As more of the group members arrived at the fountain, the song grew in volume. A crowd formed around the group, singing in front of the Pantheon’s fountain. When Tennessee Tech University’s Chorale finished the song, the gathered crowd demanded that the impromptu concert continue.
It turned into one of about 10 unplanned concerts by the university’s premier vocal group during its 8-day tour of Italy. When the singers left the U.S., they had two concerts and two masses on the itinerary.
“I knew we would sing but I didn’t expect that many concerts,” said junior and Chorale vice president Dillon James, of Cookeville. “Some of the places we sang – and I was glad we sang in them – but it was like, ‘Oh, we’re singing here? OK.’ Any cathedral we walked into, we would ask if we could sing and they always said yes.”
The Chorale, which has about 50 members, has not toured internationally for six years, but has performed around Tennessee, in Washington, D.C., and in Florida.
“Traveling abroad is the unwritten rule of all prestigious choral programs at the college level,” said Craig Zamer, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities at TTU. “When I traveled with my college choir, we did a trip to Austria. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my college career and I wanted my students to have that same experience.”
Zamer says he plans to institute international trips for Chorale at least once every four years, so every student member will have the chance to go overseas before graduation.
Five faculty members and 43 students visited Florence, Rome, Siena, Milan, Venice, Verona, Montecatini and Marcon, Italy. They performed in most of those cities, as well as during a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and another at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
Between concerts – planned and unplanned – the group explored the cities, visited museums and historic sites, and ate lots of pistachio gelato.
“The tour guides were really good at throwing in names of people the students knew from music history,” said Diane Pulte, associate professor of voice and one of the group’s chaperones. “This trip was the best music history lesson they’d ever had.”
The trip marked the first time most of the students had traveled overseas, Pulte said.
Fundraisers cut the students’ costs by at least a third, Zamer said. Support came from CD sales, a benefit concert at Cookeville’s St. Thomas Aquinas Church and donations from the university, including the president’s office, the study abroad office, the College of Education and the music department.
“It was my first time overseas and I definitely want to do it again,” said James, a journalism student. “When you see something in a movie, you expect it to be like the movie. This time, it exceeded the movies.
“The handwave that Italians do, that actually happens. They say ‘mama mia’ all the time.”
Beyond seeing the churches and hometowns of some of Italy’s famous composers, the trip brought the students together as a vocal ensemble and improved their pronunciation when singing in Italian.
“They sounded good throughout the year, but there’s something about taking a group on tour that changes them as people and as an ensemble,” Zamer said. “I can teach them the notes, I can teach them the music. There’s something about touring, the camaraderie, the esprit de corps, that brings these people together.
“When that can occur, it makes the ensemble better.”