Day two of the Christopher Newport University Wind Ensemble’s Germany Tour was as busy as day one, but at least everyone got some sleep beforehand to start the jetlag recovery process.
We started off with a Rhine River cruise, which was as wonderful as you would expect. Our cruise departed at Bingen and travelled to St. Goar. We had a little bit of rain off and on, and it was chilly, but it was nothing to complain about, particularly since the weather was perfect for the remainder of the trip. The banks of this section of the Rhine are mostly covered in vineyards, interrupted by the occasional picturesque village or castle. Everything is beautiful, even the railway tunnel portals. The German countryside is so uniformly gorgeous that you find yourself becoming blasé about vistas that would draw a gasp if encountered elsewhere. We saw several private barges go by, each with a fancy car and speedboat on deck–I would love to tour the inside of one of them. Near the end of our cruise, we rounded the infamous “Loraley” (or “Loralei”) bend, subject of many an ode on account of its treacherous currents and rocky promontory. I confess to surprise that Lorelei was a point on the Rhine; I always thought it was on the Atlantic coast of the British Isles. Shows what I know. In my defense, I knew the name mainly from the Pogues song, so my assumption was logical.
Our tour bus met us at our disembarkment point at St. Goar and carried us back to Sembach, climbing out of the Rhine valley along the sort of roads better suited to a German sports car, full of tree-lined hairpin turns and steep drop-offs. Our driver navigated those roads as though he WERE driving a sports car.
Bach at Sembach, we reassembled at the auditorium, where we were fed again. I should mention here that the Sembach hosts plied us with homemade cakes and pastries, sandwiches, and bratwursts at every possible opportunity. After we were fed, the musicians headed off to change into performance attire. When we returned to the auditorium, it was quickly becoming packed. By the time the bands began to play, it was standing-room only, with the hundred-odd seats taken.
The Sembach band played first, a nice selection of tunes capped off with a tribute to Eric Clapton. Their current director is a mathematics professor by day and seems appropriately happy about his work/life balance. The Sembach club’s beginners group played a couple of tunes and, although they indeed sounded like beginners, I was very surprised to hear they had all been introduced to their instruments only five months previously. Given that knowledge, I have to say they were outstanding. Bravo to them.
The CNU ensemble followed. The program for this tour includes (the tour is ongoing here in the US) a very interesting variety, including an opening Beethoven piece played by a trombone quartet directed by Dr. John Lopez, who also happens to be director of CNU’s marching band. Dr. Lopez is one of several ringers who are touring with the ensemble, which is a showcase of talent among the CNU music faculty, CNU students (who are not all music majors), at least one CNU alumna, and a few seasoned professionals drawn from active and retired military service. I think what Dr. Mark Reimer has created with his ensemble is about as close to the European model of the community band, with its broad range of talent and experience, as could possibly be created here in the US. If the younger students are anything like I was at their age, they probably have no appreciation of the value of the experience they’re gaining through participation in this ensemble, but that appreciation will grow within them after they’ve left CNU far behind. Perhaps a few old souls among them appreciate it already.
The ultimate faculty showcase of the tour is the 2017 composition titled “Stream,” which was in fact created by CNU professor Christopher Cook. The ensemble’s performance of Cook’s composition features vocals by Dr. Rachel Holland, soprano, horn by Professor Dan Omer, cello by Professor Peter Greydanus, and trombone by Dr. John Lopez. For a school the size of CNU to possess this array of musical talent is, to my mind, extremely impressive.
Other elements of the program range from Wagner to Sousa to modern arrangements of American gospels. The closing piece is a very energetic arrangement of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” during the conducting of which Dr. Reimer danced perilously close to the edge of the stage at Sembach. I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to jump in and catch him.
After the performance, the Sembach hosts fed us YET AGAIN. And this time there were copious quantities of beer thrown in the mix. If I had not done a lot of walking during this tour, I am sure I would have gained ten pounds. The hospitality of the people of Sembach truly humbled me. I hope they visit Virginia soon so that I can help return the favor.
Photos from the second day are linked below (click the picture).