Local band directors and students take part in Blue Lake Fine Arts European tour

MANISTEE — Music can bring people of different cultures and countries together in a way unlike anything else.

It is the reason Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp send bands of talented young musicians to Europe every June on a good-will tour to give a series of concerts. Every year Blue Lake’s groups are given warm welcomes at various locations around the world.

The Blue Lake Fine Arts Academy sent several musical groups to Europe in June including one band that was directed by Mike and Cindy Eagan of Manistee. The group also included Manistee High School band students Emma Quinn and Liz Selbee.

This year, the Blue Lake European tour had a real Northern Michigan flair to it. The Northern Winds International Band was under the direction of Benzie Central band director of bands Mike Eagan and his wife, Manistee Area Public Schools director of bands Cynthia Swan-Eagan. The band also included Manistee High School students Emma Quinn and Liz Selbee and Frankfort-Elberta Area School District student Steven Mills.

“We went to seven cities in German, Austria and Denmark,” said Swan-Eagan. “Blue Lake sends two concert bands, an orchestra, two jazz bands, a choir and an adult band or ballet company overseas every summer.”

Both the Eagans have strong ties to Blue Lake and have been active in its summer musical programs for quite some time.

“I have been a conductor at summer camp since 1988, and the Blue Lake people approached my husband and I to conduct the Northern Winds,” said Swan-Eagan. “I went on this same trip as a high school junior, and we visited one of the towns that I was in back then. It was really exciting to see it again from an adult perspective.”

To qualify as member of the band, the students were required to write an essay about why they wanted to take part in the trip and to submit a tape of themselves playing their instrument.

The Northern Winds group consisted of 45 students who were from Michigan, Texas, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Illinois. All of the students were required to pick up their own cost for the trip.

Selbee is a senior who plays the flute and was looking for a way to keep involved in music during the summer. She thought this would be a be a perfect fit, and was interested in seeing Europe from a different perspective other than as a tourist.

“I always liked the music part of it, but I was really intrigued by the travel,” she said. “It gives you the opportunity to stay with people you normally wouldn’t meet on a trip, and to be a guest in their house. It really gave you the opportunity to experience the culture better this way than any other trip.”

Fellow Manistee High School student Emma Quinn said she heard about the program from other summer students at Blue Lake. The concept of visiting Europe and getting to perform music on the way was something that appealed to the high school sophomore.

Although the students and directors enjoyed the idea of seeing Europe, the program was quite intense from their standpoint. It took a lot of dedication and commitment to music.

“We were gone for three weeks and prior to leaving we had a week called ‘intensive week’ where we were together 24/7,” said Swan-Eagan. “That included eight hours of rehearsal every day. We had 45 students in the group and three counselors who were college students or teaching professionals.”

Her husband said the experience wasn’t as difficult as it would appear.

“There was the commonality of we all can read music, and are here for the same reason,” he said. “Cindy and I know how to get a group sounding good so it all came together quite well.”

Selbee and Quinn have been active in the Manistee Area Public Schools band program since elementary school said they felt the experience was good for them for many reasons.

“I liked it a lot and felt the bar was raised because everyone really wanted to be there,” said Selbee. “It was really fun to make new friends, and I still talk to them, so it was good to experience.”

Quinn felt the same way and said it even went beyond their fellow band members.

“There are host families that I still keep in touch with,” she said.

Students would stay in homes for two to three days with families from that community. They would be with another student, while other times the students would on their own with a family. Felt it was something that tightened the bond between the students and their host families.

“They are very friendly and go out of their way to show you the best of their culture and food,” said Selbee. “They would take me to their city, schools and around the area.”

Quinn said sometimes the time to depart came too quickly.

“It was hard to get used to at first, but once you did it was time to leave,” said Quinn.

For the most part there wasn’t too many instances where the language barrier proved to be a problem, but it did arise on occasion.

“There was one host family where they had only began taking English lessons six months prior to that time, so that was interesting,” said Selbee. “We were still able to make it work.”

Swan-Eagan said she and her husband and her stayed with one family in East Germany who didn’t speak any English.

“We still managed to communicate and have a ball,” she said. “What we found is that everyone laughs in the same language, and it was a lot of fun.”

For the Eagans the trip provided an opportunity to do something different that they hadn’t done before.

“That was the first time we have ever collaborated on a project before, so it was very interesting and went very well,” said Swan-Eagan. “It was a whole different dynamic. Going into people’s homes and spending time with them was invaluable. Hearing some of the stories they told us was really touching. The fact that they would share them so freely was nice.”

Swan-Eagan said the group performed 22 musical numbers and most concerts lasted for two hours.

“We weren’t really sure before we left what all the concerts would be like so we prepared enough to have some variety for the students,” she said. “What we also didn’t know was the age group of our audiences, so we mixed up the numbers to appeal to every age group. Every show was a little different, as Mike and I pre-assigned the pieces that we were going to direct.”

The Eagans and students were surprised at the response received from the people along the route. The towns were decorated and there was always a warm welcome.

“I didn’t know that going into it we would be that big of a deal with mayors and governor’s of state showing up to the concerts,” said Selbee.

Mike Eagan said the experience was second to none that he has witnessed.

“After leaving Blue Lake and flying for hours we got on a bus for a long bus ride,” he said. “We came into the first stop when it was dark and we rounded a corner to find the town all lit up with U.S. flags and everyone cheering,” he said. “When you leave the the towns it was the same thing, but it was a lot more emotional. Some of the places the people were crying and it was surprising that you would get that emotionally connected in such a short time, but we did.”

Both of the Eagans said they were so moved by the experience that they are planning to go back next year for another tour. Although Quinn and Selbee said they would love to go back some day. They aren’t going again next year, but both agreed it was the trip of a lifetime.

More importantly, friendships were made across Europe all through a love of music.

avatar

Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply