Dartmouth alumni and students are united by shared experiences, treasured traditions, and their love for the Big Green – but most of all by a unique spirit of adventure and a desire to make a difference in the world.
Several members of the Class of 1957 demonstrated that adventuresome spirit and discovered just how much they share with today’s students when they joined the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble (DCWE) and members of the Dartmouth Dance Ensemble on their second music service trip to Costa Rica this March.
For ’57s Bruce Bernstein, Tom Macy, and Peter Carothers, as well as their spouses, the journey to Costa Rica was a chance to witness their class’s philanthropy at work. The DCWE was able to travel thanks to a generous fund created in 2013 by the Class of 1957 to support the international tours of student ensembles.
It was a return trip for Bernstein and his wife Lita Moses, who played an integral role in planning the inaugural tour in 2014. Their experience was so memorable that they inspired their classmates and friends to join them this time around.
These intrepid ’57s traveled with 30 Dartmouth student musicians, six student members of the Dance Ensemble, and five members of the DCWE from the Upper Valley community, along with the ensemble’s conductor, Matthew Marsit. The trip was built around a partnership Marsit forged with the University of Costa Rica (UCR), which is working to launch youth music programs for students in rural parts of the country.
Dartmouth musicians spent 10 days traveling through the country and rehearsing side-by-side with these Costa Rican students, ultimately performing with several different groups in successful and well-attended concerts. Every step of the way, their newfound friends from the Class of 1957 were there to share the experience.
Communicating Through Music
While performing was the central focus of the tour, Marsit saw much deeper benefits for the students who participate. “The real mission,” he explains, “is the creation of a life-changing service mission for the students of Dartmouth College, exposing them to an economic climate that differs dramatically from that which they are used to experiencing, and showing them the power of music and the individual in impacting the lives of others.”
DCWE members performed alongside their Costa Rican counterparts and assisted them in practicing English. Together they enjoyed a salsa dance party. For many, the experience demonstrated that music transcends all barriers of language and culture.
For Adam Rinehouse ’19 a rehearsal with high school students in Puntarenas became a powerful learning experience. With a percussion section comprised of Costa Ricans who didn’t speak any English and Americans who didn’t speak Spanish, the musicians were forced to improvise.
“We all had to get by on whatever communication we could muster,” Rinehouse said. “Then, when we were in our sectional rehearsal, the students moved us each to different drums and began demonstrating different beats to us. Then, they counted off, and suddenly, we were all playing a Cumbia, one of the favorite dances of Costa Rica. A few of the other students–Dartmouth and UCR–even started dancing to it! It was fast, it was fun, and it was incredible to me that we were able to communicate solely through music.”
An Opportunity for Reflection
Saxophonist Natalia Drozdoff ’17, who first traveled to Costa Rica with the Wind Ensemble as a first-year student, found that her return to the country was the perfect chance to contemplate her Dartmouth journey.
“The two trips were completely different for me,” Drozdoff explains. “Each was engaging and unique. On the first, I was a freshman finding my feet in the series of new environments that college creates. The second time, I was a senior preparing to start on a new path following school. The work we did and the relationships we developed highlighted for me how so many of the best interactions in life are a mixture of teaching and learning and served as a good reminder of how communication and connection are not restricted boundaries. This was the perfect way to finish my time here at Dartmouth.”
Still at the beginning of her Dartmouth experience, saxophonist Hanna Bliska ’20 share’s Drozdoff’s sense that this trip is special.
“Our trip to Costa Rica was by far the most meaningful and incredible trip I have ever taken,” she says. “My favorite part of the trip was a performance we held in a church in Cartago, Costa Rica. Our music sounded so magical in the open church, and afterwards, all of the members of the church came up to us to shake our hands and thank us for playing for them. It meant so much to realize that we had truly made a positive impact and shared something beautiful with a community.”
The experiences of a performer and an observer may differ, but Bernstein from the Class of 1957 found the experience just as profound as Bliska from the Class of 2020.
“Being in a small town church, filled with local working people, and having the priest say that he felt God enter the building when the Wind Ensemble was chanting…[it was] all part of a special experience, different from any other travel I have done,” says Bernstein.
For Bernstein, the chance to get to know current Dartmouth students was another highlight.
“For this last trip, [Marsit’s] graciousness spilled over to the Wind Ensemble members, and the Dance Ensemble members…all made us feel like we were an integral part of the trip.”
Connecting With Their Class and the College
Bernstein explains that the Class of 1957’s goal in supporting these trips was “to increase our involvement with the college, and with one another.”
Without a doubt, they have had resounding success, creating an experience that has been transformative for both their own class and also for the DCWE and Dance Ensemble students who have been able to travel as a result.
With Marsit hoping to expand the program and offer more frequent trips for interested musicians, the impact of this engagement from the Class of 1957 is sure to impact students, both from Dartmouth and from Costa Rica, for years to come.