Wallace State reflects on European tour of ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’

Members of the Wallace State Fine and Performing Arts programs pose for a photo before performing at the American Cathedral in Paris, France while on tour for “Stars Fell on Alabama: Music Inspired by a Southern State.”

HANCEVILLE, Ala. – While fall semester classes have started for students at Wallace State Community College, several students and faculty members are reflecting on the happenings at the end of the spring semester. More than 50 students, faculty and family traveled to Europe in May to present portions of “Stars Fell on Alabama: Music Inspired by a Southern State,” a production celebrating Alabama’s Bicentennial.

For more than a year, Wallace State Singers director Tiffany Richter narrowed down song selections from artists born or raised in Alabama as well as music made in Alabama.

“We did a little exploration into the Muscle Shoals sound and songs that were recorded there,” she said. The set list included songs made famous by Wilson Pickett, Bob Seger, the Eagles, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole, Little Big Town — which includes Wallace State alum Jimi Westbrook — and many more. Richter and Ricky Burks, chair of the Fine and Performing Arts program and director of the Wallace State Jazz Band, and Jacob Keisler, director of the Wallace State Concert Band, all created arrangements for the songs. Lauren Salerno, director of the Wallace State Theatre program, choreographed the show. Students wrote their own monologues about living in Alabama.

After debuting the “Stars Fell on Alabama” at the college near the end of the spring semester, they took the show across the Atlantic to tour in France and Germany, with the first performance in Cullman’s sister city of Frankweiler, Germany. Two more performances followed in Strasbourg and Paris, France.

The instructors and their students said they were amazed at the reaction of the audiences overseas.

“The first night of performance was in Frankweiler and that is our sister city,” Richter said. “It was a packed room and from the moment they started singing the crowd was with them. It was magical. I have very rarely seen something like this. They were enamored.”

That reaction continued throughout the trip.

“Every show had a standing ovation,” said Meredith Short of Lacey’s Spring, a saxophone player with the Wallace State Jazz Band and Concert Band. “They loved it so much. You looked out at the audience and they had ginormous smiles and they were clapping. “

“They welcomed us like we were family,” said Samuel Isaac Hewitt of Albertville, a member of the Wallace State Singers, Choir and Theatre. “And they responded so well to us that it felt like we were preforming for family.”

Favorite tunes that garnered great responses included “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Old Time Rock and Roll” and a Wilson Pickett medley.

Richter said the tour manager for their group thanked them for performing that style of music for the European audiences. “This is authentic American music; this is what we want to hear,” Richter said the manager told her.

Before returning home, the group made a final stop at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy, just days before the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. The group laid a wreath at the site, played “Taps,” and “America the Beautiful” and sang the “National Anthem” and a hymn.

The stop proved to be an emotional one with a lot of impact on the students and faculty.

“Actually, getting to perform there at the American Cemetery was really a lot harder than I thought,” said Burks, whose father was a WWII veteran. “When I stood there looking across those in excess of 9,300 graves and realized all those young men were between the ages of 17 and 24, which was the age of all of the students on the buses with us. It was really hard when you started to think what if they had been there on the beach that day.”

“I almost started crying, just because there’s so much history there,” said Isabella Allred of Cullman, a member of the Wallace State Singers, Choir and Theatre. “Before we went there, we went to the beaches of Normandy and I just remember standing there; I had no words. This feeling of gratitude and sorrow washed over me because those people gave their lives for us.”

“The mood at that place was so sacred,” Richter said. “Some were pensive and some were moved to tears. It was really beautiful that you could see they really understood the impact of what had been done for them.

“One kid said, ‘I just hope that somehow they know that what they did mattered, that we appreciate it.’ That’s when I thought that was worth it, that one moment.”

The overall impact of the trip taught the students several things, among them possibilities for the future and how music brings people together.

“They discovered that the world really isn’t that big,” Salerno said. “You can go over there and work and have a career. So, I think it will make international work, be it performing or something else, a bit more accessible.”

“I am so thankful that I got to do this trip with my best friends here and got to perform in these amazing cities,” said Caroline Grimes of Orange Beach, a member of the Wallace State Singers, Choir and Theatre. “This will always share a special place in my heart.”

“For me to be able to go to places like Europe and Germany and Frances, it was very life-changing,” said Jorelle Webster of Hayden, a member of the Wallace State Singers and Choir. “This was eye-opening because it showed me the impact that we had on the people that we performed for.”

“When the music started it was like there was no difference between us,” added Hewitt. “Everyone can enjoy the music, enjoy the monologues, everything together. It’s that connection that we have with every culture.”

Those who didn’t get to see the show or want to see it again have two more chances. Portions of the show will be performed at Cullman’s Oktoberfest on Oct. 5 at 10 a.m., and again on Dec. 14 during the local celebration of Alabama’s Bicentennial.

View a video about the tour on the Wallace State Community College YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/p4nj2AbEp4s

Events planned for the 2019-2020 season include:

* “Sherwood — The Adventures of Robin Hood” presented by Wallace State Theatre Oct. 24-27
* “The Nutcracker — Clara’s Dream” presented by Wallace State Dance Nov. 22-23
* Christmas Spectacular presented by Wallace State Fine and Performing Arts Dec. 5
* “Big Fish the Musical” presented by Wallace State Theatre March 12-15
* Big Band Dance presented by the Wallace State Jazz Band April 17
* Wallace State Singers Show presented by Wallace State Singers April 23-25
* Broadway Night presented by Wallace State Theatre April 30

For more information about Wallace State’s Fine and Performing Arts programs, visit www.wallacestate.edu/fpa or call 256-352-8277.

A group of Wallace State students, faculty and family members who went on a European tour for the “Stars Fell on Alabama: Music Inspired by a Southern State” pose for a photo in Frankweiler, Germany, Cullman’s sister city.

Abby Moody and Eli Parker, both of Hartselle, sing Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” during opening night of Wallace State Fine and Performing Arts’ presentation of “Stars Fell on Alabama: Music Inspired by a Southern State.”