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SHS Choir Sings and Experiences Italian Culture During February Trip to Naples and Rome

chorus4Twenty-six students from the Scarsdale High School Chorus sang and toured in Naples and Rome and soaked up the culture of Italy during the February break. I was among the group that was less than half the size of the chorus that travelled to England in 2015. With such a small choir, every voice was important, and we had to shift voice parts quite a bit. For example, only two tenors signed up for the trip, so several altos had sing tenor parts. The trip was chaperoned by SHS Chorus Teacher John Cuk, his wife and Scarsdale Middle School Chorus Teacher Celia Cuk, SHS Tech Director Steve Bogardus, and his wife Cathy Bogardus.chorus2

On Saturday, February 18, 2017, we departed for our week-long performance tour in Italy. Upon arrival in Rome on Sunday morning, the choir traveled by motor coach to Naples, where we went on a walking tour of the city and checked in at the hotel NH Ambassador Naples. The next day, we toured the Teatro di San Carlo, the oldest Opera House in Italy, and The Naples Conservatory of Music, where we would perform Gabriel Fauré's "Requiem" with one of the Conservatory's chamber orchestras that night.

We also performed four a capella pieces at our concert that night in Naples: "Weep, O Mine Eyes" by John Bennet, "Ubi Caritas" by Maurice Duruflé, "Nelly Bly" by Stephen Foster, and "Rockin' Jerusalem" by André J. Thomas. Those four songs, along with the Fauré "Requiem" made up our program at our concert in Naples, our exchange in Rome, and our concert in Rome. Soloists on "Requiem" were Caroline Kaufman '17, Sofus Rose '17, Elias Hairatdis '19, and Christina Coco '19.

chorus1On Tuesday, we visited the nearby ancient ruins of Pompeii, then travelled to Rome. That night, after checking in at The Building Hotel, we attended an Opera Serenades Concert at the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj. The next morning, we went on a walking tour of Rome, stopping at the Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. Then, we visited a Roman High School at the top of the Spanish steps, La Scuola Sacro Cuore, for an exchange with their choir who performed for us after we performed for them. All of us were in awe of the beauty of their school. After the exchange, we went to the San Lorenzo in Lucina Church, where we rehearsed with a local chamber orchestra for our final concert that night. The next day, we toured the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican City. We also got the opportunity to sing a few of our a capella songs inside the Pantheon. This concluded our tour.

Each day, we had free time for lunch, shopping and exploration on our own between rehearsals and performances. However, we all had dinner together every night. We were welcomed with open arms by both orchestras, the Roman High School Choir, our tour guide, Maria-Laura Giorgi, and the organist who played with us at both concerts. We were able to speak with all of these people, and learn so much about them and their music. The trip was not only a wonderful musical and cultural experience, but a great bonding opportunity for our small group. chorus3All of us quickly became comfortable with each other and made friends across grades, something we may not have had the chance to do without this trip. On this subject, Rachel Meiselman '20 expressed, "I liked how although we all come from different friend groups, we were able to bond over the music. Singing on the bus and through the streets of Rome are some things I'll never forget."

Annie Radin '20 reflected, "At first, I was kind of nervous to go on the trip because I had never done something like this before, but the moment we got off the plane I only felt excitement. We were able to learn about and experience the Italian culture. My favorite part was recognizing how universal music can be, especially when we sang with an Italian school choir." Emily Chase '17 discussed the musical demands of the tour: "Traveling and singing with such a small group was a really special experience. We all took the singing aspect of the trip very seriously, and with a smaller group we had to really depend on each other. We had to trust that the people around us would sing out and support us if we got lost or confused. All of us could also tell how hard Mr. Cuk was working because he had to figure out how to get the orchestras and our chorus to collaborate. It was a much greater challenge than I anticipated, and without the support from the group and Mr. Cuk's persistence, it would not have worked out so well."

Choir Director Mr. Cuk discussed how impressed he was with this particular group: "Maria-Laura (our tour guide) loved that this group asked questions and were bright, and dug into the culture. I've been with groups where they could care less and just wanted to shop and sleep, but this group soaked in every moment."

Personally, besides of course spending time in Italy with my friends, and eating some excellent food, my favorite thing about the trip was that it helped me grow stronger as a choir member, and realize what I am capable of musically. There were moments in some songs where I would be one of only 3 or 4 people singing a certain part. When singing in the larger choir at school, it's easy to feel like other people can cover me on parts I am unsure of, or that I can go on cruise control during a song I know very well. However, with such a small group I had to sing out and be present at all times, and I had to be sure to ask questions if I didn't know my part. I also really enjoyed the camaraderie among the choir. Right before our last concert, one of the sophomores suggested that we all circle up and let the seniors reflect on what this trip and chorus in general means to them. It was so touching to hear what everyone said, that I even started crying at the thought of leaving the SHS Choir next year.

Overall, the trip was an amazing experience, and we are all so grateful to have had Mr. Cuk to lead us through it.

Josie Blatt is a senior at Scarsdale High School.

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