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Lucy Alton ’78: Tour mastermind

By Alicia Bessette

Tom Lloyd did not want to bus his students between hotels, crowded tourist attractions and concert halls on a hectic 10-day choral tour of Europe.

Not the expense of befriending people of a different culture, and not at $2,000 a student.

That’s why Lloyd, director of the bi-college choral program, chose a different tour site for his Chamber Singers. He brought 28 members to Venezuela from May 18-25, 1998. They rehearsed and performed at the Universidad Catolica Andrés Bello and the Universidad Simón Bolívar (USB), both in Caracas. They stayed in the homes of music students.

Lloyd’s tour was less than half the cost per student than most tours offered by American travel agencies. And the friendships his students made with Venezuelans enforced the pedagogical premise of the bi-college touring program—that learning about a culture means interacting with its people.

“Music, especially shared choral singing, enables people of different cultural backgrounds to connect on a much more personal level,” said Lloyd. “So I set about looking for the basic ingredients for such a tour: a country with an outstanding collegiate choral tradition where classes and rehearsals would be in regular session during our tour week; a willing and adventurous counterpart in the music faculty of such a college; and alumnae/i connections to help make the local arrangements.

“I heard the USB choir a few years ago at a choral festival in San Diego. Their director, Maria Guinand, is internationally known as one of the leading proponents of a revival in Latin American choral music. The choir had a gorgeous, warm sound and musical spontaneity that I loved right away. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if our students could meet and sing with such a choir!’ So I gave Maria a call, and she was quite receptive to the idea of our coming to Venezuela and singing together.”

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Sara Jacobs ’99 with members of the special choir program for children at the Centro Academico Nacional Infantil in a poor urban neighborhood of Caracas.

A call to Betty Vermey ’58, Bryn Mawr’s director of International Initiatives, put Lloyd in touch with Lucy Alton ’78, who had moved to Caracas with her family several years earlier. “When I heard there was a man on the phone for me from Haverford,” said Alton, “I had that reaction: how much money do they want this year?”

Alton put Lloyd in touch with her travel agent in Venezuela. She also arranged for the singers to stay with Venezuelan students through the music department at the USB.

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Anika Torruella ’98 loved living and singing with Venezuelans. “We did not realize how Americanized the Venezuelan songs were till we sang with Venezuelans,” she said. “Person-ally, I learned more native, spoken Spanish, and how to dance traditional dances. I learned about the political unrest first hand from students my own age. I saw the people, poor and rich, first hand. They were real. I talked to them, touched them and lived with them. This trip took us from our collegiate American bubble to explore a different and completely foreign culture. The choirs welcoming us were free with their love, time and culture.

”Leah Coffin ’98 agreed. “I have never had such a good time in all my life as I had in Venezuela. From both a musical and a personal standpoint, this trip could not possibly have been more gratifying,” she said. “Everywhere I went I was greeted with genuine warmth and open arms by our hosts, who never let a language barrier stand in the way of making us feel at home in their country.”

Alton did not attend the performances—she and her family temporarily relocated to Maryland before the Chamber Singers arrived in Venezuela. But for Alton, simply masterminding the arrangements was meaningful. “It was fun to do something for Bryn Mawr,” she said. “When I came up for Reunion I felt that I had just been in touch with the College, instead of having been gone so far away, for so long, and coming back to this place that was almost strange now.”

“I came back and thought, ‘Well, I’m an important alum!’ Tom could have made the arrangements without me, but it would have meant a lot more headaches for him. It wasn’t that much work, it wasn’t hard for me to do, it was fun, and it gave me a lot of confidence about doing this kind of thing. I guess my take home lesson for everybody at the College is that any alumna with a sense of good will could do it.”

According to Lloyd, involving alumnae like Alton is another reason to tour in less popular countries. “It gives us incentive to reach out to alumnae who live abroad in a very meaningful way,” he said. Vermey echoed his sentiment. “We always try to get alumnae together when someone from the College is visiting a certain area,” she said.

Especially when there’s singing.

CD: ‘Te Quiero, Venezuela!’

A new compact disc recording of the Chamber Singers' tour program, “Te Quiero, Venezuela!” is now available. At the students' request, part of the proceeds from each CD will be contributed to the children's choral program in Caracas. To order a copy, please send your mailing address plus a check for $15 for the CD, postage and handling to:

Chamber Singers CD
c/o Tom Lloyd
Haverford College
370 Lancaster Ave
Haverford, PA 19041-1392

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