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Wold, choirs sing their way abroad

Serving as an informal ambassador for the city of River Falls and for UW-River Falls, Elliot Wold seems to be both an inspiration and local icon for the community and UWRF alumni.

Wold came to UWRF in 1963 and was the choir director there until 1998 when he retired at age 68.

Since 1991 Elliot has taken his different choir groups on musical trips across Europe.

"Elliot has had a very loyal following," said Wayne Cernohous, UWRF choir alumnus and retired teacher.

Since the first of his alumni choirs urged him to take a trip, Wold has traveled with his past students to various European locations.

"Elliot is River Falls' and UWRF's ambassador," said Colleen Raye, UWRF choir alumnus and professional singer. "He is our inspiration, and everyone he comes in contact with is inspired as well."

The first alumni choir had 36 members. This past June, 46 singers took the tour.

"We went to Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria in June," said George Hansen, UWRF choir alumus. "This trip was important for us to go on as a group."

The main goal was to visit Dolni Cermna, an historic church in the Czech Republic -- formerly known as Czechoslovakia.

This church and community have a special meaning to some members of the alumni choir.

In about 1869, 25 Catholic families from Bohemia came to the River Falls area in search of more land and to escape the Austria-Hungary Empire rule.

They claimed property from Hwy. 65 (east) to Hwy. 35 (west) and stretches to Hwy. 10 (south).

Within this Cherma (known as Cermna in Europe) community was a church, which mirrored Dolni Cermna, the church in Europe, and brought the Bohemian immigrants together.

In 1987, the Cherma Church closed its doors. A few days later, it burned to the ground in a mysterious fire.

Some members of the alumni choir, who had ancestors in River Falls and had associated with the church, wanted to see the original church and to connect with their relatives in the Czech Republic.

"I could see relatives everywhere we went," Cernohous said.

Nine choir members had ties to the Cherma Church and were some of the main drivers of going to visit and sing in the Czech Republic.

With the help of their tour agent, Keith Engdahl, they started making their way to Europe.

"The group is experiencing something on this tour and they are experiencing it together," Wold said.

"I wouldn't go if it wasn't for Elliot," said Raye.

Alumni choir members are deeply connected to their conductor, they say, because of his outstanding personality and knowledge of music and life.

After having Wold as an educator in college, many of the students travel from near and far to be together on the annual alumni choir trips.

Hansen, a long-time UWRF alumnus who sang in the choir while attending classes and then working in the admissions office for 35 years, said he and Wold have developed a strong bond because of these trips.

"Because of our connection, we don't want to go unless we are singing music together," Hansen said.

To prepare for the trip, Wold has his former students try to attend a few day-long practices.

The choir sings some folk songs of the places they visit, along with religious pieces that Wold arranges for that specific trip.

One person, who attended the alumni choir's concert, came up to Wold and said, "'You revitalized my life today.' I think that just goes to show how much of an impact that the people we meet have and how much of an impact they have on us," said Wold.

Wherever the choir goes, Wold tries to bring things from River Falls and UWRF to share. This past trip, Hansen and Wold brought the 'River Falls in Bloom' book from 2012.

"Many countries and people know about River Falls and UWRF because of Elliot," Cernohous said.

With their love of music and Wold, each member of the alumni choir pays his or her own way for the trip and some set aside money for the music tour rather than a family vacation, Raye jokes.

However, there is a lot more to it than just singing, said Raye. The group goes sightseeing and experiences the culture of the country, city or town they are in at the time.

"One thing we discovered is people, they are the same all over the world," Wold said.

Choir members are talking of visiting northern Italy next.

This past trip to Germany, the Czech Republic and Austria was supposed to be Wold's last, but he said he might be able to squeeze in one more.

"It's been a nice road to travel over the years," Wold said. "I wouldn't trade it for the world."