Cardinal Singers make triumphant return to Far East
Kelly Welding breathed in South Korean air for the first time in more than 20 years on July 28 when her plane touched down in Seoul — her birth city.
The last time the University of Louisville music major was there she was an infant, soon to be adopted by American parents. Welding grew up in Louisville and graduated from Sacred Heart Academy.
Now a member of UofL's world-renowned Cardinal Singers, Welding was part of the choir's latest triumphant trip overseas — one that took the ensemble to South Korea and then on to some of the finest concert halls in Taiwan and China.
For the senior soprano, traveling to the place of her birth was exciting. But the reason she was going made it even more special.
"The fact that I am going under these circumstances-as a member of a choir — a recognized choir," Welding said during a pre-trip rehearsal at a Louisville church. "It's like we have a purpose for being there, and we are being recognized for being there. A specific level of excellence is going to be expected."
Welding was not on the trip in summer 2009, when the Cardinal Singers sealed their growing international reputation with a perfect showing at the First Grand Prix of Choral Music in South Korea. At the choir contest, which featured top choral groups from all over the world, the singers placed first in both the sacred music and mixed chorus categories.
"That gave us outstanding exposure in Asia, which has a rich choral tradition," said Kent Hatteberg, director of UofL choral activities and of the Cardinal Singers. "It was great to make a name for ourselves in that part of the world."
This summer's trip — from July 26 to Aug. 12 — did not include competition but rather was a tour of choral festivals, among them the Taipei International Choral Festival in Taiwan and the Beijing International Choral Festival.
"There's still a lot of pressure because we have a standard," said tenor Josh Hamilton, a senior music education major. "The reason that we were going to this festival is because people heard us last year in Korea when we did so well. We have to live up to that standard. We have to be just as good even though we're not competing — just performing.
"We have a reputation overseas now," added Hamilton, who made his fifth international trip with the ensemble this summer. "So we have to maintain that same level of performance. There's been a lot of pressure and a lot of push by Dr. Hatteberg for us to be as great as we can possibly be."
The choir seemed to accomplish that goal. While in Beijing, the singers were featured at length on a local English language television station as the "prestigious ensemble from the United States" that opened the event.
About 1,500 people came to hear the singers in Taiwan, Hatteberg said, and the audience didn't want the show to end.
"We had to stop after three encores," but the crowd wanted more, he noted.
Throughout their travels, choir members got rock-star treatment. Fans stopped students for autographs and photos, and the group sold nearly all the CDs it took, Hatteberg said.
Soprano Lydia Cox, a senior studying music education, said she enjoys the atmosphere of the festivals — and checking out other choirs.
"It's an opportunity to hear a lot of really good music — international groups that we wouldn't be able to hear otherwise," she said.
It's also an invaluable learning experience, Hamilton added.
"It's interesting to hear the pieces we do performed by the other choirs," he said. "Because can see and hear how they do things differently and how we do things alike. We're there to learn and sing with other great choirs."
The trip wasn't all about singing. The choir got the chance to be tourists, seeing the Great Wall, touring the Forbidden City and experiencing other sites, sounds and culture of South Korea, Taiwan and China.
Senior Rob Carlson, a tenor 2 with the Cardinal Singers, said he prefers the musical moments, though.
"When that one part of the song is coming up and you just get goose bumps up your neck when you hit this chord and to see the people in the audience just light up with you as you're singing for them," Carlson said. "For me, those are the magical moments of these trips. Those are the unforgettable moments.
"Some of the experiences I've had with this group are just absolutely incredible."
(Editor's Note: The Cardinal Singers will perform at the School of Music on Sept. 12. The group, formed in 1970 as an outreach group for UofL, has been at the top of international performance and competition since 2004 when it won two first-place prizes at the International Choir Olympics in Bremen, Germany.)