Reflections on the Gustavus Choir 2023 International Tour Posted on March 7th, 2023 by

Written by Coleden Wedge ’20, Music Tours Manager & Assistant Director of Fine Arts

The Gustavus Choir is back home after performing across Spain, France, Monaco, and Italy. Here’s a recap of the extraordinary adventure.

The 2023 Gustavus Choir international tour took place from January 19 to February 3. Across those 16 days, The G Choir, directed by Dr. Brandon Dean and featuring Dr. Chad Winterfeldt on the organ, performed eight concerts and shared their music with more than 4,000 audience members.

The performances were, as always, magnificent. But there’s so much more that happens on tours than meets the eye. Here are some thoughts, insights, and thank yous:

Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
In preparation for our tour we put in a lot of work, and I mean A LOT of work. The planning for this tour started back in 2021, two years before departure! Faculty and staff from the Music Department, Marketing Office, and Fine Arts Office all participated in planning this once in a lifetime opportunity to make it the best experience possible for our students.

In January 2023, the work transferred to the students. The G Choir rehearsed almost daily, for several hours in the morning, several hours in the afternoon, and occasionally a few hours in the evening. They also attended a daily cultural studies course taught by Dr. Chad Winterfeldt where they learned about the life, culture, history and music of Spain, France, Monaco, and Italy. We talked about what to expect on an international tour like this, including how to pack, what to bring and not bring, Gustavus policies, and airport etiquette.

It wasn’t all work. Each G Choir section had fun bonding sessions on the way to establishing themselves as one complete ensemble.

The 35,000ft View
Eight hours is a long time to spend in a plane, but it goes by much faster when you have a great group to spend time with. We watched movies and TV shows, laughed, played games, tried our best to sleep, and at some point each one of us stared at the headrest in front of us and hoped we would be landing soon. Those lucky enough to have a window seat had some pretty amazing views from 35,000 ft up.

“Unexpected Turbulence”
Not everything can always go exactly as planned, and our travel through multiple airports is evidence of that. More than half the choir got delayed overnight at JFK International Airport.  Some students didn’t have boarding passes when they landed for their connecting flights. Others almost missed a connecting flight on the way home. Do Gusties just give up and accept that they’ve been beaten by an airport? Of course not. Do Gusties panic? Maybe a little… But we rallied. We stuck together, helped each other, and all ended up getting where we needed to be. (Some just got there earlier than others.)

Food, glorious food!
The food that we had in Spain, France, and Italy was some of the best cuisine on the planet. From the tapas and paella in Barcelona, to the macaroons and chocolate-filled croissants in France, to the pasta and pizza in Italy, we couldn’t ask for a better selection of food to fill up hungry college students every night.

A bird in the hand…
For some inexplicable reason, many of our students seem to have a complete and utter fascination with birds. I’m not talking about the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock thriller The Birds. I’m talking about pigeons. Throughout the tour I was continually asked, “If I catch a pigeon can it be our tour pet?” The answer was always a resounding no from myself and the other staff members. The streets of Barcelona, Venice, and Millan were full of pigeons just waiting to be fed…and chased. Thankfully, no birds were harmed or captured in the creation of this tour.

Places & People
We saw some extraordinary sites during our time abroad. La Sagrada Familia, the largest (and still unfinished) Catholic church in history. The city of Èze, literally built into the side of a cliff overlooking the sea. The coasts of the French Riviera. The entirely man-made island of Venice and all its waterways. These wonderful places made for memorable experiences, but it’s the people we experienced them with that made these places unforgettable. Years from now, students might not remember exactly what pieces they performed at each concert or what they had for every meal, but they’ll remember who they were with and the time they shared together.

The Duomo
The Gustavus Choir performed in cathedrals that were older than England, in churches that housed the tombs of European royalty. Yet our performance in the Duomo in Milan, on which construction began in 1386, was the pinnacle performance for this tour. During this concert, the Gustavus Choir performed for more than 1,500 in-person spectators and several hundred via livestream. (Watch it here.) It was a performance unlike anything any of us had ever experienced, or will likely experience again.

There is truly no greater love than that between college students and gelato. Slept in and missed breakfast? Gelato. Not quite full from lunch? Gelato. Need dinner but don’t want to sit down at an actual restaurant? Gelato. Had gelato for dessert but want more? Gelato! How we didn’t run Europe out of gelato is beyond me.

Where Words Fail, Music Speaks (Hans Christian Anderson)
Traveling to another country where you don’t speak the language can be difficult. It can be even more difficult when the audience may not understand what you’re singing. The beauty of music is that you don’t have to understand it to be moved by it. Sometimes the melody and harmonies can leave a deeper impression without the lyrics.

One of the most impactful memories of the tour happened during our last concert in Venice. The penultimate piece of that concert was F. Melius Christiansen’s arrangement of “Beautiful Savior.” After the piece finished and the applause started, an elderly woman walked toward me from the back row of pews. When she got to me, she reached out her hands, and I saw she had tears in her eyes. She shook my hand, and said, “English is not so good. Thank you. Thank you so much.” Then she walked away. Nothing else was said, but I knew our music had impacted her in a profound way

If that’s not powerful I don’t know what is.

It’s Good to be Home
This tour was a truly incredible experience. The places we performed, the food we ate, the people we interacted with, and the memories we made together truly show what touring at Gustavus is all about. We learned a lot, experienced so much, and showed the world what makes music at Gustavus unique.

And…it is nice to be home with family, friends, familiarity, and all the little things we sometimes take for granted.

It Takes A Village
This tour with the Gustavus Choir was my first international tour as the Music Tours Manager. The tour group consisted of 81 singers, seven staff members, and 30-plus companions. It’s a massive undertaking to move nearly 120 humans across four different countries.We did it together.

Thank you to the companions who shared this incredibly life-changing experience with us. Some sang as a part of the alumni choir, others were friends of Gustavus who wanted to support the tour and travel with us. It was so incredible to see how the students interacted with and got to know many of the companions. Also, a huge thank you to companions who stepped up as our on-call medical advisors when the choir was hit by the “tour crud,” food poisoning, and COVID all at once. Having licensed medical professionals on tour to help us take care of our students was incredibly helpful and we’re so incredibly thankful for you all.

Thank you to Gateway, the tour company we worked with to plan this international tour. A special thanks to our Gateway representatives: Matthew, who helped plan what this tour would look like, and Melanie, who traveled with us and helped ensure the tour ran as smoothly as possible.

Thank you to everyone at Gustavus who was involved in making this tour happen. Brandon Dean and Chad Winterfeldt in our Music Department, Ann Sponberg Peterson, Tom Young, and Jennifer Vickerman in the Advancement Office who led the companions on the tour, all of the Marketing and Communications staff who helped create the materials we used to promote the tour and capture photos and video while we were abroad, and anyone else at Gustavus who helped make this life-changing tour possible for our students.

Let’s keep these opportunities and experiences going for decades to come. Please consider joining the Gustavus Friends of Music, joining us on our next tour, donating to international touring ensemble scholarships, and asking the high school musicians in your life to consider Gustavus.  Touring is more than just going somewhere cool and performing. It’s about providing students with the opportunity to be a part of something that is so much bigger than themselves, and about opening them up to new and different worlds.



  1. Katha Chamberlain says:

    What a terrific recap of our extraordinary two weeks of music-making! and student-to-companion friends-making!
    Yes, please join the GAC Friends of Music to help our GAC students continue touring. John and I were so fortunate to be included as Friends of Music. Cantate Domino!

  2. Janyce Olson says:

    As one of the companions I was very grateful for the opportunity to share this journey. It was a privilege to be present at the choir’s performances. Each was nothing short of stunning. The opening number was an experience in surround sound as the choir lined three sides of the church in a breath taking presentation. I took videos of several numbers at different locations and relish the chance to relive the trip. Thank you students for representing Gustavus in such an impressive manner. I have never been prouder to be a Gustie.

  3. Kathy Bigalke Ciabattoni says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful Milan concert video! And the tour notes are a delight. What an experience for these singers, current Gusties and the alumni! As you say, this will be a forever memory, no matter how many wonderful experiences yet to come. Looking back at my choir tours in 1962-64, to the east and west coasts of the US, I recall special moments with Prof Knautz….especially Orchestra Hall in NYC! (And the long bus rides, meals in church basements, staying with families along the way.) As they sang Beautiful Savior and Praise to the Lord, gorgeous Christianson arrangements, tears flowed down my cheeks. We sang these too…what beautiful memories and what beautiful music. Bravo! 90 years of the Gustavus Choir, long may you reign!

    Thank you and God bless! Kathy

  4. Cheri Roberts says:

    As a “companion” and former GChoir member, I have to say that it was indeed a wonderful trip. The Basilicas, Duomo’s, Cathedrals, historical architecture, and the friendly local people we visited with were fabulous. But one of my biggest impressions was that of tour students themselves. The amount of physical labor involved with moving equipment, bags of robes, assorted boxes of programs, and musical instruments was impressive. Most often all this was done while having to walk long distances on stone/cobble pavements and over multiple foot bridges! Everyone took on their assigned duty and did it well. Then the performances. Sometimes the logistics were a bit difficult but everyone adjusted and those performances were absolutely wonderful! I never tired of listening to all of those concerts because, each time, I heard something different or had a new emotional reaction. The audiences, English speaking or not, would convey their appreciation and emotional connection . It was obvious as you looked at their faces. I was thrilled to be able to go along and it just solidified my reason for being a Friend of Music member!