By Brianna Kudisch
Arianna Boelens had never been to Europe before this year, but she was recently able to experience it with her fellow orchestra members as part of the Sussex County Youth Orchestra.
Led by Dawn and Gerald Tedesco, the Sussex County Youth Orchestra was started in 1987 after Dawn saw the lack of string programs in Sussex County. She then founded the group to make up for the inadequacy and to allow students nearby to further their string musical abilities.
Boelens, a rising junior at Mt. Olive High School student, and 75 other people, including one other MOHS student, Devon Smith, 53 young musicians and professional mentors, spent June 25 – July 3 traveling to Vienna, Austria, Prague, Czech Republic, and Berlin, Germany, all while practicing and playing along at various stops.
The group performed at the National Opera House in Prague, playing on the same stage that the Prague Philharmonic has often practiced and performed on, and they also held a concert at Orangerie-Schonbrunn in Vienna, as part of the American Celebration of Music.
The preparation leading up to the tour had been developing since October of last year, as the group played music from both their holiday and spring concerts. As more time passed, however, practices lengthened from hour and a half long ones to three hour rehearsals.
Despite the multiple performances in various cities, the musicians found time to also tour the area and major historical sites, such as the graves of composers Bach and Mozart in Austria. The group additionally explored the last remaining piece of the Berlin Wall in Germany, a Holocaust memorial site in the Czech Republic and the Soviet War Memorial in Germany.
“You always learn about things such as the Holocaust in school, but being in the square where the infamous book burning occurred or walking around a concentration camp in Germany, you are seeing everything you’ve only read and talked about, first hand,” said Boelens, who plays clarinet. “It’s quite amazing being in the presence of these monumental places and locations of events that are known worldwide.”
Each time the orchestra visited a new city, they would receive a new city guide, one on each of the two buses they traveled in, to help them tour the area and see the influential sights. A truck full of their musical instruments followed the two buses due to the limited space available.
Orchestra members paid for the trip individually, with some finances raised for the whole group from a candy and a coffee fundraiser set aside for bus transportation. The orchestra also receives a grant from Sussex County Arts and Heritage Council and an additional one from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
The trip helped sharpen the musician’s skills and performance abilities, all while giving them an international travel experience they won’t soon forget. From performing on famous stages to seeing historical landmarks that have shaped the modern world, these young musicians have seen music and history brought to life.
“Europe, as a whole, has history with every corner you turn,” says Boelens. “There’s a different story with every single building and I think it’s really amazing how much of history has been left behind for us to enjoy now.”
Tedesco also saw the value in combining music with travel.
“It’s almost like music camp but touring Europe,” said Tedesco.