St. Thomas Campus News
- Serving Through Song
A lot of time and research has recently gone into proving whether music really is a universal language. While St. Thomas’ Festival Choir might not have scientific data to answer that question, many members of the choir returned from a trip to Peru with stories that add testament to how music can connect people across the world.
From May 25-June 2, members of the Festival Choir, made up of the Chamber Singers and Concert Choir, along with their conductor, Dr. Angela Broeker, traversed Lima and Cusco.
While there, they performed for Peruvian communities, including in several churches and alongside local choirs, all while immersing themselves in the culture.
“Peru was unlike anywhere we had toured before,” Broeker said of her reasons for selecting the country. “We also knew we wanted to do some service work, and Peru offered many service opportunities.”
A warm welcome
Choir tours are a longstanding tradition; however, most choirs tour western European countries. Broeker said she wanted a destination that pushed everyone involved “outside of their comfort zones,” as well as a location where St. Thomas students could be of service.
Peru offered that in many ways. Broeker emphasized that, because not many American university choirs have toured through the mountainous country, the experience was often new for those seeing the concerts and provided opportunities for building strong relationships.
For each of the concerts, Festival Choir members performed with Peruvian choirs, such as the University of San Marcos Choir, Arpegio Musical (a children’s choir), the Coro do Madrigalistas de la Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru and the Coro de Camara Cusco. The friendships forged with the other choirs set the mood for much of the trip.
“We’re all there because we love to sing and because we love what it does for the community,” said junior Zach Beckman. “If you meet another performer who has that same level of dedication, it’s pretty powerful.”
While with the University of San Marcos Choir, Beckman said they both choirs discovered they knew the same song: “Hanacpachap,”a 17th century prayer sung in Quechua, a language spoken by the Incans. The choirs mixed together and sang the song, which proved a powerful moment for many St. Thomas students.
“I remember all the basses like fist-bumping and high-fiving,” Beckman said. “After that, there was nothing left in the way of friendship barriers.”
“It was something different that choirs don’t really get the opportunity to sing, and it was in a language that was really rare to sing in,” said junior Natalie Gaskins. “We got to sing with people who have been immersed in that language or have been exposed to it as part of their culture.”
Singing “Hanacpachap” also was one of two stories Broeker shared when the choir’s trip was highlighted in Classical MPR’s “Sing to Inspire” segment in September.
Gaskins and Beckman both made friends through the choirs and used their new friends to practice Spanish and learn more about Peruvian culture. Gaskins has kept in touch through Facebook.
The connections the choir felt with audience members were just as powerful. Broeker noted that although some of their venues were not performance halls, audience members sang along all the same, visibly moved by the song selections, particularly the ones they knew. Another Peruvian song the choir sang was “El Condor Pasa,” which is based on an Andean folk tune.
“It was totally unreal,” said Laura Landvik ’15. “For everyone to recognize the condor song was so cool. People would sing or hum along. … It was like you were a part of the culture of Peru even though we were only there for 10 days.”
Broeker said the warm welcome they received from everyone, including the hosts at their venues, was unlike anything she had experienced before.
“My Spanish is limited, but it was very easy to understand what that concert experience had meant to them in the way they spoke to us, their smiles, in their hugs, in their wish for pictures, in the gifts they gave us – my goodness, we’ve never been given such gifts before,” Broeker said. Among those gifts were Peruvian choral pieces presented by the directors of the other choirs.
The concert experiences ran long, as audience members came up to talk with Festival Choir singers, Landvik said, adding that one word everyone knew was “selfie.”
A day of service
For a day dedicated specifically to service, the Festival Choir journeyed to Residencia de las Hermanitas de los Ancianos Desamparados, a nursing home-like facility in Lima run by religious sisters. The students learned about the mission of the sisters and sang in several different areas.
Junior Isabel Braga-Henebry highlighted how striking the building was. “The atmosphere was beautiful, open and airy,” she said. “It smelled like garlic and rice. … In Peru, they treat (the elderly) with so much more respect, treat them as if they were in their own family, with so much love.”
Although emotions ran high throughout their visit, a moment of levity and laughter also presented itself: A man with a harmonica played American folk tunes for them while dancing – which eventually culminated in a dance-off between him and Beckman.
One of the last spots the choir sang in was a section where the elderly had fewer visitors.
“A ton of them were crying,” Braga-Henebry said of the reaction to their singing, particularly when they sang “Hanacpachap.” “I think that’s where a lot of us started crying, because it was so beautiful and they were so grateful for having us there.”
Beckman shared his own experience. (Full of energy and excitement about the whole trip, this was the story where Beckman slowed down, becoming quieter and more contemplative.) He said that when they were leaving, a woman came up to him and started whispering something in his ear over and over. At the time, he translated her words to mean, “Thank you for coming.” He later found out she actually was saying “Thank God for you.”
“At that moment, we were all family,” Beckman said. “The choir, the tour guides, the nuns who ran the nursing home, the people in the nursing home themselves. We were all part of one universe. If I could take that feeling and apply it to the world, we would have a lot more laughter and a lot less crying.
“As far as the nursing home, all I can tell you is that music is a universal language,” Beckman said.
‘Music in its natural surroundings’
As equally important as their performances was the time choir members spent exploring Peruvian culture. They did a walking tour of Lima; visited markets; and toured Incan ruins, including Machu Picchu, which was a highlight for many.
Of course, music and dance were prime attractions.
“To see music in its natural surroundings – to see somebody moved to sing or moved to dance, and others join in – it’s a snapshot of daily life,” said Dr. Karen Howard, assistant professor of music, who specializes in global music traditions.
Howard purchased several Peruvian instruments, some of which are now a part of her courses at St. Thomas: a cajita, a box that is tapped while the top is opened or close for sound; a charango, a small stringed instrument in the lute family; and cajons, which are box drums that the player sits upon.
The students also mentioned going to a discoteca and enjoying the many street performers and live bands in almost all of the restaurants they ate in.
“Music is everywhere in Peru,” Landvik said.
Braga-Henebry was particularly struck by a young girl who sang for tourists.
“Just the fact that she just walked up to these people and started singing for them – how brave!” Braga-Henebry said. “It was like, ‘Let me share my gift with you.’”
Braga-Henebry emphasized that it was those “little things” that created connections for all of the people on the trip with the people of Peru.
“I really just hold in my heart that music is a universal language,” Braga-Henebry said. “It brings people of all different cultures, views, religions, lifestyles … together in such a way. I really saw that in Peru – through little experiences like swing dancing, choirs, live bands, people who performed for us. … Wherever you go with a choir, you really engage a lot of people’s hearts. I saw it really spelled out in Peru.”
That is precisely the point of such trips, according to Broeker, who returned with a stronger commitment to pairing service with her international tours.
“I hope (students) brought back to the United States a deep confirmation that we’re a larger human family,” Broeker said. “No matter what cultural differences or economic differences, we are united in spirit and are here to serve each other.”
- Five Observations From ‘Winning With Integrity’
St. Thomas psychology professor John Tauer, Ph.D., asked those gathered in Schulze Hall on Thursday evening if they could recall what sporting adage former Chicago Cubs first baseman Mark Grace became so well known for. The 150 or so people were there to hear Tauer lead a panel about what “Winning With Integrity” means in today’s sports landscape, which included Kevin Warren, COO of the Minnesota Vikings; Tom Kurvers, senior adviser to the general manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning; Lisa Kihl, Ph.D, associate professor of sport management at the University of Minnesota; and Chris Wright, president of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx.
“If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” was the famous line credited to Grace, an attitude that – as Tauer pointed out – helped endear him to fans. But how does ethical behavior actually coexist with a desire to win, especially at the professional and high collegiate levels? What supports and rewards ethical behavior in sports? How do business ethics apply to sports, and how do the lessons of sports people learn throughout their lives apply to business and life in general?
Tauer and the four panelists tried to parse out these kinds of questions in a discussion that ranged from youth athletics, to penalty minutes’ relation to arbitration value in the NHL, to the role of trash talking. Here are five takeaways from the discussion, which was hosted by St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business Department of Ethics and Business Law, The Veritas Institute and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures.
Like any business, leadership sets the tone for integrity in sports organizations.
Wright opened his remarks with a request that the audience members think of their best and worst sporting memories, and to correlate that experience to the people who led it and what they emphasized. As prevalent as sports are in our society, he said, we have to acknowledge that they can have a great influence, for good or bad. Leaders have the responsibility of deciding what outcomes their organization will have – ethical or unethical, integrity-driven or not – by creating a culture that drives things one way or another. Put simply: Integrity at the top will help integrity flourish throughout.
Get your processes right to enforce the right values.
Kihl especially highlighted the difficulties for larger organizations to have the proper oversight that ensures values of integrity are seen through by every employee and aspect of business. While things might be presented one way to an overseeing unit, if they are not actually being carried out that way then unethical behavior is allowed to flourish. Ethical processes – from hiring people with character, to making sure there is proper supervision throughout the organization – are a key to making sure sports organizations have integrity.
There’s a belief that there are many positives for people and society from sports, and that they can outweigh the bad.
Those attending the talk received copies of Tauer’s latest book, which highlights the growing bad behavior of parents in a youth sports landscape that has become a multi-billion dollar industry. That kind of money only grows the higher in sports you go, and the adage of money as the root of all evil undoubtedly holds sway throughout all sports. But as Warren passionately pointed out in his own example – stating that he wouldn’t be anywhere close to where he is in life without sports – he believes “there’s more right than wrong about sports.” People learn lessons in sports that they wouldn’t anywhere else, and those lessons have helped create good people in society for generation after generation. Making sure that, throughout all sports, values like integrity, humility and ethical behavior come to the forefront is as difficult today as ever, but it’s also as important today as ever.
You have to separate winning and losing from the standards of integrity.
Wright had some fun with the audience at different points with self-deprecating allusions to the Timberwolves’ notorious difficulty in putting together winning teams. He said the organization, though, thanks to the leadership and emphasis of its owner, Glen Taylor, views its success in much wider terms than its wins and losses. That informs the decisions of which players it brings in. “Skill sets are one thing. Character is another,” Wright said. Karl Anthony-Towns, the team’s latest top draft pick, was selected over another highly touted player in large measure because of his character, Wright said.
Those kinds of decisions are applicable throughout all sports, in that it’s an example of how integrity should be the ultimate guiding measure. Despite media and fans’ predisposition to judge success simply by wins and losses, having people in your organization who represent integrity and ethical behavior is more important.
The St. Thomas men’s basketball team cleans up well – and gets some recognition.
Tauer included in his opening remarks a shout-out to the back two rows of the auditorium, where about 20 of his players were seated in dress shirts, jackets or suits. “They weren’t forced to come here today. Maybe a gentle nudge,” Tauer said. After he and each of the panelists had received applause after their introduction, Warren urged the audience to give the men’s basketball team a round of applause. “To be a true student athlete, at a highly academic university, that’s what it’s all about,” he said. Highlighting the good aspects of sports and where they rank in priority to other important aspects of life was a point that came up in several ways throughout the evening, and Warren’s acknowledgement of the Tommies’ student-athlete balance was a fitting one.
Watch the full discussion: