Choir makes music and memories in Italy

UNA’S Chamber Choir returned May 17 from an eight-day trip to Italy. They shared their vocal talents there in places such as The Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, and the largest church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

Senior choir member Jessica Rikard said while learning and memorizing 25 pieces of music was sometimes stressful, the hard work paid off.

“We were almost treated like royalty or celebrities in a way,” she said. “In Florence and Rome where we had our two big concerts there were flyers of us all around town. When we would spontaneously sing at various places, people would come up and ask us who we were and when our next concert was because they wanted to hear us.”

During one impromptu performance at the Pantheon, tourists gathered around the group with cell phones in hand to record the moment, said Director of Choral Activities Ian Loeppky. One video, filmed by a member of the choir’s tour group, has been viewed over 13,000 times.

Rikard said Loeppky’s drive and passion helped the choir prepare for this trip.

“He kept us grounded and aware of the big picture, the chance to share what we learned at UNA with an audience in Italy 5,000 miles away from home, and to show them what a choir from Alabama is capable of,” she said.

The university’s administration also contributed to the trip, Loeppky said.

Though the group held several fundraisers throughout the year, UNA’s administration covered half of the expenses for their fourth international trip, he said.

“We are so very thankful for UNA’s attention to our passion and love of what we do,” Rikard said.

Rikard said performing during the mass at St. Peter’s Basilica was a humbling experience and one of her favorite moments of the tour.

“As the mass ended, the priest said they typically recess out, but because of our sound he wanted to stay and listen to what we had selected for the recessional,” she said. “After we finished he shook the hands of several members and thanked us many times, describing our group as ‘Big Wonderful.’”

Loeppky wrote a piece earlier in the year that the choir performed for the first time at St. Peter’s.

That was the highlight of the trip for him, he said.

“The choir sang it really well,” he said. “I was proud of them.”

Senior Jessica Bailey said performing at the Pantheon was surreal.

“To be in a 2,000-year-old building and singing in such a holy place felt like we took a step back in time for a moment,” she said.

Graduate student Nick Murphy said he will never forget singing in the Pantheon.

“The space just came alive,” he said. “There were tears from our impromptu audience and appreciation from the people of the Pantheon.”

Loeppky said not all impromptu performances were met with such admiration.

A security guard at the ruins of the Coliseum asked the group to stop singing, Loeppky said.

“I was directing the choir and felt a tap on my shoulder,” he said.

Rikard said everyone was startled when it happened, but it gave them something to laugh about later.

There was more to the trip than just performing, Loeppky said.

“Along the way we had fantastic food,” he said.

The way foods like lasagna and pizza are cooked and served in America is not how they were intended to be done, he said.

“It was nice to see what the origins of those things were,” he said.

Rikard said eating authentic Italian cuisine and taking in the art and history of Italy added to the memories each student will take away from the trip.

“It was such an education for our students,” Loeppky said.

Murphy said the trip was a life-changing experience.

“We were able to sing in fantastic spaces with hundreds of years of history in them made by the visionaries of their time,” he said. “A small-time choir that has no business in Italy went and sang until our hearts were full.”

Rikard said being so well-received in a place so far from home was amazing.

“It was a great feeling and I hope we made UNA and those back home proud,” she said.