Southern Regional Music Students Enthralled to Perform in Europe

With Musicians From 50 U.S. Schools
By DAVID BIGGY | Sep 11, 2019
Courtesy of: Jennifer Hodgson MEMORABLE TRIP: Seven students from Southern Regional High School spent three weeks in Europe this summer as part of the American Music Abroad Tour. (From left) Dan Materazzi, Sam Maul, Abby Steichen, Christina Tussel, Sam Wernock, Paige Thurber, Ashelyrose Goriscak, and tour leaders Jennifer and Keith Hodgson in Westendorf, Austria.

Stafford Township — Dan Materazzi and Christina Tussel can’t wait to go back to Europe someday.

“Ever since we got back to the United States and the plane landed, I started saving money to go back,” said Materazzi, a Southern Regional High School junior who was one of seven Southern music students to join 123 others for the American Music Abroad (AMA) Gold Tour 2019 in July. “I met so many new people and made a ton of new friends, and it was just an awesome experience!”

“It’s an experience I hope any music student can experience,” said Tussel, Materazzi’s classmate who plays the tuba. “Every country we visited was beautiful, and I loved seeing the culture of each one. Life is different there and the appreciation for music runs really deep.”

Led by Southern music teacher Jennifer Hodgson and her husband, Keith, the tour consisted of three large performing ensembles – a string ensemble, a concert band and a concert choir. The honor musicians and musical staff from 50 high schools in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed seven concerts in seven countries during a three-week period.

After the group of 130 students gathered at Millersville University in Pennsylvania for 2½ days of intense rehearsals, tour preparation and orientation sessions, the crew gave a “farewell concert” for their families. Then they flew to Budapest, Hungary, for the start of their European trek.

“Budapest was amazing,” said Materazzi, who plays the alto saxophone. “The food was really good and everybody we met was so happy and friendly. We played in a concert hall there and it was such a cool experience. It seemed like I was back in time, like a part of musical history. Everybody in Europe has such a great appreciation for music, and it was like a whole new world, seeing all these old villages with such rich cultures.”

From Budapest, the group toured Vienna, Salzburg and the Tyrolean region of Austria; Prague in the Czech Republic; Dinkelsbuhl on the Romantic Road in Germany; as well as a visit to the Dachau concentration camp historic site near Munich and Heidelberg. After a stop in Strasbourg, France, the tour ended at the Rheinfalls in Switzerland.

For their concerts, the AMA students – which included Southern’s Sam Maul, Abby Steichen, Sam Wernock, Paige Thurber and Ashelyrose Goriscak – played a mixture of classical marches, Broadway tunes and theme music from Star Trek. They received plenty of ovations.

“It felt really special being there,” Tussel said. “We were able to play a lot of American songs, and even those songs seemed to fit within the musical atmosphere of each culture. All the people in each country had such an appreciation not just for music, but us as musicians. The French people loved us. We got a lot of standing ovations from them.”

Hodgson said it’s always fun to see how the students react to being in Europe for the first time but also how the educational, social and musical experiences further develop them as individuals.

“They’re always in shock at first when they arrive,” said Hodgson, who has directed an AMA tour for 20 years after doing two of them as a student. “It never gets old when they’re singing in one of the cathedrals and tears are coming down their faces because it sounds so beautiful. Just seeing the students experience that is worth it for me.

“And for them, to do what they love and perform in front of hundreds of people who aren’t their parents or families is incredible. You set up in a park there and within five minutes you have 300 people standing, in the rain, with their kids and dogs, and they just want to see the band play and appreciate the music. They’re dancing and having a great time. It’s a lot of fun for the kids to have that experience.”

Even for the price tag of $5,300, not including spending and food money, Tussel said it was worth the amount of fundraising she did to take a “trip of a lifetime.” Playing music with so many others she hadn’t previously known made the experience much more epic.

“At first, it’s strange meeting people for the first time and trying to play music together,” she said. “You have to get used to each other and figure out a lot of things, especially since you’re going to be playing concerts in other countries. But it was just as interesting to hear the stories of how they became musicians and got into music. I learned a lot.”

Next year’s AMA Gold Tour is scheduled for July 6-25 and will bring students to the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.

“One of the groups we had one year played in a church, and Bach literally was buried in a grave underneath the front of the altar,” Hodgson said. “Students don’t get to see anything like that here. This isn’t like going to an amusement park. It’s a totally, life-changing experience.”


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