Northwestern Press

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
PRESS PHOTO BY KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMSEmmaus High School Chorale and Chorale director Rita Cortez in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City. PRESS PHOTO BY KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMSEmmaus High School Chorale and Chorale director Rita Cortez in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City.

Emmaus High School Chorale to sing in Sistine Chapel

Friday, April 12, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

On April 23, two days after Easter, the Emmaus High School Chorale will become one of the select few choirs to sing at the renowned Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Italy.

The rare opportunity will take place during the Chorale’s concert tour to Italy during Holy Week.

“There is not a place in Italy that is more significant,” says Chorale director Rita Cortez. “You’re not even supposed to talk when you go there because it’s such a holy place and it’s visually stunning. I can’t wait for the Chorale to sing in there.”

Cortez says Music Celebrations International, through which the tour was arranged, is only allowed to recommend three choirs a year. She says she submitted a recording of the Chorale performing and a list of repertoire before being approved to sing.

The Sistine Chapel, known for its ceiling painted by Michelangelo, is one of the holiest sites of the Roman Catholic Church and is where the pope is chosen.

Emmaus High School Principal Kate Kieres says she is excited that the Chorale members will have “the once-in-a-lifetime chance to perform in venues with deep tradition and historical significance.”

The trip is April 14-23, departing by bus to JFK Airport, New York. Accompanying the 53 young men and women in the Chorale, are 33 teachers and parents.

The Chorale has six scheduled performances.

The Chorale will sing during mass April 17 at Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy, and attend a Papal mass in St. Peter’s Square Easter morning April 21.

The Chorale will sing during a mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Easter Monday April 22 and will present a concert at Sant’ Andrea della Valle, the basilica in Rome made famous in the opera “Tosca,” on Easter evening April 21.

It’s the fourth time the Chorale is on a concert tour of Italy, although it is the first time the group will sing at the Sistine Chapel.

“Ms. Cortez has a long history of conducting high-quality international vocal music trips for the students at Emmaus High School,” Kieres says. “While in Italy, our students will have the opportunity to experience the culture and language of the country, and tour important historical sites.”

The Chorale has sung in many notable venues in the United States, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Carnegie Hall, all New York City.

Two years ago, the Chorale did a concert tour of France and Germany, singing at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Normandy Beach, and Sainte-Chapelle.

Cortez says she started taking the Chorale on biennial international concert tours in 2007. The choir also has been to Greece, Switzerland and Czech Republic.

Cortez says Italy is, by far, her favorite.

“They have such great venues and churches all over the place,” she says. “Their churches are musically significant and have great acoustics. And they are beautiful to sing in.”

She says she also is excited about the students being able to attend an Easter service at which Pope Francis will give the universal blessing, which he only does twice a year.

There also will be time for sightseeing in storied places like Venice, Florence, Verona, Cinque Terre and Lake Como. But every stop also gives the Chorale an opportunity to sing.

“My favorite singing is when they sing on the street,” Cortez says. “A crowd forms and everyone starts videotaping them. In Italy over Easter, it will not be hard to get a crowd.”

She says some of the places she plans to have the students sing while in Rome, include on the Spanish Steps, a stairway of 174 steps; at the Piazza Ippolito Nievo public square, and in the Pantheon, a former Roman temple that is now a church.

Cortez says she wants the Chorale to sing in a circle under the Oculus, an opening to the sky in the Pantheon’s concrete dome.

Other concerts and impromptu singing are also planned during the 10-day trip, which will include a short stop in Switzerland.

“For many of our students, this will be their first time traveling abroad, and we hope that it sparks in them both enhanced curiosity about other cultures and a lifelong interest in travel,” Kieres says.

For Cortez, the best part is watching the students “have the best time,” but ultimately, “it’s the singing.”