Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kuemper Catholic High School junior Melissa Odendahl has been given the opportunity of a lifetime — that of taking a 16-day tour through Europe. And while she is at it, she will also be acting as an ambassador for the Carroll area through her participation in the Iowa Ambassadors of Music (IAM) program.

Odendahl, who is one of 400 Iowa vocal and instrumental musicians selected, will play flute in the upcoming tour through England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Liechtenstein. (There will be concerts in each country with the exception of Liechtenstein.)

The journey will begin first, however, with practice sessions in Grinnell, beginning June 30 and running through July 2. At the conclusion of practice, the group will perform before boarding a bus to Chicago and then on to their flight to Europe.

To be considered for a spot in IAM, which offers trips every other year, students must have a recommendation from their music instructor as possessing superior music skills as well as high character.

Al Yeager was happy to recommend Odendahl for the spot with IAM. But, Odendahl may have missed out on the opportunity altogether if she hadn’t already been looking for something similar.

“I got something that was a national thing,” she said. “I talked to my director (Yeager) about it, and he told me about this one and that it was just Iowa. He got me some more information about it, and we went from there.”

Having played the flute since fifth grade, Odendahl was confident and breezed through the audition process. It was a little different, however, when she got the first three songs for rehearsal that would determine seat assignments. Odendahl received her music about one week before the rehearsals held May 15 in Des Moines.

“I played it about the worst I ever had played it,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be first flute because there was one part that was for first flute, and I didn’t practice it. Sometimes it is hard when it is so fast and you are trying to get everything down.”

But even after acknowledging she was not on top of her game, she still managed to land a seat in the middle of the pack. And, when the entire group gets together again in Grinnell for rehearsals, there will be another opportunity to improve her chair position.

“There are 20 or so songs for Grinnell,” she explained. “We will look at those songs, and we will practice, then I guess they will re-audition within the parts.”

Odendahl, who says that playing music makes her happy, should theoretically be nearly ecstatic. She plays the flute for the Kuemper High School band as well as for the All Strings Attached Studio Orchestra. It doesn’t end there, either. She plays the saxophone for the high school jazz band as well as the piano.

According to her mother, Diane, she began playing the piano as soon as they could find an instructor that Melissa would go to, which was the summer before she entered fifth grade.

Her musical director, Yeager, is responsible for her picking up the saxophone.

“He had to work at getting me into the sax,” she said. “At first, it didn’t go very well, but now I have got it, and it’s not so bad.”

Here musical proclivities come as no surprise after her mother reveals the familial connections.

“I am proud of her, and she got it from me,” quipped Odendahl’s mother. “Actually, I played the flute up to the sixth grade, and then I switched to the sax. I play in the symphony and the Carroll Area Jazzers. My other daughter (Jessica) was in the (University of Iowa) Hawkeye Marching Band for four years and was All-State in band.”

The musical talent, however, has been reserved for the females of the Odendahl family, it appears, as neither Melissa’s father (John) nor her older brother (Greg) have interest in musical pursuits.

In fact, Odendahl’s mother says that her daughter’s musical prowess is giving her the opportunity to take the European vacation as well.

“My husband has no desire to go, so I thought I would do it with her,” she said. “I would never get there otherwise, and I don’t even have to chaperone. I go as a tourist.”

There will be many opportunities for the participants to act as tourists, as well, and Odendahl is having a hard time deciding which of two locations she is most excited about seeing.

“Maybe London,” she said. “Or Paris.”

Her mother, however, has no doubts about which country she can’t wait to see.

“Austria,” she said.

And though there will be time for fun, relaxation and sightseeing, the purpose of the trip is never far off topic.

Odendahl, who will be under the direction of Dr. Morgan Jones, a professor emeritus from the University of Iowa, says that after an initial look through the material in preparation for this trip, she is looking forward to a few of the songs.

“I really didn’t get a chance to look at them too closely,” she said, “but I kind of like ‘Stars and Stripes Forever,’ it is kind of fun. Then there is a medley from two composers that was fun.”

Although she couldn’t recall the names Frederick Loewe and Alan Lerner right off the bat, she knew exactly which of their songs had caught her attention.

“One song they used on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ (a FOX Broadcasting television series). The song was ‘Get Me to the Church on Time.’”

For Odendahl and her mother, as the excitement builds and the date of departure draws closer, it is much more likely to hear them singing, “Get me to the airport on time” as they count down the days until their departure with approximately 399 of the most talented musicians in Iowa.