Youth orchestra from Vermillionâ�?�?s sister city right in tune for festivities By David Lias
Plain Talk The city of Ratingen, Germany, being first settled more than a thousand years ago, could definitely be described as an older to sibling to its sister city, Vermillion. It's only fitting that the South Dakota community invite representatives of its big sister to help it celebrate its relatively young 150th birthday last weekend. Featured entertainment at the conclusion of the first day of Vermillion's Sesquicentennial Celebration, which kicked off Thursday, Aug. 6, was the Ratingen Youth Orchestra, conducted by Paul Sevenich. "I started working with wind bands 15 years ago, but it was in another part of Germany, and I changed my job, and because I like my work very much, I founded this orchestra," he said last week during an interview in the Vermillion City Hall. Sevenich formed the youth orchestra six years ago. It is currently made up of musicians between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. "The difference to American high school bands is that our public music school, which is probably similar to a music academy in the United States, is a special school only to make music," he said. "Participating Ratingen students attend classes in public schools in the morning, and they come to us in the afternoon. They and their parents have to decide that they want to have music lessons, and they have to pay for it." Thirty-five students, accompanied by four adults, made the trip to Vermillion. The group boarded planes in Dusseldorf, Germany, July 31 and flew to Chicago. From there, they flew to Sioux Falls and traveled by bus to Vermillion. Vermillion's Sesquicentennial Committee — with the assistance of USD professor Werner Kitzler — helped make the trip possible. "He (Werner) did all of the work for us," Sevenich said. "His efforts to organize this began about a year ago." Vermillion's sesquicentennial has given the students the ability to get a close look at something the city's residents have long taken for granted – the lifestyle of those who choose to call the plains of South Dakota home. They've also had an opportunity to experience the state's wide-open spaces by traveling to Pierre. "Werner took us to Pierre to have a concert there," Sevenich said. "We met the Secretary of State while we were there. It was all very interesting, and we all had a good time." Sevenich is glad to have the opportunity to visit the state's capital. "I've been to the United States as a tourist," he said. "I've been to the East Coast and to the West Coast. I've visited Boston and New York, and Los Angeles and San Francisco, but now I feel I've seen America. "You can feel the 'go west' spirit," he said, describing his impression of life in South Dakota, particularly Vermillion. "Movies are made of the 'go west' spirit, and as a European, as a German, you seem to know that, but you've never felt it. That is the big difference to me, and I think it is quite good for the students, too." After enjoying a Sesquicentennial barbecue in Prentis Park Thursday afternoon, Vermillion residents and guests traveled a few blocks east on Main Street, to hear the youth orchestra's concert in the Vermillion High School Performing Arts Center. "We brought music with us that was specially made for this event," Sevenich said Thursday morning. "I thought it was a good idea to think in music about a relationship between two sister cities so far away." The concert, he said, is "a German look to America in music, and a look back from America to Germany, and to Europe, because America is so big, and Germany is so small. I had to get some more music, and much of it is European music." The youth orchestra entertained its Vermillion audience Thursday with the theme of the movie, "Winnetou and Old Shatterhand," a story of the Wild West in Europe that has little to do with the realistic Wild West of American folklore. Other selections included the "Civil War Suite" by H.L. Walters; "Deutschland ist schön," which features five German folk songs; "Bye Bye Spiritual," which is a piece made up of several American spiritual melodies; and "Celtic Gathering," a German march and Italo pop classics. Focusing on spirituals and songs about the Civil War allowed the Ratingen students to achieve a better understanding of American culture at about the time Vermillion first appeared on the map 150 years ago. "It is what we, looking through our 'German glasses,' think of as being American," Sevenich said. "And then I tried to look back, to think about what an American would experience when looking back at German music. He will find German folk music, and a German march, which is completely different than an American march." Sevenich finds nothing trite about the common description of music being an international language. "I love to work with music, and I love to work with young people, especially with this opportunity to perform for an audience in Vermillion," he said. The idea of the youth orchestra performing to help Vermillion celebrate its anniversary was first discussed between Mayor Dan Christopherson and Ratingen's Mayor Harald Birkenkamp during the German's official visit here in April 2008. "We talked about it then, but I don't know when the final decision was made," Christopherson said. "He brought an invitation back with him for any Ratingen group to join in the sesquicentennial celebration," Sevenich said. Two weeks later, Birkenkamp heard the Ratingen Youth Orchestra perform. "He came to us and said, 'You have to go to the states.' It was just a decision made at that moment," Sevenich said. "From that moment on we started making phone calls to figure out the money that would be involved, the scheduling and that sort of thing." The Ratingen orchestra flew to the United States in two airplanes that carried not only luggage but also nearly all of the needed musical instruments. Percussion instruments were left in Germany because it is impractical to ship such large pieces by plane. The orchestra opted to use percussion instruments available in Vermillion for Thursday's concert. The orchestra conductor said the process that eventually made the trip to the United States came "in little steps," that started with communicating with the musicians' parents. "It was fantastic," he said, "because my eldest students, at about 18 years old, will leave the orchestra, because they will leaving to go to other schools. And no one left my orchestra once I told them that we had a chance to perform in America." The young musicians' stay in Vermillion lasted throughout the community's four-day celebration. "They are going to be here for the entire celebration," Christopherson said Thursday. "It's just wonderful."