Libertyville High School choir to sing at Vatican
With vinyl flooring, institutional fluorescent lighting and cinder block walls, the little choir room at Libertyville High School is a humble venue.
That mattered little Thursday afternoon to choir members, who assembled for an impromptu performance in advance of a big show Sunday on a much grander scale.
The group of 20 boys and 62 girls will sing four songs during Sunday Mass at the Papal Basilica of St. Peter, commonly known as St. Peter's Basilica, the monumental and historic Catholic Church in Vatican City.
"It's so exciting, especially because we're going to sing in the Vatican," said senior Morgan Epperson, an alto in the group. "We couldn't have a better experience."
About 200 students are involved in choir at Libertyville High School and are given the opportunity every two years during spring break to go on a trip at their own expense.
Previous excursions, as selected by Jeffrey Brown, director of choirs at Libertyville High, have included Austria and England.
"Is there a rich history of musical cultures and is it a place kids want to go?" he said of the criteria.
His choice of Italy for this year's trip generated the largest turnout in his 10 years at the school. But even he was floored when he learned the itinerary included St. Peter's as one of three locations where the choir would perform.
"They sent me a random e-mail about three months ago," he said of Witte Travel & Tours of Grand Rapids, Mich. "I almost fell out of my chair."
Pope Benedict XVI is not scheduled to be there.
"That was the first question I asked," Brown said.
The company has contacts in Italy, who communicate with the music staff at the Vatican.
"Jeff didn't even think it was in the realm of possibility," said Jane Larson, manager of the performance tour division of the tour company.
The connections helped, but it was the choir's talent and Brown's preparation of music for the Lenten season that sealed the deal, she added.
"I wouldn't have even made the request if I didn't know they were up to the challenge," Larson said.
Brown was required to submit a formal letter to the Vatican's "maestro" and list the songs that would be done if they were allowed to sing there. There were no objections.
"It has to be appropriate for the time of the Catholic calendar," explained Kevin Kahover, a senior who sings bass.
"It's a really exciting time to be in choir. We're really lucky," Epperson said.
The four song selections, which are well known in chorus circles are: "If Ye Love Me"; "Adoramus Te Christe"; "Down to the River to Pray"; and, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You".
Choir members also will perform hourlong concerts at Montecatini near Florence and at Mestre outside Venice, Brown said.
Choirs allowed to perform at the Vatican usually are scheduled for weekdays, Larson said, and it is "quite an honor" for Libertyville to sing at a Sunday Mass.
"It's going to be pretty amazing," Brown agreed.
He said the trip has historical and educational benefits.
"It can be a life changing experience, getting to go and being part of all that history," he said.
Senior Martin Benion, a tenor in the group, said his father gave him some advice for the trip.
"He said, `Take in everything.'"