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Italy Choir Tour Blog by Declan BoranRagotzy

Italy collage
“In praise of music now we sing for all the blessings she doth bring. Together now raise our voices high until the spirit of peace draw nigh.”

~Vocal warm-up by Dr. Kristina Boerger

  Prior To Trip   After signing up for the Visual and Performing Arts Department Italy Tour 2012, I didn’t quite know what to expect. We had three workshops throughout the 2011-2012 academic year, and discovered many interesting facts about the history of Italy and how art and music influenced life. As the end of the year approached, I knew I could expect one thing from this trip: it would give me a new perspective on life. This blog will try to portray the beauty that Italy possesses, but nothing can give proper respect to the impact Italy had on the individuals who participated in this trip.  
  Monday May 14, 2012:
The day before the trip

This day was filled with excitement, panic, nerves and joy. In less than 32 hours, the group would be on a plane headed to Italy. There was still a lot to do before the next day.

Last-minute errands ensued. Along with my mom and a friend, I shopped. Converters were needed for electronic devices, new pants were required for performances, and snacks were purchased so that we had something to munch on between meals.

Then packing began. Packing is always an interesting process. How will we fit everything in a suitcase and a carry-on and still be less than 50 pounds and 17 pounds, respectively? Repacking occurred more than once. Finally, it was complete.

The remainder of the night was spent with attempts at relaxation and controlling my nerves. I had dinner with very important people in my life. I wanted to spend some quality time with them before embarking on my adventure. It was crucial that I acknowledge the people who supported me in this endeavor; they were excited for me to start. Following dinner, my friend and I stopped at a delicious ice cream shop before watching TV. Finally it was off to bed to rest up for 11 more days of adventure.

  Tuesday May 15, 2012:
Day One

The anticipated day had finally arrived. Following breakfast, my friend and I rode the bus from Janesville, Wis., to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill. Each student on the trip was required to find a mode of transportation to the airport for departure.

As each member of the group trickled in, the excitement grew. We were assigned numbers to keep track of everyone. Then we had to get the tickets and pass through security. One student was selected for a search at the security checkpoint, which lasted quite some time. But by the time of boarding, everyone was accounted for and the enthusiasm was overwhelming.

On the plane, most of us were separated from one another. I felt fortunate because I had an aisle seat with extra leg room. There was only one thing to do: enjoy the ride as much as possible until our transfer in Frankfurt, Germany.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

  Wednesday May 16, 2012:
Day Two

At approximately 6:50 a.m., we arrived at Frankfurt Main International Airport. On our new plane we sat next to other members of the group.
After what seemed like a century, even though it was only a few hours, we reached our destination. We were met by Jonathon David, the composer of our new Stabat Mater, at the hotel. We put our luggage in a storage area and made our way to Venice.

Venice was certainly a sight to see. We split into groups and then departed from the Piazza Roma. I think many, if not all, of us were experiencing the side effects of jet lag. My group decided to take it easy and simply explore; the architecture was just outstanding! The beauty was so enticing. I was so thankful to be in a group that stopped to admire what was around us even if it was something simple like a hidden courtyard. The detail blew our minds.

We then headed to the Gallerie dell’Accademia for a walking orientation tour of Venice, led by Mr. Ivano Valentini. Once again, I was in awe. How was it possible to create buildings that still look magnificent many centuries later? I could tell this was only the start of an incredible journey.

When the tour ended, some decided to head back to the Hotel Ambasciatori because the side effects of jet lag were irresistible. Others pushed onward, me included. I had the experience of being slapped in the face by a pigeon; it was just a little embarrassing. We headed back to the Piazza Roma, stopping in shops to appreciate the handwork of local vendors.

When dinner was served, it came as a shock to many that pasta was just an appetizer and more food was to come. The main course included potatoes and chicken. The meal concluded with tiramisu.

  Thursday May 17, 2012:
Day Three

The day began with a great breakfast. There was fruit, cereal, croissants and much more. A highlight was Dr. Thomas Weis scarfing down 30 pieces of bacon.
Next, we rehearsed in the Tiepolo Room for our concert that evening at San Marco Basilica. The energy was high because this was our first performance and we wanted to sing the repertoire as best as possible.

Then we took the bus and ventured back out into Venice. The weather was absolutely perfect for sightseeing. Around noon we visited the Gallerie dell’Accademia, where we saw many portrayals of Madonna and the Annunciation. It was remarkable to see what I can only call masterpieces. I never imagined being in such awe, but the quality of these paintings was phenomenal. If you ever visit Italy, go there!

After lunch we visited the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the final burial place of composer Claudio Monteverdi. We quietly hummed Monteverdi’s piece from our repertoire. By the end, Dr. Boerger was in tears and everyone could feel the impact. What better way to pay homage to a composer then to sing it at his burial place and show that his music still has relevance today?

This was the defining moment when I knew something magical would happen on this trip. Seeing the influence of one man from many years ago makes me that much more eager to make a difference in the lives of others. I want to leave a positive legacy in the lives of people I meet. If the second day in Italy was already this thought provoking, what would the next week and a half be like?
That evening, we sang at San Marco Basilica. It was a humbling opportunity and I feel such gratitude to be a member of the group. One of the regular attendees stated that we were blessed with grace. To touch someone that much in less than one hour is so unreal to me.

Following a water taxi ride through Venice and a bus ride to the hotel, it was time for much-needed sleep.

Following a water taxi ride through Venice and a bus ride back to the Hotel, it was time for much needed sleep.

  Friday May 18, 2012:
Day Four

It was hard to believe it was only Friday; so much had happened in the past three days! We boarded a bus with driver Henry, who was absolutely fantastic.
Around lunch time, we stopped at a quaint town called Ravenna. My group decided to visit Dante’s Tomb. Dante Alighieri is considered to be “the divine poet” and the author of the “Divine Comedy.” It was curious to take notice of the layout of his burial place because his tomb was furthest away from the “eternal light.”

Then we stopped at a fresh fruit market. The strawberries, radishes, cherries and green beans were absolutely divine. It made for a marvelous and healthy lunch. As much as I love Italian food, nothing can beat fresh fruit and vegetables. With a little extra time, a few of us stopped at a local restaurant. I had an ice cream dessert while others used the time to Skype with family. Then it was back on the bus to Todi.

When we arrived, we took our luggage and marched up a slight hill to the Monastero. We had to sign in, but I was registered with my middle name, Francis.
Dinner was a unique experience. We were seated in a square around the outside of the dinner room and nuns brought the food to us. An impromptu performance occurred for a group of people from Virginia and the night ended with a bang.

  Saturday May 19, 2012:
Day Five

We made our way to the Teatro della Concordia, a 99-seat theater that is the smallest in the world. We learned the history of the theater then performed one of the songs from our repertoire onstage. Then we spread out in the seats, stage and booths to sing another song. The exquisite woodwork in the theater was stunning. It was so intimate and was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

My group ate at a place called Pane e Vino which was a spectacular local restaurant. Not only was the service first class, but the food and drink tasted as if it were from heaven itself. It was one of the most magnificent feasts in my life. I definitely recommend stopping there if in Todi, Italy.

Our rehearsal was at San Fortunato, which has incredible ceilings. I realized just how beautiful these churches in Italy were. It is hard to grasp the idea that many people worked to finish these gorgeous buildings, but were never alive to see the completed work. Can you imagine dedicating your whole life to one project and never seeing the impact?

Back at the Monastero, Professor Ann Gibb lectured about St. Francis of Assisi. This was very interesting to me because I am named after St. Francis. I learned a lot and definitely made connections and found similarities between us.

The concert at San Fortunato was so inspirational; the acoustics were great and everyone seemed to play off each other’s energy. Afterwards, we were handed gifts to remember Todi. They were appreciated but in no way necessary to remember such an extraordinary town.

  Sunday May 20, 2012:
Day Six

Breakfast was little sad because we had to say goodbye to the people from Virginia; their company was enjoyable. We then made our way into Todi for one last time.

Although many places were closed until church was completed, the beauty of the buildings was still evident. One church had a remarkable organ. On the bus to the other side of town, Henry handed over the microphone and we did our own rendition of “Soul Train.” We looked at shops and ate dinner as the only people in a small restaurant.

Then it was back to the bus to Collevalenza. We arrived at Casa del Pellegrino and changed into our concert blacks for our participation in mass and our concert. The sanctuary where we sang was inspiring; the stained glass windows were beyond beautiful. Once again, the question of how anyone could create such beauty ran through my mind.

  Monday May 21, 2012:
Day Seven

We visited family-run Zazzerra Winery, which was a great stopping place even with the downpour of rain. We took a quick tour before going into the house to sample a few wines. In addition to food and drink, we learned some of the secrets of maintaining this type of establishment and the obstacles one faces; the perseverance needed to compete with faster making wine celeries is outstanding. After an appetizingly educational experience, it was time to head to Assisi.

Assisi was absolutely stunning! It seemed like a picture from a fairy tale book. As the birthplace of my patron saint, I knew this place would change me the most. I was named after St. Francis because I was born near Christmas and he was the creator of the nativity scene. Here, I spent time with Dr. Boerger and other faculty members and somehow was named tour guide. If I can do it at Carroll, why not in Italy, right?

Our first stop was the Papal Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. This basilica was unquestionably beautiful. All the detail in the murals, portraits and statues was simply mind-blowing. One of the highlights was seeing all of the different ways an artist can depict a human. I always look at a painting or statue and think of the inspirational story for the art itself. There were many stories created that day.

We then decided to climb all the way up the Medieval Castle. This was a real trial for me; the gravel was uneven and because of my disability, it made it exceedingly more difficult to climb up. In the end, I reached the top and all of the hard work was rewarded. I was so grateful I had persisted. The view was indescribable. At the top of the castle, I confirmed my belief that the only way to make such beauty in the world is to be the best human being you can possibly be.

  Tuesday May 22, 2012:
Day Eight

Already in Siena, we were able to sleep in until 9 a.m. I was happy to decrease some of my sleep debt; it had accumulated greatly during the trip.

We went shopping at local street vendors’ shops, then paid 13 euro to see the Torre del Mangia and the connected museum. The Torre del Mangia is more than 290 feet high and reaching the top required entering claustrophobic spaces. With every step going higher and higher, my heart beat faster and faster. This was a remarkable view when I reached the top. It made me feel like I was a flying bird looking at a terrifically constructed town that had so much history and life.

The museum provided information on the city of Siena with paintings and sculptures. One object still vivid in my mind is a sign. The sign stated to not sit in a certain area, but the way it was translated read, “Please do not sit on the choir!” It was quite comical.

We made a brief visit to the Enoteca Italiana for some antipasti and then made our way to the Chiesa Valdese Siena. This was the smallest place we performed but that didn’t stop us from delivering an amazing concert following a local group, the Gruppo Polifonico Madrigalisti Senesi.

We concluded the night with a potluck provided by members of the church and Madrigal Choir. Once again, it was so humbling to hear how our music inspired the audience members.

  Wednesday May 23, 2012:
Day Nine

We rode the bus to our final destination: Florence. My group decided to enjoy some quality time at lunch. I ordered macaroni with rabbit and the flavor was electrifying; it was by far the best meal of my life.

We went to the Galleria dell’Accademia, and I saw the statue of David in close enough proximity to touch it. The Galleria also offered artwork by Francis Bacon, a statue of a weeping artist that actually had tear drops from his eye. It was touching to think that someone could be so inspired by art and music that the only thing they knew to do was cry…cry for the rest of eternity.

Our final rehearsal was at Holy Trinity Church. I think it hit a chord with many of us. This trip was more than an opportunity to explore Italy, but a chance to offer our gifts to an audience, using our singing abilities to bring joy and peace to others and share these memories together like one big happy family.

After a lovely dinner provided by the church, we went our separate ways until the concert. Some of us stayed behind. Three of us had a wonderful conversation with a member of the church who had moved to Italy from America. She discussed how even in a place with so much beauty, problems still occur.

This was an eye-opening conversation. I am so thankful that the woman spoke so openly about the lifestyle and culture she experienced. It really clarified the fact that everyone needs assistance and happiness in their life. A way to accomplish this task is by wearing a smile and showing compassion to each individual I meet during my lifetime. This was the best part of the trip; hearing a testimony from another human being who was so willing to be vulnerable and tell her stories.

After what was already an emotional evening, we had our final performance in Italy. The simple act of us all holding hands and singing cannot begin to demonstrate the effect of Italy.

As I was falling asleep, I knew there was only one more day this family would spend together and I needed to make the most out of it.

  Thursday May 24, 2012:
Day Ten

Breakfast consisted of the best beans, mushrooms and eggs I had ever tasted. These last 24 hours in Italy would definitely be spectacular.

Our first destination was the Uffizi Gallery. The ceilings were filled with paintings, and to take it all in, one would leave with a terribly sore neck. Visiting the gallery was a great ending to the morning.

After lunch, my group made a brief stop at the Duomo, a cathedral. It was outstanding. The detail on the outside of the building was superb, not to mention the inside. Then we window shopped and found a leather store with great discounts.

Back at the hostel, we went to the pool for some cool fun. Some of us tried our skills at water dancing and synchronized swimming.

Our final dinner as a family was great pasta for an appetizer, potatoes and shish-kebabs for main course, and some gelato for dessert. What a fantastic last supper!

We ended the night on the dance floor; it was a party. What better way to celebrate than to let loose and dance like it’s the last night of the world?

  Friday June 1, 2012:
The Aftermath

Wow! It’s been a week since I arrived back home from the trip and the life lessons I learned are still vivid in my mind.

  1. Spanish is not useful in Italy; I used it maybe seven times with actual success.
  2. Family is not blood; family is people who care about you and make you question and change your view on life. Thank you to all the members of VPA Italy 2012!
  3. Beauty can be found in simple things and places; something as plain as a shadow across a building can make a lasting memory.
  4. Always have a smile; it’s the thing that people can look at for hope when all they see is despair.
  5. Don’t rush through the day; Italians spend at least an hour and a half eating a meal. Take time to appreciate and have quality time with the people in your life.
  6. Always push and fight the obstacles in your way; only then can you witness the most beautiful of things.
  7. Always remember positive memories when you feel alone or defeated. Memories can transport you to a great place in your life and make you grateful for every sorrow and joy…just like music and art.
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