Forty-eight music students, three professors and one staff member traveled to Central America in May, where Westmont choirs sang and served with local residents in Guatemala and Costa Rica. Every third year, the choirs make an international trip for their annual tour. On this excursion they sang in both English and Spanish, and Westmont students emceed the concerts entirely in Spanish. The experience began with performances in Oxnard and Westlake Village before the group departed from Los Angeles for Guatemala City. There they sang impromptu, short performances in the city’s cathedral and national palace, and they presented an evening concert with a local choral group, Coro Victorio.
“A standing ovation and encore closed the formal concert, but not the singing,” says Professor Michael Shasberger, who directs the Westmont College Choir. “At the reception following the program, Coro Victorio initiated a choral sing-off, and for the next hour we traded songs and dances until we had to surrender and head back to the hotel to prepare for our travel the next day to Costa Rica.”
The singers passed coffee plantations, rain forests and waterfalls on their way to their first event in Costa Rica, held at the cathedral in Quesada. In between singing engagements, students took full advantage of opportunities to hike near a volcano and view sloths, crocodiles and other wildlife from a river boat.
They worked with the Costa Rica-U.S. Cultural Center, which was established in 1945 to promote goodwill and cultural understanding between the two countries. Shasberger says the purpose of the tour was twofold: provide students with opportunities to perform and enrich their training as global citizens able to interact meaningfully across cultures.
Students sang in San Juan in the country’s largest senior citizens’ home, entertaining 300 assembled guests and caretakers in the facility’s chapel. “The wheelchair-bound audience was moved to tears by the performances of the musicians,” Shasberger says. “The students stayed and mingled with the residents following the program, and it was a delight to see our young people assisting their hosts and speaking to them in Spanish.”
The tour culminated in a concert at the Cultural Association’s Eugene O’Neil Theatre, and the proceeds benefitted their outreach to teenagers. The students met participants in the program at a reception following the concert.
“We had a rich cultural and historical experience during the trip,” Shasberger says. “I consider it to be a great exemplar of Westmont’s global imperative, as it served to build and serve our community even as we helped to build and serve the communities we were privileged to visit.”