Hodgson Wind Ensemble prepare for Panama service-learning tour

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The Hodgson Wind Ensemble’s (HWE) January performances take them out of the familiar setting of Hodgson Concert Hall, out of Athens, out of Georgia and even out of the United States.

From Jan. 4-10, the Hugh Hodgson School of Music’s premier wind ensemble will present a series of concerts and master classes to Panamanian children and young adults in less advantaged communities and donate gently-used instruments to music schools there.

The service-learning trip aims to engage UGA students with other young people in Panama who can bridge their perceived world of differences and connect through the experience of making music together.

“We might think that we are traveling to Panama to serve and give and that's true,” said Dr. Cynthia Johnston Turner, HWE director. “But it will be us who are enriched and transformed.”

Johnston Turner speaks with experience, having taken similar trips to Costa Rica with the Cornell Wind Ensemble in her time as director of wind ensembles at Cornell University.

She believes in the power of “service-learning,” as she describes it, and community engagement coupled with the power of collective music making to change lives. She has the stories to prove that belief is well founded.

“There was a child to whom we gave an instrument in Costa Rica,” said Johnston Turner. “He told me that he would be 'on the streets' if he hadn't learned to play. True story.”

Interactions like that give Johnston Turner hope that her students will be “bitten by the service bug.” She rejects the notion that Millennials are narcissistic because of that hope and because of students like Tyler Ehrlich, a conducting graduate student at the School of Music who studied with Johnston Turner at Cornell and went on her prior service-learning trips.

“I could not be more excited to make wonderful music with students from a culture different than my own,” said Ehrlich. “I have returned from each tour as a better teacher and, hopefully, a better person too.”

For those interested in supporting the trip, a Georgia Funder webpage (t.uga.edu/1Xz) is accepting donations through Jan. 4 and any gently-used instrument donations can be directed to Sara Emery.

For more information on the opportunities available at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music, visit music.uga.edu.