JSOA goes America: Orchestra tour 2023

“In addition to the excitement and happy faces at the three concerts, I will always remember the Indian summer sunshine, dancing host families and the energy of the city of Chicago.”

Sönke Grohmann – Conductor, JSOA

It had been six years since we had been on an orchestra tour in the United States of America. After some spontaneous European trips in recent years, we left Europe early in the morning on September 30, 2023 to fly to the USA. The evening before, our traditional Laeiszhalle concert took place, which is why we stood at self-check-in at Hamburg Airport with little or no sleep. But that didn’t dampen our spirits at all, on the contrary. Full of anticipation, we boarded our plane to Frankfurt, from where our second flight to Detroit took off. The plane landed in Detroit at 1.25 p.m. American local time and we went through passport control with border officials. After brief questioning and a few interesting questions from the border officials, everyone was allowed to pass through and nothing stood in the way of our entry. First, Mike and Sandy Eagan from the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp met us and took us to our coach. From there we went to our first stop in the USA.

09.30.2023 – 10.08.2023: Flint (Michigan)

A little exhausted but happy to finally be there, we arrived at the Flint Institute of Music (FIM) on Saturday afternoon. There we were warmly welcomed by our host families, conductor Davin Torre and manager Dare Stark. After a time of getting to know each other and some delicious pizza, we went to our families in the evening, where we were to experience our first full day in the United States on Sunday.

On Monday, October 2, we had our first rehearsal. In addition to Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Dvořák’s 8th Symphony, we rehearsed Strauss’ Radetzky March and the German and American national anthems. Afterwards, we paid a visit to the Capitol Theatre in Flint and walked along the University of Michigan-Flint. At the FIM, we later met members of the Flint Youth Symphony Orchestra (FYSO), with whom we ate mac ‘n’ cheese and talked about the different American / German customs. Traditionally, the international chamber music evening could not be missed, which is why the two orchestras went into mixed small groups after dinner to rehearse a piece in about an hour, which was then performed in a small concert in front of our host families.

The next day, we visited an apple farm in the morning, where we drank delicious apple cider, ate donuts and picked apples. We then drove to Great Lakes Crossings Mall, Michigan’s largest indoor outlet center. Since shopping makes you hungry, we and the FYSO had dinner together again and a final rehearsal at Whiting Auditorium, where our concert was to take place on Thursday.

On Wednesday, October 4, the bus took us to the city of Ann Arbour, where we had time for sightseeing in small groups until the afternoon. In the city, which is located on the Huron River, we were able to visit the centrally located University of Michigan, see Graffiti Alley, marvel at the outside of the Michigan Theater and much more. With many new impressions, we returned to Flint in the afternoon, where we spent the evening with our host families.

The Christmas spirit continued on Thursday, where we first paid a visit to the world’s largest Christmas store, where we once again realized how much Americans love decorations. We then went on to Frankenmuth, the “little Bavaria” of Michigan. After a snack together at the institute, we performed our first concert together with the FYSO. The concert was met with much applause and a great atmosphere, and we ended the evening with our host families and the FYSO at a get-together afterwards.

On the second to last day in Michigan, we drove to a high school, gave the students a little insight into our program and talked about the similarities and differences in everyday school life. We took traditional American buses back to the institute, where we were given a tour of the campus and visited the art museum and planetarium. In the evening and on our last day, we had more time with our host families and a get-together with everyone involved. With delicious food, good conversations and lots of dancing and fun, it was a special farewell before we continued on to Milwaukee in Wisconsin on October 8.

Farewell photo in Flint

10.08.2023 – 10.11.2023: Milwaukee (Wisconsin)

After a long but relaxed bus tour with a break in Southern Indiana, where many enjoyed the beach and the dunes on Lake Michigan after a refreshment stop, we arrived in Milwaukee at around 6:30 pm. There we were welcomed directly by Stephanie and Steve Hancock and our host families at the University School of Milwaukee.

The next day, we went on a tour of the Bradley Symphony Center, the concert hall of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO). Our brass players experienced a special highlight when they were allowed to perform Feeling good by Michael Bublé on stage. But it didn’t stop there: During a subsequent Q&A session, we were given the honor of meeting the orchestra’s chief conductor, Ken-David Masur. After lunch in the foyer of the Symphony Center, we set off on a sunny and windy boat tour.

Tuesday started with a rehearsal at the University School of Milwaukee, where Ken-David visited us and conducted part of the rehearsal – a unique experience for us! Afterwards, we played two entertaining introductions to Dvořák’s symphony for high school students. In the afternoon, we toured the high school campus and prepared for the concert in the evening. At the end of the day, we celebrated our cellist Lea’s birthday together with lots of birthday cake.

Rehearsal with Ken-David Masur

10.11.2023 – 10.12.2023: Chicago (Illinois)

On the morning of 11 October, we made our way to our third stop on our trip to the USA: Chicago. After a short bus journey, we arrived in the metropolis around midday, where we were greeted with bright sunshine. Our first stop was the Chicago Symphony Centre, where we met Ken-David again and were given a short introduction to Chicago: Passing large skyscrapers and Millennium Park, we headed to the John Hancock Tower, where many brave members of the orchestra were drawn to tilt forwards on a window. The view of Chicago from a height of 344 metres left us wanting more, so we spent the whole day downtown. The programme included a walk along Lake Michigan, past the Chicago skyline, a visit to the concert hall, the Chicago Symphony Center, and shopping in the city. The day was rounded off with traditional deep dish pizza and a visit to the jazz club.

In foggy and rainy weather, we started the following day with a boat trip on the Chicago River, where we were able to experience the city’s architecture from the water. Before continuing on to our last stop of the trip, we explored the metropolis on our own in small groups.

10.12.2023 – 10.15.2023: Naperville (Illinois)

We were warmly welcomed in Naperville by organiser/conductor Brad Pfeil and the host families, where we spent the rest of the evening.

On Friday, we went to the high school early, as we were allowed to accompany our host siblings for the first two lessons to gain an impression of the American school system. This was followed by a joint rehearsal on the programme, after which we had lunch with German-speaking American students and exchanged ideas. Afterwards, we met the mayor of Naperville, visited a historic settlement and had free time in the town. After dinner with our host families, we watched America’s most popular sport, American football, at the high school.

On our last day in America, it was already time to say goodbye. Farewell to the trip, to the country, but also to our 2022/23 programme, as it was the last concert with this programme. The day started with the host families, and in the early afternoon we met in the auditorium for the last concert of the trip to the USA. The afternoon came to a very emotional end and we rounded it off with a delicious buffet with our host families. Exhausted, but with many impressions and experiences in our luggage, we left early in the morning of 15 October for Detroit, from where we started our return journey to Hamburg.

Rehearsal with the orchestra of Naperville High School

A few weeks later, we still look back fondly on the trip to the USA, reminisce and tell friends and family about the experience. On behalf of the entire Ahrensburg Youth Symphony Orchestra, we would like to thank our orchestra manager Jacob Turnbull and conductor Sönke Grohmann, without whom the trip would never have been so unforgettable.

Hanne Gerckens

We are very pleased that we were able to organise the second part of this trip again with the support of the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, especially Richard Erne and Caitlin Cowan!

A big thank you goes to the financial and non-material support from the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, the State of Schleswig-Holstein, the Federal Association Jeunesses Musicales Deutschland, the County of Stormarn, the city of Ahrensburg as well as the Supporting organisation of the JSOA, the Jugendorchester Ahrensburg e.V.

Our youth exchange was supported by: