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Viva Italia! Hudson choirs do more than perform

Andy Haase directs the choir students during an impromptu outdoor concert in Sienna. See the attached Photo Gallery for more pictures of the trip. Photo submitted

In March, two Hudson High School choirs traveled to Italy for a ten day performance tour which included stops in five cities. The 86 student members of the Chamber Choir and Chanteuse and 24 adults traveled back several centuries as they traversed from Venice to Rome on two coaches. A trip like this requires more than the average amount of planning. The choirs performed in Venice, Livorno, Florence, Assisi and Rome.

Unlike the previous trips, this time students were singing, on three occasions as part of a Mass at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, St. Francis Basilica in Assisi and at the Vatican in Rome. They sang entirely in Latin or Italian.

This was the third international trip organized by Hudson High School Choral Activities Director Andrew Haase. "It not that just anybody can sing in the Vatican," said Haase who explained the process requires planning a year in advance. "I plan out the literature for the whole school year and keep in mind the acoustics we might encounter as well."

To get permission to sing, Haase had to send a sample CD so the quality of the singing could be evaluated. He had to send a list of songs, selecting literature that would fit or be appropriate for a Mass. In the end all was approved, including a Sanctus written by Dr. Mel Olson and performed by the choirs in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice.

After arrival in Venice on March 17 the whirlwind began. It was the second choir stop in Livorno when the students, while giving a full performance at the Mascagni Conservatory, were overwhelmed by the acoustics.

"Their eyes just bugged out," said Haase. "They were overwhelmed with the sound and in awe of what they were doing, singing in places with amazing historical, religious and cultural significance."

While performing was the highlight and the reason for the trip, students also came home with other insights, such as gasoline that was $10 a gallon. Shopping in open air markets and walking amongst the Roman Ruins are all memories they will not soon forget.

From pasta to pizza and everything in between, students and their chaperones enjoyed the flavors of Italy including gelato.

"The food was phenomenal," said Haase. "I am a good cook and I take pride in knowing great food."

"Every city that we were going to had a guide which really gave us a lot of historical and cultural education," said Heisler. "There was a lot more walking on this trip because we stayed in one country for the entire time."

"I think they loved it," said Haase. "Just the cultural and historical aspect, I don't think the students realized the ages of places. There was a huge emphasis on the historical education."

"It is really a once in a lifetime trip," said Heisler. "Some of the students may never go back. They bonded really well."

"There was free time for them to explore, one and one-half to three hours at time," said Haase. "They had to be in groups for four or five to explore and venture out on their own. It is part of taking the kids to the next step."

"What surprised me musically speaking was, with all these wonderful composers who came from Italy and today there is virtually no music education in Italian schools," said Haase. "They have to take private lessons and pay with their own money. Everywhere we went they thought we were a college choir. I thought choral singing would be rich and abundant in Italy and it barely exists."

"It was such an epicenter for cultural and music that shaped and changed Europe entirely," said Haase.

"We did quite a bit of singing outside," said Heisler.

"That was popular," said Haase. "We drew crowds whenever we stopped to sing."

The last stop was Rome where the students performed during the 5 p.m. Mass on March 23 in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.

"It is the highlight of my conducting career," said Heisler of performing in St. Peter's. Throughout the trip the guides assisted the choirs to determine when they were to sing during masses and where to stand in the basilicas.

The trip was completely paid for by the participants. No public money was used.

"The kids worked hard to fundraise for the trip," said Heisler. "We had incredible parents on the trip and we are so appreciative for their efforts.

Haase plans a trip every other year. Previous trips were to Costa Rica and Eastern Europe.

"It is really like a collegiate trip," said Haase.