Voices Carry
Choral Scholars embark on a grand tour of Italy’s cathedrals, one song at a time
by Kelly Knufken

After singing high mass for a 600-member congregation, Choral Scholar members posed in front of the renowned bronze doors of Ghiberti’s “The Gates of Paradise” in Florence, Italy.

It was a great concept. Members of USD’s Choral Scholars would embark on a tour of Italy, performing pieces written for the cathedrals where they were singing. “There are no words to describe it,” says Paul Infantino, a senior who’s double-majoring in music and psychology. “It was amazing. We sang in every big church in Italy. We sang at the Vatican. We sang at the Mass of St. Peters.”

The tour was a way for Edwin Basilio, director of choral activities, to help the students connect with USD’s Catholic identity.

“From a learning perspective, most students go to Italy and study art and architecture. With choral music, you recreate the art each time you perform it. The art form is alive. All these things can go wrong — and they can go right. The goal is to perform the pieces in the style and performance practice of the time period from which they were written, in the structures for which they were written.”

Their performance tour included the Duomo in Milan; St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, where Bach was the choir master; and a school in Venice where Vivaldi was the composer in residence. At each stop, the students also served as ambassadors of USD, Basilio says.

“They do a fantastic job.”

For Infantino, it was some of the unscheduled performances that were the most memerable. The group would be touring a chapel, notice the amazing acoustics and just start singing in their street clothes.

“We would just stand in a circle, and Dr. Basilio would stand in the middle and conduct us, and we would just sing. It was crazy. It’s one mindset when you know you’re going to sing at a Mass. But it’s almost more spiritual or moving when you’re just in the moment and no one had planned it.”

One of those impromptu moments occurred when the group sang at a high school in Venice and heard a performance by that school’s choir. Afterward, the Italian high-schoolers and the USD choir members were talking “in broken English and broken Italian,” struggling to make a connection. But then, they hit on a language they all knew — song.

“We found a Spanish Christmas carol that both groups knew,” Infantino says. “That was really neat. That was just making the world smaller.”