Submitted by Mitch Pettijohn
“Oh what would I give if I could relive those days in Vienna again.”
These sentimental lyrics are from the song “Vienna, My City of Dreams” by Rudolf Sieczynski. The piece is traditionally sung at the annual UW-Eau Claire Viennese Ball by The Singing Statesmen choir.
On April 8 and 10, you can hear that performance, and many more, at the Virtual Viennese Ball. The ball, according to the university website, is “an evening of music and entertainment inspired by Vienna, Austria.”
The event is held annually in the Davies Center and doubles as a celebration as well as a fundraiser for music, service and international study award, the website said.
This year, UW-Eau Claire is reliving “those days in Vienna” virtually. After a cancellation last year due to the pandemic, the Viennese Ball is back, albeit online.
Ever since the first Viennese Ball in 1974, the event has only been canceled twice – in 1991 during a Davies Center renovation, and in 2020, from COVID-19.
The Viennese Ball will showcase traditional performances from multiple groups, including choirs, jazz bands, acapella groups, and more.
Gretchen Peters, chair of the department of music and theatre arts, said it was a collaborative effort across campus to bring the event together and to determine what to include in the lineup of performances.
The performances were created and recorded exclusively for the event at the Pablo Center downtown, Peters said.
In addition to those “quintessential” performances, there will be recorded interviews with alumni and faculty, among others, speaking to the importance and meaning of the Viennese Ball and its traditions, Peters said.
Peters said her favorite part of the Viennese Ball “by far” has always been giving awards to senior students.
“We have so many students that deserve these awards.” Peters said. “But it’s so nice to just be able to tell seniors: ‘we are proud of you and we look forward to seeing what you’re going to do.’ ”
The interviews and awards highlight another key piece of the Viennese Ball: community. Matt Greenwaldt, a fourth-year human resource management student and the Singing Statesmen president, said that the Viennese Ball has always been about the people you make traditions with.
“It’s a great way to connect with the audiences we perform for, connect with alums, and connect with ourselves.” Greenwaldt said. “V-Ball really enhanced my relationships with everyone, and I think it’s a great community builder for the whole city of Eau Claire.”
Although community building is difficult online, Greenwaldt is optimistic about being virtual. It can be a glimmer of hope that things might be coming back, he said.
From the music department to the Event Production Center, to the Pablo Center, raising the ball has taken a village.
Two of the many people coming together for the Virtual Viennese Ball are Emma Blissitt, a fourth-year comprehensive theater student, and Ada Packiewicz, a fourth-year communications and theater student.
Blissitt is the lighting designer for the event, while Packiewicz is the scenic designer. The two curated spaces for filming in the Pablo Center, as well as in Schofield Auditorium.
“We really tried to pull and summon that nostalgia,” Packiewicz said. “We used some of the lanterns and the big, grand chandeliers that you remember. You think about those pieces, they are V-Ball.”
Blissitt said their roles are often overlooked.
“A designer’s job is really hard because of the fact that nobody notices it,” Blissitt said. “Unless it’s done wrong. As long as it looks and feels like V-Ball, you’ve done the job.”
Packiewicz said despite the challenging time when we struggle to gather and have artistic moments together, it feels good that they can still provide people with something this year.
Blissitt and Packiewicz are pivoting quickly to new projects, which is bittersweet, they said.
“As an artist, you put your heart and soul into something,” Blissitt said. “By the time the final product comes around, you’re able to see just a little bit of it and then it’s over.”
Packiewicz said she agrees with this sentiment.
“At some point you just have to move on to your next adventure,” Packiewicz said.
Moving on from the Viennese Ball is a hard thing to do even in normal years. The cancellation last year was heartbreaking — but Packiewicz is excited to return — even virtually, she said.
Until the community and music can be together in person again, the Virtual Viennese Ball is there. As the hopeful lyrics from “Vienna, My City of Dreams” say:
“Someday the dreams that I dream will come true, and I’ll come back to you.”
The Virtual Viennese Ball will be streamed for free at uwec.lylive at 7 p.m. on April 8 and 10 of 2021. Visit the Virtual Viennese Ball website and Facebook page to find out more.
DeLapp can be reached at [email protected].