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This Week at CCSU

Volare! University Singers Release CD to Commemorate Spanish Tour

Volare, in Italian means “to fly.” Last spring, the University Singers and their director, Professor of Music Pamela Perry, embarked on a thrilling and historic journey to Spain. During this tour, the 19-member choir—all full-time students at CCSU— deeply grasped the difference between, as one student put it, “learning and living our music.”

The University Singers lived their music in the towering and reverberant cathedrals in Avila and El Escorial Monastery, outside of Madrid. They performed works by Spanish composer Tomas Victoria who lived in Avila 450 years ago. Perry recalls, “When we finished singing Victoria’s compositions in the cathedral, students were actually weeping. We understood so much more about the music.” Perry explains, “I can stand in Welte Hall and teach technical aspects of the music and the students do their best; but some students, after singing Victoria’s music in the cathedral, said, ‘I get it, I get it for the first time.’”

With chills and goose bumps, and confidence that comes from hours of rehearsal, the members of the choir performed their repertoire in universities, cathedrals, and churches throughout central Spain.

In Madrid, hundreds wrapped around a city block, awaiting entrance to a sacred music festival that included the University Singers. “We were expecting an average turnout,” says Andy Degan, a junior and tenor in the choir. However, inside the baroque church people spilled out into the aisles, sitting on the floor just yards away from Perry’s feet while she conducted.

Senior Kaylah Smith remembers feeling “nerves, adrenaline, everything!” Perry, who founded the University Singers 19 years ago, led the choir through the concert of sacred music and the awe-filled audience erupted in applause that persisted for minutes in hope that the choir would continue to sing.

“It’s unbelievable how much appreciation the people [in Spain] have for music,” Degan reflects; “There were people who followed us from one performance to another.” The mutual appreciation between the University Singers and Spanish audiences unfolded daily throughout the tour, perhaps most memorably during an impromptu performance inside the basilica at El Escorial Monastery near Madrid.

Perry recounts the story that led the choir to El Escorial. “About 400 years ago French-born Philippe Rogier came to El Escorial to sing in the choir of King Phillip II. Over time he became highly regarded for his abilities and was appointed the king’s main composer. However, a century later, because of an earthquake and flood, his music was lost and people didn’t hear about Rogier anymore.” Perry delights in the fact that just a few years ago music historians began finding the lost manuscripts and asking, “Who is this?” Perry’s friendship with British musicologist Philip Cave led her to explore Rogier’s music at the time of its reemergence. A short time later, Perry and the choir were in Spain singing Rogier’s music in the very space

or which it was written.

The trip, facilitated by CIE’s Lisa Bigelow, was organized by Professor of Modern Languages Paloma Lapeurta, who accompanied the group on the trip. Bonded by their rare experience, the singers’ emotions and reverence for the ancient compositions and space brought many to tears as they sang Rogier’s music in the basilica at El Escorial.

“We are reasonably sure that our performance was the first time his works have been performed there in over 400 years. It was thrilling! A lot of people and sight-seers stopped, asking, ‘Who are you?’ We told them,” Perry says with a smile.