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A vision of dorm life in European band trip

Forest Grove High School grad Ian Knowles gets a taste of the Swiss mountains, and what his future holds on whirlwind tour
by: Chase Allgood After graduating from Forest Grove High School this spring, Ian Knowles traveled around Europe as a musical ambassador.

Ian Knowles, a 2011 honors graduate from Forest Grove High School, is secretly hoping his first assignment when he begins the fall semester at the University of Portland is the standard-issue 'how I spent my summer vacation' essay.

'I'd just have so much to say,' Knowles says with a chuckle.

While many of his fellow students spent their days camping and road tripping with parents, Knowles was on a musical odyssey through Europe with the Oregon Ambassadors of Music. The program led nearly 300 band and choir students on a 16-day European trip in which the groups toured England, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Italy and Germany in July, where they took in the sights during a series of concert performances.

The trip, which was self-financed by attendees, was co-sponsored by Colorado-based Voyageurs International Ltd.

Led by Lewis and Clark College music professor David Becker - who retires this year after more than 20 years working with OAM - Knowles and fellow Forest Grove student David Drost were nominated for the group by their music teachers. After rehearsing with the other members at a three-day camp, the students were whisked away for more than two weeks of exploration and performance.

For Knowles, who plays trumpet and sings bass, stepping outside the U.S. for the first time was an eye-opening experience that he hopes to repeat in the future.

'I've always enjoyed traveling, but I'd never been out of the country, so I didn't know if I enjoyed it in the broader sense,' he says. 'I actually really love it. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had, and it's something I'd definitely want to do again, maybe with choir or band in college.'

The group's first stop was in London, where students toured such sites as Westminster Abbey, rehearsed in the historic Wesley's Chapel and performed in the Embankment Gardens.

Knowles says he was initially surprised to discover that London was surprisingly similar to Oregon, but with very stark differences.

'The weirdest thing all over Europe is that weather is almost exactly like Oregon,' says Knowles. 'It was really weird, because it would feel like we never left, and then we'd look up and see a castle.'

The ambassadors then boarded five charter buses - Knowles dubbed his transport 'The Coach' - and was whisked off to Paris, where they climbed the Eiffel Tower and visited the Louvre.

Swiss adventure

From there, it was off to Knowles' favorite country of the trip, Switzerland, where he says he finally got a chance to do some independent exploring without being under a tightly regimented schedule.

'I think Switzerland was everybody's favorite. That's mostly because in England and France we spent most of our time in major cities, so all our time was super, super structured and we were always in large groups,' he says. 'Once we got to Switzerland we got to a little town of less than 5,000 people, and suddenly we had four free hours to walk around and do stuff - hiking and zip lines and stuff - it was the first time during the trip when we had a chance to stop and look around and say, 'wow, we're in Europe.'

'Every time you look up, it's just constant mountains going by,' he continues. 'There's a postcard every time you look up. You could take a picture of any random view and it could be a postcard. It's just amazing.'

The group then bounded between Austria and Venice, where they were treated to a last-minute opportunity to perform in San Marco Basilica, before making the 50-hour trip back to Oregon.

'It's apparently extremely rare. San Marco is huge and amazing and legendary, and it's almost impossible to get a waiver to sing in there,' he says. 'We found out that we'd gotten one right before we left for the trip. Yes!'

Flashes of college life

Knowles, a veteran of band who only recently became involved with choir, says his experience in Europe not only opened his eyes to the world of opportunity and stirred wanderlust, but also served to help him prepare for his next big journey - college - by living in close proximity to strangers in hotels for more than two weeks.

'It was cool to actually get to know all the people on the trip, and it was definitely good roommate training for college, because I don't have any siblings, so I've never had a roommate before,' he says, laughing. 'That was definitely nice. College is going to be no big deal.'

Knowles begins college at the University of Portland this fall, where he plans to double-major in music and chemistry and minor in philosophy.

This summer's trip, he says, helped him learn the value of pushing hard to experience as much as he can during his academic career and hopes that more opportunities like his adventures with the Oregon Musical Ambassadors arise.

The extremely active Knowles was recognized at Forest Grove High School as the senior who was involved in the most extra curricular activities while maintaining the highest grade point average. He is excited to dive headlong into his college experience. But despite all the excitement and ambition, he jokes that he still can't do everything, at least not all at once.

'I want to be an octuple major, and that would not be possible,' he says. 'I'd just murder myself with classes.'