Playing alongside musicians from around the world was phenomenal. Eating crunchy crepes called marquesitas every day for more than two weeks was wonderful. But seeing audiences so moved by your performance that their eyes fill with tears?

Now that was something oboist Madison McGregor ’20 never imagined she would experience when she was selected to perform in the Opera Maya International Music Festival in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula this spring.

Chapman student

Grecia Rodas ’19 prepares for an outdoor concert during the Opera Maya International Music Festival.

“When you’re playing an opera it can go from being so upbeat to being so beautiful, you cry in a heartbeat. Lots of tears were shed,” McGregor said.

Enraptured audiences were just one of many highlights for McGregor and two other Chapman University students who were among a select group of undergraduate and graduate students chosen for the company’s 2017 festival orchestra, which included musicians from the United States, Poland, Mexico, Guatemala, Italy, and China. Joining McGregor were classmates Arturo Balmaceda ’18 (violin) and Grecia Rodas ’19 (trumpet).

Opera Maya receives support from the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico, so the tour made eight official stops throughout the Yucatán region, performing concerts and a handful of informal presentations, in venues ranging from city plazas and churches to beaches and theatres.

The fan response was astounding, Rodas says. After one of the first concerts a woman excitedly pressed Rodas for the opera company’s performance schedule so she could return with friends.

“One of our concerts was in a church. And there was a woman there who was just fascinated and she followed us throughout the whole two weeks. She went up the pastor and said ‘Oh, man, this is such a gift,’” Rodas says.

The opportunity to join the festival orchestra was thanks to Christopher Nicholas, DMA, assistant professor and director of bands, woodwinds and brass studies in Chapman’s College of Performing Arts. Nicholas serves as head of woodwind and brass chamber music for Opera Maya and is its principal trombonist. He hosted the director of Opera Maya at Chapman for auditions during the fall semester.

The touring festival is an incomparable experience for students, Nicholas says. Not only are they challenged as they perform alongside superb faculty musicians and fellow students – many of whom are graduate students from other institutions – but they gain valuable pre-professional training, he says.

“The connections with international faculty and students from all over the world is invaluable. They will collaborate and work together for the rest of their careers,” he said.

The training also extends to building the know-how it takes to manage the demands of touring.

“It’s learning how to tour in another country. Learning how to be flexible. Learning how to perform well in the face of adversity that you can’t predict. You can’t predict that the bus might be an hour late and you’ll lose your warm-up time,” he says. “It’s learning how to be a professional.”

Display image at top/Opera Maya student and faculty musicians during a 2017 festival concert. Photo courtesy of Opera Maya.