Two students performed in Vienna with Professor Heath Jones during 10-day trip in July 2021 to perform at the International Open Air Summer Festival in Vienna. Preston Prock sang and Spencer Bannister played his trombone alongside Jones, on his saxophone, to perform the concert series The Story of Jazz.
The two seniors were originally supposed to perform in Vienna in late spring 2020. Their planned Honors recital would feature them alongside their peers already in Austria thanks to a donor who provided funds for them to go. However, the COVID-19 pandemic sent the students packing, literally, Professor John Fletcher said.
“We were on a walking tour of Berlin, Germany when we got the call from on campus here that said, ‘You have 36 hours to get back to Vienna, pack up everything and be on the plane to come back here,’” Fletcher said.
The students returned to Oklahoma after seven weeks in Austria, but Jones said they still experienced memorable moments, such as attending musical performances, touring backstage at opera houses and visiting multiple musically historic monuments. When the students came home, Jones said the school tried to ease the loss.
“The school did all they could to lessen the hardship of having that interruption of the trip,” Fletcher said.
The story was not over for Bannister and Prock. In April, Kurt Prohaska, an Austrian jazz pianist, called Jones to perform in the Vienna Metropol for a five-night jazz concert series alongside other talented jazz musicians from across the globe. The Story of Jazz concert occurred as soon as Vienna opened for business travel at the end of July 2021. Jones asked if Bannister and Prock could come with him to perform, and Prohaska said yes.
However, Jones said it was not a finished deal.
“Even though I had the gig, they were only allowing people in for business travel,” Jones said. “But that worked out for us because we were going to get the venues over there requesting us to perform from the USA — we went over there as professional musicians.”
The three brought their talents to the stage in different ways: Jones played his saxophone, Bannister played his trombone and Prock sang. They had memorized around 60 songs, including Jones’s original song “Nice and Easy,” which varied night by night. Jones said the students worked hard to learn the music and said the crowd loved having his students perform.
“The crowd loved (Preston) — he has such a great stage presence that they really loved him, and Spencer is a world class musician,” Jones said.
Bannister said the crowd particularly enjoyed having Americans perform at the jazz concert.
“There’s a little bit of this effect where American jazz musicians go over there, and there’s a certain level of prestige that we get because the music was invented here,” Bannister said. “So, when people heard these Americans are coming over to play, it was really exciting for them.”
Jones said finally being able to perform with the students who never got to come to Vienna originally was hard to believe.
“The way this all fell into place is almost too good to be true,” Jones said.
Bannister and Prock had been chosen to perform with their peers after students and faculty voted for them in a series of surveys after student recitals throughout the year. Bannister said it was a blessing.
“I’m really grateful I go to a school and a department where this thing is possible,” Bannister said. “To go on a trip with Preston, one of my dearest friends, and Dr. Jones, a role model, it’s kind of a dream for me.”
They were required to get vaccinated before they left to enter Austria. Bannister said they also wore their masks inside and tested before and after they flew to be sure they were not infected. After their performances, they had to show their vaccination cards to enter restaurants. They also enjoyed some sightseeing once the concert series had ended.
Bannister said the concert opened doors for him he did not expect.
“I had never really considered the possibility of performing across the world, or going to Europe or living there, but after going there and performing with those musicians and getting a taste of what it’s like, it feels more achievable and realistic.”
Fletcher said anyone who wanted to experience Vienna through a musical lens is welcome to do so.
“Though it’s designed for music major, there could be a number of people who are not majoring in music but have a strong interest in music who might have an interest in participating in parts of this program, and I would be eager to visit with anybody who might have an interest in it,” Fletcher said.