This past summer, the Ramapo Chorale traveled over 15 hours to Guam to join its sister group Cantate Guam and attend the 10th annual Pacific Summer Music Festival, an event founded by Ramapo’s own Lisa Lutter, professor of vocal music performance and artistic director of the Ramapo College Chorale.
“I had a great time; Guam is a beautiful place with wonderful people,” Julia Montella, sophomore and member of the Ramapo Chorale, said.
Guam, a United States territory in the Western Pacific, was something the U.S. military was historically interested in, serving as a midway point between North America and Asia during World War II. Lutter’s self-proclaimed love affair with the small territory began 25 years ago, after meeting the conductor of the Guam Symphony at the Aspen Music Festival.
"Back then, I was pursuing my career as an opera singer and welcomed the opportunity to travel halfway across the planet to a tropical paradise,” Lutter said.
Moving to Guam in 1998, Lutter served as a visiting professor at the University of Guam for three years. It was then that she developed Ramapo Chorale’s sister group, Cantante Guam, a name that translates to “Sing, Guam!” Touring the Commonwealth of the Marianas and Japan, as well as winning a gold medal at the Australian International Music Festival in Sydney in 2000, Cantante was a hit.
“Without the spirit of my Guamanian students and, soon, members of the larger Guam community, none of the sort of movie-script kinds of successes and adventures we enjoyed would have been possible,” Lutter said. “No one thought it was possible for 60 students from the University of Guam to tour Japan, or win a gold medal in international competition and sing at the Sydney Opera House. It seemed impossible, but one thing I have learned is that if you join truly great people and great music just about anything is possible.”
Lutter explained that this kind of success has been mirrored through the Ramapo Chorale as well.
“We've done some pretty miraculous things at Ramapo College too. I mean, who would have thought a group of 20 Ramapo Chorale members could win a gold medal at the International Festival of Academic Choirs in Prague? We did that in 2008. And a concert tour to Costa Rica to benefit an exchange student, Danny Arce, who lost his life to cancer while at Ramapo? Or a tour to Estonia and Russia in 2013?”
With one driven director and two successful music groups separated by oceans, it was only a matter of time before the two came together. The Ramapo Chorale left for a 10-day trip to meet their sister group in June and present their own concert, Horizons, as a part of the Pacific Summer Music Festival. The festival, also founded by Lutter, featured the Festival Orchestra, the multiple gold medal winning Guam Territorial Band, Quartet San Francisco and, of course, Cantante and the Ramapo Chorale.
“We focused on what music means to us and other people … [Lutter] puts a lot of thought into the songs we perform,” said Lisa French, sophomore and member of the Ramapo Chorale.
Ramapo’s performance at the festival, Horizons, had three major themes according to Lutter: Haiti, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King. Rehearsing twice a day with three different Guam ensembles, the Ramapo Chorale worked hard to prepare for their performances, however, the trip was not all about working on musical skills.
Ramapo students had the opportunity to go on a jungle hike guided by a professor from the University of Guam, visit sites from Guam's Spanish colonial period and World War II battles sites, go snorkeling, and swim. Staying in both hotels and in the homes of Guamanians, Ramapo students experienced a local perspective of the island.
While on the trip, the government of Guam recognized Lutter’s “outstanding and lasting contribution to the performing arts and music education on Guam” by awarding her with the Ancient Order of the Chamorro, the highest honor a non-Guamanian can receive.
This was Ramapo’s third trip in the past eight years.
“Seeing Cantate Guam again was like visiting old friends,” Jonathan Fishkin, a Ramapo alumnus who went to Guam for the second time this summer, said.
Fishkin was not alone in his opinion; along with Lutter, Montella, French and Jeremy Watson, another member of the Chorale, all seemed to hold Guam in a special place in their heart.
“The friends I made there will always be a part of me,” Watson said.