The Tatnall Concert Choir recently returned from a ‘storybook tour’ of Italy, where 29 young choristers experienced a rare and uniquely satisfying opportunity to perform multiple concerts in Siena, Rome, and Venice.
Under the direction of the esteemed Choral Director Wilson Somers, the choir kept themselves busy, singing two performances each day – one informal and another formal. The choice of venues was made with a deliberate connection to history – students sang Vivaldi in Vivaldi’s churches in Venice and performed at the main alter at Saint Mark’s Basilica, a significant experience to walk where the many Doges of Venice worshiped, not to mention Marco Polo himself.
For most students, the performance stops offered them their first glimpse of some of the most historically significant venues in the country. Many had never traveled abroad before.
Their Venice tour included short program performances in two churches associated with the great Baroque musician Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Santa Maria del Pieta and San Giovanni Battista and a Noon Mass at Basilica di San Marco. On previous trips to Italy, the Tatnall Concert Choir performed in the side chapel of the Basilica. So, they were honored to perform in front of larger crowds from the important main altar.
Sightseeing stops in the city of waterways included gondola rides in the Grand Canal and visits to Italy’s first Jewish Ghetto as well as the Holocaust Memorial. There the choir sang ‘Havanashira,’ a Hebrew folk melody, and an original song written by Somers, ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’ to honor the memory of residents who were taken to concentration camps.
In Siena, they performed with the local choir Coro Vico Alto at the San Cristoforo Church to a packed audience. “In Siena, our host choir, Coro Vico Alto, under the direction of Maestra Pia Palmieri, couldn’t have been more gracious and accommodating. The combined choir experience of singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah with Coro Vico Alto was transcendent,” said Somers.
In Rome, the eternal city, the students walked amongst the ancient ruins (the Coliseum and Forum) in the morning and experienced the Piazza Navona area near the Spanish Steps and Pantheon before their concert at St. Eustachio Church in Piazza Navona. Students said their mid-day informal performance at the Pantheon, with hundreds of tourists milling about, was one they would never forget.
They also toured the Vatican museum ahead of their final performance in the Sistine Chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica. While their performance was delayed slightly due to a Vespers service, the group was able to witness a service officiated by the Cardinal of Rome in a truly remarkable and beautiful setting — the alter was surrounded by a cloud of incense. They followed the Vatican choir and performed their program. “The priest spoke with very kind words that edified the quality of Tatnall Choir performance, saying how rare it is to have a choir of young people so accomplished in their choral singing,” said Somers.
The Tatnall Choir conductor called their trip “the finest to date” — one that will resonate for years to come. “This experience is, I believe, is a life-changing one that will live on in the hearts and minds of both the choristers and their families,” he said.
Ruth Hiller and Mark Ginn, members of the Tatnall Upper School History Department also provided invaluable leadership on the tour, which was designed and managed by Music Contract International.