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European band trip is eye-opening

Stephey has personal growth while seeing the sights

News editor

What did Peabody-Burns senior Zach Stephey do on his summer vacation?

He and his French horn hooked up with about 400 musical strangers for a concert tour of Europe.

Among five PBHS students nominated to be part of the biennial Kansas Ambassadors of Music band, orchestra, and choir tour, Stephey was the only one to join the band for a June trip to England, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Germany, Italy, and Greece.

Stephey didn’t know another soul when the group got together at Newman University in Wichita for grueling marathon practice sessions.

“We practiced from 7 in the morning to 9 at night,” he said. “We had 10 to 15 pieces. We only had three days to practice right before we left.”

There was enough down time to form a few new friendships before driving to Kansas City and flying to London, and within a couple of days Zach had a “go to” friend in the choir, Payton, for dining and shopping excursions.

While standard tourist destinations such as Buckingham Palace in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris were part of the itinerary, Zach made the most of built-in time for wandering around.

He had extra time to explore Paris.

“That concert got canceled due to terrorist activities over there,” Zach said. “There was not any while we were there, but they were concerned about what was happening so they canceled it before we even left.”

Paris held a couple of surprises.

“I tried snail for the first time,” he said. “They were surprisingly really good.”

Away from the attractions, however, Zach discovered Paris wasn’t all suited for picture postcards.

“There was a lot of graffiti,” he said. “It was on park benches and on the sides of buildings. “All the pictures we see are beautiful, but you can find trash everywhere on the streets.”

Crans-Montana, a small ski resort community in the Swiss Alps, was the place that felt most like home, Zach said, although the view was decidedly different.

“It’s probably about the same size as Peabody,” he said. “They had mountains and grapevines everywhere. Everyone was pretty much in awe of how beautiful it was up there.”

The reception the group received from townspeople was equally rewarding.

“Everyone would say hello and they would talk to us,” he said. “The shops gave us discounts. They threw us a fondue party, and they did some yodeling. At our concert we got a standing ovation. Everyone loved it.”

Rothenberg, Germany provided one of the more unique concert experiences.

“That town was absolutely amazing; it was like you were in an old-time Cinderella Disney movie,” he said. “We had our concert in the town square. At the beginning there were maybe a couple of people there, but by the end we had all the chairs filled and people were sitting on the steps of the city building. It was amazing we could draw that many people to come watch us.”

A more sobering experience was a side trip to the World War II German concentration camp at Dachau.

“It was huge, and it was very sad to see what happened over there,” Zach said. “It was really hard to get my mind around it. Seeing that place and what people did to other people there is just saddening. I just can’t believe people would do that to other people.”

Zach also chose to take an optional four-day trip to Athens, Greece, once the concert portion of the tour had wrapped up. Much of his time was spent in and around the ancient Acropolis, but the last day provided one more unique experience.

“We got to do a cruise around the Greek islands,” he said. “We got to go to three different islands, and on one of those we got to go swimming. It was like crystal blue getting there, and once we got to the shore we could see straight down to the bottom.”

What surprised Zach the most about his European jaunt was how familiar things seemed.

“They live the same way we live here, just with their own little cultural twist to it,” he said. “I was expecting something completely different. I was really surprised at how similar we all live.”

Beyond memories, Zach came home with “life-changing” experiences.

“When I got back, I really noticed that I was a lot better musically,” he said. “My French horn playing got 10 times better over there. I play in a band with only 20 people, and moving to a band of 150 is a great way to test your ability.”

With future plans to become a music teacher, the experience also influenced Zach’s thoughts about where he would like to work.

“I want to get a job at a bigger school and have a bigger band,” he said.

The most far-reaching change, however, was personal.

“Before I left I very much kept to myself,” he said. “I didn’t like to talk to people I didn’t know, I didn’t like to meet new people. I got really better at that, at opening up and talking to people.”

And some day, a return trip is a distinct possibility.

“I would really like to go back,” he said. “I don’t think it will be any time soon. I would not go with a group. I’d go by myself so I could go to the places I want to go.”

Last modified Sept. 6, 2017

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