International Tour to Estonia, Sweden Affirms Choir's Passion for Music

Dr. William Wyman and his critically-acclaimed University Choir are used to receiving rave reviews after their performances.

A standing ovation at a concert in Tartu, Estonia, can be added to their list of highest honors.

“Simply amazing,” said Wyman, Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities at Nebraska Wesleyan for the past 36 years.

The University Choir recently returned from an international tour to Estonia and Sweden. The tour included performances in Tartu and Tallinn in Estonia and Uppsala and Stockholm in Sweden.

While the choir embarks on an international tour every four years, this particular tour was unique, said Wyman. Nebraska Wesleyan’s sister school is the University of Tartu.

“Many groups travel to the big European countries like France or Germany,” said Wyman. “Our tour took us off the beaten path to an area that is rich in the history and tradition of choral music.”

Tallinn, Estonia, is home to “Laulupidu,” an Estonian song festival held every five years. It’s considered one of the largest choral events in the world.

Estonia is also known for singing it’s way to independence. In the late 1980s, nearly 300,000 — or one quarter of Estonians — joined in the Singing Revolution as they sang songs and hymns that were strictly forbidden during the Soviet years of occupation. The vocalists served as human shields to Soviet police who could not shut down the vast crowds of singers.

“To experience the culture and to perform in a place where people truly appreciate choral art is just amazing,” said Wyman. “We know we made a difference there.”

That was apparent when the crowd attending the performance in Tartu gave the choir a roaring standing ovation.

“We often get standing ovations so I didn’t think a lot about it,” Wyman continued. “The next day I was told that Estonians do not give standing ovations. I guess you could say that we did what we had hoped to do.”

The concerts in Estonia were also attended by the rector of the University of Tartu and the United States Ambassador to Estonia.

“What a tremendous honor to have them as guests,” said Wyman.

The tour also included performances in the small Swedish town of Uppsala and at a concert series in Stockholm.

University Choir member Erik Gosnell of North Platte said the tour provided an opportunity to study abroad.

“It has helped my yearning to study abroad become stronger,” said Gosnell. “There is something great and a lot to be learned in these kinds of experiences and opportunities.”

Gosnell recalled a favorite moment when the choir toured the Uppsala Cathedral, where they had the opportunity to rehearse their music.

“We rang that church like I’ve never heard before,” he said. “Sometimes you forget how beautiful the music you’re making is because during a tour it can get a little repetitious. But it’s moments like this that I remember why I love doing what I do.”

Choir member Samantha Peters of Omaha said the experience impacted her appreciation for music.

“I have a newfound respect for the way music crosses borders and changes lives,” she said. “The standing ovation in Tartu really touched me. These people sang for their independence. It just goes to show the power music has over people.”

The students’ experiences were exactly what Wyman was hoping for.

“My hope is to always get far more out of it than expected,” he said. “We got an astonishing amount for our investment.”

This fall the choir will begin rehearsing for it’s annual winter tour, which will take them to Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and Kansas. In addition, the choir has been invited to perform a prestigious commissioned piece at the American Choral Directors Convention in February, and will perform at Carnegie Hall in New York next May.

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The University Choir performs in Tartu, Estonia.
NWU President Fred Ohles visits with the rector of the University of Tartu while waiting for the concert to begin in Tartu.
The rector of the University of Tartu visits with choir members during a reception held in their honor.
Some of the choir's male vocalists pose during the tour's downtime.
Choir members enjoy some free time in Stockholm, Sweden.
Choir members enjoy some free time and fun in Sweden.