SPRINGFIELD, Ohio — The Wittenberg University Chamber Singers and Handbell Choir recently returned from a 10-day trip to Korea and Japan, giving them the chance to write entries into their international travel journals and add to their frequent-flyer miles. While there, the groups performed four concerts to packed places of worship and higher education, as well as experienced a variety of Asian cultures through food, excursions and interaction with local communities. The trip was sponsored by a grant Wittenberg received in 2001 from the Freeman Foundation, in an effort to enrich student's lives and give them opportunities to learn and experience East Asian culture and society.
Some participants brought back hand-tailored suits and souvenirs they purchased during a shopping trip to Itaewôn, near the Kyôngbok Palace in Korea. Everyone brought back gifts of appreciation including fans, hand crafted post cards and bookmarks given to them after several of their performances, and memories, photos and stories to share about the hospitality they experienced.
Additionally, through the concerts that were presented, including one in Korea at the Youngnak Presbyterian Church and three in Japan at Doshisha University — Kyotanabe Campus, Kyoto Lutheran Church and the Uji Congregational Church — the students were able to share a part of their American heritage and goodwill.
“The trip was very uplifting in many ways for me and for the students,” remarked Trudy Faber, Wittenberg professor, chair of the music department and director of the Handbell Choir. “People were so responsive to our music; at nearly every concert, they were clapping sometimes even before we finished our songs, and they seemed so excited to have us perform for them. I was very proud of our students, and while I feel our gift to the people of Japan and Korea was our music, the entire trip was a wonderful gift to us.”
Wittenberg alumni Milton and Carol Peters established the Dudycha fund to purchase some of the new “White Chapel” English bells - comprising nearly four full octaves. The fund also allowed for the new rolling travel cases, which made this trip possible for the Wittenberg Handbell Choir, Faber explained.
“I can assure you the students and I wouldn't have been able to travel with the set of 46 hand bells in our suitcases,” Faber said
Amanda Evans '04, a music education major from St. Paris, Ohio said that many people took a strong interest in the hand bells after the performances. “Children and some adults came up to see the bells and learn how to ring them. It was really exciting for them and for us,” Evans said.
Another part of the trip that left an impression on Evans was the guided tour of a Korean Folk Village and a ride on the Nozomi bullet train to Kyoto. “I'm told we got to experience a somewhat rare occurrence because we had a perfect view of Mt. Fuji near sunset - it was a quick look, as the train goes nearly 200 miles per hour – but that was very thrilling,” she said.
Heather Willoughby, a 2003-2004 Wittenberg East Asian Studies Teaching Fellow, served as the tour coordinator and guide. She stated that personal observation coupled with information provided by tour guides enabled students to learn about history, daily contemporary life, culture and society in a way that textbook or classroom education can never replicate.
“By observing the splendor and magnitude of the Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, in relation to the adjacent Kasuga Taisha Shrine, students came to understand the importance of syncretism, in this case between Buddhism and Shitoism, among Japanese religious philosophies,” Willoughby said.
“Even though we speak different languages, we were able to communicate through smiling and simple hand gestures. I could tell that our music meant something to them,” said Neal Hayes '06, a music major from Cedarville, Ohio. “I was struck by how fair and welcoming everyone was to us, helping us when we used public transportation. I realize now how scary that could be without knowing the language, but they helped us every step of the way.”
Willoughby said the Wittenberg students also served as worthy ambassadors to the university, America and as representatives of the Freeman Foundation. “The majority of students took the opportunity to stop and talk with the native population. Despite language barriers, genuine communication took place between strangers, for the benefit of all involved,” she said.
Hayes designed the shirts the Handbell Choir wore during the “Ringing and Singing in Friendship” performances. The performances attracted people who were not even members of the congregations hosting the shows, including Wittenberg alumnae Yashiko Hakayam Sato of the class of 1972 and Robin Strickler of the class of 1980.
“Special thanks should also be given to Sachiko Kitao, a 1980 Wittenberg alumna, who arranged for all of the concerts and many other details of our tour in Japan,” said Joyce Wendel, associate professor of music and director of the Wittenberg Chamber Singers.
“We truly were singing ambassadors and transversed cultural and language differences through music,” Wendel said. “We found it very interesting to be submersed in the different cultures, learning about them and appreciating the people, their ways and their history.”
“The generosity of the Freeman Foundation has altered the lives of many, and in this case, 45 students have had their eyes, ears and hearts opened to the richness of Korea and Japan,” Willoughby added.
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