This summer marks the 45th anniversary of the Foxcroft Academy Band Tour in Romania in 1974. The three-week tour across the former communist-led country was coordinated through the Ambassadors for Friendship program, the Reader’s Digest, and the Romanian Government. Joining 26 select college and high school groups from across the nation, the FA band was the only band in New England selected to participate in the tour. They were chosen for participation because of their high-quality performance for all types of music–their wide range.
Taking part in the tour, the band performed fourteen concerts in nine cities in Romania, then known as “Rumania,” a country behind the Iron Curtain. The trip consisted of one hundred band members and ten chaperones. They traveled in a caravan of three buses to across the large country.
The band’s director at the time, Bob Thorne, led the crew along with band president, Greg Love. The band director’s wife chaperoned, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Andre Chaloux, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Poulin, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Beek, and Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Champeon.
Before leaving for Romania, the band had to do a lot of fundraising for the event to come, as each student was responsible to pay part of the $500 fee. In doing so, the band would put on performances, host dinners and dances, among other sponsored events, and sell magazine subscriptions.
In preparation for the long journey in a foreign country, the band also had to learn more about the customs of Romania. The band was briefed on the art, history, and industrial and economic status of the country. FA offered lessons in the language so they could speak basic sentences to help them get by. The band was eager to experience culture in a different country and wanted to prepare as much as they could for it.
The FA band began their journey with a 12-hour flight from Bangor to capital city Bucharest, Romania. Interestingly enough, at the time, an American plane could not land in Romania due to government sanctions, so the Romanian government sent a plane to Bangor to fly the students overseas. The band was anxious, though excited for their new experience as they boarded the plane. They landed in Bucharest on June 17th and spent the next two days there before boarding the bus. On their very first day in Bucharest, they performed three concerts.
“I can remember being so excited to go on this trip,” said Steve Robinson, FA Class of 1975. “Many of us hadn’t been outside Maine’s borders, so for us to get the opportunity to do this was amazing.”
Over the course of the next eight days, the band traveled to and performed in the Romanian cities of Baile Herculane, Timisoara, Oradea, Baia, Bistrita, and Tigu Neamt.
The main topic of conversation for the teenagers was the difference in food. They were served tomatoes, cheese, and soup for most meals. The closest thing to an American dish they had was what Romanians called “french fries and steak.”
On June 27th, the band spent a day and night in Leresti, where the students split into groups and had the opportunity to stay with local families. This gave the students the opportunity to see what life was like in a traditional Romanian home, and how it differs from their own in America. This was an eye-opening experience for the band members, as very few of them had experienced different household cultures outside of Maine.
“The local folks loved all things American,” said Robinson. “We had small gifts to pass out to children like sticks of gum and frisbees, all the things we just had and kind of took for granted. Many of these people didn’t have much, so they really appreciated anything you gave them, even if it was something we would consider as small.”
On top of this experience, the students also experienced the culture at many different restaurants, as they were entertained by singers and dancers dressed in their native costumes. Students noticed that the Romanians were curious about the United States and asked a lot of questions, trying their best to speak fluent English.
Following this experience, the band journeyed to perform in Predea for three days. By this time, they began to tire from their hard work and long days preparing, practicing and performing but they kept their heads up, as the tour was almost finished.
Their last stop on the Ambassadors for Friendship tour was the Black Sea. Starting on July 1st and extending through the American holiday they were missing back at home, Independence Day, the band only performed two concerts during the five days. In their free time, they hit the beach and also shopped and tried the food on the coast. This attraction was their favorite, mostly because the students had more free time then they had before, and the relief and rising anticipation they felt to return home. This was the most relaxing few days they experienced through the whole trip. After their last day on the coast, they returned to Bucharest to prepare for departure home on July 6th.
When the final concert was finished, they boarded the plane and headed back to Bangor. They were happy to return home and sleep in their own beds.
“We are still talking about this trip 45 years later, so it obviously had a profound effect on many of us,” said Robinson. “I kept in touch with a few pen pals for years afterward and always kept my eye on what was happening in Romania. For a kid from Dover-Foxcroft to go behind the Iron Curtain in 1974 is kind of mind-blowing, don’t you think?”
45 years later, Romania has changed. It is a socialist republic, not under communist rule. One thing that hasn’t changed is the memories from over 100 Foxcroft Academy folks that performed, played, and visited a land far away.