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The language of music has no barriers

Music is a universal language that can quickly bridge cultural barriers and connects people around the globe. Wherever we go there will be some form of music. People will make music, play music and move to music.

It is a language spoken by every person on earth. It moves us. Whether by the beat of a drum or rhythm of the orchestra, we are affected by the sound and feel, and when it is pleasing to us, music stimulates a response.

For some, that response is in the form of giving. Donations made to Purdue Musical Organizations help in ways large and small. For one young man, the word grateful does not even begin to express how it has helped him.

Robert Hawkins

Glee Club member Robert (Robby) Browning Hawkins (IE’15), was able to take part in the PMO European performance tour from May 14-28, 2013 because of private donations. “It was my first time overseas and first time on an airplane,” shares Hawkins. “The whole trip was so fantastic and the history overwhelming. You read about this stuff in history books but it’s a whole different thing seeing it in person.”

Hawkins, who is also a Marquis scholar and grew up with Purdue in his backyard, feels especially fortunate to even be at Purdue. “Without a scholarship, I doubt I’d even be attending college,” he states. “Without Purdue donors none of this would be possible – my education, the tour. This experience changed my life and I can’t imagine how different things would be if I hadn’t gone.”

Travel scholarship endowments allow PMO to provide travel opportunities to all ensembles. “The income from all of the endowments is pooled to help pay for the trip,” explains Lance Connolly, director of donor relations and events for Purdue Musical Organizations. “We haven’t traveled abroad since the 2008 trip to South Africa. We took a little bit of a break to allow the income to accumulate because we knew this was going to be a big trip and we were going to take other ensembles in addition to the Glee Club with us.”


In addition to the endowments, there is a gift fund established to which donors can make annual and one-time gifts. “This gift fund also helps subsidize the cost to our students,” says Connolly (CFS’09).

The travel party consisted of the Purdue Varsity Glee Club, Purduettes, Purdue Bells and 38 PMO Club supporters. “We spent a lot of time together,” says Hawkins. “The donors who traveled with us got to see us on a whole different level and we got to know them more personally too, not just as donors.” Donors and alumni who traveled were able to see their investment in action and experience first-hand what goes on behind the scenes – before the first note is heard.

“Joining PMO and guests in Paris, my grandson and I were excited to witness the performance at Notre Dame,” says Nikki Niswonger. “The High Mass was a deeply moving experience but the addition of the pure voices of our Glee Club sung in Latin was a moment that words will never express.”

During the tour, the group saw sites including the Louvre Museum and Eiffel Tower. The Glee Club was invited to sing Sunday Mass at the majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, and the tour ended with a performance at the Normandy American Cemetery on Memorial Day. “We were proud and humbled by the opportunity to honor our fallen heroes, especially on that day,” expresses Connolly.

Omaha Beach

“Pictures cannot describe what you feel and see. We were on the beaches and saw the graves representing the Americans who died there,” shares Hawkins. “It’s one thing to read about it in history books. To see it in person takes your breath away.”

“Normandy was not part of the original trip,” says Connolly. “We had two donors step up to sponsor that leg; they felt it was a must-see for the students and they made it happen for them.”

During the ceremony for lowering of the flags, two PMO seniors were joined by a group of Wounded Warriors. “Side by side with respectful precision, they folded the symbol of our freedom,” shares Niswonger. “The single and double amputees never allowed their physical challenges to deter them from firmly grasping the flag or standing proudly erect. My faith and patriotism were elevated in those two experiences and I am ever thankful for the opportunity.”

The group was able to collaborate with other choirs during the tour. In Gmunden, Austria, a gospel choir opened for the Glee Club, but not any ordinary gospel choir. “We walked in and they were performing with hand puppets,” chuckles Hawkins. “And they performed one of the songs we were going to sing!”

Eiffel Tower

PMO trips are about engaging with alumni, donors and students around the world. “Being part of PMO opens the doors of the world for students,” shares Connolly, who was a member of the Glee Club all four years of his time at Purdue. “They get to experience so many things and travel to so many wonderful places. But they also learn a lot about themselves and how to interact with people. Glitches happen on the road and you have to figure out how to work through them. One of our philosophies at PMO is “adjust and move on.”

Hawkins doesn’t have his next international trip mapped out yet although he would love to study abroad if possible. “Right now, I’m focusing on completing my degree then I’ll travel,” he says.

“This trip was such a tremendous experience,” Hawkins continues. “I am so deeply grateful for the support that allowed it to happen for me. I loved getting to sing with other choirs. Even though there was a language barrier, we had a common bond. Once the music started and we began to sing, we understood each other. You don’t need to speak the same language to communicate through song.”

Editor’s note:
To view photos from PMO’s European Tour, visit PMO’s Facebook photo album: http://on.fb.me/17kxMV0