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Comings and Goings | College of Music Ensembles Abroad

The University Singers toured France in May, performing at cathedrals in Caen, Mont Saint Michel, Tours, and Chartres. They visited the American Cemetery in Normandy and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony that was followed by a memorial recital that included “I Lift Up My Eyes” by Hagen, “Psalm 96” by Sweelinck, and the Zulu Peace Hymn, “Ukuthula.” The University Singers also sang in Mass at the Mont Saint Michel Abbey. 

The tour was a unique and meaningful experience for the students and their director, Dr. Kevin Fenton. Fenton reflected: “I find that I am more aware of the intricacies of beauty and the attention to the tiniest of details, especially within the context of these massive cathedrals, that benefit generation after generation… I’m inspired and in awe of the energy of the age 19 to 20-something, and their burgeoning desire to create, transform, and elevate the world they inhabit.”

Ann-Marie Gunn (BS ’87), a Marching Chiefs alumna and mother of current University Singers member Noah Gunn, was able to attend the tour and offered these positive thoughts: “Being a member of the Marching Chiefs was a pivotal part of my life as an undergraduate at Florida State University. Although not a music student, being a part of the Chiefs helped me become more rooted, and grounded, helping me succeed as a student and in life in general. Some of the fondest and most poignant memories I have from FSU are Chiefs memories. To have a son who has the opportunity to study Vocal Performance and be member of the University Singers at Florida State 30 years later has been very gratifying to watch and experience as a parent and alum.”

This summer, the FSU Marching Chiefs made their third trip overseas as students, alumni, and staff embarked on a week long trip to France as the only collegiate band invited to participate in the D-Day 75 Memorial Parade in Normandy on June 6, 2019. “It was a huge honor to represent FSU and the United States at the D-Day 75 Memorial Parade,” said Director of Bands Dr. Patrick Dunnigan. Director of Athletic Bands and Marching Chiefs’ Co-Director Dr. David Plack (BA ’92, MME ’95, PhD ’06) noted that it traditionally takes two years to organize a trip of this magnitude, but it was done in six months thanks to help from the university, alumni, and friends.

A major source of funds came from the annual FSU’s Great Give, a 36-hour online giving campaign. Tom and Dana Ando, whose son plays trombone in the band, matched the $75,000 raised by hundreds of donors bringing the total funds raised for the trip to more than $150,000. This substantially lowered the out-of-pocket cost for students, which enabled 385 members of the 420-strong Marching Chiefs to participate.

Additionally, more than 100 Marching Chiefs alumni, parents and family members traveled alongside current Chiefs on a “shadow” tour. 

For their first performance in Normandy, the Marching Chiefs played the U.S. national anthem at the 29th Infantry Division Memorial, with 94-year-old Colonel Arnald Gabriel in attendance. Col. Gabriel, conductor emeritus of the United States Air Force Band, served as a machine gunner for the U.S. Army’s 29th Infantry Division that stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. 

In the parade, the Chiefs marched along Omaha Beach to “March Militaire Francaise” by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The audiences in France didn’t sit on the sidelines to watch the band pass. Instead, they marched alongside the group from beginning to end, taking photos. 

At their last performance in France at the Parc de Andre Citroén, the Chiefs had the incredible opportunity to perform the national anthem under the direction of Col. Gabriel. 

Mike Pate (BS ’68), one of the founders of the Marching Chiefs Alumni Association, reflected on this once in a lifetime trip in France: “The emotions I felt watching the Chiefs come down the hill on the beaches of Normandy and marching along Omaha Beach was one of the most powerful moments of my life. It was thrilling to see MY band marching in honor of all of those soldiers who gave their lives in the pursuit of freedom. I can’t imagine anything more special than that.”

written by
Dr. Julia Baumanis 
(BME 2010, MM 2014, PhD 2019)

See the full article about the Marching Chiefs Normandy trip in the Fall 2019 edition of VIRES Alumni Magazine:

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