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ISSUE 119 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/14/2005

Stress relief: Tour traditions

By Levi Comstock
Contributing Writers

Friday, October 14, 2005

On Saturday, Oct. 15, the St. Olaf Orchestra will embark on a nine-day quest to rock the Midwest with Rachmaninoff. The 92 musicians will travel by bus to play nine concerts in eight different states, arriving in New York City on Sunday, Oct. 23 for a final concert in Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center before flying home to attend classes the next day.

Domestic tours are an opportunity to promote St. Olaf’s music department while offering the ensembles priceless musical opportunities.

“Tour allows us to see musical growth in our playing and appreciate different aspects of the music that we wouldn't have noticed if we had only given one performance,” violinist Tim Barker ’06 said.

Besides offering a chance to refine performances, touring creates a sense of group identity within the ensemble through the enactment of time-honored traditions. New members receive gifts from “secret Orchies” throughout the week, often items found at rest stops, grocery stores or second-hand shops.

In return, each new member must participate in an after-dinner skit for the orchestra and serve as “slave” to one or more veteran members throughout the week. “Slaves” might be required to compose odes to their masters, or simply be their master’s masseuse after a long day of practice and performance.

Each morning the orchestra members find their bus “dates,” or seatmates, for the day and prepare for a ride that can last three to seven hours.

“I’m a big fan of the pillow races,” Bridget Callahan ’07 said, referring to the treasured pastime of passing two pillows from the front of the bus to the back to see which side can pass the fastest. For sleep-deprived students trapped on a bus, the mundane becomes exciting.

Other bus activities include reading the tour book, a student-created publication of inside jokes, activities and magazine cut-out collages, listening to director Steven Amundson give guided tours in “Alfalfa language” and sing-alongs that would rival any choir.

Upon reaching the day’s destination, the group unpacks for a rehearsal, followed by a dinner, usually in a nearby church. “Orchies,” slang for orchestra members, send the addresses of each destination out to family and friends in the hope of receiving letters and care packages each evening. Mail comes with a price – for each package or every three letters, orchies must sing for the group before getting their mail.

Each concert has a special theme, such as “big hair night,” “wink at someone night” and “commando night” providing extra-musical ways to spice up each performance. Amundson said he is sure to keep students from adhering too much to the theme, lest they distract audience members from the music. But the silly traditions create a sense of camaraderie in the group that shows itself in the way the orchestra moves singly in performance. Violinist Christy Mooers ’08 described the experience of playing on tour: “I love the feeling you get by the end of tour when you know the music so well, you can look up and trade smiles and winks with people across the orchestra.”

Over Fall Break, the St. Olaf Cantorei will also embark on a six-day tour of the Midwest, culminating with a home concert in Boe Chapel on Thursday, Oct. 20. This tour is the ensemble’s first performance trip longer than a single weekend. Normally, only the top three ensembles – St. Olaf Band, Choir and Orchestra – take extended domestic tours.

“Who knows what new traditions will develop as Cantorei embarks on its first tour,” Mary Sotos ‘07 said.

Cantorei also makes a tour book to entertain its bus-bound members.

The orchestra will perform a home concert of their tour repertoire at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 30. The performance will feature works by Rachmoninov, Halvorsen, Bloch, Elgar and Nielson. Admission is free with a St. Olaf ID.

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