When conductor Brady Allred took the University of Utah Singers to Europe for a monthlong tour, which included the Florilege Vocal de Tours International Choir Competition it wasn't about winning. It was about doing their best.
Fortunately for them, they did their best and they won. "They went to do their best, and it really paid off," said Allred.
The competition was stiff. Before even being allowed to enter, participants were screened and chosen through an application process. Seventeen choirs traveled from around the world to Tours, France, to pit their singing skills against one another in three qualifying rounds.
In the end, the University of Utah Singers walked away with six prizes the top prize in every category the group entered.
Allred and the choir were awarded first place for the free program, the best newly composed work in competition (Allred had commissioned a piece by New York composer William Hawley), the best French pronunciation during the competition, best Renaissance program (using a piece based on a poem by Ronsard), and second place in the mixed choir category, where no first prize was given.
Then, finally, the U. Singers won the grand prize, for overall best performance throughout the competition. "The festival coordinators have a final concert where everybody sang one piece," said Allred. "They had the University of Alabama choir at the end of the concert, so we thought, well, we know what's happened. And then they started announcing the prizes, and they just kept saying 'Salt Lake City,' 'Salt Lake City.'
"I was up on the stage with the other conductors and my choir was miles away, it seemed, out in the crowd. It was just thrilling to see them hear their name and jump up in the air. When they finally announced the grand prize, I just was amazed. I looked out in amazement and then ran to be with them, and they threw me on their shoulders and carried me around like a football coach. It was really fun."
That was just the highlight of a tour that Allred describes as "thrilling and miraculous, all at the same time."
The tour began in Nancy, France, where the choir participated in an international festival. "We arrived there on a Wednesday, attended a concert that evening, and then, the next day boom, we were in a heavy-duty performing schedule."
One evening, for example, the U. Singers performed in the city of Nancy while the group's host choir performed the first half of a concert in a suburb. "Then we got on the bus, drove to the suburb, and did the second half of the concert with them.
"Everywhere we performed at that festival, we had a full house standing room only and very, very appreciative audiences. Boy, when they like you, they clap really hard and strong and clap in unison if they want more."
The choir was so popular that in the final three-hour concert the singers were maneuvered to be in the one hour that was broadcast on national French television.
Allred said that when it came time to leave the host families who had been putting them up, "I saw lots of tears and hugs from the students because it was hard to say goodbye. We had grown very close."
Choir president Chris Mayfield added that "the most memorable part of the tour was the people who hosted us, especially those of other choirs. It is reassuring to know that the world is full of great people who share a common love for making music and sharing what they have with others."
From there, they went to the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Italy where the concerts all start at 9 or 9:30 in the evening. The students sang in churches, basilicas and concert halls where some of the world's greatest music has been composed and premiered.
One of the more memorable events occurred after the big win in Tours, France. Allred said that one of his students had Addison's disease something that had not been disclosed prior to the trip. The excitement, he said, was just a little too much, and the student had a seizure and went into a coma. Fortunately, said Allred, their next stop was Paris, where a hospital was located just a couple of blocks from their hotel."After a couple of days in the hospital," recalled Allred, "he woke up and said, 'I feel great, I want to keep going on the tour.' He did finish out the tour and did very well. That was sort of the miraculous nature of this trip."