Lack of funds could sink European trip invitation for Wichita State orchestra

Natalia Korenchuk and other members of Wichita State's orchestra rehearse at Duerksen Fine Arts Center on Thursday. The group is finding it difficult to raise money for a trip to perform in Austria.
Natalia Korenchuk and other members of Wichita State's orchestra rehearse at Duerksen Fine Arts Center on Thursday. The group is finding it difficult to raise money for a trip to perform in Austria. The Wichita Eagle

Wichita State University’s basketball players aren’t the only Shockers performing at a high level.

WSU’s symphony orchestra is playing so well that it has been invited to represent Kansas at the 2014 American Celebration of Music in Austria, the cradle of Western European classical music.

The musicians would play in Vienna, Salzburg and Prague in the Czech Republic in front of some of the most sophisticated audiences in the world. They would play where Mozart and Beethoven composed. They would perform in a hall in Vienna where Mozart and Salieri competed in front of the Austrian emperor. They would play where their instruments were created.

If they could get there.

The orchestra is trying to send about 60 members at a cost of $3,500 per student, said Mark Laycock, director of orchestras and associate music professor at Wichita State. Some members have committed $1,000 of their own funds toward the trip already, and the orchestra is waiting to learn if it will be approved for more help from student fees. The group still needs about $120,000 by the end of this month to make the trip, Laycock said.

Members have formed a fund-raising committee, delivered fund-raising packets to local businesses requesting help, and created a crowd-funding web site through the WSU Foundation.

But only one business has contributed so far, said senior Jordan Wells, a clarinetist with the orchestra and a member of its fund-raising committee.

“It was a very generous donation, but it doesn’t even make a dent,” she said.

The orchestra was elated when it heard of its selection, but has been deflated by the lack of funding.

“I feel as a musician you’re put in the back seat and nobody pays attention to you,” she said. “It’s really unbelievable.”

No state dollars are available for such trips, said Rodney Miller, dean of the College of Fine Arts at WSU. His college has limited funds and can’t send large groups on trips costing a couple of hundred thousand dollars, he said.

“Wichita State does not have in place any continuing protocol for financing or paying for trips by large organizations,” Miller said.

Student fees

The process to get student fees approved for the orchestra could move quickly, said Wade Robinson, vice president of campus life and university relations, who oversees the process. Robinson said he will call for a hearing on the orchestra’s request before the student fees committee for late next week. That committee will decide whether to send the request to the full student government for consideration. If it does, the student Senate would hold a questions-only session at its the next scheduled Wednesday meeting. The following Wednesday, it would debate the matter and and vote on it.

The student government is supportive of fine arts, given reduced funding for the arts from the state, Robinson said.

Because the orchestra request involves international travel, it could get $1,000 to $1,500 per member from student fees, Robinson said.

That still would leave it well short, however.

Orchestra members are trying to keep their hopes up because the chance to play in Europe and represent Wichita State in such a festival is a great opportunity.

“I consider it an honor to be able to represent this school in Europe,” said Kristen Weddle, a WSU senior who is a cellist in the orchestra. “They don’t take any podunk school.”

‘High-end university orchestra’

Music Celebrations International, of Tempe, Ariz., a professional concert tour organizer, selected WSU and solicited invitations for the Shockers from the mayors of Austria’s major cities.

“It’s really a high-end university orchestra, as far as we’re concerned,” said John Wiscombe, president of Music Celebrations International, which has been selecting groups for the festival for 25 years. “It’s one of the best in the country.”

Other groups selected to perform at the festival include the Chicago Master Singers, Utah Chamber Artists, High Point University Concert Choir, Florida Gulf Coast University Choir, and youth orchestras and symphonies from California, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Calgary, Wiscombe said.

His organization tries to keep costs of the trips down so the chosen groups can get to Europe, he said. A big percentage of the money goes toward air fare, and rest of the package includes lodging and two meals a day. Other costs include transportation for the musicians and their instruments, and use of venues around Europe for warmups and rehearsals.

‘A real opportunity’

The orchestra’s most recent trip was to Carnegie Hall in New York with the WSU wind ensemble in 2011. In 2008, it played three concerts in Spain and established that it could play at an international level, Laycock said.

Over the last couple of years, the orchestra has grown in numbers and quality, he said.

“This would be a fine group to take out and showcase around the world if we can,” Laycock said.

“Just to give these young people a worldwide perspective and eye-opening experience would be invaluable,” he said.

It would also help recruit musicians to WSU if they felt confident they could have a similar experience during their time at the school, he said.

Wiscombe said that if the Shockers can’t make it to Europe this year, the offer could be extended to another year when they had a better chance to raise the necessary funds.

But that wouldn’t help members like Weddle, who are in their final year at WSU.

“It’s been on the top of my bucket list for a long time,” she said. “So much history comes from there. For our students to be able to travel there and perform there, no less, would be a real opportunity. I think every serious musician should do it at least once in their lifetime.”

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