The Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club embarked on a three-week tour of Guatemala and Mexico this past January upon receiving the opportunity to perform with the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra, the oldest symphony orchestra in Mexico.
A total of 99 people — 96 students, two faculty members and one guest musician — went on the tour, according to Adam Proch ’17, assistant general manager of the Glee Club.
The idea for the tour was conceived almost two years ago, according to Amy Penick ’17, international tour manager of the Cornell University Chorus.
The collaboration with Xalapa Symphony Orchestra was organized after the Chorus and Glee Club performed with the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra. The director, Lanfranco Marcelletti, was also the director of Xalapa Symphony Orchestra.
The groups performed “Cantares” — a piece by Cornell Prof. Roberto Sierra that the groups premiered at Carnegie Hall last April — with the Xalapa Symphony Orchestra at Sala De Conciertos Tlaqná, a concert venue in Xalapa.
“Cantares,” has cultural ties to Mexico — its lyrics are about the invasion led by Hernán Cortés and the conquistadors in the early 16th century, according to Proch.
Proch said the groups were able to professionally record “Cantares” with the orchestra, and the recording will be available at some point in the future.
Both groups travel annually for performance and service tours, but this was their first time travelling to Guatemala, according to Penick.
“It has been eight years since [the Cornell Glee Club] last toured with the Cornell Chorus,” said Jacob Cohen ’16, officer of alumni affairs and one of four student tour managers.
According to Cohen, the groups take pride in being entirely student-run and operated.
“Everything from the very idea of the tour to the fundraising and logistics came from students,” Cohen said.
As Officer of Alumni Affairs, Cohen was also in charge of a fundraising campaign that raised $120,000 in 6 months.
“I spent much of my time on the management team planning stops, finding new contacts and doing all sorts of logistical work,” Cohen said.
Penick said the experience was “particularly enthralling” for both choirs because they travelled internationally together and for many, it was their first time abroad.
“My personal highlight was entering Catedral de Mérida in Mérida, Mexico a little bit after the group had already begun rehearsing for our concert that night,” said Nathan Kashdan ‘18, international tour manager for the Cornell University Glee Club.
Proch said a highlight for him was their performance at a school for students with disabilities in Mérida.
“It is moving to bring our music to a foreign country, where they didn’t understand most of what we were singing, and yet the power and beauty of our music caused them to focus and be excited,” he said. “The saying that music is a universal language has never rang so loudly in my mind, and I couldn’t help but smile right back at the students.”
The Chorus and Glee Club also partook in formalizing the Cornell Club of Mexico, the first Cornell-recognized club in Latin America.
Hongnan Ma, from the international affairs department of alumni affairs and development, was instrumental to the networking it took to make this event a success, according to Penick.
“With the help of alumni affairs, we were able to gather about 70 alumni from the surrounding area for the event,” Penick said. “Our hope was to reinvigorate the alumni presence in the region, and through music we hope to continue to strengthen the relationship between Cornell on the Hill and its graduates abroad.”
Looking back on the tour, Cohen said he felt certain the groups had accomplished all three of the goals they had established at the beginning of their tour.
“We established three main goals of the tour: to share our music with international audiences, to act as ambassadors of our university and to provide a rich cultural experience for our members,” Cohen said.