Posts filed under: KSBlog

KSBlog

The main KSB Blog!

From the latest CY Sampler:

All three major TV stations were on hand to help welcome Keystone State Boychoir and special guest Inge Auerbacher back from the 2017 tour to Germany and the Czech Republic. Take a look at this coverage by CBS3 Eyewitness News.

Here is NBC10’s coverage:

Andrew P., a newly graduated KSB member, reflects,”My recent KSB concert tour to Germany and the Czech Republic was a powerful experience. Traveling with Inge and hearing her story firsthand gave me a more meaningful understanding of the Holocaust than anything I’ve learned in school, and I deeply appreciated her message of hope for the future.”

There’s a photo album on the KSB Facebook Page – take a look!

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Keystone State Boychoir in Prague

Keystone State Boychoir celebrated Independence Day a bit early by singing the national anthem at the residence of the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic on June 28 as part of an event organized by Chargé d’Affaires Kelly Adams-Smith. Singers then enjoyed an all-American meal (Starbucks!, KFC! Burger King!) and mingling with a diverse group of guests including diplomats and generals.

On this Independence Day, we are proud of these 59 young men for representing our city, state and nation, and for bringing people together through song.

Keystone State Boychoir member Matthew F. as guest conductor

As every Keystone State Boychoir singer recites before donning his KSB green jacket for the first time:

Whether at home or abroad, we promise to represent with honor our Choir, the city of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the United States of America, in word, in deed, and in song.

Happy Independence Day

You can celebrate our global ambassadors by making a gift today. Click here to make your gift.

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The boys are off with Martha and the chaps enjoying a well deserved day at a water park outside of Prague.  I stayed back to blog – hardly a minute to write when you’re singing with, and keeping safe and sound, 59 boys.

Speaking of the boys, they have done a noble job of absorbing a lot of very heavy subject matter on the Holocaust and specifically, Terezin.  While we’ve attempted to moderate the information flow based on age, and certainly the boys have been well prepared to handle the topic gradually over time, there’s no way around it – this is heavy stuff for any age, let alone young people. They more than deserve a day off to just be boys on a careless summer day.  What better way to achieve that than Europe’s largest water park?

Yesterday we had the great honor of being guided around Terezin with Inge.  Everywhere we walked, we were regaled with stories of her time there – filled with hardship and tragedy, though she pointed out that there was always hope.  As Stephen Schwartz wrote in the song “When You Believe”, though hope is frail it’s hard to kill.  Inge commented to me at one point that “she doesn’t know why she’s here, why she made it.” The odds of survival were so low (out of 15,000 children, 100 survived), and fate was so random with no rhyme or reason.  And yet, yesterday, it was clear to me why Inge made it – to charge 59 American boys in a most profound way that they are now her ambassadors, to pass onto the next generation the warning of what can happen when hate prevails.

There were many incredible moments yesterday. Some highlights:

-when we arrived at Terezin, Inge had us hold hands, commenting that if people had always held hands, there might not be a Terezin Museum

 

-taking a photo with Inge under the “Arbeit Macht Frei” entrance

-standing in a small, one room living quarter for 90, realizing that the number of people who were forced to live there was the same as all of our boys, chaperones, staff plus 16 more people.  one toilet. wooden bunks. #incomprehensible

-seeing the cell where the assassin who started World War I was imprisoned. (our history buffs were blissed out)

-walking through the extensive tunnels that are part of the Terezin fortress walls. #boyheaven

-having the KSB Vedem boys perform Vedem poems in the very room where the Vedem boys lived and published their magazine. #surreal

-having Immanuel perform a late Brahams piano piece in the attic of the Magdeburg Barracks, where many of the musical performances that took place in Terezin were rehearsed, often in secret – Verdi’s Requiem, Bizet’s Carmen, Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, Krasa’s Brundibar.  Normally the attic is off limits to tourists but we had a VIP among us – Inge! It was amazing to add our music to that space – with music from past years that represented hope to so many – including many children.  Inge added that never in a million years would the Terzin kids, who felt like the world had forgotten them, could have imagined that a bunch of American boys would return there to do just that – remember them.

-the Grads singing Oseh Shalom at the Terezin moratorium and crematorium. (over 50,000 Jews died in Terezin itself, and another 90,000 perished after being transported out of Terezin to camps East)

It was incredibly touching to see the boys instinctively take care of Inge throughout the day.  They freely offered her hugs.  Without instruction, they would take her hand, or her arm, and walk with her along the cobbled streets of Terezin. They would ask if she was okay.  They would put her arm around her when she would cry a bit, perhaps when she would remember a friend who didn’t make it.  And sometimes the boy showing Inge the most tenderness was the boy none of us would guess had the capacity to do so.  And that is the beauty of tour – it can bring out the very best in the boys.  #growth

Know that all of your boys are okay, and that, whatever loss of innocence has resulted in their journey, they are forever changed by this experience in ways that are important to our world today, where hate continues to prevail.  The ways in which Terezin and knowing (and loving) Inge will inform their lives, will mostly be subtle, but they will be profound and vital.  The ways that it has transformed their lives is real and permanent and invaluable.

And at the end of the day, Inge was happy to have dessert, as were the boys, and in the great tradition of KSB tours, there were Magnum bars for one and all, and so we continue on the road together.

More later…

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Greetings from Prague –

We’ve had plenty of success in posting on facebook and instagram, but wifi insufficient for much else. The boys are off singing at the Hagibor retirement home today, and I am staying behind to find better wifi than what’s in our hostel lobby, where Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album is playing. Sorta strange to be listening to “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” today…

To catch up:

Sunday’s concert – The boys had the great privilege of performing in the theater of Schwetzingen Palace, the summer home of the princes of this region of Germany. Built in 1753, Mozart performed here when he was 7 years old! In honor of that, our accompanist, Immanuel Mykyta-Chomsky wowed the sold out house playing the final movement of Mozart’s 12th Piano Sonata

 

 

Between the rehearsal and the concert, the boys walked the formal gardens that are reminiscent of Versaille with reflecting pools, water spouting statuary, and all manner of topiary, etc.

We shared the concert with three other choirs, one the age of the trainers and apprentices, one the age of Towne and Concert Choir, and a PG Motet-aged girlchoir. We sang two sets, and of course finished with the typical South African set outside the venue. A typical tour treat is hearing new boys take on solos like Andrew P singing “Baba Yetu” and Calvin W.  singing “In the Still of the Night.

The concert was sold out, and the audience not disappointed! The boys’ host families turned out in full force with the affection that had grown quickly over the first four nights of the tour. As usual, the boys have been terrific ambassadors of our choir and our country. The audience was delighted and impressed with the diversity of repertoire, the quality of the singing, and the excitement of watching the choir, especially so to an audience more accustomed to boys standing still with their hands behind their back. A perfect end to the first leg of the tour, made even more so with the addition of KSB alumni Alexander and Konstantin Minch joining the grads for a few pieces. Alexander and Konstantin, sons of our ace tour planner Angela Wende, sang and toured with KSB for many years before moving back to Germany.

 

Nuremberg

On Monday we said goodbye to Heidelberg, boarded the buses for Nuremberg, a halfway point between Heidelberg and Prague. Boys continued having their individual time talking with Inge about “I Am A Star” and her experiences in Terezin. For a couple of bus rides, I’ve been sitting in front of Inge, and so have had the chance to eavesdrop, and have been impressed to a boy with their thoughtful, insightful questions and with their engagement with Inge, which always ends with a hug.

First stop in Nuremberg was a formal reception in the mayor’s office. After the reception, a walk through the old town led to a detour into the Church of St. Sebald, a gothic vaulted ceiling, just the kind of space for a boychoir! Didn’t have to be asked twice when a church staff wondered if the boys would sing. Zikr and Ani Ma’amin may not have been what they expected, but the boys sounded so beautiful in the space that expectations were exceeded.

Our final stop was a tour of the Palace of Justice, including Courtroom 600, site of the Nuremberg Trials of 1946, the first time in history when war criminals were tried for crimes against humanity. This stop was especially meaningful for me, since my 95 year old dad, who served in World War II in the 1258th Army Engineers, was part of the American team who prepared the Palace of Justice for the trials in the summer of 1945. It was quite moving to stand where he stood at the end of the war, at an age not much older than the grads. I shared his story with the boys, reading a text that he sent me with his memories, adding the voice of an American GI to Inge’s stories.

Harry Platt (right) somewhere in France, 1945

Monday concluded with a delicious dinner where the boys could make their own choices from the menu, and then were turned out into the square to buy some ice cream afterwards. Back at our hostel, we turned the corner from homestays to what the rest of the trip will be, hostels and hotels!

On Tuesday, once again we loaded the buses, this time to Prague, but with a first stop at the Nuremberg Rally Grounds, to witness the site of Hitler’s rise to power. Once again, the boys were thoughtful in processing this experience. Alex G. pondered the dissonance between the quiet park grounds with the intensity of the hatred that once filled the place where we walked. At our final stop, the stands where Hitler spoke and where the allies tore down the Nazi swastika, we sang Ani Ma’amin and the Star Spangled Banner, marking our visit in song.

 

 

Prague – longest leg of the tour.

We’re settled into our home for the week, and have started to explore this most beautiful of European cities. In addition to planned performances, the boys have been singing everywhere! If you’re following us on instagram and facebook you’ve seen the video evidence, everywhere from Prague’s iconic Charles Bridge to the packed restaurant where we had dinner on the first night.

The mornings have included rehearsals and performances at Hagibor, a project of the Jewish Community in Prague, both a retirement home and a day care. We’ve been joined by students of the Lauder School, which originally served the community as a Jewish orphanage in the pre-WWII era, and was site of the first performance of Brundibár.

Yesterday afternoon, the boys sang the national anthem at an early July 4th party at the US Ambassador’s residence, then filled themselves with endless food from Burger King, KFC, Starbucks, etc, and rubbed elbows with diplomats and generals. #tourheaven say the veteran singers and chaps!

It’s a rainy afternoon, so the plan to do some sightseeing may be replaced with a movie before we make our way to the Spanish Synagogue for this evening’s concert. The boys are having a great time – everyone is happy and healthy, well fed, and sounding great.

Thanks to all the chaps for their photos. We will keep adding more pictures to this post as wifi allows.

 

-Martha

 

 

 

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On Friday night we had our first full concert, a joint program with the Heidelberg Youth Choir, at the Heidelberg Music School.  The performance opened with hundreds of American and German young people singing South African welcome songs, led by Tabong, South African artist in residence at the school.   It was great fun to see his reaction as our boys absorbed the pieces so quickly – ones they had never heard before.  Fast forward to the end of concert, when KSB surprised Tabong with our South African medley.  How he beamed!  He was truly astounded.  He joined in with all of them even though he didn’t know our songs.  Of course he did!  That is the South African way! That is UBUNTU!  He told me afterwards that hearing our boys sing brought him home to South Africa. We plan to collaborate next year in South Africa.

The other highlight of the concert was when Alexander Minch joined us for some standard rep pieces. Now a grown man working for Lufthansa, Alex also beamed  as he “came home again” to sing with KSB.  He and his brother Konstantin sang with us for many years.  A million thanks to his mother Angela Wende, who did so much planning to make this tour a success.  She is serving as our Tour Manager, with us every step of the way.  ANGELA,WIER LIEBEN EUCH!

Yesterday, Saturday we travelled to Stuttgart to perform with the Hymnus Boychoir of Stuttgart.  They hosted us for a concert back in 2008 on our first tour to Germany. We then hosted them in 2014 in Philadelphia, and so this is a growing friendship that both choirs treasure. They took such good care of our boys – especially the Hymnus choir moms who made sure our boys had plenty to eat at every turn.  Some things are universal!  A good opportunity to thank all of our parent volunteers for all they do for KSB – back at home and abroad. We have an amazing group of chaperones who are taking such good care of us.   To Jachai May, Linda Deis, Chris Day, Lori Flynn, Sarah Foster, Aimee Hydock, Susan Klein, Sarah McMenamin, Chris Simcox and Tom Wamser…VIELEN DANK!

Today, Sunday, we will perform in surely one of the most beautiful, unique venues in KSB’s history.  More later on that, as well as our truly profound experience yesterday with Inge visiting the railway platform from which she departed for Terezin.  The opportunity we had to share this sacred place with Inge is something that will stay with all of us for our whole lives.

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Hello from Germany!

We have completed our second full day of tour and all is well.  It takes a few days to “get the wheels on the bus.”  Jet leg to get over.  Extreme heat to deal with.  Lots of protocols and tour rules to follow. Grace period is now over and fines will begin tomorrow.  We’ll start at 1 Euro.  Fines amounts for infractions will increase as the tour goes on.  The reality is, hitting their spending money is the fastest way to get their attention.  And following the rules of tour is not just about order.  It is vital to keeping the boys safe and sound.  And of course, the boys always have the opportunity to earn their money back.  With stand out performance faces, offering a kind word or performing a random act of tour kindness…

Our itinerary has been quite full with singing and cultural opportunities. A full schedule is crucial for happy boys free from homesickeness.  They need to stay busy and to fall into bed tired.

And of course the homestay experience is a great gift.  The chance to live as other cultures live is invaluable and will shape the boys, giving them a global, open, tolerant perspective as they move through their lives.  Look for photos of your boys and their homestays soon.

Tomorrow, Friday, is our first full concert – joint with our hosts, the Heidelberg Youth  Choir.  Up until now it’s been schools concerts (very well received) and mayoral meet and greets.  Germany loves its mayors!  #rathouse.

And can I tell you how INCREDIBLE it is travelling with Inge.  She is AWESOME. She is always POSITIVE and HAPPY. A great lesson for all of us, considering what she’s been through.  What a great gift to me.  When the boys are complaining that “it sucks” that they didn’t get to have ice cream, I simply invite them to sit with Inge and have her tell them how much “it sucked” to go to Terezin.   Inge also has an amazing sense of humor and remarkable perspective about her journey – and a great capacity to forgive and see the good in people.

The boys are able to sit with Inge during bus rides – we always keep her seat empty for visitors.   They can ask her questions that come up as they’re reading her very famous book “I Am A Star.”  Once they finish the book, she rewards them with a book signing.  And then they get the privilege of holding the Star of David she wore in Terezin.  I have told the boys that THIS is their college essay.  To travel with a Survivor, literally following her journey from Germany to Terezin.  Wow.

Most lovely of all, Inge trades in hugs.  That’s all she asks in return for sharing her story.  And the boys freely give them.

#sweet

#powerful

#IngeHugs

More later…

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Heidelberg, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

KSB takes to the road on Tuesday, June 20 for a 15 night/16 day tour of Germany and the Czech Republic. The boys will be visiting and singing in Mannheim, Heidelberg, Mosbach, Stuttgart, Schwetzingen, Nuremberg, Prague, Terezin, and Frankfurt, including a sold-out Grand Concert at Rokokotheatre Schwetzingen Palace! Follow the tour on the KSB Tour page or the see the latest blog posts and itinerary on the Germany/Czech Republic tour page! And receive notifications of new Blog posts by subscribing to KSBlog – sign up to the right on the KSBlog page.

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The Children's MArch - animated slide show

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017, fifty-four years to the day after the Children’s’ Crusade of Birmingham, Alabama, began, hundreds of young singers from Find Your Instrument! Choir, Keystone State Boychoir, and Pennsylvania Girlchoir continued the message of heroism and hope when they performed The Children’s March at Girard College in Philadelphia. In the 1960s, the Children’s Crusade was a pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement that exemplified bravery by hundreds of children who used non-violent protest in the face arrests and fire hoses. 

The Children’s March was written by two Philadelphia artists: composer Andrew Bleckner and internationally renowned storyteller and librettist Charlotte Blake Alston. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) helped fund this performance of The Children’s March, which was originally commissioned by Singing City in 2013. Many remember news reports and TV footage of the heroic actions of hundreds of children in the face of police dogs, fire hoses and batons which brought national attention to the Civil Rights Movement and helped end segregation in Birmingham. The youngest marcher, who was jailed for a week, was only 9 years old.

Some of the singers performing at Girard College are the same age as the protesters were at the time. “The message of this piece is powerful,” said Steven Fisher, founder and artistic director of Keystone State Boychoir. He added, “We want our singers to know that they matter, that their voices matter, and that by singing together, they have the power to change the world.”

The Children’s March garnered public attention including articles in The Philadelphia Citizen, The Philadelphia Tribune, and coverage by 6ABC.

 

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April 27, 2017

Commonwealth Youthchoirs—which wowed the Pope in 2015—presents “The Children’s March” to commemorate the children of the 1963 Birmingham protest and to inspire young people today

“This work reminds our children of the power of standing up for something they believe in,” says Fisher. “It also reminds the adults that children have a lot of power. We tend to say kids are too idealistic or say, ‘You don’t understand how the world works,’ but back in 1963, when those kids marched against segregation, their idealism worked to everyone’s advantage.”

Read full article.

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Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to spend a week with Alice Parker in a summer workshop at Westminster Choir College. Alice is a legend in choral music, our choral matriarch, if you will.

The pearls of wisdom she offered us on a daily basis were an embarrassment of choral riches. But one pearl stood out to me and has stayed with me, continuously revealing its wisdom to me over the years. At the very end of the week, Alice said, “I’m going to leave you with this parting thought and it’s the most important thing I will have said all week.” I was hanging on every word. “Above all,” she said, “be musical in your mistakes.” She went on. “It’s easy to be musical when all is going well. The mark of a great musician is to be calm, collected, and musical while the mistake is happening so that you can do what is needed to ‘right the choral ship.’ Teach yourself and your singers to ’embrace the mistakes.’ That is musical greatness.” As a young conductor, I remember being a bit deflated by these imparting words. I thought, “Isn’t the ultimate goal as a choir director and as a choir to be PERFECT?” I was determined to reach a point in my career where there were no mistakes.

Since then, I’ve learned there is no such thing as “perfect.” There is no perfect person, no perfect job, no perfect life. There are no perfect choirs, no perfect singers, no perfect parents, and certainly no perfect choir directors. As conductors, as much as we try, as high as our standards are for ourselves, as often as we do our job well and get it right, there are times when “life happens” and we fall short – perhaps in poor repertoire selection, or in our lack of effective rehearsal preparation, with our less than perfect concert programming, in less than perfect conducting, or less than perfect tour planning. Choir Directors are human. We make mistakes. A lot.

Over the years, I’ve imparted Alice’s pearl of wisdom about mistakes to the boys of the Keystone State Boychoir. Before and after every performance, I remind the boys that the measure of success is not whether we were perfect – though “near perfect” is always a laudable goal and wonderful when it happens. The ultimate goal is to at all times be musical – and especially to be musical in our mistakes. I remind them that in the history of live performance – no matter how stellar the ensemble or performer – there has never been a 100% perfect performance. In the choral art, sometimes we do get to bask in a perfectly performed piece. Therein lies one of the great beauties of our art form. Our performances are typically made up of a bunch of musical “moments” – aka, songs or movements. With each new one on the program, there is the possibility for perfection, even if the piece before it was less than perfect. I’m reminded of the lyric by Stephen Sondheim: if life were only moments, then we’d never know we had one. And so, ironically, we actually need the less than stellar performance of a piece so we know when a stellar one happens.

When KSB was invited to perform in Minnesota at the ACDA National Convention, despite that pearl of wisdom from Alice I’ve always held on to, I immediately began having hopes (delusions) of choral perfection.   That is what all choral conductors dream of when such a high stakes opportunity comes. And somehow implicit in that dream is the secret hope that our choir will be considered one of the “better” ones, and that we will be deemed one of the “ better” conductors. Certainly, some degree of competitiveness and ego is healthy – necessary even. It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning, what drives us to persevere through the thousand challenges that come with attempting to do something extraordinary. But gone too far, competitiveness can cause us to lose sight of what’s important. I definitely experienced some of that blindness as we arrived in Minneapolis.

Enter Eph Ehly, twenty-five years after my crossing paths with Alice Parker. Eph is another choral legend. He also lost all his worldly belongings in a terrible house fire, and shortly after lost his beloved wife. He’s known success, and he knows all too well that life is not perfect.

At the ecumenical service where the Grads were singing, Eph, who was preaching, ended his sermon by telling the congregation to listen carefully. “I don’t have a lot of important things to say,” he said modestly, “but this is really, really important. In fact, it’s the most important thing I’m going to say today.” These words sent me back to Alice’s almost identical words on the final day of the workshop so many years ago. I hung on every word once again. “Stop competing with each other!” he ordered us. He named the elephant that is so often in the middle of these kinds of events. Eph went on to point out, with great eloquence, that each of us is placed in a specific corner of the universe, assigned to care for and nurture and lead a specific group of singers at this moment in time. And therefore, we and our singers are the most important, “best” choir director and choir there is. Wow! This was a new pearl of wisdom, one that upon hearing it, I knew immediately would inform and inspire me and my work with KSB in the next twenty-five years. They were words I needed to hear. I was nervous about KSB’s national ACDA debut, worried about whether we would be considered “worthy” and “good enough,” and at the same time was secretly hoping audiences would place my choir and me in the “better” category. With Eph’s words, all of that worry fell away, and I was able to take a deep breath and just be happy to be performing at such a wonderful event with wonderful people like him, and also be at peace with however KSB would do, knowing that we had prepared well and would give it our very best.

Sure enough, in the four performances we had in Minneapolis, along with all of the incredible, stellar, musical “moments,” there were a few mistakes. But thanks to the combined wisdom of both Alice and Eph, I am able to embrace them as part of the experience. In fact, my proudest moments came when, with me in the audience powerless to help the boys, they remained musical all on their own, during mistakes that were not theirs. I know Alice would have been pleased. I certainly was. What skills choral singing gives our boys for life! In both live performance and life itself, you have to keep going. There is no “stopping the world and getting off” when things go wrong. You just have to take a breath and work together with those around you to right the ship. Learning how to do that is, I believe, choral music’s most valuable gift to us all.

As a choir director, I’m always striving for stellar performances of the highest musical standard. But should I strive for a “perfect” performance if there is no such thing as “perfect?” Should we strive for a perfect anything in life? I think Alice and Eph, with their words, are encouraging us to perhaps redefine our notion of perfect. I think they are asking us to do a little less comparing, a little less labeling of “better” and “best” and “less than.” They want us to bask in the important, vital, and unique work we are doing in our place and our time with “our people.” And to embrace – in music and in life itself – both those stellar moments as well as those moments where mistakes are made, and to meet them with calm, with musicianship, with grace. When we do that, maybe, we will have finally attained PERFECTION.

Let me add another pearl of wisdom, another one of my new favorite – a paraphrased lyrics by the great, late Leonard Cohen:

Sing the choir that still can sing

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That is how the light gets in

So THANK you staff, chaperones, parents and especially the boys, who all made this national success possible.

The KSB Trebles and Tenor 1’s knocked it out of the park singing Ceremony of Carols with the Cincinnati Children’s Choir (CCC). They have never sounded better, and their professional poise on stage was stunning. Doreen Rao, an icon of children’s choirs, sought me out to rave about the boys’ musicianship, presence, focus (#therecanbemiracles), and “most importantly, their joyful performance.” Those words from Dr. Rao are the highest praise one could ask for. (She gave a shout out to The Eight Sopranos,” describing their sound as heavenly, floating and free.) KSB and CCC received standing ovations at both concerts – not easily earned at an ACDA convention.

Likewise, Eph Ely sought me out to declare the Grads the best high school young men’s group he’s ever heard. “Astounding in every way … musically, their energy, their breadth of repertoire.” Agreed!

Finally, our joint concert with the Minneapolis Boychoir was one of the very best KSB concerts I can remember. The audience was on their feet twice – once for “Baba Yetu” and then at the end of the program. Like ACDA, this was earned. And as we know, you can’t just yearn it, you gotta earn it. Viva KSB!

 

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