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Concert Choir to perform in Sistine Chapel, other historic venues in Italy

| Judy Berthiaume

Nearly 70 Blugolds will sing in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City on New Year’s Eve, a performance that will be part of an international tour that will take UW-Eau Claire’s Concert Choir to Italy this winter.

As part of its “American Celebration of Music in Italy” tour, the choir will sing a sacred song on Dec. 31 in the Sistine Chapel, a chapel known worldwide for its Renaissance art, especially the ceiling painted by Michelangelo.

“I’m most excited for the students to perform in the Sistine Chapel, which is an artistic masterpiece and a place of important religious activity,” Dr. Gary Schwartzhoff, conductor of the Concert Choir, said of the upcoming tour. “During past tours, our students have found it to be a very moving experience.”

While in Vatican City, the students will visit the Sala Nervi for the weekly Papal Audience, where Schwartzhoff hopes the choir also will have the opportunity to sing.

During the 11-day tour, the UW-Eau Claire choir will sing in several more of Italy’s most historic venues, including the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars Minor, commonly known as the Franciscan Order.

“I am very excited to sing in the historic venues,” said Annie Jackson, a senior music education-choral major from La Crescent, Minn., who will be among the 66 Blugolds performing in Italy. “I also look forward to conversing with the locals and learning about their culture. I am so grateful for these opportunities to travel and learn from different cultures.”

This will be Jackson’s second time performing in Italy but her first time as a Blugold.

“I’d visited Italy my sophomore year of high school with a choir and never thought I would get the opportunity to return,” said Jackson, who currently serves as the president of Concert Choir. “I’m eager to see Italy through the eyes of a 22-year-old versus a 16-year-old.”

Representing the university in Italy as a member of the Concert Choir is particularly meaningful because the choir played a big role in her decision to attend UW-Eau Claire, Jackson said.

“I sat in on a rehearsal as a prospective student and knew I wanted to come to Eau Claire from that,” Jackson says. “I loved the empathy given to each song. It was unlike anything I've seen or heard.”

Her experiences with the Concert Choir and the Blugold music program have lived up to her expectations, Jackson says.

“Being a part of Concert Choir has given me unique opportunities that I would not get anywhere else,” said Jackson. “And I’ve met people whose interests differ from mine but we all have a common passion: music.”

Some members of the Concert Choir are music majors, but many are not. While their academic interests are varied, all the students in the choir share a love for performing, Schwartzhoff said.

Planning for the upcoming tour has been under way for many months, said Schwartzhoff, who has previously taken the Concert Choir and The Singing Statesmen to perform in Italy.

“The Concert Choir has worked on scores for the past two years in preparation for a tour of this magnitude,” Schwartzhoff said. “We are incorporating repertoire that we have gained through guest artists and composers who have come to UW-Eau Claire to work with the ensemble.”

During the upcoming tour, Jackson is most looking forward to singing "Oft Have I Vowed" by Vijay Singh.

“This piece was one of the last we learned, but quickly became my favorite,” Jackson said. “The emotion and intensity put in to each note by the choir is something I will never forget.”

Performing in Italy — a place that attracts people from around the globe — during the holiday season will make the experience that much more powerful for the students, Schwartzhoff says.

“I’m excited for our students to have the opportunity to perform for people from across the world who will be in Italy during the holiday season,” Schwartzhoff said. “In addition to singing for them, these students also will have opportunities to speak with many of them following our concerts. Our world gets just a little smaller and more understanding through performance tours like this one.”

The Concert Choir is one of six ensembles that are part of UW-Eau Claire’s choral program, a program whose popularity has contributed to the university being recognized as “Wisconsin’s Singing University.” 

Throughout its history, the Concert Choir has performed at prestigious national venues such as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., and has participated in eight performing tours in Europe. The choir, which has released five CDs, also has worked with nationally known orchestras, and collaborated with prominent composers and conductors.

The Concert Choir will begin its Italy tour on Dec. 28.