Vocal and Choral Arts at KCC
Posted by Gerald J. Blanchard · 31 minutes ago
KCC Touring Choir to sing ‘Music in Sacred Spaces’ in Italy
By Simon A. Thalmann
The Kellogg Community College Choral Union Touring Choir embarks on a seven-day tour of Italy this week as what began as a passing suggestion becomes a reality.
Gerald Blanchard, director of vocal music at KCC and director of the choir, said KCC President Dennis Bona was impressed with the outcome of the group’s 2012 concert tour of Ireland — the college’s first international choir tour in program history — and upon their return suggested the group head to Italy next.
At Bona’s first suggestion of the trip, Blanchard said, he thought it was a joke; the tour came with a price tag topping $123,000.
But with the support of the president’s office, KCC staff — some of whom donated their entire retirement collections to the cause — and family and community members, the group actually exceeded their fundraising goal.
Among the contributing factors were 19 musical fundraisers choir members held to raise money for the trip.
“We raised the money doing what we do,” Blanchard said. “We went out and gave performances, we sang for community events. … This community, when you put out a call and they know that you’re trying to do something for the betterment of our students, they will step up. And that is what they’ve done.”
Music in Sacred Spaces
Blanchard will be leading a group of three dozen on the tour, including 30 Choral Union members, two guest instrumentalists, an accompanist and two non-performing KCC staff members in addition to himself.
The tour will run from June 26 through July 2, with the bulk of that time spent along Italy’s Amalfi coast on the southwestern coast of the county. The group’s primary residence will be in Sorrento, south of Naples, but they’ll also visit famous locations including Vatican City and other areas of interest in Rome.
“Italy is unique in that you get an opportunity to really be surrounded by the language and the beauty of the Mediterranean, and the food,” Blanchard said. “That’s something that you can’t get just anywhere. The country is very unique, and it’s an opportunity for our students to truly experience high art.”
Blanchard said that in Italy, the Catholic church reigns supreme, and in choosing repertoire it was important to choose musical selections appropriate for a church service or to be sung in “a sacred space.” That’s where the tour program got its name: “Musica in Spazi Sacri,” Italian for “Music in Sacred Spaces.”
But not all is sacred, Blanchard said. The program is split into three sections, including sacred Italian classical music, including a contemporary piece composed by Branch County Community Chorus alumnus Costas Dafnis, who will accompany the choir on the tour to conduct the piece; Italian opera; and a section of English pieces including “Amazing Grace” and a pair of African-American spirituals.
“The program covers several hundred years of repertoire,” Blanchard said. “Starting from what we know as the heart of the sacred music of the late medieval Renaissance and early Baroque and ending with 20th century spirituals and folk songs.”
The group’s major performances will be held at the Church of San Michele in Piano di Sorrento on June 29 and at the Church of San Giuseppe in Sant’Agnello on June 30.
Blanchard said the two locations are well known, well respected cathedrals in smaller communities along the coast, locations preferable for the tour’s purposes because performing in the smaller communities — as opposed to locations in Florence, Rome or Venice, for example — will allow the singers “to experience the true culture of Italy.”
“It’s going to be more than a concert tour,” Blanchard said. “It’s going to be a true cultural experience, and that’s how I designed it.”
‘We’re ready for it’
Alto Brittney Burrows, of Battle Creek, is among the choir members who toured with the choir during its trip to Ireland in 2012. She said the experience was a good one and attracted her to participate in the current tour.
“It was a really big opportunity for me,” Burrows said, noting the Hill of Tara, an archaeological complex featuring ancient Irish monuments, as among the sites that had an impact on her during the trip. “America is a really young country, and so it was really cool to go there and see all this history and learn about all this culture that’s been there from way before we can even imagine.”
In Italy, Burrows said she’s interested in experiencing “a whole different type of culture” that’s she’s unfamiliar with, and she’s again looking forward to using her free time to take in the sights, like the ancient ruins of Pompeii.
She’s also interested in performing the variety of music the choir will be presenting in the country, a range reflected in a way in the age mix of those touring, which ranges from the traditional college age up to older adults.
“It’s been a really good time just getting to know the people that are going with us and making that music together,” Burrows said. “It makes it different and interesting for sure.”
The trip will certainly be a different and interesting experience for baritone Eric Frost, of Albion, who will be singing bass on tour during his first time overseas. Frost has been singing in choirs since age 8, singing in the Battle Creek Boychoir for six years and performing with choirs in high school and college.
Frost said he’s looking forward to making some positive new memories singing in the beautiful Italian spaces while experiencing the rich musical heritage of Italy firsthand.
“I can’t really imagine a life where I’m not singing in one way or another, and it’s going to be super exciting to be singing overseas,” Frost said. “Not that many people get an opportunity like this, so I feel lucky.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Blanchard, who recognizes the opportunity as a chance for the choir to make the community that supported it proud.
“We as a group have the responsibility now to go out and give our absolute best and represent this community and this college to the best possible level we can,” Blanchard said. “And we’re ready for it.”
The KCC Choral Union Touring Choir is a combined ensemble representing singers from the college’s three residential choirs:
Branch County Community Chorus
Concentus Vocal Ensemble