May 13, 2015—It would be tempting for the average student to spend four years studying at the University of Oregon without venturing beyond the immediate environment of campus. Everything most students need is within a few miles’ radius.
For UO School of Music and Dance students, it’s a different story. Musicians and dancers venture outside their home territories and into study-abroad programs, community service activities, and performing venues.
If nothing else, UO musicians are frequently called upon to serve as entertainers at festivals, parties, mixers, cultural centers, other universities, and sporting events, both locally and globally.
In this way, SOMD students are not just tourists in the world, but student ambassadors who connect the university with outside communities.
The SOMD has prioritized funding for student ensemble travel, including the Oregon Jazz Ensemble’s ambitious summer 2014 trip to Switzerland, France, and Italy. 2013 saw the UO Gospel Singers travel to China and the Opera Ensemble travel to Costa Rica.
The Choral Connection
And then there’s the case of the UO Chamber Choir.
During the past five years the ensemble, under the direction of Professor Sharon J. Paul, has steadily made a name for itself in Europe, first in 2011, when they took top honors in two categories (Renaissance/Baroque and Chamber Choir) at the 12th International Tallinn Choir Festival in Tallinn, Estonia. Then in 2013 the Chamber Choir won the Fleischmann Trophy at the Cork International Choral Festival in Ireland.
Now the Chamber Choir has its sights set on a new prize: the 2015 Marktoberdorf International Chamber Choir Competition, scheduled for May 22–27, 2015 in Marktoberdorf, Germany.
“Many people don’t realize that you must be invited to this festival, and that you only receive an invitation after you have proven yourself at other prestigious festivals in Europe,” Paul explains. “I believe we only received this invitation because of our win in Cork two years ago.”
The fact that the Estonia and Ireland wins were two years apart, and that it has been nearly two years since the choir was in Ireland, shows a deep faith in the standards Paul sets for her singers, as they have a rather short shelf life of typically four years before graduating.
Some singers, however, luck out and get to do a bit more traveling than the average student. Tom Dasso, who is set to graduate this year, sang in Estonia as a freshman and in Ireland as a junior, and will now sing in Germany.
Music Uniting Nations
“I almost didn’t sing when I arrived at the UO,” Dasso admits. “I didn’t know it at the time, but Dr. Paul needed a bass singer. She said she’d make a deal with me: if I took some voice lessons, she’d have a place for me.”
Little did Dasso know that a few months later he’d be flying to Estonia.
“That was pretty much the stamp for keeping me in music,” he says. “If I wasn’t sure I was studying the right subject before that, I certainly was after.”
“When you arrive at an international festival, you realize you share this cultural norm through music,” Dasso says. “Getting to share, getting to hear what others have to offer, and seeing how they appreciate what you have to offer—there really aren’t words to describe what that’s like.”
For her part, Paul finds Dasso’s thesis of cultural exchange to be a timely one.
“The interesting thing about Marktoberdorf,” Paul says, “is that the theme is peace, and cultural exchange is very much expected and respected. We are one of two choirs from the United States, and so we are not only representing Oregon, but our country as well.”
Dasso says that international tours make him a better musician.
“Performing at these festivals in front of other talented musicians gives you better perspective on what you are doing,” Dasso said. “It indirectly makes you a better singer, because it gives you a newfound focus and understanding.”