Monday, June 26, 2017

On a European Tour with the AU Choir

Every four years, under the direction of Dr. Rowland Blackley, Ashland University Director of Choral Activities, the Ashland University Choir elects to spend their spring break on a European tour. Blackley emphasized, “There are many reasons that the University Choir travels to Europe every four years, but one of the most important is that the students get to sing choral music in the types of venues where it sounds best, and where it was meant to be performed."

For eight days in early March, the 2017 destination was Northern Germany to correlate with the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. With the Reformation primarily beginning in Wittenberg by Martin Luther, many sites important to Luther and the early Reformation were included in this tour along with visits to other historical and cultural sites such as the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial and cities influenced by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Accordingly, the choir performed in Berlin, Wittenberg, Eisleben and Leipzig.

From the Motor City to the Old Country 
With a flight from Detroit to Frankfurt on the first day, the second day began with a short flight to Berlin for a two-night stay. 

“All the students on the trip were born after the Berlin Wall fell, so the tour guide emphasized and expanded on that history and its impact on everyone at the time,” Blackley explained. 

On the first day in Berlin, the group visited the Reichstag (meeting place of the German parliament), the Brandenburg Gate, the famous “Checkpoint Charlie” (best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War), the Berliner Dom (Cathedral), and enjoyed a river cruise of Germany's dynamic capital.

The Berlin Dom (Cathedral) was one of the many sites visited
by the AU Choir on their first day of sightseeing in Germany.
On day two in Berlin, the choir toured Museum Island, a vast museum complex and a UNESCO World Heritage Site including the Pergamon Museum, which contains three world-class art collections. They saw the Nikolaikirche, the oldest church in Berlin, the Holocaust Monument and then had some free time on the Unter den Linden, the best-known and grandest street in Berlin.

The choir performed their first concert in Germany that evening at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a famous landmark of western Berlin. It was built between 1891-1895, but badly damaged during a bombing raid in 1943. The current structure was attached to the damaged spire and grand floor of the old church.

Home of the Reformation & an AU Alumna
The AU Choir poses with the Martin Luther statue outside
of Stadtkirche (Town Church) in Wittenberg.
On day four of the tour, the choir travelled to Wittenberg for a guided walking tour with a visit to the Lutherhaus (home of Martin Luther for most of his adult life), and then to the Stadtkirche (considered the mother-church of the Reformation) where the choir gave a mid-day concert. They then visited the Schlosskirche, which became the center of the Reformation when Luther affixed his famous 95 theses to the door in 1517. The day concluded with a visit to the Melanchthon House, former home of the humanist, reformer and editor of the Augsburg Confession.

As chance would have it, AU Choir alumna, Stephanie Rickel Woods (B.A. Religion, 2011), was in Wittenberg at the same time as the choir. It is apparent that Ashland University had a major impact on her life, not the least of which, was meeting her future husband, David Woods (B.Ed Integrated Mathematics, 2012) in choir, after talking to him when they served together at the annual Madrigal Feaste.

Now in pursuit of her Ph.D. in Church History at Boston University (BU), Stephanie was travelling as a teaching assistant with a seminar group through BU that was visiting Reformation sites. When her group was in Eisleben, she saw a poster for the AU Choir performance later in the week. She emailed Dr. Blackley for their itinerary and arranged for the entire BU group to attend the Stadtkirche concert. Stephanie then joined the AU group for the rest of their Wittenberg tour.

AU Choir alumna Stephanie Rickel Woods captured this
photo of the choir’s performance in Stadtkirche
“Seeing the AU choir in Germany, I was intensely proud of my alma mater. When you go to a small school in the Midwest like Ashland, you don’t expect to see or hear big things about your school nationally or internationally. No one in my group had ever heard of Ashland, so they were ambassadors for a great school. Moreover, the sound of the choir resonating in the Stadtkirche was glorious. I had heard a concert there two days before and it didn’t compare to the beauty of the AU choir.  I have always been incredibly thankful for my time at Ashland, and seeing these students represent us so well made me even more proud. Sitting in the audience, I had multiple Germans come up and ask me where the group was from, and I enjoyed being able to tell them about Ashland. It was also an incredible taste of home in a foreign country. Hearing the choir made me feel like I was at home even in a foreign country.”

From Luther to the Masters of Classical Music
The highlight of the tour was singing at St. Thomas in
Leipzig where Bach served for most of his career. 
The next day began with westward travel to Eisleben to visit Luther's birthplace, as well as the house where he died in 1546. The choir performed that afternoon at the St. Petri-Pauli-Kirche (St. Peter and Paul Church), which is the church where Martin Luther was baptized in 1483. After the concert, the tour continued on to the musical city of Leipzig for a guided walking tour of the Old Town Hall, the Market Square, the Gewandhaus concert hall and the Bach Museum prior to the tour’s most exciting event at St. Thomas Church.

While the choir sang in four beautiful churches, all of historical significance, the high point was St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. This was where Johann Sebastian Bach composed, directed and taught music for most of his career.  On this sixth day of their tour, the University Choir performed a concert, including a major work by Bach in St. Thomas where Bach wrote most of his church music. 

The choir poses with the Bach statue outside of St. Thomas.
Following the Choir’s performance, Dr. Timothy Guenther, Adjunct Instructor of Music and University Organist, had the amazing opportunity to play a half-hour recital on the pipe organ in St. Thomas where Bach was the organist for 27 years.

Detour to Frankfurt
The scheduled itinerary for the final full tour day in Germany included Magdeburg, where Luther lived for some time as a schoolboy and later preached important sermons in St. John's Church, to be followed by a flight to Berlin for the final night of the tour.

During an unexpected trip to Frankfurt on the last day of tour,
some students took advantage of a river cruise.
(l-r: Jacob Poiner, John Margida, Melissa Haber,
Brian Nguyen Le, Sami Eron, Rebecca Young, Kayla Gowdy)
However, due to an employee strike at the Berlin airport that cancelled all of their flights, the tour company arranged for the choir to depart directly from Frankfurt instead. Although there was no time at the beginning of the trip to tour Frankfurt, this opened the door for students to complete their souvenir shopping, enjoy another river boat cruise and visit more historical sites in one of Germany’s major cities. It was an unexpected change with a positive benefit, and a great finale to a rewarding and life-changing journey for the choir and everyone that they reached.

As summarized by music education major Jacob Poiner (Wellington, Ohio), “Choir is more than just the music…Choir is about the friendships and relationships just as much. Getting to experience such a fairy tale trip in the country where my family heritage lies with my friends was a life changing trip.”

For more photos of the tour and to view a video of Dr. Guenther playing the Bach-organ, visit the website at or the Facebook page at

This story will appear in the upcoming issue of the Accent Magazine.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Community Band Plays Fathers Day Concert

Once again, the Guy C Myers Memorial Band Shell will present the Ashland Area Community Concert Band under the direction of Leonard Salvo for its annual Fathers Day Concert on Sunday, June 18 at 8 pm. The concert will include patriotic favorites, Highlights from My Fair Lady as well as guest clarinet soloist Tom Reed on Cavallini's Adagio and Tarantella Solo for Clarinet and Band. The concert is free and open to public with freewill donations accepted. Held rain or shine, call the rain site hotline at 419.281.3018 after 5 p.m. the day of the concert to see if it is relocated to Hugo Young Theatre.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Guenther Plays Bach-organ in Germany

While on the Ashland University Choir tour in Germany this spring, Dr. Timothy Guenther, Ashland University organist, had the opportunity to play the Bach-organ at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany. Bach was the choir director at St. Thomas and he is buried there. Enjoy this short snip-it of Dr. Guenther on the Bach-organ.