In May 2017, the Clemson University Singers toured Germany and Prague in a once-in-a-lifetime musical journey.

The Clemson University Singers pose in front of Evangelische Kirche in Jühnsdorf.

The Clemson University Singers pose in front of Evangelische Kirche in Jühnsdorf.

Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Anthony Bernarducci, who conducted the choir during the tour, said the trip was arranged through the concert tour company Music Celebrations International (MCI), which allowed the students to perform as part of the American Music Festival in Germany. The Singers have toured with MCI before, making their way through Italy in May of 2013. After submitting audition tapes, the ensemble was accepted once again and plans were created for the tour.

MCI helped set up six performances: three full concerts and three short recitals, all in churches. The concerts took place in the evening and were promoted throughout the host city, while the recitals were held during the day as visitors filtered in and out of the performance spaces.

The tour began in Berlin, where the group started their journey with a guided bus tour of the city. They took in the sights of historic buildings situated next to newer ones born out of the devastation of World War II. After the tour, they drove an hour outside the city to a 14th-century church containing only 20 pews. The head pastor of the church and his assistant welcomed the Singers with home-made pretzels and other refreshments before their dress rehearsal to a packed house, and, later, a full concert.

Before departing, the church gave the choir members mason jars containing a rock from the village. They told the choir to take a rock from each city they visited and place it in the jar.

CU Singers at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

CU Singers performing at Kaiser Wihelm Memorial Church in Berlin.

Bernarducci saw profound meaning in this. He told the choir that “kindness and generosity, giving of yourself, goes a long way in life. And even the smallest thing like a rock can be extremely meaningful to people.” Bernarducci told the choir that “music would be their rock for the rest of the tour. And they would have to give more and more every time. And they did. They really did. They just kept rising above my expectations.”

From there, the choir took a day trip to Wittenberg. They did not perform, but did get to see the town where Martin Luther lived and taught. Afterward, they traveled to Leipzig where they visited a museum dedicated to Johann Sebastian Bach containing his papers and manuscripts.

St. Thomas Church, the location of the choir’s daytime recital, was where Bach spent most of his life as Kapellmeister (concert master) and where his crypt is housed. Ten feet from the tomb, Bernarducci said, the choir sang the great composer’s “Sicut Locutus Est” from Magnificat, a piece that premiered in 1733 in the very same space. “It was very humbling and made it extremely difficult to even concentrate,” he said. “It was an awe-inspiring experience for sure. You kind of feel like you’re walking into history.” That night, the Singers performed a full concert in St. Nicholas Church. While Bach did not work there, it was where many of his pieces premiered. The Singers were treated to another full house.

CU Singers Choir performs at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig in the great hall with stained glass and high ceilings.

A performance at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig.

After a short trip to Dresden, the choir performed its last concert of the tour at a different St. Nicholas Church in Prague. Bernarducci said the acoustic reverberation was intense, with the sound bouncing back toward the choir almost before the end of each word. “One of the things I was most proud of was that, not only did they give more and more with each performance, they adjusted their singing to the room and didn’t just go on autopilot.”

By the end of the tour, the entire ensemble had grown closer. “They were surprised by just how emotional they could become over the music,” Bernarducci said. “By the last concert, we were all drained emotionally. There were a lot of tears. They built a lot of new friendships and strengthened old ones.”

The trip was also a lesson in mindfulness, in being sure to truly live in every second. It was also the last time that particular group of CU Singers would make music together. At St. Thomas Church in Wittenberg, Bernarducci wanted to be sure the choir had no regrets. He wanted them to be aware of the “collective spirit” of their performance “I told them to leave the best of what they have in that church, and archive it there forever,” Bernarducci said. “Over the centuries, the greatest musicians in the world have performed in these places and I believe that the sound stays in the building. We talked about how lucky they are to have added notes to that musical fabric. That’s nothing to take for granted.”