ASO Goes On The Road

Collin Schopp

The Augustana Symphony Orchestra is taking to the road again this year, for a short tour at the beginning of the school’s fall break. This is the second tour that the ensemble has gone on, with last year’s performances in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs serving as a sort of test to determine the future of the ensemble’s touring career.
After that tour’s successful performances and connections with various communities and alumni, Augustana Symphony Orchestra conductor Dr. Daniel Chetel is excited to go back on the road again. Sophomore Julian Pacheco is also excited to go on tour. “Last year we did a Chicago area tour and it was very enjoyable to play for different people and see the look of enjoyment on their faces,” he said. “This year, I am most looking forward to playing for the high schoolers on tour.”
This year, the ensemble will be traveling a bit farther than the Windy City, with concerts in Madison and Waukesha, Wisconsin. These concerts all take place at local churches that have agreed to host the group, and one of them will include a collaboration with a local high school ensemble.
The theme for the program this year is “Made In America”, with pieces that are meant to reflect the diverse voices of composers that either are American themselves, or are heavily inspired to capture the spirit of Americana in their work.
When talking about one of the pieces, Chetel described it as “bringing all of these [influences] into an expressive and inclusive concept of being American, which we’re trying to share with everybody.” This is a good summation of the program, which has three very unique perspectives on American life and identity.
The first piece, “Made In America” by Joan Tower is considered peak Americana. According to Chetel, Tower spent time living in Bolivia, and wrote this piece upon returning to American culture. The piece uses variations on the memorable and timeworn melody of “America the Beautiful” to wrestle with the concept of American identity, and what exactly we mean when we say “American music.”
The second piece provides a completely different perspective, as composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in Britain and his father was born in Sierra Leone. The piece “Symphonic Variations on an African Air” was inspired by Coleridge-Taylor’s visits to America and his interaction with prominent African American cultural figures like W.E.B. DuBois. The piece also takes an existing melody, specifically that of spiritual “I’m Troubled in Mind,” and explores variations on it that infuse all of Coleridge-Taylor’s musical background.
The final piece of the program is a setting of a Gershwin opera piece in Robert Russell Bennett’s “Symphonic Picture from Porgy and Bess.” This is a piece that blends spirituals, gospel, classical music, and the stylish nature of show tunes all into a piece that backed up an opera all about the average life in 1930’s South Carolina, a locale generally untouched by opera music.
When talking about the program, Dr. Chetel said, “We do [this theme] because it’s complicated. One of the ways that we celebrate the liberal arts values of Augustana is to create programs that can intersect between the world of music and discussions of race, gender, and historical context that can enrich our understanding of our own identity and the identities of those with whom we share our lives.”
The Augustana Symphony Orchestra will have their home concert in Centennial Hall on Saturday, Oct. 13. They will tour from Nov. 2 to Nov. 4.