Looming over Vatican City lies the Sistine Chapel, a holy architectural masterpiece that no choir has been given permission to perform in for more than a decade.
The Davis Madrigal Choir has broken that record.
“As soon as we stepped into the Sistine Chapel, we could tell the whole atmosphere was just very serene and sacred,” Madrigal senior Mandy Chen said, “so just the fact that we were given the opportunity to sing in the room was incredible.”
This rare opportunity was provided by Italywithus.com, a company that arranges tours in the Vatican. According to Geraldine Torney, a Vatican tour operator, this occasion has been one of the few times since the Renaissance that a choir has sung in the Sistine Chapel.
Madrigals director Karen Gardias recalls feeling awed after she saw her students touch the lives of complete strangers.
“After we finished performing in the Sistine Chapel and Santa Maria del Popolo, there were women so visibly shaken by the music that they needed to hug and kiss me,” Gardias said. “It was obvious to (my students) that they could make a difference in the lives of others through music.”
The Madrigals also provided a community outreach for disabled children during their short trip to Italy.
“I remember one lady who was sobbing, a random stranger completely in tears at our voices,” Madrigal junior Abby Soler said. “It was heart-wrenching to see how our voices could affect people we didn’t know.”
Besides performing, the Madrigals also learned and tried new things, partaking in many unusual experiences. For two days, the choir stayed in an abbey where they learned Gregorian chants from a monk.
“Many people were worried before we got to the abbey because there was no Wi-Fi and cell service, there wouldn’t be enough food or because they thought the rooms would be too simple,” Chen said. “But when we got there, the abbey was beautiful and peaceful, and it was good to get away from the city … and we learned so much.”
Included on the itinerary was a day trip to Sorrento, a chance to see the sights in Rome, shopping and a lot of gelato tasting. What most of the Madrigals valued the highest, however, were the lessons they learned on musicality.
“I think this experience really reinforced the idea that you have to put emotion and meaning between the music you sing or play,” Chen said. “Focusing more on the words, and even in the simplest sense like putting the stress on a certain syllable … elevates your music to an entirely different level. That’s a lesson I will always remember, and I think it’s made me a better musician.”
Proud of her students, Gardias believes the Madrigals improved greatly during their short time in Italy.
“The group really gained momentum on the trip. They were much more cohesive as a group and in their sound as well,” Gardias said. “Once they spent more time together, they were able to make the music come alive.”
By the end of the nine memorable days, emotions were running high. Madrigal junior Zachery Hertz reminiscences on the final days.
“When we gave our final concert, about half the choir and some of the parents started tearing up,” Hertz said.
For Soler, whose family holds a long line of former Madrigals, the final concert seemed like the goal that she had been trying to attain since a child.
“In the end of the trip, I could not believe that I had just sung with the choir that I had always wanted to be with since I was a kid,” Soler said. “I’ve wanted to be a Madrigal for so long … I was so grateful to everyone.”
For Gardias, the Italy trip meant the generosity of many people, the warmth and welcome of the Italian audiences and the lifelong friendships made.
“I consider it to be the gift of a lifetime,” Gardias said.