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"Amazing" Worthington City Band back from Crailsheim visit

The "Amazing" Worthington City Band performs July 23 in the 15th-century Johanneskirche in Crailsheim, Germany, as part of its musical ambassador trip to Worthington's sister city.

WORTHINGTON -- After delivering three stirring concerts to enthusiastic audiences in Crailsheim, Germany, last week, the "Amazing" Worthington City Band (AWCB) and Great Plains String Quartet returned home late Wednesday night, exhausted but elated following a whirlwind eight days filled with musical ambassadorship and sightseeing.

"Everybody really enjoyed the concerts," expressed Kevin Fleming, percussionist and current AWCB president, of the tour to the town that has been Worthington's sister city since 1947. "There were even some audience members wondering if we had CDs available -- and that's a question we've never had in Worthington.

"Those in the band played well, made new friends and everyone was very happy with the trip. I felt very proud to be in the band and of what we did there."

The band's European adventure began on a sizzling July 18. Boarding a coach bus in the Worthington High School parking lot at noon in nearly 100-degree heat, the group, comprised of 44 musicians and about 20 additional family members, headed for the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport's Humphrey Terminal and an evening departure.

Landing several hours later on the volcanic isle of Iceland, the 50-degree air temperature at the Reykjavik airport was a relief, as was the Icelandic airport staff's efficiency during a short layover.

Upon arrival in Frankfurt, Germany, Crailsheim residents immediately began living up to their reputation for hospitality and generosity toward Worthington.

Carola Schnabl, herself an exchange student to Worthington in 1985-86, was joined by her husband, Ralf, and 2010-11 Worthington exchange student Haley Rogers in greeting the now-tired travelers and guiding them to the waiting bus.

At a rest area less than two hours later, Schnabl produced boxes of fresh pretzels and pfefferbeisser (German sausages similar to American beef sticks) that provided the Worthington troupe with a first taste of German fare.

Greeted with cheerful fanfare by the Crailsheim city band and host families in the town's Volksfestplatz, it didn't take long to match up guests with hosts for an evening meal and a night of much-needed rest.

Only 24 hours later, Germans were seated among the visiting Americans as the Great Plains String Quartet performed for a standing-room-only crowd at a church in Ingersheim, receiving an extended ovation for their performance of both sacred and popular tunes.

The Worthington Brass, providing intermission entertainment, was also appreciated by the spirited assemblage.

Earlier that morning, the Worthington entourage was treated to a warm reception at Crailsheim's Rathaus (city hall), featuring Crailsheim Mayor Rudolf Michl, glasses of juice and champagne and overflowing baskets of Crailsheim's signature pastry, the Horaffen.

"Crailsheim and Worthington have a special history," said Michl, explaining that Crailsheim added sister-city relationships with communities in France, Poland and Lithuania more recently. "It is necessary, because if you know each other, you can look in the other's eye and talk together.

"We wish your visit could be longer," offered Michl, who hopes to make his own first trip to Worthington in 2012 or 2013.

Interspersed with day trips to the German cities of Rothenberg, Munich and Hohenschwangau -- and time spent in Crailsheim and with host families -- were, of course, the AWCB's concerts that were part of Crailsheim's notable Kulturwochenende, or Cultural Weekend, that featured a variety of performing artists from Germany and other far-flung spots around the world.

On July 23, an evening concert was given in Crailsheim's 15th century Johanneskirche. The AWCB's program included both sacred pieces, such as "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," as well as American folk songs like "Home on the Range" and the recently commissioned "American Worth" by regional composer Jeremy Hegg.

The following morning, the AWCB presented a lighter outdoor show in downtown Crailsheim's Lange Strasse, and despite chilly air and a light breeze, the musicians performed with gusto and were rewarded by the responsive crowd with cheers, smiles and even some dancing to the favorites "Rock Around the Clock" and "Beer Barrel Polka."

Each concert culminated with the playing of the German and American national anthems. Additionally, American and German children and exchange students presented the respective national flags at the Johanneskirche concert. During the outdoor concert's post-intermission number (an upbeat performance of Crailsheim composer Josef Jiskra's "Crailsheimer Festmarsch," played with Jiskra present), American flags substituted for the traditional candy distributed to children at Chautauqua Park summer concerts, resulting in a heartwarming display of youngsters from both countries cheerfully marching through the crowd.

Jon Loy, director of the AWCB, was pleased with the performances by the Worthington musicians, and delighted by the German audiences' responses to their gift of music.

"It took extra time and effort to prepare for this trip, no doubt, but when you are building and renewing friendships based on historical and humanitarian causes, as we were doing in Crailsheim, you can't help but want to be and do your very best.

"Our performances were filled with music and emotion, and that combination allows a person to speak a universal language that is easily interpreted by all who listen."

A more detailed story, along with additional photos, of the "Amazing" Worthington City Band's trip to Crailsheim is scheduled to appear on the Daily Globe's Aug. 6 "People" page.