Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 9
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
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Princeton High School Choir Wows Audiences In Catalonia With Music and Language Skills

Ellen Gilbert

“One pastor said that the walls of his church would never be the same after being touched by our music,” reported Princeton High School (PHS) Choir Associate Director Sarah Pelletier, describing just one of the many appreciative comments the group received on its recent tour to the region of Catalonia, Spain.

“What surprised us most was the reception we received in each city,” added Ms. Pelletier. “Having our students being ambassadors of music and art is a longstanding tradition,” added District Fine and Performing Arts Supervisor Patrick Lenihan.

With eight faculty chaperones, including choir director Vincent Metallo and Ms. Pelletier, the itinerary, which included stops in Barcelona, Girona, and El Vendrell, was carefully planned. This did not preclude some spontaneous changes: early in the trip Mr. Metallo reported via email that “a quick sing” in the “glorious acoustic” of the Sancta Maria de Mar Cathedral in Barcelona “turned out to be a little more: we were asked to stay and sing the entire mass!”

This was the first time that the choir, which this year consists of 82 singers, visited a Spanish speaking country. Although many of the choir students are fluent in Spanish, the Catalan language is quite different, and two Catalonian students in the choir, along with affiliates from Princeton University, assisted with language preparation.

The Catalonians were especially appreciative of the two full songs the choir sang in Catalan, reported Ms. Pelletier. She recalled actually hearing students discussing the differences between traditional Spanish and Catalan. “Audiences thought we were a college choir, and were amazed to hear we were from a public high school.”

An evening concert at the Petit Palau drew another standing ovation for the choir. PHS Spanish teacher Luis Lavado, who served as videographer and translator on the tour, listened carefully to audience remarks. “It was the classical ‘bravos’ and much more,” he later reported. “The audiences were so impressed that the students were fluent in the inflections of both the Spanish and Catalan languages. The feeling was contagious throughout the tour.” 

“It was a great experience singing in different places,” said PHS senior Rebecca Beissinger, an alto. “Different buildings had different sounds, and different crowds had different responses.”

Emails and texts during the course of the trip kept those at home abreast of the group’s successes. Describing a concert at the Terrassa Music School Conservatory, Mr. Metallo wrote that the audience “rose to their feet at the end of the Gospel set.”

What with the day’s earlier command performance at the church and this successful concert, celebritydom was theirs. “By now word of the church performance earlier in that day had also spread to Barcelona proper,” reported parent Lisa Paine. It reached the most widely viewed television news station in Barcelona, which asked to film the choir’s next concert in the Petit Palau and to interview the students and directors. The choir’s four student officers were selected for promotional interviews; David Dunlap, ’11, commented on the honor of performing in a major city like Barcelona and Nathan Prior, ’11, noted his appreciation of performing in the Petit Palau, known as the Carnegie Hall of Barcelona. Emefa Agawu, ’11, fielded questions in a six minute interview about the international power of music and the history of the PHS Choir tours. In interviews in both English and Spanish, Evan Paine, ’11 spoke of the choir’s pleasure in experiencing the beautiful Catalonian region.

In his own interview, Director Metallo explained how much the students had grown by performing with international host choirs in a variety of venues, from concert halls to churches, and from being immersed in a cultural experience alive with art, architecture, and music. Indeed, the group did not waste a minute: fresh off their overnight flight to Barcelona, the students spent their first day exploring Barcelona’s old town, guided by Firebird Fine Arts Tours, the choir’s educational tour agent for almost two decades.

The choir has traveled abroad for a number of years, performing for audiences in Sweden (2007); Prague and Dresden (2005); Budapest and Vienna (2003); and Russia and Germany (2001). Self-funded, the group relies on contributors, this year including 120 private donors and community business, three “angels”, former choir alumni, staff, teachers, parents, friends, and businesses who made financial contributions as well as donations toward the design of the program, photos, and food for fundraising events. “We are grateful that this community embraces the PHS Choir with unfailing support,” observed Mr. Lenihan.

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