SJC Choirs' Musical Tour of Italy

View photos from the Musical Tour of Italy on Flickr


Ethan Avina '12

Ethan Avina '12 writes about his day in Florence while on the SJC Choirs' Musical Tour of Italy.

Wednesday, Nov. 13

Today was our first full day in Italy. Waking up in Florence, we started the day out with breakfast at our hotel. We then took a bus to the other side of the city for our planned tour of the Accademia of Fine Arts (where Michelangelo's statue of David is housed). We quickly learned that people do not go on strike only in America.

We arrived at the Accademia to see that the museum employees began their strike today. No tour for us. But that was alright; we rolled with the punches and continued with tours of the Piazza Del Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore. We saw the tombs of amazing historical figures and saw frescoes painted hundreds of years ago. Words cannot begin to explain the beauty we saw, so I will let you use your imagination. 

While touring the Church of The Holy Cross, we sang in the monastery off to the side for our tour guides. Starting off with the Chamber Singers singing Ubi Caritas, hearing the pure acoustic beauty, this was the first moment of the trip where it hit me -- we were singing in Florence, Italy, and we will soon be singing some of the most beautiful music I've sang in some of the most beautiful churches in the Roman Catholic world. 

We finished our small impromptu set of songs and had made our tour guide tear up. We then had lunch on our own and had the afternoon to ourselves. The group I was with managed to climb the stairs to the bell tower as well as the Duomo (the highest point in the city) to see the beautiful city from high above the rooftops. We walked along the Ponte Vecchio, where I felt the pillars and wondered how many amazing poets, musicians, etc. from history had walked this same path and touched the same pillars. 

We traveled as a group by foot to sing at the Church of the Holy Trinity. Being a Catholic musician, I do not know if there is anything comparable to singing for a Latin High Mass (in the Extraordinary Form). It was very enjoyable and fulfilling. After Mass, we traveled back to the hotel for dinner. I apologize for all that I forgot in this post for you following us from back home in the States, but rest assured, I'm sure you will hear many stories upon our return and see loads of pictures (my camera ate through two batteries today alone). After today, I am extremely excited for the remainder of the trip and the amazing experiences we are going to be a part of in these coming days. Ciao!

Jennifer Young

Jennifer Young, mother of SJC student Corie Young '16, writes about a day in Siena during the Choirs' Musical Tour of Italy.

Thursday, Nov. 14

The day in Siena was amazing, with perfect weather and fantastic sights to see. We saw the Basilica of St. Dominic across the river where St. Catherine of Siena' s relics are kept. 

One neat thing about Siena is that it has 17 districts defined by different animals. Ten participate in yearly races and festivities, but only 7 of the 10 actually get to race. We saw the square where they race and it is huge! When not racing, people sit in the square, eat, and socialize. Each person is extremely loyal. Even if they marry or move out of the district they were born in, they still return "home" during the games. 

The best parts of Siena were the spirituality, close knit feeling, and beauty. The trip has been tiring but great. The students and adults singing are doing an amazing job and get better with each performance. The highlight of my day in Siena was seeing cathedrals, incredible architecture, and paintings. 

The things I have loved so far: hearing the gorgeous singing, seeing the relics from baby Jesus's manger, and attending the Masses, but the absolute most wonderful moving portion of the trip so far, was seeing the steps where Jesus was dragged on his knees to be condemned to death. It was emotional beyond words.

Gayle Arend '14

Gayle Arend '14 writes about the tour of ancient Rome on the SJC Choirs' Musical Tour of Italy.

Friday, Nov. 15

Greetings from Roma! Today was an extremely long day. Although we are all very exhausted, each moment of the day was filled with excitement and wonderment. Each church and monument was grander than the last as we made our way through ancient Rome. 

We began by visiting the Church of Saint Peter in Chains. This church had a grand exterior that foreshadowed the beautiful church inside. Saint Peter in Chains was smaller than the other churches we visited today, but we were able to see and pray before the very chains that Saint Peter was bound in when he was brought to Rome to be executed. We also saw in this church the large statue of Moses carved in marble by Michelangelo. 

We continued through the city and saw many ancient ruins including, baths; temples; and the ancient forum where Julius Caesar was assassinated. As we drove further into the city we came upon our destination: the Colosseum. It was amazing to see this old structure with the stones at the very bottom dating 74 A.D. Unfortunately, a huge section of the Colosseum was being repaired and was covered by scaffolding, but the experience was just as grand. 

Driving through the city, we also saw the “Wedding Cake,” the monument of King Victor Emmanuel II and Nero’s circus. 

Our next destination was Saint John Lateran. This church was huge, and the entire ceiling was gilded in gold designs. It also had in the main canopy over the altar the relics of both skulls of Saint Paul and Saint Peter in tall gilded life-size statues. It also had a relic of a piece of the table that was used by Jesus and his Disciples during the Last Supper. When we left Saint John Lateran, we crossed the street to the Sancta Sanctorum that held the relic of the stairs that Jesus climbed in Jerusalem to be judged. 

We then traveled to Saint Paul Outside the Wall, this meaning that Saint Paul’s church is literally outside the walls of Rome. At Saint Paul’s we toured the church and saw the chains that Saint Paul was shackled in when he was executed. Again, this church was beautiful and magnificent in every way and had all around the ceiling portrait medallions of every single pope up to Pope Emeritus Benedict. At the end of the tour, the SJC Chamber Singers got together and sang “Locus Iste” in the courtyard in front of the holy door of the church. It was a very moving experience and the music was so appropriate in the setting in front of Saint Paul’s. 

After Saint Paul’s, we traveled to Saint Mary Major. This church is where we sang a Pontifical High Mass with Cardinal Burke. Before Mass, we were able to see the church and were able to see relics of pieces of the manger in which Jesus laid in Bethlehem. We sang Mass in the said altar with Cardinal Burke in the Chapel that held the Regina Caeli. This is a painting of the Mother and Child that was painted by Saint Luke. This chapel was breathtaking with all the statues and gold, and the Mass was beautiful. 

After Mass, we returned to the hotel for a quick dinner than quickly set out again for rehearsal and our evening concert at Chiesa del Gesu (Church of Jesus). This church was by far one of my favorite decorated churches. The painting were reaching out of the frames and the huge marble angel statutes were clutching the ceiling with their feet dangling down. The concert started at 9:00 p.m. and lasted almost two hours. It was beautiful and we had a very large and appreciative crowd that gave us an extended standing ovation. 

Italy has been amazing so far! Tomorrow we are finally going to travel into the Vatican and see Saint Peter’s up close! We have been seeing the looming Dome over the skyline in various parts of our touring, but I am very ready to sing Mass there in the morning. 

Gratzie mille! Ciao ciao!

Jenifer Gifford '13

Jenifer Gifford '13 writes about the day in Vatican City while on the SJC Choirs' Musical Tour of Italy.

Saturday, Nov. 16

The theme of today is best summarized by George Weigel in "Letters to a Young Catholic" when he writes that, "Beautiful things and beautiful music draw us out of ourselves and into an encounter with a truth that is beyond us, yet accessible to our senses. The Catholic spirit cannot live without beauty. The human spirit cannot live without beauty. Beauty helps prepare us to be the kind of people that can be comfortable in heaven … and live with God forever." Today, the Choirs experienced the beauty related to our Catholic faith through sculpture, art, architecture, and, of course, sacred music.

After a 5:15 am wake up call, we began our day at the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City. Entering the church was simply awe inspiring. Colossal marble statues of saints and angels peer from every corner, column, and ceiling. The domes are unfathomably high and intricately decorated with frescos and gold. Masses were celebrated in side chapels at nearly every moment we were in Saint Peter's. It truly is a holy place. The Choirs sang the Viadana Mass in a side chapel at 8:00 am. To sing sacred music in the company of saints and popes in the Basilica was a surreal experience, especially for the Chamber Singers, who sang a few pieces on their own.

Soon after Mass, we were joined by Fr. Pierre Paul, the Director of the Cappella Giulia, who led us to the treasure trove of the Vatican's music archives. We were permitted to examine and handle original manuscripts dated throughout the last five centuries. While the visit to the archives was short, as musicians, this was an extraordinary privilege. 

Afterwards, we were left to explore Vatican City, shop, and eat lunch. A small group of us that consisted of myself, Kelso Daning, and two previous bloggers, Ethan Avina, and Gayle Arend, found a small Italian restaurant on the narrow stone street called borgo pio for lunch. Sitting outside, we had a uniquely authentic moment as a violinist began to play in the street while we ate our fill of pasta and bread, toasted to a beautiful day, and listened to the chatter of Italians passing by.

After lunch, we had an appointment for a short tour of the Vatican museum and the Sistine Chapel. Our tour guide, Elena, was excellent and full of historical stories relating to the sculptures and artwork we passed. Specifically, her knowledge of art history was phenomenal and immensely informative. The Vatican museum was as breathtaking as any other Vatican property, in terms of gilded domes, painted ceilings, and walls lined with sculptures from Ancient Rome. I absolutely believe we could have spent an entire day in one room; however, for this trip, that would have been impossible. 

As for the Sistine Chapel, there are no words to describe it. Pictures in books do not truly capture the beauty of what is painted. I stood in silence the entire time we were there not only because silence is the rule, but also because I was standing in the most beautiful place produced by man that I had ever seen. 

We ended our night with a concert at another beautiful church called the Chiesa Nuova, which contains the remains of St. Philip Neri. In spite of the exhaustion we are all feeling, we channelled the beauty we absorbed thought the day into our music and shared our love for our Catholic musical heritage with the Romans.

Allison Stanton '15

Allison Stanton '15 shares her experience singing in St. Peter's Basilica while on the SJC Choirs' Musical Tour of Italy.

Sunday, Nov. 17

Today, SJC's Chamber Singers and other members of the Choirs sang in Vatican City at St. Peter's Basilica. The Chamber Singers sang Anton Bruckner's "Locus Iste" by ourselves. St. Peter's Basilica is truly the most sublime space I have ever seen. Though it is a big tourist attraction, it is an incredibly holy place. 

Covered with sculptures and other pieces of art that are undoubtedly inspired by the Divine, everyone finally realized how important this trip is. It is important for us as Catholics, as musicians, and as students to be on such a world stage. I wish I could say more about St. Peter's itself, but it is simply gorgeous and beyond words. The sacred music echoed throughout the Basilica, causing tourists heads to turn and hearts to listen. True beauty was in the music, in St. Peter's, and in our hearts. The sound bounced off of marble, gold, tombs, angels, saints, and other statues, giving the Chamber Singers a new appreciation of what it is that we do. Of course, we also entertained the Swiss Guard. We made it difficult for them to hold back smiles, which was more fun than sacred.

The massive space that is St. Peter's was an honor to sing in. I know that it gave me a sensation that was beyond emotion and reason, because it was not just a vacation. The Choirs did not relax and enjoy the Mass. We were physically connected to St. Peter's and Catholicism. Even for the non-Catholics, it was still a very moving experience, giving all of us a completely new outlook on life, love, and truth.

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