news-category: Performing Arts

Members of Gardner-Webb’s Concert Choir Share Experiences from Trip to France  

The monument on the beach in Normandy
Photo by Crystal Aldridge

History More Meaningful After Visit to Normandy and D-Day 80th Anniversary Performance

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—A picture may be worth a thousand words, but an image can’t compare to the experience of being there. Before traveling to France to perform during the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the 16 members of the Gardner-Webb University Concert Choir could only imagine the price paid that day by American and other allied forces. After visiting Normandy and the American Cemetery, the cost of freedom became clearer.

Peter Moore, a junior majoring in traditional worship music, described how the scenes affected him. “Some of the most memorable moments were getting the chance to see the Normandy beaches, the memorials, and the artifacts preserved through time,” he observed. “These helped me to understand the depth of struggle and sacrifice experienced there in a truly meaningful way. Taking the time to walk the property and viewing the nearly 10,000 crosses and stars of David had a deep impact on me. When I was reading about D-Day prior to the trip, I knew it was a costly victory, but it was only when I saw all the graves for the individual soldiers, who were around my age, that I saw the full picture. We were able to sing for the visitors and a few veterans there. It was very emotional, moving, and special! I was so touched I could be a part of this.”

Photo by Dr. Joshua Cheney

The Gardner-Webb Department of Music started planning last year to travel to Paris, Normandy, and Caen, France. Generous supporters of the University helped to provide the funds to make the excursion possible for the group. Led by Dr. Aaron Rice, associate professor of music and chair of the Department of Music, and Dr. Joshua Cheney, assistant professor of music and director of Choral Activities, the trip included educational opportunities and culminated with a mass choir performance of Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes in Caen. Participants in the performance were from the United States, United Kingdom, and many countries across Europe. Gardner-Webb was the only college choir from North Carolina participating. (Details here.)

“It was a great trip!” Cheney shared. “We had an awesome time visiting Paris and Caen, taking in all that there is to see. Our performance at Abbaye aux Hommes was very special. It was quite moving to participate in the commemoration of such a major world event.”

Rice added a special observation about the performance venue, and its role during World War II. “After the Allies bombed the German emplacements in and around the city, many of the civilians fled to safety in the Abbeys and churches of the city,” Rice explained. “During the fiercest days of fighting in the region, more than 1,400 people were living in the Abbaye. I was deeply moved during the performance as our students sang a concert of remembrance, honoring the sacrifice of both the servicemen and civilians during the Battle of Normandy in the very space where many of the city’s citizens sheltered for safety.”

Moore recounted the concert from a performer’s perspective. “Hearing the reverberations of our voices bounce off the walls was one of the most amazing auditory experiences I have ever had,” Moore offered. “It was truly fantastic to sing the Duruflé Requiem together with choirs from France, the UK, and the USA. We created a unique bond and connected through song with people we didn’t know. Music has that power.”

Aside from the somber and reflective parts of the trip, the group also experienced the culture and explored other places of historical significance. Crystal Aldridge, a senior mathematics major, shared about some of her favorites. “One of the most memorable moments of the trip was the dinner cruise along the Seine River,” she reflected. “We all got dressed up and ate a fine meal. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My friends and I visited the castle of William the Conqueror in Caen, which was built c. 1060. It was incredible to walk the stone walls that were built almost a thousand years ago and imagine what it would have been like at that time. I loved getting to immerse myself in a culture different than my own. From things like iceless drinks to public transportation. It was a great learning opportunity. However, I can safely say I will NOT be eating beef tartar again.”

Aldridge concluded, “I am thankful to Dr. Cheney, Dr. Rice, and every donor that made this trip possible for a college student like myself. I am proud to be part of a choir that takes part in meaningful experiences like this.”

Photo by Dr. Aaron Rice

Students On the Trip:

  • Crystal Aldridge, alto
  • Elie Brinson, alto
  • Zander Bryant, bass
  • Shira Edwards, soprano
  • Za’Kia Hamilton, soprano
  • Angelic Hernandez, alto
  • Bethany Mace, alto
  • Maeve McGinley, alto
  • Will Newton, tenor
  • Jadon Norman, tenor
  • Peter Moore, tenor
  • Colton Payne, bass
  • Kevin Solera, tenor
  • Corwin Stanley, tenor
  • Cayden Stephens, tenor
  • Raleigh Wallace, soprano

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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