Johann Van Niekerk, assistant professor of music and director of choirs, led a group of 28 Centre College students to the Baltic States—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—during CentreTerm 2018, a three-week January term where students explore unique topics and faraway places through immersive courses.
Historically, Centre’s choir travels abroad about every three years for a combination performance tour and academic CentreTerm. Before traveling, the students were on campus for a week, when they had three hours of academic courses a day, along with three hours of rehearsal.
This was the College’s first trip to the Baltic States; however, it is familiar territory for Van Niekerk because of his personal research interests with the music in the area.
“I’m very interested in the intersection of music and social resistance movements,” he said.
In general, Van Niekerk is fascinated by the song festivals in the Baltic States where 20,000 to 30,000 people come together and sing, which he participated in 2013 and will again this year. He is passionate about Baltic choral music and tradition and the fact these countries value singing as a core part of their identity.
“It was amazing to be able to share it with the students and make it theirs instead of just my little academic obsession and make something productive out of it.”
Van Niekerk said this trip was special because of the fact the group was really charged and had a passion.
“We did a lot of bonding in the first seven days on campus, so by the time we got on the plane, everybody was excited and actually knew something about the place we were visiting,” he added.
Upon arrival, the group toured each country, focusing on the capitals, and had one formal concert in those cities and several informal performances.
When they weren’t performing, the students enjoyed several excursions, site visits and time to explore the cities on their own.
While in Latvia, Centre’s choir collaborated with Balsis, a popular Latvian youth choir, along with a popular Estonian youth choir called Vox Populi while in Estonia.
The collaboration between the choirs gave Centre students the opportunity to learn and perform songs in their language, as well as share music from American culture with them.
“It was really this idea of sharing a little bit of who we are through the choral music and participating a little bit in their culture through these songs we took the time to prepare,” Van Niekerk added.
Not only was this Centre’s first trip to the Baltic States, it was Van Niekerk’s first CentreTerm abroad experience.
“It was really fun traveling with the students, and it was great being there in January,” he said. “It was very cold, but there were no other tourists there. It was phenomenal just to see the students experience these three cities.”
by Kerry Steinhofer
February 15, 2018