Two St. Bernard Prep School students accepted the invitation from the Alabama Ambassadors of Music to join other students from around the state for a musical tour of Europe.
The Alabama Ambassadors is a group of staff and students from Alabama high school/college bands and choirs. Every other summer students are invited to make a wonderful 16 day trip to Europe to represent the State of Alabama as Ambassadors of Music. On June 6-21, 2013, eighty students from the state joined Band Director Harry McAfee of Birmingham and Choral Director Laura Doss of Cullman for a life-changing experience abroad.
St. Bernard students Daniel Coccia and Kimie Garcia joined the Alabama Ambassadors and performed at various locations: parks, churches and other venues throughout England, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
Dan, tenor sax in hand, and Kimie with her alto voice prepared for their journey by spending several days in rehearsal at Bumpus Middle School in Birmingham. Music for the tour included classic band tunes, Sousa, Spanish and Austrian March tunes, medleys of the Beatles and Frank Sinatra, American River Songs based on American folk tunes, Dixieland Jazz and a Dixieland Concerto.
Tour director Harry McAfee said he has conducted three European trips and was pleased to have St. Bernard represented.
Both Dan and Kimie described the experience as a trip of a lifetime, as well as their first time to travel internationally. Although each admitted to being a bit frightened at London’s Heathrow Airport by the sound of so many unfamiliar languages, both managed to overcome the anxiety once custom officials made them feel welcomed.
Travelling on a bus from the airport to the hotel, Dan admitted to having his first culture shock encounter. Grinning, he said, “The first thing I noticed that was different from the states was, “The bathrooms.” “They shower differently,” he chuckled. “The hot water lasts only a short time. I found out quickly; get yourself wet, turn off the water, lather yourself up, and rinse.”
Kimie was mesmerized by the beauty of the country, and found charm in London accents, culture and hospitality; while at the same time sharing Dan’s fascination with the classic London taxis.
“We were fed well on the trip,” Kimie said. From their favorite fish and chips in London to gelato in Italy, the St. Bernard students enjoyed four course meals three times a day!
McAfee said, “We had three days to learn the music, then travel; and after that three days off, so I got a bit nervous, but was proud of the group’s performance.“
A total of five concerts were held and they were very well received. Europeans like spiritual folk songs and Jazz tunes that are strictly American, and tend to follow the summer schedule of musicians from the states. Just before Alabama performed, there was Oklahoma.
Kimie and Dan described singing and playing on the tour as an amazing experience. Each complimented tour directors McAfee and Doss by stating the band was very skilled and the program of music well thought out.
Spending time abroad allowed students to experience art museums in London, visit the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, and tour many historic places often studied in school.
“Seeing the actual ‘Mona Lisa’ was something I will never forget, and having our photo taken with her is a memory that will last a lifetime,” said Kimie. “It was much smaller than I thought it would be, but more beautiful than I could have imagined.”
Now back in school, students have expressed their appreciation to their St. Bernard director Mr. Lester Harris for his recommendation to tour with the Alabama Ambassadors, and to their parents for affording them the educational opportunity. When asked if they would like to do it again; without hesitation both replied, “YES.”
Dan and Kimie are juniors at St. Bernard Prep School. Dan is the son of Dr. & Mrs. Chris Coccia; and Kimie is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Luis Garcia of Cullman.