WINFIELD -- The invitations unexpectedly came in the mail for Michelle Zepp and Leigh Anne Reger to spend two weeks in Europe touring with a music group.
"Our band director recommended us," Michelle said. "We didn't know anything about it. We got the letters and we had to send in audition tapes, and they told us we were accepted."
The girls, both active in several school bands since ninth grade, were part of a group of 100 high school students from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware who toured Europe as the United States Music Ambassadors.
The Music Ambassadors take a concert tour to Europe each summer, giving students the opportunity to learn additional music and styles, as well as the chance to see new places and meet people of different nationalities.
The girls' trip started June 18 with a three-day get-acquainted and practice session at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. After a farewell concert given for their families and friends, the group departed for Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
MA "We spent four days and three nights in Holland, where we did
our first home-stay with families around the town and they planned different things for us to do," Michelle said.
"We played in a two-level church there that had a pipe organ we got to use that was really cool," Leigh Anne added.
Then it was on to Buitenpost, the Netherlands, and to Germany for visits to Hamburg, Soltau, Leipzig, Rothenburgh and Dinkelsbuhl.
"We played outside in the middle of town in Dinkelsbuhl, like the town center," Leigh Anne said. "We were supposed to be in Berlin for two days, but the CIA sent us a fax not to go there because of the problems in Yugoslavia."
That, and one rained-out concert in Cologne, Germany, were the only disappointments on the trip, however.
The group also visited Copenhagen, Denmark, for a two-night stay with host families, and Malmo, Sweden, where they performed in concert before returning home July 5.
Michelle, 17, who just graduated from South Carroll H.S., played the French horn and keyboard in the marching, parade, jazz and symphonic bands. For the daughter of Norman and Barbara Zepp of Woodbine, the trip was a chance to learn new music and see how musicians and directors perform in their own styles.
"I learned how to take in different styles of playing," she said. "We had three directors, and they all had their own way of directing. You had to learn what they meant, and you learned fast."
In September, Michelle will attend Western Maryland College as a music major, so she was particularly impressed with Denmark's music conservatory.
"I wouldn't mind going back to study there," she said. "The place was really big."
Leigh Anne, however, plays her music strictly for pleasure and relaxation. An alto saxophone player, she has performed in SCHS's marching, parade, jazz and concert bands.
The 17-year-old senior, daughter of James and Sondra Reger of Finksburg, especially enjoyed the cultural aspects of the trip.
"I took German one year and I actually talked to a real German person and they understood me," she said.
"Yeah, when we went into a restaurant we all looked to Leigh Anne to order for us," Michelle broke in with a laugh. "I took Spanish, so I was totally lost."
"But we still don't know what kind of meat was on that pizza in Germany," Leigh Anne added.
Language was sometimes a problem for the girls with their host families, as Michelle recalled their Dutch family telling them they could "sleep out" one night.
"The mother was talking and the daughter went to get a book to translate and the mother kept saying we could sleep out, and we couldn't figure out what she meant," Michelle said.
Picturing themselves spending a night out in the back yard, the girls were relieved when the mother finally told them they didn't have to get up early the next morning.
"Oh, you mean 'sleep in,' I said to her, and she said, 'no, sleep out, that's what the book says'," Michelle said.
But there was no problem interpreting the response to the
group's music wherever they played.
"We had a concert band, choir, jazz band and a few band front members in the group," Michelle said. "On our first concert we ended with John Philip Sousa's 'Stars and Stripes Forever' and when they reacted we realized, 'Hey, we're not just playing for school and our parents.' "
Songs frequently were received with cheering, clapping and dancing, especially in the Netherlands, where the girls recalled the head of a wooden-shoe factory attending a concert after the group visited the plant.
And in each town they visited, the mayor was the first to greet them, they said.
The girls were surprised to find that Europeans don't play woodwind instruments.
"They're big on brass," Michelle noted. "But wherever we went we drew big crowds, especially outside, where people walking by would stop and listen."