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Music with a mission: CU Winds revisit Costa Rica

The Cornell Wind Ensemble (CU Winds) had its second tour of Costa Rica in January, a humanitarian and cultural outreach trip with 49 student musicians delivering more than 80 donated instruments to three schools and performing concerts across the country.

The ensemble's cultural immersion included home stays with families of students at an after-school conservatory in San Isidro. The group also delivered instruments and performed with students in Poas and in Matapalo, a small village whose music school benefited from instruments and cultural exchange on the 2006 Cornell tour.

The Cornell musicians knew were in dire need of new instruments. "The condition of their instruments was their main impediment to performing well," said Cynthia Johnston Turner, director of CU Winds.

Her "favorite moment," she said, was the ceremony of presenting the new instruments. "The initial reaction from Costa Ricans is shock -- you can hear a pin drop."

The ensemble visited virgin rain forests and beaches, including an endangered sea turtle nesting site, and performed at schools and festivals, in public squares, at the Canadian ambassador's residence (Johnston Turner is Canadian) and a cultural center.

"As tourists, we've seen more in 10 days than I could have hoped," said Greg Weisbrod '11. "As musicians, we've had a busy, satisfying and successful tour. As human beings, we've had an unforgettable lesson in charity."

The Cornell musicians also led master classes at schools and took a class from an oboist with the Costa Rican national symphony orchestra. Some students spent an evening performing in a San José jazz club after playing three concerts earlier that day.

"This is the type of diplomacy that America needs," trumpeter Kyle Story '07 said.

CU Winds also returned to Santa Cruz to lead a parade, playing Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever."

"[It was] quite surreal, actually," Johnston Turner said. "It turned out that the whole evening was in our honor, and in my honor. I had to present gifts and money and prizes and kisses after the bullfights. Students got a kick out of it."

The trip was supported by the Office of Ethics and Public Life, Faculty Fellows-in-Service Programs, the Office of Undergraduate Education and by Ronni Lacroute '66, who accompanied the tour.

"It was an amazing experience for the students, musically [and] emotionally; and with a firm belief that we are doing the right thing," Johnston Turner said.

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