LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Hundreds of high school students left for Europe on Saturday morning to represent Kentuckiana. It's thanks to a local program that is giving young musicians the ability to perform for real audiences in seven countries.

University of Louisville's campus is quiet during the summer. However, there's one group that's been preparing for the chance of a lifetime. "We were like, 'is this real' because this is such a big opportunity," says Connor Bickel, a junior at Floyd Central High School.

Bickel won't forget receiving the letter, saying his high school music director nominated him for a prestigious program. That was one year ago and it's all come down to this. "The practices are really rigorous and it's kind of like, there's that shining gold star at the end of the tunnel, and you're almost there but you've got to push for it," Bickel. 

A total of 370 high school students from around Kentucky and Indiana make up the Kentucky Ambassadors of Music. They rehearsed all day, every day for the past week to go on tour in Europe.

"I'm definitely excited to see the things that I've always seen in the movies and on the pictures, and it's going to be right in front of me," Bickel said.

Dr. Fred Speck of U of L's School of Music has been the music director since the program began in 2000. He said not only are they looking for musical talent, they're looking for students with excellent character. "In the way that they're going to represent their school, their family, the state of Kentucky and southern Indiana," Bickel said.

They'll spend 15 days in Europe, performing shows in England, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Italy and Germany. "All of those elements of certain humanities courses that they've taken and studied and read about, it galvanizes because there they are. They're at the Louvre, they're at the Tower of London, they're in Venice, Italy, St. Marks Cathedral and has just a profound influence on them," Dr. Speck said.

This will be Dr. Speck's tenth tour. He said audiences will drive the distance for their live performances. "It's an audience they've never met before, embracing them so strongly, demanding an encore. Sometimes you can't tell where that life-changing moment for a student is, but you know they're happening," Dr. Speck said.

Real life experience. "Ever since I've been doing all these things with U of L, they've all given me these amazing opportunities, it's kind of put that in my mind like, maybe I do want to be a musician when I grow up, maybe I do want to go into music because it's something that I love and something I'm extremely passionate about," Bickel said.

Students take note of the opportunity to take it all in. "It doesn't matter which country we're performing in, that we're more alike than we are different and the embrace is so incredible," Dr. Speck said.

The students who were chosen did have to pay their own way, raising nearly $6,000 for the 15 day tour.

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