The following is a report of the tour by one member of the Chamber Ensemble and does not reflect all members’ opinions. All videos were provided by Mr. Gregory Haggard (shot by Ms. Whitney Livermore).
By: Brendan Glenn
The Chamber Singers’ trip to Italy this spring break had its ups and its downs—though I can safely say it mostly had ups. Here’s a list of the tour’s highlights, arranged by day.
Monday was uneventful—Not much happened. We arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, were dead tired after 14 hours of travel—tired enough to overpower our excitement upon reaching Italy—and quickly fell asleep after reaching our hotel.
Tuesday was rather more exciting. After a hearty breakfast, which introduced to us the running theme in Italy of inexplicably glazed croissants, we headed out on a tour of ancient Rome, first to the Colosseum (where we were not arrested like those other California tourists), then to the old palace of the emperors and the city’s excavated center at the Forum, along with the giant white mausoleum of Victor Emmanuel II, which Romans derisively call “the wedding cake” or “the typewriter”.
Following this we had some free time in Rome’s center, used mostly to find and obtain pizza and gelato, which were delicious—as was expected. Then we headed, in the early afternoon, to a soccer field in the town of Rocca di Papa, outside Rome, where we played (and somehow won) a soccer game with members of the local school choir that we would be singing with that night. After some socializing with our Italian counterparts, we traveled to the small Chiesa del Sacro Cuore di Gesu and performed our concert. The concert went off swimmingly and after it we traveled back to the hotel and fell asleep.
Wednesday was a daunting day. Not because of the tour of Rome’s famous landmarks we had in the morning, which included an impromptu performance of the hymn O Lux Beatissima at the Pantheon, but because of our appearance later that afternoon as the choir for the 5:00 mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Pope did not preside over the Mass, but even so it was a simultaneously humbling and ego-boosting experience singing inside the great cathedral—it is one of the most beautiful spaces, both visually and acoustically, that any of us had ever been in, as evidenced by how the hymn Ave Maria by Biebl and other hymns sounded.
We left the Vatican feeling refreshed and happy, despite having just performed a concert. That night we had dinner at the Restaurant Opera, where, unsurprisingly, opera is sung to guests. We, freed from the pressure of having to sing at one of the most important places on the planet, enjoyed the four-course meal and sang back at the singers.
Thursday was a relaxing day. We didn’t have a concert scheduled for Thursday, since it was the day we traveled from Rome to the beautiful capital of Tuscany, Florence. On our way north we stopped at the ancient town of Civita di Bagnoregio, whose old center sits on a tall tower of rock in the middle of a canyon. We had lunch at a small restaurant in the Etruscan-built village before singing a quick hymn in its church and heading off the spire (over a very windy bridge) to continue our journey.
Upon arrival in Florence we briefly looked at some of its main landmarks, such as the Ponte Vecchio, a building-encrusted bridge which now houses expensive jewelry stores. For dinner, we took a pizza-making class and ate the fruits of our tomato-and-cheese labor along with gelato we helped prepare, which was not exactly great gelato but was certainly consumed with gusto along with the misshapen pizza. Continuing our habit of singing at all times (we are a choir, after all) we performed two songs for the restaurant’s staff, before heading to the hotel and going to sleep.
Friday had us back on our formal performing track. We went, following a morning of shopping and sightseeing in Florence—which included a trip to the top of the famous “Duomo”—to the village of Lucca, a small hamlet full of restaurants and churches encircled by Roman-built flood walls. There we met singers from a local music school and rapidly lost a game of musical trivia to them in the town hall, where we met the town’s mayor. In a nearby church, we performed a concert in conjunction with the Italian students. The mayor was in attendance, along with our assembled parents. Then it was back to Florence for a dinner of fresh seafood.
Saturday, our final day, was in some ways a cool-down. Following a trip to see Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia we had a day of free time, which most of us used to either shop at many of Florence’s luxury clothing stores or tour the city with a guide. Many of us also slept—it had been an eventful and tiring week.
At five we had our final concert, our only proper standalone concert of the trip, which took place in the Santa Maria de’ Ricci church, located along a busy shopping street in central Florence. Initially we worried that we wouldn’t draw a crowd, but the church soon filled with curious passers-by, and the audience kept swelling as the concert continued. We wrapped up the performance and our tour of Italy with our feature piece for the trip, the fast-paced Bollywood show tune Balleilakka.
Afterwards we headed to a nearby restaurant and ate far too much cheese while on occasion reprising a song. We were tired and happy, and ready to go home.
Sunday was the day we left the country. We woke at 4:30 AM, took a five-hour bus ride back down to Rome, and departed to our various homes, to have a week of rest and relaxation before returning to school.