Oakcrest High School sophomore Tommi Lynn Schieder will always remember many things about her trip to Europe last summer, chief among them the bus rides through the countryside and the smiles of the crowds for whom she and more than 100 other student musicians performed on the 17-day trip.
Schieder said the American Music Abroad 2012 Gold Tour in July, when she toured Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France and Germany, has been the highlight of her life so far.
"It was probably the best experience of my whole entire life," the Mays Landing resident said. "Just because of the diversity of the cultures. Normally, here in America, it's pretty much all one blended culture. There, it's so different, and yet it's all still close. It's really amazing."
Tyler Sarfert and Maggie Madamba, also Oakcrest students, attended the tour as well.
American Music Abroad is a national organization that has sent more than 32,000 American students and adults on overseas musical tours since it was established 37 years ago. The gold tour is one of several the organization offers and is mostly made up of students from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Mainland Regional High School director of instrumental music Keith Hodgson has been involved with the program for 15 years and has been head director of the gold tour since 2009. He said the tour is a fantastic experience for those who participate.
"It's incredible. It's not only a musical experience, but a social experience and a travel experience," Hodgson said. "They get a chance to travel to about five countries in Central Europe. They get to perform in all five of those countries."
Donna Schieder, Tommi Lynn's mother, said her daughter has gushed about her experiences on the trip since returning home. While the trip is a good time for the students, parents can get behind it for the life lessons it teaches, Schieder said.
"They meet so many kids," Schieder said. "It's a lot of hard work, but they see the big payoff. They get to see incredible sights over there, learn how to be responsible. Managing money, doing the wash, getting to places on time and staying together. I think it was really good."
The application process was a rigorous one, and required Schieder, who plays the flute, to secure a recommendation from a music teacher as well as put together an audition tape. Once accepted, she had to memorize her parts and rehearsed with the group for three days before departure.
While the months leading up to the trip were difficult, to Tommi Lynn and the rest of the students who attended the trip, they were worth it.
"Everywhere we went, it was incredible," she said. "I had more fun in the first couple days of the trip than I thought I would have in the whole trip. It was just amazing. It just kept up. It never failed."
Hodgson has begun conducting informational meetings at local schools for the 2013 gold tour, which will be held in July and will include stops in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland and Italy. The tour usually fills by Thanksgiving, Hodgson said, so those interested should act quickly.
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