be one they will always remember. The four musicians were among the 300 high school band and choir members to travel overseas with the Northern Ambassadors of Music group this past July.
By Melissa Anderson
Bata and Muhs will be seniors this year at LAHS, with Bata playing clarinet and Muhs, a member of the choir. Lundeby plays the baritone and Koistinen sang in the choir- both graduated this past spring. The extensive three week trip begins with a nomination made by music directors of high schools along the northern border of the U.S. From that point on, if the student wants to go, it’s up to the student musician to make the trip possible for themselves.
“It’s not something you can get just going with your family. You got a little bit of everything on this trip,” Muhs said.
The rehearsals leading up to the trip only lasted a few days. Over the course of four days the student musicians spend extensive hours, 8 to 10 hours a day, working on their music for the trip.
“It was exhausting,” all four said together.
Those intense rehearsals were only the beginning of what would be a thrilling experience. From the red eye flights and long bus rides to new destinations, it was a grueling change of pace. The tour brought the young musicians first to London, where they became part of history.
The band members of the tour were given a special privilege that has not been received by anyone in almost 1,000 years. The 2019 band members of the Northern Ambassadors of Music were given special permission by Elizabeth II, Queen of England, to perform upon the lawn of Windsor Castle. The Queen granted permission for approximately 3,600 high school performers from across the United States to perform on Windsor Castle’s Grass Moat as part of the Ambassadors of Music tour put on by Voyageurs International.
“We had to write a letter to the Queen to ask if we could. [Then] we had to write thank you letters to the Queen herself,” Muhs and Bata said.
From the quick two day stops a piece in London and Paris, the group then traveled through mainland Europe performing and sightseeing in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Greece.
“Performing in Switzerland was so much fun. The people waited for us and held up banners when we came to town. They were very friendly people and made us sweatshirts,” the four shared.
The group sang American songs, from a Disney tune to the patriotic. There was one song that combined the musical talents of all 300 musicians, which was performed only twice- once in Fargo for the departure performance and the Switzerland performance.
“The people were so excited to hear us,” they said.
They were also able to take a few side trips to important historical areas such as Buckingham Palace, Notre Dame, Olympic sites and Dachau, the first of the concentration camps created by Nazi Germany.
“Dachau was really eye-opening and really sad to see,” the four shared.
“I showed my parents the pictures but never said a single word about it,” Lundeby said.
The four young women shared their experience at visiting such a “terrible place” that they “wouldn’t recommend it”. The group took the tour backwards, having the surreal experience of seeing the incinerator first and then walking towards the gas chamber where they instantly knew what the large room was for.
Within the cities they visited they were also able to sight-see on foot- from the interesting and weird to the beautiful and memorable.
“We really got to see the culture, too. We stayed in the downtown [area] of cities,” Bata said.
Culture shock was bound to occur for the young women. One such shock was that smoking is allowed everywhere, and popular tourist cities of London and Paris were the worst for this experience.
“The other cultural thing that was sort of not the greatest was a lot of places didn’t have AC,” Bata said.
“Germany was hot; Italy was miserable,” the others added.
Food was also an experience for the four travelers. The more enjoyable food was, of course, the Swiss chocolate. The main food item that seemed to appear at every meal, no matter the country, was fries. The adventurous eater was Muhs as she gave the famous French dish of escargot (or snails) a try while in Paris. Collectively, it was the beverages that threw them for a loop. From the luke warm milk to the lack of ice in the water to every beverage including apple juice being carbonated, beverage differences were hard to handle for the group.
The trip itself, while once in a lifetime, also came at quite an expense for high school students. For Bata, Lundeby, and Koistinen the base price for the trip was $7,000. Muhs had additional travel as she took the extended tour to Greece which brought her total minimum for the trip to $10,000. In addition to that base cost for the trip, the four young woman needed about another $2,000 for extra meals and spending money while traveling.
“You have about a year to make all this money,” Muhs shared. “In high school, that’s not a lot of time. Working after school, if you do it, it’s really hard cause you still have to do your homework and if you have extracurriculars- it’s really hard.”
The four young women fundraised as well as taking on jobs to assist with the cost. The group also sent out letters to area businesses in hopes that they could gain some sponsorships. The community responded and, in total, each of them received a total of about $1,500, much more than the few hundred they hoped for.
“We would like to thank everyone who gave donations which helped us to represent North Dakota with the Northern Ambassadors of Music on our music trip to Europe. Your contributions are greatly appreciated,” the four stated.
Thank you to: American Legion Post 98, Brooks Funeral Home, Cavalier REA, Choice Bank, Christie Motors, CHS Inc., D&B Motors, Dr. Beneda-Park River, Dr. Richard H. Eklof OD, Eagles, Eagles Auxiliary, Horizon Financial Bank, Howatt Air, Knights of Columbus, LAHS Music Boosters, Langdon Community Drug, Langdon Hardware, Langdon Implement, LB Dease Photography, Legion Auxiliary, Mostad Insurance, Osnabrock Elevator, Pain Reliever, Simplot, Stewart Law Office, United Telephone, Witzel Construction, and other private donors.
For future nominees, those that can participate in the 2021 tour, the members of the 2019 Northern Ambassadors Tour advise that saving now is better than waiting.
“It’s a lot of money, but it’s worth it,” they all said.