The trip began as multiple performances but ended as an eye-opening experience. I sat quietly in the Chicago Airport—a reserved 14-year-old girl high school freshman awaiting a plane flight to Switzerland. Next to me stood the enormous string bass that I was to wheel around European jazz festivals for two and a half weeks, which wasn’t what you would exactly call a typical high school kid’s summer.
Unlike most of the other kids, I’d had plenty of travel experience before the trip—my mom worked for United Airlines for fifteen years, which meant we were able to fly free to anywhere in the world, including Cancun, Orlando, Las Vegas, London, Berlin, and Stockholm, until she lost her job after the September 11th attacks. As we boarded the plane to Europe, I thought of the trip as another two European countries to cross off of my “travel to-do” list, but towards the end of the journey, I found something entirely different.
â–º Quarter Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
We arrived in Geneva, Switzerland and boarded a coach bus to Montreux. Along the way, I saw sights that were much different from the flat Illinois that I had grown up in. We drove by mountains, lakes, valleys, and fields upon fields of sunflowers. We approached the town of Montreux, home to one of the world’s most famous jazz festivals, which was located along the beautiful Lake Geneva. While there, we not only performed in front of a sizeable crowd along the shoreline, but we also had the opportunity to walk through the lakeside shops and visit a castle called the Chateau de Chillon. During the last night of our stay in Montreux, I clearly recall sitting upon the hotel balcony and staring out into the night sky, the full moon, the uncountable stars, and the dark lake. It’s a view that won’t be leaving my memory anytime soon.
Further through Europe we went, stopping to see George Clooney’s vista on Lake Como, the historic architecture and the famous statue David in Florence, and the Colosseum, Sistine Chapel, Spanish Steps, and Trevi Fountain in Rome. Beautiful sights were closely accompanied by incredible spaghetti, gnocchi, and gnocchi, great times with my fellow band mates, and what seemed like never-ending gelato, which is always a good thing (except for your thighs).
The trip was incredible—I got to see so much of Europe, taste so many traditional foreign delicacies, and listen to great jazz music thousands of miles from home. But, perhaps the most memorable moment of the trip, when it turned into a life-changing experience, was during our last performance in Italy. We were performing at the Umbria Jazz Festival and were placed on a stage located in the middle of an old-time Italian street; audience members had to choose between standing on the cobblestone and sitting along a cobblestone stairway.
The last song we performed that night was “Hey Jude” by The Beatles, and I clearly remember the end: at the part where the lyrics are repeated “na-na-na”s, the Italian crowd of near one thousand began to sing along and wave their arms to the music. I looked out to the strangers who I thought I had nothing in common with, and all I saw were smiles—smiles due to the very music that my classmates and I were creating. That one moment has taught me that everyone, no matter what race, origin, birthplace, or location, can find something in common with their neighbor, and that commonality, such as the love of jazz music shared between an Italian and an American, can give them both something to smile about.
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