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Music as an International Language

Muscatine High School A Cappella Choir

June 2017


Jonathan Ryan '12 left St. Ambrose with a keen appreciation for music's capacity to overcome differences in culture and understanding.

That appreciation grew stronger in 2016, when the Muscatine (Iowa) High School choir instructor led the school's A Cappella Choir to Jiwu, China, where the students performed at the 13th Annual International Choral Festival.

The festival featured several hundred choirs from around the world, but the MHS group was the only U.S. public high school choir among them. The invitation to the festival honored a relationship Chinese President Xi Jinping formed with the Muscatine community during visits to Iowa in 1985 and 2012.

Ryan said the international experience expanded his view of choral music. "The connections you can make when using music as a common language are just incredible," he added.

While his students were rehearsing a South African song in the basement of the Great Hall of People, for instance, a choir from Israel spontaneously joined them in song and dance.

Another time, Muscatine students sang a friendship song-one commissioned by President Jinping's wife for the City of Muscatine-along with Chinese junior and senior high school students. Singers from the two countries had spent the day together having fun and learning about each other.

"At that point, it was truly a friendship song," Ryan said.

Ryan came to St. Ambrose after two years in community college, forgoing a full scholarship at another university for the opportunity to study under the oaks.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education, and left with strong friendships and fond memories from his St. Ambrose experience. At SAU, Ryan's resume of activities included Jazz Ensemble, STAMVOJA, Bee Sharp and Chamber Singers. He also had lead roles in two children's shows and other SAU Theatre productions. One year, he even won the title "Ambrosian Idol."

"I enjoyed the experience and feeling of family," he said. "There was collaboration, and it was a real supportive environment. Those experiences have stuck with me, and my former classmates remain some of my best friends today."

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