For the first time since February 2020, a Concordia music ensemble went on tour under the direction of Kevin Sütterlin. The Concordia Orchestra returned to Concordia on November 7 after completing their domestic tour of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
“Our musical ensemble tours are a way for us to not only go out into the community, and out into the region to perform for students, but also to interact with the students in meaningful educational ways,” said Matt Winarski, manager of instrumental ensembles.
Primarily working as an outreach program, the group traveled to and played concerts in West Fargo, North Dakota; Brandon, South Dakota; West St. Paul, Minnesota and Brainerd, Minnesota. The events of the day were planned around the needs of the high school music ensemble in the area, so the group’s activities were different each day.
“In Stillwater, we really got some good work out of sectional time and working in small groups, whereas in Brandon, they really wanted to have their students sit in on our orchestra as we played their music,” Winarski said.
Composed of music majors and non-music majors alike, a big piece of the trip is the ability of Cobbers to work with young musicians and make connections despite having different skill levels.
“I like the interactions and going into the classrooms and helping students,” said Katie Langenfeld, the woodwind/brass/percussion representative of the orchestra.
Winarski added, “The interactions were just so fulfilling. Seeing those ‘lightbulb’ moments is really exciting.”
In pre-COVID years, the tour was planned in a span from March to November, but Winarski, new to his position as of August, only had about three months of planning time.
“Because of COVID, last year there was no one in this position. It was a challenge just fitting all of it in. Thankfully, I’ve had experience with tours, but also I have phenomenal office workers that had experience on tours,” Winarski said.
In other years, the orchestra has done home-stays with families who have children in the local high school ensembles.
“Usually we’ll stay with a member of the community in their house, and that’s a little more intimate. The student is in music, so you get to have a deeper conversation with them,” Langenfeld said.
Another change was working with Sheyenne High School in West Fargo. This year, the students enjoyed being able to visit a school so close to home, helping them to bond with students in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
“We normally don’t go very local, so I think that was a good change because they’re right next door,” said Ina Torres O’Ryan, senior manager of the orchestra.
While outreach is the main goal of tour, an added bonus is the ability of the group to bond throughout the duration of the trip. Not only do the musicians bond musically, but they also become more connected as an ensemble by building friendships and strengthening relationships.
“I really love seeing how much everyone gets closer by the end. You definitely know each other a lot better. That’s how I started getting more comfortable my freshman year,” O’Ryan said.
Additionally, having so much rehearsal time and many concerts helps the ensemble engage with each other in a unique musical experience.
“We play the same repertoire every night and it’s fun to grow as a community and as an ensemble. You can hear from our first concert with that repertoire to the last how much it has changed and evolved over the week,” O’Ryan said.
Over the years of going on tour, the ensemble has developed many traditions, but one stands out in particular.
“We have our orchestra mascot, a Build-A-Bear named Maestro Bingbong. Different sections get to hide it on stage for every concert,” Langenfeld said.
The students have even dressed him up, Winarski says. “They put him into a little flannel shirt and a little conducting stick, so he definitely looks just like Sütterlin in that way.”
The Concordia Band will tour the tri-state area in February, and both ensembles look forward to an international tour to Spain in May.
As Cobbers go back into the world to share their talents, Winarski shares his excitement for the musicians.
“My love for music always got reinvigorated on those trips. I don’t remember the horrible papers I wrote, and I don’t remember the long nights I spent on assignments, but I remember those trips. That’s why I am excited it’s such a huge tradition here,” Winarski said.