East Hampton High School Choral Group Prepares To Sing in Italy, Vatican This Spring

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The Camerata singers at East Hampton High School rehearse all year for a chance to shine on stage, but this spring they will sing at one of the most renowned locations in the world—St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

The audition-only group, composed of 28 students from sophomores to seniors at the public school, earned the opportunity to sing abroad after wowing a travel company, Encore Tours of Boston, with an audition tape it recorded last spring. Encore works with choral ensembles of all sizes to arrange performances in “dynamic venues” intended to highlight each group’s strengths.

It will be the first opportunity for East Hampton students to travel internationally on a music-specific trip, according to Vocal Director David Douglas, who said last week that in his 18 years at the school, no music group has performed overseas.

“It’s something I had thought about doing for awhile,” he said. “This year’s group is one of the nicest, most interesting and talented groups I’ve worked with in a long time.”

If he had to pick a group to spend the school’s one-week spring break in April with, this would be it, he said.

To date, the Vatican is the one confirmed performance venue for the singers, but they are still awaiting word on two more venues in Italy, for a total of three performances. One, like at St. Peter’s, will be part of a Roman Catholic Mass, but the other will be secular, said Mr. Douglas, who emphasized that, despite the religious significance of the Vatican, his choral ensemble is not a religious group.

The Camerata, which takes its name from a group of humanists, musicians, poets and intellectuals in late Renaissance Florence, includes a subset, the Belle Voci, which means “beautiful women’s voices” in Italian, Mr. Douglas said. The group of about 15 or 16 sopranos and altos sing selections written specifically for women’s voices and will do a program of their own on the trip.

The chance to sing on a world stage lends an even greater inspiration to the students’ rehearsals, said the director, who acknowledged that, during his phone interview, he began pacing the chorus room with excitement about the trip.

“As excited as we get about concerts in our auditorium,” he said, “having this goal this far in advance, it brings a kind of excitement and seriousness that is beyond what we normally get.”

Not only that, but the Camerata typically spends all year preparing to perform a program that lasts about 17 minutes. Now, with the upcoming trip, they will need more than an hour’s worth of music to perform, he said.

The trip will take place the week of spring break, from April 10 to 18, and will, of course, also include sightseeing.

“An opportunity like this—a trip, a tour and performances in three venues—just gives a wonderful focus to our efforts,” Mr. Douglas said, “so I am completely confident that we will have more than enough music for the performance.”

The trip comes with a price tag, however. Mr. Douglas estimated the cost to be close to $4,000 per student.

“Ideally, we’d raise as much as we possibly could, so that no student is financially broken by the trip,” he said, noting that the group has received some donations and will also hold some upcoming fundraisers, including one at Bostwick’s Chowder House on November 4. That event will include silent and Chinese auctions, as well as light snacks and a cash bar. Through the tour company, the group is able to raffle off a four-night vacation for two to Paris, including airfare, and the students’ families are selling $20 tickets for the raffle. The drawing will take place during a performance the first weekend of March.

In addition to the performances, the students will spend time in the historic cities of Rome and Florence and the town of Assisi. They will also slip into the countryside to tour the Cinque Terre, a rugged portion of the coast on the Italian Riviera, before completing their trip in Venice—where they will take a gondola trip under a full moon.

The tour guides, Mr. Douglas said, will be wonderful. “It will be a combination of history and culture that you don’t get from just reading a book or even watching a good documentary,” he said. “You smell the smells and hear the sounds for yourself. You eat the fruit.”

Caoimhe McKean, a senior and alto, said the trip means a lot to her.

“Singing these songs in a place as musically and visually magical as Italy will be an irreplaceable experience,” she said. “I am not religious, but the fact that we will sing at St. Peter’s gives me goosebumps.”

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