By Jeff Hanson, Correspondent
As a small child, she fell in love with the sound of strings after watching an orchestra perform on television. As a result, she began learning to play the violin during her preschool years. Since that time, she’s learned to play four other instruments with several distinguished honors and achievements in music. So being able to tour Europe performing with her baritone was an experience she’ll never forget. Little Falls Community High School graduate Maria Hauer returned last month from a 16-day trip as part of the Voyageurs International Ltd. Ambassadors of Music program.
The performance tour organized for nominated Minnesota high school students included stops in England, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France. Hauer was able to share some of the highlights and perspectives on the cultures and sites that she experienced.
Most notable, said Hauer, was Dachau. The site of the first Nazi Germany concentration camp created in 1933 during World War II, was opened on the direction of Heinrich Himmler. The camp had the distinction of having 32,000 documented deaths of prisoners. It was also a site where SS doctors performed primitive medical tests on prisoners.
“I saw the shower execution and the original chimney that they used to burn the remains,” said Hauer. “I was in the barracks where medical testing was done.”
Hauer said that Dachau was of the most moving parts of her trip. “From the years of social studies and reading books about the Holocaust, going to Dachau made the Holocaust more than a story. The horrible deaths did happen,” she said.
It wasn’t all so grim. Hauer, an All-American in Nordic skiing and on an athletic scholarship to St. Cloud State University (SCSU) this fall, was able to ski some of the slopes in Austria. Hauer was named after Austrian Maria von Trapp whose memoirs were used loosely for the musical “The Sound of Music.”
“I was skiing on the von Trapp Family Lodge last spring in Vermont and then was able to ski in the mountain range where they fled from Nazi Germany. It made me feel like I could feel their journey. I did it on a whim. I didn’t know that you could rent roller skis there,” she said. Seefeld, Tyrol of Austria was the site for Olympic cross-country skiing in 1964 and 1976. “I enjoyed the trail and hit great speeds,” Hauer said.
Hauer said she did experience a language barrier and some struggles with foreign currency but said that overall, most countries were patient with her and the group of 307 Minnesota students and chaperones.
“As long as you tried to speak their language, they were understanding,” Hauer said. Hauer and her fellow Minnesotans performed five times with six to eight songs per concert but needed to be prepared with 15 songs. Under the direction of St. Mary’s University Assistant Professor A. Eric Heukeshoven, Hauer said she learned a lot of the native cultures they visited and the music performed. “I learned what to expect from each country we were performing at and the history of our pieces. (Heukeshoven) also taught me the German words for each of the songs and showed me the joy of music as a career.”
Hauer, who has since decided on pursuing a career in accounting, was recommended and referred to the Ambassadors of Music program by Little Falls Community High School Director of Bands Jonathan LaFlamme. LaFlamme also recommended Hauer for scholarship and said, “The trip is a great experience for students.” Hauer will play in the SCSU band later this fall.
She was fortunate to have had a loyal travel companion with her. Jane Hauer, Maria’s mother, said she was compelled to attend with Maria after Maria said that the trip would be their last before she attends college. Jane said, “It was an amazing trip, and we had wonderful experiences. (Europeans) really liked the music.”
Maria described a little of what it was like performing there. “They looked forward to us. One man in London waved the Minnesota flag throughout the concert. In France, an older couple would swing to our music. In Switzerland, the locals performed traditional shows with a trio of sisters who loved making music out of different random things like bike horns. In Austria, we had people singing along with Stars and Stripes Forever. In Rothenburg, Germany, everyone was just dancing and having fun.”
Hauer said it was worth the expense and she would take the trip again. She also said that she would recommend the trip to others.
Colorado-based Voyageurs International Ltd. operates in 32 states and was organized in the 1970s to facilitate travel for music students to perform abroad.