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!