"It's the performing that's really life changing:" Reflections on the La Canada High School Italy Tour

Last night's performance at Basilica Sant' Agnes in Agone was the perfect end to La Canada High School's whirlwind Italian tour. "We loved the church, that it was smaller and more intimate [than some of the previous venues]," said director Jeff Brookey, who also was pleased with the standing-room-only audience. "The concert was amazing. It was the perfect place for our closing concert."

But while still on a high from the night's recital of sacred music, and preparing for the long trip home today, Brookey, the students, and the parents and friends of the choir also couldn't help but think about all the amazing places they'd been and things they'd seen in the last week.

Here are some of the highlights:
  • Mass at Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice: The choir's first performance was at this beautiful church in the world-famous city of canals. Though a secular school, the chamber singers and larger ensemble have been preparing a repertoire of sacred songs for this tour since last September. Because of the limitations of singing in ancient churches, Jeff chose songs that are all a capella. He also chose slower, more melancholic pieces to respect the mood and tone of Lent, which inspired him to choose music with sacred themes but interesting chords so every piece didn't sound the same. The choir's first experience sharing pieces like Eric Whitacre's "Lux aurumque" and Eric Barnum's "Adoramus te, Christe" went even better than expected. "It was a moving experience," said Jeff. Plus, added Eva F., "the acoustics were so amazing."
  • The Baptistry of St. John in Pisa: Most tourists in Pisa are awed by the physics of the Leaning Tower. But the La Canada Choir was awed by the physics of the Baptistry's unique acoustics: an 11-second reverb. The group was given permission to sing one song in the austere dome, but were so impressive and appreciative that they were asked for an encore. Adjusting to the sonic circumstances wasn't easy - "we had to take it very slow," said Jeff - but learning to modify and modulate the voice for different performance venues is one of the great educational aspects of a tour like this.
  • Florence: A favorite tourist stop for many of the students was beautiful Firenze. Singers mentioned the Renaissance architecture and the picturesque streets. But most important was the concert. "We've seen amazing sights," said Jeff. "But they get that it's the performing that's really life changing." The students agreed, and especially loved performing in a joint concert with JSerra Catholic High School, whose choir director just happens to be Jeff's best friend.
  • Cultural Exchange in Rieti: One of the special aspects of an Incantato tour is getting to visit towns beyond the big tourist destinations, like the hill town of Rieti. Before performing in the comune's gorgeous theater, the La Canada choir met with a choir from a local school. The students from California were impressed with the Italians' English, and were surprised to realize that however different the two sets of students were, the love of music bonded them. "It's amazing to share our love of music with people 5,000 miles from home," said Brandon C. They also said that being in a small town made intuitive sense to them and helped them connect to Italian life. "We can relate to Rieti," said Julia T. Eva F. agreed. "It was familiar, but special."
  • Teatro Flavio Vespasiano in Rieti: The true jewel of visiting Rieti, though, was the choir's performance in the local theater. "It's beautiful - so grandiose," said Jeff. "The students said it was like being in the movies, or on the set of Phantom of the Opera." Brandon C. agreed. At home in Los Angeles, "we never get to sing in a theater like this," he said. Jeff was particularly looking forward to performing at a secular venue because the choir was able to sing non-religious songs like Eric Barnum's "Lotos" and the fascinatingly beautiful Indonesian tune "Luk Luk Lumbu." And during the performance, Brandon C. said he had a magical music moment. "It's when you're singing and you look at each other and everything just comes together," he said. "It happened in almost every song."
  • High Mass at St. Peter's Basilica and the Papal Audience: The choir understood and appreciated the opportunity to visit Vatican City and sing at High Mass. "The Jewish students, Catholics, Mormons, nonbelievers ... they all realize it's a special thing to sing mass," said Jeff. And they were honored to sing 45 seconds of Moses Hogan's "Hear My Prayer" for the Pope. "We really enjoyed the Papal audience," said Jeff. An added bonus? They reunited with the choir from JSerra Catholic High School for this special event. "That was fun," Jeff said.
Overall, Jeff said the students had an incredible experience on tour. "They wouldn't be able to do this on their own," he said. "There's something so special about it."

As for whether Jeff was looking forward to heading home, though, it doesn't seem he gets much respite from the rigorous tour life yet. "I have my doctoral oral exams right when I get back," he said. "I have to be studying on the 11-hour flight."

We wish him luck, and wish the La Canada students and entourage a safe journey home.