Kentucky Musicians Abroad Delights Crowds in Europe

Kentucky Musicians Abroad Delights Crowds in Europe

More than 360 musicians, 40 faculty members and staff, parents and a crew of tour directors made up the inaugural Kentucky Musicians Abroad European Performance Tour. Coordinated by Dr. Frederick Speck and Dr. Kent Hatteberg, outstanding music was the first focus, followed closely by exhilarating sights and a once-in-a-lifetime intercultural opportunity.

Kentucky Musicians Abroad co-directors Dr, Frederick Speck and Dr. Kent Hatteberg have been coordinators of similar tours for over two decades.

The tour began in Louisville, Kentucky as the choral, orchestra and band students checked into dorms on the University of Louisville campus. Four and a half days of intense training and rehearsal prepared the ensembles for their multiple performances in the days ahead. Band students were assigned to one of three concert bands, appropriately named the Red Band, White Band and Blue Band. The bands were designed to be equal in both talent and instrumentation. Their concert programs featured works by an array of composers, chosen by Dr. Speck. At the end of every concert, the three bands combined into a very large concert band for the playing of My Old Kentucky Home and Stars and Stripes Forever.

The Kentucky Musicians Abroad Blue Band rehearses in Comstock Hall on the University of Louisville campus.

The KMA Choir numbered over 140 singers and the String Orchestra had more than 30 players. Hatteberg chose pieces that both challenged and enlightened members of the choir. With more than 20 a cappella pieces on the program, the students worked tirelessly to understand the high-level literature, including a piece written for double chorus, where the choir was divided into two groups, with one choir singing in the front and the other near the back of the venue. The string orchestra presented pieces that would be both challenging and appealing to European audiences.

All groups performed in a farewell concert for families and friends. After final goodbyes, the participants made their way to the dorms to repack and ready themselves for departure from the States. Early Friday morning, the traveling party boarded multiple motor coaches and traveled to several midwestern airports to make the journey overseas.

A performer snaps one more selfie outside the University of Louisville School of Music with family members prior to packing up for the trip overseas.

United Kingdom

After an overnight flight, all travelers arrived at Heathrow airport. The sun had just come up and it was time to get started on a sightseeing adventure. The group traveled to the small village of Windsor and Windsor Castle. There they toured the area, began collecting souvenirs and enjoyed the local cuisine. While in England they also experienced a perfectly London day with showers in the forecast and watched the Changing of the Guard that included an unannounced sighting of King Charles leaving the complex. Other sights visited included the Tower of London, Evensong in Westminster Abbey, the London Eye and even a night at a Broadway show in West London.

In their first performance overseas, the combined Red, White and Blue Concert Bands finished the concert at the Victoria Embankment Gardens with Stars and Stripes Forever.

“I love London,” said Josh Hamilton, KMA Music Advisor and Director of Choirs at Rowan County Senior HS. “Being able to set out on our first tour stop and immediately being able to explore one of the great European cities is just fantastic. London really has a little bit of everything, from the attractions, the history and the excitement of our student travelers seeing these great locations that they previously had only ever seen in pictures,” he said. Hamilton has been the director at Rowan County for eight years.

First performances were given to very appreciative crowds. The Victoria Embankment Gardens bandstand, situated on the north side of the Thames, was a perfect setting for all three bands to perform on a wonderful afternoon in the park. The local audience filled the gardens in chairs on the plaza or on blankets in the grassy area to enjoy the concert. The choir and orchestra performed later that day in the Holy Sepulchre Church. Holy Sepulchre is the largest Anglican parish church in the City of London.


Driving out of London was bittersweet but the promise of a ferry ride from Dover was exciting. Riding on a coach onto the ferry and finding a comfortable space on the decks above for the next few hours was eye-opening. Upon arrival in Calais, the coaches departed the ferry rapidly and the caravan was on the way to Paris. Anticipating their Paris experience, the first renditions of the pop song Champs-Élysées, made famous by Joe Dassin, were attempted on each coach.

Up the steps to Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, a Seine River Cruise and the Louvre were highlights of the time in Paris. Also, the rush of entering and exiting traffic in the drive around the Arc de Triomphe was an adventure in itself.

All groups performed while in Paris. The Concert Bands performed at Luxembourg Gardens on an absolutely perfect day. The choir and string orchestra performed the day before in the La Madeleine Cathedral.

Staff Advisor, Scott Cooksey, Director of Bands at Louisville Male HS said, “My most enjoyed performance venue would be the bands’ performance in Paris at Luxembourg Gardens, a former palace grounds built in the early 1600s now serving as a large city park with the former palace now being utilized for the French Senate. The bands perform in a large iron gazebo resembling a bird cage in a busy section of the park,” he said. “Our concert was around the lunch hour with hundreds of people passing by or enjoying their lunch in the park. They hear the band warming up and immediately start to gather for the performance. It is very common for audience members to come up to speak with the performers following the concert, wishing to know more about where they are from and the trip we are on,” Cooksey said. Cooksey has been director at Male for nine years, is a veteran staff advisor and served as the conductor for the White Band.

Performing in La Madeleine in France was a highlight for the choir students.

Hamilton relished the choir performance at La Madeleine in Paris. He said, “The obvious beauty of the space and acoustics are truly special. This was a new location to me and completely blew my expectations away.” Hamilton continued, “From the first sounds the choir made in warm-up, I could feel the excitement from the singers. Coupled with the musical history of the church, being the place where composers such as Gabriel Fauré and Camille Saint-Saëns worked, made this a real treat.”


Next stop, Switzerland. Through the sinuous roads of the countryside, snow-covered caps welcomed the group into a new country. A railway trip up the mountain for dinner and some hiking, a very friendly St. Bernard and some of the most amazing sights in memory made for a wonderful end of the day.

High school senior percussionist Ari Hatzell thought Switzerland was her favorite country. “Standing on top of the mountain after my friends and I took 30 minutes to climb it was breathtaking and so emotional. The sunsets every night were beautiful and the view of Lake Geneva was incredible,” she said.

Ari Hatzell, Tristan Morrison and Brady Rensel, all senior band performers, liked Switzerland the most.
Ari Hatzell, Tristan Morrison and Brady Rensel, all senior band performers, liked Switzerland the most.

Staff member Justin Romney, Staff Advisor and Choir Director at South Oldham HS agreed. “Switzerland is always a favorite – going up to the top of three famous mountains in three days was delightful. I loved going from the busyness of London and Paris to the open splendor and natural rugged beauty of Switzerland.”

The KMA Bands performed in the market square of the mountain village of Grindelwald which has as its backdrop the famous Eiger Mountain. The KMA Choir and String Orchestra performed at Schlosskirche Castle Church in Interlaken.

Tuba player Tristan Morrison said, “Grindelwald was my favorite performance venue because we had beautiful landscape all around us.” Trumpet player Brady Rensel agreed. “My favorite performance venue was in Grindelwald in Switzerland. Performing our music while having a great view of mountains and snow was such a nice experience. We also had time after the concert to go explore the little town, and I got some food with my friends,” said Rensel.

A week had already flown by as the group transferred through Strasbourg on their way to Luxembourg.


Luxembourg is a small European country surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany. It’s mostly rural, with dense Ardennes forest and nature parks in the north, rocky gorges of the Mullerthal region in the east and the Moselle River valley in the southeast. The capital, Luxembourg City, is famed for its fortified medieval old town perched on sheer cliffs.

The first stop of the day was at the Luxembourg American Cemetery outside Luxembourg City. It is an American military war cemetery from World War II. The cemetery, containing 5,074 American war dead, covers 33.5 acres and was dedicated in 1960. General George S. Patton used the city of Luxembourg as headquarters.

The KMA Concert Choir performed at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
Kentucky Musicians Abroad memorial wreath

The KMA Concert choir performed and Rensel played taps prior to the presentation of a Kentucky Musicians Abroad memorial wreath at the entrance to the cemetery. Two KMA student musicians had the honor of presenting the wreath. Rensel plans to go into Computer Engineering at either the University of Kentucky or the University of Louisville.

The Luxembourg City organizers rolled out the red carpet for the group as they separated into teams, taking the participants on a walking tour. Time was of importance as the choir was expected in the town square for a quick performance of a few songs including My Old Kentucky Home. The mayor of the city was elated to meet the coordinators and to show off the city. It was a particularly warm day as the students, parents and staff found shade and a cool drink as often as possible.

Finally, the ensembles arrived in Grevenmacher, a commune with town status in eastern Luxembourg, on the border with Germany. Though this day brought the hottest outdoor temperatures, the concert bands continued to perform at an amazing level. Faculty members of the Grevenmacher music school couldn’t say enough about the high quality of musicianship. The orchestra performance that followed was interrupted by a sudden summer squall. Undeterred, the orchestra fit themselves onto the covered stage and continued to entertain with a variety of impromptu solo performances by the string musicians. To conclude the day, the concert choir performance was moved inside a nearby church.


Up early and on the road again, the participants in eight charter buses departed for Cologne and the Cologne Cathedral also known in German as Kölner Dom. The cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark, attracting an average of 20,000 people a day and is the tallest twin-spired church in the world, the second tallest church in Europe after Ulm Minster and the third tallest church of any kind in the world. The choir sang as part of a prayer service in the Cathedral prior to departing for Utrecht.

“Terrific student musicians, a great teaching staff and a committed MTC team. Our passion is bringing outstanding musical and intercultural experiences to students in Kentucky and southern Indiana.”

– Dr. Frederick Speck


As the coaches rolled into the city of Utrecht, everyone was struck by the beauty of the landscape. With only a few days left in the tour, the group spent the morning enjoying the city, the canal and another chance to pick up souvenirs. Both the choir and orchestra performed in Nikolaikerk Église Saint Nicolas Church and the bands performed in the church’s courtyard. Each band played through their concert repertoire for the last time with several small ensembles sprinkled throughout. As always, the end of the concert included the combined bands conducted by Dr. Speck. Their final rendition of Stars and Stripes Forever was truly inspirational.

The final morning in Europe was spent at the Zaanse Schans windmill farm where travelers took group photos, toured actively working windmills and found samples of delicious cheese. The day ended in Amsterdam with time for exploration of the sights, a canal boat tour and a farewell dinner. Students, tour directors and staff spent time exchanging hugs and final selfies before traveling back to the states the next day.

The windmill farm at Zaanse Schans was a favorite stop on the tour.

A performance trip of this magnitude truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Cooksey said, “The opportunity to share your music while experiencing so many cultures from major European cities like London and Paris, the amazing scenery of Switzerland, or the canals and bicycles of the Netherlands is truly a life-changing experience.” Hamilton added, “Giving young people an opportunity to explore new and exciting places encourages them to become more global thinkers and citizens. In a world that often feels like it is becoming more and more closed off, making our students aware of everything that the world has to offer them is a chance we have to encourage.”

The student performers also felt the gravity of the moment. “This trip is great for high school students to have amazing experiences somewhere they’ve never been while being able to play their instrument with other great musicians,” Morrison said. Hatzell echoed, “Performing your instrument abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is an incredibly fun experience.”

Many amazing adventures were experienced by the travelers, who had good advice to share. Hamilton said, “Don’t be afraid to go off the beaten path. Try the hole in the wall restaurant, sample the local fare, and don’t always go with the options that feel the most familiar or comfortable. The tour is about broadening your horizons and you never know if you’ll make it back! Try as many new things as you possibly can.” Romney said, “Part of the joy of visiting another country is feeling the ground under your feet. That means a lot of walking. Being able to get around Europe and have the endurance to last all day on your feet is vital.” Cooksey summarized, “Come with an open mind to experience new people, cultures, food, architecture and scenery unlike anything we have in the United States. It is such an amazing experience to perform in these European venues while sharing a bit of our own culture through music. I encourage you to make the most of each performance!”

“Fabulous student musicians, a great group of Music Advisors and a terrific team of tour leaders and guides! I can’t wait for the next opportunity to bring students from Kentucky and Southern Indiana on this amazing musical, cultural and historical adventure.”

– Dr. Kent Hatteberg

The students had many of the same feelings and similar advice. “Pack a swimsuit and keep it in your backpack at all times! You never know when there might be a pretty river or lake nearby and you won’t want to miss an opportunity to dive into one of the snow run-off streams in Switzerland,” said Hatzell. She plans to study music education then take the premed route to and become a surgeon. Morrison said, “This trip was life-changing and I have been viewing life in a different way after the trip. I’m always pushing myself to be my best, which has been a great change.” Morrison plans to study music education and biology after graduation.

“My advice would be to take time to let the experience soak in. Take pictures for memories but make sure to put your phone down and enjoy the moments. This tour was a great mix of touring and performance. I was able to learn so much about the different places and cultures while also being able to have fun performing music at great concert venues.”

– Brady Rensel

Traveling Home

Aircraft carrying the travelers back to the States departed throughout the day from Amsterdam. Charter busses returned them to the University of Louisville campus where parents anxiously awaited their arrivals and the stories of memories made that followed.

For more information about how to become a performer with the Kentucky Musicians Abroad, email If you are interested in adding your state or region or want to become a performer, coordinator or staff member on a different tour, email Musicians Abroad is a division of Music Travel Consultants.

More photos of the trip can be viewed HERE.

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