Thursday, July 17, 2014

Singing across Italy

By Will Bublitz

Two Limon High School students definitely hit the high note of their young lives as they sang their way across Italy last month as members of the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale.

Cassidy Thompson and Sean Steinhart, who are both Badger sophomores, were part of the 47-member children’s choir and 10 adults who participated in the tour. Their Italian trip took place from June 21-July 2.

“Italy was great,” Cassidy said. “Everything was so different from living in a small town in America.”

Sean agreed. “It was an amazing trip, and the Italian people were wonderful. Of course, there was a language barrier, but with music you can make a connection and they know exactly what you are trying to say. The language barrier is broken.”

The trip to Italy was one of the international trips conducted by Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale to promote international understanding. The choir also performs regular concerts throughout the state.

The Italian trip was the second international tour that Cassidy had participated in since becoming a Children’s Chorale member eight years ago. Her first international tour to South Africa four years ago.

Last month’s trip was also the second international tour for Sean who joined the choir four years ago. He participated in last year’s special trip by the youth choir to Colorado Springs’ sister city of Fujiyama, Japan.

During last month’s trip, Cassidy, Sean and their fellow choir members flew non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean to Frankfurt, Germany where they changed planes for the flight to Venice, Italy.

 “Once we got to Venice, we first sang at the famous St. Mark’s Basilica just off the Grand Canal,” Cassidy said. “But instead of singing in the cathedral, we sang during a mass in the catacombs. We were singing in the crypt with all the dead bodies which felt a little strange.”

In addition to performing, the choir got to tour the city of Venice.

“We went all over the city and got to see the historic Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs,” Sean said. “Centuries ago after prisoners received their sentences in the palace, they crossed the Bridge of Sighs for their last look of Venice before they were locked away.”

“The Doge’s Palace was absolutely amazing,” Cassidy said. “One room was the largest I’d ever seen. It could hold over 2,000 people who were the leaders of Venice.”

Cassidy and Sean said the most amazing thing about Venice was that no cars or bicycles can operate within the city. People either travel on foot or by boat.

“All the Venetian gondolas that you see in photos or videos are really only used by tourists or for weddings,” Cassidy said.

Traveling from Venice, the Colorado Springs choir made their next stop to the nearby city of Padua.
“We sang at the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua,” Sean said. “There were a lot of relics. We actually saw the relics of St. Anthony’s tongue, vocal cords and teeth in golden containers placed in a golden wall. We got to touch St. Anthony’s tomb.”

The choir’s next stop was the famous Renaissance city of Florence.

“We sang in the Basilica di San Lorenzo and then we toured the city,” Cassidy said. “We went to the museum where Michelangelo’s statute of David is kept. We rounded a corner in the museum and there it was. It takes your breath away to actually see it. It was amazing.”

“We also got to see ancient musical instruments used by the Machiavelli family,” Sean said. “Later in the tour of the city, we saw the Macchiavelli Palace and Bridge. The bridge was partially destroyed in World War II but it’s still beautiful.”

Back on the road, the Colorado singers traveled to the city of Pisa, and of course, did not miss seeing its famous Leaning Tower.

“We took lots of pictures of the Leaning Tower of Pisa,” Cassidy said. “There’s even one of me holding it up.”

While at Pisa, the choir members visited the Church of San Nicola where they held a concert with the local children’s choir.

“They sang three songs, and then we sang our regular set of 13 songs,” Sean said. “Their children’s choir has some high school seniors, but the others are pretty young.”

“They had a wide range of voices in their choir,” Cassidy said. “Their young kids were fantastic singers and so cute.”

Continuing onward, the choir’s next stop was the  town of Deruta in central Italy.

“We sang for Deruta’s mayor and gave him some gifts, and he gave us gifts in return,” Cassidy said. “He was so nice and said he wants to create a sister city exchange program with us. We then toured a ceramics museum that had absolutely gorgeous things. It was amazing.”

Another reason for the stop in Deruta was for the Colorado choir members to meet their host Italian families with whom they would be staying for the next couple of days. The Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale believes that its young singers should have meaningful cultural experiences during their international trips. Staying with a host family is the best way to learn about a country’s people and how they live.

“Now that I’m home, I really miss my host family so much,” Cassidy said. “They didn’t know much English and I don’t know Italian, but we both tried hard to communicate using English-Italian phrase books. The second night I spent with them, we all went out to restaurant for gelato. Friends from the choir were there and we all had a lot of fun.”

“I stayed with a grandmother and her 13-year-old grandson Franco,” Sean said. “Franco knew some English from school, and we played the piano and video games together. Everything felt like home.”
Driving over to the nearby town of Perugia, the Colorado choir sang in its cathedral and then toured its ancient underground city.

And as they say, all roads lead to Rome, and that was the final stop for the Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale on its Italian tour.

“Going to Rome was a total change,” Cassidy said. “We went from a small, quiet town to the biggest and busiest city that I’ve ever seen.”

Sean agreed. “It was like New York City, except that everyone seemed like they were hopped up on caffeine. All of the people were rushing around on foot or behind the wheel of a car. Their favorite word, which we heard a lot in Rome, was ‘Andiamo’ which means ‘hurry up’ in Italian.”

On their first day in Rome, the choir members toured the city making stops at the Coliseum, the famous Trevi Fountain and the Altare della Patria, a huge marble monument nicknamed the “Wedding Cake.” During a visit to the Pantheon, the choir put on an impromptu performance in the square in front of that ancient Roman building.

The choir also had a major scheduled performance at the Basilica of St. Agnes.

“The Italians had publicized our concert and even had people wearing sandwich boards out on the streets to advertise it,” Sean said. “We had a great turnout for our performance. People were literally standing in the back of that huge church to get to hear us.”

On the second day, the Coloradans visited the Vatican where they toured St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

“The Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s are indescribable,” Cassidy said. “The paintings were  so detailed and amazing. It was magnificent.”

During a mass at St. Peter’s, the choir performed four songs.

 “While in St. Peter’s, we also saw Michelangelo’s Pieta, which is a statute of Mary holding the body of Jesus,” Cassidy said. “It was breathtaking. If you look at sadness in Mary’s eyes, you want to cry. There are no words to describe it. It’s just fantastic.”

At the end of their tour, Colorado Springs Children’s Chorale members finally had to say a collective “Arrivederci” to their Italian friends and make the nine-hour flight back to Colorado.

Sean and Cassidy said the most important things they learned from the tour was a better appreciation for other people, especially their host Italian families.

“My host family showed me so much love and compassion that I just can’t thank them enough,” Sean said. “They made my visit to Italy so much fun.”

Cassidy agreed. “The highlight of the trip for me was staying with my host family who had true family values and respect for one another. A trip like this opens your eyes and makes you want to start thinking globally. It was inspiring.”

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