Music students leave for Europe fearlessly

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Every other year, Southeast Missouri State University music professor Dr. Robert Gifford leads a group of mostly high school students on a two-week concert-playing tour across Europe. In 2000, the Missouri Ambassadors of Music numbered nearly 300 students and adult chaperones. This year, due primarily to fears about traveling raised by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, only 116 students and adults will be on the plane when the group leaves for Europe today.

Many of the students who are going know other students who decided to stay home this year. "Half the school," said Maggie Gann, a clarinet player from Marshfield, Mo.

Gann sold litters of puppies and participated in school car washes and doughnut sales to raise the $3,000 each student must pay to make the trip. Gann has no qualms about going to Europe or about flying.

These musicians, who leave for Europe today, say they have confidence in the new security measures now in place. "I feel safer since Sept. 11," said Andrew Weston, a junior cellist and choir member from Macomb, Ill.

A number of states that usually participate in the tour dropped out this year. That's why there are some Kansans and Illinoisans in the Missouri group this year.

This is not Weston's first trip to Europe, but 80 percent of the students have never been there before, Gifford said, and 60 to 70 percent have never been out of the United States.

Aaron Roman, a tenor who just graduated from Festus High School, said his father had to convince his mother that the trip was safe.

What did his father say?

"Something about cutting the umbilical cord," Roman said.

Rather than airport security, he is thinking more about the historical sites the group will tour, including a death camp at Dachau.

"I think that will be a sobering experience," he said.

Gifford began making recruiting trips for the band in September and October, just after the attacks. He answered so many questions about security, he said, "I felt like I was working for the State Department."

One thing Gifford, who has traveled to Europe often, could tell the students and their parents is that security in Europe has always been as tight as it is in America now.

The students in the band were recommended by their music teachers, both for their musical ability and their maturity. Most are in high school. A few college students and a few adults also will participate in the musical groups, which include a jazz band, concert band, choral group and chamber ensemble.

John Bell, a Park Hills South High School music teacher who is one of the chaperones, said the rigorous search he underwent before flying from Kansas City to St. Louis gave him confidence in airport security.

"I feel better now than I ever have in the past," he said.

In almost all locations, the students will not be allowed out without an adult. Organized activities are the rule.

"It is planned for safety," said Bell, who is making his third trip with the Missouri Ambassadors of Music.

St. Louisan Don Luczak said his son, Timothy, wasn't about to be talked out of going. "He's had his mind set since fifth grade," Luczak said. Timothy's grade-school music teacher, Sister Gail Buckman, is one of the adult supervisors.

Many of the students have been at Southeast rehearsing since Tuesday. They leave for St. Louis by chartered bus this morning before flying to Europe. Concerts will be played in London, Paris, Champery in Switzerland, Austria, Venice and Germany.

335-6611, extension 182

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