ELMHURST – A pair of York High School students expected to learn new music and see new sights when they embarked on a month-long European music tour, but they didn’t expect to also form such strong bonds with their host families.
“I’m an only child, so I have no siblings, but each family I stayed [with] had an older host brother, or younger host sister, or something,” said Kayman Klaas, 15, who plays the clarinet.
The York sophomore spent roughly two days with each of his host families while he toured seven communities in Germany, France and Austria with the Blue Lake International Southern Winds. Host families greeted him and his bandmates while they unloaded their bus at each new stop, and from that first moment, Klaas felt like a member of the strangers’ households.
This summer, Callie Fitzgerald, 16, a string bassist, traveled with the Blue Lake International Youth Symphony Orchestra for the second time. Although she traveled Germany, France and Belgium last year, the group spent the trip traveling Germany this time. An only child as well, Fitzgerald was excited to see familiar faces during the journey.
“We went to two of the same stops in Germany, and I saw both of my old host families,” Fitzgerald said.
Both students made friends with many of their host family members on Facebook and hope to keep in touch with them. Klaas said he bonded with one of his host sisters over their mutual appreciation for the band, Green Day. She also said one of Fitzgerald’s host brothers would grill her about recently released American movies, trying to predict when they might be translated into German so he could watch them.
The trip also provided to the two musicians with new experiences, as well.
“I got to climb up a mountain in Austria,” said Klaas. “That was probably my favorite thing that I did with one of my host families.”
He also performed at the base of a mountain during an outdoor concert in Austria.
Fitzgerald got the unique opportunity to perform in a 100-year-old castle and in a concert hall where classical music greats George Frideric Handel and Joseph Haydn once played.
“You sit in there, and you play just even one note and you think, ‘I could never find this anywhere else,’” Fitzgerald said.
In addition to incredible scenery and acoustics, the Elmhurst musicians learned more about music than they expected, too.
They spent eight hours a day learning their music for roughly a week before leaving for Europe, but their instruction didn’t end there. Klaas traveled with an American conductor, but had the opportunity to learn from a guest German conductor, and Fitzgerald toured with a German conductor during her nor trip.
“You have to learn to play in a whole new style,” Fitzgerald said.
While both musicians have been playing their instruments since fourth grade and passed the competitive audition process for their respective traveling groups, the German conductors surprised them by leading the musicians to play the same pieces differently than they had learned in America.
Even though neither Klaas or Fitzgerald speak a second language fluently, they forged relationships with their budding foreign language skills.
When it came to music, however, they needed no translation. They performed for crowds of Europeans who gave them standing ovations.
“It really showed that music can be like a universal language,” Klaas said.