The Colorado Children’s Chorale is pleased to welcome five new trustees to its Board of Trustees. Ted Trask, Senior Vice President at Vectra Bank, begins his tenure as President of the 26-member board.

New trustees for the 2014-15 season are:

Dave Dirks Dave Dirks, Lecturer in Accounting at Metropolitan State University of Denver
Dave is a retired CPA and a Lecturer in accounting in the College of Business at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Before he retired from public accounting he was the Chorale’s auditor for over twenty years. He is an alumni parent who lives in Denver with his wife, and is active in many professional, civic and charitable organizations.


Michael Fancher, President, Iconic Investments
Michael raises private equity for real estate investments, real estate development, oil and gas ventures, and business acquisitions. He also is the Founder and President of Iconic Records and Iconic Management where he works with talented young recording artists. Michael is a Chorale Alumnus and has fond memories of singing in Boettcher Concert Hall.

Stephen Meswarb, Deputy Director, ACLU
Stephen is the Deputy Director of the ACLU of Colorado, where he oversees all aspects of finance and administration, and has a hand in policy and fundraising as well. Stephen has nearly 25 years of non-profit experience, including more than eight years with the national ACLU. He spent three years managing the ACLU’s $335 million Leading Freedom Forward campaign, the largest campaign on behalf of civil rights and civil liberties in the country’s history. He has also held development positions at Amnesty International USA, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, and Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action. Stephen is a Chorale alumnus, having participated in the first two Chorale international tours to China in 1980 and England and Scotland in 1982. In his spare time, Stephen enjoys skiing, cooking, and music.

RollandMatt Rolland, Senior Manager at Hein and Associates
has ten years of experience in public accounting and provides audit, accounting and review services to both public and private companies. His focus is in the energy industry, and he serves on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Council of Petroleum Accountants Societies (COPAS-Colorado) and is the current Board President. Matt moved to Denver in 2011 and resides in Arvada with his wife and two daughters.


LeslieRussell4658Leslie E. Russell, Vice President, Marketing & Business Services, Comcast Cable
Leslie is a 26-year telecommunications and entertainment industry veteran who is responsible for the promotion of the strategic vision and implementation of the marketing, communications and legal affairs functions for the Comcast Wholesale division. She is a native East Coast girl from New Jersey and moved to Colorado 16 years ago. She loves the outdoors including skiing, hiking, gardening and swimming, especially in the ocean which is what she misses most about the East Coast. She lives with her husband and two daughters Anna, a member of the Concert Choir and her younger sister, Elena.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014



Dear families and friends,


Yikes. I am woefully behind with my letter writing, and it’s almost time for us to come home!! First of all, happy birthday to Xixi (today), and happy birthday to Jack (tomorrow)!! Tuesday was the final day of the festival, and it was a busy one. And it will live forever in Chorale tour history as a very special one – THE DAY WE WOKE UP AND THE BUS WAS GONE…yes, you heard me…GONE!…stolen in the night…and, according to the polizei, likely already in Serbia or the Ukraine, with all new signage on the side. It was a beautiful, brand new, shiny-bright-white bus, with only one small identifying Interbus Praha on the side. A brand new, shiny-bright-white target for the gang of bus thieves currently working in Austria. We weren’t the only victims, with the Alicante’s Province Youth Orchestra from Spain also missing one of their buses. Thankfully, we weren’t planning on heading out until 10am, and by then we had a new bus. Well, not new, or as bright and shiny as our old one, but maybe that’s a good thing! We never leave anything of value on the bus overnight and I must have had a premonition because, as I was getting off the bus Monday night, I grabbed Rocky, our little travel buddy, and took him with me to my room. Up until then he had been faithfully guarding the bus from the front window every night. Wait…maybe that was the problem! Anyway, I’m not sure what prompted me to take him, but I’m glad I did because the thought of him on the bus, all by himself with bad guys, makes me shudder.


After we recovered from our bus-shock, and Mirek and Gita finished with the local polizei, we went into the city to the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, built during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph to house the art collections of the emperors and archdukes of the Hapsburg family. The building itself, both inside and out, is stunning with its cupola hall decorated with precious metals, various colored types of marble, and intricate stucco work. Three large galleries feature the glittery goldsmith work of Vienna’s treasures, a large collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, and a very impressive Egyptian exhibit. Our young artists wandered quietly, taking it all in, and worked on the beginnings of their artistic contribution to the collections!


We enjoyed our lunch in the park outside of the museum, and then it was time to go to the Wiener Konzerthaus for the closing ceremonies of the festival. We rehearsed the SCL anthem with the Westlake Youth Symphony Orchestra and all 1400 of our colleagues at the festival. That took a bit of doing, as participants were spread throughout the hall, making it a bit tricky to coordinate voices and orchestra. Even trickier, however, was assembling the 1400 participants for the group photo! There was a short lecture about the Strauss family, given by Johann’s grand and grand-grand nephews – heirs of his youngest brother, Eduard I. They shared the family history, and some interesting tidbits about the rivalries between the generations of composers. We listened to the original version of Johann’s “Beautiful Blue Danube” waltz, composed in 1867. There are over 1,400 pieces of music composed by the family.


We claimed a corner of the concert house to eat a quick snack before the concert, as dinner wasn’t on the agenda until 9:30pm, and then walked across the street for a photo at the Beethoven memorial, completing our Vienna series with Mozart and Strauss. And, of course, we always find a few moments for our favorite activity, Gita Games!


The Summa Cum Laude Gala Winner’s Concert was indeed celebratory. I realize as I am typing this that you are missing the entire middle of the tour, and pretty much everything about our participation in the festival. I will give you a little background here, and promise to catch you up in a subsequent letter! The festival has two tracks – Competition and Celebration. We chose NOT to compete, but to celebrate! Our colleagues in the “youth” category of choral music are high school, college and above, up to age 30, especially in Europe. And they take their competition seriously. They tour only for competition purposes, and are charged by their administrators to bring home a first place – just as a sports team is charged to win the tournament. We prefer to think of our music-making as a team sport, not a competitive sport, so we enjoyed the excellent music of our colleagues, and we presented an excellent program, appropriate for our young American singers. We made fans at every concert; I heard the usual comments from my colleagues regarding the commitment, energy and outright joy our kids put into every performance; and they held their own on every stage. I could not have been more proud of these Festival Singers.


At the Gala Winner’s Concert, we were treated to performances by the 1st place winners in each category and they were as follows:

Mixed Choir – a 1st place tie – Westlake Choralation Choir, New Zealand

and University of Pretoria Youth Choir, South Africa

Treble Choir – Bel Canto, Firbank Grammar School, Australia (high school age girls)

String Orchestra – a 1st place tie –Britten Jeugd Strijkorkest from the Netherlands

and Huntingtower String Orchestra from Australia

Symphonic Band – 2nd place – Seri Puteri Symphonic Winds, Malaysia

Symphony Orchestra – 1st place tie – New Jersey Youth Symphony, USA

and Westlake Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand

Symphonic Band – Westlake Concert Band, New Zealand


The performances were extraordinary. The New Zealand choir took us right back to last year with their traditional Maori performance. And for the staff, the South African choir reminded us of so many joint performances when we were there three years ago. We felt they deserved that first place tie! The Australian girls were beautiful in every way – impeccable singing and so musical. We very much enjoyed all of the instrumental ensembles, as they were each fantastic in their own right. The Malaysian wind ensemble was comprised of all young girls, beautiful in pink, sparkly Muslim head scarves. Their instruments did not make the flight with them, but members of the Homestead HS Symphonic Wind Ensemble from California loaned them their instruments for their performances! The New Zealanders had 124 high school kids, in four different ensembles, three of them instrumental. Yikes.


Following the concert, close to 2,000 people moved to the Hofburg Palace, winter home of the Hapsburg family. The party was in the Great Hall, larger than a football field! It was an incredible sight, and more than a little daunting to our staff as we watched our Festival Singers disappear into the crowd to meet already familiar friends and make new ones. We established the ground rules, with the at least one member of the staff manning our “home base” – strategically chosen at the top of a flight of steps on one end of the hall – at all times, and the rest of us circulating in an effort to track the wanderers: you may not leave the room, under any circumstances; you must always be with a buddy; if in doubt, return to home base immediately; when a staff member says it’s time to go…it’s time to go…no arguments. We were nervous. They were perfect. We swept the room after about 20 minutes, counted heads, and sent them to the buffet, which stretched the full length of the hall and was filled with Chinese take-out-like boxes full of all sorts of goodies, including your fork. It was brilliant. No line, just walk up to the table and pick up as many boxes as you can carry. We sat together on the steps, returning to the buffet at will, and ate together. Then one more 20 minute foray into the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd while I received our diplomas and certificates; one more gathering sweep; and everyone was happy as we made our way to the bus. Whew! Fortunately, weren’t the only ones leaving early.


Today (Wednesday) was an easy sightseeing day, and I will include all of the details in my next letter… which will come to you next week! We’re all off to bed tonight, including me, as we are up at the crack of dawn for our journey home tomorrow.


See you soon!!!

Debbie DeSantis

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dear families and friends,

Moving on…Czech Republic! Fortunately for us, Czech and Slovak are both Slavic languages and very similar, so our well-practiced “hello,” “please,” and “thank you” are working for both countries! Gita and Mirek are both very patient with us and eager to help along the way. Our first adventure in the Czech Republic is in the Moravian Karst (forest) just to the north of Brno. Here we explore the Macocha Abyss and the Punkva Caves. The abyss is the biggest gorge of its kind in the Czech Republic. Unlike our Royal Gorge, it is very narrow and beautifully forested and green all the way to the bottom. “Macocha” is the wicked stepmother, and legend has it that she threw her stepson into the abyss. He was rescued by lumberjacks, and angry villagers then threw the stepmother into the abyss… and no one rescued her!


We took a very short, but steep cable car ride to the bottom of the abyss, and then entered the Punkva Caves. The entrance is guarded by the largest stalactite column in the more than 30 km of underground passages. After a 30 minute trek through clay domes, the central dome, the crystal corridor, the stalagmite corridor and the rear dome, we reached the end of our journey at the dry walk and the bottom-most point of the gorge. From here, we looked down to the small lakes fed by the River Punkva, and up and out to the beautiful sky and the tiny specks of other tourists on the upper viewing platform. Of course, it was the perfect spot for a song, and what better place to sing “On TOP of the World!” Our voices floated beautifully out of the gorge and I was wishing I was at the top to hear it. We then charmed all of our guides with “Jede, Jede,” our Czech folksong. They giggled and clapped, and we had a moment of thinking it was because our Czech was not quite correct. But Gita assured us it was because they delighted at how perfect it was. Thank you to Emily R.’s Czech grandmother for your help!


For the next stage of our underground adventure we boarded pontoon-like boats for a 30-minute cruise on the River Punkva. Here we saw water domes created by thousands of years of flowing water, under pressure, looking for a way out. The walls are full of gutters and holes made by the vortex current. We had to pay close attention as the boat came close to the rock walls, often forcing us to hit the deck…or our buddy’s lap…so as not to lose our head! It was so quiet and breathtakingly beautiful. And we had no problem staying quiet, as it seemed the only appropriate way to enjoy our surroundings. You could literally hear a drip drop. And we heard, and felt, many. Mrs. Stylianou shared a legend that says if you get are dripped on by a drop in a cave, a “cave kiss,” you will have much good luck. Harrison received the biggest juiciest cave kiss, with multiple drops dripping down his back, so we are anxious to see what luck comes his way! In remembering this unique cave experience, we asked some of the kids for a one-word description and heard the following:

Xixi-lush; Sean -mysterious; Promyse-mystical; Austin-eerie; Marinda-breathtaking; Siena-pristine; James-tranquil; Joey—cool; Leah-ominous; Emily Kempsell-extraordinary; Brennan-breathtaking; Sara M.-stunning; Emily Keely-marvelous; Martin-supercalifragilisticexpialidocious; and Rhys-aaahh!


At the end of our cave journey, we took a short train ride back up to the top of the abyss, where the bus was waiting, and we continued on to Trebic and the Grand Hotel…or not-so-grand hotel… Just kidding! We were spoiled in Bratislava with the most comfortable beds ever, and while the Grand Hotel is more than adequate, it simply can’t compare to Hotel Bratislava.


We left Trebic first thing Thursday morning, after a quick rehearsal in the conference room of the hotel. We had two performances, both in the neighboring village of Jaromerice. The Jaromerice Chateau, considered by some to be one of the most significant pieces of baroque architecture in Europe, was home to a nobleman who lived there with two different wives and his twelve children. It is a beautifully ornate castle, with gardens modeled after the French Palace of Versailles. The families clearly loved music, with a music salon filled with the original instruments – a table piano, violin, bag pipes, bass trumpet, various woodwind instruments, and a travel harmonium to take with them on trips. There was coincidentally a flower exhibit going on this week, and each room was filled with the most beautiful fresh flower arrangements. It was amazing how this touch brought the rooms to life.


One of the many rooms in the Chateau, the Hall of Ancestors, is now used as an informal concert hall and this is where we performed. We had another small, but appreciative audience, including quite a few very surprised and delighted tourists. Following the performance, we continued our tour, moving to the other side of the Chateau and the dining rooms and kitchen. Again, the presentation was amazing, with each room set with the appropriate china, flatware, napkins and FOOD! Okay, it was fake food, but it was beautifully presented and looked delicious. The napkin-folding skills alone made it worth the visit. The kitchen, built in the 1700’s was still in use as late as 1997 when it was used to prepare food for the local primary school.


Next door to the Chateau is the Basilica of St. Margaret, the site of our second performance of the day. This was our first opportunity to experience the acoustics in one of these European churches. We enjoyed every note we sang…for a looooooong time! What a treat. I always love watching the kids’ faces when they sing, but this performance was especially moving. Emily H. is always a smiling anchor in the A’s, but she seemed especially enthralled in this space. Bridget is delightful to watch. Lillian’s sweet smile never fails to charm me – I have to smile right back.


We ate lunch and played in the gardens behind the chateau. Gita led the kids in some games – Knots, Bombs and Shields (which can probably be played, with this name, only in Europe!), Triangles, and finally a giant circle sit. We are quite loving Gita. She just takes over with the kids and we sit back and watch the fun.


Back in Trebic, we took a quiet walk through the Jewish Quarter which, together with the Jewish Cemetery, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2003. It is a tangled web of 123 historical buildings including two synagogues, the Jewish town hall, a Rabbi’s house, almshouse, hospital and two schools. The cemetery has over 11,000 grave and almost 3,000 tombstones dating back to the 1630’s. There are tombs of some of the most famous Jewish families, as well as memorials to WWI victims and the victims of Nazi genocide. It sits on a hill, is lushly forested and crawling with ivy and undergrowth.

All of our young explorers were appropriately respectful and thoughtful as we wandered and pondered what life may have been like in this corner of the world.


We attempted some shopping back in the main square of Trebic, but were sorely disappointed in their touristy gee-gaws. They have none. Literally. Mrs. Stylianou finally went into the information office to see where we might find some, and found out…there are no tourist shops. Too bad for them, ‘cuz we were ready to spend! Fortunately, for us and the very nice lady at the information office, she had some key chains, post cards, magnets, and bells. We completely cleaned her out in less than 30 minutes. She probably made her budget goal for the month and will now have to close so she can get in some new stock.


We enjoyed dinner at the Coq Pit, just on the edge of the Jewish Quarter. It was delicious. We are quite enjoying the three courses – an appetizer, usually soup, the main course, and finally dessert. The appetizer at the Coq Pit was a beautiful and delicious serving of three very thin beet raviolis, filled with goat cheese, accompanied by some sort of nut, and all drizzled with honey. Yum! That was followed by chicken stuffed with prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes, then cheesecake. More yum!



We seem to be the only ones celebrating!   Friday took us back to Vienna, with ample opportunity for me to annoy everyone on the bus with “Name That Tune, the Patriotic Edition.” Not one child on the bus knew “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” They do now! Mrs. Wright thrilled us with her piccolo interludes on “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and we sang a rousing version of “Of Thee I Sing America,” to name a few.


Mirek, our bus driver extraordinaire, knew of a rest stop on the border of Czech Republic and Austria. Excalibur!! Quite the amazing place. A dragon/King Arthur-themed amusement park/mall/duty free shop/restaurant/restroom kind of place. And shopping heaven for our money-burning-a-hole-in-our-pocket little crew. We attacked with gusto and finally did our duty contributing to the Czech economy.


Our new home-away-from-home in Vienna is the Jufa Wien City. The entire hotel is filled with participants in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival – which is why we are here. The hotel reminds us of a youth hostel…or an IKEA store…except that each room has its own bathroom. Yaaaaay!! We are among the youngest “youth” here, as throughout the choral community, children’s and youth choirs can encompass ages 5-22. As we checked into the hotel, there were many groups not quite as disciplined as our young ladies and gentlemen. Okay, “not quite as disciplined” is an understatement. They were literally running through the hallways, pounding on doors and screaming back and forth to one another. You need your key to get on to your floor, and they issued only one key per room. Most of the rooms have 3-4 people, which meant that, at any given time, someone was trying to get onto a floor, either to their room or to visit a friend, without a key. And pounding on the hall doors. It was not pleasant, and was putting our kids right over the edge. And our 9:00 bedtime was not quite jiving with anyone else’s bedtime. Once we got through that initial excitement, however, everything settled down and it has actually been quite quiet every night. And the beds are almost as comfortable as Hotel Bratislava’s.


Speaking of beds, we have been a bit challenged by the comforters. They are always folded nicely on our beds, laying cross-ways and folded under on both sides. The first night, after explaining that no, there is not supposed to be a top sheet, you just cover up with the comforter, everyone…including Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Crile…climbed into their comforter bed roll…and couldn’t figure out why their feet were sticking out. We then explained to everyone…including Mrs. Wright and Mrs. Crile…that you needed to turn the comforter around so it fits on your bed. And your body. Some do continue to climb in sideways. Martin and Cameron refer to themselves as a “pig in a blanket.” Others become burritos for the night.


In other news from the hotel rooms:

Kira and Xixi can’t not laugh for more than two minutes. Mrs. Stylianou pulled the key out of the light-switch-key-holder-thingy…the way the power goes on in your room…while Emily R. was in the shower. In the bathroom with no window. Oops. In the same room, Mrs. Crile pulled the door knob right out of the door. Fortunately, in IKEA world, the doorknob snaps right back in the door.  James, talking in his sleep, told Zack he was going to wrap up Ms. Smith in a TV. Paige and Hannah are sleeping in the bunks in their room, with Paige on the top. Paige seems to regularly lose things over the side – her arm, her teddy bear, her blanket – and Hannah faithfully returns it. Or pokes her until she wakes up!


The opening ceremony of the festival was very special. It was held in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the city center of Vienna. The Chairman and the Artistic Director of the festival both greeted us with a short welcome. We heard the Vienna Youth Choir sing, in the amazing acoustic of the cathedral, and we all joined together to sing the SCL Anthem. With over 1300 participants from 16 nations, it was quite moving. Each choir was introduced by one of their own members, and Kira made us all proud as she took the microphone and introduced the Colorado Children’s Chorale Festival Singers! Following the opening ceremony, Mrs. Crile and I went to a conductor’s dinner at Restaurant Schubert, and the rest of the staff took the kids back to dinner at the hotel.


And with another day behind us, we settled in for the night. Stay tuned for more adventures to come!

Wish you were here,

Debbie DeSantis

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014


Dear families and friends,


It has been a busy few days for our Colorado Festival Singers. It seems like we have been planning and waiting for this tour forever, and we are finally “on the road” with 33 intrepid travelers including recent graduates as well as current Tour Choir and Concert Choir members – a motley crew, to be sure!

Our ultimate destination is the 8th Annual Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in Vienna, Austria. But more about that later, as on the way we have songs to sing, people to see, castles to explore, and challenges to conquer in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. As I write this letter, we are on the bus traveling from Bratislava, Slovakia to Trebic, Czech Republic. The kids are working on their journals and though we are on only day three of the tour, they have so much to write about that they are already feeling behind, as am I!

We left Denver Sunday on a Lufthansa overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany. After the ultra-marathon journey to New Zealand last year, this eight hour and forty minute flight was nothing – hardly enough time to sleep between dinner and breakfast. Our layover in Frankfurt was just a little over an hour, just enough time for a nice walk from Z gates to A gates (the long way around!) and a bathroom stop. We were amazed at the Frankfurt Airport, the biggest and most luxurious shopping mall we’ve ever seen, including many very fancy cars. My travel group of wanna-be drivers (Zack, Harrison, Toby, James, Joey, Brennan) were VERY impressed. The flight from Frankfurt to Vienna was short, and only about half full, so we were able to stretch out a bit and catch a quick morning nap.

As has been the case for our last several years of international touring, we have an entourage of parents and fans following along – the 20 members of our companion tour. Executive Director Diane Newcom is leading this group, joined by Steve Strachan, president of our Board of Trustees and Carol Proffitt, our tour tutor, and her husband. Also along for the ride is Hayden’s mom, Leah’s mom and grandmother, Toby’s grandmother and a friend, Sara’s mom, sister and a friend, Kalleiopye and Promyse’s grandparents, Marinda’s mom and a friend, Lillian’s mom, Brennan’s mom, Charley’s mom and brother, and Xixi’s parents. Our companion tour friends were on both of our flights, as they will be on our return flights. They travel and stay independent of us, but we see them occasionally as we are out and about, and they show up faithfully at all concerts. It’s great to have a built-in audience, small, but mighty, everywhere we go!!

We were met in Vienna by our ACFEA (the tour company) courier, Gita. She is delightful, taking charge of everyone and everything. Remember her name, as you will hear much more about her in future letters. We quickly located all of our luggage, and Gita led us out of the airport to our coach, and driver Mirek. We were through and out of Vienna in less than an hour, ready to celebrate our first border crossing, into Slovakia – no different than crossing from Colorado into Wyoming. Along the way, Gita pointed out the hundreds of wind turbines, sometimes one for every house, covering the Austrian countryside. And, ironically, the huge letters on the side of each turbine read “Vestas,” a company in our own backyard at home in Colorado! Though it seemed to us to be an impressively “green” concept, as with many other progressive ideas, it is not without controversy. The turbines are evidently quite noisy to have in your backyard and they disturb the natural migration patterns of many birds. And perhaps the most difficult, it takes fifteen years to recoup the cost of the turbine, while the typical lifetime of each is eighteen years at best. Yikes.

We performed our usual border crossing ritual (it’s not the same without you, Mr. Branam!!) and started watching the signs for Bratislava, capitol of Slovakia, or the Slovak Republic, a small country beautifully situated in the heart of central Europe. The first sign of the city is the castle, with its distinctive red rooftop, far away on the rolling hills of the Carpathian mountain range. In Bratislava, we crossed the Danube River…which is not blue, by the way… and checked into Hotel Bratislava. The challenge for the remainder of the afternoon/evening was to STAY AWAKE!! Everyone was tired, but we knew if we slept we would not adjust to the 8-hour time difference from Colorado. The staff delivered kids to their rooms with strict instructions to settle in, clean up and DON’T LAY DOWN! And then we endeavored to do the same. It was tough to resist those comfy looking beds with their down comforters.

We re-assembled in the lobby of the hotel and Gita had a game prepared for the kids. As per usual, they jumped in with enthusiasm, finding out all kinds of interesting things about one another. For example, did you know that Hayden, Emily Keely and Leah would like to have both a tattoo and a piercing?! Siena is a circus performer, and Joey a sculptor. Emily R. knows a traditional Czech dance, and Marina showed us a traditional Greek dance. It turns out we all sing in the shower and, much to Gita’s surprise, we have all been to a mountain higher than 6000 feet above sea level. We took this opportunity to educate her about Colorado! After dinner and a quick walk through the neighborhood surrounding our hotel, we were happy to finally drop into our beds, which were every bit as comfortable as they looked.

Tuesday morning we awoke refreshed, ready to go, and in the correct time zone. After filling up on all the fresh bread, delicious cheese, a variety of meats, poached eggs, granola, yogurt and fruit we could eat, we set out on a tour of Bratislava. We started on the bus, with Merik expertly negotiating the windy, cobbled streets, and our guide, Linda, filling our heads with more facts than we could ever possibly remember. For example: over these hundreds of years, Bratislava has had many different names, including, for a period in 1918, Wilsonstadt, in honor of US president Woodrow Wilson and his commitment to small nations’ independence and self-determination. It is a small city, with a population of approximately 450,000, and is called the “city of young people,” with the average age of 37, partially due to seven universities educating 50,000 students. We drove past St. Martin’s Cathedral, the Bratislava Castle, and into the hills of the Small Carpathian Mountains where many wealthy people have homes, including the US ambassador, among others. The locals refer to this area as “Beverly Hills.” Towards the top we reached a stunning war memorial commemorating the end of WWII and the liberation of Slovakia. Some 7,000 soldiers are buried beneath this memorial.

Our next stop was the Primate’s Palace, housing the city hall and a museum. When they renovated the building, they discovered a series of six tapestries, woven in the 1630’s and beautifully preserved, depicting the legend of Hero and Leander and their tragic love story. We presented our first concert of the tour in the famous Hall of Mirrors, site of many historical events since it was built in 1780. I was especially impressed with our nine members brand new to touring – Jack, Melanie, Kalleiopye, Siena, Sarah K., Promyse, Sean, Sara M., and Paige. They have learned so much new music this past spring, and they handled this first performance like pros!

Following the performance, we walked through town, passing by quaint little squares, many vendors, fountains and statues. It is a nice little town, very European-feeling, not too touristy, and small, but large enough. If you know what I mean! It was easy to get oriented, and we were able to walk through town and right up to the castle where we enjoyed our lunch and played on the small playground there. The views from the castle were absolutely stunning. The city rolled out before us, from the old communist block houses on one side to the charming old town and the modern high-rises and expansion bridges in between, all with the river running through the middle. On our way back, we did a bit of shopping, gathering our first tour mementos.

Gita had a game prepared for us – a scavenger hunt that took us all over the old town, gathering photos and information, as well as a chance to interact with people throughout the city – the Bratislava City Challenge. We split into six teams and the competition was fierce. We had to match buildings with architectural details; find out the names and associated legends for several of the statues and memorials; barter or trade a chocolate egg; search out long-forgotten buildings; and either remember or find out many city facts; and each completed task received the appropriate points. It was a challenge, indeed, but we were up to the task. Well…some of us were more up to it than others! I will report the results in a subsequent letter.

We were starving after our city challenge and, after a short walk along the river, relieved to sit down to a very elegant dinner. Merik was right there with the bus, and we headed back to the hotel for another good night’s sleep.

Stay tuned for more adventures from the Czech Republic and this wonderful group of kids!



Debbie DeSantis


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