A group of middle and high school choir students have spent the last year getting ready for what may be the biggest concert of their lives: An appearance at the Vatican in Rome.
WCAI’s Kathryn Eident visited a rehearsal at St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis as students prepared for a performance in one of the world’s holiest places scheduled for later this month.
Seventy students gather in the school’s auditorium in Hyannis, seated in front of a piano onstage. The middle and high school students had to rush through their lunch period, many eating at their seats, to be here for this rehearsal.
The choir spends hours both during and after school each week practicing selections from a range of time periods. Next week, they’ll show off their work when they sing during two Masses at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican during a nine-day tour of performances in Italy. In all, some 90 people are going, including parent-chaperones, teachers and 61 members of the choir.
18-year-old Senior Mikayla Barreiro has been in the choir since she was a freshman and says she’s thrilled to have the opportunity to sing in Rome.
“We’re doing this one song, and it’s a really difficult song, but it was literally written to be performed in one of the churches we’ll be performing at,” she said. “So, it’s worth it.”
The trip to the Vatican is more than a year in the making. Choir Director Richard Fish said he and the school’s Chaplain reached out to the Vatican choir maestro about visiting the famous church and perhaps performing in part of one Mass. They sent a CD of songs they recorded professionally, and began to wait.
“Americans are much less patient than Italians are in Rome. In Rome, they perhaps move at a different pace than we do,” Fish said. “We wanted to be careful to not be annoying Americans.”
It took the maestro months to get back to them, but the wait was worth it. Not only did he like what he heard, the maestro booked the choir for two Masses.
“It was kind of a harmonic convergence of the choir being able to demonstrate that it was competent and then having the nod be given,” he said.
Fish does not require the students to have any prior singing or musical experience. There are no auditions for this choir; students just need to be willing to show up and put in the work.
“Other people look at them and think we’re some sort of choir school [because] they’re such talented students—and they are talented—but they’re just regular students,” he said. “Anyone who wants to learn, we will teach them. We will bring them along; it can be done.”
That doesn’t mean Fish is easy on the kids.
“The musical term I would use is being on the edge of their technique,” he said. “They’re seeing some very complicated music, and it needs time to sink in and resonate within them. Then they can start to put it together.”
The students don’t shy away from the challenge, either. Senior Xin Sarah Xia is one of several students from China who attend the school full-time. For Xia, the choir gives her a chance to learn about a new culture, pick up yet another language—in this case, Latin—and even socialize a little.
“It’s actually fun and it’s an opportunity to make friends,” she said.
The choir is a popular extracurricular; out of 270 students at the high school, 70 are in the choir.
For Junior Michael Carlowicz, the choir has become a second family.
“We really rely on each other. I like to compare it to a sports team, where you’re only as good as your weakest link, but we’re all pulling each other forward,” he said. “It requires a lot of effort, but it’s not necessarily hard because we’re all working together to build each other up.”
In the meantime, Choir Director Richard Fish is pushing his students to put all they’ve got into making their upcoming performance at the Vatican the experience of a lifetime.
The choir leaves for Italy February 23.