When Coordinator of Strings and Professor of Bass Donovan Stokes, D.M., heard France’s borders were closed as a result of the November 2015 Paris attacks, he wondered if he’d be able to fulfill his commitment of teaching at the Paris Conservatoire and performing a recital of his original compositions for solo bass there.
At the time, Dr. Stokes was at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Norway, completing the first of four visits to European conservatories that were scheduled during the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. He quickly realized his expectations of the borders being closed were a bit different than reality.
“They were still letting planes come in and land, and you could go in and out… it was heavily armed at the airport and there was a lot of military and security everywhere. It did take a little bit longer for us, but that’s to be expected.”
Stokes arrived in Paris just days after the attacks, and was in the city the day that anti-terror police raided in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis in an attempt to locate the suspected mastermind of the attacks. He was inspired by how the Parisians dealt with the situation.
“It was extremely interesting to be in Paris at that particular time — the Parisians handled such terrorism with great strength and defiance,” said Stokes. “I had the pleasure of meeting instrument maker Jean Beguy, whose daughter was running the mixing board at Le Bataclan, where one of the shootings occurred. The person to one side of her was shot, and the person on her other side was killed. She hid under the mixing board. Her father was back at work servicing musicians two days later. It’s also a culture with massive appreciation of music and art. Jordi Savall played a concert just after the attacks, while I was there, and it was sold out.”
Stokes doesn’t speak French, so he had to rely on others to know what was going on during his time in the country. Everywhere he went there were extra security measures like metal detectors and wanding, and the tourist spots were deserted.
“We went to Versailles and just walked right in,” said Stokes. “The French nationals were out and about, and they were, of course, talking about it, but they were not ceasing their business, and traffic was still horrible. There’s a difference between being cautious while still going on about your business, and allowing fear to change your behavior in some significant way.”
Even with the chaos, all of Stokes’ recitals were still well-attended, he met many great students, and he even received an offer to do a recording in Norway. After visiting Paris, Stokes completed his trip by teaching and performing at the Instituto Musicale di Luigi Boccherini in Lucca, Italy, and the Royal College of Music London.
“It was amazing to see the musical cultures in each country, and have direct contact with both professionals and aspiring musicians,” said Stokes. “I had an opportunity to compare our students with those of the world’s leading conservatories and see the differences and similarities in the programs, students, teaching methods, etc.
“I was very happy to bring the name of Shenandoah to these prestigious institutions and discuss our programs with the students and faculty alike,” he added. “It is likely that I will continue to collaborate with each of the professors, both as educators and performers, at these institutions in the future and several students are considering a U.S. trip to study here at Shenandoah.”
Stokes’ trip was partially funded by Shenandoah University and the conservatories that Stokes visited.