Friday, May 15, 2009

Thank You Concert and Final Blog Post For Now

After recovering from jet lag, catching up at home, and digging out at work, the Visitation Choir Tour Group reconvened on Wednesday, May 13, to perform a concert at our home Visitation Church thanking those who traveled with us and our fellow choir members, families, and parishioners who supported us from home while we traveled and throughout all the preparations for the trip. The Visitation Choir reprised the Concert performance from our concert in Rome, with a set of Traditional Music and a set of American Spirituals separated by a fantastic organ solo by Nicholas Biedler, who flew in from Cincinnati for the concert. We will post a few of the pieces from this concert on YouTube in the next few days and hope to put together a DVD featuring performances at all of our Italian venues and our Visitation Concert.

After the concert, about 100 concert-goers gathered in Tighe Hall for a celebration reception, featuring Italian wines and appetizers and a "big screen" slide and video show projecting pictures and videos from our trip. Amazingly, the order of 7 cases of wine that we had ordered from Montalcino arrived that day intact and complete, and we distributed the wine treasures that our group had chosen to bring back to enjoy as memories of our trip over the years to come.

This will be the last posting on this blog for now, until we decide if it has further use. We plan to continue to post videos to the YouTube site as they may merit - search for "KRSweeney2281" on YouTube or sign up for notices when we make a new post.

We have recieved over 1,400 unique hits to this blog during the short period leading up to and during our Italian Tour 2009. To all of you who allowed us to share our adventure with you in this way, we are extremely grateful. Next time, maybe you can join us in person!

Ciao and Grazie Mille!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Encore Concert at Visitation May 13

The Visitation Choir’s 2009 Italy tour was a great success! And we’re back!! In appreciation for the unique opportunity we had to travel together and sing in some of Italy’s most beautiful churches, the touring choir members will say “thank you” for the support of our parish community, families and fellow non-traveling singers in the best way we know how – in song! We will present a concert at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 13 at Visitation Church. The touring singers will host a reception afterward featuring Italian food and drinks! Please join us.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some Quotes from the Tour

"Sir, I will buy ANYTHING IN THIS STORE if you let me use your bathroom."

"Skip the Trevi, have a bevi."

"Was that graffiti? I thought someone just spilled a blob of yellow paint on the wall."

Overheard on the last day: "The SeaTour Bus has a bathroom?!?!"

Anonymous female, first day: "I am pretty sure I just used the men's room."

"Let's just find a taxi and tell him to drive around until we find the bus."

"Don't worry girls, after 8 days alone with the kids, our husbands will pay any amount to get us home."

"Are we there yet?"

"Wouldn't those Chianti bottles make nice Christmas ornaments?"

"I got in trouble one time for taking a picture of myself."

"Where's RC?"

"BeLOW" and "Stay Tuned."

"Watch out for that gypsy baby!"

"Just a little more up, then its all down."

"Our Choir members are just volunteers, not professionals like yours." (Second-hand. Did the other choir director really say this?)

"Please come back any time you like. This Church (Santa Maria del Popolo - Rome) is your house."

"Oh, you're not wearing black!"

"Your men have cohones."

Best memory for me? Tears, tears, and more tears ... especially when Give Me Jesus made the Priest cry. Maureen

... and heard on Friday, May 1st at breakfast: "Honey, where are the croissants?"

Friday, May 1, 2009

Arrividerci to Sunny Rome, 10 Hour Flight, and Soft American Beds

Our final day in Rome was beautiful! Some of the group started with the Wednesday morning audience with the Pope, and others of us saw the Pope midday when he went on an impromptu cruise around the Piazza St. Pietro in his Popemobile. Tours of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel, the Museo Borghese, and people watching in places like the Piazza Navona and at the Pantheon took up the rest of the day. See today's post by Dwight Stanford on his blog at for additional pictures. Dwight, a surgeon who practiced in Kansas City for more than 20 years and is now living in Italy and is a friend of ours, joined us for the concert and Mass in Rome.

On Wednesday morning, the Visitation Choir sang its last performance at a Mass in the Chiesa Santa Maria de Popolo in the Piazza di Popolo in Rome. The ambiance of this smaller but ancient church is enhanced by paintings by Carrivaggio and sculptures by Bernini. After the long day, we brought closure to our adventure with a group dinner at a near-by restaurant at which the group members shared their thoughts on our tour experience, not totally without out a few tears. Rumor has it that some of the group then headed out on the town and that one of the females in the group may have even considered recreating Anita Ekberg's fountain scene from the 1950's movie La Dolce Vita! No bail money was required, however.

Thursday morning again dawned clear and warm as we departed Rome. John and Brent headed to Munich to see friends, Richard and Victoria were going to extend their stay in Rome and spend some more time in Florence, and the rest of the group headed back to Kansas City (the flight from Rome to Chicago was over 10 hours) and various other home cities. I suspect that after a 24+ hour travel day all had a good night sleep last night in their "soft American beds" (a particular wish expressed by Scott Martens).

Thanks to all for following us on our tour and leaving us the many comments. We had over 850 "hits" on this blog during the time we were gone, which made us all feel more connected with our friends and family back home.

The Choir is planning a concert for the parish in the near future, and we will continue to post pictures, videos, and other post-tour information for a while on this blog, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sienna Duomo, Brunello, and On To Rome

The past two days have been hectic, a bit rainy, but a lot of fun. We started Monday with a private liturgy just for our tour group in the Chapel of the Miracles in the beautiful brown and cream striped marble interior of the Duomo in Siena. Beatrice Santner evidenced her great directing skills by reacting "on the fly" and adjusting the repretiore during the Mass to the fact that we did not have access to the organ in the side altar as expected and the Choir stretched its experience to new levels by singing several pieces (including "Three Days" by Holst) acapella for the first time.

After the Mass and a tour of Siena, the Group enjoyed a winery tour in Montalcino and negotiated the purchase of a number of cases of Brunello de Montalcino wine to be shipped back to the States. The 16+ hour travel day ended with a long bus ride that got us to our hotel in Roma about 10 pm.

On a slightly soggy Tuesday, some of the Group started with a walking tour of the Forum and ancient Rome, while others slept in a bit and then explored the city on their own. In the evening, the Choir performed its first ever public practice in preparing for a concert with the Choir of the Church of St. Maria Degli Angeli, which is a massive church designed by Michelangelo in the Baths of Diocletian. The Church Choir performed three numbers and then the Visitation Choir sang a two set concert of classical music followed by traditional American Spirtuals. The Concert reflected the precision and nuance that only can come after singing together every day now for almost a week and both Victoria Botero and Richard Gammon thrilled the SRO crowd with their beautiful solos. Victoria also exhibited her Italian language skills, serving as our inpromptu emmcee.

Today has risen bright and sunny and we are off for our last Mass and a full day at the Vatican and seeing other sights in Rome.

We will upload videos and more pictures when we get home.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

8 Second Echoes and Florentine Adventures

What a fantastic (and a little bit scary) experience it was to sing the Sunday main Mass in the huge Santa Maria Novella Basilica in Florence yesterday! As the Visitation Choir ended its first warmup song, we were amazed by the EIGHT SECONDS that the sound reverberated around the Basilica (as compared with the 3 seconds that we are used to at Visitation - which is wonderful in its own right). These acoustics produced a full and blended sound in the church, but made it very hard for the singers to hear anything but themselves and the organ behind them. After a few adjustments, however, the result received great reviews. Victoria and Richard's voices soared through the space and Nick did his usual magic with a somewhat temperamental organ. After an extended practice last night to finetune our technique for singing in large spaces, we are on to sing in the even larger Duomo in Siena this morning.

The entire tour group enjoyed the rest of the day in Florence dodging some rain showers and long museum lines (it was a "free day" at the museums). Some explored the churches and museums, some enhanced the Italian economy by shopping for leather, gold, clothes and other items in which the Florentine shops specialize, and others relaxed in cafes and trattoria and watched the Sunday parade.

Today, on to Siena for singing and a tour, to Montalcino for wine tasting, and then to Rome, the last stop on our Tour.

Tuscan Hill Towns, Vineyards, and Olive Groves

During the past two days, the Visitation Choir Tour Group has traveled from Umbria to Tuscany and has explored the Tuscan towns of Montelpuciano, Radda, Volpaia, and Volterra, as well as San Gimignano, our base for our three nights in Tuscany. The beautiful hotel in San Gimignano is situated a short walk outside of the city walls with a view of many miles of vineyards, olive groves, and Tuscan hills. The Terrace outside the hotel that overlooks the pool and gardens has provided the base for the group predinner activities each of the last two evenings before a short walk into town for dinner and people watching.

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day for a tour of Chianti, but today looks like it will be overcast as we head into Florence to sing the main 10:30 am Sunday Mass at Santa Maria Novella, one of the main churches in Florence. From there sightseeing in the museums and other churches of Florence before returning to San Gimignano tonight. Keith has uploaded new pictures through Friday - click on the link at the right. We will try to upload videos and more pictures soon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

First Liturgy a Success - On to Tuscany

The Tour Group arrived in Assisi yesterday (Wednesday) and enjoyed a marvelous group dinner at the hotel (featuring Pasta con Fungi and Braised Chingiali (wild boar)) and a brief night on the town before succumbing to sleep after a 36+ hour day of travel. After the first night at the Windsor Savoia hotel, about 5 minutes from the Basilica di San Francesco, we awoke early this morning (Thursday) and the Choir took about 30 minutes of practice at the hotel to get back into the singing mode. We then transferred to the Basilica, where we performed three songs in the Tomb of St. Francis and then sang for the 11 am Mass in the Capella di Santa Caterina in the Crypt of the Basilica, with a full house of over 200 in attendance. The repertoire included "If Ye Love Me" by Thomas Tallis, "Ubi Caritias" by Maurice Durufle, and "Give Me Jesus" by Wendell Whalum. Nick Beidler closed with a marvelous "Improvisations on Te Deum" on an historic organ from the 16th Century. All in all, the first day of performances went well. We will try to upload some video and pictures as soon as we get to a high speed Internet uplink.

After time to explore on our own, the group took a guided walking tour of the major sites in Assisi, including the Basilica di Santa Chiara (St. Claire), where the Choir sang "God Be In My Head" by John Rutter. Marco, our tour guide, gave us a detailed description of St. Francis' life as reflected in the historic fresco's in the Upper Church of the Basilica, as well as many other interesting facts about St. Claire and the other religious figures in Assisi's history.

Tomorrow we are off to Montelpuciano and San Gimiginano on a day of traveling, with no performances planned (but you never know what might happen spontaneously).

Thanks to all who have provided comments, and special thanks to the Choir members who hosted a reception for the Choir Tour Group last Sunday as a "Bon Voyage" sendoff. We look forward to being back together with you all soon.



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ciao from Italy!

After more than a year of planning, the Visitation Choir Italy Tour 2009 tour group of 40 departs today for Italy. The largest group is traveling from Kansas City to Rome via American Airlines through Chicago O'Hare, arriving on Tuesday morning. Others are flying in on Tuesday on a number of other flights, to board a bus and head for Assisi upon arrival.

We know from pictures on Keith Gard's website (link to the right) that Jane and Keith have spent the last several days on the Almafi Coast and have visited Capri. Kevin and Erika have spent the last several days in Le Marche with their friend Dwight Stanford at his agriturismo near Ascoli Piceno, Italy, named Nascondiglio di Bacco. Check out his blog at or It has rained quite a bit, hopefully getting it out of its system before the group arrives, but we have visited a number of great wineries (look for wines from Le Marche as they start to take hold in the US) and enjoyed an olive oil tasting, visited a ceramics museum, and enjoyed a romp with Dwight's dog on the beach at San Benedetto.

Others from the group are touring Venice, and we will all head to Assisi tomorrow by car and train to meet up with the group on Wednesday. The first mass at which we sing is on Thursday morning at the Basilica St. Francesco in Assisi.

Please leave comments to these posts, especially friends and family of the tour group members or fellow parishioners, and we will get those to the travelers and post their responses as soon as possible.

More when we get to Assisi.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Happy Easter and Arrivederci!

We hope that everyone had glorious and Happy Easter! The Choir completed a marathon of over 20 hours of singing at practice and liturgies from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday and have one more full practice before leaving for Italy! We have confirmed a liturgy at the Duomo in Siena and another mass in Rome, so we now have 6 performances scheduled during the 8 days that we are in Italy.

Tour members start on early departures this Friday and the group leaves next Tuesday. We will do our best to keep up the blog posts during the trip.

Please note that we have uploaded 6 videos of performances from the Triduum services, some of which are linked on this blog. All of the videos can be found on YouTube - the link is provided on the right of this page or search YouTube for KRSweeney2281.

In addition, Keith Gard will be uploading pictures to his website, the link for which is also provided to the right.

Please keep the travel group in your thoughs and prayers and leave comments on the blog and we will try to get them to the tour group.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Triduum

We have now completed the Holy Thursday and Good Friday services in good voice, and with the Easter Vigil service tomorrow night and the Easter Sunday mass, we complete our liturgies before we depart for Italy. Test videos from these services will be posted to the website next week, to ensure that we can send back videos from our performances in Italy. Have a happy Easter!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Music, Seat Assignments, and April 5 Meeting

The Choir group is working hard finalizing the repertoire and polishing the music that we will perform on the the tour. We have had two extended practices in the last week, along with preparing all of the music for the upcoming Easter Triduum. We will get in a couple of practices the week between Easter and our departure on April 21 to put a "final polish" on our tour music. We hope that our fellow tour participants and our Italian guests will enjoy our efforts.

Our flight seat assignments have been made by the tour company. We will distribute a list FYI soon. Bring your American Airlines frequent flyer number to the airport if you want FF credit for these flights.

Our final predeparture meeting will be 1-3 pm on Sunday, April 5. We will discuss tour details and questions and packing tips and gather emergency contact and insurance information. Please let us know if you have any questions in the interim, at


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blog Kickoff

Good morning!

This is the first entry in the blog that will allow you to follow the adventures of the Visitation Parish Choir Tour Group from Kansas City, Missouri, as we set off for our tour of Italy April 21-30, 2009. We will post tour information, photos, and hopefully videos of performances as we prepare for our departure and travel throughout central Italy. Check back periodically for more information!