Beginning at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, around 200 Missouri teenagers laden with suitcases and sheet music will board a bus in Cape Girardeau to embark on a musical journey across Europe.
It will be the first time for some to leave the state, the first time for most to travel outside the United States. They'll bring songs like "Stars & Stripes Forever" and "Shenandoah" to some of Europe's oldest cathedrals, perform alongside the Thames River and visit the Eiffel Tower, Piccadilly Circus and the Louvre.
But first, the Missouri Ambassadors of Music will bid farewell with a free concert for the public today at Southeast Missouri State University's Academic Auditorium.
The ambassador program, led by Southeast professor emeritus Dr. Robert Gifford, is composed mainly of high school students, parents and 26 music directors from across the state broken down into four groups: concert band, choir, string orchestra and jazz band.
The 16-day tour includes performances and sightseeing in London, Paris, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Italy.
"It's fun to watch the change in students. They go from kids who may have just barely been out of the state to being world travelers, adjusting to customs, food and languages," said Gifford, who has been involved with the ambassadors since 1990.
Gifford said one of the most interesting parts of the trip is the language barrier. Even in England, communicating can be a problem.
"If you ask for a bathroom in London, the people won't help you. They won't know what you want because it's called a loo there," Gifford said. "Even the basic things can be confusing."
That has 16-year-old Taryn Heid of Cape Girardeau a little apprehensive.
Heid is one of 30 local students serving as an ambassador. Students are nominated for the program by their high school music teachers on the basis of musical talent and character.
'Music is every language'
Heid has had her suitcases packed for a month in anticipation of the tour. It will be the Central High School clarinet player's first trip outside the United States.
"I've done so many concerts, I'm ready for it, except for maybe the language barrier," said Heid. "But music is every language, so I think it's going to be neat."
Jordan Cox, 17, of Jackson is looking forward to visiting Switzerland the most.
"I've never really seen any other cultures, so it will be overwhelming to see how they live and do things differently," said Cox.
He is one of 55 members of the choir. He says the performances and sightseeing will add up to "a once-in-a-lifetime experience" for him.
"I'll actually be seeing those things that I've heard or read about," he said. "That's going to be cool. I mean, what are the odds I'll get to do this again?"
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