By Shannon Johnson
This summer, Baker High School senior Alissa Schell, daughter of Keri and Rick Schell, traveled to Europe with 291 other students from the region for a music tour. Alissa participates in band where she plays the flute, as well as choir. “It was a group called the Northern Ambassadors of Music,” Alissa noted. “You have to get invited to it.”
The Northern Ambassadors of Music is a subdivision of a larger organization called Voyagers International. Voyagers International is a Colorado-based company that was started in 1970 with the purpose of bringing the musical talents of American students abroad.
Alissa was filled with excitement when she received her letter of invitation. She received it a year prior to the music tour. She didn’t have much time to fundraise between work and school, but she had enough money saved up from working for the past two and a half years to attend the tour. Although traveling alone for the first time had her nerves in knots, Alissa remained excited.
Before taking to the sky to travel abroad, the group met at a camp in Fargo at NDSU on July 5 to do rehearsals for a few days before leaving. “We left in early July, but we got our music in June, so we had time to practice on our own before we got together with the group,” she explained. “I actually had to leave right after the fireworks on the Fourth of July and catch a bus to Fargo. We did rehearsals all day. It was pretty fast paced.” Since Alissa was participating in both choir and band she had to go back and forth between rehearsals and only got half of the time that students who only participated in one were able to have, as both band and choir rehearsals happened at the same time.
That Monday they held a farewell concert in Fargo so parents could watch the students perform. Following the concert, they had a few hours to spend with their family before they headed back to the NDSU dorms to pack up so they could catch a bus for Minneapolis, MN at midnight, although the weather delayed their trip. “It was about 2 or 2:30 a.m. that we actually left,” she said. “We didn’t get much sleep.” They arrived in London early the next morning.
They spent their day at the Windsor Palace and went sight-seeing in the evening. The next day they had a guided tour and saw the many sights of London, including the famous Big Ben, although they didn’t get the best look because it is currently under construction.
They also stopped and saw the Tower of London where they were able to see crowned jewels and the Imperial State Crown as well as crowns and scepters that dated back. “There was a superstition about the ravens,” Alissa explained with excitement. “It was said that if the ravens ever flew away the crown would fall, and Britain would fall with it. There’s still today at the Town of London six ravens and they clip their wings so they can’t fly away.” That evening the students went to see musicals, given a choice of several, Alissa chose to see “Wicked”.
The next day was the day of the concerts. The group lost the venue that they have used in previous years, but the show must go on. “They got permission from the Queen of England to play outside of Windsor Castle,” she commented. “She was there when we were there.” Some of the students said that they saw the Queen looking out of her window while they were performing, although Alissa didn’t witness that herself. The choir later performed in Saint John the Baptist’s Windsor Parish Church.
That evening they went to the London Eye, a large Ferris wheel in London with carts that were the size of rooms and held about fifteen people in each. From London they went to Paris, France. “We got to ride a ferry,” noted Alissa.
They traveled to Montmartre, France, a large hill in Paris’s 18th arrondissement (a subdivision of a French department used for local government administration). They explored a tiny village seated atop the hill. “It had really nice views,” she recalled.
Later that day they went to see the Eiffel Tower. Alissa explained that it’s not as romanticized and peaceful as it seems when you see it in films. The bustle surrounding the Eiffel Tower includes security gates as well as people swarming you to try and sell you things. They were warned to watch out for people coming up to them and tying a string around their wrist, as they would make a bracelet and expect you to pay for it, even though they never had your permission. “It was kind of scary,” she admitted. They also were able to see Notre Dame and take a boat ride on the river.
The next day they went to Fontainebleau, France, a town southeast of Paris, to perform their concerts. The choir performed at a church in town and the band in town square. After the concerts they toured Chateau de Fontainebleau, a castle there.